Where is Kazakhstan and Why Should I Go?

Friday, November 23, 2018

If you wonder where is Kazakhstan, you are probably an adventurer. Central Asia is a place that attracts many people, offering spectacular landscapes and fascinating culture. 

Kazakhstan has a blossoming economy, due to its natural reserves (oil and valuable minerals), so it became the central point for great travel adventures in this part of the world. 

If you try to find where is Kazakhstan on the map, look for the Caspian Sea and the Altai Mountains. It is the 9th largest country in the world; it's not easy to miss it although the other Caspian Sea countries are pretty big themselves, they are Russian, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.

There are so many reasons to visit Kazakhstan. First of all are the richness of nature, the fascination of the desert, the best ski resorts in Central Asia, and the wilderness of this country land. 

But then there are the little eccentric museums, the culture, mosques, and monuments of hundreds of years of civilization. 

Lastly, there are the people, their traditions and very specific foods, their mentality and artistic style. Add all these and you'll have the journey of a lifetime.

Sit back, relax, and learn where is Kazakhstan and why is it worth your time!

Best Time to Visit Kazakhstan

Shymbulak Ski Resort is just a 15 minute ride away from Almaty and is worth visiting during the winter months.
Shymbulak Ski Resort is just a 15 minute ride away from Almaty and is worth visiting during the winter months.

Steppes and mountains of Kazakhstan wait for most of their hiker visitors during July and August. The weather is perfect, and you can enjoy all the country's regions. 

Still, don't limit your journey only to these two months. Spring and autumn are also suitable for traveling across Kazakhstan, and the views can be even more beautiful. 

If you are a winter sports fan, plan your journey in the winter and try the best ski resort from this part of the world. The mountains of Kazakhstan are gorgeous, wild, and so different from anything similar.

As in other Central Asian countries, spring is welcomed with a major festival. It is called Navruz, and it is held on the 21st of March. It is an excellent opportunity to watch local traditions and taste local foods.

Read more: Where is Kyrgyzstan?

Sports events are also a show. Where is Kazakhstan, you can see aitys and kokpar games (this is the national sporting game, and it is actually a goat's flaying competition).

If you plan your journey around the culture and civilization of Kazakhstan, you might need a long journey.

Festivals and celebrations are something usual in this country. Here is a short list of festivals for your agenda:

  • Navruz – 21st of March; welcomes spring and celebrates it in sports competitions and many local traditions
  • Russian Orthodox Easter – someday in spring, the date is different every year. It is an opportunity to see religious traditions and take part at a midnight mass. You should also try kulich, a special Easter cake.
  • National Unity Day and Victory Day – 1st of May and 9th of May; they celebrate peace and a multicultural nation. Parades (military and civil) will be all over the major cities. It is an opportunity to discover the authentic Kazakh spirit.
  • Preserve Balkhash – in July; the date is different every year; it is the bikers’ festival meant to dill with the ecological problems of Lake Balkhash. A modern type of festival, which celebrates the environment.
  • Kazakh Independence Day – 16th of December; celebrates the independence from the Soviet Union. Obviously, you’ll see some great fireworks. 

How to Get Around in Kazakhstan

Roads in Kazakhstan can get you anywhere, but they aren't well-maintained.
Roads in Kazakhstan can get you anywhere, but they aren't well-maintained.

You can come to Kazakhstan by plane or by car from the neighboring countries. Inside the country, you can get around by car, shared taxi or train. 

Roads get you almost anywhere, but they aren't very well maintained. Still, a road trip in Kazakhstan is something you will appreciate. 

Read more: Where is Tajikistan?

The gorgeous landscapes of this country will be just outside the window, and you can stop for pictures as much as you want.

What to Do in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is full of natural wonders, and Lake Kandy is truly magical with its sunken forest and turquoise water. Where is Kazakhstan, there is magnificent nature too!
Kazakhstan is full of natural wonders, and Lake Kandy is truly magical with its sunken forest and turquoise water.

Once you found out where is Kazakhstan, you'll notice that you have a very long list of things to do in this country. Start your journey in Astana, the current capital of the state. 

A brand-new city, built by the world's most famous architects, Astana is quickly leaving the old city behind. Soviet-style and modern architecture mixed together to offer a fascinating view to the many tourists who visit this city. 

Read more: Kazakhstan Road Trip Guide

Go and see the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation for a great view over the city as well as for the museums and art galleries hosted here.

While you are in Astana you should also visit:

  • Nurzhol Bulvar – a contemporary architecture boulevard where most of the stunning buildings of the city are. Bayterek Monument is a must.
  • Khan Shatyr – the largest marquee in the world. It is home for an indoor beach.
  • National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan – is a vast museum where you can see pre-historic artifacts and World War II memories. It also covers the nomadic way of life, specific to this part of the world.
  • The Museum-Memorial Complex – situated in Malinkova, 35 km away from Astana, the museum is dedicated to Soviet repression. In Malinkova there was ALZhIR, a camp for the children and wives of the ‘enemies of the people’.

You should also visit the old capital of Kazakhstan, which is Almaty. This is the largest city in Kazakhstan and is surrounded by mountains. 

It is also the main cultural and financial city of the country. Beautiful and expensive (in the top 50 most expensive cities in the world), the city offers many museums, monuments, and palaces, which will tell you more about the Kazakh culture. 

Go to Kök Töbe (“Green Hill”) to enjoy the view of the city from a green and relaxing place. A cable car will take you there if you don't like taking the bus. 

While you are in Almaty you should also visit:

  • The Medeu – an outdoor ice arena, dedicated to skating and hockey. It is opened all year-round because it is situated at 1,691 meters altitude.
  • Ascension Cathedral – a Russian Orthodox cathedral made entirely from wood. The strange thing is it has no nails... The cathedral was completed in 1907.
  • Central State Museum of Kazakhstan – initially located in the Ascension Cathedral, the museum has its own home since 1985. Here you can see the most important collection of Kazakh history.
  • Shymbulak – the largest ski resort in Central Asia. It definitely deserves to plan a journey in winter.
  • The lakes – yes, there are many of them. Kolsai Lakes and the Big Almaty Lake are unique attractions for nature lovers. The Big Almaty Lake is at 2,511 meters altitude. Its turquoise water is just stunningly beautiful. Alpine flora and fauna will complete the adventure. It is only 15 km away from Almaty, so you can quickly get there by car, bicycle, or hiking.

Although the cities of Kazakhstan offer comfort and the conditions any tourist wishes for, a journey to Kazakhstan is more about the trekking experience, the mountains, and the beautiful steppe. 

Pick a national park (if you can decide to just one) and enjoy a unique landscape.  

Burabay National Park, for example, is called “Kazakhstan's pearl”. A green oasis with blue lakes and rich wildlife, Burabay is a local treasure. The legend says that Kazakh prayed to God to give them something else besides the arid steppes and God put everything in Burabay region. 

Ile Alatau National Park and Karkaraly National Park will also win your heart. 

Here is the list of Kazakhstan’s natural parks:

  • Altyn Emel National Park – for those who enjoy desert and rocky terrain. Visit the Bes-Shatir, a monument of Saco mounds, built in the VIIth century BC.
  • Bayanaul National Park – with four freshwater lakes on its territory, this park is the favorite tourist destination. It has large, strange looking rocks, which attracts climbers and photographers.
  • Burabay National Park
  • Buiratau National Park – has a unique ecosystem, something between a dry steppe and a forest. You can find four trekking routes here.
  • Charyn National Park – home for the Charyn Canyon
  • Ile Alatau National Park
  • Karkaraly National Park
  • Katon Karagay National Park – is the largest national park in Kazakhstan. Explore the Tundra and its rich flora and fauna.
  • Kokshetau National Park – 14 hiking routes are waiting for you in this Siberian taiga ecosystem. Understand the life of nomad people by visiting Kurgan burial mounds.
  • Kolsay Lakes National Park – is stunning. Some call it “the Pearl of Tien Shan”. With Kolsay Lakes and over 3 000 meters high peaks, this territory is an authentic mountain experience.
  • Sayram-Ugam National Park – for those looking for juniper forests. 10 tourist trails are the temptation of this park. They have from 7 km to 70 km, choose wisely.
  • Zhongar-Alatau National Park – this glaciated mountain has 7 routes prepared for you. It is extremely rich in species of plants and animals (over 2 000 species of plants). Many of them are endemic, so be respectful. Take only pictures.

But you cannot leave from Kazakhstan without seeing the Charyn Canyon. The 90 km long canyon is also part of a national park. 

The red sandstone will definitely impress you. The multicolored rock layers and the arid landscape, the unusual rock formations called the Valley of Castles, and the endless photography opportunities attract many tourists here. 

They also come for rafting and canoeing, for fishing and trekking.

What to Eat in Kazakhstan

Beshbarmak is a traditional Kazakh dish that you can eat with your hands. Where is Kazakhstan, delicious food awaits!
Beshbarmak is a traditional Kazakh dish that you can eat with your hands.

Kazakh cuisine is by itself a reason to find out where is Kazakhstan. This is mainly because Kazakhstan's desserts are an essential part of everyday food. 

It is a tradition, and you cannot work against it. They are homemade, mainly baked, and delicious. Try at least Domalak Baursak, Yespe Baursak, and Shelpek. 

As in other Central Asian countries, you will find here the flatbread called nan and a tradition in green tea. Eat the rich breakfast they offer, because you will need the energy for the exciting day before you. 

Kazakhstan is a good place to try mutton or horse meat because they also have a long tradition in cooking it. Here are some traditional Kazakh foods you really have to try:

  • Beshbarmak – boiled horse or mutton meat. You can find it under the name of “five fingers” because you can eat it with your hands.
  • Kazy and Shuzhuk – horse meat sausages
  • Kuyrdak – a dish made from organs and meat, usually mixing horse, sheep, and cow meat.
  • Zhal and Zhaya – horse meat delicacies
  • Shubat and Kumys – fermented camel milk and fermented mare milk
  • Manti – lamb of beef in the dough
  • Kuurdak – a stew made from mutton meat, with a lot of fat and onions
  • Baursaks – similar to donuts, dough deep-fried in oil
  • Kashk – fresh cheese which can be eaten by itself or dissolved in water and used instead of yogurt
  • Sheck-sheck – a Tatar dessert, made of small pieces of dough deep-fried in oil. Sometimes they include dried fruits or nuts.
  • Nan, Tandyr nan, and Tokash – bread types, some of them baked in the traditional tandoor oven

Now that you know where is Kazakhstan; if you ever go there, embrace the mountains and love the steppe. Open your heart to a different culture, try their amazing food, and be grateful for every moment. This is a rich and unique country. The nomad spirit is preserved in their way of life, in their mentality, and their food. Even if modern society has a different kind of life, here you can see the nomad legacy everywhere. 

Traveling is about getting to know different cultures and about the excellent opportunity to experience nature. People adapt to the environment and Kazakhstan is a perfect example of this. Don’t be afraid to try horse or mutton meat, to taste fermented milk drinks, and drink tea that wasn’t transported for thousands of kilometers. Let the landscape overwhelm you and respect nature as it is. See how sports are integrated into society, how people’s roles differ with gender and age and understand how survival is more important than consumption and waste. 
 
Kazakhstan is an experience, a journey, and a lesson.

Monica Radulescu a freelance writer for aSabbatical.com
Travelling is a joy. It's a way to become a better and wiser person. Mountain paths and road trips are my favourites.