The world’s ninth biggest country is one of its last great travel unknowns. Though the outside world is gradually becoming aware of Kazakhstan, largely thanks to its oil and the antics of that pseudo-Kazakh Borat Sagdiyev, few have really explored this country of vastly varied attractions.
Easily the most economically advanced of the ‘stans’, post-Soviet Kazakhstan is reinventing itself as a uniquely prosperous and modern Eurasian nation. The leafy commercial and social hub, Almaty, has an almost European feel with its quality hotels, slick boutiques, chic cafés and streets thick with BMWs and Mercedes. Astana, in the north, is being transformed at quickfire speed into a 21st-century capital with a unique mix of Islamic, Western, Soviet and wacky futuristic architecture. President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since Soviet times, doesn’t encourage political opposition but is managing to forge a peaceful, multiethnic nation – which makes him on the whole pretty popular.
Around the fringes of the great steppes where the once nomadic Kazakh people – still famed for their horse skills and unique equestrian sports – used to roam, Kazakhstan presents an array of surprising adventures. You can trek on foot or horse in the spectacular Tian Shan or Altay Mountains, watch flamingos on steppe lakes or discover mysterious underground mosques near the Caspian Sea. Community ecotourism programmes in some of the most beautiful areas enable travellers to stay with village families at affordable cost.
With travellers still rare here, a foreign guest is usually treated not as just another tourist but with real hospitality, and locals will often go out of their way to help you. Enjoy it while it lasts!
Ready to go?
These tours & activities make it easy:
Best places to stay in Kazakhstan
Central Asia travel guide
With its medieval blue-domed cities, kinetic bazaars and remote yurtstays, Central Asia encapsulates the romance of the Silk Road like nowhere else.
Astana: a new horizon in Kazakhstan
As Peter the Great built St Petersburg on a swamp and Philip II of Spain turned a dusty village into Madrid, so Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, decreed that a rundown steppe town bang in the middle of nowhere should be transformed into the nation’s capital...
Central Asia - Plan your trip (Chapter)
Your journey to Central Asia starts here. You’ll find the tools to plan your adventure: where to go and when, how much to budget, plus in-depth info on visas and permits.
Kazakhstan: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Central Asia guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip. In Search of Kazakhstan (also published as Apples Are From Kazakhstan) by Christopher Robbins (2007)...
Central Asia phrasebook
Chit-chat your way along the famous Silk Road with this broad-ranging phrasebook. Covers Uyghur, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Pashto, Tajik and more.
Khan Tengri Expedition (7010m)
A technical high altitude expedition in the Tian Shan mountain range
Musical Sufis in Turkistan
If oil, gas, uranium and rockets are Kazakhstan's thrusting future, then Turkistan is where you will find its gentle soul...
Central Asia - Understand Central Asia & Survival Guide (Chapter)
All the info you need on everything from the history of Timurid rule and the destruction wreaked by Chinggis (Genghis) Khan to flights, public transport, climate, money, the internet... you name it.