The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country. Although a considerable proportion of its land is taken up by mostly uninhabited steppe, the outer perimeters of this territory contain all types of environments ranging from the taiga which creeps its way over from the borders of Siberia, extensive rock canyons, impressive glaciated mountains and deserts. Although it’s the most economically dominant of the Central Asian nations owed to its wealth of natural resources, the Kazakhs are still firmly rooted to their nomadic beginnings and all the traditions that come with it.

ALMATY

Almaty KazakhstanNow a former capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty is now the cultural and financial hub of Central Asia. Wandering the city streets with up-market grocery shops and art galleries, it’s easy to forget you’re within a country that maintains a strong interest in its nomadic/traditional heritage. Highlights in the city include watching a show in the Abai State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater and heading to the outskirts of Chimbulak where there’s cable car providing excellent access to hiking in the mountains.

ASTANA

Astana - Alex J. Butler (Flickr) - Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)The capital city of Kazakhstan since 1998 is continually undergoing considerable architectural and infrastructural development owed to the country being a powerful producer of oil and gas. As it is a relatively new city most things worth visiting involve marvelling at the distinct architecture, such as the Khan Shatyr, a giant tent that can hold 10,000 people and the New National Museum of Kazakhstan.

SEMIPALATINSK

Semipalatinsk Test Site KazakhstanThis is not the most popular destination in Kazakhstan, although it should be given that not far on the outskirts is the infamous ‘Polygon’, which was the primary testing venue for all of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. Between 1949 and 1989, 456 nuclear tests were conducted outside of Semipalatinsk. Only in 2012 was the waste plutonium finally removed. Despite it once being a politically sensitive region it is possible to visit regions of the Polygon, but you may need a hazmat suit and Geiger counter…

LAKE BALKASH

Although it’s one of the largest lakes in Central Asia, Balkash is very much overlooked as a destination to visit. Much of this is due to the fact that the shores surrounding this 605km wide lake are both desolate and sparsely inhabited.

JUNGAR ALATAU

Central Asia MountainsThis isolated mountain range bordering China in the southeast is part of a geographically and historically significant mountain pass known as the Dzungarian Gate which was used by countless marauding invaders to and from China and Central Asia. Whilst access to the Jungar region can be tricky at times, due to minor and rarely reported skirmishes between Kazakh and Chinese border patrols, the mountains offer unspoilt trekking and rarely touched summits.

THE STEPPE OF MISFORTUNE

The Steppe of Misfortune - Photo by Jamie MaddisonThere’s not a single name for this region in local languages that doesn’t sound intimidating; the Hungry Steppe, Steppe of Misfortune and the Starving Steppe, all are accurate descriptions for this totally obscure desert region due west of Lake Balkash. There’s only ever been one known full crossing of its entirety completed by an eccentric Englishman in 2014. The only other things you’ll find out here are abandoned Soviet military testing sites, discarded nose cones of rockets and secret bunkers. There is quite literally nothing else here to do except go hungry and get yourself in to trouble if you’re not careful. But it’s precisely this extreme isolation and unforgiving environment that makes it worth a visit… if you know what you’re doing.

BAIKONUR COSMODROME

Baikonur Cosmodrome KazakhstanThe Baikonur was the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility. It was from here that Yuri Gagarin first launched from to become the first human in outer space (excluding the much-forgotten Lost Cosmonauts and the occasional monkey).

ALTYN-EMEL

Altyn-Emel Kazakhstan by Matthew TraverCreated as a national park in 1996 this region of giant sand dunes inhabits an area of 4600 square kilometres between the Ak-Tau mountains and Ili River. It’s most famous for a large sand dune which sings when the wind blows or its walked upon (due to it being the right grain size, humidity and silica content). Aside from Altyn-Emel’s unusual musical charm, the Katutau volcanic mountains and Aktau canyon are also worth visiting in the area.

VISAS

E-visa to be obtained in advance.

WEATHER

It can get cold in Central Asia, especially at night. Temperatures at night can drop below freezing.

MONEY

For up to date exchange rates please have a look at www.xe.com

ELECTRICITY

Two prong European style systems (types C and F).

WIFI

Average internet connection/speed.

FOOD

Meat is dominant in all Kazakh cooking. Traditional cooking uses mutton and horse meat. Milk products also commonly feature.

ALCOHOL

Alcohol is permitted and is widely available.

LANGUAGE

Kazak and Russian.

RELIGION

Sunni Muslim

DRESS CODE

No special dress code.

SAFTEY & SECURITY

The FCO considers Kazakhstan to be a low risk region to travel.

RECOMMENDED READING

Christopher Baumer – The History of Central Asia (tetralogy)

Dark Shadows – Joanna Lillis

The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin – Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years – Chingiz Aitmatov

Book of Words – Abai

Once in Kazakhstan: The Snow Leopard Emerges – Keith Rosten

The Nomads – Ilyas Esenberlin

Trips in Central Asia

Afghan Ski Challenge

    Afghan Ski Challenge

    Skiing

    Untamed Borders was the first company to run ski trips to Afghanistan in 2011. 2021 will be our 11th season running ski trips to Afghanistan, and we have again been asked by the organisers of the Afghan Ski Challenge to…

    from $2,000
    Turkmenistan

      Trekking Turkmenistan

      Trekking

      Often referred to as the ‘North Korea of Central Asia’ and being at the crossroads of various civilisations for centuries, Turkmenistan has a multitude of historical, cultural and natural sites to discover. Our 14-day trek in Turkmenistan takes you to…

      Kyrgyzstan

        Unseen Kyrgyzstan

        Cultural, Trekking

        Kyrgyzstan, an offbeat destination renowned for its trekking and horse riding, is an ideal place to discover nomadic culture at a grassroots level. There are plenty of rarely-visited locales to explore throughout this centuries-old Central Asian nation, and our two-part…

        from $2,600
        Trekking Tajikistan: Pamir Mountain Lakes

          Trekking Tajikistan: Pamir Mountain Lakes

          Trekking

          We will be traversing through the heart of the mountain range. Along the way, we will stay in the homes of the Pamiri natives, camp near centuries old caravanserais and explore the shores of shimmering blue Alpine lakes.

          from $2,550

            Trek The Wakhan

            Trekking

            A 22-day journey to visit the land of one of the world’s last and least visited nomadic cultures: the Kyrgyz of the Afghan Pamir. We will begin and end in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe before travelling along the dramatic Pamir Highway…

            from $4,300
            Man with bird cages Kabul Afghanistan

              Melons & Grapes Grand Afghan Tour

              Cultural

              Each autumn we run a trip to Afghanistan and we think it's the perfect time to visit, and all because of the fruit. How can land that appears to be made entirely of bare rock produce melons as large as…

              from $4,450
              Marathon of Afghanistan

                Marathon of Afghanistan

                Cultural, Marathons

                The Marathon of Afghanistan will take place in the Bamian province, amidst the mighty mountains of the Hindu Kush in central Afghanistan. The astonishingly beautiful valley, a UNESCO world heritage site, is recognised as one of the safest provinces in…

                from $2,350
                Buzkashi in the shadow of the Buddha niches

                  Afghan Winter Tour + Buzkashi

                  Cultural

                  We start in Kabul before taking a short flight across the Hindu Kush to Herat, the most architecturally complete city in Afghanistan. Then we will move on to Bamian where we spend three days exploring the valleys, the Buddha niches…

                  from $4,450

                  Interested in a trip to Kazakhstan?

                  We can provide a customised trip according to your requirements, get in touch to find out more.