10 must-see landscapes in Kazakhstan
We are more than sure that not every traveler, who have traveled around Kazakhstan many times or even those who live here since they were born, knows everything about beauty of the local nature and great variety of these parts. It is enough to say that many people couldn’t have named even a few attractions of this unbounded country without mentioning “steppe” or “mountain” used in a very broad sense. And there are lots of places! In order to thoroughly explore and enjoy each of them you will need many years and there is no need to even cross Kazakhstan’s border. Here you will find attractions from all six continents of the world: travelling to historical sites and ruins of ancient civilizations, resort vacation with so much fun, driving rally across the deserts and sand dunes, snow skiing and snowboarding at internationally recognized high-altitude resorts or mountain hiking in summer.
All these are accompanied by incredibly picturesque landscapes that will make even the most pessimistic tourist sauvore their charm. So, in this article we have prepared ten unique sites in Kazakhstan that looks like they stepped out from the paintings of great artists. Here you can make beautiful photos; therefore, if you have any type of camera it will be working hard throughout your whole journey.
Looking through your photos won’t give you even a one tenth of all impressions that you will receive while gazing the lake. It is a wonderful place, as much unique as its historical background. At first sight, it may seem that it is very ancient and appeared as a result of lithosphere plates’ movement. But that is not true! Kaindy Lake has proved to be one of the youngest lakes in Kazakhstan made not with human hands. It appeared only 100 years ago, when a huge landslide in 1910 had blocked a gorge. Gradually, a crystal-like pure water filled in a reservoir overflowing a coniferous forest that was growing there. It is surprisingly, but wooden branches are still there…under the water! As for the wooden trunks overtop, these all became bare and lonely stick out of the water like spares. These trunks are called Guardians. The water is of deep blue color and quite often changes its ton from emerald to azure-blue. However, if you come up closer you will be surprised by its crystal-like pureness, so you can watch the underwater world of the lake through it in its full splendor. In case you enjoy diving then you will definitely see its true value.
Need to know: the lake is located 288 km far from Almaty nearby Saty village. To be more precise, the last 12 km on your way from the village to the lake you will have to pass through difficult terrain, however, very picturesque! Be prepared to pay ecological fee because the lake Kaindy and the birch trees surrounding the lake have become a part of the national park since 2007. It is very cold to swim as the temperature of the water is no more than + 6 °С. Instead, the temperature of the air is very favourable – stays at +23 °С level. In Saty village you may stay overnight provided with all facilities. Also the touristic infrastructure is quite developed here, if you wish you may travel to the lake without arranging accommodation and means of transport well in advance of the trip.
Borovoe is a true paradise for travelers
Frequently, we don’t see all that beauty that could have been unveiled for us if we stayed a bit higher or had wings to fly. However, Borovoe is still amazing because we can enjoy its beauty from a bird’s perspective without bird’s assistance or private helicopter. It is sufficient to climb the Bolektau Mountain and you will find yourself at the wonderful observation deck of 147 meters of height. The deck offers a spectacular view on all natural sites of the area: Borovoe Lake and Big Chebach’ye Lake, Zhumbaktas Rock, Okzhetpes Mountain and Blue Bay. The view is so stunning that one may forget where he or she is at the moment – it is unbelievable that such beauty has always been nearby but we even didn’t guess about that.
Many travelers, who have never been to Borovoe, are always surprised at first: how it happened that in the middle of the vast and unbounded steppe there is a miracle that people talk so much about? And then they stand still when discover huge mountains appearing out of nowhere covered with thick woods, lakes and a bunch of stones. It is all arranged in such a way so you could enjoy your vacations exactly in the manner you have imagined: there are lakes with pure cool water, resorts with spa and massage rooms – for those who enjoy laying on the beach; there are horseback riding, climbing famous mountains like Bolektau, Sinyukha, Okzhetpes, walks into the forests to look for mushrooms and berries, and many more – for those who like active vacations.
And now it is time to tell you how to make best photos.
Need to know: if you decide to climb Bolektau alone without a tour group (this is quite good as on your way you will hear many interesting legends about original background of this area), by taking your own course, then you will need several things. Do not be afraid of driving a car to reach the mountain because at its foothill there are several parking places, both with and without any charge. You may ask directions from any local or check your map so, believe me, you won’t be wandering around. The uphill climbing is not so difficult but it is worth to wear comfortable shoes and clothes that would cover you properly. Be aware that it is dangerous to climb right after it has rained or in uncertain weather.
Bozzhyra: a piece of the Moon on the Earth
In the Internet you will see lots of images of this place that attracts travelers from all over the world aspiring to touch the local wonder of severe nature. It feels like the nature, in an attempt to apologize for aridity and monotony of the steppe plains, has created this island of incredible beauty and painted it in gentle light-grey, white and beige colours.
Long time ago the Plateau Ustyurt was fully covered with water. The waters of Tatis – an ancient ocean that existed 10 million years ago – were raging there. This is the ocean that had become a progenitor of all seas and oceans of nowadays. In comparison with Tatis, its depth, all of them would seem to us as little lakes only. But under the effect of climate and relief changes, the ocean started receding washing out soft limestone with its huge waves. The Sun and the Wind had accomplished that process by sealing off the yielding rock into fantastic shapes: you can recognize castles, towers, sharp spears, lengthy canyons, and even yurts. A special feature of the place is two strong peaks of limestone (more than 200 meters in height each) that in their shape remind of fangs of a predator. If you have sufficient time and your eyesight is good enough you may find petrified shells at the bottom of the canyon (of quite interesting shapes); and the luckiest ones will find fragments of prehistoric sharks’ bones or even teeth.
Need to know: the Bozzhira valley is located in 300 km away from Aktau city and you can reach it in two ways. The first way is driving mighty off-road vehicles because there is no road at the approaches to the valley. However, if one knows the area then it is possible to reach a natural observation site that offers a stunning view to cosmic landscape of Bozzhyra. The second way is to ask a travel company to arrange a tour for you across Mangistau, and, while you are about it, you may visit underground mosques of Shopan Ata and Beket Ata as well as safari in Tuiyesu Sands. But be prepared that the tour may cost up to 100,000 tenge for 3-4 persons. However, all impressions are worth it!
Rakhmanovskiye klyuchi (which means Rakhmanov’s Springs)
In the heart of Altay Mountains, which is almost 200 meters above sea level, there is a stunning view on sacred Belukha Mountain (the tallest peak of Altay Mountains), Arasan Cascade Waterfall, and hot springs under the sky – this is a paradise on the earth, isn’t it? Such beauty is worth visiting these places. But Rakhmanovskiye klyuchi attracts all travelers with many more: it is an ideal place not only for observing the nature but also for healing human’s health. There you may enjoy fantastic views of carefully protected pristine wilderness while, at the same time, improving your health and restoring your vitality resources.
This is a true balneotherapeutic health resort that has been attracting people from all over the world for centuries who aspire to cure their skin and heart diseases, to regulate blood pressure and central nervous system, to weaken impact of seasonal allergy. Moreover, local radon springs are of such a balanced composition that are suitable for almost every one; the variety of springs’ water temperature, from 24°С and higher, allows to use the most relevant spring for certain type of disease.
After having rest in that area for a long time afterwards you will still remember its beauty and magical peaceful impact of local nature: majestic Altay cedars, that have been growing on the mountain slopes for hundreds of centuries, enrich the air with delicate pine scent; mountain ranges sparkling with their sugar tops; the purest Rakhmanov’s Lake shining in the sunlight with its exceptionally smooth surface… What a grace!
Need to know: it is quite difficult to reach the resort area or sanatorium if you don’t have an off-road vehicle. The route is clearly defined on the map but you will have to travel through difficult terrain. If you are going to stay at the sanatorium then, possibly, you will be provided with a private bus – such option is the most convenient, indeed. In addition to the treatment procedures, you can enjoy active vacation: mountain climbing, going to waterfalls, horseback riding, walking on a tour, boating, skiing and snowboarding in winter.
It is very unexpectedly, isn’t it? Pink flamingos (and even curly pelicans) in Kazakhstan… This is exotic! You can see it at its best and in natural habitat on the territory of Korgalzhyn Reserve. Apart from those wonderful birds, there are hundreds species of other feathered creatures, because this is a meeting point for two birds’ migration routes: Central-Asian and Siberian-South European. During migration period the water area of two interconnected lakes (Korgalzhyn and Teniz Lakes) is full of various and rare species of birds that you will never meet anywhere except vast steppes of our country. This place is may really be considered as the most beautiful and unique in the whole Eurasia. The area is especially beautiful when in April the water surface is covered with a flower carpet of Shrenk tulips marked in the Red Book. One of the surprising features of the region is salty composition of Teniz Lake water – you can easily lie on your back and read a book without fear of drowning. Korgalzhyn Lake, on the contrary, has fresh water with amazing landscape: cane divided the whole lake into separate bay-lakes and each of them has got its own name. Photos of the region look like being captured in line with the National Geographic project: distinctive, colorfully rich and shining with beauty of undisturbed nature.
Need to know: special permission for you to get on the territory of the national park is a must-have and you will be accompanied by the staff. It is very convenient to let special ecological tour agents to arrange a trip for you (between May and October) and travel across the national park either on your off-road vehicle or on a bus provided by the administration. If you firmly intend to travel on your own then please do it on an off-road vehicle – the steppe roads are highly dusty, rocky in some parts, and washed-away in other parts. Ecological fee is equal to 300 tenge, guide service costs around 15,000 tenge. There are also various complex tours which include visiting several touristic places in one go, walking and so on.
Aktau colourful mountains and the Singing Dune
A pearl of Altyn-Emel National Park is proved to be amazing colourful mountains under general name Aktau. Yes, in Kazakh that means “white mountain”, but such mixed landscape seems to be of white colour only at the distant look. The nearer you approach the brighter their colours are supplemented by sparkling crystals of calcite in various fantastic forms – all these create an incredible image. When the mountains are lightened up with mild orange-red sunset rays, the photos are especially magical, so all travelers make photos at that time.
But that’s not all! If Aktau is a pearl, then Akkum-Kalkan (the Singing Dune) is a diamond. It is on the list of top 7 new wonders of the nature because it … sings! Yes, even a light gust of the wind blowing sand particles off the top makes the Dune to sound like a melody played by organ. And photos at the sunset background are stunning here!
Need to know: it is possible to reach this destination only on an off-road vehicle because adequate road leads only to Nurum and Aktobe villages, after that only dusty steppe road is available. Be prepared that the dust and the sand will follow you everywhere. After a long journey you may wash up in a healing radon spring in Kosbastau natural boundary and then to continue your journey into the depth of mountain ranges further ahead for several kilometers. It is better to visit the Singing Dune within a tour group as the tour cost covers all expenses like fee, guide service, meals and so on.
Sacred three-headed Altay mountain Belukha
Belukha… It is a residence of Umay Goddess, a place of cosmic energy, snow-white witness of the past and a warranter of the future – all these epithets were assigned to the highest Altay mountain for a reason. Over many centuries various peoples of Kazakhstan, Russia Mongolia, and China connected many legends, religious stories, mystery with the Mountain Belukha. Even now, when you look at the snow-white tops, this view makes you shiver and then, all of a sudden, you start seeing images of the past. The best view is from the side of Katun’ River head where a wonderful morainic lake reflects Belukha tops. Also, a bit distantly from Belukha, there is another mountain Obzornaya; at its foothill there is also a small lake. The view from here is quite picturesque and classical: mountains, snow, and pure water. It is also possible to reach Kokkol Waterfall to enjoy its raging flows of water falling down from the top and make a photo of distantly sparkling sugar tops of Belukha.
Need to know: If you are not a professional mountaineer and do not know local places, then, in no case, do not climb the mountains on your own. Firstly, you will face such difficulties as absence of the road, absence of network connection, absence of any road markers (except Belukha peaks) and people dwellings. Secondly, there is no point in facing those difficulties when there are perfectly organized routes specially designed in a comfortable for travelers way with picturesque places and an opportunity to take wonderful photos.
In the spurs of Tyan-Shan Mountains there is one of the most amazing creations of the nature – Charyn Canyon formed out of sedimentary rocks aged up to 12 million years! It is considered to be the second lengthy and biggest canyon in the world! It is second only to the Grand Canyon but is capable to compete with it in its beauty. For over thousands of years the wind, the water, and the soil had been forming fantastic stone sculptures, had been carving gorges and caves and had finally created such design that we can enjoy nowadays. Photos are fantastic from any location of the canyon. However, if one goes down to the bottom of the canyon, he or she will get the most impressive photos. Especially, if one manages to catch sunset rays that paint stone sides of Charyn Canyon into scarlet color.
Need to know: it is desirable to have this trip either in spring or in autumn, before summer heat (the rocks are heated and the air turns into thick so it becomes hard to breathe) spoils the trip. You can reach the destination by using your car, taking a bus from Almaty or using tour transport. If you want to reach canyon’s bottom, then make sure you drive an off-road vehicle because while going down many vehicles “catch” diagonal hanging and one of its wheels hangs in the air. The city break destinations are the most popular: organizers will take you there, show you best observation decks, a legendary relic ashwood forest. There are only two ashwood forests in the whole world! The ashwood forest has been existing there before the Ice Age and had managed to survive in the epoch of the great cold. There are local restaurants to have a lunch; however, we would recommend taking food with you as it might be expensive to eat in the restaurants.
Kolsai Lakes, like a necklace made out of azure stone, decorate already beautiful northern slopes of majestic Tyan-Shan Mountains. All in all there are three lakes: Lower, Middle, and Upper Kolsai Lakes. The first lake has the coldest water and it is located in the depth of the gorge that’s why it is rather lengthy. The middle one is the most beautiful and big with its incredibly picturesque banks full of flowers; it is surrounded by the peaks forested with coniferous woods. The third lake is the smallest one but it is very cosy – it looks like the lake has hidden from the outer world under the rocks protection taking care of its crystal-like pure water with reflection of a quaint bushy juniper forest on the water surface. All photos taken next to any of these lakes are perfect and every time different: the water is frequently changing its color from azure to malachite, and then enriching itself with turquoise or even dense blue color.
Need to know: you can drive a car to get to the fist lake; it is important to pay an entrance fee to enter the territory and ecological fee (200 tenge per car and 650 tenge per person). Further ahead you will need to walk uphill – there is a thin rocky path leading to the second lake – the view will make you forget about all difficulties. There is a hotel in the area on the river bank where you can comfortably live in. Otherwise, there is a cheaper option in the cosy houses in Saty village. It is even possible to pitch a tent not far from the second and the third lakes and it will cost only 500 tenge.
Inder Salty Lake
There is one more lake, where it is impossible to drown, which is located 180 kilometers away from Atyrau city and is called Inder (local name is Tuzdykol – salty lake). It is fed with mighty underground springs carrying salts of high quality out of the earth depths: potassium, boron, bromine as well as sodium chloride, iodine, magnesium. It is needless to say how it is useful to have a mud bath and wash up in such water. All local habitants have been feeling positive effect of salty water for skin and body in general – such water pulls out toxins, disinfects even the slightest wounds, and heals skin diseases. Inder is famous not only for its healing capacities: show-white sparkling surface and shimmering salt crystals on its bank make the lake the Mecca for photographers.
Need to know: you can make your own way (180 km of walking on the pavement and around 20 km of walking along the country road) or within a health improving tour that are offered by local businessmen. There are tents pitched on the bank so you will have all facilities to relax after mud baths and bathing. You should bear in mind that it is not safe to stay in the mud bath for more than 20 minutes otherwise you will be hyper salinated and your skin will be dried out.
So that is a top 10 wonderful landscapes in Kazakhstan came out. Initially, we would like to simply show you places where you could capture the best view but then we still couldn’t have missed the history and touristic features of those incredible destinations. We have also collected useful tips to remind about things that are often overlooked by travelers. You should visit all destinations on our list in order to understand our admiration – each of the places will charm you in its own way, will play on a contrast in comparison to previous location, and will make you passionate about further travelling!