Perhaps surprisingly, Kazakhstan provides visitors with an exciting broad range of memorable things to do and see. If you want to travel to somewhere unique that will be the envy of your friends, Kazakhstan is an excellent choice of destination. As the world’s ninth-largest country, accommodation, restaurants, and public transport are of a higher standard than many places in Central Asia. As well as enjoying the bustle and futuristic architecture of cities like Nur-Sultan, you can enjoy visiting mysterious ruins, spectacular nature reserves, historic tombs, and even an incredible ski resort.
In Kazakhstan’s capital city Nur-Sultan, you will see the city’s new highlight: The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. This beautiful modern pyramid opened in 2006 as the home of the triennial Congress of World and Traditional Religions. The glass-and-steel building features a 1,350-seat opera hall, an impressive atrium, and a conference hall with stained-glass windows displaying doves. You can take a 30-minute guided tour to see the interior of this spectacular pyramid. But its exterior is best viewed at night when beautifully illuminated.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could climb Mount Belukha, which at around 14,783 feet, is the highest mountain in the Altay Mountains region. Although Mount Belukha attracts experienced mountaineers, you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy some time on the snow-capped mountain. There are various multi-day treks available at Rachmanov Springs in which you can travel to the foot of Mount Belukha. Alternatively, you could hang out at Rachmanov Springs and enjoy the spectacular view of snowy Mount Belukha.
Located in the beautiful Trans-Ile Alatau mountains south of Almaty city, this stunning national park is home to around 300 species of wildlife. You could spot such amazing mammals as the Central Asian lynx, the Siberian ibex, and the beautiful snow leopard. There’s plenty of birdlife too. Ornithologists and amateur bird spotters could see rite swallowtails, black storks, and even mighty golden eagles soaring above. By hiking through the fertile woodlands and alpine meadows, you will come across jaw-dropping spectacles like clear lakes, lush waterfalls, and incredible glaciers.
Located around 177 miles east of Akatu, this tomb in Mangistau is the final resting place of the highly-esteemed Sufi mystic and teacher Beket-Ata, who died in 1813. Followers of Islam consider Beket-Ata to be a prophet and a healer, so the site is a popular pilgrimage destination for Muslims. The tomb is in an underground mosque, near the bottom of a scenic desert canyon. It’s best to sign up for a tour to visit the site in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Alternatively, you could join the hordes of pilgrims on buses.
Over millions of years, this spectacular 56-mile-long canyon has become carved-out by the fast-running Charyn River. Also known as Sharyn Canyon, at its deepest point, the canyon is over 980 feet deep. The weathering has created some genuinely fascinating weird and colorful rock formations. The most popular section, the Valley of Castles, is accessible by car or public transport. If you want to explore the region in further detail, you will have to tour in an off-roader.
This fabulous nature reserve contains more than 200 steppe lakes. It’s a vital point on significant bird migration routes from Africa, India, and the Middle East to Siberia’s summer lands. It is best known for its flamingos, which you should see in abundance. The reserve is about 24 miles from the village of Korgalzhyn. To have the opportunity of seeing a wide range of migratory birds, you’ll have to head into the reserve a further 13 miles from the entrance.
It’s worth visiting Altyn-Emel National Park for many reasons. Nature lovers will love exploring its desert and rocky terrain to see endangered animal and plant species. But if you only visit the national park for one reason, it should be for the unique Singing Dune. You’ll need to visit on a windy and dry day, though. In the right weather conditions, the dune emits a loud rumbling sound. It may sound more like an airplane engine than a melodic song, but when the sand moves in the wind, this strange natural sound is one that will haunt you for the rest of your life.
Just outside Ile-Alatau National Park, you will find Central Asia’s largest and most modern ski resort. The skiing area has a diverse set of slopes for skiers and snowboarders of varying levels. And the resort contains an impressive 7.5 miles of ski runs. There’s also a hotel, so if you want to ski for a day or two, you can stay onsite. At Shymbulak Ski Resort, you will also find the Medeu, which is the world’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink. Shymbulak Ski Resort is open from November to March.
For a truly unique experience, visit the Semipalatinsk Polygon. Between 1949 and 1989, 456 nuclear tests were conducted both above and below ground in Kazakhstan’s Polygon territory. Much of the area is now considered to be safe to visit. By doing a guided tour, you can explore the ruins of watchtowers, underground bunkers, and even the remains of a metro system. You can also visit areas where radiation levels are higher. Don’t worry. Radiation suits are handed-out, so you can be sure you’re completely safe.
These ruins in Taraz are Kazakhstan’s equivalent of Stonehenge. If you travel about four miles outside of Aksholak village, you will find a rectangular precinct about 590 feet long and 492 feet wide. The precinct contains long sandstone blocks that are nearly five feet long and massively thick. These are the ruins of bases of equally massive columns that once stood here. There are also ruins of around 100 rooms sitting on the perimeter, and even evidence of a sophisticated water supply system. The incredible thing is no one knows who built Akyrtas, how old it is, or what its purpose was. Some people believe the stones have magical powers, so many come to Akyrtas to tap into spiritual energy.