12 best places in Kazakhstan


12 best places in Kazakhstan

Being a tour guide for over 15 years, I often answer travellers' questions about my home country. For some, still keeping Central Asia on the wish list, it is important to understand whether it is worth going to Kazakhstan at all? What to do and see here?

Yes, that's true - there is really little information about Kazakhstan... Well, we have something to share!

I was born and raised in Almaty, but I have a lot of experience traveling and living in different parts of the world, so I can definitely name at least 5 reasons to visit Kazakhstan:

  • Kazakhstan is the largest country in Central Asia (and the ninth largest in the world). It is exactly the place where you find real East-related impressions and colours: noisy bazaars, authentic cuisine and famous hospitality.
  • It is not difficult to get to Kazakhstan: there are many regular flights of different airlines to the largest cities of Almaty and Astana. For many nationalities (a list of more than 50 countries) there is a visa-free regime for a period of 15 to 30, or even 90 days.
  • Kazakhstan has stunningly beautiful natural landscapes: the Caspian Sea with seals and flamingos in the west, endless steppes (like in Mongolia) and deserts with camels in the central part, the highest mountains and glaciers in the east.
  • Kazakhstan is located in the centre of Eurasia, here in the faces of people and cities you will find a unique mixture of European and Asian cultures, a rich history frozen in stone. Original nomads, medieval southern fortresses, underground mosques of Mangystau, ancient burial mounds and the gold of the Scythians, the new shining capital of Astana is made of glass and concrete.
  • Kazakhstan is still a destination, which many travellers haven’t put on their bucket list, so you will definitely enjoy the absence of crowds of tourists. As well as genuine hospitality of the locals

So, what to see in Kazakhstan? Based on the reviews and impressions of tourists, personal experience and the recommendations of my colleagues from the Trekking Club, I have compiled a list of the 12 best places to visit:


1. Bozjira, Ustyurt Plateau

Ustyurt Plateau

Western Kazakhstan, washed by the Caspian Sea, is perhaps one of the most mysterious places in the world. It is better to start acquaintance with it from the port city of Aktau on the Mangystau peninsula. You can get not only to the Ustyurt plateau, where the famous Boszhira tract with chalk cliffs is located, but also to other attractions of the region. In my opinion, from the nature of beauties it is also worth seeing the valley of stone balls Torysh, the high salt lake Tuzbair (here you can pick fossils!), Sherkala and Bokty mountains. And be sure to check the underground mosques Shakpak Ata and Becket Ata, of course.

Nearest city - Aktau


2. Khan Tengri peak, Central Tien Shan mountains

Khan Tengri peak 7010m

Peak Khan Tangri is located in the Central Tien Shan mountain range, on the border of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China. This is the northernmost seven-thousander in the world and one of the symbols of the country. Its snow-capped peak attracts the attention of not only climbers, but also avid travelers - to take a selfie with the Himalayan views, it is not at all necessary to be an athlete. There are several options to see the majestic mount: you can camp near lake Tuzkol, from the shores of which the best panoramas of the Central Tien Shan along with the Khan Tengri and Pobeda peaks open up. Or book a helicopter flight to the Northern Inylchek glacier, where the base camp under Khan Tangri is located.

Nearest city - Almaty


3. Katon-Karagai, Altai

Southern Altai with Belukha peak

It is better to start acquaintance with the Kazakh Altai from the village of Katon-Karagay, where the office of the Katon-Karagay National Park (largest in Kazakhstan) is located. The park includes the mountains of the Southern Altai, with the highest point peak Belukha (4506m). Explore the magnificent lakes (the largest is Rakhmanovskoye), plunge into the thermal radon springs "Rakhmanovskie Kluchi". Walk or take a jeep-tour along the Old Austrian Road - it's almost 150km through passes and gorges. The road was intended for the transfer of forces and weapons to strengthen the border of the Russian Empire with China, and was built by captured Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks who fought on the side of Austria-Hungary in World War I. By this road, you can directly get to Lake Markakol - another attraction of Altai.

Nearest city - Ust-Kamenogorsk


4. Altyn Emel: Singing Dune and Aktau hills 

Altyn Emel National Park

Those who have heard about Kazakhstan, have probably heard about its singing sands. Dunes that make sounds are located in the Altyn Emel National Park in the Almaty region. The park is huge, and in addition to walking along the knife-sharp ridge of the Singing Dune, you definitely need to explore:

- multi-colored clay mountains of Aktau with their Martian landscapes

- ancient volcano Katutau

- a real desert oasis with a lake and a 700-year-old Willow

- the life of rare wild animals that live here under protection - Persian gazelles, kulans (wild Turkmen donkeys), camels, Przewalski's horses, vultures.

Nearest city - Almaty


5. Sairam-Ugam National Park

Sairam-Ugam National Park

In my opinion, this piece of the wild and amazingly beautiful nature of Kazakhstan is undeservedly overlooked. It looks a real paradise for people loving mountains and horse riding. Sairam-Ugam is of the places where you can still meet rare animals - such as the Turkestan lynx, mountain sheep (arkhar) or Indian porcupine. A relic Sievers apple tree grows here - the genetic ancestor of all living apple trees. Kazakhstan is the birthplace of apples, if you didn't know! And of tulips, rare species of which can also be found in the park.

Nearest cities – Shymkent, Turkestan


6. Bektau Ata and Balkhash Lake 

Bektau Ata

The huge Lake Balkhash, located in the central part of Kazakhstan, is attractive not only in terms of fishing. Although, it known that world records for catching giant catfish were set here, in the delta of the Ili River (forming the lake). But in addition, the lake is famous for the fact that in the early Middle Ages the Silk Road passed through it, and on its banks there are ancient fortresses - caravan sarais - still remain. By the way, Balkhash is a fresh-salty lake! It is separated by an isthmus, to the west of which the water is fresh, and to the east - salty.

The Bektau-Ata volcanic mountains rise 80 km north of Balkhash. It is a sacred place looking like a piece of Moon on earth. Pilgrims from all over the country come to the Aulie cave with an underground lake.

Nearest city - Karaganda


7. Burabai / Borovoe


Green oasis in the middle of the steppes of Central Kazakhstan. This is the land of transparent lakes and bizarre rocks surrounded by dense pine forests. The infrastructure is quite developed; in recent years, many hotels and resorts have appeared. What to do here: in addition to walking, fishing, picking mushrooms, healing mud and mineral water are practiced here. Borovoe is also a local climbing Mecca, athletes from all over the country come here for training and competitions.

The nearest city is Astana.


8. Charyn canyons

Charyn, Valley of Castles

The canyons of the Charyn river valley are one of the attractions of the Almaty region and a must visit place. Fanciful winding grottoes, cut by the waters of the ancient sea, invite attention with their fantastic shapes and colors. There are several canyons, but the most famous is called the Valley of Castles. It really looks like a set from a fantasy movie with its red and yellow "towers", "fortress walls" and boulders-animals scattered here and there. The Valley of Castles, by the way, is called the little brother of the Grand Canyon in California. In Charyn you can also see an amazing tree that survived the ice age - a relic Sogdian ash.

Nearest city - Almaty


9. Kolsai and Kaindy lakes

Kaindy Lake

Another great attraction of the Almaty region. Kolsai is the name of a cascade of three lakes in the Kungei Alatau mountain range. The lakes are beautiful at any time: incredibly clear water, changing color from dark blue to turquoise, virgin forest around and stunning nature fascinate. This is a great place for hiking and horseback trekking, for example, by this route from the First to the Second Lake. In the lakes there is a local trout - osman. On the First Lake there is an infrastructure for living, boating and catamaraning.

Kaindy is another lake located in the neighboring gorge. This is exactly that turquoise pond with trees, sticking out of the water, that you can see in the pictures about Kazakhstan. The history of the phenomenon is simple: in 1914, during a strong earthquake, a landslide came down to the bottom of the gorge and blocked the flow of the Kaindy River. A lake formed, flooding the dense forest at the bottom. The trees seemed to be preserved in cold water - their white skeletons with branches remained above the water, and the lower part of the crown was overgrown with algae - this gives the underwater part of the forest the appearance of a real green thicket.

Nearest city - Almaty


10. Ile - Alatau National Park

Ile-Alatau National Park

It occupies almost the entire mountainous territory adjacent to the city of Almaty. In fact, these are all mountains around Almaty, and there are many amazing places to explore. For example, Maloalmatisnsky (Small Almaty) gorge with the Medeo skating rink and Shymbulak ski resort (45 minutes from the city center). Or go higher - to the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Trans-Ili Alatau. The glaciers of Bogdanovich, Tuyuk-Su or Manshuk Mametova can be reached on foot, from the end of the road. If you take a cable car to the Talgar Pass, you can see the highest point of the ridge - Talgar Peak (5017m), covered with eternal ice. In addition to the Maloalmatinsky gorge, must-visit are:

- Butakovka gorge and Butakovsky waterfall (by bus from the city center) - an option for lovers of walking

- Issyk gorge and high-mountainous Issyk lake - here you can catch trout on a trout farm

- Turgen gorge and its famous waterfalls. An excellent option for hiking for 1 day, for example, to the Kairak waterfall.


11. Turkestan and the moscue of Khodja Akhmet Yassaui

Mosque of Khoja Ahmet Yassaui in Turkestan

If you want to see the real history of Central Asia, then be sure to come to Turkestan, a city in the south of Kazakhstan. This medieval center of culture has changed a lot in recent years - a new airport, museums and hotels have been built here. Although, as before, the most visited place remains the mausoleum of Khoja-Ahmet Yassaui - a wonderful example of oriental architecture of the XII century, which would be the envy of the palaces of Samarkand and Khiva. Near Turkestan, you should definitely visit the ancient city of Otrar, which is being actively reconstructed. As well as the settlement Sauran - the ancient capital of the Kazakh Kaganat.


12. Akmeshet cave

Akmeshet cave

Another attraction included in the list of 10 wonders of Kazakhstan. Located 80 km from Shymkent, this cave is perhaps the most mysterious in the region. There are many legends around it - it is believed that it was both a dragon hole and a shelter for Kazakh warriors who fought against the Djungars. The cave is huge - its length is more than 200 meters, its height is 25, and its width is 65 meters. They say that before it had no external exits and underground tunnels led inside. Inside there was a mosque where miracles were performed. Over time, the underground passages filled up, and the mosque became desolate. However, in the last century, part of the arch collapsed, making the cave accessible to the public.

Author - Asya Burambayeva, guide

Frequently asked questions about Kazakhstan

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adventure Kazakhstan  Golden Ring of Almaty  7-day trip by Almaty region