The mountain regions abutting the Kyrgyz, Chinese and Russian borders offer the greatest outdoor excitement. The best areas for multiday adventurous trekking are the Tian Shan range to the south and the Altay Mountains to the east, though the mountains around Almaty, Kolsai Lakes, Aksu-Zhabagyly Nature Reserve and Sayram-Ugam National Park offer excellent day hikes.
Ascents of Belukha in the Altay, and Khan Tengri and other peaks in the central Tian Shan, are superb challenges for climbers in July and August.
Kazakhstan is an emerging birdwatching destination, lying on early-summer migration routes from Africa, India and the Middle East to Siberia, with hundreds of species to be seen. The mountains south of Almaty and the deserts northwest of the city are good areas, as are the Aksu-Zhabagyly and Korgalzhyn Nature Reserves.
Cycling & Mountain Biking
Cycling among Kazakhstan's central steppes and hills is offered by Karaganda-based Nomadic Travel. Kazakhstan Bike Tours (www.biketours.kz), an affiliate of Kan Tengri and Spice Roads (www.spiceroads.com) are just two of the operators who offer multi-day cycle tours of Kazakhstan. There are mountain biking enthusiasts in Almaty, with plenty of potential for the sport in the surrounding mountains, but mountain biking tourism hasn't taken off yet.
Rafters can tackle the Chilik or Ili Rivers out of Almaty and several rivers out of Ust-Kamenogorsk, but they have to organise everything themselves; rafting tourism is not yet developed in Kazakhstan.
In winter skiers and snowboarders enjoy Central Asia’s best facilities at the modern Chimbulak resort near Almaty as well as a couple of others. There's good skiing in Altay as well, but you need a border permit to visit the area.