A traveler to the former Soviet republic encounters an endless aroma landscape, rugged mountains, and majestic construction projects rising with oil coins. Kazakhstan is anything but a Borat comedy to suggest.
Kazakhstan, the richest country in Central Asia, is on the list of few when planning a travel destination – which is why it is worth traveling there. In Kazakhstan you will find the most lavish skyscrapers and the most modern shopping malls, but on the other hand some of the loneliest and most empty places in the world.
Culture, food, architecture and people are a unique blend of Western, Islamic and Soviet influences. Kazakhstan is a real country of opposites.
Flat is flat
Most of Kazakhstan is an almost uninhabited plain. 77% of the land area is desert-like steppe, covered only by low shrubs and grass. Only herds of wild horses and pastoralists who maintain them and maintain a traditional way of life roam the empty steppes.
The distances are long, as Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world. The Altai and Tian Shan mountains are located in eastern Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan also has a coastline with the Caspian Sea and the Aral, the world’s fourth largest inland lake, which is drying up fast. The country’s border neighbors are Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Short for KGF by abbreviationfinder, Kazakhstan has very few visitors so far, but the number of visitors is growing every year – not least thanks to the fictional television journalist Borat Sagdiyev, portrayed by British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen. Although Kazakhs hardly appreciate the image of Kazakhstan invented by the Borat character, the character’s impact on the country’s visibility and tourism growth cannot be denied.
Most tourists visit the capital Astana as well as the former capital Almaty.
Oil and uranium
According to countryaah, Kazakhstan is the richest country in Central Asia, with vast oil and mineral resources. The oil field owned by Kazakhstan is the largest deposit found since the 1960s. Kazakhstan is also the world’s largest uranium producer: nearly a third of the world’s uranium is mined in the country’s mines.
However, wealth is drastically divided between urban and rural areas. The capital Astana in particular shines in oil money, but life in the countryside is still very simple. Traditional nomadism is also still strong in the endless steppes of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is the gateway to Asia
Kazakhstan belonged to the former Soviet Union, but by their inheritance and appearance, people are closer to Asians than Russians.
Asian influences are also visible in food culture. Many dishes are based on noodles and the use of spices is more abundant than Russian cuisine.
Kazakhs eat plenty of horsemeat prepared in every possible way: cooked, fried and grilled. The horse is one of the most important symbols of Kazakhstan.
The official languages of the country are Kazakh and Russian. In large cities, some English is spoken, but in rural areas its proficiency is rare. The basics of Russia are a great help when moving in the countryside.
Nearly half of Kazakhs are Muslims, but the importance of religion in everyday life is negligible. The locals are tolerant and, so far, treat rare foreigners with warmth. Almost as many of the country’s residents are Orthodox.
Extreme continental climate
Kazakhstan has a continental climate, so summers are warm and winters are extremely cold. Astana is the coldest capital in the world after Mongolia’s Ulaanbaatar. In winter, the temperature often drops to around 30 degrees, which is exacerbated by strong winds.
Tourism in Kazakhstan is possible even in winter, but you should be prepared for cold weather.
During the summer, the average temperature in Kazakhstan is as high as +20 degrees, and the breathtakingly stunning scenery takes its toll under the snow. During the summer, various hikes and other activities are also easier to arrange.
Kazakhstan is mainly a safe country. However, pickpocketing and other petty crimes occur, so moving alone at night should be avoided.
Although Kazakhs are divided almost half into Muslims and Christians, there is little friction between religions. Kazakhstan is also a religiously tolerant country.
There are reports of highway pirates in southwestern Kazakhstan, the number of which has increased during the global economic downturn. Road travelers from Russia to the country are advised to use the more northern route, which passes through the border town of Uralsk to Astana.
FLIGHTS, ACCOMMODATION AND MOVEMENT IN KAZAKHSTAN
Direct flights from Europe to Kazakhstan
There are daily flights to the capital Astana from Frankfurt and Moscow, among others. There are also flight connections to Almaty from major European airports.
It is possible to enter the country by land from Russia, China and other neighboring countries.
Cheap accommodation under a rock
Accommodation options in Kazakhstan will diversify as the country’s tourism develops. Astana and Almaty offer quality hotels, but for the budget traveler there is less supply. Hostels and other cheap accommodation are difficult to find.
Navigating a huge country is challenging
Kazakhstan is a large country, and moving takes time. The train is a great way to move between cities. All major cities have ticket offices that are worth taking advantage of.
Getting around by road is also possible by bus. The road is mainly in good condition with the exception of the southwestern parts of the country. The flight connections are good and flying is quite affordable – as well as of course the fastest way to move from place to place.
DESTINATIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN
Modern Astana is amazing
Astana did not become the capital of Kazakhstan until 1997, when President Nursultan Nazarbayev moved the capital from the south to the north of Astana. Since then, the city has undergone a tremendous transformation as new construction sites rise to the city’s skyline almost daily. According to some estimates, up to $ 40 billion has been spent on building the new capital.
Astana is a modern and comfortable city, whose buildings and restaurants show the influences of the West, the East, the Soviet era and Islam.
The city’s most famous landmarks include the 93-meter Bayterek Tower and Khan Satyr, the world’s largest tent with a shopping mall and water parks inside. The largest mosque in Central Asia, Nur-Astana, is one of the city’s most impressive buildings, which in its glory is not overshadowed by new skyscrapers.
The unique atmosphere of the old capital
The Kazakhs themselves consider the old capital Almaty to be a more charming place than the new and glittering Astana. Surrounded by mountains, the city offers more activities than Astana, which is focused on the oil business and crazy buildings.
If Astana, with a population of 1.4 million, starts to feel cramped, the surrounding mountains offer opportunities for hikes and excursions of various lengths.
In the shadow of nuclear experiments, magnificent nature
The vast area of Kazakhstan can accommodate more than just quiet steppes. To the west is the Caspian Sea, to the north are the sandy beaches along the Ishim River and rugged pine forests. The mountains in eastern Kazakhstan, on the other hand, offer peace and snow-capped mountains to those who crave them. Various activities, such as downhill skiing, have also grown in popularity in mountainous areas.
If you want to learn about the Soviet-era history of Kazakhstan, the best place to do so is the town of Semei in eastern Kazakhstan. The city is about 150 kilometers from the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, where more than 450 nuclear tests were conducted between 1949 and 1989.
The previously closed area is now open to the public. The Semei City Museum also presents the encrypted and gruesome history of the Soviet nuclear program, the effects of which are visible as radiation-induced diseases in the area’s residents for generations to come.