Hiding in plain sight, Kazakhstan’s vast territory holds a lot of interest for the amateur archaeologist and the flower fanatic, but also for the architect, the armchair politician and the Cold War history hound. You can enjoy the vast expanses of nature, and the unshackled feeling you get from traversing such a shoreless place. People, as of yet unaccustomed to tourism, will welcome you in, surprised, happy and puzzled. Why did you come to Kazakhstan? Only the road can provide that answer.

Kazakhstan is such a big place, one can only hope to explore a little bit of it at a time. Far-flung jewels like the western Mangystau desert and the magic Altai mountains are stunning in their own right, but due to their remoteness, they require a dedicated trip. Luckily, you can get a taste of each in the Almaty region, where this itinerary starts.

Starting in the Almaty region, visit Altyn Emel and Charyn Canyon, spot roaming bears and explore the lakes in Ili-Alatau National Park and explore the city itself.

From Almaty, an overnight train or short flight brings you to Shymkent. Those who elect to do the whole itinerary by car can stop over at the mausoleum of Aisha Bibi in Taraz.

After spending a few days exploring Shymkent, head to Astana where you will take a few days to explore the numerous monuments, spend an evening at the opera and visit the local shops and restaurants.

For a different view of Kazakhstan, take a day trip to Karaganda. This working-class town is dominated by mines and smoke-belching chimneys, so it initially comes as a surprise Karaganda has 4 theatre companies serving an obviously cultured city populace.

You can also visit the Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve which has the world’s most northerly flock of flamingos.

Key information

Destinations Kazakhstan
Activity Adventure, Hiking & Trekking, Nature & Wildlife, National Parks, Culture, Cities, Museums & Galleries, History
Physical Level Mild

Suggested itinerary

Explore the Almaty region

Explore the Almaty region

Day 1–4 in Almaty

The most populated city in Kazakhstan and former capital, Almaty is surrounded by mountains, with streets lined by trees and parks scattered across the city.

The large, circular, Arasan baths are a great place to relax and popular tourist sites are the colourful Zenkov cathedral, located in Panfilov Park, Gorky Central Park and museums including Arts of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Folk Musical Instruments.

The nearby snow-capped Ili-Alatau mountains make it easy to escape the crowds for hiking during warmer months, with roaming bears, shimmering lakes and a sea of firs. In winter, you can go skiing at Shymbulak resort, with a cable car to take you up the mountain.

Charyn Canyon is worth the trip out of the city, although smaller than the Grand Canyon, the red sandstone has been carved out by weather and offers spectacular views, with a river running through that attracts adventure sport enthusiasts for whitewater rafting and canoeing.

Visit Shymkent

Visit Shymkent

Day 5–7 in Shymkent

Located on the southern tip of Kazakhstan, just north of Kyrgyzstan’s Tashkent, Shymkent is the third most populated city in Kazakhstan and a cultural and industrial hub. It has rail links with surrounding cities including Almaty, Nur-Sultan and Turkistan making it easy for tourists to access.

Popular sights in Shymkent include the Museum of Local History, the mausoleums of Arystan Bab and Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and Akmeshit Cave, located north of the city.

The nearby mountainous national parks of Sairam-Ugam and Aksu-Zhabagly Reserve are great places to visit to see tulips and wild horses, with lakes and rivers to explore on foot or by horse. Nature lovers will enjoy a homestay in Aksu-Zhabagly, as well as being a tulip paradise it is also popular with birdwatchers. Homestays offer a great opportunity to engage with locals and sample the traditional cuisine.

City break in Astana

City break in Astana

Day 8–9 in Astana

Gleaming constructions of glass and steel by the world’s top architects, rising out of nowhere from an inhospitable desert.

The comparison to Dubai is apt, and Astana’s army of bureaucrats and careerist professionals love to holiday in the Emirates. You will need at least a day to visit all the new monuments and to get a sense of the reverence (some say personality cult) its inhabitants hold for the creator of this shining mirage, Kazakhstan’s only-ever president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In the evenings, suit up for a night at the opera, located below the pyramidal Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, or shop til you drop at consumer paradise Khan Shatyr, the world’s largest tent.

Day trip to Karaganda

Day trip to Karaganda

Day 10 in Karaganda

For a different view of Kazakhstan, take a day trip to Karaganda.

This working-class town is dominated by mines and smoke-belching chimneys, so it initially comes as a surprise Karaganda has 4 theatre companies serving an obviously cultured city populace. This all has to do with the KarLag, part of the larger GuLag system of Stalinist labour camps.

Many of the Russian intellectuals condemned to hard labour by Stalin ended up here, and stayed if they survived. Solzhenitsyn himself, the prime documenter of the Gulag, served his time in Kazakhstan. Visiting the Dolinka museum and the Alzhir monument, you can learn more about a time in history which saw the greatest destruction of human talent, perhaps of all time.

Add a day at Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve

Add a day at Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve

Day 11 in Almaty

If you prefer a lighter way to spend your holidays, the Korgalzhyn nature reserve has the world’s most northerly flock of flamingos before flying back to Almaty

Where to stay

City Palace Hotel Tashkent

City Palace Hotel Tashkent features an outdoor pool, indoor pool, and free WiFi.

A minibar, seating area, and refrigerator are provided in each room as well as a satellite TV. City Palace Hotel Tashkent extras include an electric kettle, towels, and linen.

A restaurant is on site, and luggage storage is offered at reception for added convenience. Free parking is provided.

Atlas Hotel Dushanbe

Nestled in the heart of Dushanbe, the hotel is connected to all the city’s business and top tourist destinations. The atmosphere in the hotel is warm and welcoming with an air of elegance and charm. Supermarkets are accessible to the hotel. Banks and foreign exchange facilities are within reach. The 24-hour staff will get you anything and everything you need, be it chocolates with your coffee or ticket for Opera ballet.

Hotel Kazzhol Almaty

A modern hotel, 25-minutes from Almaty International Airport, offering free Wi-Fi, indoor swimming pool, spa and traditional Kazakhstani cuisine.

All air-conditioned rooms at the Hotel Kazzhol Almaty feature satellite TV, minibar, safe and balcony, offering views of the city. Some rooms offer a flat-screen TV and bathrobes. Room service is also available.

A buffet breakfast is served in the Kazzhol’s elegant breakfast room every morning. The hotel restaurant also serves a variety of traditional food from the Almaty region. All meals are cooked with the eco produce.

Guests at the Hotel Kazzhol Almaty can enjoy use of the hotel’s massage and beauty salon. The Kazzhol also offers concierge, laundry and airport shuttle services.

The Plaza Hotel Bishkek

The Plaza Hotel Bishkek is the embodiment of aristocratic elegance and modern multi-functionality. Nine floors of luxury and impeccable style will make you feel part of the High Society.

Features a spa area with an indoor swimming pool, a well-equipped gym and Finnish sauna.

Superior

Wyndham Tashkent

A modern, 4* hotel with comfortable rooms, excellent service and convenient location.

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