The country made famous by Borat (but don’t mention that to the Kazakhs!) is a land where you can ride on a train for three days without seeing a hill or a tree, it is a nation of which very little is known in the travelling community, and that is exactly its attraction.
Is an endless steppe landscape really the only thing there is to see in Kazakhstan? Of course not! In the south you have some of the best ski resorts of Asia, and in the west the Altay Mountains are just waiting to be discovered. This is a country that straddles two continents. Stand on a bridge in Uralsk or Atyrau with one foot in Asia and one in Europe. Gaze at the stupendous modern architecture of Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan, which is gobbling up ten percent of the country’s GDP. Look into the past at Turkistan (aka Turkestan), and into the future at Baikonur. And watch the empty cranes idly swing above the dry seabed of the former Aral Sea in Aralsk, once the major fishing port. Contemplate the horror of the atomic bomb in Semipalatinsk, where the Soviets tested their nuclear weapons.
Another of the former Soviet Republics, Kazakhstan maintains a careful balance between Russia and the West. With one-third of the population of Russian ethnicity it has two official languages, Russian and Kazakh.
The Kazakhs are mainly Muslim, while the Russians are on the whole Russian Orthodox. Religious fundamentalism is mostly unknown in Kazakhstan.
Highlights from Kazakhstan
Hints and Tips for Kazakhstan
- As with other former Soviet Central Asian countries, getting a visa can be a hassle. Officially a lot of western countries don’t need a Letter of Invitation (LOI) anymore, but some embassies don’t know about it or refuse to acknowledge this rule and still might require you to show one.
- Kazakhstan is expensive and it isn’t always easy to find a cheap hotel. Looking into other possibilities may be a good option to keep expenses down.
- Police sometimes still try to extort money from foreigners. Keep your head cool and refuse politely or pretend not to understand what they are saying.
- Trains are a good and economical way of travelling through Kazakhstan. Remember distances are vast, from Almaty to Astana takes 24 hours!