Backpacking in Kazakhstan – the Lo-Down

by Johnny Ward

After Borat well and truly put Kazakhstan on the map, people drew misconceptions about the country, their people and the level of development within. Nowhere highlights the radical progression Kazakhstan has made more than their new Capital city, Astana know as ‘the city of the future’ with jaw-dropping structures and out of this world architecture.

Traveling in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is leading the way for all the ‘stans so it’s a great first step into central Asia for any would-be traveler. It’s the 9th biggest country in the world so there’s plenty to see and do here, I squeezed Kazakhstan into my Trans Siberian trip it’s turned out to be a real highlight actually.

 

My first night was spent boozing with 3 Kazak guys I met in Astana, in their snazzy apartment 2 bottles of vodka, a bottle of Jameson’s and 3 albums of Kazak hiphop later and I’ve got a much better understanding of the new Kazakhstan. And it’s all range rovers, motorways, shopping malls and designer clothes – not quite the Kazakhstan that Borat conveys.

mountains in almaty

mountains in Almaty

Is Kazakhstan Expensive?

To be frank, yes. $30 is a bit of a struggle, but it’s just about doable I think. It’s slightly cheaper than the Milans and Londons of the world, but it’s not far off.

12 hour buses cost around $25, hotels cost around $50 for a double and dinner will set you back at least $5.

 

What are the main cities in Kazakhstan?

The brand new, gleaming Astana is the new capital whereas the commercial and cultural centre is the old capital, in the south East, Almaty. A 20 hour train journey bridges the two.

astana sights

What can you do in Kazakhstan?

Everything you’d expect from such a huge country. It’s got amazing mountains and lakes so trekking, hiking and rock climbing are big choices. Horse riding is popular too. Kazakhstan offers the best skiing in all of central Asia as well.

 

Both Almaty and Astana offer a banging nightlife so partying with the new oil rich Kazaks is a great option.

 

What language do they speak in Kazakhstan?

The main language is Russian, but Kazak is popular too. English is growing and the current President has dreams of the country being trilingual by 2030, perhaps with a shift to the Romanised alphabet too.

 

What religion is Kazakhstan?

It’s two thirds Mulsim, with a sprinkling of Christianity and Russian Orthodox but Kazakhstan is proudly vocal about how open it is to other religions. There are no issues with religion here at all.

 

Is it safe to travel in Kazakhstan?

Absolutely safe. It’s a developed country, especially in the cities. It’s every bit as safe as your home country, probably safer.

 

What’s the weather like in Kazakhstan?

Hot summers and cold, long winters. November to March can reach -40 but from April to September you’ll get perfect 20-25 degrees.

 

Are there Hostels in Kazakhstan? Where can I sleep in Astana?

Most accommodation is pretty pricey across the country but you can find a good deal if you’re smart! For example, in Astana there is a rundown hotel in the back of the bus station for around 2000 Tenge per person ($14), this is where I stayed. Shared bathrooms but it’s fine for a night or two.

 

In Almaty, you can stay in the ‘Third Dormitory’ a section of the university where you can take a dorm bed for 1000 Tenge ($7). You need to do your research though, if you turn up with no idea where to stay you could easily find yourself paying $1000 a night.

 

How do I get to Astana?

You can take a bus everyday from Omsk, Russia (15 hours, $30) or a train from Novosbirsky, Russia (once every 5 days, 20 hours, $30). If you’re already in Kazakhstan, you can take a train or bus from Almaty (around 20 hours, $27).

 

That’s a quick run down guys, I’m off to Moscow on a 81 hour train now, this should be interesting :S Happy travels!

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2 thoughts on “Backpacking in Kazakhstan – the Lo-Down

  1. Nathan Isaac

    Can anyone tell me if you need a visa to get from Kazakhstan to Russia? I am an American living with my family in Southern Russia, and we are planning a trip to Omsk this fall. We will be driving, and would prefer to drive through Kazakhstan. If anyone has any experience, I would appreciate the help. Thanks

    Reply

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