The 25 best places to visit in Kazakhstan

 

In the west of the country between the Caspian Sea and the eastern border of Uzbekistan is the Beket Ata Underground Mosque, the final resting place of the Sufi mystic and teacher, Beket Ata. Set within a picturesque desert landscape, this extremely popular place of pilgrimage is a days hard travel from the city of Aktau across very difficult terrain.

25. Beket Ata Underground Mosque

 

Completed in 2012, in the south of the country north across the border from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, is the Kazakh city of Shymkent, home to the Baydibek Bi Monument. Built in honour of the great hero of the Kazakhstan nation, the statue stands at 10 metres (33 ft) high, making it the tallest in the country. 

24. Baydibek Bi Monument

 

Constructed in the 14th century in the southern centre of the country, north of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, is the Mausoleum Of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. Though never completed, the mausoleum has survived the centuries as one of the best preserved Timurid constructions, marking the beginning of an architectural style which would later spread across the region. The structure has come to epitomize Kazakh national identity and has been recognised as both a national monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

23. Mausoleum Of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi

 

Completed in 2012 in the countries capital, Astana, is the enormous Hazret Sultan Mosque, the second largest mosque in central Asia after the Türkmenbaşy Ruhy in Turkmenistan. Constructed in classical Islamic style with traditional Kazakh ornaments this wonderful white mosque has become one of the most beautiful constructions in the city.

22. Hazret Sultan Mosque

 

East of Almaty in the south of the country, set among and surrounded by steep snow capped mountains is the Assy Plateau. Ranging between 2,800 and 3,200 metres (9,186 to 10,498 ft) above sea level the area offers visitors easy access to view incredible mountain vistas.

Pictured is the Assy Observatory.

21. Assy Plateau

 

Between Almaty and the capital, Astana, in the eastern centre of the country is the elongated Lake Balkhash, one of the largest lakes in central Asia. Surrounded by beautiful mountainous landscapes, the worry is that the lake will soon go the way of the nearby Aral Sea and dry up completely.

20. Lake Balkhash

 

East of Almaty in the south of the country just north of the border with Kyrgyzstan is the relatively small Issyk Lake. Set within a valley surrounded by steep mountains it makes for a very picturesque location.

19. Issyk Lake

 

East of Astana, is the 685 square kilometre (264 square mile) area of protected land, Bayanaul National Park, the countries first area to receive such a status. At 1,027 metres (3,369 ft) above sea level Mount Akbet is the parks highest peak in what is a relatively low lying mountain range. As well as it's pristine lakes, Bayanaul National Park is most famed for the large rocks and stones that have been eroded by wind and water over thousands of years to take on bizarre and unusual shapes.

18. Bayanaul National Park

 

In the eastern centre of the country is the 1,121 square kilometre (432 square mile) area of protected parkland, Karkaraly National Park, encompassing the Karkaraly and Kent Mountains. It is a truly magnificent landscape of huge forests, rocky mountains and great open plains.

17. Karkaraly National Park

 

In the west of the country among a great open steppe is a place known as the Akkergeshen Plateau. Formed over millennia, great white rocks eroded by wind and water stand in a flat desert, creating one of the most alien landscapes in Kazakhstan.

16. Akkergeshen Plateau

 

Since replacing Almaty as the capital of Kazakhstan in 1997, Astana has become one of the most modern cities in Central Asia. It is now a place of tall skyscrapers, futuristic looking buildings, restaurants, hotels and nightlife for tourists from around the world. The most interesting landmark in the city is the Bayterek Tower, Bayterek meaning 'Tall Poplar'. Built to embody a Kazakh folktale about a magic bird that lays an egg between two branches of a mythical tree of life, it's easy to see why the tower has become a symbol of the capital. Standing 105 metres (345 ft) high with a 22 metre (72 ft) diameter golden sphere, the observation deck offers visitors an unimpeded panoramic view of the whole city and beyond.

Pictured is the Bayterek Tower.

15. Astana

 

In the far west of the country between the Caspian Sea and the borders of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is some of the most unusual terrain within Kazakhstan, one of those is known as Torysh, The Valley Of The Balls. The area consists of thousands of spherical rock formations across a great steppe, ranging in size anywhere from small marbles to that of a car. Some believe the balls were created by ancient civilizations, and although extensive research has not been done on the area, it's much more likely the ball shaped rocks are nothing more than an unusual geological creation.

14. Torysh

 

A very short distance north west from the Torysh, Valley Of The Balls, is another interesting landscape. In an area of fissures, cracked land, small rolling tightly packed hills and strange rock formations is the Sherkala, meaning Lion Rock, an enormous 332 metre (1,089 ft) white and yellowish outcrop rising vertically out of the surroundings.

13. Sherkala

 

In the southern centre of the country near the still operational Baikonur Cosmodrome lies an abandoned hangar that holds within it seemingly forgotten space shuttles. Damaged by an apparent hangar collapse the two shuttles dating from the seventies have been left to gather dust, though how long it will be before they end up in a museum is anyone's guess.

12. Baikonur Cosmodrome

 

Between Astana and the Russian border in the far north of the country is the 835 square kilometre (322 square mile) area of protected parkland, Burabay National Park. This wonderful landscape is one of fantastic mountains, huge pine forests, cliffs of gigantic rock separated by large lakes which has of course become a favourite among nature lovers and trekkers. 

11. Burabay National Park

 

East of Almaty, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan in the south of the country is the 1,619 square kilometre (625 square mile) Kolsay Lakes National Park. Referred to as the 'Pearl Of The Tien Shan', this protected area on the slopes of the Tien Shan Montane Steppe is one of steep rugged mountains, thick pine forests and pristine mountain lakes, of which the national park has become famed for. The most scenic lakes in the region are the Mynzholky Lake, meaning 1,000 Year Old', and Lake Kaindy, known for it's mirror smooth reflection and dead spruce trunks rising from the water.

Pictured is Lake Kaindy.

10. Kolsay Lakes National Park

 

Formerly one of the four largest lakes on Earth, the Aral Sea stretched from southern Kazakhstan into northern Uzbekistan, that was until the 1960's when Soviet irrigation projects diverted the rivers that fed it, and by 1997 it had diminished by 90%. With such a quick decline in fish numbers, the fisherman that worked there abandoned their ships leaving a landscape of stranded boats in the desert, miles from any water.

9. Aral Sea

 

South of the city of Almaty, straddling the border with Kyrgyzstan is the 2,000 square kilometre (772 square mile) Ile-Alatau National Park. This vast landscape of steep mountains, woodlands, alpine meadows, glaciers and lakes is among the most naturally stunning in the region. Teeming with wildlife the area is known to be home to over 300 animal and bird species, these include snow leopards, Central Asian lynx, Tian Shan brown bear, Siberian ibexes, bearded vultures, golden eagles, and a whole host more. The symbol of the park is the Big Almaty Lake, probably the countries most visually striking lake. Set within stunning scenery of steep mountains at an elevation of 2,511 metres (8,238 ft) above sea level, this body of water, depending on the time of year, changes from light green to turquoise blue.

Pictured is the Big Almaty Lake.

8. Ile-Alatau National Park

 

In the far east of the country close to where the borders of China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan meet is the 1,250 square kilometre (483 square mile) area of protected land, Charyn Canyon National Park. This arid landscape of red sedimentary rock has been compared to the Grand Canyon, though at 50 kilometres (31 miles) end to end it is significantly smaller.

7. Charyn Canyon National Park

 

In the south east of the country covering a vast area of some 4,600 square kilometres (1,776 square miles) is the Altyn-Emel National Park, the largest area of protected land in Kazakhstan. Encompassing the Ak-Tau Mountain Range the park consists of a sandy desert and rocky mountain terrain. What sets it apart in a country of stunning natural landscapes are it's two main and unusual features, the coloured mountains and the singing sand dunes. The Barchan Dune is a single crescent shaped sand dune 1.5 kilometres in length standing approximately 120 metres (394 ft) high. When the wind blows, visitors can hear what sounds like an organ playing in the desert, a phenomenon that is believed to be caused by vibrating grains of sand creating a sonic vibration across the entire dune. Though without any solid evidence to support the theory it is for now a riddle of nature.

6. Altyn-Emel National Park

 

In the far east of the country creating a natural border with China is the 450 kilometre (280 mile) Dzungarian Alatau Mountain Range, an area of high peaks, open meadows and deep valleys in the northern Tian Shan. The highest peak in this incredible rugged landscape is the Smeonov Tien Shansky, a whopping 4,622 metres (15,164 ft) above sea level. The range is also home to the Shaar Waterfall, with a drop of 300 metres (984 ft) it is the largest in Central Asia. For those wishing to be considered great adventurers, the Dzungarian Alatau range is one of the worlds most unexplored areas.

5. Dzungarian Alatau

 

In the east of the country between the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea is a huge 200,000 square kilometre (77,220 square mile) area of clay and stony desert known as the Ustyurt Plateau, seen as the great boundary between Europe and Asia. This great escarpment of steep inaccessible slopes was once the bottom of a dried up sea which existed millions of years ago. Now it is an alien landscape that very few people venture into.

4. Ustyurt Plateau National Preserve

 

At the western end of the Ustyurt Plateau where the vast flat desert meets steep cliffs and incredible rock formations is the Urochische Boszhira, or Bozzhyra Tract. If the Ustyurt Plateau consists of the some of the most dramatic landscapes of Kazakhstan, then this area deserves special mention as the most dramatic scenery within that incredible landscape. 

3. Urochishche Boszhira

 

In the most extreme north eastern part of the country where the borders of Kazakhstan meet Russia and China is the Katun Mountains, part of the enormous Altai Mountain Range. Home to some of the most dramatic and untouched mountain scenery in the world, it is a remote and beautiful landscape inaccessible to all but the most prepared of visitors. 

Pictured is Belukha Mountain on the border between Russia and Kazakhstan.

2. Katun Mountains

 

Between the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan and the Altai Mountains of Mongolia is the Tian Shan Mountain Range, one of the longest ranges in Central Asia, stretching 2,900 kilometres (1,800 miles) from eastern Uzbekistan, right across Kyrgyzstan, eastern Kazakhstan and into north western China. It is a vast landscape of high mountains, glaciers and deep valleys that is among some of the most incredible natural sights in the world. The entire mountain range has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Khan Tengri, meaning 'King Heaven', the actual border point of Kazakhstan, China and Kyrgyzstan. With an elevation of 7,010 metres (22,999 ft) it is the highest point in Kazakhstan and the second tallest mountain in the range. As if this enormous marble pyramid wasn't impressive enough, at sunrise this snow covered monster glows red, giving it the nickname, Blood Mountain.

1. Tien Shan

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