Kazakhstan, officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a contiguous transcontinental country in Central Asia, and is the largest of the Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union. Its smaller part is located west of the Ural River in Europe. It is the largest landlocked country in the world by land area, with a territory of 2,727,300 square kilometres (1,053,000 sq mi). It shares borders with Russia, China, and the Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Its capital is Astana while its largest city is Almaty. The official language is Russian while Kazakh is the state language. There are 131 ethnicities inhabiting the country, including Kazakh, who make up majority of the population, as well as Russian, Uzbek, Ukrainian, German, Tatar, and Uyghur.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan was the last one among Soviet republics to declare independence. Today, the country is the richest in Central Asia, because of its large oil and natural gas reserves.
What to see & do
Kazakhstan’s economic status is bolstered by its rich oil and natural gas reserves, which reflect on its better standards of accommodation and transport, among other things. Almaty gives off a European feel, with its swanky cafes, leafy avenues, and posh shopping centres, among other things. Astana, on the other hand, boasts upscale and high-class architecture. Beyond city limits, however, you’ll find more adventures waiting for you, like hiking in high mountains and Tian Shan’s green valleys, see amazing wildlife on the lakes and steppes, trail on western deserts, and discover remote underground mosques.
First and foremost, don’t forget to go to Baikonur, the famous cosmodrome site for the launch of the first manned orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin. Of course, Aksu-Zhabagyly Nature Reserve should also be included in your itinerary. Built in 1926, this 1319-sq-km sanctuary is filled with green valleys, rivers, snow-capped peaks, and is the oldest and most fun of all of the country’s nature reserves. Learn more about Kazakhstan’s history, culture, and heritage by visiting Central State Museum in Almaty. Wander around the urban jungle that is Barakholka. Bursting with exotic and common goods alike – mostly Chinese, others Uzbeks and Uyghurs – find them all here. Go catch opera and ballet at Almaty’s premier cultural venue, Abay State Opera & Ballet Theatre.
How to get around within Kazakhstan
There are several ways to navigate around the country: by buses, planes, taxis, and trains. The public transportation in big cities includes buses, minibuses, trams, and trolleys. The downside of using public transport though is that they are never on schedule, no bus stops available, and are crowded during peak hours. Taxis in Kazakhstan are very cheap and that you can stop almost any car (as you don’t have to use official taxis in most cities – especially in Almaty and Astana) on the street by simply raising your hand. Phoning a taxi ahead of time is done best in Karaganda. However, if you’re going to Almaty International Airport, prepare for a more expensive taxi trip. In all cases, make sure that you have an exact amount to pay for the fare since drivers usually will not give you change. The most popular way of getting around is by taking the train, since it covers wider distances between the country’s main cities, with most train stations located in Astana, Karaganda, and Almaty. Meanwhile, long-distance buses are also great alternatives to buses since they are faster, although less comfortable. For domestic air transit, Air Astana has offices in a few major hotels in big cities. Of course, it’s the fastest way of long-distance travel, but not the least expensive. If you’re up for an adventure, you can take a “marshrutka”, dilapidated vans that ply around town. They are fun and cheap, but are not found in Almaty.
How to get there
There are plenty of airports in Kazakhstan that offer scheduled passenger service on a commercial airline. They are Astana International Airport in the capital, Almaty International Airport, and Shymkent International Airport, among others. The country’s flag carrier is Air Astana, which flies to Almaty, Astana, Aktau, Aktobe, Atyrau, Abu Dhabi, Uralsk, Kyzylorda, Moscow, Delhi, Beijing, Istanbul, Bangkok, Hannover, London, Amsterdam, Baku, Kuala Lumpur, Frankfurt, Seoul, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hong Kong. Other carriers that fly to and from the country are Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM, Czech Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Airbaltic, and Turkish Airlines. Other ways of getting in are by train (from Moscow, Novosibirsk, Ürümqi, and China; by car via several border checkpoints on main roads; by sleeper bus from Ürümqi to Almaty; and boat via freighters between Baku and Aktau.
Images by Flickr\Ken_and_Nyetta
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