South Kazakhstan’s most vibrant city, with a booming bazaar and lively downtown, Shymkent has more of a Central Asian buzz on its leafy streets than anywhere else in the country. Stop here to soak up the atmosphere, eat well and cheaply, and head out to nearby places of interest including Turkistan, Sayram, Otrar and the Aksu-Dzhabagly Reserve.
The Mongols razed a minor Silk Road stop here; the Kokand khanate built a frontier fort in the 19th century; Russia took it in 1864; and the whole place was rebuilt in Soviet times. Shymkent smelts lead, makes cigarettes and refines oil, but it’s best knownfor Kazakhstan’s best beer, Shymkentskoe Pivo. The population today is about half Kazakh, a quarter Russian and 15% Uzbek. Mosquitoes are an irritant from late June to late July.