A good network of domestic flights links cities all around Kazakhstan and fares are reasonable. The main airlines are the pricier international-standard Air Astana, and inexpensive SCAT. Bek Air and Qazaq Air serve more limited destinations. All Kazakh airlines now meet international safety standards.
Airlines offer various fares on each route and we have quoted the lowest ones commonly available within about a month before departure, typically 15,000T (US$100) to 30,000T (US$200). Closer to departure, you might pay up to double.
All airlines issue e-tickets online, payable with international credit cards.
There are challenges to cycling in Kazakhstan, from the enormous distances between places to intense heat in summer. But there is little traffic outside the main cities and some parts of the country, such as its southern and eastern fringes, make for challenging but beautiful routes, and more and more cyclists are taking up the challenge.
In cities such as Almaty, Nur-Sultan and Shymkent there has been a move to introduce more and more cycle lanes. Each of the cities has numerous automated bicycle-rental points, ideal for travelling short distances.
It's not possible to get around Kazakhstan by boat.
With a few exceptions such as the busy Shymkent–Almaty, Nur-Sultan–Karaganda, Atyrau–Uralsk, Semey–Ust-Kamenogorsk and Uralsk–Aktobe routes, intercity bus services are unlikely to thrill you, with less frequent departures in increasingly aged buses from ramshackle bus stations. Nevertheless, buses are an option for trips of up to five or six hours – generally a bit faster than trains and with fares similar to platskartny (3rd class) on trains – typically around 500T per 100km. For longer trips trains are generally more comfortable.
Note that most bus companies require you to pay a fee for storing luggage in the luggage compartment – typically around 10% of the total fare. When purchasing your bus ticket, ask about provoz bagazha.
Car & Motorcycle
Traffic police and poor roads (in that order) are the main hazards of driving in Kazakhstan. Main intercity roads may have bad, potholed stretches but are mostly in decent condition. Huge infrastructure projects are massively improving some major trunk routes.
Traffic police may stop motorists just to check their papers, and have a reputation for finding irregularities that they may then overlook if bribed. Go very slowly past any parked police vehicle or police observation post. The blood-alcohol limit is zero. Don't run red lights and do stick to speed limits (usually 50km/h in cities and 90km/h outside them). The standard bribe rate in the Mangistau region is 5000T.
You should carry an International Driving Permit as well as your home-country licence.
For many trips it is easier, and no more expensive, to take a taxi or tour than to rent a self-drive car, but there are self-drive options if that suits your needs best. In fact, Kazakhstan rewards those intrepid and adventurous people with plenty of time on their hands and a love for driving, since many of the country's natural and cultural attractions often lie in the middle of nowhere and are reachable by rugged roads. Europcar (www.europcar.com) has rental offices in Almaty and Nur-Sultan. You can also rent through local agencies or travel agencies. Short-term self-drive rates start at around US$60 per day; expect to pay US$80 to US$100 for a 4WD. Renters must normally be aged 25 or older and have held their licence at least one year (three years with some firms). Check the small print very carefully: some companies, for example, don’t allow vehicles to be taken out of the local oblast (region).
Those in favour of two-wheeled exploration can find kindred spirits via SilkOffRoad Motorcycle Club (www.silkoffroad.kz), a pioneer of motorcycle tourism across Central Asia. Motorcycle rent, expert advice and technical support is provided by Car & Bike Rental Marat in Almaty.
Marshrutkas & Minibuses
Many short and medium-length intercity routes (up to three or four hours) are now covered more frequently by modern, relatively comfortable minibuses (and a few marshrutkas – less comfortable, Russian-built, combi-type vehicles). These generally cost about 50% more than buses and go quicker.
Trains serve all cities and many smaller places. They’re a good way to experience Kazakhstan's terrain, vast size and people. Except for small local trains, tickets are best bought in advance. In summer, the best tickets for popular trains may sell out a couple of weeks in advance. The official, trilingual www.tickets.kz site allows you to purchase tickets online (and book your favourite seat/berth) using international Visa and MasterCard. Tickets may also be cancelled online for a small fee. Some international trains don't show up on www.tickets.kz, but appear on the www.tatu.ru site. If you purchase a ticket through www.tatu.ru, make sure that there's a '3P' symbol under the train logo that indicates that you can print the e-ticket off yourself. All others must be collected from a train-ticket machine in Russia.
Tickets may also be purchased or printed off at all major train stations using the ticket machines provided. Note that they will not print tickets for departures within 24 hours, though showing the carriage attendant an electronic ticket on your smartphone (if you have one) is usually sufficient. Station ticket queues can be slow, but all cities also have downtown train-booking offices, called zheleznodorozhnaya kassa (Russian) or temir zhol kassasy (Kazakh), where you can buy tickets at a small commission, though most travellers have little use for them now that it's possible to buy online. Always take your passport when buying tickets.
Trains are generally slower than road travel but for longer intercity trips are the only option other than flying. Fares in platskartny (3rd-class open-bunk carriages) are similar to bus fares. Kupeyny (2nd-class four-person couchettes) costs about 50% more – typically 300T to 400T per hour of travel. We have quoted kupeyny fares, unless stated otherwise.
Timetable information is available in English at www.tickets.kz, www.poezda.net (with fares in Russian roubles) and in Russian and Kazakh at temirzholy.kz and epay.railways.kz. This last company has an online booking facility that accepts international credit cards but is still only in Russian and Kazakh (users collect tickets from machines or ticket counters at stations). Bear in mind that all train departures are shown in Nur-Sultan time (GMT plus five hours). If you're travelling in western Kazakhstan (GMT plus four hours), remember to get to the station an hour early.