A number of areas skirting the border with China and Kyrgyzstan have been deemed ‘sensitive’ by the government of Kazakhstan and a special permit is needed to visit them. This is a costly, time-consuming and sometimes impossible affair, which is a shame, since a few of the most beautiful places in Kazakhstan can be found inside these border zones.
At the same time, it means you will have the place to yourself if you manage to obtain the permit.
- The Polygon: the biggest nuclear testground in the USSR, near Semipalatinsk.
- Altai mountains: some of the most scenic parts of the Altai mountains in Kazakhstan, like Rachmanov springs and Lake Markakol are inside the border zone. You can apply for the Altai permit here.
- Dzungarsky Alatau: east of Tekeli, some parts close to China of this bucolic mountain range are off-limits.
- Northern Enylchek glacier: one of the biggest glaciers in the world, location of the base camp for Khan Tengri ascents.
- Baikonour Cosmodrome: in the heart of Kazakhstan, this deserves special attention, since it is a Russian enclave and you will need a Russian visa as well to visit.
- Chuy valley: largest marijuana fields in Kazakhstan.
- Border with Kyrgyzstan in Trans-Ili Alatau mountain range: certain (but not all) parts of the mountain range close to the border with Kyrgyzstan have restricted access.
Application for a border zone permit
Recent new legislation has further restricted tourism in the border zone areas. It appears that it is no longer possible to obtain a permit if you are intending to explore the area without an accompanying citizen of Kazakhstan. Check with a travel agent in Kazakhstan what their terms are, and if you can go independently if you want. You will need a travel agent anyway to apply for you for the permit.
When applying you will need to supply the following information:
- exact dates of your visit
- exact route and itinerary of your visit
- copy of your Kazakh visa and registration card
There is no secret service man following you during your stay in the border zone, so should you move away from your planned itinerary, you will not be immediately arrested.
Your application will be sent to different national security bureaucrats and after 14 business days your permit should be ready.
Price of a border permit
Prices these days start from 10 000 tenge. Express delivery can be arranged (still takes up to 1 week) for double the price.
Do I need a permit?
Here’s a list of places (ru) for which you do not need a border permit.
For the Dzungarski Alatau, we got the following comment from an expat who frequents the area:
I’ve been going there often for the past 2 years, but never bothered with the permit as it is almost impossible to get. I got checked only once in Ekiasha. There were troups from Ucharal blocking the road, letting people only with “пропуск” enter. I tried to make it through, but nobody could do it. As I work there, I still continue to go there, we just know that if soldiers are there we will be stopped and come back the next day, but this is very rare. For Tekeli, there is absolutely no control: you need to have a lot of courage to go untill the border from Tekeli! Mountains around are 3 600m high, without tracks.