An entry point into Central Asia by air from the Caucasus and İstanbul, and by an irregular ferry from Baku (Azerbaijan), Aktau perches on Kazakhstan's Caspian shore. With some sandy beaches, low-key summer tourism and a temperate climate (several degrees above zero in January), it’s a pleasant enough town for a day or two – but the area's main interest, other than transport connections, is the natural and man-made wonders of the surrounding region, Mangistau.
Local uranium and oil finds were the reason Soviet architects began to lay out a model town of wide, straight streets in this remote location in 1958. The uranium, from an open-cast mine 30km northeast, fed Aktau’s nuclear fast breeder reactor, which generated the town's electricity, powered its desalination plant and produced uranium concentrate for military purposes. Uranium mining, nuclear power and associated industries were wound down in the 1990s, but Aktau has since gained a new lease of life as a centre for oil and gas operations, both onshore and offshore.
The only significant street with a name is Kazakhstan Respublikasy Prezidentininy dangyly (you can understand why many people still call it Lenina). Aktau addresses are based on mikrorayon (microdistrict) building numbers: 4-17-29 means Microdistrict 4, Building 17, Apartment 29.