Summer is for exploring the steppes and mountains, winter is for skiers, spring is for festivals and flowers. Here’s more as you plan your visit.

Deciding when to visit Kazakhstan isn’t like deciding when to visit Venice or Tokyo or Florida: since this Central Asian giant attracts relatively few visitors, there are no overly crowded periods to avoid.

Prices for accommodation are fairly stable year-round (though your options might be limited in winter). So your decision on when to visit Kazakhstan and its vast steppes, impressive cities and mystic mountains will depend on the weather. Biting, dark winters deter many travelers from visiting in the earliest months of the year, while many places, such as Shymkent, simply swelter in the height of summer.

Yet it’s possible to have a fabulous visit any time of the year in wild Kazakhstan – if you know, that is, just when to go where. 

Lake Akkem with Mt Belukha in the background, Altai Mountains, Kazakhstan
The warmest months open up the possibility of exploring the highest mountains © Ionov Vitaly / Shutterstock

From May to September, go exploring in the wilderness

Though Kazakhstan is never crowded, summer is the high season. And for good reason: the warm weather makes it possible to explore deep into the mountains, with snow having cleared most of the passes by mid-June. While many Kazakhs decamp to the shores of Lake Issyk-Köl in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, many others visit their own vast lake at Burabay National Park. While Burabay village and the beginning of the lake can draw crowds, once you set out on the walking trails through birch forests you’ll soon find yourself practically alone. It’s worth spending a few days in the area, perhaps renting a catamaran or small boat on the lake, or climbing one of the hills that offers a fantastic lookout over the park.

The true highlight of a summer visit to Kazakhstan? Access to the Altai Mountains, a wilderness rich in wildlife, whose remoteness is so extreme it brings a tinge of danger. You don’t get here by accident. Katon-Karagay National Park should be high on your list thanks to its green meadows, local honey and fine mountain cuisine.

It’s also possible to visit regions like the Ustyurt Plateau in summer: although it’s a deserted and dry steppe, with hot daytime temperatures to match, there is always a breeze. Same goes for the city of Aktau, whose shoreline is dotted with beaches and resorts along the Caspian Sea.  

A man leads a camel as part of a Nauryz celebration, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Every March, Nauryz celebrations across Kazakhstan are a big deal © Kazakhstan Presidency / Anadolu via Getty Images

In spring and autumn, celebrate nature and culture

Spring arrives at different times in this vast country: May in the north in May, April in the south. Whenever it arrives, any Kazakh spring is a short one – and always marked by Nauryz, around the third week of March. Across the country (and all of Central Asia), everyone will celebrate this festival, which welcomes the change in season. The smell of sumalak, a sweet paste made over the course of a week from germinated wheat, wafts through every square. National games are organized as well as dancing and singing performances. Astana has a reputation for throwing a particularly spectacular Nauryz celebration.

Later, when spring hits its peak, Kazakhs and travelers alike head for the hills to see the first wild tulips blooming in the meadows. Shortly after come the spectacular poppies. The hills outside Shymkent lend themselves particularly well to this season. 

Autumn at Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan
The changing trees make Charyn Canyon especially beautiful in autumn © Olga Kulakova / Shutterstock

Autumn is a period of celebration in steppe cultures, including the Kazakhs, with weddings often scheduled for this season. In 2024, Astana will be hosting the quadrennial World Nomad Games in mid-September.

The changing colors of the forests and the cooler temperatures make autumn the best time to visit Charyn Canyon, which is otherwise too hot to enjoy during summer. The outskirts of the Altai range in the east are nice to hike in during early autumn, too – as long as the first snows haven’t yet fallen.

For travelers visiting several “-stans,” spring and autumn are the perfect time to visit, as the weather in hotter regional destinations such as Uzbekistan is still clement.  

A skier with a backpack skis past yurts at Shymbulak near Alamaty, Kazakhstan
Skiing is a prime attraction of winters in Kazakhstan © / Shutterstock

Winter is…extreme – and perfect for adventurous skiers

If -30°C (-22°F) doesn’t scare you away from the get-go, then a winter visit to Kazakhstan is worth the journey. Mountain lovers can ski at Shymbulak Ski Resort outside Almaty. It’s the largest ski resort in Central Asia, with slopes threading through the Tian Shan mountains.

Outside of skiing, winter can be a difficult time to visit Kazakhstan, with winds that whip across the steppe bringing biting cold (the same cold that chills Siberia). On less-freezing days in smaller villages, you might catch a match of kokpar, the Kazakh version of the Central Asian game in which horse-mounted players use a dead goat in place of a polo ball. On days when the wind abates, the silence and emptiness of the steppe is at once oppressive and invigorating.

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