Stuck between the desert and the Caspian, hundreds of kilometres from anywhere else of any size, with all its water derived from desalination, Aktau is perhaps the most oddly situated of all the weirdly located places scattered across the former USSR.
Local uranium and oil finds were the reason Soviet architects began to lay out a model town of wide, straight streets here in 1958. Thanks to the sandy beaches on the blue Caspian and temperate climate (several degrees above zero in January), the place was also developed as an elite Soviet holiday resort.
Now uranium and tourism are in decline, but the oil industry is picking up the slack. With its broad streets, benign climate, seaside location and reasonable standard of living, Aktau is a pleasant town to spend a day or two. More of a reason to come here, though, are the natural and manmade wonders of the surrounding region, Mangistau.
Last updated: Sep 25, 2008
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