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Apr 112018
 

Astana – the astonishing new capital of Kazakhstan.

Here’s a tour quite unlike any other we’ve offered.  It gives you time in three different former Soviet republics and an option to include a fourth country – and a fifth “non-country” too (it doesn’t officially exist but try telling that to the people who live there).  Chances are that you’ve visited many countries, but never before a ‘non-country’!

The tour optionally starts in Moldova and travels through the non-country of Transnistria and on to Odessa then joins the main tour in Kiev.

The main itinerary starts in Ukraine, continues on to Kazakhstan, and concludes in Kyrgyzstan.

We’ve timed it for fall weather – neither too hot nor too cold – and beating the summer crowds (such as they ever are in these places!).  There is a great mix of varied experiences, with local travel usually by coach, supplemented by two train journeys (including a lovely overnight train in private compartments).

You’ll get to see three or possibly four of the former Soviet Republics (and of course you could add more on your own before/after the main tour and optional extensions), and will appreciate and experience the very different cultures and countries they each are.  Happily, none of the countries we visit require visas for US (and most other western country) citizens.

Experience a mix of old and new, of manmade architecture and outstanding natural beauty.

Why Kazakhstan?

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, and we should start by saying that the country is utterly not at all as briefly depicted/parodied in the very funny “Borat” movie.  (Kazakhstan’s people are well-educated and the nation is reasonably prosperous.)

Kazakhstan isn’t just a place you go to because no-one goes there, and because you’re trying to grow your list of countries visited.  It is an under-appreciated gem that is sure to become much more popular as word gets out about its beauty and the variety of experiences it offers.  A visit to Kazakhstan is a place you’ll enjoy for all the right and good reasons, and not at all a place you go to purely to cross another country off your list.

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 futuristic new capital city of Astana.  We will also experience the country’s vast plains (steppes) and unspoiled natural 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 cell phones, and a stable slowly growing economy based on agriculture, mining and energy.

Truly, totally unlike Borat!  And, equally truly, brimming with interesting sights, sites, and experiences.

With a history dating back to the 5th century, Kiev is one of the oldest and most fascinating cities of Eastern Europe, and the birthplace of modern Russia (and Ukraine).

We spend the most time in Kazakhstan, but the main tour also includes time around Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and a fascinating day tour up to the Chernobyl area before traveling on to Astana to start our time in Kazakhstan.

The Kiev area, although now independent from Russia and the Soviet Union, is the historical region where “Kievan Rus” was first formed, the antecedent to modern Russia and Ukraine, so it is filled with fascinating history.

After the main tour’s time in Kazakhstan, and when we cross the border into Kyrgyzstan, we’ll quickly see a huge difference.  Whereas Kazakhstan has been buoyed by its oil and other natural resources, Kyrgyzstan has not been so fortunate.  We visit its national capital of Bishkek and tour also to the beautiful Ala Archa National Park, allowing us to see a good cross-section of the country.

Odessa is a lovely abundantly leafy green city and on the shores of the beautiful Black Sea. This view is of their renowned Potemkin Stairs.

Optional Pre-Tour :  Moldova, Odessa (and a ‘country’ that doesn’t officially exist, too)

If you choose the pre-tour option, that adds two nights in Chisinau in Moldova, and then touring through Tiraspol in the breakaway region of Transnistria – a self-proclaimed country, complete with its own currency and borders, but a nation that no real countries recognize.

What a fascinating experience to add – who else do you know who has visited a non-country!  After our visit to Transnistria (the visa they issue us at their ‘border’ limits us to 10 hours maximum), we continue the short remaining distance to then enjoy two nights in lovely Odessa, Ukraine.

More information on these destinations are on the daily itinerary pages (see links below).

Tour Dates

If you choose the pre-tour option in Moldova and Odessa, this commences on Sunday 14 October (plus or minus a day or two depending on when you wish to join).  You’d probably fly to Chisinau in Moldova the previous day and take an overnight flight.

The main tour commences in Kiev (Ukraine) any time on Thursday 18 October and ends in Bishkek on the morning of Monday 29 October.  If not on the pre-tour, you’d probably fly to Kiev the day prior and take an overnight flight; better would be to fly a couple of days before so as to give you a day up your sleeve and to relax after the flights.

The approximate path of our tour. Royal blue is by coach, green by air, and brown by train

Itinerary and Options

We have detailed day by day itinerary details for both the optional pre-tour and for the main tour as well.  These itinerary details can be seen here :

Pre-tour in Moldova, Transnistria and Odessa

Main tour in Kiev, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Tour Inclusions

As always, we’ve designed this tour to include all the essentials and none of the things you don’t need, so as to keep the value high.

Of course you’ve got accommodation, breakfasts, and touring included.  We add a lunch and two dinners as well, while leaving others out for times when you can readily go and choose your own dining options, and while there’s a lot of touring included, you have some free time to see and do as you wish, too.

This 12 day, 11 night tour will be limited to a maximum of 24 people and includes :

  • Share twin accommodation every night in good quality hotels
  • Breakfasts every morning
  • Two dinners
  • An overnight train ride in private compartments
  • One daytime train ride
  • Transfers upon arrival and for departure
  • All touring and admissions as detailed in the itinerary
  • David Rowell as tour leader accompanying the group

We should also point out items which are not included.  These include ‘anything not specifically listed as being included’, and in particular, the international flights to/from the tour, and the domestic flights between Odessa and Kiev (at the end of the pre-tour) and between Kiev and Astana (on the main tour).

The almost brand new Hilton in Astana, opened in 2017 for their World Expo, and designed in a style similar to the rest of this futuristic city.

About Our Hotel Choices

We know you want to be able to comfortably relax when you get to your hotel each day, and so choose good quality and fairly priced four star hotels that score well on TripAdvisor and other review sites.  This helps assure you of an international quality standard of experience, everywhere in the world.

Karaganda and Bishkek have fewer hotels in the upper quality range but the hotels in Astana and Kiev are on the high-end of four stars, and those in Chisinau and Almaty more or less in the middle of the range.

If you wish to enjoy a superior category of stay, we can upgrade you to either better quality rooms in the hotels we feature or to nearby hotels with a higher rating, and on the overnight train, can probably secure you not just your own private compartment but one with an ensuite facility, too.

This adds about $395 per person to the tour price.

An easy way to get to Astana is via Ukraine International Airlines from Kiev.

How to Travel To and From the Tour

It is fairly easy to fly via a reasonable range of airlines to Kiev if you’re joining there.  Chisinau in Moldova is reasonable well-connected, too.

If you are on the pre-tour, we suggest you book either the 7am or 4.55pm nonstop flight to transfer between Odessa and Kiev at the pre-tour’s end on 18 October, depending on which city you’d prefer to spend more time in.  It is an easy quick one hour flight (a longer train journey is also an option if you prefer).

For the flight from Kiev to Astana we suggest the redeye Ukraine International Airlines flight from Kiev to Astana that leaves Kiev on the evening of Saturday 20 October and gets to Astana early in the morning of Sunday 21 October in time for the start of the main tour.  We include early morning arrival/checkin at our Astana hotel.

The flight connections are poorest from Bishkek.  So to return home again (or to fly on elsewhere) your strategy might be to take any flight from Bishkek to a more major gateway city, and then to use your international to/from US ticket to get back home again from there.

Any travel agent can probably help you with this, and/or we’d be delighted to advise further on the specifics of your flight needs and recommend exact flights and connections for you.

Kazakhstan is a curious combination of east and west; of ancient Islam and more recent Orthodox traditions.

Tour Cost

All of this is yours for $2995 per person, share twin, with a single supplement of $895 (we can also try to match you with a fellow Travel Insider if you prefer).  This assumes payment by cash/check.  If you wish to pay by credit card, we ask you to accept the 3% processing fee imposed by the credit card companies.

A $500 non-refundable deposit is required to confirm your place on this tour; the balance is due three months prior to departure, ie, by 20 July 2018.

If you’re traveling with a US, UK, Canadian, Australian, or NZ passport (and many others too) you don’t need any visas.

Our pre-tour option in Moldova, Transnistria and Odessa is for four nights (you could add or subtract a night from this if you wished), and pricing will vary depending on the number of people joining us for this pre-tour.  However, we generally expect pricing to be in the order of $200 per person per day for accommodation, breakfast, and touring, possibly a bit less.

Travel Insurance

As always, we urge you to consider travel insurance.  We’ve never had anyone complain about not ‘getting value’ from a premium they paid and never had claims against, but we’re sure seen plenty of people boxed into nasty corners when they have problems and no travel insurance to help.  Rather than attempt to sell you a policy ourselves that may or may not suit your needs, we recommend you go to this insurance shopping site, which offers comparisons between something like 100 different policies offered by 18 different insurers, giving you all the options you need.

Please visit our three-part series giving much more information about travel insurance than you probably ever thought you’d want to know, if you’d like to know more about travel insurance.

Note that most insurance policies require you to pay their premium within a week or two of making your tour deposit, if you want maximum coverage.

Need More Information?

If you’ve a question or need more clarification, go ahead and ask.  That’s what we’re here for.  Feel free to send us an email, or call us at (206)337-2317.

Quad K Tour Joining Form
  •   No Thank You
      Yes Please


  •   2 Twin Beds
      1 Double Bed
  •   Yes please $395
      No Thank You
      Not Yet Sure

  •   Yes Please, arrive before 13 Oct
      Yes Please, arrive early 13 Oct
      Yes Please, arrive on 14 Oct
      Yes Please, arrive later 15 Oct
      No Thank You
      Not Yet Sure

As soon as your application is accepted, you will be asked to send in your $500 deposit within seven days.

Tour Terms and Conditions

Our standard terms and conditions apply to this tour.

In addition, please note these extra terms :

1.   Deposit is required within seven days of your participation being confirmed.  Full payment is due on or before Friday 20 July, 2018.

2.   US, Canadian, and many other citizens require a current passport that will not expire until after the date of their planned return in order to be admitted to Moldova, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, but do not require a visa.  Citizens of other countries should check with the airline that will transport them to the UK to determine what passport and visa requirements may apply.  Because you might be traveling through the EU, we suggest you ensure your passport won’t expire until at least three months after the planned end of your travels.

3.   We recommend you limit your luggage to one major suitcase and a carry on per person.

4.  Tour price is reasonably stable but may change if unexpected major alterations in international exchange rates occur.  If such an event happens, and prior to full payment having been received from you, we will adjust the price up or down to reflect the change in underlying tour costs.  If the tour price increases by more than 10%, you may cancel without penalty and receive a full refund of your deposit.  Tour price is locked in place once full payment has been received.

Please also visit our master tours listing page for a complete listing of all currently scheduled
Travel Insider Tour opportunities.

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