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Nov 022017

Described as the world’s ‘weirdest capital city‘, the futuristic and utopian new capital of Astana was created from nothing and nowhere in the mid 1990s.

This is one of the most exciting tours we’ve yet offered – a ten day tour of Kazakhstan, in late May 2018.

You’re probably thinking ‘Why would I want to go to Kazakhstan’?  The answer to that question is long and full of great reasons, as you can see from the itinerary we’ve developed (below), and necessarily/sadly must start by saying that the country is utterly not at all as depicted in the very funny Borat movie.

To summarize Kazakhstan – it is the ninth largest country in the world, but with a population of only 18 million people.  Within its large area you will find an extraordinary and almost unknown country of contrasts and unique experiences.

Our tour will take you from decaying remnants of its Soviet Union past to the glittering modern new capital city of Astana.  From former nuclear test sites (we’ll visit these, with protective anti-radiation gear included and all radiation levels are carefully monitored and safe) to experiencing the country’s vast plains (steppes) and unspoiled beauty.  You’ll get to travel widely through a country where the 70% Muslim population coexists peacefully with the 26% Christian population, where the 63% native Kazakhs live calmly alongside the 24% Russians (and the 13% of everyone else from everywhere else).  You’ll enjoy a country with 99.8% literacy, where every man, woman, and child owns 1.4 cells phones, and a stable slowly growing economy based on agriculture, mining and energy.

This ten day, nine night tour will be limited to a maximum of 25 people and includes :

  • Share twin accommodation every night
  • Breakfasts every morning
  • Eight lunches
  • Four dinners
  • Two overnight train rides in four berth private compartments – we keep two of the four berths empty for your greater convenience and privacy
  • One daytime train ride
  • Internal flight from Ust-Kamenogorsk to Karaganda
  • Transfers upon arrival and for departure
  • All touring and admissions as detailed in the itinerary
  • Local guide/tour manager traveling with us all the way

It has a projected price of $2895 per person, share twin, with a single supplement of $495.  If you’re traveling with a US, UK, Canadian, Australian, or NZ passport (and many others too) you don’t need a visa.

Here’s a quick summary outline of how we’ll spend our ten days in this very different country.

The approximate route of our tour in Kazakhstan

Day 1 – Arrive in Astana (Wed 23 May)

Astana with the Presidential Palace in the background.

Today (some people might choose to arrive a day or more early and we’ll offer some pre-tour activities) we’ll arrive into Astana.  You’ll be transferred to a centrally located hotel upon arrival, and we’ll all meet up for a group welcome dinner this evening.

Included meals :  Dinner

Day 2 – Astana Touring (Thu 24 May)

The KazMunayGaz building in Astana

We’ll see the sights of this modern city, and what incredible sights they are.  Possibly the most modern city in the world, with stunning architecture, open spaces, and uncrowded streets and parks.

We’ll admire the Khan Shatur Entertainment Center (a Norman Foster design), the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, the Bayterek Tower (we’ll go up to the viewing platform to see the city from its vantage point), the enormous Hazret Sultan Mosque, as well as, in pleasant contrast to the modernity, enjoy a peaceful stroll along the banks of the River Ishim.

You can choose from an abundance of excellent restaurants for dinner this evening.

Included meals :  Breakfast, Lunch

Day 3 – Local Touring, Overnight Train Journey (Fri 25 May)

The Arch of Sorrow on an appropriately somber day at Akhmol

We travel out of Astana to the village of Akhmol and the Museum of the Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland – a place that tells an interesting story of how women were sent to a gulag here when their husbands were persecuted.

We’ll travel around the settlement and village and remains of the former gulag, have lunch, then it’s all aboard for an afternoon and overnight train ride through the countryside.

Included meals :  Breakfast, Lunch

Day 4 – Kurchatov Nuclear Test Site (Sat 26 May)

Close to ground zero of the first Soviet atomic bomb explosion at Kurchatov

The train arrives early this morning into this formerly ultra-closed secret city.

We have an early morning check-in at our hotel (which is bizarrely owned by the Kazakh Institute of Atomic Energy) and time to freshen up before heading out to the Semipalatinsk Test Site, which is where the Soviets raced to catch up with the US and develop their own nuclear weapons.

We visit the museum there, then travel into the ‘Polygon’ testing zone and all the way to Ground Zero – the exact spot where the first ever Soviet nuclear bomb was detonated. Those who wish to travel all the way there will briefly don protective clothing.

We then travel to Chagan – once a very secret long-range bomber base, now abandoned, as is its adjacent garrison town, which was a bustling center for the base staff during the period 1954-1994. Nowadays it has a post-apocalyptic look to it.

Included meals :  Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5 – Kurchatov Region (Sun 27 May)

Typical dilapidated ‘Sovet drab’ style housing in Kurchatov

Some more nuclear exploring today, going to the Atomic Lake in the Semipalatinsk Polygon area.  This lake was deliberately created by nuclear blasts, and now reaches depths of 600 ft.  Is it true that fishermen go there day and night, because of the nuclear glow it emits?  Come see for yourself.  We’ll experience a ‘roadside picnic’ (not what its name implies – here’s a fascinating explanation) and a local expert will explain some of the sights we see.

Returning back to Kurchatov, we’ll enjoy a walking tour of this city, now much smaller and less prosperous than it once was, and have a free evening.

Included meals :  Breakfast, Lunch

Day 6 – Semey (Semipalatinsk) (Mon 28 May)

A mosque in Semey

We take a short two-hour train ride across the steppe to the city of Semey, far off the typical tourist routes, but – as you’ll discover – well worth a visit.

Once a prosperous trading city and gateway between China and Russia, the city has an interesting mix of architecture, statues and monuments.

We’ll visit the Dostoyevsky Museum (he was exiled to this city), the Fine Arts Museum, and the Stronger than Death Monument in the Tatar section of the town.

Included meals :  Breakfast, Lunch

Day 7 – To Karagandy (Karaganda) (Tue 29 May)

A typical view of the steppes from the road or rail line

Today we drive to Ust-Kamenogorsk, where we’ll then take a flight to Karagandy. The flight itself is a highlight, because it will take us over assorted test sites, abandoned gulags, coal mines, and endless gently undulating grassed countryside.

We then have a walking tour of the city center of Karagandy, and will be staying at a hotel that is distinctive in the sense of being an archetypal ugly Soviet style hotel, although inside the rooms are comfortable and updated.  One part of the hotel was built especially for the visit of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.

Included meals :  Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8 -Touring around Karagandy, overnight train (Wed 30 May)

The pleasant city of Karaganda

Today we travel an hour out of Karagandy to the KarLag Museum, all about the gulags, and set in the former NKVD/KGB regional headquarters, with well-preserved gulag barracks making up the adjoining village.

We visit the nearby town of Shahtinsk for lunch and views of local industries – mainly coal mining but some steel production and agriculture too.

We have several choices of afternoon activities before returning back to Karaganda where we’ll take another overnight train, this time to Almaty.

Included meals :  Breakfast, Lunch

Day 9 – Almaty (Thu 31 May)

The classic Russian Orthodox Ascension Cathedral in Almaty, built with no nails.

Almaty echoes some of the classical architecture of St Petersburg and Moscow.

If yesterday’s experiences were a bit sombre, today’s are more buoyant and light. We’ll even visit a chocolate factory, as well as some of the bazaars, pedestrian precincts, and parks, and even a ride on their metro – one of only two metros in central Asia (the other in Tashkent).

To further diversify our travel experiences, we’ll also ride a cable-car up a mountain overlooking the city, where we’ll see a statue of the Beatles. Of course – what else would you expect!  Other activities and amusements are also provided.

We’ll have a group farewell dinner up on the mountainside overlooking the city.

Included meals :  Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 10 – Tour Ends or Option to Charyn Canyon (Thu 1 June)

Charyn Canyon looks similar to the US Grand Canyon

Our formal tour ends today, and you’ll be transferred to the airport for your flight onwards from Almaty.

However, if time (and budget) allows, we recommend you stay one extra day so as to experience one of the scenic wonders of Kazakhstan – the Charyn Canyon.

If you choose to do so we’ll travel to the 50 – 60 mile long Charyn Canyon, more than slightly reminiscent of the US Grand Canyon.

Another option – today or tomorrow – would be to travel on to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, and only a short distance from Almaty.

Included meals :  Breakfast

Day 11 – Option to Bishkek (Friday 2 June)

When this square (Ala Too Square) was constructed in 1984, there was a statue of Lenin as its centerpiece.  It has now been replaced with a statue of the Kyrgyz folk hero, Manas.

Why not add another ‘stan to your itinerary and today travel from Almaty to Bishkek, capital of neighboring Kyrgyzstan (happily also a country with a no-visa policy for most visitors).  It is about a four hour journey.

Although on one of the several historic Silk Road routes (and now slated to be added to China’s new ‘Silk Road’), Bishkek is a relatively modern city, dating to 1826.  After being taken by the Russians in 1862, it was rebuilt in Russian and then Soviet style, and was known as Frunze during its time in the Soviet Union.  As a result, there’s a curious mix of Tsarist, Soviet, and modern architecture, and a cosmopolitan feel to the city of not quite one million people.

Included meals :  Breakfast


We hope you might choose to join us.  We’ll be accepting registration for this tour very shortly, please let us know if you’d like to be advised when the application form is available.


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  2 Responses to “Amazing Kazakhstan Expedition (Borat Not Included) May 2018”

  1. […] seems our Kazakhstan tour – a definitely different type of travel experience – will proceed in mid/late May next […]

  2. […] added dates to the page about the tour, and will add all the ‘fine print’ and other details in time for next […]

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