For overlanders who just want to get home, or don’t have the time to deal with the hassle of a full-blown Central Asia travel adventure, this itinerary presents a good way of getting from Europe to China quickly, while still seeing something altogether different.
It’s a sad sight looking at something that isn’t there anymore, but it has retained an enduring power of attraction over travelers for decades, so it should be part of this itinerary. Stop off at the former capital Kyzyl Orda if you want to experience the real Kazakhstan and to catch a glimpse of Baikonur space port.
Nothing is seen for quite a while longer as you keep moving east through the deserts and steppes of the west until you reach Turkestan, a charming mud-walled town with the Timurid masterpiece that is the mausoleum of Khoja Achmet Yassaoui as its high point.
Onwards to Shymkent then, a bustling trade hub near Uzbekistan filled with noise, cars and golden smiles. If you have the time, make the detour to the national park of Aksu-Zhabagly or Sayram-Ugam to get a feel for the green side of Kazakhstan, with a homestay and horse riding and trekking possibilities galore.
If you’re really into history, stop by Taraz. In all other cases, head straight for Almaty. It’s the nation’s culture capital, and nature is seriously gorgeous outside of the city limits. If you have the time, do have a look around here before you head off to the border post at Khorgos, leading to Urumqi.
Almaty is the nation’s cultural capital, with lots of possibilities for the outdoor enthusiast and landscape lover.
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.