Kazakhstan was once a part of the USSR and after its independence Russia and many other nations continued to stay in the limelight while the rest disappeared from the tourist radar. However, Kazakhstan which is also the ninth largest country in the world has everything to fulfil the expectations of tourists.
A perfect amalgamation of natural beauty, adventure activities and history, Kazakhstan will surprise you like no other nation. The country has great infrastructure, liberal lifestyle and amazing nightlife. It breaks the stereotypical image that the world has for a “stan” nation. And if you are still wondering why you should put Kazakhstan on your bucket list of places to travel, then here are 10 reasons that will convince you why you should visit.
10 Reasons Why You Should Visit Kazakhstan
1. Ski in Kazakhstan’s ski resort
Switzerland and Kazakhstan may not be on the same page when it comes to overall development, however, Kazakhstan’s high alpine snow-capped mountains are just as beautiful as the famous Alps of Switzerland. Barely 30 minutes from the city of Almaty the resort has 20km of ski runs spread over an elevation of 3,000 feet. The Shymbulak resort attracts visitors from all across the world and its celebrity guest list includes Prince Harry who visited the resort in 2014.
The chilly winter season around the area promises good ski conditions from November to April. Shymbulak is also one of the best and the biggest ski resorts in central Asia and is equipped with modern facilities, restaurants, cafes, bars and accommodation. You may also forget that you are in the heart of central Asia and not somewhere in Europe. At the lower level, there is a high altitude ice skating rink called the Medeu.
During the winter season skiers and skaters flock to the resort and during the summer season the mountains prove to be a nice escape from busy city life with its views, treks and hikes.
2. Hike to a lake with a sunken forest
If you like Stranger Things or any other series that features bizarre places in an alternate world, a visit to Lake Kaindy is as close as it gets to such places in real life. Situated 250 km away from Almaty near the village of Saty this unearthly lake attracts curious visitors.
After a hike of 12 km from Saty village to the lake, you will be treated to an almost surreal landscape. On the surface of the lake odd wooden pillars of dried inverted tree limbs are protruding from the water. The rest of the tree parts are also submerged beneath the water. This happened as a result of an earthquake that triggered a landslide. After the landslide both the limbs and the leaves died but were perfectly preserved in their original state due to the temperature of the water. Part of the lake’s charm is its turquoise crystal clear water that gives a view of the sunken forest.
The eeriness of the place is made all the more palpable in the winter months if there’s fog and the water freezes. It makes for interesting photographs with the inverted wooden tree logs emerging out of the frozen lake!
3. Great nightlife
Kazakhstan does not often come across as a party destination. But the city of Almaty is emerging as a party capital of Asia. It is a vibrant city in central Asia and has been selling itself to party junkies who have enjoyed places such as Bangkok and Amsterdam. There are no lack of options for having fun in Almaty. From bars, clubs, pubs, and hookah cafes, to party buses, limousine and casinos, if it corresponds party, then Almaty has got it! Some of the popular clubs in Almaty are Picnic, Hard Rock Cafe, L’Opera, Dope Lounge & Bar. The Bla Bla bar with the largest space in the country is a recent addition to the city bars. The three floors include 22 atmospheric bars, three gastro bars, live artists, karaoke and the amazing crowd.
4. The grand canyon of central Asia
The Charyn canyon national park is approx 1,250km in size and the beauty of the red, craggy, rock cliffs is reminiscent to the famous Grand Canyons of USA.
The Charyn canyons are rock formations carved by the river Charyn and very similar to the Grand canyons that are carved by the river Colorado in the desert state of Arizona. There are various regions in the Charyn National Park offering breathtaking views. Besides sightseeing and photography, the Charyn area offers opportunities for walking, rafting, as well as offroad jeep touring.
5. Glamping in a Yurt
Raise the bar of your camping experiences a couple of notches by having a slice of life led by Eurasian nomads. Yurt is one of the oldest and greatest inventions of portable accommodation that was ever designed. The basic design of the yurt remains unchanged over the centuries. The dome-like structure is made from animal skin or felt from inside and covered with a waterproof canvas on the outside.
There are also special ethnos villages with yurts designed for tourists and these are equipped with modern facilities for a comfortable stay. These accommodations are fancier than a nomadic yurt but can still provide an authentic yurt experience. These yurts are decorated with traditional handicrafts, handwoven carpets, artefacts made of wood-carvings, types of embroideries, leather handiworks and metal items. There are also yurt restaurants in bigger cities where local delicacies are served, perfect if you don’t want to wish to spend a night but just want to visit one.
6. Dunes which sing to you
Inside the Altyn Emel National Park lies a geographical oddity- the singing dunes. Although scientists have failed to give a clear explanation for this weird phenomenon the locals have their legends and folklore attached to the dunes. Whatever the reason for the dunes the singing is an experience that only a few dunes across the world can provide.
After hiking up to the top of the dune and soaking in the view you have to gently slide off the dune. Not only can you hear a deep rumbling sound but also feel the vibrations. When you will slide in a group the intensity of the sound multiplies to resemble a low flying aeroplane, echoing around for more than a few minutes.
7. Shop till you drop
The city of Astana and Almaty are major shopping centres of Kazakhstan. Both these cities host international brands and traditional markets that sell a treasure trove of things. Almaty being more touristy offers a wider range of shopping experiences. The Greenmarket in Almaty has an array of stalls displaying fresh produce, dried nuts, spices, souvenirs, woollen clothes and other trinkets. The two-storey market gives a sneak peek into the life of the locals.
The Arbat Market was the first cobbled street in Almaty. It was later renamed Zhibek Zholy street. Today, it is a lively cobbled pedestrian street dotted with coffee houses, branded shops, and local goods. The walk down the street is a spectacular experience as you may see local musicians, painters, and performers displaying their talent on the sidewalk.
8. A budget-friendly trip
Culture, nightlife, natural beauty and awesome food is what you’ll find in Kazakhstan. And if you want to experience all of that and still not burn a hole in your pocket, then Kazakh currency (tenge) scores big on that front. At the prevailing rates 1 USD = 420 tenge and one pound = 575 tenge this makes the prices of all the commodities very cheap compared to most of the European destinations, so Tenge offers more value for money.
A meal at a fancy place can be availed at 10$/ person, accommodation in a 5-star hotel is less than 50$ and a chauffeur-driven taxi for a full day is also approximately 50$. In short you can enjoy a trip to Kazakhstan with all the luxuries and yet still stay in a budget.
Note: prices and exchange rates may change.
9. Slice of Soviet-era architecture
While the architecture of Kazakhstan is inspired by a nomadic lifestyle in its steppes region, the emblematic city of Almaty embodies the legacy of surreal architecture of the imperial superpower even after several decades. The overall approach of the design was modern, simplistic and futuristic for those times. There are box-shaped prefabricated housing estates where all the residences look alike, large public squares that hosted mass demonstrations, flamboyant government buildings that indicated ultimate power places and rows of obsolete factories.
The skyline of the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan is both unique and imposing and looks like the backdrop of the popular HBO mini-series Chernobyl that had a similar set up of the parallel era when such cities were built under the USSR.
10. Incredibly rich and diverse landscapes
The sheer diversity of terrain that you can encounter across Kazakhstan is mind-boggling. From the colossal Tian Shan mountains, dense pine forests, high altitude lakes and vast stretches of desert, not many countries can promise to give you such varied experiences. Kazakhstan is also one of the few countries that still has preserved steppe ecosystems which have disappeared in other countries of Eurasia. This region is also home to several globally threatened species of birds and animals which itself is an attraction to see.
Things to Know Before You Travel
Best time to visit
Kazakhstan is a country for all seasons. The variation of the temperature between the summer and winter months is drastic. The temperature in winters can dip to – 20°C and provides great opportunities for winter sports, while the temperature in summers can soar up to 40°C, but this is the time when you can hear the dunes sing! However, as a general rule, north Kazakhstan will always be colder than the south. No matter what season you choose, you will be amazed by the beauty this country holds throughout every season.
Where to stay
Almaty, the former capital of the country is a good base to be stationed to explore the major country’s attractions. Most of the places mentioned above are closer to Almaty. It is also well-connected with flights to the rest of the world. The city has a range of stay options that can fit every traveller’s budget. Almaty also boasts the status of being the most cosmopolitan city of Central Asia.
The majority of the people in Kazakhstan people speak either Russian or Kazakh. English is barely spoken and understood, therefore having a full-time guide or at least the Google translator app as a minimum is strongly recommended. You can choose from several car rental companies in Almaty or hop on public buses and shared taxis from Almaty. But, unless you are not on a typical backpacker, hitchhiking trip, getting a dedicated driver is the best option to explore. It is relatively cheap to do that in Kazakhstan. Moreover, the driver can also serve the purpose of being your local guide and translator, which will save you quite a lot of time.
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