We know you, overland cyclist. We have seen plenty of your kind pass over the years, and we know what you’re up to, up for, and up against. In Kazakhstan, it can be distilled into 3 itineraries: from the Caspian Sea to Uzbekistan, from Kyrgyzstan to China, or, less frequent, Uzbekistan to China. You can find the 3 detailed itineraries on this map. If you are not an overlander, there are other interesting routes, mostly mountainbike trails, across the country. Much is still unexplored, but a good place to start is Wikiloc.
Aqtau – Beyneu – Nukus (8-10 days)
This will be one of the toughest stretches on your trip. There are no sights, besides the bleak desert and its inhabitants, and the occasional cemetery or isolated settlement. In general, this is not fun. You are doing it for the experience. The heat is an issue for most, and you have to be lucky with the wind, which is always fierce. The road is “utter dogshit” (not my words) on the Kazakh side, but smooth tarmac in Uzbekistan. For practical details on surviving this lonely, deserted part of your trip, the following cycle blogs are most helpful: Pedaling Prescotts, Tom Bruce, Postulate One. If you want to visit some sights along the way, see our itineraries for West Kazakhstan and Karakalpakstan.
Karakol – (Almaty) – Khorgos (12-30 days)
Many cyclists are sad to leave the beautiful mountain scenery and friendly semi-nomads of Kyrgyzstan behind for the unrelenting heat of the Kazakh steppe, and see Kazakhstan as a hurdle to pass on the way to the more interesting pastures of Xinjiang. It’s a quick 4-day, 320 km trip through the steppe between Karakol and Khorgos for them, through the Kegen border (only open in summer).
If you want to visit Almaty, it’s important to get off the busy Kuldzhinski Trakt (A351) and turn off towards Malibai on what is known as the BAK-ovskoe road. BAK stands for Big Almaty Kanal, and you will follow a quiet, shaded road along the canal for a large part of your journey. There are some kurgans after the village of Zhanasharuak.
If you don’t mind off-roading and adding extra elevation and kilometers, you can visit 4 national parks on your way to the nation’s most inspiring city. This itinerary takes you from Karakol to the Kolsai and Kaindy lakes, past the deep Charyn Canyon, along Bartogai reservoir, the stunning Assy plateau and the Turgen gorge, past Esik and Esik lake to Almaty.
This is heavy-duty off-road. After a little rest in Almaty, you can continue past lake Kapchagai to the Altyn Emel National Park and onwards to the Khorgos border. For this itinerary on the map, see our Almaty region itinerary.
Tashkent – Khorgos (12-20 days)
It’s less likely you are taking this road, as most cyclists go through the Ferghana Valley to or from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, but if you are, this is not a terrible route either, flanked by the northern Tien Shan for most of the way, across some of the most fertile agricultural land in Kazakhstan. Since you just came from Tashkent, you will be stocked with supplies and can miss out on Shymkent: a nice town, but similar to its bigger, more interesting big sister Almaty. Instead, skirt (or head into) Sairam-Ugam National Park, and do the same at nearby Aksu-Zhabagly NP. Then it’s the main road for most of the time, mixed with a few shortcuts through village Kazakhstan until Taraz. From Taraz, it’s steppe all the way until Almaty.