If you have been travelling for so long and are running out of places to visit, why not consider visiting Kazakhstan? Yes, the one and only Kazakhstan! Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world and the most developed of the -stans countries, and the largest country in Central Asia. Because of its large area, It is surely difficult to run out of places to go and things to do in Kazakhstan. Cool, right? Hope you like our Kazakhstan Travel Guide and our Kazakhstan Travel Itinerary! Read here how to get from Astana airport to city center and Kazakhstan tourist sim card.
I first heard of Kazakhstan in the movie Borat. It is a really interesting place despite it not being in the usual travel bucket list of many. In this blog post, we will enumerate places to visit and different things to do in Kazakhstan that will surely make your trip remarkable. We will teach you how to move around Kazakhstan and where to stay in Kazakhstan.
Like I said earlier, Kazakhstan is a landlocked country, meaning it is almost entirely (maybe even entirely) surrounded by land. Its neighboring countries are Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, and China. The only sea border it has is the Caspian Sea, which is also a landlocked sea. Because of this, backpacking Kazakhstan is not that difficult because you can get there through land and air, which we will talk more about later. 🙂
Kazakhstan has a history that involves people of different nationalities- from Russians, Germans, Ukrainians, to Uzbeks, and many more. They comprise the people of Kazakhstan along with the country’s biggest ethnicity Kazakhs, which comprise 63% of the population.
They practice freedom of religion in the country but 70% of Kazakhstan’s population are Muslims. If you are wondering what their language is, it is called Kazakh. Russian is also widely spoken, and some people can also speak English.
Kazakhstan Travel Guide
Before Backpacking Kazakhstan
Currency and ATMs in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan’s official currency is Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT). 1 USD = 340 KZT. There are many money changers or currency exchange in the airports, train stations, and streets of Kazakhstan. The rates in the streets are very competitive. Click here to know the real time exchange rate.
ATMs are found everywhere in the streets of big cities. However, it may be hard to find one in small towns so make sure you withdraw before traveling to smaller towns. We also advise you to keep your loose change (coins) just in case you need it for train and bus rides and street snacks. Trying street foods is one of the top things to do in Kazakhstan.
Safety and Health in Kazakhstan
Vaccinations are common thing to consider before traveling to another country. Make sure to have an appointment with your doctor a month or two before the date of your trip to get the vaccines and medicines you need. However, no specific vaccine is required when visiting Kazakhstan. Yay, a good thing, right?
Is it safe to travel in Kazakhstan? Of course, it is! If you have ever heard or have read that crimes such as robbery and pickpocketing are common in Kazakhstan. We can’t say that it is really widespread because I did not experience it when I visited Kazakhstan and other Baltic countries last June 2016.
We suggest that you just take precautionary measures (like avoiding getting out at night and going to dark, quiet places) to avoid theft and be mindful of your belongings always. Foreigners are the usual targets so always be vigilant and of course, don’t forget to have common sense! 😉
Another reminder is to always bring your passport when you are outdoors! The authority may ask for it and they will fine you for not bringing it.
Visa in Kazakhstan
There are some nationalities who can visit Kazakhstan without visa for 14 days, 30 days, and 90 days. Europeans get 15 days free Visa upon arrival with no additional costs. See their Visa policy here to see if you qualify for a visa-less travel to Kazakhstan.
The requirements for backpacking Kazakhstan if you are a foreigner are:
– Passport valid for at least 6 months before intended stay in Kazakhstan
– Tickets and Documents for return or onward travel
Weather/Best Time to visit Kazakhstan
If you will ask me, I would say summer is the best time to visit Kazakhstan. The weather is warm and it’s perfect for outdoor activities. Summer lasts from the end of May until mid-September. If you want to experience the very cold winter in Kazakhstan, visit here in November until the end of April. But we are warning you of the strong cold air that can be up to -50 °C!
You can also visit during the short and dynamic spring (from mid-April to end of May) and autumn which is also a short season in Kazakhstan (from end of September to beginning of November). But beware of the unstable weather during spring, you may experience changes in weather really quickly.
Click here to get real time weather updates in Kazakhstan.
Travel Tip: Equip yourselves with the right kinds of clothes so you can save yourself from buying new ones all the time. Check the weather before travelling and plan your clothes as well.
Wi-Fi and Internet connection in Kazakhstan
Normally, Wi-Fi connection in the big cities can be easily found. You can get great internet connection in bars and restaurants. The opposite exists in rural areas in Kazakhstan, as Wi-Fi and data connection are hard to find.
If you want a prepaid sim card in Kazakhstan, then it’s better. Prices for a prepaid sim card and costs of prepaid load are crazy cheap! (Click here if you want to read the Best Filipino Sim for tourist if you are planning to visit the Philippines soon.)
How to get to Kazakhstan
When I went to Kazakhstan for my trip, I did it overland coming from Magnitogorsk, Russia. If you are coming abroad, let’s say Europe, most flights are destined to Astana and Almaty, Kazakhstan.
From London to Astana, it will cost you around $585 USD to 870 USD with one stop (approximately an 11-hour trip) and around 1000 USD for a nonstop trip, taking approximately 7 hours.
From London to Almaty, it can cost you around $700 USD for a one-stop flight taking 10.5 hours, and around 880 USD for a nonstop flight taking 9.5 hours.
Of course, choose the best flight for your budget and preference. You can click here to get the best flight deals for your trip to Kazakhstan.
How Much Budget Do You Need Per Day: Kazakhstan Travel Guide
You can make it through the day in Kazakhstan with a daily budget of 20-30 USD. Accommodation will be 10-15 USD per day. But food, water, tea and sodas are very affordable. Traveling in Kazakhstan is easy and you can manage to get through the day with less than 10 USD per day for basic local food, water and tea since it is so popular in Kazakhstan. For local transportation, in the cities you can get a bus for less than half a US dollar. For long distance buses, you will have to pay around 10-20 USD depending om where you are going! Most of the museums and mosques in Kazakhstan are for free, so you will not spend extra costs in entrance fees! Local SIM Card is also very cheap, from 3-4 USD and you get internet and calls for a couple of weeks.
You can spend higher with your budget by going to restaurants, bars for nightlife, and expensive hotels if you want to have more comfort in your accommodation. But it´s also true that you can go below this daily budget if you do hitchhiking, couchsurfing, sleeping with locals or using your tent during your trip in Kazakhstan.
Accommodation budget travel in Kazakhstan
Since Kazakhstan is not very touristic, there aren’t thousands of options on where to stay in Kazakhstan. However, there are still many places where you could spend the night.
AirBnB is also available in Kazakhstan and you can get a place to stay for $15. You can click here to get $30 USD off your first booking with AirBnB.
You can find accommodation in hostels starting from 10 USD. You can always look for better but more expensive options if you prefer, of course.
Want to spend less? We have been talking about sleeping with locals, read our 28 ways to sleep for free on your travels.
Kazakhstan Travel Itinerary
This is my own Kazakhstan Travel Itinerary for two weeks that I recommend- starting from Kostanay, North Kazakhstan since I was coming from Magnitogorsk in Russia on my past trip. Having a local experience in remote areas where internet is not available was one of the highlights of my trip in Kazakhstan.
For your trip, maybe you are coming by plane to Almaty. This modern city can require 3-4 days of exploring in my opinion. You can do activities such as walking around, sightseeing, plus meeting locals and trying local food. To avoid a very long trip to Almaty, you can stop in Karaganda.
There are a few things to do in Karaganda and explore markets. Since it is not a big city, 2-3 days can be fine if you have time. From Karaganda to Almaty you will have a very long trip, I recommend you to take a night bus so you will save one night accommodation and you can go around during the day. Or if you find a place to stop on your way to Almaty and have your own local experience, it can be amazing too.
Once in, Almaty 4-5 days are fine. There are many places to go around Almaty. You can go hiking in the mountains and you can also visit the city which is very beautiful. After Almaty? I went to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. It’s not a very long distance and it’s a perfect place if you can continue your trip around the Stans! This Kazakhstan Travel Itinerary is over 2000 kilometers from North Kostanay to South Almaty.
Transportation in Kazakhstan
Are you wondering how good or bad transportation is in Kazakhstan? Well, it is not really bad in big cities. There are local buses between cities and there are mini vans for small towns called Marshrutka. If you will take long trips, buses should be the first option. Roads from Karaganda to Almaty are so empty and the journey can last up to 16 hours! Almost one day of bus trip ha! Make sure you prepare for that very loooong trip. Prices are very affordable, so you don’t have to worry about high transportation rates. 🙂
Hitchhiking in Kazakhstan
If you are backpacking Kazakhstan and you are going to hitchhike, transportation might be a little bit difficult because there aren’t many cars, therefore, you must be on a good spot to wait and ask the car drivers to drive you to your destination.
Make sure you pack enough food and water cause waiting for someone to drive you might take long! If you are taking the road between to Almaty from Karaganda, there won’t be anything in the middle of the roads, so it will be hard to find water and food. Take note that some drivers might ask for money in return of their service for you. Just negotiate and always haggle for the cheapest price. Read here about my experiences hitchhiking in Kazakhstan, Russia and the Baltic countries. Can be useful if you are planning to do the same in your nest trip!
Places to Visit in Kazakhstan and Things to do in Kazakhstan
1. Explore Astana
I was surprised and amazed how modern the capital of Kazakhstan is! Transportation in Astana works really great. If you have a friend to show you around, it’s a plus, so you can enjoy the capital city the most. Also, prices in Astana are sooo affordable! Here are some of the things you can do in Astana:
Visit Modern Parks
There are many modern parks in Astana like the Presidential Park, Lovers Park, Bauyrzhan Momyshuly Park, Central Park, Astana Triatlon Park, and a lot more.
Another one of the things to do in Kazakhstan (not just in Astana) is visiting its famous landmarks such as the Bayterek Tower, Nur Astana Mosque, Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, Astana Opera and Astana Arena.
Watch Beautiful Sunsets
Of course, going to the top places to visit in Kazakhstan, one thing to do is to watch its beautiful sunsets. Watching sunsets is one thing that you should never forget to do when visiting a country because I believe that sunsets in each country is different and unique in their own way. Capturing it with your own eyes and your camera is the best way to have a memory of it. 🙂
2. Visit Karaganda
Although Karaganda is not a very touristic place. It’s a great city to visit in the middle of your trip to walk around, meet locals and try Kazakh food.
When I visited here, WiFi connection was working well and there were a few street markets. The city isn’t big and it´s a short trip from Astana. Before going to Almaty, you should visit Karaganda to do these worthwhile and relaxing activities:
Take a picture with monuments
Monuments and statues that are famous in Karaganda are Monument Mining Glory, Independence Stele, Monument to Cosmonautics, Statue of Lenin, and many more.
You should definitely take time to visit and take pictures with these famous statues and monuments to have more memories to keep from your trip to Kazakhstan.
There a lot of churches and mosques to visit in Karaganda. Some of which are Vvedenskiy Cathedral, Church of the Intercession, Church of Peter and Pavel, Karaganda Regional Mosque, which is one of the largest in Kazakhstan.
3. Go to Almaty
Almaty was the capital of Kazakhstan until 1997. It was the country’s trading and cultural hub and has a bigger population (1.5M) than Astana (814 000).
It isn’t that modern, and you can feel the local vibe everywhere. There are many good places here such as bars and restaurants, markets, and churches. Here are some of the things to do in Almaty:
Visit Lake Issyk
If you want to see and experience some beautiful nature, then visiting Lake Issyk should be on your list of things to do in Kazakhstan. You can capture one of Kazakhstan’s most beautiful landscapes here and you can relax and watch the sunset as well.
Visit Churches and Mosques
There is a Zenkov Cathedral in Almaty called Ascension, which is claimed to be second tallest wooden building in the world. You can also visit the Central Mosque, which is near The Green Bazaar, a large market for vegetables in the city.
Go to Charyn Canyon
Charyn Canyon, or Sharyn Canyon, is an impressive 90-km canyon that boasts colorful formations in different sizes and shapes. It should be definitely on your list of things to do in Kazakhstan on your next trip.
Hike in the mountains
There are many mountains which you can hike in Almaty. One of which is Zailiyskiy Alatau, a mountain range that extends up to Kazakhstan’s neighboring country Kyrgyztan. The peaks of this mountain range are easily accessible from the center of Almaty, only a 30-minute bus ride. Hiking these peaks can give you one of the most beautiful sceneries you can ever see!
Bayanaul National Park
Another activity for nature lovers and adventure seekers, visiting Bayanaul National Park should never be forgotten in list of things to do in Kazakhstan! This national park is in Pavlodar Province. It is a protected site and a favorite spot of tourists.
Some activities you can do in this national park are hiking, biking, rock climbing, and swimming. Swimming can be done in Jasybay lake. There are guided yours around many areas of the park that you can avail when visiting. It is a must-see place in Kazakhstan! If you like hiking read how to hike Taal volcano in the Philippines and also read how to climb Mount Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia.
4. Road trip on the horseback riding steppes
Kazakhstan is a country made of different kinds of land formations- meadows, desserts, plains, and steppes. If you have a car or have a companion to do a road trip with, then we recommend that you do this activity in Kazakhstan!
Did you know that Kazakh steppe is believed to be the first land where horses were tamed? It just proves that horses are tamed in Kazakhstan and these animals are a great provider in the country, whether be meat, milk, or their labor! In the present, you can even use these animals for trekking (horse trekking).
5. Explore Kostanay
Kostanay, for me, is one of the memorable places in Kazakhstan. It is a rural area where I stayed with a Muslim family for three days. They were really nice and it where I tasted different Kazakh cuisines (which I will talk about later) like Kumis, Kurt, and Horse Meat. It was a really great experience for me! It´s a must having your off beaten path experience in Kazakhstan.
More Things To Do In Kazakhstan
What to eat in Kazakhstan
Kazakh food is a very unique cuisine that I really loved! It is very different from the food of Western countries and also the Southeast Asian food. Kazakh cuisine is heavily influenced by Russian food and some cuisine from Turkey.
Oh, its prices are cheap, so I really loved it! It is cheaper than Western food but not as cheap as the Southeast Asian food. Here are some of the Kazakh food I loved:
6. Try Kumis or Horse Milk
As what I’ve said earlier, horses are a common source of milk in Kazakhstan. This kind of milk is very healthy and tasty! I actually liked it when I tasted it in Russia. Would you ever try kumis or horse milk?
7. Try Kurt
It is a very popular dish in Kazakhstan. It is a salty snack and it is made from dried salty cheese. I didn’t have many when I tasted it because the flavor is too strong and savory.
8. Horse meat and Beshbarmak
Another popular food is the horse meat. It is one of the kinds of food I tasted when I stayed with a nice Muslim family. We tasted Beshbarmak, a dish which means “five fingers” because you are supposed to eat it with your five fingers. It is meat with boiled noodles and onion.
9. Shashlik or kebab
This is a very famous dish in middle east and from other parts of the world. It is skewed meat (mostly lamb/beef) with vegetables like tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions.
These are delicious dumplings with meat fillings such as pork, beef, or lamb. It may also be filled with vegetables. They also eat in Russia, it was one of my favorite food in Kazakhstan!
11. Herring under a Fur Coat Salad / Shuba / Seledka pod shuboĭ
This dish is a traditional one which has finely chopped pickled herring, beets, potatoes, carrots, eggs, and dressing. It is inspired from the Russians and a popular dish to make in Kazakhstan.
12. Eat Borscht
This is a very popular soup dish around the world. It has beetroot (which gives the soup its reddish color), cabbage, and potatoes.
13. Meet and befriend the friendly locals
This is something you shouldn’t miss when visiting Kazakhstan! You should definitely meet and make friends with locals as they are nice and friendly and will surely make your Kazakh trip memorable! Don´t be surprised if locals invite you for a tea, lunch or dinner. They will be surprise of meeting you and they are so hospitable people. Just relax and have fun with them!
Festivals in Kazakhstan
If you really love fun festivals, then traveling to Kazakhstan must be really for you! Here are some of the festivals you shouldn’t miss in Kazakhstan!
January 1-2 – New Year (according to Gregorian calendar)
March – The International Women’s Day
March 22 – Nauryz Meiramy
May 1 – Kazakhstan People’s Unity Day.
May 9 – Victory Day (a national holiday to honor the victory in Great Patriotic War)
August 30 – Constitution Day
October 25 – Day of the Republic
December 16 – Independence Day of the Republic of Kazakhstan
During these days, people usually dress in traditional dresses and visit their family and friends to have festive meals. Kazakhs really love festivals and they prepare for each festivity.
Among the things to do in Kazakhstan we said and places to visit in Kazakhstan, which one is your favorite? How about your favorite Kazakh dish? Tell us more of your previous or next Kazakh trip!
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Happy travels! 🙂