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Escape to Kazakhstan

Welcome to wild and wonderful Kazakhstan, where cosmopolitan cities are nestled among remote and rugged lands. Explore culture and architecture in gleaming urban centres then escape from modern life in ancient towns and stunning natural reserves.

Thanks to Kazakhstan’s wealth of oil and minerals, its biggest urban hub is a sophisticated patchwork of European cafes, leafy avenues, refined restaurants and glitzy shopping malls. Take the cable car up Kok-Tobe mountain, visit the ancient relics and archaeological finds at the Central State Museum, and marvel at the Russian Orthodox Zenkov Cathedral.


Regional Highlights

  • Gain an insight into the history and development of the southern capital of Kazakhstan and see its major attractions. Central State Museum, Presidents Palace, Republic Square and the Monument of Independence, Abai Opera and Ballet Theatre, Astana Square, Almaty Railway Station, Central Mosque, Abai Square and the Palace of Republic. Visit one of Almaty's oldest parks, Panfilov Park where you will see one of the highest wooden buildings in the world - Zenkov Cathedral. While here you can also visit the Memorial of Glory and Eternal Flame, dedicated to the memory of the fighters who died for freedom and independence of the country.
  • Experience the vibrant atmosphere of the Green Market, its colours, smells and crowds. Pick up some medicinal herbs that give you one hundred years of life! Then indulge your sweet tooth at Rakhat Chocolate Factory.
  • Kok Tobe is a mountain on the southeastern outskirts of Almaty which sits at 1130 metres above sea level. Climb aboard the cable car that will carry you to the top of the mountain passing over some of the oldest parts of Almaty. Once you reach the top you will be greeted by incredible panoramic views of the city in all directions and can 'chill out' on a bench with the Beatles or at least the life sized bronzed statues of them!
  • Opposite Panfilov Park you will find Almaty's central bathhouse, Arasan Baths. Three types of baths are available - Russian, Finnish and Turkish. Enjoy!
  • Visit the highest ice-skating rink in the world surrounded by the stunning mountains of Trans-Ili Alatau on a day trip to Medeo Gorge and Chimbulak.
  • Embark on an excursion to Big Almaty Gorge where at an altitude of 2510 metres above sea level you will find the beautiful, calm waters of Big Almaty Lake surrounded on all sides by majestic peaks. The journey itself is picturesque, passing countless fir tree and lush woods that display a new array of colour with each passing season.
  • Between April and November you have the opportunity to visit a Falcon Farm and enjoy a spectacular show with specially trained hawks - hunting with them is one of the most unique features of the Kazakh way of life.
  • Journey out of the city to the stunning Charyn Canyon that is often referred to as the Grand Canyon's little brother. The vista of harsh erosion made by the Charyn River below and the elements has created a dramatic and impressive landscape.
  • Immerse yourself in Kazakhstan's raw beauty. Begin your day away from the city in the magnificent Tien-Shan Mountains and the emerald Issyk Lake. Witness one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th Century, the Issyk Burial Mound. The central chamber had been repeatedly plundered however the side chamber was untouched and was the final resting place of a young Sacae ruler dressed in lavish golden armour and buried with over four thousand gold artifacts.
  • Combine your day trip with a visit to the stunning Turgen Waterfalls in the Ile- Alatau National Park. Rich in lush forests, alpine and sub-alpine meadows, lakes and springs, medicinal herbs and berries the gorge plunges 44 km into the vast Assy Plateau. Famous for its seven waterfalls a highlight is the Bear Waterfall which drops thirty metres into a beautiful setting amidst overhanging cliffs and green fir trees.
  • Two hours from the city lay the World Heritage Site of Tamgaly Gorge, one of Kazakhstan's hidden gems. Set amidst the arid Chu-ill Mountain is a remarkable concentration of some five thousand petroglyphs or rock carvings, mostly dating back to the Bronze Age however some date back to the Iron Age and Medieval times. A huge number of fascinating ancient burial sites have also been uncovered, all a testimony to daily life, rituals and ceremonies of pastoral peoples.
  • Take advantage of our Tailor-made journeys and take an overnight trip to Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes. The Kolsai Lakes are one of the treasures of the Northern Tien-Shan Mountains. These three alpine lakes, set amongst steep pine-clad slopes, alpine meadows and rocks are referred to as the "Pearl of the Northern Tien-Shan."
  • Kazakhstan's Lake Kaindy is one of a kind. The lake was created by the result of an enormous limestone landslide triggered by an earthquake, today it is one of the most incredible sunken forests on earth offering a fascinating world above and below the turquoise waters.

The backyard of Almaty is a playground of endless natural wonders. In the forested foothills of Kungey Alatau, you’ll find 3 spectacular emerald lakes, each higher than the next. Breathe in the fresh alpine air and enjoy hiking in an untouched wonderland.


Stay overnight to watch a sunset or sunrise set the flaming canyons alight. Plunge into the refreshing river after a day exploring the dramatic landscape, relax in the evening under a blanket of stars and enjoy an experience that is sure to take your breath away.


It requires a little effort to organise a visit to this jaw-dropping natural splendour but you will be highly rewarded. Like a canvas in motion, new layers of colour and texture are added with each stroke of a passing cloud. Highlights are the singing dunes, petroglyphs, burial mounds, Aktau Canyon and Katutau Volcanic Mountains.


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FAQs

Capital city: Astana

Population:  17.8 million

Language: Kazakh, Russian

Currency:  Tenge (KZT)

Time zones: GMT+06:00

Electricity: Type C (European 2-pin), Type E (French 2-pin, female earth), Type F (German 2-pin, side clip)

Dialing code: +7

Many nationalities including British, Australian, USA, Canadian and members of the EU do not require a visa to enter Kazakhstan for stays of up to 15 days and are date specific to correspond with your Sundowners Overland arrangements . We suggest you check with your local consulate for the most up to date information.

There are no Kazakhstan consulates in some countries (e.g. New Zealand) and so you must apply for your visa through a consulate located in another country.

For information on how to apply for a visa to enter Kazakhstan through the consulate in Singapore, visit the following website: http://www.kazakhstan.org.sg/content/intro.php?c_id=14

For information on how to apply for a visa to enter Kazakhstan through the consulate in the United Kingdom, visit the following website: http://www.kazembassy.org.uk/visa_information.html

If you would like further recommendations and advice on applying for a Kazakhstan visa through a consulate located in another country, please contact a Travel Advisor at Sundowners Overland or your visa processing company.

For other nationalities, please refer to your local consulate for information. Visit the following website to find your local embassy: http://www.embassypages.com/

Letter of Invitation

Many nationalities do not require an invitation letter for Kazakhstan, however if one is required it will be provided by Sundowners Overland. The invitation letter is issued by Kazakhstan’s Ministry Of Foreign Affairs and details are sent to the relevant consulate who will issue the visa. A copy of the invitation letter must be sent when applying for the visa for the consulate to cross-reference with the information they have received.

Please check the appropriate consulate website for specific information on the cost and method of payment. Cash is generally not accepted and often payment will need to be arranged before you apply with the embassy/consulate. The actual application process will vary depending on your nationality and the consulate/embassy at which you will be applying. Please check the appropriate consulate website for specific information.

Travel Insurance is mandatory for all group journeys and Sundowners Overland strongly recommends travel insurance for all other journeys. You must ensure that your insurance policy covers you for the entire duration of your journey, for all activities you will be participating in and that you have purchased the highest level of cover available to you for medical emergencies (including repatriation/evacuation cover) which are relevant to ALL the destinations that you will be visiting. Contact us for further information and quotes.

If you are taking special medication, it is a good idea to carry a letter from your doctor to show authorities if necessary.

Since some medications can also be affected by changes in temperature or require special care, we recommend you discuss this with your doctor before departure.

Kazakhstan has a continental, dry climate throughout the majority of the country. Summers can be very hot and winters extremely cold. In the mountains the weather can be quite changeable. If you are comfortable in a hot dry heat, summer is a great time to visit, with fewer tourists. Spring and autumn are the most popular times to travel to Kazakhstan. In autumn, along with mild days and cooler nights, the crops are harvested and you can indulge in the delights, including the Almaty Apple Festival in September - celebrating the cities most famous produce.

The local currency is the Tenge. Credit cards are accepted in large hotels, major stores and restaurants in Almaty. ATM access is limited but can be found in Almaty. We suggest you carry cash when venturing beyond the city.

Almaty:

  • Bus or metro ticket in Almaty USD $0.50
  • Decent meal and drink in a simple restaurant USD$4-5
  • Fast food USD $2-$5
  • Meal in a more upmarket restaurant USD $20-$40

*Prices are approximate average costs based on prices at 11/03/17 and are based on the equivalent amount of local currency.

Prepare yourself for a fair amount of time at border crossings and be sure to pack your patience.

Border formalities are straightforward with the usual customs, immigration and security checks. When travelling on trains, border officials will collect everyone’s passports and carry out random bag checks. You will not be permitted to leave the train and the toilets will be locked (if you have a super friendly train attendant she might wake you up to make sure you can get to the toilets before they are locked).

Respect and manners go a long way in any culture. Learning a little of the language, reading as much about the history and culture of the region and observing local gatherings is a great way to start.

  • In rural areas, the most honoured guest, usually the oldest, is traditionally offered a boiled sheep’s head on a beautiful dish as a further sign of respect.
  • Smoking is banned in public places.
  • Hospitality is a significant part Kazakh life; it is likely you will be invited to someone’s home to eat with his or her family. It would be wise to accept such invitations when possible to avoid causing offence. Take a small gift with you like sweets or pastries.
  • Meals are social occasions and not to be rushed. Be sure to leave some food on your plate, as an empty plate will be taken to mean you are still hungry.
  • As in many Asian cultures the left hand is considered by many as unclean, and therefore avoid passing or eating food with it.
  • Arranged marriages are still very much the norm in many parts of the country.
  • The common greeting is a handshake often done with both hands and a big smile. Since many Kazakhs are Muslim, some men will not shake hands with women, be sensitive to this religious difference and don't be insulted if your hand is not accepted.
  • Kazakh’s consider bread to be sacred; serving bread is a sign of respect.
  • When you are served tea your cup will often be half full. To fill the cup would mean your host would like you to leave.
  • Don't use someone’s first name unless you have been given permission to do so.

Mobile phone coverage is good in larger cities and towns, it is a bit hit and miss beyond these areas. Ensure you have global roaming activated with your service provider or purchase a local SIM card. You will need to make sure your device is unlocked to accept a foreign SIM card.

Internet access is available in main cities and towns, but will be hard to find in rural areas.