Seeking a fresh travel experience beyond the familiar destinations in the Middle East and South Asia? Embark on a journey just a three-hour flight away from New Delhi and uncover the enchanting beauty of Kazakhstan.
In the past year, Kazakhstan experienced a remarkable surge in tourist arrivals, with India emerging as the fourth-largest contributor to Kazakhstan's vibrant travel market. If you are considering a visit, direct flights from New Delhi to Almaty start at a wallet-friendly $65 (₹5,400). Plus, there's an added perk – Indian passport holders can enjoy a visa-free stay of 14 days in the country.
Kazakhstan boasts a diverse array of attractions, from the captivating Charyn Canyon to the UNESCO sites in Turkistan. Almaty, the largest city, beckons with a perfect fusion of sports and natural tourism, evoking the charm of the Swiss Alps. What sets it apart is the unique accessibility to mountains within a mere 20-minute reach, a feature shared by only a handful of cities globally. Whether immersing yourself in nomadic heritage, exploring vast steppes, or indulging in winter sports, Kazakhstan stands ready to inspire every discerning traveler's imagination.
What is the best time to visit Kazakhstan?
Kazakhstan offers diverse travel experiences throughout the year, making it an enticing destination regardless of the season.
Spring and autumn, particularly from May to September, offer ideal temperatures for exploration, making it the perfect time to delve into Kazakhstan's nomadic heritage with stays in traditional yurts.
Winter enthusiasts can engage in thrilling snow sports, though be prepared for cold temperatures and heavy snowfall. While Astana's winters are harsh, with temperatures plummeting to -30°C and strong winds, Almaty presents a more favorable climate with temperatures ranging from 0°C to 5°C during the season.
What accommodation options are available for tourists in Kazakhstan?
As you plan your visit to Kazakhstan, accommodation becomes a crucial aspect to consider, and the country offers a diverse range of options catering to every budget. From budget-friendly hostels to midrange hotels and luxurious establishments, it ensures a comfortable stay for any traveler.
The average tourist hotel prices in Kazakhstan in 2024 are as follows:
Almaty: Backpackers hostel ($6–$10)
Astana: Hostel Nomad ($10)
Turkistan: Ernur 2 Hostel ($13)
Almaty: Hotel Mildom ($60-$80); Akkent Cozy & New Apartments ($30)
Astana: Hampton by Hilton Astana ($50–$70)
Turkistan: Khan Palace 2 ($40)
Almaty: Rixos Almaty Hotel ($300–$400)
Astana: The St. Regis Astana ($150–$200)
Turkistan: KaravanSaray Hotel ($80)
What are the best tourist destinations in Kazakhstan?
While Almaty is the most popular destination, Astana and Turkistan offer unique attractions worth exploring as well. We suggest commencing your journey in Almaty, benefiting from direct flights available from New Delhi.
Best places to see during a trip to Almaty
Kolsai Lakes National Park
Start your exploration at Kolsai Lakes National Park, located about 3.5 hours from Almaty. The three alpine lakes of Kolsai guarantee crystal-clear, sparkling blue waters, surrounded by peaceful pine forests. The lower lake, easily reached from the car park at 1,800 m, is popular for various activities like boating, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, and picnicking. For those seeking a more secluded experience and stunning views, hiking to the second lake, Mynzhylky, is a rewarding adventure.
Entrance: $2 (₹160)
Charyn Canyon National Park
Charyn Canyon National Park, located on the way to Kolsai Lakes National Park, makes a great stop along the way. It is a haven for nature lovers, featuring unique rock formations, deep ravines, and a diverse array of flora and fauna. The renowned Valley of Castles in Charyn Canyon offers an awe-inspiring panorama, and as you descend into the canyon, the towering walls create an enchanting atmosphere reminiscent of the Grand Canyon.
Entrance: $2 (₹160); shared taxi ride to the park: $5-$8 (₹400–₹650)
Shymbulak, the largest ski resort in Central Asia, stands out as one of the most modern and luxurious destinations in the region. With 20 km of slopes ranging from medium to advanced difficulty, it accommodates both novice and expert skiers. In summer, the resort transforms into a great hiking spot in the summer months.
Renowned for its winter sports offerings, the ski season runs from November to April, attracting global enthusiasts. With its world-class facilities, diverse trail options, and stunning backdrop, Shymbulak is a must-visit for tourists looking to embrace the beauty of the great outdoors and indulge in exhilarating winter sports activities.
Entrance: $17 (₹1,400) on weekends and $12 (₹1,000) on weekdays
Rental of clothes and equipment: $30-50 (₹2,500–₹4,000)
The Medeu Skating Rink, one of the world's highest, complements the Shymbulak experience, offering year-round ice skating amidst breathtaking alpine scenery.
It provides visitors with a unique opportunity to experience the thrill of ice skating in a breathtaking natural setting.
Accessible throughout the year and especially lively in the winter months, Medeu stands as a central hub for ice sports enthusiasts. It hosts ice hockey matches, showcases figure skating performances, and organizes speed skating competitions. The venue also boasts diverse dining options and recreational activities, providing cozy cafes and restaurants with breathtaking mountain views.
Entrance: $6 (₹500)
Big Almaty Lake
Nestled amidst the mountains, Big Almaty Lake is a captivating destination that beckons to be explored by tourists seeking natural beauty and tranquility. Located just a short drive from Almaty, this high-altitude lake enchants visitors with its shimmering turquoise waters, reflecting the surrounding snow-capped peaks.
Whether hiking the surrounding trails, picnicking by the water's edge, or simply marveling at the serene atmosphere, Big Almaty Lake is a must-visit gem that promises a rejuvenating experience for every traveler.
The Singing Dunes
The Sand Dunes of Altyn-Emel National Park present an extraordinary attraction, welcoming tourists to experience the captivating beauty of the Kazakh steppe. When the sand shifts, the grains rubbing against each other produce a distinct, lingering sound, akin to low singing, earning them the name Singing Dunes. This natural phenomenon is observed in only a few places worldwide.
Entrance: $2.5 (₹200)
Best sights in Astana and nearby
Baiterek, Astana's iconic symbol, is a towering structure standing at 105 meters. Its distinctive yellow sphere houses an observation deck accessible by an elevator, positioned at the 97-meter mark to symbolize the city's capital status in 1997. From within the sphere, you can relish a splendid city view while sipping on a cup of coffee.
Entrance: $4.5 (₹370)
Nur Alem Museum of Future Energy
The Nur Alem sphere, initially constructed as Kazakhstan's exhibition pavilion for World EXPO-2017, now stands as The Future Energy Museum, marking one of Central Asia's most contemporary museums. With eight floors dedicated to various energy sources, visitors can explore exhibits on Kazakhstan on both the first and last floors.
Entrance: $3.3 (₹270)
While Burabay is not within Astana's city limits, it is just a two-hour drive from the capital. Offering a mix of cultural richness, natural wonders, and exciting activities such as hiking, karting, and ice skating, it is an ideal destination for those who relish an active lifestyle. For more details, check out our 48-hour guide to Burabay here.
Top places to see in Turkistan
Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi
With a rich history dating back to the Silk Road era, Turkistan is home to the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Mausoleum is a testament to the enduring legacy of Khoja Ahmad Yasawi, a twelfth-century philosopher, religious figure, and Sufi saint, whose teachings left a lasting impact on the region. As a shrine built to honor his memory, the mausoleum stands as a symbol of his profound spiritual legacy, while the turquoise dome and intricate tilework showcase Islamic architectural aesthetics.
Situated just a short walk from the Yasawi Mausoleum, Karavansaray stands as an open-air shopping and entertainment complex with a unique blend of offerings. For a relaxing yet fun afternoon, you can take a boat trip along the canal, enjoy thrilling rides at the family entertainment center, witness a captivating equestrian show at the arena, or immerse yourself in the dynamic 8D movie experience at the Golden Egg cinema.
What traditional dishes to try in Kazakhstan?
Central Asia is meat-centric, but vegetarian options can be found in Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern, and Georgian restaurants. While traditional dishes predominantly feature meat, you can still savor vegetarian choices like baursak (traditional donut-like bread) and kurt (salty dried cottage cheese).
For those open to trying Kazakh national dishes with meat, Sandyq restaurant in Almaty provides a special experience. It offers a modern twist on Kazakh cuisine, featuring ethnic motifs and waitstaff dressed in national clothes. Expect an average bill of around $30 per person. A must-try is Beshbarmak, which is chopped boiled meat mixed with thin noodles and an onion sauce, traditionally enjoyed with hands.
For adventurous palates, explore kymyz—fermented horse milk—a unique taste worth trying. Additionally, indulge in other savory Kazakh dishes such as Manty, traditional dumplings with meat, and Lagman, a flavorful dish made of meat, vegetables, and pulled noodles.
Tips for a comfortable stay in Kazakhstan
To stay in touch while you travel, consider buying a local SIM card. Common telecom providers in the area include Kcell, Beeline, Tele2, Altel, and Activ, offering affordable data plans starting at $4.5. You can easily buy the SIM card at the airport, mobile network stores, or even in some shopping malls.
In Kazakhstan, it is common to hail unmarked cars from the street for rides, as locals willingly share rides with strangers. Simply find a suitable spot, signal with your arm, and agree on a price with the driver, but beware of potential high 'tourist taxes' if you are not using an official taxi. Consider using Yandex Taxi or inDrive, popular apps in Kazakhstan offering quick and affordable taxi service with English language support.
To get around Almaty by bus, you would need to buy the Onay card, priced at 400 tenge and obtainable at kiosks or metro stations. It includes one free ride and can be replenished using a Qiwi terminal or through the Onay app. Valid only in Almaty, the card works for the metro and buses, while alternative payment methods include cash or SMS on the bus.
In Astana, a similar card called Transcard is available for purchase at designated locations, offering payment alternatives such as Kaspi QR or SMS.