The fall of the Soviet Union some twenty years ago has opened up the former republics to tourism like never before. While many foreign visitors have been discovering the best that Russia has to offer, it’s sometimes sad to note that other ex-Soviet territories are being a little neglected and with that in mind, a trip to Kazakhstan may well surprise you.
What to expect
Generally speaking, it’s fair to say that Kazakhstan struggles to compete with some of its neighbours when it comes to historical monuments, museums, galleries and the like. However, where it really scores is with a fascinating natural landscape.
Kazakhstan is vast and in fact, it is the ninth largest country in the world and when you arrive, there is a large and mostly empty landscape, adding an air of mystery that many tourists love.
How to get there
Getting into Kazakhstan is relatively straightforward and there are two main international airports at Almaty and in the capital Astana. Astana airways are the country’s main carrier.
If you are unable to fly directly into Kazakhstan, there are many regular flights to main airports in Moscow that complete the network of international flights.
If you are feeling particularly intrepid then you can travel by train from Moscow but be prepared for a journey lasting up to eighty hours.
Although Astana is now the capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty remains its largest city and for tourists, it probably has more to see and do.
Almaty literally means ‘father of apples’ and although many of the apple trees that existed here have long since disappeared, there are still some stunning natural sights on the outskirts of the city.
The Zailiysky Alatau Mountains dominate the skyline around Almaty and if you’re particularly adventurous, walking and climbing tours are available.
For a more sedate approach to sightseeing in Almaty, you may prefer the city Bazaar, the Museum of folk instruments or the A. Kasteev State Museum of Fine Arts which has a superb collection of works from around the world.
The capital Astana was once a very sleepy village but after the fall of the Soviet Union it was transformed. As Kazakhstan became such an important oil producer on a global scale, Almaty was chosen as the new capital and expansion was rapid.
The end product is a truly fascinating mix of old and new: On the one hand you have some fascinating ancient architecture, including Merchants’ House from the old days of the Russian Empire while in the heart of the city’s business districts, there are imposing modern skyscrapers, courtesy of some of the world’s most famous architects.
A good place to start your tour of Astana is at The President’s Museum of Kazakhstan which will give you the ideal history lesson as far as the country is concerned. Of the many modern buildings here, the Baiterek Tower is arguably the most fascinating. Likened to a lollipop by the locals, the tower contains an aquarium, a restaurant and an art gallery.
With its friendly people and a diverse choice of attractions, Kazakhstan tourism is growing and there’s no better way to find out why than to pay a visit yourself.