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In terms of land area, Kazakhstan comes into the charts at number 9, measuring in a whopping 2.7 million square kilometres. As far as national confusion goes, Kazakhstan once again carves itself into the top ten. Since Soviet rule was abandoned in the early nineties, Kazakhstan has been a somewhat disorderly affair, complete with rigged elections, a less-than-effective approach to capitalizing on its huge mineral resources and a random change of capital from cosmopolitan Almaty to Astana (formerly Aqmola). National order does not seem particularly natural for a country of nomads.
But for travellers, it's a little easier to make sense of the chaos and pick out Kazakhstan's bright spots. For one, it offers Central Asia's finest skiing opportunities, including heli-skiing and ski-mountaineering. For twos, the Tian Shan range in the country's south makes for some mighty fine scenery. And lastly, Kazakhstanis do have the quirk of playing polo with dead goats' bodies.
Humans have inhabited present-day Kazakhstan since the earliest Stone Age, generally pursuing the nomadic pastoralism for which the region's climate and terrain are best suited. The earliest well-documented state in the region was the Turkic Kaganate, or Gokturk, Köktürk state, established by the Ashina clan, which came into existence in the 6th century AD. The Qarluqs, a confederation of Turkic tribes, established a state in what is now eastern Kazakhstan in 766. In the 8th and 9th centuries, portions of southern Kazakhstan were conquered by Arabs, who also introduced Islam. The Oghuz Turks controlled western Kazakhstan from the 9th through the 11th centuries. While ancient cities Taraz (Aulie-Ata) and Hazrat-e Turkestan had long served as important way-stations along the Silk Road connecting East and West, real political consolidation only began with the Mongol invasion of the early 13th century. In the 15th century, a distinct Kazakh identity began to emerge among the Turkic tribes, a process which was consolidated by the mid-16th century with the appearance of a distinctive Kazakh language, culture, and economy.
In the 19th century, the Russian Empire began to expand, and spread into Central Asia. The "Great Game" period is generally regarded as running from approximately 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. The tsars effectively ruled over most of the territory belonging to what is now the Republic of Kazakhstan. In the early 19th century, the construction of Russian forts began to have a destructive effect on the Kazakh traditional economy by limiting the once-vast territory over which the nomadic tribes could drive their herds and flocks. The final disruption of nomadism began in the 1890s, when many Russian settlers were introduced into the fertile lands of northern and eastern Kazakhstan. In 1906, the Trans-Aral Railway between Orenburg and Tashkent was completed, further facilitating Russian colonisation of the fertile lands of Semirechie. Between 1906 and 1912, more than a half-million Russian farms were started as part of the reforms of Russian minister of the interior Petr Stolypin, putting immense pressure on the traditional Kazakh way of life by occupying grazing land and using scarce water resources. The Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was set up in 1920 and was renamed the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1925 when the Kazakhs were differentiated officially from the Kyrgyz. The Russian Empire recognized the ethnic difference between the two groups; it called them both Kyrgyz to avoid confusion between the terms Kazakh and Cossack (both names originating from Turkic "free man"). In 1936 Kazakhstan became a Soviet republic. Kazakhstan experienced population inflows of millions exiled from other parts of the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 1940s; many of the deportation victims were deported to Siberia or Kazakhstan merely due to their ethnic heritage or beliefs.
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In December 1986, mass demonstrations by young ethnic Kazakhs, later called Jeltoqsan riot, took place in Almaty to protest the replacement of the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Kazakh SSR Dinmukhamed Konayev with Gennady Kolbin from the Russian SFSR. Governmental troops suppressed the unrest, several people were killed and many demonstrators were jailed. In the waning days of Soviet rule, discontent continued to grow and find expression under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost. Kazakhstan declared its sovereignty as a republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in October 1990. Following the August 1991 aborted coup attempt in Moscow and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan declared independence on December 16, 1991. It was the last of the Soviet republics to declare independence. Democracy, however, has not gained much ground since 1991. In 2007, Kazakhstan's parliament passed a law granting President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifetime powers and privileges, immunity from criminal prosecution, and influence over domestic and foreign policy. Critics say he has become a de facto "president for life."
With an area of 2,700,000 square kilometres, Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country and the largest landlocked country in the world, equivalent in size to Western Europe. It shares borders of 6,846 kilometres with Russia, 2,203 kilometres with Uzbekistan, 1,533 kilometres with China, 1,051 kilometres with Kyrgyzstan, and 379 kilometres with Turkmenistan. It lies between latitudes 40° and 56° N, and longitudes 46° and 88° E. While located primarily in Asia, a small portion of Kazakhstan is also located west of the Urals in Eastern Europe.
The terrain extends west to east from the Caspian Sea to the Altay Mountains and north to south from the plains of Western Siberia to the oases and deserts of Central Asia. The Kazakh Steppe (plain), with an area of around 804,500 square kilometres, occupies one-third of the country and is the world's largest dry steppe region. The steppe is characterized by large areas of grasslands and sandy regions. Important rivers and lakes include: the Aral Sea, Ili River, Irtysh River, Ishim River, Ural River, Syr Darya, Charyn River and gorge, Lake Balkhash and Lake Zaysan. The Charyn Canyon is 150-300 metres deep and 80 kilometres long, cutting through the red sandstone plateau and stretching along the Charyn River gorge in northern Tian Shan ("Heavenly Mountains", 200 kilometres east of Almaty) at. The inaccessibility of the canyon provided a safe haven for a rare ash tree that survived the Ice Age and is now also grown in some other areas.
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Aksu Zhabagly State Natural Reserve was the first nature reserve in Central Asia and obtained the status of UNESCO biosphere reserve. The are is about 750 square kilometers big in total and is located at an elvation between 1,000 to over 4,000 metres above sea level. The reserves is home to around 50 species of animals including the rare snow leopard, which is an endangerd species and hundreds of species of birds. To add, there are even more species of plants. If you are lucky you can see bear, ibex and some rare birds.
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Charyn Canyon is a 80-kilometre-long canyon on the Charyn River, 200 kilometres east of Almaty, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan and China. It is part of the Charyn National Park, which was established on 23 February 2004 and located within the territory of the Uyghur and Kegen Districts of Almaty Province. It stretches 154 kilometres along the Charyn River in the northern Tien Shan mountain range. In parts, it attains a depth of 150 to 300 metres. One part of it is known as Valley of Castles for its unusual rock formations. The width of it ranges from 20 to 80 metres and the length is 2 kilometres.
Saryarka - Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan is a part of the Kazakh Uplands (known in Kazakh as saryarka, or "yellow range") which has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO. It was inscribed on July 7, 2008, and is the only natural world heritage site in Kazakhstan. The site comprises the Naurzum State Nature Reserve (located in Kostanay Province) and Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve (located in Akmola Province). The two reserves contain wetlands which serve as important stop-over points for migrating birds from Africa, Europe, and South Asia. It is estimated that 15-16 million birds, including many endangered species, use the site as a feeding ground. The pink flamingos in particular are a major attraction within Korgalzhyn Reserve. The site is also home to wildlife commonly found on the Kazakh steppe, including marmots, wolves, and the endangered saiga. Korgalshyn nature reserve, being a part of world heritage site, is one of the most popular areas in Kazakhstan in terms of birdwatching.
The Tamgaly Tash Valley is a valley with a natural accumulation of about 5,000 unique petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating from the second half of the second millennium BC to the beginning of the 20th century. The site is on the Unesco World Heritage List as well and is of outstanding natural and cultural beauty. It feels like in ancient open-air art gallery. Each picture is a message from centuries back telling about gods, rituals and life of ancestors of present days Kazakhs. Some inscriptions are as much as 3 thousand years old and even more. They are made on black flat surfaces of rocks and cliffs darkened by ages of influence of solar radiation by metal chisels.
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Turkistan, formerly known as Turkestan, is an ancient city dating back to over 1,500 years. It used to be called Yassy and was a centre of civilisation during the time of the Great Silk Road. The city is one of the most important historical and cultural in the country with many sites to offer travellers. It was an important trade and religious centre and there used to be as many as 14 mosques after the city was founded in the 5th century BC and onwards. Turkestan is an important site of worship for Moslems and is home to the Mausoleum of Khodja Ahmed Yassavi built at the time of Timur (Tamerlane), from 1389 to 1405. This site has attracted many pilgrims over the centuries and is on the Unesco World Heritage List.
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Held every year in March, this festival can be considered a celebration of the New Year in Kazakhstan. It is characterized by folk dancing, traditional music performances, polo matches, and most importantly, the sacrificing of sheep. After the sheep have been slaughtered, they are cooked and eaten by the locals which is meant to symbolize prosperity for the upcoming year.
Shared with the Kyrgyz people and held near the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border in August, the Chabana Festival, or Cowboy Festival, is an event which brings together local herders to take part in sports and recreation. One of the most famous, and most deeply rooted in Kazakhstan’s history, is "Chasing after the Bride," in which women are given a head start on horseback and pursued by men, also on horseback, in an attempt to catch them.
A test of physical strength and endurance, the Khan Tengri Mountain festival is a grueling climbing event held every year in August. Over 500 participants from around the world try to reach the Khan Tengri Peak over 20 days. The event attracts big names as athletes Cimono Moro and Alexander Lvov.
Golf enthusiasts will be happy to know that the annual Kazakhstan Golf Open takes place every year in September. Held in Almaty, the Open is a men’s pro tournament which draws the biggest names from around the globe. Making up one portion of the annual "Challenge Tour," the Kazakhstan leg offers golfers the highest monetary prize of all regions and is thus highly competitive.
In what can be considered a tribute to Kazakh music, the Contest of Kazakh song is held annually in September. Overseas performers from all over Poland, Uzbekistan and Germany compete to sing Kazakh songs in their native languages. The festival is a big event in Astana, with local choirs and children’s groups being called upon to accompany many of the contestants.
Kazakhstan is a huge country but generally the climate has not that much variation between the different parts. Only higher up in the mountains, temperatures are much lower and there is snow year round. But this is a relatively small section in the southeastern portion.
Large parts of Kazakhstan are steppe and (semi)desert, with very little rain or snowfall during the year, generally between 100 and 150 mm of precipitation. Summers are hot, averaging 30 °C during the day from June to August but 40 °C is possible. Nights are pleasantly cool, around 17 °C. Winters are bitterly cold, averaging between -10 °C and -15 °C but dropping as low as -40 °C in the northern parts of the country.
The southeast where Almaty is located is somewhat wetter, with montly precipitation and April and May are the wettest months. Summers are around 27 °C maximum, and around 15 °C at night. During winter, temperatures are between -5 and -15 °C but also here temperatures can drop well below -30 °C sometimes.
Air Astana is the national airlines of Kazakhstan, based at two airports: Almaty International Airport (ALA) and Astana International Airport (TSE). From the latter Delhi, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hanover, Moscow and Shannon (Irleand) are served while from Almaty the cities of Antalya, Amsterdam, Bangkok, Beijing, Delhi, Dubai, Hannover, Frankfurt, Istanbul, London, Moscow and Seoul have flights. A number of airlines serve both airports, mainly to and from Asian countries, like the neighbouring Stan States. KLM and Lufthansa have flights from Amsterdam and Frankfurt respectively. BMI flies from London to Almaty and visa versa.
Kazakhstan - China vv
There are two trains a week connecting Almaty in Kazakhstan with Urumqi in China. On Mondays and Saturdays, trains leave Almaty at 10:40pm, arriving in Ürümqi on Wednesdays and Mondays at 7:00am. From Ürümqi, trains depart just before midnight at Mondays and Saturdays, arriving in Almaty on Wednesdays and Mondays around 10:30am.
Kazakhstan - Russia vv
There is train every second day between Moscow and Almaty (Kazakhstan), leaving Moscow at 10:30pm and arriving at day 5 early in the morning in Almaty. From Almaty, trains leave around 7:30am, arriving the 4th day at around 10:30am. Check this site for schedule details.
Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan vv
Daily trains run from Aqtöbe, Aralsk, Kyzylorda and Turkistan to Tashkent via the border at Saryagash. Coming from Almaty you can transfer at the trains at Arys, 60 kilometers west of Shymkent. Another rail crossing exists between Beyneu, western Kazakhstan, and Kungrad, Uzbekistan. Daily trains run from Beyneu to Kungrad (10 hours) and on Saturday and Wednesday, there is a train via Beyneau coming from Saratov (Russia) via Atyrau (Kazakhstan), continuing to Tashkent via Nukus and Samarkand.
You can use border crossings like mentioned below and many other to Russia as well. Be sure to have your visa, and documentation regarding the car (insurance, green card, international driving permit) in order and expect sometimes a bit of hassle and long waiting times.
There are many daily bus and minibus connections between Almaty and Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. There are also overnight buses to Cholpon-Ata and Karakol from Sayran, and minibuses to Bishkek from Taraz. To China, road crossing is at Khorgos and there are sleeper buses between Almaty and Urumqi in Xinjiang, taking 24 hours. Buses to Yining take 12 hours and both are on a daily basis except Sunday. To Turkmenistan, there is a remote border crossing 200 kilometers south of Zhanaozen, a two-hour minibus ride east of Aktau. From the border it is 50 kilometres south to the Turkmen town of Bekdash and a further 200 kilometres to Turkmenbashi. To Uzbekistan, the main border crossing is at Chernyaevka between Shymkent and Tashkent and there are connectons between the two latter cities. Another road crossing exists between Beyneu, western Kazakhstan, and Kungrad, Uzbekistan.
A ferry across the Caspian Sea between Aktau in Kazakhstan and Baku, Azerbaijan, leaves about every seven to 10 days taking around 18 hours or so. The ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan goes more frequent and is more comfortable as well, but if you want to avoid travelling to Turkmenistan the one to Kazakhstan is a good alternative.
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Air Astana has frequent flights to many airports in the country. Almaty to Astana vv is the most frequent used route but services to the western towns near the Caspian Sea are popular as well and saves a lot of time as well. Planes are new but maintenance is not always how it should be.
Kazakhstan has an extensive network of trains and most routes have at least one or two daily trains. Astana, Karaganda, Almaty, Chimkent and many other cities all have long distance trains leaving frequently and there are comfortable overnight train with dining cars available on most routes. It is cheap and relatively fast as well and is a great way to experience the vastness of this country. By tickets a day in advance and expect some long lines at offices.
There is reasonable network of tarred roads in Kazakhstan and renting a car (either with or without a driver) is possible at Astana and Almaty and most airports. An international driving permit is required.
Regular buses link most major cities and towns, but buses can be uncomfortable on some routes and distances are huge. Trains are the better way of getting between the major cities. Still, buses, minibuses and taxis are the way to go on shorter routes to more remote places.
There are no scheduled passenger services.
Most visitors have to apply for a visa before arrival, sometimes including a Letter of Invitation (LOI). The latter might not be needed for single entry visas though.
Citizens of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Hong Kong, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Serbia do not need visas to enter Kazakhstan.
Citizens of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UAE, United Kingdom and USA can obtain single-entry (up to 30 days) or double-entry (up to 60 days) tourist visas without providing a letter of invitation.
From 15 July 2014 to 15 July 2015 the Kazakh government decided to introduce a visa-free regime for the citizens of the USA, Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Republic of Korea and Japan. Citizens of these ten countries, holders of valid diplomatic, official and national passports can repeatedly enter, еxit and fly through the territory of Kazakhstan without visas up to 15 calendar days since crossing the state border. In case of a reasonable necessity for further stay of a foreign citizen from the above mentioned countries on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan more than 15 days, he/she will need, as required by laws, to obtain a visa of the category "business" in the bodies of Internal Affairs and that of "investor”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. More at the official wiki page about visa policy in Kazakhstan.
See also: [[Money Matters
The national currency is tenge (KZT, Cyrillic: тенге and sometimes symbolised as ₸ or T). Coins come in denominations of KZT1, KZT2, KZT5, KZT10, KZT20, KZT50, KZT100, banknotes in KZT1, KZT3, KZT5, KZT10, KZT20, KZT50, KZT100, KZT200, KZT500, KZT1,000, KZT2,000, KZT5,000 and KZT1,0000.
Unlike certain European countries still recovering from recession, Kazakhstan abounds in employment or business opportunities. Skilled professionals may be able to find a job in the energy or educational sector. Salaries tend to decrease as the country is working towards ensuring equal pay for locals and expatriate staff. Expatriate candidates must obtain a work permit. In recent years, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a work permit.
Both Kazakh and Russian are the official languages of Kazakhstan. Both languages are compulsory in all schools, and most people know both of them. Therefore, if you know either of them, you should be fine. However, in some regions people speak more Kazakh and in others they prefer Russian. For example, Shymkent and the western regions mostly use Kazakh but the northern part of the country remains to a large extent Russian-speaking. Kazakh will be somewhat familiar if you know another Turkic language, and Russian if you know another Slavic language.
Many people under age 20 will know some English as well as many customs officials and airport people know English.
It is difficult to get around the country without some Russian or Kazakh language skills; though, within the more modernized cities, it is easier. Have your place of residence written on a card and get a taxi if you get lost (you might be somewhat overcharged by the taxi, but it is better than being lost).
There are numerous hotels, from very cheap ones (€10 per night) to the luxurious ones. You wouldn't find the cheapest ones on the web; the only way to book them is to call directly, but in that case you'll have to speak Russian at least. Note that Almaty and esepcially Astana are most expensive and lack a decent number of budget to midrange places, except for some hostels in Almaty.
There are almost no camping sites except in Burabay/Borovoe in Kazakhstan. You can, however, camp almost anywhere due to the huge uninhabited spots. The scenery is beautiful but because of the very hot weather: don't forget to take plenty of water with you as you can very easily spend many of days without seeing anybody. If you camp near a nomadic tribe, ask for the permission to stay near; it will not be refused.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Kazakhstan. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Kazakhstan) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Kazakhstan. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
In general, Kazakhstan is a safe country. Travellers will generally have no problems in the country, including the bigger cities like Almaty and Astana. Of course, pickpockets and muggers are there, but if you don't go to unsafer districts and stay on the main and busier routes you won't have any problem at all. Traffic in cities can be hazardous but cars actually most of the times stop for pedestrians crossing streets, even if there is no traffic lights or official crossing.
Whatever you do, don't use (or bring) any drugs at all (zero tolerance!) and do not mention the character of Borat!
You can find internet cafés in most cities and larger towns. Wifi is widely available though, ranging from upmarket hotels to hostels, coffee bars, restaurants and in some cities and areas free general wifi. Sometimes you need to register or ask for a code, but even then it's hassle free.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Kazakhstan's international phone number is +7.
Currently GSM Kazakhstan/Kcell is the cellular operator rendering services of GSM-900/1800 and UMTS/WCDMA 2100 MH standard. Coverage is good around the main cities. Network providers include K-MOBILE and Kazakhtelecom. There are roaming agreements with Vodafone, Orange, O2 and T-Mobile.
If you are planning to stay for a while in the country, buy a local cell phone. Otherwise, if you are staying shorter but tend to use your own cell phone, buy a local SIM card. Using your own SIM card means high costs for calling, but more so for using the internet on your cell phone.
International calls can be made at a reduced rate from 8:00pm to 8:00am local time.
Kazpost is the national postal service in the country, with fairly reliable and good services, though it might take some time to reach its international destination. Post offices are open generally from 9:00am to 6:00pm, but some larger ones in the main cities keep longer opening times. If you want to send packages internationally, you'd better use companies like FedEx, UPS, TNT or DHL, as they are faster and competitively priced.
Ask askgudmundsen a question about Kazakhstan
Travelled Kazakhstan extensively for a month in the spring of 2013
Ask trubo4ka a question about Kazakhstan
spent year and a half there, have been to many tourist's places
Ask Bakhtygul a question about Kazakhstan
Ask Flash a question about Kazakhstan
Aug 05 Entered from Uzbek. and left to Russia. Crossed the country by car turning north at Almaty. Here and there a bit of info but no travel expert!!
Ask taskazak a question about Kazakhstan
treking routes ,climbs in almaty area ,weather temps and snow depth,avalanche risk and general information
Use our map of places to stay in Kazakhstan to explore your accommodation options and to compare prices across the country at a glance. To narrow the results down by budget category, use the links below.
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