Enjoy a unique exploration of the vast nation of Kazakhstan

Beginning in cosmopolitan Almaty, join us on this exploration through Kazakhstan, from the shrunken Aral Sea to the ancient city of Turkistan, the Silk Road portals of Sayram and Otrar and the majestic, surreal landscapes of Altyn-Emel National Park. Get ready for a rare, fascinating adventure through one of the least-explored corners of the earth.

2018 TRIP CHANGES:
We were recently informed that Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency responsible for the Baikonur Cosmodrome, has decided to increase the cost of visiting the space port over 300% from previous years. Given that this activity already made up a significant part of our total trip costs and that the Cosmodrome is the main reason for visiting Baikonur, unfortunately this means it is no longer viable to Baikonur in our itinerary. From April 2018 we will instead be visiting Altyn-Emel National Park. All other destinations and inclusions remain the same. Please see below for a detailed itinerary.


Start
Almaty, Kazakhstan
Finish
Almaty, Kazakhstan
Destinations
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan
Style
Original
Code
KFSK
Physical rating
Ages
Min 16
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why you'll love this trip

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

  • Explore the Aral Sea, which suffered environmental and humanitarian devastation in the 1960s due to Soviet irrigation projects. Enjoy a homestay with new friends, meet local fisherman and 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 Otrar.

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

  • Surround yourself with the surreal landscapes of the Altyn-Emel National Park, including the mysterious singing sand dunes.

Is this trip right for you?

  • This trip takes you way off the tourist trail to explore just some of the vastness that is Kazakhstan. 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.

  • In true adventure style, the trip involves some long travel days by private vehicle and 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

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2018 to 31 December 2018. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2019 - 31 December 2019

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. 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
Embark on a city tour of Almaty today. 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 just outside the city.

We’ll also visit to 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 cultural relics. Finally, summit Kok Tobe Hill for great views over the city.
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
  • 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 for the night 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 forever.

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 or homestay. 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/Homestay (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Take a tour of the local area by 4WD today. We'll 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. If it's good weather you might see locals fishing or swimming. If you feel like it, you might even take a dip yourself. We also visit Akespe - a disappearing village. Akespe used to be a fishing village on the shore of the Aral sea, but now it's being gradually taken over by sands and within a few years may be totally submerged. Tonight is spent in our guesthouse or homestay.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse/Homestay (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Aralsk - Aral Sea 4WD tour
  • Aralsk - Akespe village
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Today is another travelling day, on a different form of transport this time - train. From Kyzyl Orda it's around 7 hours to our next destination of Turkistan. So grab some snacks and sit back and relax as the landscape rushes by. We arrive in Turkistan mid afternoon. Located in southern Kazakhstan, the city of Turkistan contains more historical relics and cultural sites than any other place in the country.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
We'll visit the main attraction of the Yasaui Mausoleum tomorrow morning, but you'll have the option to see it illuminated at night today.
This morning, we'll head out on a 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 will board our overnight train tonight to take us back to Almaty. On the way, we'll stop at the Otrar ancient settlement. It was first excavated in 1969 and has a history dating back to the 1st century A.D. Remnants of palaces, mosques and bath houses can still be seen today. It is also where Genghis Khan's army is said to have fought heroically (though unsuccessfully) when the Mongols first invaded Central Asia.

There'll be time for some exploring in Shymkent and dinner together before we board the train. We travel in kupe class, which is 4 berths per compartment with a lockable door. There are toilets and hot water for drinks at the end of each carriage. While we aim to group our travellers together, please be aware that compartments are not segregated by gender and you may be sharing with other travellers.
Accommodation
  • Overnight Sleeper Train (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Otrar - Ancient settlement
  • Turkistan - Yasui Mausoleum
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
After arriving in Almaty we head the 240km (approx 3.5 hours) out of town to the spectacular Altyn-Emel National Park where we will spend the next 2 days exploring. This is the largest national reserve in the country and preserves many rare plants and animals, including zheyran (goitred gazelles), argali sheep and kulan (wild donkeys) which we may be lucky enough to spot during our time here.

Our program here may vary depending on the weather and the season. Taigak Gorge houses the Kyzyl Lauyz Petroglyphs where you can make out ancient Tibetan inscriptions of the words "Om Mani Padme Om" as well as images o hunting, farming and celebrations. The Besshatyr Burial Mounds date back from the 6th century BC when this area was a shrine of the ancient Saks people and contain a total of 18 royal burial mounds.

We stay in a simple guesthouse within the National Park tonight where dinner is included.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Explore the sights not visited yesterday. The best known site in the National Park is the Singing Barkhan - a sand dune extending 3km and up to 120m high. The fine sand hums in windy weather, giving it it's name. The view from the top gives a great panorama of the surrounding Djungarian Alatau, Sogety, Boguty and other mountains. In dry, windy weather the sand dune's "song" can be heard up to a few kilometres away.

The Katutau Mountains have been carved into intricate shapes over time from water and wind, creating a fascinating landscape. The nearby Aktau Mountains have revealed preserved remains of prehistoric animals such as giant rhinos crocodiles and turtles. Many compare these huge natural conical mountains to the man made Egyptian pyramids.

We return to Almaty tonight after a full day in the park.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
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 Russian sauna experience. Almaty has always been heavily influenced by its connections with Russia and was once one of the USSR's 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. Join your group for a final optional dinner tonight.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Your trip comes to an end after breakfast today. As no activities are planned, you are free to depart your accommodation at any time.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

9 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 5 dinners

Transport

Private vehicle, Plane, 4WD, Train, Overnight Sleeper Train

Accommodation

Hotel (5 nights), Overnight Train (1 night), Homestay/Guesthouse (3 nights)

Included activities

  • Almaty - Central State Museum
  • Almaty - Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments
  • Almaty - Kok Tobe Hill
  • Almaty - Panfilov Park
  • Almaty - Medeu
  • Almaty - Zenkov Cathedral
  • Aralsk - Aral Sea 4WD tour
  • Aralsk - Akespe village
  • Otrar - Ancient settlement
  • Turkistan - Yasui Mausoleum

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. Many nationalities do not require a visa for Kazakhstan for stays of under 30 days. Please check with your nearest consulate for specific information.
2. 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.
3. A single supplement is available at the time of booking (excluding nights in homestays and overnight train)
4. TRIP CHANGES FOR 2018: We were recently informed that Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency responsible for the Baikonur Cosmodrome, has decided to increase the cost of visiting the space port over 300% from previous years. Given that this activity already made up a significant part of our total trip costs and that the Cosmodrome is the main reason for visiting Baikonur, unfortunately this means it is no longer viable to Baikonur in our itinerary. From April 2018 we will instead be visiting Altyn-Emel National Park. All other destinations and inclusions remain the same. 

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 Kazakhstan Expedition trips score an average of 4.45 out of 5 based on 11 reviews in the last year.

Expedition - Baikonur & Kazakhstan, October 2017

Lee Coupland

Expedition - Baikonur & Kazakhstan, October 2017

Sophie Delaloye