Visit the Russian spaceport of Baikonur on this unique Kazakhstan expedition

Where can you explore space without ever leaving earth? In Kazakhstan, of course! In the middle of nowhere on the dusty Kazakh steppe is the settlement of Baikonur, the seat of the Soviet – now Russian – space program and the site where, if all goes to plan, we’ll witness a live rocket launch. Beginning in cosmopolitan Almaty, join us on this expedition through Kazakhstan, from the shrunken Aral Sea to the ancient city of Turkistan and the Silk Road portals of Sayram and Shymkent. Ready for a rare, fascinating adventure through one of the least-explored corners of the earth? 3, 2, 1, liftoff.

2017 DEPARTURES:
As this trip is yet to depart for 2016 some itinerary changes may be made in response to traveller feedback. New departures have been added based around the 2017 launch schedule. This is, as always, subject to change. Please avoid booking flights until 2017 in case date changes are necessary.


Start
Almaty, Kazakhstan
Finish
Almaty, Kazakhstan
Country
Kazakhstan
Style
Original
Theme
Expedition
Code
KFSK
Physical rating
Ages
Min 16
Group size
Min 1, Max 14

Why we love this trip

  • Truly off the beaten track, Kazakhstan sees few travellers, especially outside Almaty and capital Astana. Feel the remoteness of Central Asia on this one-of-a-kind expedition

  • Visit dusty Baikonur, the hub of the Soviet – and now Russian – space program. Check out the Cosmodrome, the world’s oldest and largest spaceport, and witness a manned rocket launch

  • Explore the Aral Sea, which suffered environmental and humanitarian devastation in the 60s due to Soviet irrigation projects. Enjoy a homestay with local friends and meet those working with an NGO to restore the area

  • Discover the history and architecture of the Silk Road, visiting ancient mausoleums and mosques on guided tours in the cities of Turkistan, Sayram and Shymkent

  • Travel alongside locals and admire wild, sweeping vistas on epic train rides across the Kazakh steppe

Is this trip right for you?

  • This expedition takes you way off the tourist trail and onto the wild Kazakh steppe. If you want to be far, far away from everywhere – and from anything you've experienced before – this trip is for you.

  • Be prepared to experience the full legacy of the Soviet era – not just in the sights and history, but also in the standards of accommodation and service! In other words, while you’ll be comfortable, don’t expect luxury.

  • While we’ve put a lot of research and work into creating this trip, it’s a new adventure for Intrepid, and sometimes things don’t go exactly to plan. The space launch could be cancelled (in which case we’ll still visit Baikonur), or the itinerary could change at the last minute. When we head to new destinations, we usually find there are more pleasant surprises in store than unpleasant ones, but either way, it’s important to be open and flexible. This is expedition travel after all!

  • In true expedition style, the trip involves some long travel days by mini van, local public buses and local trains. While tiring, this is a great opportunity to sit back, unwind and let the sweeping views roll by.

  • We’ll experience varying temperatures in the desert and out on the steppe. The days can be very hot, while at night, the mercury plummets. Make sure you bring warm, comfortable layers, drink plenty of water and take care to protect yourself from the sun. For women, we recommend bringing a scarf to cover your head and shoulders while on visits to mosques and mausoleums.

Itinerary

Welcome to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Your expedition begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm in your centrally-located hotel. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.

If you arrive early, perhaps get your bearings with a walk around town. Until the recent transfer of the capital to Astana, Almaty was Kazakhstan's foremost city. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Tian Shan Mountains, it is still very much the country’s commercial and cultural centre and perhaps Central Asia’s most cosmopolitan city.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Dinner
Be prepared for a long travelling day today from Almaty to Aralsk. We head out early to catch our flight to Kyzyl Orda (approx. 1.5 hrs), then another 7 hrs land travel will take us to our destination tonight, Aralsk.

Aralsk was the main fishing port on the Aral Sea, once one of the world’s largest lakes before the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects in the 1960s. The devastation caused – both environmental and humanitarian – was colossal: huge numbers of people lost their livelihoods, and the local climate and landscape was drastically changed.

A number of NGOs are now working in the region to restore water (and life) to the communities that once thrived here. During our stay in Aralsk, we’ll visit one such organization – Aral Tenizi, where you’ll have the unique opportunity to hear about their projects and support the work they do. The town still has very limited infrastructure, but the locals are keen to share stories with travellers.

You’ll spend the evening in a local guesthouse. Depending on the group size, the group may be split between a few houses. Accommodation is basic but cosy and comfortable with communal shower and toilet in the house.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Please note that depending on the availability, our stay in Aralsk may be on triple share basis.
Take a tour of the local area by 4WD today. We'll visit a ship cemetery today where 4 ships are left now on our drive along the former seabed to Tastubek village where you’ll see glimpses of what used to be the biggest body of water in Kazakhstan. Watch locals fishing; if you feel like it, you can even take a dip yourself.

We also visit Akespe - a disappearing village. Akespe used to be fishermen village on the shore of the Aral sea, but now it's gradually taken by sands and will be covered in few years.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Aralsk - Aral Sea 4WD tour
  • Aralsk - Akespe village
  • Aralsk - Ship cemetery
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today, leave Aralsk and transfer to Baikonur (221 kilometres).

Located on the desert steppe of Kazakhstan, Baikonur has been leased out by the Kazakh government to the Russian Federation until 2050. The town was constructed to service a huge Cosmodrome that dispatches astronauts the International Space Station. Firstly unofficially named as Zarya (Russian for sun rise), and later as vil Leninskiy (nicknamed Zvezdograd, "star city") , it was renamed Baikonur by Russian president Boris Yeltsin in 1995.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
please note that in Baikonur, our accommodation is on triple share basis.
Get ready for a full day of exploration today. Guided by your leader, visit the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s first and largest operational spaceport (Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite, was launched from here). Visit a nearby museum where you’ll see a range of space artifacts, and check out the cottage once occupied by Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to every venture into outer space.

Afterwards, we’ll transfer to the launch pad for one of the highlights of the expedition: witnessing a Soyuz rocket launch into space. Very few people ever have the opportunity to experience such a spectacle!

The launch scheduled for this date is a Soyuz MS-03 flight for the ISS Programme. Soyuz MS is a manned spacecraft which will carry an international team of 3 cosmonauts to the International Space Station.

Please be aware that there is a possibility that the space launch may not occur on the scheduled date or access to sites, including the launch zone, at Baikonur may be limited. Our permit for the area will be dates specific, so if this does occur we will continue to visit Baikonur as planned but may not be able to witness the launch.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Baikonur - Cosmodrome
  • Baikonur - Space Museum
  • Baikonur - Space Launch Viewing
  • Baikonur - Yuri Gagarin Museum & House
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today is another travelling day. We'll take a day train (about 7 hrs) to Turkistan.

Located in southern Kazakhstan, the city of Turkistan contains more historical relics and cultural sites than any other place in the country. We'll visit Yasaui Mausoleum tomorrow morning, but you'll have the option to see it illuminated at night today.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
This morning, we'll head out on a guided city tour, the highlight of which is a visit to the Kozha Akhmed Yasaui Mausoleum, Kazakhstan’s most iconic building.

The stunning blue and while tiled Mausoleum is the final resting place of a great Turkic holy man and Sufi. Built by Tamerlane, it is said that three visits here are equal to one visit to Mecca. As it is a religious site, we recommend that women wear a headscarf when entering. In the surrounds you'll find a rose garden, other monuments, an archeological museum and a mosque, which are all included in the ticket price.

Then we'll continue our journey to Shymkent where we board our overnight train to Almaty tonight. On the way, we'll stop at the Otrar ancient settlement. It's first excavated in 1969. The history of the settlement dates back to 1st century A.D., but what's left now is what once was palaces, mosques and bath houses. It is also where Genghis Khan army was fought heroically (though unsuccessful) when the Mongols first invaded into Central Asia.

Shymkent is the liveliest city in Southern Kazakhstan, packed with bazaars. In the evening, why not head out for dinner with the group and sample an icy local beer, such as Shymkentskoe Pivo before the overnight train?
Accommodation
  • overnight train (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Otrar - Ancient settlement
  • Turkistan - Yasui Mausoleum
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
After arriving into Almaty this morning, we'll make a stop to have some breakfast, then embark on a full-day guided city tour of Almaty. The development and wealth you’ll see on display as you walk the streets comes from the country's main export – oil (Kazakhstan is one of the world's top five oil-producing nations). Visit Central Square, the colourful Zenkoff Cathedral and Medeo, a huge outdoor ice-skating and bandy rink in a valley outside the city.

We’ll also head to historic Panfilov Park, dedicated to the 28 guardsmen who died defending Moscow against German tanks in WWII, and check out the Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments and the State Historical Museum, which features a great collection of ancient relics. Finally, summit Kok Tobe Hill for great views over the city.

Then we check into our hotel and put our feet up after a long and fulfilling day.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Almaty - Central State Museum
  • Almaty - Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments
  • Almaty - Kok Tobe Hill
  • Almaty - Panfilov Park
  • Almaty - Medeu
  • Almaty - Zenkov Cathedral
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
It's a free day today for you to further explore the city, or relax in one of the many leafy parks or cafes dotted around the place. The Arasan baths are well worth a visit for a true Soviet sauna experience. Almaty has always been heavily influenced by its connections with Russia and was once one of the USSRs regional capitals. You’re likely to hear more Russian spoken here than Kazakh, but now that the nation is independent a resurgence of Kazakh language and culture is underway.

In the evening, head out for a final dinner with your group and leader.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Today your expedition comes to an end after breakfast. As no activities are planned, you are free to depart your accommodation at any time. If you wish to extend your stay in Almaty, we’d more than happy to book additional accommodation for you, subject to availability. Please enquire at the time of booking.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

9 breakfasts, 2 dinners

Transport

private bus, public bus, Plane, 4WD, minivan

Accommodation

Hotel (6 nights), Overnight Train (1 night), Guesthouse (2 nights)

Included activities

  • Aralsk - Aral Sea 4WD tour
  • Aralsk - Akespe village
  • Aralsk - Ship cemetery
  • Baikonur - Cosmodrome
  • Baikonur - Space Museum
  • Baikonur - Space Launch Viewing
  • Baikonur - Yuri Gagarin Museum & House
  • Otrar - Ancient settlement
  • Turkistan - Yasui Mausoleum
  • Almaty - Central State Museum
  • Almaty - Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments
  • Almaty - Kok Tobe Hill
  • Almaty - Panfilov Park
  • Almaty - Medeu
  • Almaty - Zenkov Cathedral

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. We require a completed Baikonur Permit Form and clear, scanned colour copy of your passport at the time of booking, no later than 60 days prior to departure.
2. Many nationalities do not require a visa for Kazakhstan for stays of under 30 days. Please check with your nearest consulate for specific information.
3. Please be aware that there is a possibility that the space launch may not occur on the scheduled date or access to sites at Baikonur may be limited. Our permit for the area will be dates specific, so if this does occur we will continue to visit Baikonur as planned but may not be able to witness the launch.
4. During this journey the group will spend time in remote areas without home comforts or easy access to quality medical facilities. Although a high level of physical fitness is not required, travellers should be comfortable with the realities of an off the beaten track adventure, and prepared for some very basic conditions at times.
5. A single supplement is available at the time of booking, but this doesn't not include day 7 (overnight train)

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

Reviews

Our Expedition - Baikonur & Kazakhstan trips score an average of 4.2 out of 5 based on 5 reviews in the last year.

Expedition - Baikonur & Kazakhstan, November 2016

Christian Hanley

Expedition - Baikonur & Kazakhstan, November 2016

Malcolm Clark