So… Kaza-what? Most people probably do not know where this country is, and some may even think it is some country in the middle-east, teeming with terrorists and thieves. Well, these people are dead wrong. Kazakhstan is the largest country in Central Asia and is located just south of Russia. It has never once experienced a terror attack and the people are not culturally inclined to steal and rob.
In 2017, Kazakhstan hosted the World Expo 2017 and it was the first Central Asian country to host a global event. World Expo 2017 was a success and it propelled Kazakhstan’s image in global news. In addition, Kazakhstan recently revealed an ambitious goal “Kazakstan 2050”, which is to be one of the top 30 developed nations in the world by 2050. Its strategic location in the core of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, coupled with endless oil and mineral reserves, gives Kazakhstan a really good chance to achieve its goal.
Despite its vast area, most of Kazakhstan is filled with endless steppe. Only the northeastern area of the Kazakh Altai and the southern area along the Tien Shan mountains have a more diverse environment. When travelling on the roads, do not be surprised if you drive through hundreds of kilometres of flat, deserted land. Most of these lands are not arable and are unable to support life. Sometimes you can go for hundreds of kilometres without a single trace of life.
That being said, that should not discourage you from visiting Kazakhstan! The southern part of Kazakhstan boasts beautiful mountains, rivers and lakes. It is also home to the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital that is still bustling with lots of life and culture. Moreover, Kazakh people are one of the most hospitable people you will ever meet. They are passionate about sharing their culture and way of living. Do not be scared if the local people invite you home for a feast, or share some shashlik (local barbecue) with you. This is the Kazakh way of saying, “Welcome to Kazakhstan and I really wish that you have an amazing time here!”
The more adventurous can also visit the Kazakh Altai region, one of the most spectacular natural environments in this part of Asia. It is quite a challenge to get there, but you will be rewarded with stunning views of snow-capped mountains, turquoise rivers and sparkling lakes. Alternatively, you can take a 4WD through the dried up areas of the Aral Sea. Once the fourth largest inland body of water, the Aral Sea is now 10% of its original size. You can still catch a glimpse of its former glory and rich ecosystem as you drive through the seabed.
Thanks to a greatly relaxed visa regime in 2015, visiting Kazakhstan is now much easier than ever before. That gives you one more reason to explore this largely unknown country. Now that more people are beginning to hear about Kazakhstan, you should visit before it becomes overcrowded with tourists. You will be amazed at how beautiful Kazakhstan can be!
The map below marks the places that I have visited in Kazakhstan. Hover over them to see the names of these places. Soon, you will be able to click on them to discover what exactly these places are!