Photo itinerary: two weeks in Kazakhstan

Below you can find our two-week itinerary for travel in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is huge, and there are plenty of things to do besides what we mention below. However, this Kazakhstan itinerary is a perfect introduction to the country. 

Ask someone about Kazakhstan, and 9 times out of 10 their response will be “Borat”. Images of a village with poor farmers, incestuous families, and no running water make Kazakhstan seem like the backwaters of the world.

Borat village Kazakhstan

Little do people know that this village wasn’t even in Kazakhstan (Romania, actually) and that Kazakhstan is the richest and most modern country in Central Asia. And there are many more interesting facts about Kazakhstan, too.

Though far from topping the bucket lists of the masses, Kazakhstan is seeing an increase of tourism, especially thanks to its new one-month visa-free travel program for many citizens of the EU and OECD countries.

One month visa-free countries: United Kingdom, United States, Ireland, Iceland, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, South Korea, United Arab Emirates

Two weeks is hardly enough for such a massive country, but the Almaty region of southern Kazakhstan has more than enough to see to keep you busy for two weeks. So check out our Kazakhstan itinerary below for the perfect two weeks in Kazakhstan.

 

Kazakhstan is a stunning country that's still far from the tourist radar. But that's changing! Many passport holders can travel to Kazakhstan for one month, visa-free. Here's a two week travel itinerary for Kazakhstan to help you plan your next adventure!

 

Two-week itinerary for Kazakhstan

The Almaty skyline as seen from Kok Tobe at sunset - Lost With Purpose

Don’t miss the stunning panoramic views of Almaty from Kok Tobe, an attraction park accessible by bus or cable car.

Days 1-4 in Kazakhstan: Almaty

Although not Kazakhstan’s capital, it has a cosmopolitan feel to it. Well-heeled urbanites live it up in swanky restaurants and nightclubs that put renowned European staples to shame, while remnants of Soviet-style heroics loom large in its many lush public parks.

Soviet statue in Almaty's Panfilov Park - Lost With Purpose

Soviet remnants in the war memorial at Panfilov Park.

The shiny new skyscrapers, modern metro system, and hip bars and restaurants give Almaty a chic, almost European ambiance. Walk around in the city center, and stop for lunch and a drink at one of the many cafes on the streets. Give your body some rest to digest, and spend an hour or two people watching while sipping coffee.

2 week Kazakhstan itinerary | Soaking up some delicious light fare at the Aroma cafe in Almaty - Lost With Purpose

Finally, a reprise from the greasiness of Central Asia and China! Bonding with some healthy food at the reasonably priced Aroma cafe.

Of course, Almaty still holds to old Silk Route traditions. There are several bazaars, of which the Green Bazaar is the biggest and most stimulating on the senses. Head over there for endless rows of fruits, salads, meats, and cheeses, and don’t forget to look up for small cafes with cheap and cheerful Kazakh cuisine. For those that have spent a lot of time traveling through strict Muslim countries, you can even find some good old fashioned bacon in the depths of the bazaar.

Also heading to Astana? Check out these 6 things to do in Astana!

The outside of the Green Bazaar in Almaty, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Don’t forget to pay a visit to the technicolored wooden Zenkov or Ascension Cathedral in the heart of Paniflov park. Every single component of it is made of wood–even the nails! It’s free to enter, so long as you’re in somewhat modest clothes.

The wooden Zenkov Cathedral in Almaty, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

For the best lighting and colors, be sure to visit in the late afternoon.

Be sure to take a cable car ride up to Kok Tobe, the highest point in Almaty, to watch the sunset. The cable car leaves from a building to the right of the Palace of the Republic and costs 2,000 tenge for a two-way ticket.

A panoramic sunset view of Almaty, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Sunsets never disappoint.

Once you’ve had your fill of city life, take a day to head to the outskirts of the city and take in some of the nearby nature. To start, take a bus or taxi to Medeu, the highest ice skating rink in the world.

A panoramic view of the Medeu ice skating rink in Almaty, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Don’t expect much ice at Medeu if you’re visiting in summer!

There are plenty of trails up, down, and around the surrounding mountains that start around Medeu. The Lonely Planet for Central Asia has a good description of a route through the mountains with hardly any people.

Hiking on the trails outside of Almaty, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Not a soul in sight.

Watch out for curious critters along the way.

Curious horses on the hiking trails near Almaty, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

An epic view while hiking around Almaty, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

The views are pretty acceptable, we’d say.

Where to stay in Almaty:

Almaty has plenty of accommodation to meet fellow travelers and plan the next part of your travels in Kazakhstan. Below are just a few options available.

  • Budget: Amigo Hostel is a decent hostel close to the metro. It has a kitchen for cooking and there are several cheap eateries nearby. Popular with overlanders – Book Amigo Hostel now
  • A bit nicer: Sky Hostel Almaty is a highly rated hostel with a cool interior. It’s close to the city center and offers all the amenities you would want – Check out Sky Hostel Almaty now

Check here for more places to sleep in Almaty

 

The first lake at Kolsai, one of the highlights of southern Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

The lakes at Kolsai are undoubtedly one of the highlights of southern Kazakhstan.

Days 5-7 in Kazakhstan: Kolsai National Park

If natural beauty is your thing, but time is short, look no further than the gorgeous alpine lakes of Kolsai National Park, where azure blue water reflects snow-capped mountain tops and dense pine forests. The park is famous for its three lakes, although the third lake can’t be visited without permission due to its close proximity to the Kyrgyz border.

Horses and herder at the second lake of Kolsai, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

It’s 750 tenge per person to enter Kolsai National Park–more if you’re setting up your own tent. There’s no way for the gatekeeper to verify that you’re camping, though, so just say you’ll be staying in a yurt. If you have your own car, you have to pay an additional 1,000 tenge.

A girl peeking out from the yurt camp at Kolsai, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Kolsai park can be reached from Almaty in a day, and doesn’t require your own transport or overly expensive tour operators to get to. Saty (Саты), the closest town, offers several homestays and is also a jumping-off point for Kaindy, another famous alpine lake.  You can get to Saty using public transport or by hitchhiking. There are several small shops in Saty to stock up on supplies.

Though the hike to the second lake can be done in one day, we recommend you take a bit more time for Kolsai. You can sleep in a yurt by the first lake or, for the die-hards among us, trek to the second lake and camp in your own tent there.

A panorama of the second lake at Kolsai National Park, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Everyone says that the second lake is the most spectacular of the three, and it’s easy to see why.

Classic yurt stays and jolly, vodka-shotting local tourists only add to the charm, even though their gifts of kumis, sour alcoholic horse milk, and kurt, equally sour salty cheese snacks, might be a bit of an acquired taste.

Sebastiaan does not enjoy the weird milk Kazakh snacks - Lost With Purpose

Not so sure about these salty snacks…

All in all, the park was our favorite stop during our Kazakh voyage.

The views while hiking up to the second lake in Kolsai, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

The hills are aliiiiiive…

Where to stay and how to get to Kolsai:

  • A yurt! Don’t worry about booking ahead – the yurts are large, and there are several camps near the first lake. A whole yurt is around 7,000 tenge per night, more with food.
  • Homestays in Saty. Look for signs that say “Гостиница”, hotel.
  • Check out our report on getting to Kolsai by public transport.

 

Kazakhstan is a stunning country that's still far from the tourist radar. But that's changing! Many passport holders can travel to Kazakhstan for one month, visa-free. Here's a two week travel itinerary for Kazakhstan to help you plan your next adventure!

 

Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan by MrHicks46

Charyn Canyon by Mr Hicks46 on Flickr.

Day 8-9 in Kazakhstan: Charyn Canyon

Alas! We didn’t have time to visit Charyn Canyon, as we had a bit of a delay in Almaty. But, that doesn’t mean you should skip it! The turn-off for Charyn is close to the turn-off for Kolsai, so it makes for a great stop on your trip back to Almaty from Kolsai.

You can easily hitch or take a taxi to the entrance, and spend a day and star-filled night amongst the rocks. Don’t forget to bring water–it can be quite hot during the day!

Caravanistan has more information about visiting Charyn Canyon.

 

Shymkent, Kazakhstan at sunset - Lost With Purpose

Day 10-11 in Kazakhstan: Shymkent

Return to Almaty from Kolsai, and then take the long westward train to Shymkent.

This bustling city, with some of the friendliest and jolliest bazaaris we’ve met so far, is a great stepping stone for exploring this region.

We walked through the bazaar’s maze, surrounded by throngs of shoppers and local shopkeepers. Some were bold and curious, coming over to investigate using a mixture of basic English and fluent Russian, while others were more subtle. America, you could hear floating through the alleyways. Gollandiya, the whispers said. We were clearly the attraction of the day.

A girl checking her phone in the Shymkent main bazaar - Lost With Purpose

Virtually anything can be found in the depths of the main Shymkent bazaar, as long as you’re willing to look.

Kazakhstan doesn’t get as many tourists as neighboring Kyrgyzstan, and it shows in the people. Jolly and curious, language barriers mean nothing to them, and the strict social norms adhered to in other Muslim majority regions do not apply here. Sebastiaan was offered two daughters in marriage, while Alex, the American celebrity, was peppered with questions despite being half naked in a changing room.

Where to stay in Shymkent:

  • Budget: ShymCity Hostel is run by a lovely expat lady who can help you organize tours in the region. Popular with overlanders – Book ShymCity Hostel now
  • A bit nicer: Altair Hotel is a decent hotel for people no inclined towards the hostel life – Check out Altair Hotel now

Go here for more sleeping options in Shymkent

The glacial waters of the Aksu river threading through a canyon at sunset - Lost With Purpose

The glacial waters of the Aksu river threading through a canyon at sunset.

Day 12 in Kazakhstan: Day trip from Shymkent to Aksu river

Unfortunately, you need a car to reach the natural attractions near Shymkent… which we didn’t have. Taxis were also out of our budget, so we did something very uncharacteristic: we joined a tour!

Soviet bus and the rushing Aksu river in Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Can you spot our decrepit Soviet tour bus over the river?

Comprised of cackling local women and tour guides who must have been part of the Gestapo in a previous life, the tour took us to the ice-cold (but stunning) Aksu river and park.

Looking over the landscape at Aksu park in Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Checking out the landscape of Aksu park.

Aksu means “white water” in Kazakh, named for the glacial water that fuels the river. The park is a beautiful area of golden fields, steep gorges, and some water-worn rock formations.

A cave along the Aksu river in Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Yes, it really was that blue.

If you have your own car, you can ask the lady at ShymHostel for information on how to get to the park. She can also help you book a tour or get a taxi if you so choose.

(Alternative) Day 12-13 in Kazakhstan: Sayram-Ugam National Park

If it fits in your budget, Sayram-Ugam National Park is (relatively) close to Shymkent. Less frequented than neighboring Aksu-Zhabagyly National Park, it has a community-based tourism program and several village homestays to make your stay more comfortable.

The Central Asia Lonely Planet has more details on how to get there and where to stay, and you can try your hand at contacting the Ecotourism office for more information. Beware, many of the workers only speak Russian and Kazakh. Find a local friend to help you with making the call.

 

The entrance to the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi mausoleum in Turkestan, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

The entrance to the mausoleum in Turkestan.

Day 13 in Kazakhstan: Day trip from Shymkent to Turkestan

Finally, we’ll take you to Kazakhstan’s spiritual heartland: Turkestan, home to Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a Turkic Sufi poet and saint. No visit to Kazakhstan is complete without seeing this epitome of Islamic architecture, and the most beautiful manmade structure in the country.

The mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi - Lost With Purpose

The mausoleum is as grand as the holy man was humble, and the intricate blue tile design and gorgeous dome are juxtaposed with a shiny new mosque in the back.

It’s 500 tenge for foreigners to enter the site, which contains the mausoleum, a library, and an underground mosque. Ladies, don’t forget to dress modestly and to bring a headscarf–it’s an Islamic site.

Flowers at the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi mosque in Turkestan, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Getting to Turkestan takes about 2 hours by marshrutka from Shymkent, making for a perfect day trip. You can easily spend a day wandering around the city, but there’s not much to keep you there overnight.

 

Hitchhiking in Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Day 14 in Kazakhstan: Back to ???

Where you head on your last day depends on where you’re off to next.

Heading home via the airport? Use this day to meander back to Almaty–it’s a long train ride from Shymkent.

If you’re crossing into a neighboring country overland, see the section below.

 

Leaving Kazakhstan by marshrutka - Lost With Purpose

Leaving Kazakhstan overland?

If you plan to visit some of the other Central Asian countries on an overland trip, make sure to check out my combined Uzbekistan and Tajikistan itinerary!

Cost of traveling in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is relatively cheap to travel in, and where appropriate we have given the price in local currency. Travel costs in Kazakhstan can be kept low by hitchhiking (which is quite common), by eating in cafeterias instead of restaurants, and by staying in hostels and local homestays instead of hotels. If you want to know how much we spent in Kazakhstan, check out our budget report. 

Other useful information when traveling in Kazakhstan

  • Russian is widely spoken in Kazakhstan, and it’s not common to find English speakers outside the main cities. We recommend you learn the Russian alphabet and pick up a Russian phrasebook to make life easier.
  • Hitchhiking is fairly common in Kazakhstan, although people will often expect some money for gas. If you don’t want to pay for your ride, you’ll have to explain this before getting into a car.
  • Wild camping is allowed in Kazakhstan. Make sure to bring proper camping gear and gas canisters when going west. There is a lot of nothing out there.
  • When you enter Kazakhstan you’ll get a stamped immigration card. Make sure to keep it for the duration of your stay in Kazakhstan.
  • The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Kazakhstan. Get a Steripen if you want to avoid buying bottled water.
  • Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, has recently been renamed Nur-Sultan. Most people will keep referring to it as Astana, though. If you’re headed to Astana, make sure to check out this guide with things to do in Astana.

 

Useful resources for traveling in Kazakhstan

And there you have it, our two-week itinerary for Kazakhstan, including practical info for traveling in Kazakhstan. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.

 

 

Kazakhstan is a stunning country that's still far from the tourist radar. But that's changing! Many passport holders can travel to Kazakhstan for one month, visa-free. Here's a two week travel itinerary for Kazakhstan to help you plan your next adventure!

 

Yay transparency! This post contains affiliate links. This means if you purchase something using our links, we’ll make a small amount of money from it, at no extra cost to you. It helps us to cover the costs of running the blog, plus it funds our coffee addiction. Never fear, we’d never be heinous enough to recommend anything we didn’t like.

 

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Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

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70 thoughts on “Photo itinerary: two weeks in Kazakhstan

    Pete says:

    Amazing blog thank you 🙂 We are heading to Kazakhstan very soon. Where is the photo taken near the river in the cave entrance? Happy travels, Pete

    Alex says:

    Glad you enjoyed it! The river photo was taken at the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve. You can find more on the reserve on Caravanistan here: https://caravanistan.com/places/aksu-zhabagly/

    Mark23 says:

    Hey
    Kazakhstan is considered to be a developing nation. The developmental stage of a nation is determined by a number of factors including, but not limited to, economic prosperity, life expectancy, income equality, and quality of life. As a developing nation, Kazakhstan may not be able to offer consistent social services to its citizens.

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