Why 2024 is the Prime Time to Discover Kazakhstan

By Ivan PetrenkoJun 16, 2024 22:00 PMNews
road to Kayyndy
road to Kayyndy. Source: unsplash

Direct flight routes, festivals with nomadic flair, and millennia-old natural beauty are drawing travelers to the Kazakh Steppe this year. Here's how to explore the best of the country's landscapes, culture, and events in 2024.

Stretching far out into the horizon, the vast grass seas of the Great Steppe roll across Central Asia in a rugged and dramatic fashion. Though occasionally roamed by the rare horse rider or lone nomad, the plains of Kazakhstan are largely unexplored by the majority of travelers. This beautiful, remote region is increasingly showcasing its modern identity to the world through its cities, events, and transport hubs. Thanks to a number of direct flight routes from London and 30-day visa-free access for UK visitors, it's now easier than ever to experience Kazakhstan’s distinctive culture and landscapes. Here’s how to do it.

Most visitors will enter Kazakhstan from the forest-swathed southeast, landing in Almaty. Divided by dense thickets of pine and birch, the city’s surrounding green mountain peaks conceal vast lakes and twisting horseback trails. In Kolsai Lakes National Park, Lake Kaindy’s cerulean waters draw the most attention. Here, a landslide triggered by an earthquake formed a natural dam and submerged a spruce forest beneath the lake's surface. It’s now surrounded by picturesque hiking trails and secluded accommodation options. For equally dramatic yet drastically different scenery, travel from Almaty to Charyn Canyon. Easily traversable, this vast red and golden gorge is cut through by a walkable or drivable (in a 4x4) trail guiding visitors to dizzying desert viewpoints.

Those keen to venture deeper into central Kazakhstan can take the train into the region of Turkistan and the historic Silk Road city of Shymkent. Life has persevered here since the fourth century, with the city playing host to Sufi sheikhs and Mongol leaders, and becoming a center of Islamic learning under the Timurids. Hop over low-lying mud-brick walls and stroll between the turquoise-tiled domes that cap mausoleums around the city, or roam the battlement ridges of the protective outer wall. The city’s Uzbek architecture and Persian designs were conserved under Soviet rule, making it an ideal stop for those curious about the history of the Turkic Steppe and a great base for further exploration of the Turkistan Region.

In the west, the port city of Aktau and its Caspian shores offer easy access to the otherworldly plateaus that characterize the Mangystau Region. Laced with lines of ochre rock and amber streaks, this region's colorful geology enshrouds labyrinthine desert trails and dramatic gorges. Sharp jutting ridges and undulating rock formations shadow clear traces of 50 million years of life existing in its canyons — paleontologists regularly unearth new evidence of animal life in the Ustyurt Nature Reserve. From large Tyrannosaurus rex and mammoths to giant fish fossilized within the Paleozoic seas, the fauna of the region has been millennia in the making.

All these landscapes have been navigated for centuries by the nomadic people of the steppe, whose ancient traditions you can witness today. Observe displays of horse riding or falconers flying their hunting eagles before settling down to try beshbarmak, a platter of boiled meat and innards served with a glass of fermented milk to settle the stomach. Alternatively, order qurt, a cheese made from goat’s or camel’s milk that’s stored in saddlebags and churned by the galloping motion of the nomads’ horses.

How to Travel to Kazakhstan in 2024

Why Now?

In September 2024, competitors from all over the Eurasian Steppe will converge in Astana for the fifth World Nomad Games. Athletes participate in events like mounted archery, falconry, goat pulling, and horseback wrestling.

Where to Stay?

Visitors from the UK should base themselves in either Aktau or Almaty, both of which are accessible via direct flights from London Heathrow with Air Astana up to four times a week. These cosmopolitan hubs serve as gateways to the country’s best natural and cultural experiences. To catch the World Nomad Games, take a domestic flight to the country’s capital, Astana.

When to Travel?

Seasons are an intense affair in Kazakhstan as temperatures can range from 40C to -20C. The best time to visit is during the spring or autumn, when the climate is more moderate. In winter, head to Almaty, where ski areas are accessed via cable-car.

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