Although the country has so much to offer in terms of landscapes and outdoor pursuits, tourism (this includes ecotourism) in Kazakhstan is only just starting out.
Because Kazakhstan is such a large country, travel often involves driving long hours in big jeeps to get to a destination of pristine wilderness. Trains (powered by coal-generated electricity) are a good way to cross large distances, but they only get you as far as the main cities.
Hiking (around Almaty), cycling, rafting and horse riding are prime ways to get into nature with little negative impact on the environment. The mountains south of Almaty and Shymkent are the most accessible for outdoor pursuits, while the wilder, more remote Altai mountains are better suited to the real explorer.
Our partners in Karaganda are some of the most forward-thinking tour operators in Central Asia when it comes to ecology, sustainability and ecotourism, but their homebase in extremely untouristy Central Kazakhstan means few clients find their way.
Green places to stay
Although traditionally a society of nomads, nomadism was eradicated from Kazakhstan with the arrival of the Russian empire. Yurtstays with local shepherds like in Kyrgyzstan do not exist; yurts in Kazakhstan are only set up for weddings, national holidays and (mostly local) tourists.
National parks have homestays, though. You are staying with locals, these are usually very warm people with a smattering of English, eager to cook mountains of food for you and make you as comfortable as possible.
A night in a homestay costs 10-20$ per person, food included. You can book them through the Ecotourism office in Almaty (can be difficult as they are not so well-organised), or do it yourself: have a look at the options in Kolsai Lakes, Charyn Canyon (‘eco-park’, not homestay), West Altai, Dzhungarian Alatau and Aksu-Zhabagly.
Read on for a more in-depth review of accommodation in Kazakhstan.