With 2 to 3 weeks time for your itinerary around Kazakhstan you can take in quite a few sights and see a few of the many different sides of Kazakhstan. This itinerary is based around the 3 biggest cities of Kazakhstan: Almaty, Shymkent and Astana, and offers a good mix of city life and rural idylle, cultural treasures and natural beauty.
We start our travel itinerary in the southern trade capital of Shymkent. You’ll notice a distinct Uzbek flavour so close to the border, and the Shymkent market is one of best in the country. The city serves as a good base to explore the surrounding cultural heritage. The mausoleum of Achmed Yassaoui in Turkestan is a must-see attraction. For those with more interest in culture and history, the ruined Silk Road city of Otrar and the often-skipped historical treasures of Taraz are other highlights.
If you’re an outdoors enthusiast, head to Aksu-Zhabagly instead for an opportunity to stay with villagers, go horseriding, and witness some of Kazakhstan’s magnificent landscapes.
Onwards to Almaty then, a wonderfully relaxed, green city. Take a walking tour of the main sights and visit some of the museums and galleries. Almaty remains one of the most lively places in Central Asia, so come evening time, dive into the bars and the nightlife. Or sit back with a coffee in one of the hip coffee shops to see and be seen.
The next day, make an excursion to the Ile-Alatau national park, easily reached by bus or taxi from the city center. In winter, go skiing in Shymbulak or ice skating on Medeu, the highest ice rink in the world. In summer, explore the endless green pastures harbouring wild flowers and rare fauna.
The following days, get out and explore the surroundings. Easily reached with a day trip are the ancient petroglyphs and Buddhist markings at Tamgaly Tas, the amazing Charyn canyon, the high-elevation Big Almaty Lake and the Esik Lake and its surrounding tombs.
Almaty and its surroundings are enough to keep you busy for a good 2 weeks, but with limited time, be selective and head on an overnight train or a plane to Astana, 1000 km north.
A stopover in Karaganda will give you a feel for a different type of city, simultaneously working-class and intellectual, and a visit to Kazakhstan’s best museum, the KarLag memorial of Dolinka, will explain this discrepancy.
If you’re a fan of modern architecture, you will gasp at Astana’s audacity. Take a tour of the city and feel the difference with ‘old’ Almaty. Visiting all of the city and its many attractions will take up 2 days, but you can (for now) still see most of the sights in a single day.
If there is any time left, leave the city for the Korgalzhyn reserve. The most northerly place to see flamingos is a refuge from the city that does not compare with increasingly swish and crowded Burabay.