If travelling to Kazakhstan is on your bucket list then you have come to the right place! My name is Glenn. I’m a travel writer and photographer born in a small town in the northwest of the Netherlands. In my childhood, I was lucky to spend holidays with family in Greece, Spain, Turkey and Portugal.
This was also the time when I was introduced to my first ever camera, a disposable Kodak camera. As a kid, I always found joy in the creative side of life. Even the tiniest of details always seemed to draw my attention. This eventually led to two degrees – one in carpentry and one in graphic design.
After being in the office for several years as a designer (with plenty of exciting trips during my off time), I noticed that my passion for travel, photography and storytelling got bigger and bigger. At some point this passion resulted in my travel blog: Where the Souls Wander (www.wherethesoulswander.com).
Inspiration to Visit Kazakhstan
My trip to Kazakhstan is quite the story! When I ventured on a backpacking trip to Sri Lanka in 2019, I met a talented content creator from Kazakhstan who runs a homestay in the midst of the jungle of Sigiriya. We instantly shared the same passion for travel and content and became friends.
After months of discussing potential collaborations, we planned to combine our skills for a future project in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, it became clear that COVID-19 had a firm grip on the world. Our trip just wasn’t possible. So instead, my mate invited me to visit Almaty, Kazakhstan. This trip unexpectedly turned out to be one of my favourite adventures so far.
Over Two Months in Kazakhstan
During my time in Kazakhstan, I was fortunate enough to set base in Almaty – a trendy metropole at the foothills of the untouched Ile Alatau mountains. In the two and a half months that I stayed there, I visited some of the most incredible natural sceneries in the region including Altyn-Emel National Park, Charyn Canyon, Kolsai Lakes National Park and Lake Kaindy.
On top of that, I went snowboarding at the Shymbulak Mountain Resort, hiked in the encircling mountains and had many explorations in Almaty. As it stands now, I will fly back to Kazakhstan this month (April) to explore more of the country in combination with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
First Impressions of Kazakhstan
To be honest, I was surprised when I arrived in Almaty. It was completely the opposite of what I expected before my visit. The reason for this is obviously the movie Borat and its misleading way it displays the country.
Although some villages resemble scenes from the movie, Kazakhstan is actually quite a modern country – particularly in big cities such as Astana and Almaty. The latter is considered one of the richest cities in Central Asia.
I was positively surprised by the combination of a modern and trendy city, with great untouched nature at just a stone’s throw away from the city centre. And except for the language barrier (Kazakh and Russian), I didn’t have any challenging situations during my time in Kazakhstan.
My Favourite Place in the Country: Lake Kaindy
For some reason, I always find it difficult to pick a favourite place in a country. Every destination is special in its own right. I also believe that it’s based on your state of being, weather conditions and the people you experience the place with. But if I had to pick one, it would be Lake Kaindy.
This unique place was once a flourishing valley before an earthquake turned it into a lake. But what makes Lake Kaindy so special is that these dead spruce tree trunks still arise out of the vivid turquoise water of the lake. Add the fact that I visited Kaindy when the area was covered in freshly fallen snow, and the idyllic lake became even more surreal.
10 Best Things To Do in Kazakhstan
Listed below are just a few of the incredible things to do in and around Almaty. For more awesome things to do, visit my detailed Almaty article here: www.wherethesoulswander.com/travel/things-to-do-in-almaty.
- Learn some winter sports at Shymbulak Mountain Resort.
- Spend the night in a traditional yurt. This simply is a must-do!
- Stay in a local homestay – a humble and authentic experience.
- Venture to Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan’s very own Grand Canyon.
- Go hiking – the nature is rough, untouched and truly breathtaking.
- Do short road trips to some of the country’s best natural highlights.
- Watch wildlife. Kazakhstan is home to a variety of animals and birds.
- Drive in Altyn-Emel National Park. This place is so diverse and beautiful.
- Sample Kazakhstan’s diverse cuisine. Both the local and contemporary food is mouthwatering! All in all, I found the food to be pretty awesome.
- Admire the country’s picturesque alpine lakes – Big Almaty Lake, Kolsai Lake and Lake Kaindy are absolute bangers that you should experience.
Immersing Myself in the Culture of Kazakhstan
Among the elderly, there is a language barrier. This means it’s difficult to have a conversation. But despite that, you can feel the deep-rooted nomadic hospitality – especially in smaller communities. Also, I noticed that people are proud to be from Kazakhstan which is a good thing!
On the other hand, the younger generation are up to date with the latest trends, plus are extremely talented in all sorts of creative fields: photography, acting, music and arts. However, my favourite Kazakhstan memory was made during a trip to Charyn Canyon, Kolsai and Lake Kaindy.
On this two-day trip, I stayed in a family-run homestay in Saty – a small community located 300 kilometres east of Almaty. With no reception, the most primitive of facilities and a friendly family as hosts – this experience was one of the most genuine travel experiences I have ever had.
Not to mention that I visited some of Kazakhstan’s most incredible natural highlights on this trip too. All offline and in the present moment – it was exceptional! I recommend doing something similar on your visit.
Diverse Food Scene of Kazakhstan
The people of Kazakhstan are all about eating meat which is little wonder given their nomadic roots. This translates in several traditional Kazakh dishes: Beshbarmak (a dish based on horse meat, mutton and pasta), Laghman (delicious spicy beef with noodles) and Pilaf (a rice dish with a hearty broth, spices and the choice of vegetables or meat).
The food was one of the biggest surprises for me – especially in Almaty. With an array of cuisines, there are options for everyone. My favourite eateries in Almaty are Mila Cafe (top-notch dining), Le Bouchin (great for brekkie and lunch) Patsatsina (Georgian), Green Bazaar (tasty local food) and Maharaja (Indian). For coffee, I went to Bowlers Coffee Roasters.
Best Accommodation Options
Accommodation in Kazakhstan largely depends on your travel style. In the bigger cities, you have loads of options including budget-friendly hotels, luxury hotels and Airbnbs. If you venture to remote places like Altyn-Emel National Park, Charyn Canyon or the Kolsai Lakes, the options not only become more primitive but also more authentic.
You can go camping, spend the night with a local family in a homestay or stay in a traditional nomadic yurt – all of which are incredible experiences of their own accord. Experiencing these will add so much to your trip!
Need to Know Before you Go
There is basically only one tip I can give and that is just go! If you are into adventure then I am sure this country will surprise you in a positive way. However, if you are not a seasoned traveler, don’t make Kazakhstan your first trip. Other than that, I would advise renting a car to discover more. Plus, look for an English-speaking guide to help you along the way.