Embark on a captivating journey to Kazakhstan, a land of breathtaking landscapes, rich traditions, and vibrant culture. In this comprehensive Kazakhstan travel guide, we invite you to uncover the diverse charms that this enchanting destination holds. From practical tips on accommodations and budget-friendly strategies to indulging in the tantalizing flavors of Kazakh cuisine and embracing local customs, we provide essential insights to ensure your exploration is both enriching and unforgettable.
Fast Facts About Kazakhstan
- Diverse Climate: Experience varying climates across Kazakhstan, from the arid deserts of the south to the continental climate of the north. Be prepared for temperature fluctuations.
- Local Currency: The official currency is the Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT). ATMs are widely available in urban areas, and credit cards are accepted in major cities.
- Power Voltage: Kazakhstan uses 220V electricity at 50Hz. Bring a suitable power adapter for your electronic devices.
- Language: Kazakh and Russian are the official languages. English is not widely spoken, so having a basic knowledge of Russian phrases can be helpful.
- Religion: Kazakhstan is diverse in its religious landscape, with Islam and Orthodox Christianity being the prominent religions. Respect local customs and religious practices.
- Safety: Kazakhstan is generally safe for travelers, with low crime rates. However, be cautious in crowded areas and always follow local advice.
- Cultural Etiquette: Greet with a handshake and direct eye contact. Remove your shoes when entering homes. Avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics or religion.
- Tipping: Tipping is appreciated but not obligatory. A 10% tip at restaurants is common if service charge is not included in the bill.
Best Time to Visit Kazakhstan: Seasons and Festivals
- Spring (April to June): Spring brings mild temperatures and blossoming landscapes. It’s an ideal time to explore cities like Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
- Summer (July to August): Experience warmer weather and vibrant festivals. The Astana Day celebration in July showcases the capital’s culture.
- Fall (September to October): Fall offers pleasant temperatures and colorful foliage. It’s a great time for hiking in the Altai Mountains.
- Winter (November to February): Embrace the winter wonderland of Kazakhstan, with snow-covered landscapes perfect for skiing in Shymbulak.
- Nauryz Meyrami (March 22): Celebrate the spring equinox with this traditional holiday, marked by feasting, music, and dancing.
- Astana Day (July 6): Immerse yourself in the capital’s festivities, with parades, concerts, and cultural exhibitions.
- Kazakh New Year (December 31 – January 1): Experience the Kazakh New Year, featuring fireworks, traditional performances, and festive meals.
- Nauryz (March 22): Join in the nationwide celebrations of Nauryz, a holiday symbolizing renewal and unity.
Top Attractions and Things to See and Do in Kazakhstan
- Charyn Canyon: Marvel at the breathtaking beauty of Charyn Canyon’s red rock formations, often dubbed the “Grand Canyon of Central Asia.”
- Medeu Skating Rink: Experience the world’s highest and largest mountain skating rink in Almaty, offering stunning views and ice skating fun.
- Nur-Sultan: Explore the futuristic capital city with its modern architecture, including the Bayterek Tower and the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center.
- Kolsai Lakes: Hike to the picturesque Kolsai Lakes, a trio of alpine lakes nestled amidst stunning landscapes in the Tian Shan mountains.
- Big Almaty Lake: Admire the serene beauty of Big Almaty Lake, set against the backdrop of majestic mountains and perfect for a relaxing escape.
- Altai Mountains: Embark on a trekking adventure in the Altai Mountains, home to diverse wildlife and stunning landscapes that will leave you in awe.
The Best Ways To Get Around Kazakhstan
- Public Transportation: Utilize the efficient public transportation systems in major cities like Almaty and Nur-Sultan, including buses and metros.
- Shared Taxis (Marshrutkas): Hop on shared taxis, known as marshrutkas, for short distances within cities or between towns, a popular mode of transportation.
- Domestic Flights: Cover long distances quickly by taking domestic flights, connecting major cities and remote regions.
- Rental Cars: Rent a car for flexibility when exploring remote areas and traveling at your own pace, ensuring a deeper connection with the landscapes.
- Trains: Experience the Trans-Siberian Railway, which crosses Kazakhstan, offering a unique opportunity to witness vast landscapes and diverse cultures.
Accommodation Tips: Kazakhstan
- Diverse Options: Choose accommodations ranging from luxurious hotels in major cities to cozy guesthouses and yurts in rural areas for a unique experience.
- Booking in Advance: During peak travel seasons, it’s advisable to book accommodations in advance to secure your preferred choice and rates.
- Local Guesthouses: Immerse yourself in Kazakh hospitality by staying at local guesthouses, where you can learn about traditions and enjoy homemade meals.
- Urban Convenience: Major cities like Almaty and Nur-Sultan offer a range of international hotel chains and boutique options for a comfortable urban stay.
- Yurts and Nature Retreats: Embrace the nomadic lifestyle by staying in traditional yurts or eco-friendly nature retreats, often surrounded by stunning landscapes.
Kazakhstan Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
- Free Museums: Take advantage of free admission days at museums like the National Museum of Kazakhstan in Nur-Sultan. Check their websites for schedules.
- City Passes: Look into city passes in major cities, such as Almaty and Nur-Sultan, offering discounts on attractions, tours, and transportation.
- Budget-Friendly Eateries: Enjoy affordable local dishes at canteens and street food stalls, where you can savor delicious shashlik (grilled skewers) and beshbarmak (meat and pasta).
- Hostel Accommodations: If you’re a solo traveler or looking for a social experience, opt for hostels, which provide budget-friendly lodging and opportunities to meet fellow travelers.
- Local Markets: Shop for souvenirs and fresh produce at local markets like the Green Bazaar in Almaty, where you can find unique items and immerse in local culture.
Culinary Delights and Traditional Cuisine in Kazakhstan
- Beshbarmak: Indulge in the national dish, beshbarmak, a hearty combination of boiled meat (usually lamb or horse) and pasta, served with broth.
- Shubat: Try shubat, a traditional fermented camel’s milk drink that’s both refreshing and nutritious.
- Manti: Delight in manti, steamed dumplings filled with meat or pumpkin, often served with a tangy tomato sauce.
- Kazy: Savor kazy, a smoked horsemeat sausage, a delicacy often served during special occasions and celebrations.
- Baursak: Enjoy baursak, a deep-fried dough snack, often accompanied by tea and served as a warm gesture of hospitality.
Souvenir Ideas: Bringing a Piece of Kazakhstan Home
- Kazakh Rugs: Purchase intricately woven Kazakh rugs that showcase vibrant patterns and traditional designs, adding a touch of Kazakh culture to your home.
- Traditional Musical Instruments: Consider bringing home a dombra, a traditional Kazakh musical instrument, as a unique and memorable souvenir.
- Embroidered Textiles: Shop for embroidered textiles and clothing, including traditional hats and dresses, that reflect the artistic craftsmanship of Kazakhstan.
- Nomadic Crafts: Seek out nomadic crafts such as intricately designed jewelry, hand-carved wooden items, and leather goods made by local artisans.
- Kazakh Spices: Bring the flavors of Kazakhstan home with you by purchasing aromatic spices like barberries and dried herbs, adding a touch of Kazakh cuisine to your meals.