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12 things you should know before visiting Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is an enormous country and it is very difficult to see all of it in just one visit. This post is manly for the part around Almaty which is what we visited. If you are vegan in Kazakhstan … you can do it!


Here are some of our tips:


1. Book a hotel in the center.

If you fly to Kazakhstan you will probably fly to Almaty or Astana which are the biggest cities. Astana, as well as Almaty are both very European cities and it is a shame not to take advantage of it. We walked a lot or just used Uber to take us around. At first we booked a hotel a little outside of the center but eventually found out that it wasn’t a good idea. First we were using Uber for everything and second because apparently we choose a not so safe part of the city. We didn’t have problems but it felt better when we moved to the center.


Charyn Canyon

2. Find out in advance what you want to visit.

As we already mentioned in the previous posts we were all but prepared for Kazakhstan. And because of that we lost a few days of travel time searching and planning.

What we saw and enjoyed around Almaty:

Charyn Canyon – 150km from Almaty – A beautiful canyon with the river at the end.

Tamgaly Tas – 120km from Almaty – Buddha carvings in rocks supposed to be a meditation spot and an open sacred space.

Tamgaly – 170km from Almaty – 5000 petroglyphs from around 2000 b.c.

Altyn-Emel national park – 260km from Almaty – 4600km2 park offers several things to see; wild animals like gazelles, kulans … and cites like Aktau and Katutau, singing sand dunes, 700 years old tree, Katutau mountain and much more. Plan to stay hare at least 2 days. If you travel alone you will need to ask for the permit to enter the park in Almaty.

Lake Kaindy – 129km from Almaty – A sunken forest.

Big Almaty lake – 15km from Almaty – Big Almaty lake meaning high altitude lake since it is on 2511m above sea level.

The steppe – you could say it’s everywhere – just find the place that calls to you and do not miss the chance to wander around in the infinite vastness.


Kaindy lake

3. Traveling around by car

Keep in mind that there are big car rental companies but they are just not used to much of tourists that’s why you can find the office closed after 4 or 5 p.m. or closed for holidays and weekends. If you prefer to have a tour guide or a chauffeur like we did, check out indy-guide.com. The page is also a great help when searching for places to visit.

In the city we used Uber.

I would suggest to avoid hitchhiking as it is not like in Europe and it is not safe. In Kazakhstan you have to pay for the ride when hitchhiking and you have to negotiate the price before. The hitchhiking spots are usually right next to bigger bus stations.


The best way to travel the steppe

4. If you have a diet restriction think ahead – for vegans options.

Since we are vegans, our start was everything but easy. It is after all a country with essentially meat plates.

You can find hummus or hummis as it is called in Russians stores in the center. Most of the big stores with it are a little outside. We eat many times in the Restaurant Trieste. They prepared pizza, pasta and other things for us even though they were not vegan on the menu. Just ask. And of course Illy coffee.

Naan is a must! Find the local small shops on the street selling bread. It is still warm and incredibly good.


Naan

If you have a guide with you and you eat outside in the locale's house, let them take care to explain the locals what they should make you to eat. They usually speak only Kazakh and if you are lucky a little Russian. They do not understand what veganism means, it seems crazy for them but they will prepare the most tasteful vegan meal for you.

There are a few falafel places in Almaty that you can find on Happy cow. We didn’t find much things in the Indian restaurant.

Prepare yourself before you leave Almaty for the outland. People outside the capital usually speak only Kazakh and the communication is more difficult even if knowing Russian. If you decide to hire a driver or a tour guide, he can translate and take care of the orders. We eat soups, potatoes with vegetables, salads usually. But in case you cannot find anything, naan is always a good choice to take along.


5. Be prepared for really warm and cold temperatures through the day.

It of course depends on the time of the year when you are visiting but in the desert or canyons could be very hot during the day but when you climb up to the nearest mountains you can find snow even in summer.


The Big Almaty lake

6. Everything is cheap except services and things related to travel.

Since they don’t have much experience with tourism and because there is not much competition, services as sleeping arrangements and car hires are usually overpriced.


7. When you decide to stay outside of the city for longer,...

be prepared that the conditions there seem I would say is like in Europe around 70 years ago. Sleeping at locals houses can happen if you visit remote places (or not so remote) or just because at the hotel you booked they did not hold your reservation. That usually means no shower and a toilet outside in the fields. It is the same if you decide to sleep in a yurt.


In the yurt

8. It is a Muslim country but not a strict one.

People are very cool and relaxed. The only thing that I noticed that is different from our culture is that no one shake hands with a woman. Unless you are like me and push you hand in theirs. :-D I won’t do that the next time. I promise!

Every other thing is the same. No one is covered, everyone drinks, women work,…


9. Negotiate. Especially for tourist services.

As I said they are not used of tourists that’s why they really think that it is o.k. to charge the same as in EU.

They don’t want to take advantages of you and when you round up the price when you pay for the naan they will be so grateful that it will make your day.


10. Want to see the steppe?

The locals won’t understand what you are talking about. However I suggest you persevere and find a way to walk in the steppe for a few hours. Take your time, you won’t regret it. Bostjan wrote more of his experiences in the steppe in the post One with everything in Kazakhstan.


The steppe

11. Mobile and internet connection

Unfortunately our country mobile operators did not have an agreement with Kazakhstan at the time so the calls and specially the internet was very expensive. That’s why we bought a sim card. But be careful which one operator you choose. Most of them work only in the city and you won’t be able to use it outside in the country. Try to find a Beeline operator card. I think you can buy it also in the airport.


12. The roads

Kazakhstan is it such an enormous country but unfortunately they do not have good roads to travel. Sometimes you might find a kind of highway but mostly you drive on local roads that are in terrible conditions. For example the sunken forest of Kaindy lake that I mentioned before is just 129 km from Almaty but it will take you few hours to get there. You can reed more about it in one my previous post: Kazakhstan – The good, the bad and the beautiful.



I think those are the main things when traveling to Kazakhstan. Do you have any question regarding anything else or would you like to add anything?

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