Three metropolises: Astana, Almaty, Shymkent. It’s best to start from these cities to get a better understanding of Kazakhstan.
Astana is the youngest capital in Central Asia, for a quarter of a century the world witnessed how impossible has become possible, through work, relentless determination, and dreams of the Kazakh people - the new capital has confidently entered into the international arena with recognizable scale and magnitude.
Almaty (which means Apple City) is Kazakhstan’s first capital. This city is very modern and it has its own unique flavor, possibly that of apples? Almaty is a godsend for those travellers who prefer outdoor recreation: in an hour’s drive you can settle at the feet of majestic mountain peaks and, in the opposite direction from Almaty, you can find yourself taking in the view of desert landscapes with sandy canyons and songs of the steppe larks.Then, there is Shymkent and its natural beauty that is literally overflowing with monuments of history and culture. Here you can immerse yourself in the past to get in touch with the nomadic traditions and customs. So how about we dive right into all the possibilities that each of these cities and their surroundings can offer YOU!
First Pillar - Astana
Astana, Kazakhstan's capital (from 1998 to 2019 the city was called Astana), is located in the heart of the Eurasian continent, equally accessible and open to all directions of the world. The city attracts guests from all over the world with its unusual appearance and unique architectural design, as well as with its cultural and business events on a global level. It was here that the exhibition EXPO-2017 was a success and, the International Exhibition of Tourism Trade PATA Travel Mart 2019 in the Asia-Pacific region also took place in Astana. Such events bring Kazakhstan even greater international fame and recognition.
There is also a lot of work is underway in Astana, to create a World Center for Nomadic Culture, capable of uniting all Turkic peoples from the Far East to Eastern Europe and, as a result, attracting more people of the Turkic nomadic culture as well as travellers from all over the world to the capital. All these initiatives definitely have positive effect on appearance of the capital of Kazakhstan.
An Asian flavor presented in a modern European manner will immediately delight and amaze anyone who decides to travel to one of the coldest capitals in the world. Despite the severe fame of its "capricious" climate, Astana always warmly welcomes its guests. There are many places to go and admire the jewels that are nestled in this wonderful city. Among the brightest sights of the city are:
Bayterek Tower, located near the central complex of government buildings. The image “Bayterek” (poplar tree, or the Tree of Life) is associated with an understanding of the world structure from Kazakhs. There are several variations of legends that your tour guides will tell you about. There is an elevator inside the “trunk” of Bayterek that will take you into a glass ball with the panoramic view. From here there is a wonderful view of the city and the surrounding steppe.
Atameken Ethno-Memorial Complex – is a miniature copy of Kazakhstan that fits on an area of two hectares.
Hazrat Sultan Mosque. The capacity of the mosque is up to 10 thousand people. Its dome of 51 meters high is the largest one in Kazakhstan. The building is equipped with four 77-meter minarets at its corners. Each minaret consists of several levels that are beautifully illuminated when nightfall comes.
Mangilik El Triumphal Arch. The 20-meter arch symbolizes 20 years of independence of Kazakhstan. You can have a tour inside the arch enjoying its architecture with statues, visiting regular exhibitions and learning history of the city and the capital. Fantastic view from the observation deck at the very top will complete your tour.
Nur Alem Museum of Future Energy – is one of the brightest heritage sites of EXPO-2017. This is the only sphere shaped building in the world with a diameter of 80m! On top of Nur Alem there are solar panels and two silent wind generators that provide the pavilion with electricity. The building has eight floors, each with its own concept: «Future Astana», «Energy of the Space»,«Energy of the Sun»,«Energy of Wind»,«Energy of Biomass»,«Kinetic Energy»,«Energy of Water». The «National Pavilion» is located on the ground floor, at the base of the sphere.
In the museum, visitors can familiarize themselves with projects introducing eco-energy usage in the capital. The main idea is based on the use of natural elements to produce energy: the sun, wind, and water.
The National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan is where you can literally touch history, see the state as it was and how it has developed into what it is today.
If you find yourself with some extra time in the capital and want to get a break from the city life, we recommend taking a short ride to Burabay Resort Area. It is considered to be the hallmark of the Akmola Province. Here you will discover the natural beauties that have been undisturbed by modern expansion. The recreational and therapeutic resources are exceptionally rich with the highest standards of quality. This is all but a stone throw away from the capital. There are three national parks - Kokshetau, Burabay, Buyuratau and Korgaljyn Reserve that have been preserved on the territory in the Akmola Province. These parks are more or less open to tourists. For example, there is a weekend tour to the Korgaljyn Reserve, located 130 km away from Astana. The Korgaljyn Reserve is included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. That is why main attraction of the tour is bird watching - you will see flamingos, krecheks, steppe jerks, curly pelicans, large spindles, black and white-winged larks and many others. More than 100 species of birds live there! Apart from the waterfowl inhabitants, there are also other exotic animals like, for example, saigas (a member of the antelope family), foxes, the steppe marmots, several species of gophers, and others.
The Kazakhstan Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity (KACB) takes the leading role in organizing such eco-tours with highly trained staff and guides. The staff have got specialized biological background therefore can answer any questions and provide more information, if necessary.
Second Pillar - Almaty
Almaty is a garden city surrounded by majestic mountains of the Trans-Ili Alatau covered with evergreen coniferous forest. So Almaty conquers the hearts of travellers at their first glance. This city is surprising with its scale - huge majestic modern buildings, endless green alleys and avenues, and all of this is surrounded by snow-white mountain peaks.
But Almaty would not be so cozy without its narrow old streets with pretty houses, interesting signs and stylish establishments (showrooms, restaurants, cafes) that give the city extra charm. The wide avenues are always noisy and crowded, but there in the streets you can feel a mad rhythm and the breath of the most successful city in Kazakhstan. On the streets of old quarters it is always much quieter. It often smells of fresh coffee, chocolate or buns from the coffee shops and pastry shops that line the streets. Here you can always refresh yourself with one of these wonderful delicatessens and go back exploring this immense city.Take a stroll through the city streets. Start your journey at Arbat Avenue walking further along Jibek Joly street. Take in the modern city architecture with the old traditional feel. You must also go to the Green Bazaar to get a taste of the amazing delicacies that it has to offer.
Practically located in the center of the city is the famous Botanical Garden of 105 hectares. Here you can completely get away from the noisy hustle and bustle of the metropolis that surrounds you. Enjoy a pleasant walk along the alleys of the Park of the First President. Watch the birds, squirrels and other permanent inhabitants of the botanical garden. Travel agencies in the city will offer you guided tours around historical and cultural monuments, various museums and exhibitions.
One of the most notable places in Almaty, of course, is Kok Tobe Park located at the peak of Kok Tobe Mountain at an altitude of 1100 meters above sea level. It has a lot to offer as an amusement park: from cable cars, ferris wheel, petting zoo, to the variety of attractions and restaurants. And it is only a five minute drive from the city center.If you have some time to spare, then you need to explore the sights of Almaty and the surrounding area!
First go to the mountains! Mountain resorts near Almaty. Thousands of travellers from around the world come to Almaty every year to ski or snowboard on steep snow-covered slopes. And we can see why: apart from magic beauty, these ski resorts are globally recognized with their modern facilities that meet international standards and with prices that you will find very reasonable for such type of services.
Then there are the Medeu high-mountain skating rink (you can enjoy it even in summer time) and the Big Almaty Lake, which rests in the coolness of the mountain gorges and various recreation areas. All of these are close to Almaty, and a day is more than enough to appreciate the marvelous nature of the Trans-Ili Alatau.
Now we will mention some of the most popular attractions located farther away from Almaty:
Kolsay Lakes and Kaindy Lake located on the territory of the Kolsay Kolderi National Park. These lakes make it worth going out 300 kilometers away from Almaty! You will be inspired by the charm of the mountain lakes as soon as you see any of them. The effect will rejuvenate your spirits and brighten your soul no matter what the weather is like. Experienced travel guides will help you along the route from the first lake to the third Kolsay Lake. As for the trip to the Lake Kaindy with its, so called, Lake Guardians - these are fir tree trunks sticking out of the crystal-like pure water of emerald colour - this needs to be a radial route journey.
Charyn Canyon. It is one of the most amazing creations of the nature that is formed out of sedimentary rocks aged up to 12 million years ago! It is the second lengthy and biggest canyon in the world with its fantastic stone sculptures and quaint castles. Ash-tree Grove is another natural wonder with its three hundred-meter sheer walls that stretch for 154 km along the Charyn River hiding in their spurs.
The Tamgaly Tas Tract: a touch of antiquity. One of the most significant examples of the rock carvings in Kazakhstan and all of Central Asia is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is a place with the great energy, here you can hear the voice of a bygone era that existed for three thousand years BC.
Altyn-Emel National Park. Here, on the territory of 520 hectares, are unique chalky mountains of Aktau (that date back some 400 million years!) stunning with their colors and alien forms; a little farther along, you will hear astonishing songs of the Singing Dune played by a miraculous union of the sand and the wind; and, in the steppe part of the Park, there is a complex of Saka burial hills called Bes-Shatyr - the historical heritage of the nomads.
This list can go on forever when discussing the pearls of Almaty and its surrounding areas.
Third Pillar - Shymkent
Shymkent is at the heart of the Silk Road, it is here, in this city, as well as in the entire Turkistan Province, that the cultural, religious, and historical sights of the Turkic peoples are most densely concentrated. Modern Shymkent will impress you, today this city is developing as an international transit center.
Ken Baba Ethnic Theme Park can be called one of the most popular places for leisure both for local people and the city guests. It is located almost in the city center, but, as you enter the main door and pass under a double-pitch roof, you will immediately find yourself in a different world – you will be surrounded by blooming greenery, swan reservoirs, fountains and even a waterfall! There are also an amusement park, a sand safari, an amazing miniature of Kazakhstan, a gallery of talented artists, a village of craftsmen, and countless souvenir shops and cosy cafes.
Then there is the Shymkent Zoo, which we highly recommend. Almost 2000 different animals live here in excellent conditions. In addition, there is a huge aquarium, where over 500 species of rare fish call home! We advise the most inquisitive to get into the Shymkent museum of local lore. Over the 40 years of its existence, a huge number of relics and valuable objects have been collected and preserved here, clearly showing the rich history of this ancient region. Then there is the Central Mosque of the city, this should leave you in awe. Since Shymkent is a very original, and fabulous city, it is simply necessary to visit its most famous religious center. The mosque is the largest and most beautiful in the area, striking in its scale and interior decoration.
In order to feel real oriental flavor, one should go to the enormous and noisy Shymkent bazaars. The most famous of them are: the Upper Market, where you can find a riot of bright colors, the aroma of herbs and spices, endless rows of exotic sweets and fruits; Bekjan Bazaar, pleasing its customers with clothing for every taste and purse (there is a truly great selection of fabrics, yarn, and sewing accessories), and then there is, Samal Bazaar, attractively shimmering with elegant gold and silver jewelry.
Shymkent can become a point of reference for you on your trips to the historically significant places in the Turkistan Province, for which travelers and pilgrims from all over the world visit. Most of the attractions listed below are located where the Great Silk Road was once vibrant with trading post and roads.
Of course, first of all, we recommend heading to the city of Turkistan (about 170 km from Shymkent) where you will find a regional historical and cultural museum-reserve. The central object of the museum-reserve is the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi (famous theologian and philosopher). Also here it is worth making note of visiting the Mausoleum of Arystan Bab, a teacher and mentor of Ahmed Yasawi, which is a very popular place among pilgrims. In that area you will also see the tombs of famous historical figures of the Kazakh Khans: Yesim Khan, Ablai Khan, Abulkhair Khan and others.
Domalak Ana Mausoleum. Located about 90 km from the city is a magnificent architectural monument of the XI century
The ancient city of Sairam. Just 10 km from Shymkent, is a large medieval city that was called Ispijab here you can see the excavations and remains of this great city that thrived thousands of years ago. Rich caravans that traveled on the Great Silk Road went through it, and it is here where culture and trade flourished.
Minaret of Hızır. One of the most prominent figures in history reminds us of their existence in the ancient center of this nomadic civilization – here he has been immortalized - the minaret of the prophet Khizir, whose name is mentioned in the holy book of Islam, the Qur'an.
Ibrahim Ata Mausoleum. Majestic and very ancient, it is located in the middle of a green oasis, attracting thousands of pilgrims and travellers. The original building was erected in the XI – XII centuries in honor of the father of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, but was destroyed under the influence of time. In the XVI – XVII cc. the mausoleum was rebuilt, making it one of the most prominent examples of medieval architecture.
Karashash Ana Mausoleum. It was built in honor of the noble mother of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, whose kindness and wisdom earned her national love and respect. You can find it near the mausoleum of Ibrahim Ata.
Boraldai petroglyphs. Just 70 km from the city you can see a unique monument of the Bronze Age rock paintings. On huge stones along the bend of the river you will see all sorts of pictures depicted on them: hunting scenes, household scenes, and even tribal signs.
Akmeshit Cave. Can be attributed to a sacred place, where several thousand years ago there was an underground mosque. The passage to the cave was discovered only a few decades ago, when its dome collapsed. Now travelers and pilgrims in all their glory can see this amazing miracle of nature, with its own microclimate and ecosystem (trees grow inside the cave and even animals are found).
Kazygurt Mountain Range. Locals consider this massif to be the second cradle of mankind. Ancient legends say that it was here on this mountain top, that Noah's Ark was finally stranded. In the same place, where thousands of years ago stood the first ship in the world that saved people and animals from that universal flood, it is very plausible to see this model. It is best to complete your trip, by visiting the Ark in the evenings, since it begins to glow with the hundreds of lights, creating a very touching and at the same time mysterious atmosphere.
In addition, we advise you to visit the ancient city of Otrar and the ancient city of Sauran, but for this you need to have time, they are all far from Shymkent more than 100 km.
There are a lot of natural attractions that are worth seeing with your own eyes. Yes, Shymkent is surrounded by steppes, but there are nearby both rivers and mountains with canyons and caves. That are waiting to be explored
Birgolik Gorge.Just 50 km from the city stretches a majestic mountain range, impregnable and beautiful. At the foot of the mountain range and the gorges awaits the many recreation centers that were built for your leisure.
Sairamsu Gorge that lies on the coast of the Sairamsu river, here, you can comfortably settle in a recreation area, challenge yourself with a difficult trekking route that mountains have set for travellers, or just simply enjoy the river, while having a picnic with a beautiful view of the local scenery.
Upper Sairamsu Lake . Is at an altitude of about 3000 meters, a glacial lake with water of incredible color hidden from the eye, it is so blue and transparent that it seems as if it is illuminated from the inside.
P.S. We recommend that you use the services of travel companies. This will save you time and there you can learn in detail the rich history of the places that you will go or want to go (usually guide services are included in the cost of the excursions). In addition, in all major cities and regional centers of the country there are Travel Information Offices, that will be happy to help you to choose your travel destination, both in the city and in its outskirts!