Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country and actually the biggest landlocked country in the world. We had always imagined it like a big steppe and nothing else, but there is actually a lot to see and the Kazakh nature can surprise you. For example National Park Burabay. Who would expect such a beauty in the middle of the steppe? Or do you know that you can find a "small Grand Canyon" in Kazakhstan?
Many people don't know that Kazakhstan is also the richest country in Central Asia because of its oil, gas and mineral reserves. Even if you don't know anything about Kazakhstan, you have definitely heard of the capital Astana - the Dubai of Central Asia because of EXPO 2017 and its unique architecture.

Do you want to know the prices in Kazakhstan? Check out our Kazachstan budget guide.


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Kazakhstani Tenge
Kazakhstani Tenge
If you are interested in prices in Kazakhstan, read our budget guide
Green Bazar in Almaty
Green Bazar - Almaty
There are two main airports in Kazakhstan, either you fly to Astana or Almaty. If you come for hiking, Almaty is definitely the best. This is one of the famous markets in Almaty.
Green Bazar in Almaty
Green Bazar - Almaty
Horses were first domesticated in Kazakhstan and Kazakh people just love them. They love to ride them, but they also love to eat them a lot. If you want to try horse meat or sausage, you can do that on this market. Bargain for the prices, as the sellers will try to ripp you off.
Trekking in Tian Shan - Medeo and Shymbulak
Trekking in Tian Shan - Medeo and Shymbulak
The closest (just 25km) trip from Almaty is to Medeo and then to a ski resort Shymbulak which is the base for hiking in the high mountains of Tian Shan range. By a base we mean only a place where you start. Don't expect any kind of service for tourists like for example a map or a supermarket. This is not the Alps. Even a bottle of water is too expensive here. It is almost impossible to buy a hiking map in Almaty nor Shymbulak, so use your phone or buy a map in your home country.
How to get to Medeo and Shymbulak
How to get to Medeo and Shymbulak
To get to Medeo, take a bus nr. 12 from Almaty, the stop is across the Hotel Kazakhstan. From Medeo (there is only few restaurants there), you can take an eco taxi or a cable car to Shymbulak - the largest ski resort in Central Asia .
Trekking in Tian Shan - Medeo and Shymbulak
Trekking in Tian Shan - Medeo and Shymbulak
There are several unsigned treks you can go from Medeo or Shymbulak (2200 metres above sea), if you don't count as a sign a pile of stones or swastika everywhere. Most of the local tourists stays in Shymbulak and go only for small trips to see the mountains. We haven't met many people trekking like us with tents and the food for few days.
Lake nr. 6. - Trekking in Tian Shan
Lake nr. 6. - Trekking in Tian Shan
We originally wanted to go to Big Almaty Lake which should be a difficult 4 day hike, but stayed in the end camping Shymbulak and did small hikes to for example Lake nr. 6 (GPS: 43.07891, 77.10072). The mountains are really high here, we got to 3 500 metres above sea level where you can have the altitude sickness, so count with that.
Old meteorogical station - Trekking in Tian Shan
Old meteorogical station - Trekking in Tian Shan
Charyn Canyon
Charyn Canyon
Yes, there is a "small Grand Canyon" in Kazakhstan and it is really spectacular! If there should be only one place where you go in Kazakhstan, it should be here.
How to get to Charyn Canyon
How to get to Charyn Canyon
It is quite easy to get here and you don't need to pay an expensive organized trip. Just get to Sahayat bus station in Almaty, find your shared taxi driver who will get you either right there or a bus (direction to Kegen) to Charyn Povorot from where it is another 11km walk where you can hitchike the cars going there.
Where to stay in Charyn Canyon
Where to stay in Charyn Canyon
There is a small beautiful oasis, deep in the canyon about one hour walk from the top with a small restaurant, few yurts and bungalows. The prices in the restaurant are okey, but the accommodation is pretty overpriced. They want 150 euros for one night in the yurt and 80 euros for the bungalows. We recommend to bring your tent or rent one in Almaty.
Camping in Charyn Canyon
Camping in Charyn Canyon
If you bring your tent, you can camp for free by the river as many others. It is warm during the night, definitely in July and August. You can have a bath in the river with an awesome view.
Sunrise and sunset at Charyn Canyon
Sunrise at Charyn Canyon
Get up early and wait for the sunrise. Definitely worth it!
Charyn Canyon
Sunset at Charyn Canyon
If you are too lazy to get up for the sunrise, then sunset is really MUST to watch the view from the top.
Kolsay Lakes - Lake nr.1
Kolsay Lakes - Lake nr.1
Kolsay Lakes National Park is located on the north slope of the Tian Shan Mountains just 10 km from the border with Kyrgyzstan. There are 3 lakes at Kolsay. The first one (1 800 metres above sea) is the closest to the parking lot where everyone gets off. You can go around the lake in about 2 hours. There are many local tourists here, especially during the weekend.
Kolsay Lakes - Lake nr.2
Kolsay Lakes - Lake nr.2
The hike to the second lake (2 200 metres above sea) is about 2-3 hours, the trail is steepe, there could be many people and horses and if you wanna hear the truth - it is as beautiful as the first one, but nothing really special.
The third lake (2 800 metres above sea) is very close to the border with Kyrgyzstan and some people don't recommend to go there as you can get into troubles with the guards. We can't confirm that, but most of the people go just to the second lake anyway.
How to get to Kolsay Lakes
How to get to Kolsay Lakes
You can get to Kolsay from Almaty Sahayat bus station where you take shared taxi to Saty (about 5-6 hours drive) which is also the base for Lake Kaindy. In Saty you can take a local driver who will get you to the parking lot close to Lake nr.1. There is a quite traffic on the road, so it is not a nice walk up there, unfortunately. On the other hand it makes the hitchiking much easier :)
Where to stay in Saty
Where to stay in Saty
Saty is a small village, basically a long road with the houses on the side. There are few tiny shops and many places where you can stay with locals. We stayed in a yurt with a really nice family who sell delicious shashlyks at Kaindy and Kolsay lakes. They took us for free from Kolsay lakes down to Saty and offered us a awesome price for the yurt and sauna. Their home is on the crossroad and they have two yurts - on the picture (GPS: 43.069804, 78.411464)
Lake Kaindy
Lake Kaindy
Another short trip from Saty is Lake Kaindy (2000 metres above sea level). The lake was formed as the result of a landslide by an earthquake in 1911. The lake has a beautiful color because of the limestone and is well known for the tree trunks preserved by the cold water. We can tell that the water is really icy by experience.
Kazakhstan on horse
Kazakhstan on horse
If you are unable to walk or just lazy, you can rent a horse at Kolsay and Kaindy and they will carry you to the top and back. Get ready for a bumpy and sometimes scary ride.
The grown ups get a horse and the kids get a donkey
The grown ups get a horse and the kids get a donkey
Altyn Emel NP
Altyn Emel NP
You shouldn't miss a trip to Altyn Emel National Park that is also part of UNESCO's world heritage. We had difficulties to get there as we couldn't find a driver nor a car rental with a jeep for 6 persons, so we were forced to pay for an expensive organized two day trip. The money is worth it!
Singing Dune - Altyn Emel NP
Singing Dune - Altyn Emel NP
One of the biggest attractions 120 metres high sand dune. The sand makes a sound and vibration like an organ and it is really unforgettable experience. The scientists are not sure how to explain the sound exactly, but they think that the sand gets electrified due to friction and creates sonic vibration.
Singing Dune - Altyn Emel NP
Singing Dune - Altyn Emel NP
The sound is usually made by wind passing over dunes, but the best way how to hear that is actually to sit on your butt and slide down on the sand. The Singing Dune is really a special place where you can have lots of fun sliding and running down the dune.
Aktau Hills - Altyn Emel NP
Aktau Hills- Altyn Emel NP
On the next day of your trip you will visit Aktau Hills - colourful mountains. You can see the red, yellow and white layers pretty clear. Aktau hills are the result of millions of years of erosion. It is huge here and you can walk here for the whole day. It feels like being on another planet.
Katutau Hills - Altyn Emel NP
Katutau Hills- Altyn Emel NP
On the same day you can also stop at Katutau Hills - eroded volcanic rocks carved by water and wind in an odd shape.
The Presidential Palace - Astana
The Presidential Palace - Astana
Astana is a capital of Kazakhstan since 1997. The president Nursultan Nazarbayev has decided to make Astana a Dubai of Central Asia, so you can find here many futuristic buildings made by world famous architects.
The Khan Shatyr - Astana
The Khan Shatyr - Astana
Khan Shatyr Entertainment centre is a transparent tent designed in a neofuturist style by Norman Foster. Inside there is a shopping centre and an indoor beach resort with sand from Maldives.
The Hazrat Sultan Mosque - Astana
The Hazrat Sultan Mosque - Astana
The Bayterek Tower - Astana
The Bayterek Tower - Astana
105 m tall monument symbolizes a folktale about a mythical tree of life and a magic bird of happiness Samruk, that laid egg between the branches.
The Bayterek Tower - Astana
The Bayterek Tower - Astana
On the top of Bayterek tower you can find a handprint of the president Nursultan Nazarbayev. People wait in line to touch it.
EXPO 2017 - Astana
EXPO 2017 - Astana
EXPO 2017 is really worth visiting. There are many buildings, the sphere has 8 floors full of interesting exhibitions about Future Energy. You can spend here whole day. On the other hand like all Astana it is a huge show off.
Palace of Peace and Reconciliation - Astana
Palace of Peace and Reconciliation - Astana
The Pyramid of Peace expresses the spirit of Kazakhstan, where cultures and religions coexist in peace. It was built to host the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. There is a place for all the religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism and other faiths.
Astana
Astana
Astana is a planned city. The master plan was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa and the whole city is built from scratch mostly in the last decade. The buildings are really futuristic and majestic, but for us the city lacks an atmosphere. There are huge parks, but there is nobody there. Everything is made just to show off. It is definitely worth to see, but honestly we wouldn't like to live there.
Burabay National Park
Burabay National Park
If you are in Astana and you have some time left, you can either go to Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve to see flamingos. If you are not lucky like us and they are gone (we missed them by only two days), you can go to Burabay NP which is a paradise in the middle of the steppe.
Burabay is a weekend getaway for people from Astana. Lakes, pine forests, beaches and seagulls. Get to Borovoe by shared taxi or train. It is a small holiday resort just 3 hours drive from Astana. There are many restaurants, hotels, boat and bike rentals.
Beshbarmak - the Kazakh national dish
Beshbarmak - the Kazakh national dish
Beshbarmak is basically just boiled noodles and meat, usually horse and lamb. It isn't very common to eat at small restaurants as it is rather a festive meal. Lucky for you as there are many other delicious meals.
Lamb Shashlyk
Lamb Shashlyk
Shashlyk is very popular meal in many countries of Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Middle East. Skewered and grilled cubes of meat, in Kazakhstan the lamb is the most common. Shaslyk is served with bread and fresh onion.

Map Places from the photo journey on the map


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