An entry point into Central Asia by air from the Caucasus and İstanbul, and by an irregular ferry from Baku (Azerbaijan), Aktau (Актау) perches on Kazakhstan's Caspian shore. With some sandy beaches, low-key summer tourism and a temperate climate (several degrees above zero in January), this spread-out, dusty town is pleasant enough for a day or two – but the area's main interest, other than transport connections, is the natural and human-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. Today, Aktau is a centre for oil and gas operations, both onshore and offshore.