Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world, dominates Central Asia both economically and politically. With a physical size at just a little under a third of the USA, it is a hidden gem waiting to be explored by adventurous travelers. From the vast steppes (also known as the Great Delta) to the snow-capped mountains, Kazakhstan offers a beautiful landscape for travelers to discover. Though most Americans don’t know much about Kazakhstan, by following the recommendations below, a visit there will prove it is a country of unique experiences and landscapes, with something for everyone.
Here's a list of things to see and do when visiting Kazakhstan.
Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, is the heart of the country's economy, politics, and culture. The city is a beautiful juxtaposition of modern and traditional architecture. The uniquely designed Bayterek Tower offers visitors an opportunity to enjoy stunning panoramic views of the city.
If you’re interested in learning more about the country's culture, you’d benefit from visiting the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a renowned symbol of Kazakhstan's unity with the world's cultures and religions in the form of a pyramid. This city is also a great place try out the Kazakh cuisine. You’ll find it to be a unique blend of central Asian and Mongolian flavors. The traditional dishes include Beshbarmak, a lamb or beef dish, kazy, a horse meat sausage, and baursaks, a fried dough snack. You can find these delicacies in local restaurants all over the city. Another option would be to try your hand at cooking traditional dishes by attending one of many offered cooking classes.
Almaty is the country’s largest city and is located among majestic snow-capped mountains and an excellent destination for lovers of the great outdoors. If you enjoy winter sports, the city has a wide range of ski resorts, including Medeu, Chimbulak, and Shymbulak. Additionally, as a college town, Almaty has a vibrant nightlife with numerous bars and restaurants that serve local and international cuisine. Seven Bar and Restaurant is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. This steakhouse serves international cuisine and offers incredible views and live music in the evenings. Those looking for a more cultural experience may enjoy visiting the Auezov Theater, which showcases plays and musical performances, and visit the famous local “Green Market”. Kok Tobe is a picturesque mountain located in Almaty that provides an amazing view of the entire city.
Be sure to ride the cable car and once atop, enjoy the mountain's refreshing breeze and unique scenery. Wander around the mountain and you might find the fun, and unexpected, Beetles monument.
The Charyn Canyon is a natural wonder located near the Chinese border. The approximately 80-mile-long canyon is situated in a beautiful national park and offers a unique landscape with various colors and views. With its red sedimentary rock, a visit here might have you feeling like you’re looking out over a smaller version of the USA’s Grand Canyon. If you’re up for a challenge, hike the canyon. Or if not, drive along the perimeter to appreciate the beauty.
Lake Kaindy is another natural wonder located in Kazakhstan's eastern region. The lake is famous for its vibrant turquoise color and trees that grow underwater, giving the lake an eerie yet beautiful appearance and the nickname of “Sunken Forest”. Visitors can hike around the lake or opt for a horse ride to explore the surrounding areas. If you have a rental car, it is possible to visit Lake Kaindy as a daytrip from Almaty.
Baikonur is a city known for its famous Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world's largest and oldest space launch facility located in Kazakhstan. Visitors can take a guided tour of the facility to understand the history of space travel and learn about the various rocket launches that have taken place at the facility.
Aktobe is a city located in the western part of the country and is famous for its colorful festivals, especially the “Koshpendiler Alemi,” which is usually held in June. The festival features various performances, traditional games, and experiences celebrating the Kazakh culture. Visitors can also visit the Aktobe Museum of Regional Studies, which showcases the history and cultural heritage of the region. Other things you should catch are the Abul Khair Khan monument, the Roman Catholic Church of Good Shepherd, and the Mosque Nur-Gasyr. This beautiful Mosque is a source of pride for locals and when there for a visit make sure you visit the small museum located underneath.
By Lisa Osborne Blalock
Footloose Travel & Tours