Kazakhstan traditionally sits in last place on Silk Road travelers’ must-visit list. That’s not because of a lack of attractions. But it does get trumped by its neighbours on several counts.
While Kazakhstan has beautiful steppe and mountain scenery, there are no yurts like in Kyrgyzstan or Mongolia. Kazakhstan has interesting medieval Islamic architecture, but Uzbekistan has more.
Add to that the sheer size of Kazakhstan, few tourism companies and restrictive government policies (it’s getting better): more limiting factors in attracting tourists.
So why still visit Kazakhstan?
Kazakhstan appeals to different people in different ways. Chinese travelers enjoy the fresh air and the lack of people, while Emiratis love how it is so green, and kind-of Muslim. Snow-white, ice-cold winters attract visitors from tropical countries.
For Westerners, the main selling point are Kazakhstan’s unique landscapes, dripping with freedom. On top of that, singular experiences include the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Semey Polygon, the landscapes of Mangystau, the balbal of the steppe, glitzy Astana and chaste Altai.
Where to go?
For the majority of visitors, Almaty region and the southern area around Shymkent are the only things they will see of Kazakhstan. There is nothing wrong with that. Kazakhstan is a very big country: in area size, these 2 regions are bigger than Germany or Japan.
Together, they provide a great sample of what Kazakhstan is all about, both culturally, historically and in terms of natural beauty. Since they border Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, visiting the south and the Almaty region makes a lot of sense in any overland itinerary.
If you only get to see 1 place: Almaty region has the most attractions and the best infrastructure.
Off the beaten track
Only those who like to go further off the beaten track (preferably with their own transport or a budget for tours) will want to venture into the other regions of Kazakhstan. If you have a specific interest like Soviet history, archaeology, botany or birding, you will also find much to enjoy here.
Find out more about Kazakhstan’s different regions.
- Almaty Region: Kazakhstan’s most pleasant city, sat on the doorstep of a mountain range. Beyond, a landscape safari beckons.
- The South: Medieval mausoleums, and national parks sheltering tulips, birds, mountains and bears
- The North: Kazakhstan’s brash new capital stands in stark contrast to modest Altai
- The West: Oil towns and stark desert landscapes, this is a geologist’s dream
- The Center: Remote steppe oddities of niche interest