Kazakhstan is a surprising country – home to Astana – “The World’s Weirdest Capital City” as well as an incredible range of beautiful National Parks. It has one of the most impressive Canyons outside of the US, and lakes to rival British Colombia in Canada. Yet what’s really enticing is the ability to connect with local people of a very different culture through homestays and an overnight train journey.
Fly to Astana on a direct overnight flight from London. Meet with your driver and guide. Transfer to your hotel for 1 night.
Plenty of free time in Astana to explore the city on foot or choose to take a guided tour (extra charge).
In the evening your driver and guide will collect you from your hotel and transfer to the airport for your flight to Shymkent.
On arrival in Shymkent late in the evening you are met and transferred to your hotel. (B)
After breakfast at the hotel depart to Turkestan city.
On the way to Turkestan you will see the Museum in village Shaulder, ruins of the Otrar (a archaeological monument which is under UNESCO protection) and the 12th century mausoleum of Arystan-bab. You will stop for Lunch on the way.
The jewel of the Silk Road is the city of Turkestan, one of the most ancient cities, not only of Kazakhstan but also in Central Asia. Founded in 490 it reached its prosperity period in the 12th century. Surrounded by powerful fortifications, Turkestan was the administrative centre of Central Asian rulers such as Khwarezm shahs, Mongols, Timurids and Shaybanids. In the 16th to the 18th centuries it was the capital of Kazakh Khanate standing on the junction between nomadic and settled cultures and at the crossroads of trade routes. The city witnessed majestic ceremonies of enthronement of khans, which were attended by the representatives of other states.
The city’s popularity in the world was, amongst other things, promoted by the name of Khodzha Ahmed Yasavi, the dervish Sufi preacher and poet who lived in the city. Over the modest tomb of the Saint, which turned into the pilgrimage place equal to Mecca (some 233 years later) the majestic mausoleum was erected by the order of Amir Timur making Turkestan, a Muslim relic.
Hodzha Ahmed Yasavi mausoleum is an unsurpassed masterpiece of medieval architecture. It is an amazing complex of palaces and temples consisting of 30 various rooms and halls. The external diameter of the main dome is more than 40m, its circumference 30m and the height of its minarets 12m. The elegance of the decor, the patterns of ceilings and coloured mosaic are strikingly beautiful. The monument has been restored to its original condition and is protected by the state. Everyone has a chance to admire the jewel of Medieval Orient in the city of Turkestan.
Along the route to Turkestan it’s also worthwhile stopping at the mausoleum of Arystan-Baba erected over the tomb of Ahmed Yasavi.
In the evening you will return to Shymkent and be transferred to the train station for your departure by overnight train to Almaty. (B,L,D)
You will arrive into Almaty early in the morning and meet with your driver and guide and transfer to your hotel – the Hotel Kazakhstan; an imposing hotel completed in 1977. This hotel is the 3rd largest building in the city and is a bit of an icon of the city (it even features on a Kazakhstan banknote!). The day is free to explore Almaty in your own time. (B)
After breakfast you will depart with your driver and guide to Altyn-Emel National Park. You first stop is your guest house where you stay for 2 nights. Here, you will meet the hosts and enjoy a local lunch. After lunch you will visit the “Singing Barkhan”, or singing sand dune, some 24 km from the guesthouse.
After visiting the sand dune and exploring some of the Steppe within the Altyn-Emel National Park you will return to your guesthouse in time for dinner. (B,L,D)
Today you will explore deeper into the National Park and will visit the Katutau Mountains, 103 km from your guesthouse. The word Katutau has no direct translation but the words empty, dead, dark or deserted are close translations and give you an idea of how they look as the come into view across a vast desert. Just onward from the Katutau Mountains is our next stop; the Aktau Mountains. These multi-coloured “badlands” are one of the most visited of Alytn-Emel’s incredible sites.
You end your day by returning to your guesthouse for dinner. (B,L,D)
After breakfast depart the guesthouse for Charyn National Park. Charyn Canyon stretches 154 kilometres along the Charyn River in the northern Tien Shan mountain range. In parts, it attains a depth of 150 to 300 metres. One part of it is known as Valley of Castles for its unusual rock formations.
From Charyn National Park you will continue your journey on to Kolsay National Park. Dinner and accommodation is at a local guest house in Saty village. (B,L,D)
Today you head off on a full day’s unguided trek (packed lunch included) to the Kolsai Lakes – a system of three lakes in the northern Tian Shan mountain range. The lakes are known locally as “the pearl of the North Tian Shan”. Kolsai is a succession of 3 alpine lakes between altitudes of 1700 – 2650m. The 3 lakes are exceptionally clear and lie in an idyllic location, surrounded by massive cliffs and mountains with snowy caps and wooded slopes. The Kolsai lakes are perfectly suited to hiking or horse riding. You can rent out horses for the day to take you up to all 3 lakes (extra charge).
Return to guesthouse to Saty, for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Today you will travel to Kaindy Lake. Kaindy Gorge, named after a small spring river that runs through it, is located to the east of Saty Village. We drive along the gorge for 15 km to get to Lake Kaindy. This unique basin lies at a height of around 1800m above sea level, in an area of dense pine forest. The lake was formed in 1911 after a huge earthquake that resulted in a big landslide from the eastern slope. The centre of this rock-slide can still be seen today. After the landslide a natural dam was created that blocked the gorge. Water filled a basin that formed the lake. Incredibly, the spruce trees that had been growing in the basin still stand today. The trees have lost their branches and bark, but the tips of the trunks have turned white and protrude from the water. The lower section of the “drowned” pines retain their branches, now covered in algae at the base of the lake. Although the water temperature is below freezing, it’s unique landscape makes it popular with divers.
In the evening you will continue your journey back to Almaty where you will check back in for 2 nights at Hotel Kazakhstan. (B,L)
After breakfast you will head straight for Medeo to visit the famous Medeo Ice Skating rink and the city dam. Medeo is located in a mountain valley on the south-eastern outskirts of Almaty. At 1,691 metres above sea level, it is the highest skating rink in the world. It has 10.5 thousand square meters of ice and utilises a sophisticated freezing and watering system to ensure the quality of the ice.
Afterwards you will eat lunch at “Kazakh Aul” restaurant before paying a visit to Shymbulak Ski Resort (by cable car) located in the beautiful Zailiyskiy Alatau mountain range at 2,260 m above sea level. The average number of sunny days a year here can reach 90%. The resort is served by the world’s third-longest gondola (at a length of 4.5 km). At Shymbulak the beauty of the mountains is incomparable and must be seen to be appreciated.
From Shymbulak you will return to Almaty and you will stop at a local bazaar for an opportunity to purchase souvenirs. This is also a great opportunity to experience the atmosphere of a real eastern market; the hustle and bustle, colours, smells and crowds of people buying and selling.
In the evening we take a visit to a Falconry show and afterwards take the cable car up to Kok-Tobe, a mountain on the south-eastern outskirts of Almaty. With an elevation of 1130 meters, Kok-Tobe offers great views of the city and is a popular recreation area for locals. The perfect place to enjoy your dinner on your final evening. (B,L)
After breakfast you will be transferred to the airport for your flight home.
*Based on two people sharing a room and flights from London Heathrow
|Altyn-Emel National Park||2 Nights|
|Saty Village||2 Nights|