Highlights of Kazakhstan - Mundana



Travellers thinking about a Central Asia trip might overlook Kazakhstan in favour of the culture and history in neighbouring Uzbekistan. But that would be a shame: the largest of the ‘Stans is an unmissable destination in its own right. Among its varied attractions are innovative architecture and dramatic mountain scenery. Whether you concentrate solely on Kazakhstan or team it with one or more of the other Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan, you’ll find it a rewarding adventure. Here are Mundana’s highlights of Kazakhstan to get your itinerary planning started.


Unsplash/Tim Broadbent

For a time this capital city was called Nur-Sultan, though in 2022 it reverted to its previous name. Astana is a dream destination if you’re interested in architecture. Many of its buildings are remarkably striking and boast imaginative designs, giving it the nickname “Singapore of the Steppe”. Don’t miss landmarks such as Khan Shatyr, a retail and entertainment centre in the shape of a tent or the Kazakh National University of the Arts which looks like a bowl. Take it all in from the top of the Baiterek, an observation tower easily recognised by its golden ball.


Unsplash/Dmitriy Panchenko

The former capital of Kazakhstan remains its most populous city as well as a cultural and commercial hub. It’s a pleasant place with plenty of green spaces within the built up area such as Panfilovets’ Park. If you’re keen to get some context at the start of your visit, Almaty is home to a number of interesting museums. They include the Central State Museum and the Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments. The city’s Green Bazaar is also worth a trip, both for what you can buy but also for people-watching. Recuperate after a day’s sightseeing at the Arasan Baths.

Around Almaty

Unsplash/Konstantin Dyadyun

Almaty’s position at the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau means it makes a convenient base for those who love outdoor pursuits. A popular destination is Big Almaty Lake, just 15km from the city. A plethora of hiking trails with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks make up for the fact that you aren’t allowed to swim. Some visitors pair it with the Sunkar Bird Refuge, which looks after birds of prey. There’s a show most days if you’re keen to see some of these magnificent creatures in the air. Winter sports enthusiasts can ski at Shymbulak Ski Resort, one of the largest in the region. Medeu outdoor skating rink is another popular attraction. 

Kolsay Lakes National Park

Unsplash/Anatolii Shcherbyna

Dubbed the Pearls of Tian Shan, several lakes can be found within this park. They include the kilometre-long Lower Kolsay Lake, the larger Middle Kolsay Lake which is five kilometres upstream and the Upper Kolsay Lake, flanked by spruce trees. These high altitude bodies of water are some of the most important visitor draws in this Alpine region. They’re joined by Lake Kaindy, created a little over a century ago when an earthquake-led rock fall dammed a river gorge. The blue-green water of this picturesque lake contains stands of dead trees which add to its appeal. It’s also a good spot for trout fishing.

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Charyn Canyon

Unsplash/Thomas Ten

Charyn Canyon is as close as you’ll get in Kazakhstan to the Grand Canyon. This impressive rock gorge is 80 kilometres long and in places plunges to 300 metres deep. Highlights include the Valley of Castles, spectacular red rock formations. It’s possible to do some of it as a day trip from Almaty but if you are able to stay overnight, the place offers so much more than a rushed hike. For instance, walk through Zhabyr (Yellow Canyon), comparatively a hidden gem, or seek out Uzunbulak Canyon, whose white clay gives it the nickname Moon Canyon. Combine it with huge Altyn Emel National Park, which is known for the singing dunes.

Tian Shan

Wikipedia/Frederic Heymes

The Tian Shan range contain Kazakhstan’s highest mountains. The country’s tallest peak is Mount Khan Tegri, 7010 metres above sea level. Its name translates as King Heaven or Lord of the Sky and it is especially lovely at sunset, when the white snow turns a gorgeous reddish-orange colour. You’ll find this important natural landform along the border with Kyrgyzstan. Two glaciers face off either side; North Inylchek is the one on the Kazakh side of the border. You’ll need to be a serious mountaineer to tackle this peak. Summiting is no easy task, even with plenty of experience.

Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve

Pixabay/Michaela Wenzler

If you visit Kazakhstan in spring, be sure to make your way to the country’s oldest protected natural area. Located near Shymkent, you’ll find the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve in the south of the country. Among other things, there is an abundance of flowers. It is famed for its wild tulips, including Greig and Kaufman varieties.  Nature lovers will also appreciate the wildlife. You may spot ibexes, marmots, argali sheep and even brown bears on the ground, while golden eagles soar overhead. Numerous hiking routes and horse riding trails lead to stunning views, including those of Aksy Canyon, a spectacular 500 metre deep gorge.

Aral Sea

Wikipedia/Jeff Schmaltz

The vastly shrunken Aral Sea is a reminder of the futility of messing with nature. Drained for irrigation, this once significant body of water is now a shadow of its former self. The town of Aral used to be a thriving fishing port. Now, a mosaic on the wall of its train station depicts its terminal decline. Samphire surrounds several Soviet shipwrecks on the shore. The largest houses a fascinating fishing museum. If you want to swim, you’ll need to travel to Tastubek. Combine this excursion with a stop in Zhalanash. Talk to the locals about the old ship cemetery – the rusting hulls have now largely been broken up and sold for scrap.



Turkestan has a rich cultural heritage. Many tourists are keen to admire its blue domed mausoleum, which is historically probably the most significant building in the country. Tamerlane built it in the 14th century and is dedicated to Sufi philosopher and poet Khoza Akhmed Yasaui. Devote a whole day and book a guide to ensure you learn about its storied past. Within its grounds are other key religious buildings; allow time for Friday Mosque and Hilvet Semi-Underground Mosque.

Mundana can help you put together a bespoke Central Asia itinerary so that you get the most out of your time in Kazakhstan and its neighbours. Give us a call today for your tailormade plan.

Highlights of Kazakhstan

written by Julia Hammond

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