Highlights of Kazakhstan Tour

Travel through Kazakhstan and visit World EXPO 2017

Explore Kazakhstan’s dramatic landscapes and diverse cityscapes with a historian, storyteller, a Kazakh TV star and travel guide Dennis Keen

Days

14

Price

€2490

Briefing

Comfort level:

Physical rating:

Group size: 12

Countries: Kazakhstan

Route:

  • Almaty
  • Altyn Emel
  • Shymkent
  • Turkestan
  • Astana

Themes: Cultural Tours

Kalpak Travel introduces you to a true legend of Kazakhstan, a historian, storyteller, a Kazakh TV star and your personal guide Dennis Keen. In his home state of California, he obtained his M.A. in Russian and Eurasian Studies from Stanford University and presently he is the host of the travel show “Discovering Kazakhstan”. There is no better guide to open doors for you and show you the unique and authentic parts of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is a country undergoing change, yet old traditions are valued alongside modern practices.  Kazakhstan’s Soviet and modern cities combine to create a timeless atmosphere, while the country’s mighty landscapes will capture both your imagination and your heart. From vividly painted canyons to singing sand dunes, its diverse countryside offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the region.  Meanwhile, the country’s abundant oil and mineral reserves have funded bold urban landscapes.  Yet amidst such change, the country doesn’t lose sight of its nomad roots, assuring those who come of the warm welcome that’s characterized this nation’s attitude to visitors for centuries.

 

highlights

  • Visit modern Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan since 1997
  • Tour vibrant Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan
  • Experience the Singing Dunes of Altyn Emel National Park
  • Hike near Kaindy Lake, in whose emerald waters stands a forest swamped after an earthquake
  • Be wowed by Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan’s answer to the Grand Canyon
  • Sample award-winning plov in the best restaurant in Shymkent
  • Explore Kazakhstan’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasavi in Turkestan
  • Visit World Expo 2017 dedicated to Future Energy

ITINERARY & MAP

red funicular with Almaty city in the background, Kazakhstan tour

Our Kazakhstan Tour begins in Almaty, previously the capital of the Kazakh State when it was under Soviet control in the 20th century.  The largest city in Kazakhstan, its name translates as “the place with apples”.  Due to the wide variety of wild apples found near here, it’s believed that it is the place where apples originated from.  After being transferred from the airport and an early check in to our hotel, we’ll hit the streets of Kazakhstan for a tour of its most memorable sights.

Our comprehensive itinerary includes such gems as Zenkov Cathedral, a wooden Orthodox church built at the turn of the century without the use of nails, and the Almaty Museum of Musical Instruments, created in 1980 to exhibit a collection of traditional Kazakh instruments.  We’ll celebrate the fresh produce for which Almaty is famous with our next stop at the Green Bazaar.

After lunch at this bazaar, we‘ll also visit the State Museum.  Later, we will go on a workshop tour to see how locals integrate traditional design into modern clothing and accessories and meet with the owners of these modern concept stores that breathe new life into longstanding national traditions.  To round off the day, we’ll enjoy a welcome dinner where we’ll deliver a presentation about Kazakhstan and answer any questions that you might have.  It’s a great opportunity to meet your tour leader and fellow tour participants.

Transport: Minivan with A/C for transfer

Accommodation: Hotel 3* by Western standards, altitude 500m

Singing sand dune seen in Kazakhstan Tour

Our destination today is Altyn Emel, a national park famed for its singing dunes.  Rising about 150 meters and stretching for a distance of approximately 3 km, unlike most desert dunes, they don’t migrate with the wind.  Instead, they play a melody in dry weather.  Some believe that the wind is responsible: a breeze makes the sand squeak and a gale produces a tune more akin to an organ.  Others claim that the sand becomes electrified due to friction and creates a sonic vibration as a result.  Either way, hearing the Singing Barchan is bound to be a phenomenon that you won’t forget.  Once we’ve explored the dunes, we’ll visit a nomad banya to experience the local tradition of taking a sauna before transferring to a small hotel in nearby Baschi village for an overnight stay.

Accommodation: local small hotel

Duration of sightseeing and transfer: 6-7 hours

traveler in front of Aktau Hills in Altyn Emel

After breakfast, this morning we’ll continue exploring the Altyn Emel national park and drive to see a 600 year old willow tree.  This part of the park has an imposing backdrop formed by the Aktau and Katutau Mountains.  The Aktau Hills are a range with great natural beauty. Bands of white, red and orange run horizontally to striking effect. The Aktau Hills are also known for their unique paleontological deposits.  An estimated 56 species of Early Miocene flora including pine, spruce, birch, alder, oak, walnut, chestnut, linden, frame, pistachio and ailanthus have been discovered.  They survive here together with the remains of ancient creatures like crocodiles, turtles and giant rhinos with an estimated age of 25-30 million years.  There’ll be time for a short hike before we have a picnic in this magnificent place.  Back at the hotel we’ll dine and also try out the local beer.

Accommodation: Local small hotel

Duration of sightseeing & transport: 6-7 hours

Tourist at the Kaindy Lake, Kazakhstan travel

Today’s focus is Kaindy Lake.  Its name translates as “birch tree lake”.  Rising from its emerald waters are the slender trunks of a forest, drowned in 1911 as the result of a huge flood triggered by a violent landslide caused by the Kebin earthquake.  The lake’s statistics are impressive: 400 metres long and 30 metres wide.  The lake is the jumping off point for some scenic hikes along the Chilik Valley and to the Saty and Kaindy Gorges.  We’ll have plenty of time to absorb this beautiful scene before we transfer to Satty Guesthouse, our overnight stop.  There, we’ll make a bonfire and eat bananas and chocolate in front of the flames.

Transport: Intercity transfer with minivan

Accommodation: Guesthouse, drop toilets outside, no shower

Duration of sightseeing tour: 3-4 hours 

Horse riding along the second Kolsay Lake in kazakhstan's nature

Kaindy Lake isn’t the only body of water to draw tourists in this part of Kazakhstan and today we’re treated to a hike that encompasses not one but three Alpine lakes located at varying altitudes from 1700 meters to 2650 meters.  The crystal clear Kolsai Lakes lie in an idyllic location framed by towering cliffs and snowcapped peaks.  Their wooded slopes hide the trail that will lead us from the first lake to the second.  We’ll break our walk to enjoy a picnic surrounded by nature and then return to the guesthouse in plenty of time for dinner.  To soothe any aching muscles there’s a Russian-style banya where we can bathe.

Accommodation: Guesthouse, drop toilets outside, no shower, but there is a small sauna

big car passing through the Charyn Canyon

Today after breakfast our destination is the Charyn Canyon.  Though not as large at 200 meters deep and 90 or so kilometers long, it is similar in appearance to America’s Grand Canyon with the same rich palette of ochres, umbers, and crimson reds.  Over millennia these sedimentary rocks have been eroded and weathered into the incredible canyon that you see today.  One of the most famous sights in the canyon area is the “Valley of Castles” which is known locally as Dolina Zamkov.  These imposing rock formations, though natural, look like towers created by people and line the valley for about 3km.  Breaking our day with a picnic of shashlik, meat on a stick, there’ll be plenty of time to wander and snap some souvenir photographs.  Later, we will transfer to our overnight base, the Lesnaya Skazka Guesthouse.

Transport: transfer with minivan

Accommodation: Guesthouse with western toilets & shower

Horses gazing in the steppes of Kazakhstan

Today we offer a break from traveling and a chance to relax and recharge the batteries in the beautiful surroundings of the Lesnaya Skazka Guesthouse.  Those wishing to remain at the guesthouse can enjoy its spa and sauna, or perhaps form a group and entertain yourselves with paintball or karaoke.  Alternatively, the local stables can arrange horse riding excursions in the local countryside.  Lunch will be at a local restaurant serving traditional Kazakh dishes before our afternoon departure to Almaty.

Transport: transfer with minivan

Accommodation: Hotel 3* by Western standards

Sign post at shymbulak kazakhstan, switzerland is 5000 km away

On the south-eastern outskirts of Almaty lie the city’s winter sports playgrounds, Medeu and Chymbulak.  Almaty hosted the 2011 Asian Winter Games and the facilities enjoyed a considerable upgrade at this time.  Medeu boasts a huge ice rink, used for speed skating and also the ice-based game band which has more players worldwide than ice hockey.  At 1691 meters above sea level, it’s the highest ice rink in the world.  Chymbulak is located higher up the valley at an altitude of 2200m and is Kazakhstan’s top ski resort, with a range of runs to suit all abilities.  A modern cable car links the two.  Of course, as we’re visiting in summer, there’ll be no snow on the ground but there’ll be plenty of time to explore both places nevertheless.  We’ll also enjoy a traditional Kazakh lunch in a local restaurant.  In the early evening, we’ll transfer to the airport for our internal flight to Shymkent where we’ll eat a late dinner.

Transport: transfer with minivan

Inland flight: approximately 2 hours

Accommodation: Hotel 3* by Western standards

Uzbek plov on traditional plate with yellow carrots-Uzbekistan food

Shymkent, the third largest city in Kazakhstan, has a history which spans eight centuries.  It was founded as a caravanserai to protect the ancient Silk Road city of Sayram and grew as a trading center where the Turkic nomads could do business with the settled Sogdians.  Our tour of the city will focus on the bazaar, which still captures the essence of the old Silk Route, and also its mosques and parks.  The city’s name actually translates as “meadow city” in Turkic.  Afterward, we’ll sample the typical Central Asian dish called plov.  Unsurprisingly there are plenty of places where you can find this dish in the city, but we’ve chosen a restaurant that won the 2016 Plov Festival competition and you’ll see it cooked the traditional way over an open fire.  Later, we’ll pay a visit to the Ethno-museum Keluet and then have dinner with a local family.  You may also wish to visit a local jazz club before turning in.

Transport: transfer with minivan

Accommodation: Hotel 3* by Western standards

This morning, we’ll depart for Turkestan, a 1500 year old city not to be confused with the similarly named country of Turkmenistan.  Once, it was known as Yassy and Shavgar, capital of the Kazakh Khanate where coronations took place.  One of its most well-known monuments is the Mausoleum of Khoja Akhmed Yasavi.  He was an important figure in the spread of Islam across the Kazakh steppe.  Emperor Tamerlane commissioned this mausoleum in 1389 and work continued until his death in 1405, when construction was halted.  In ancient times, visiting this place three times equated to a visit to Mecca. Today, this unfinished mazar is an impressive sight, boasting the largest dome in Central Asia.  It became Kazakhstan’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.  We’ll explore thoroughly before making a series of visits to some of the city’s crafts workshops.  Finally, we’ll return to Shymkent.

Transport: transfer with minivan

Accommodation: Hotel 3* by Western standards

Baiterek seen from the Khan Shatyr, Astana, Central Asia Tour

Today’s sightseeing centres on Sayram, a city close to the Uzbek border which celebrated the 3000th anniversary of its founding in 1999.  This historic place had the first mosque in Kazakhstan and is set apart by the absence of Soviet-style architecture which characterizes many cities in the region.  Instead, it maintains its traditional mud-brick architectural style and there are many interesting structures to explore.  After an introduction to Uzbek culture and cuisine, we’ll dine Uzbek-style at a local café and then resume our sightseeing.  Later, we’ll drive back to Shymkent for dinner at a Korean restaurant.  In the early evening, we’ll transfer to the airport for our short flight to the Kazakh capital, Astana.

Transport: transfer with minivan

Internal flight: approximately 2 hours

Accommodation: Hotel 3* by Western standards

Astana skyscrapers in kazakhstan trip, central asia adventure

Astana hosts Expo 2017, following a long line of distinguished predecessors that have held this prestigious global event.  We’ll begin, of course, at the Kazakh Pavilion, before taking a city tour.  Astana is a relatively new city, founded by Russian Cossacks in 1824, and an even newer capital, taking the reins from Almaty only in 1997.  Once called Akmola, or “White Grave”, its name was changed to Astana, meaning capital, to reflect its new role. Now, its modern buildings are lit by neon and its flourishing economy is a draw to young and dynamic Kazakhs looking to make their fortune.  We’ll have a dinner at a rooftop restaurant to make the best of those incredible city panoramas.

Transport: transfer with minivan

Accommodation: Hotel 3* by Western standards

Baiterek-symbol of Kazakhstan-a golden circle on top of tree structure

After breakfast, we’ll concentrate on the old city and take a walking tour that allows us to become better acquainted with Astana’s Russian colonial architecture.  We’ll also take a ride on a ferry along the Ishim River.  In the afternoon, we swap modes of transport again, taking a bus tour during which we’ll learn all the nicknames of Astana’s prominent landmarks and noteworthy buildings.  Our last night in Kazakhstan will be marked by a farewell event, the perfect opportunity to reminisce about our favorite moments from the trip and to say goodbye to the friends we’ve made along the way.

Transport: transfer with minivan

Accommodation: Hotel 3* by Western standards

Today it’s time to say a fond goodbye to Kazakhstan.  Our driver will provide your transfer to Astana International Airport.  We hope you’ve enjoyed your trip and will return soon to explore other Central Asian countries.

Inclusions

Transport
Metro, Airplane, Horse, Minivan
Meals
14 breakfasts, 13 lunches, 13 dinners
Accommodation
Hotel/guesthouses - 14 nights
Included Activities

Almaty – city tour

Turkestan – mausoleum tour

Shymkent – city tour

Astana – city tour

Astana EXPO entrance ticket

dates & price

Total trip price

€2490

Euro

14

Days

Single supplement available for €600

Deposit: €250

Departing
Finishing
Status
Booking
23 Jul 2017
5 Aug 2017
Available
Price includes
  • All transfers by minibus according to the itinerary, pick-ups and drop-offs
  • Accommodation based on sharing a double/twin room
  • English speaking tour leader accompanying the group for the whole time
  • All entrances as per itinerary
  • Full board (breakfasts, lunches, dinners)
Price does not include
  • International air fares
  • Hotel charges for additional services
  • Consular fees for the Kazakhstan tourist visa
  • Travel insurance is required
  • Personal expenses e.g. souvenirs

Important notes

  • Travel insurance is required for this tour. Upon arrival, please provide your insurance details to the tour guide. Which insurance you choose is up to you. We recommend this one: https://www.worldnomads.com
  • Minimum group size is 3 people, we recommend waiting for our confirmation before purchasing non-refundable travel services like air ticket

KAZAKHSTAN TRAVEL INFORMATION

MONEY & COSTS:

The Kazakh currency is called the Tenge (KZT). The banking system in Kazakhstan is the most developed in Central Asia and in big cities there are many places to exchange money and to withdraw cash from ATMs using a variety of cards. We recommend bringing some cash in new USD bank notes of denominations of at least 20 USD. Small and old-looking bank notes are harder to exchange. Paying directly with a credit card is still not possible at most places, except for high-end restaurants, hotels and international stores like Zara, Mango, McDonalds or Starbucks. An emergency fund of around 500 USD in cash is always good to have during guided trips to Central Asia.

SAFETY:

Kazakhstan is a multi-ethnic country with a long history of tolerance. Guests and locals are treated with respect and the whole country can be regarded as a very safe destination for travelers. That said, you are advised to wear a money belt, watch your belongings, avoid dark streets at night and take only official taxis. Your safety is our first priority at Kalpak Travel; we know and regularly assess all our Kazakh partners and we closely monitor political events.

ENTRY & EXIT:

Citizens of most Western countries do not need a visa for a stay of up to 15 days in Kazakhstan. To be sure whether you need visa or not you can check on the website of The Visa Machine. Any permits you might need for access to places that will be visited during your tour, we will provide for you free of charge.
As soon as we receive the deposit payment for your tour, we will confirm your booking and send you an email with important pre-departure information. Please read it carefully as it contains important information on customs regulations for Kazakhstan.

BEST TIME TO GO:

The climate of Kazakhstan is continental and dry in the majority of the country, including the largest cities. Summers are very hot with day temperatures between 30° and 40° Celsius and winters extremely cold with strong winds. In the mountains, however, weather is quite changeable. If you are planning to visit the mountains the best season is summer. Be aware, however, at high altitudes of 3000 metres or more it may even snow overnight during the summer. For cultural sightseeing tours spring and autumn are the best seasons. Autumn is also the time when the country goes to harvest, meaning markets are full of fresh fruit and vegetables. In 2017 the world exposition takes place in the Kazakh capital of Astana from June 10 to September 10. If you are planning to visit Astana we recommend that you go during that time.

HEALTH:

Do not drink water, unless it is bottled, filtered or boiled. Do not use tap water for brushing teeth or making ice either. Do not eat ice cream. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled. If you follow these basic rules, you are likely to avoid any health issues like traveller’s diarrhoea. Diphtheria, Hepatitis A and Tetanus are recommended vaccinations for Kazakhstan. Ensure you are fully insured for medical emergencies including repatriation. Medical services in Kazakhstan are basic at best.

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