DISCOVERING THE REAL KAZAKHSTAN
Wedged between Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan lies in the heart of Central Asia. It encompasses stunning landscapes of barren steppe, striking desert and rocky canyons, all of which are backed by the snow-capped peaks of the Altai Mountains. While it’s not widely known as a tourism destination, Kazakhstan has a scattering of UNESCO sites and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes to explore. Add to that a rich and evocative Soviet history, plus one of Central Asia’s most striking modern capitals, and this off-the-beaten-path destination is well worth a visit.
The bright yellow Zenkov Cathedral in Panfilov Park, Almaty
Begin your visit in Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital, Almaty, which nestles in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains. It remains the trade and cultural hub of the country and is home to the stunning Russian Orthodox Zenkov Cathedral in Panfilov Park. Shop for fresh produce sourced from across Central Asia at the lively Green Market and delve into the local history at the Central State Museum before enjoy a well-deserved soak in the marble-adorned Arasan Baths.
Once just a small mining town on the Ishim River, Astana has rapidly flourished into a modern metropolis after being designated the capital of Kazakhstan in 1997. Soaring modern skyscrapers and innovative architectural landmarks stand in stark contrast to the surrounding steppe, with sweeping views on offer from the observation deck of the Bayterek Tower. Admire the immense blue-and-gold dome of the Ak Orda Presidential Palace and hit the indoor beach of the tent-inspired Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center or get up close to marine life (more than 3,000 kilometres from the ocean) at the Dunman Aquarium.
Soaring skyscrapers rise from the desert in modern Astana
Literary enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a visit to Semipalatinsk where the famed Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky lived during the mid-19th century. His former home is now open to the public as a museum, with the rooms decorated as they would have appeared during Dostoyevsky’s lifetime and accompanied by exhibits detailing his legacy. Learn about the novels he wrote exploring human psychology amidst the troubled atmosphere of 19th-century Russia and the friendship he established with Kazakh scholar Shokan Ualikhanov.
Burabay National Park
Escape to the wild landscapes of Burabay National Park, which is located in the remote Akmola Region of northern Kazakhstan. It’s been nicknamed “Kazakhstan’s Pearl”, with azure lakes that are surrounded by dense pine and birch forests, not to mention uniquely shaped rock formations. The landscapes here are steeped in local folklore while being home to more than 300 species of animals that include deer, moose and lynx.
The interior of a local mosque in Kazakhstan
Just a stone’s throw from the border with Kyrgyzstan, Taraz is one of Kazakhstan’s oldest cities, having been established by the ancient Sogdian civilisation. It served as an important stop on the Silk Road during the 11th and 12th centuries before Genghis Khan’s army swept through and largely destroyed it. Today, historic Taraz has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a fascinating place to wander. Don’t miss the Aisha Bibi mausoleum that was built by a ruler of the Karakhanid Dynasty for his lover or the Taraz Regional Museum where an eclectic assortment of local artefacts are displayed.
Horses galloping across the steppe in Kazakhstan