Welcome to the hidden gem of Central Asia, Kazakhstan! If you’re an adventure enthusiast and love to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations, backpacking in Kazakhstan is an experience like no other.
Kazakhstan, the ninth-largest country in the world, offers diverse landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and endless opportunities for outdoor adventures. From soaring mountain peaks to vast steppes, stunning lakes to ancient cities, this unexplored wonderland is a paradise for backpackers.
As you embark on your backpacking journey through Kazakhstan, be prepared to witness breathtaking natural beauty, encounter warm hospitality, and immerse yourself in the fascinating traditions and history of this magnificent country.
In this article, we’ll guide you through essential tips and itineraries for backpacking in Kazakhstan. Whether you have one week, two weeks, or a month to spare, we’ve got you covered. So, grab your backpack, lace up your hiking boots, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
Before setting off on your backpacking adventure in Kazakhstan, it is crucial to be prepared with the essentials. Here are some key items and tips to consider:
1. Visa and Entry Requirements: Ensure that you have a valid passport with at least six months of validity remaining and check if you need a visa to enter Kazakhstan. Some nationalities are exempt from visa requirements for short-stay visits.
2. Travel Insurance: It is highly recommended to purchase travel insurance that covers medical expenses, trip cancellation, and emergency evacuation. This will give you peace of mind in case of any unforeseen circumstances.
3. Packing Essentials: Pack appropriate clothing for the weather conditions, including layers for varying temperatures. Don’t forget to pack a good pair of hiking boots, a waterproof jacket, a hat, sunscreen, and insect repellent. Carry a sturdy backpack that is comfortable to carry during long hikes.
4. Money and Currency: The official currency in Kazakhstan is the Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT). It is advisable to carry some cash, especially in remote areas, as credit card acceptance may be limited. ATMs are widely available in major cities.
5. Language: The official language is Kazakh, but Russian is widely spoken throughout the country. It’s helpful to learn a few basic phrases in these languages to facilitate communication, especially in rural areas.
6. Safety: While Kazakhstan is generally a safe country for travelers, it’s always important to take precautions. Be aware of your surroundings, avoid isolated areas at night, and take necessary precautions in crowded places to safeguard against pickpocketing.
7. Health and Vaccinations: Consult your doctor or a travel clinic well in advance to ensure you are up-to-date on routine vaccinations. It is also recommended to consider vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Rabies, depending on the areas you plan to visit.
8. Communication: Purchase a local SIM card upon arrival to have access to affordable data and stay connected. Mobile coverage is generally reliable in urban areas, but it may be limited in remote regions.
9. Respect Local Customs: While exploring Kazakhstan, it’s important to respect local customs and traditions. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites and show respect in sacred places. Familiarize yourself with local customs and etiquette to have a more immersive experience.
10. Transportation: Public transportation options, such as buses and trains, are available in larger cities. For remote areas, consider hiring a local guide or renting a car for more flexibility. Be prepared for long distances between destinations and plan your travel accordingly.
With these essentials in mind, you are now ready to embark on your unforgettable backpacking journey through Kazakhstan. The next sections will provide suggested itineraries for one week, two weeks, and four weeks, allowing you to choose the duration that suits your time and interests.
If you have limited time but still want to experience the best of Kazakhstan, a one-week itinerary will give you a taste of this incredible country. Here’s a suggested itinerary to make the most of your seven days:
Day 1-2: Almaty
Your journey begins in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan. Spend the first day exploring the city’s many attractions, such as the Central State Museum, Ascension Cathedral, and the vibrant Green Bazaar. On day two, take a day trip to Medeu Skating Rink and Shymbulak Ski Resort for breathtaking mountain views and outdoor activities.
Day 3-4: Charyn Canyon
Head to the stunning Charyn Canyon, located about 200 kilometers east of Almaty. Spend a full day hiking and exploring the magnificent red-rock formations and vast canyons. Set up camp and spend a night under the starry sky for an unforgettable experience.
Day 5-6: Lake Kolsai
Travel to the beautiful Lake Kolsai, also known as the “Pearls of the Northern Tien Shan.” Hike through the lush forests and enjoy the tranquil ambiance of the turquoise lakes. You can also go fishing, horseback riding, or simply relax amidst the picturesque surroundings.
Day 7: Nur-Sultan
On your last day, take a domestic flight to Nur-Sultan, the capital city of Kazakhstan. Visit the iconic Bayterek Tower, Astana Opera, and the Presidential Palace. Stroll along the Ishim River and admire the modern architecture that defines this futuristic city.
This one-week itinerary will give you a taste of the diverse landscapes and cultural experiences that Kazakhstan has to offer. Remember, this is just a suggestion, and you can customize your itinerary based on your preferences and available time.
Before embarking on your journey, make sure to check the local weather and road conditions, as they can vary throughout the year. Carry essential camping gear, sufficient water, and food supplies for your outdoor adventures. Don’t forget to capture the breathtaking landscapes with your camera and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Now that you’ve experienced the highlights of Kazakhstan in just one week, let’s explore a two-week itinerary for a more in-depth adventure.
If you have two weeks to immerse yourself in the wonders of Kazakhstan, you can explore more destinations and delve deeper into the country’s rich culture and natural beauty. Here’s a suggested two-week itinerary to make the most of your time:
Day 1-2: Almaty
Begin your journey in Almaty, where you can spend a couple of days exploring the city’s attractions, as mentioned in the previous itinerary. Take the opportunity to experience the vibrant nightlife and indulge in delicious Kazakh cuisine.
Day 3-4: Altyn Emel National Park
Head east from Almaty to Altyn Emel National Park, a vast area of desert, sand dunes, and unique rock formations. Take a jeep tour to the majestic Singing Dune, famed for creating a melodic sound as the sand shifts. Marvel at the ancient petroglyphs of Tamgaly, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day 5-6: Kyzylarai Mountains
Travel north to the Kyzylarai Mountains, often referred to as the “Kazakh Switzerland.” Explore this picturesque region with its rolling hills, crystal-clear rivers, and stunning landscapes. Enjoy horseback riding through the mountains and gain insight into the traditional Kazakh nomadic way of life.
Day 7-9: Astana and Burabay
Take a domestic flight to Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana), the modern capital city of Kazakhstan. Marvel at the futuristic architecture, visit the Nur-Astana Mosque, and explore the Astana Opera. Afterward, travel to Burabay National Park, known as the “Kazakh Switzerland.” Enjoy hiking, boating, and the stunning views of Lake Borovoye.
Day 10-12: Almaty Region
Return to Almaty and venture into the surrounding region. Visit Big Almaty Lake, nestled in the Tien Shan Mountains, and go hiking in the beautiful Ile-Alatau National Park. Experience a traditional homestay in a Kazakh village to immerse yourself in the local culture and hospitality.
Day 13-14: Shymkent and Turkestan
Fly to Shymkent, the southern cultural hub of Kazakhstan. Explore the vibrant bazaars, historical sites, and museums. Take a day trip to Turkestan to visit the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an architectural masterpiece.
This two-week itinerary allows you to experience the diversity and beauty of Kazakhstan, from vibrant cities to remote mountain ranges and ancient cultural sites. Remember to allow flexibility in your schedule to account for weather conditions or unexpected adventures along the way.
Now that you have explored Kazakhstan for two weeks, let’s continue with a four-week itinerary for those seeking a more extensive backpacking journey.
If you have the luxury of time and want to fully immerse yourself in the wonders of Kazakhstan, a four-week itinerary will allow you to explore even more hidden gems and experience the country at a leisurely pace. Here’s a suggested four-week itinerary that covers the breadth of Kazakhstan:
Week 1: Almaty and Surroundings
Spend the first week exploring Almaty and its surrounding areas as mentioned in the previous itineraries. Take your time to soak up the city’s vibrant atmosphere and venture into the nearby nature reserves, such as Altyn Emel National Park and Kolsai Lakes.
Week 2: The Great Steppe
Travel eastward to explore the vast expanses of the Great Steppe. Visit Karaganda, known for its coal mining history and the impressive KarLag Museum. Explore the Karkaraly National Park and hike through its picturesque landscapes. Continue your journey to the Kyzylkum Desert and experience the unique beauty of this arid region.
Week 3: Northern Kazakhstan
Head north to the stunning landscapes of Northern Kazakhstan. Visit Lake Kokshetau, a paradise for birdwatchers, and hike in the Kokshetau National Park. Explore the historical city of Petropavlovsk, known for its well-preserved architecture and cultural heritage. Don’t miss a visit to the surreal Burabai National Park, also known as the “Kazakh Switzerland.”
Week 4: Western Kazakhstan and Mangystau
Travel westward to the unique region of Mangystau, known for its stunning rock formations and the Caspian Sea. Explore the underground mosque and caves of Beket-Ata and visit the otherworldly landscapes of the Ustyurt Plateau. End your journey in Aktau, a coastal city with beautiful beaches and a vibrant local culture.
This four-week itinerary allows you to truly immerse yourself in the diverse landscapes, cultures, and histories of Kazakhstan. Take the time to interact with locals, taste traditional cuisine, and soak up the unique experiences that each region has to offer.
Remember to plan your transportation in advance and check the weather conditions, as they can vary across different regions and seasons. Pack essential camping gear, comfortable clothing, and carry enough supplies for longer hikes and remote areas.
With this comprehensive four-week itinerary, you will have a deep understanding and appreciation for the beauty and richness of Kazakhstan. Now, let’s move on to some important tips and advice to make your backpacking adventure in Kazakhstan even more enjoyable.
As you embark on your backpacking adventure in Kazakhstan, here are some important tips and advice to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey:
1. Research and Plan: Before your trip, research the destinations you plan to visit, including their customs, traditions, and local regulations. Plan your itinerary accordingly to make the most of your time in each location.
2. Weather Considerations: Kazakhstan experiences extreme weather conditions, with hot summers and freezing winters. Pack appropriate clothing and gear based on the season and region you are visiting.
3. Stay Hydrated: Carry a reusable water bottle and stay hydrated, especially during outdoor activities and hikes. Check if tap water is safe to drink in the areas you visit, and if not, purchase bottled water.
4. Respect Local Customs: Kazakh culture places great importance on hospitality and respect. Learn and honor local customs, traditions, and etiquette, especially when visiting religious sites or interacting with locals.
5. Try Local Cuisine: Kazakhstan is known for its delicious traditional cuisine. Don’t miss the chance to try signature dishes like Beshbarmak (meat and noodle dish), Shashlik (grilled meat skewers), and traditional dairy products like kumis and kurt.
6. Transportation Options: Public transportation is available in larger cities, but for remote areas, consider renting a car or hiring a local guide for easier access to attractions. Be prepared for long distances and limited transportation options in certain regions.
7. Cash and Currency: Keep cash on hand, especially in remote areas where credit card acceptance may be limited. ATMs are available in major cities, but always have some backup cash for emergencies.
8. Safety Precautions: While Kazakhstan is generally safe for travelers, take standard safety precautions like keeping an eye on your belongings, avoiding isolated areas at night, and staying informed about any local safety concerns.
9. Connect with Locals: Interacting with locals can enhance your experience and provide valuable insights into the culture and traditions. Learn a few basic phrases in Kazakh or Russian to facilitate communication.
10. Enjoy the Outdoors Responsibly: Kazakhstan is blessed with stunning natural landscapes. When exploring the outdoors, practice Leave No Trace principles, respect wildlife, and follow designated hiking trails.
By keeping these tips and advice in mind, you can make the most of your backpacking adventure in Kazakhstan while staying safe, respectful, and connected to the local culture. Don’t forget to embrace the unexpected and immerse yourself in the beauty and authenticity that this remarkable country has to offer.
With these comprehensive itineraries, essential tips, and advice, you are now well-equipped to embark on your unforgettable backpacking journey through Kazakhstan. Get ready for an adventure filled with breathtaking landscapes, warm hospitality, and memorable experiences that will stay with you long after your trip ends.
Safe travels and enjoy your backpacking adventure in Kazakhstan!
Backpacking in Kazakhstan offers a unique and unforgettable adventure for those seeking to explore a destination off the beaten path. With its diverse landscapes, rich culture, and warm hospitality, Kazakhstan is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
In this article, we provided one-week, two-week, and four-week itineraries to help you plan your backpacking adventure in Kazakhstan. From the bustling city of Almaty to the stunning natural wonders like Charyn Canyon and Lake Kolsai, each itinerary offers a glimpse into the country’s unique attractions.
We also shared essential tips and advice to ensure a successful and enjoyable trip. From respecting local customs to staying hydrated and embracing local cuisine, these tips will help you navigate the country with ease and make the most of your time in Kazakhstan.
As you backpack through Kazakhstan, you’ll be mesmerized by the breathtaking beauty of its landscapes and enchanted by the warmth and hospitality of the Kazakh people. Whether you choose to explore the bustling cities, hike through the majestic mountains, or immerse yourself in the nomadic culture, each experience will leave a lasting impression.
So, pack your bags, bring your spirit of adventure, and get ready to create memories that will last a lifetime in the stunning country of Kazakhstan. From the rugged beauty of its natural landscapes to the rich tapestry of its cultural heritage, Kazakhstan is truly a destination that will captivate and inspire you at every turn.
As you embark on your backpacking journey, remember to be open to new experiences, embrace the unexpected, and immerse yourself in the beauty and authenticity that Kazakhstan has to offer. Safe travels and enjoy your adventure in this remarkable Central Asian country!