A Tailor-Made Kazakhstan Tour
From historic Silk Road fortresses to stupendous desert vistas, this unique Kazakhstan tour will take you to the parts of the country that are only visited by a cherished few.
From Nur Sultan, the country’s glittering capital, you’ll travel south to Shymkent, a city steeped in history and Silk Road culture. Here, amidst ancient fortresses and teeming bazaars, you’ll feel a sense of the peoples and cultures that have been here before.
Old and new threads intermingle in these core parts of the historic Silk Road. On this Kazakhstan tour, you’ll see the spectacular Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum, experience the pulse of modern Kazakh life and marvel at the ancient citadels of Sauran and Otrar.
From the southern edge of Kazakhstan, you’ll travel on to the Caspian Sea city of Aktau, gateway to the fantastical landscapes of the Mangistau region.
A mind-blowingly beautiful wilderness of rock, mountain and desert, this forgotten corner of the Silk Road is begging to explored. In Mangistau, you’ll drive across some of the most surreal, breath-taking vistas you might see anywhere on earth, sleep with pilgrims in underground Sufi mosques, scramble over rocks and explore mysterious necropolises.
A Team of Silk Road Specialists
This is just one tailor-made Kazakhstan tour that we have produced for our guests. It can – of course – be altered to suit your spirit of adventure. The decision is yours: perhaps you’d like to include some more ‘Stans, follow it up with a trip to the Middle East or upgrade to 5* hotels.
Whatever way you want to travel the Silk Road, let’s talk about it.
All of our tailor-made itineraries can be organised for any group size, from one to fifteen people.
We will build an itinerary that matches your personality and desires – let us do the hard work for you.
ARRIVE NUR SULTAN, KAZAKHSTAN
Start Point: Your Home Destination: Nur Sultan, Kazakkhstan Travel: Arrive by Train or Plane Notes: Long distance trains connect Nur Sultan with Moscow
Arrive in Nur Sultan – previously known as Astana – from your home departure point. Transfer to a 5* city centre hotel. Spend the afternoon seeing the capital’s sights or relax by the pool.
NUR SULTAN TO SHYMKENT
Start Point: Nur Sultan Destination: Shymkent Travel: Fly Notes: 2 hours
Your flight leaves for Shymkent at around 13.00, so no rush this morning. After transferring to the airport, the short flight will touch down in the city of Shymkent, near the southern border with Uzbekistan.
The third largest city in Kazakhstan, Shymkent was once a key stopping point on the Silk Road. Situated at the intersection of trade routes between Russia, Uzbekistan, Europe and China, it was founded in the twelfth century during the greatest trade period of the Silk Road. Despite being home to over a million people, Shymkent still retains a strong pull of the past, and many Kazakhs will tell you it’s their favourite city. You’ll have some time to explore the city this afternoon, before supper and a night at a very good hotel in the city centre.
SHYMKENT - TURKESTAN
Start Point: Shymkent Destination: Turkestan Travel: Saloon Car Notes: 2 hours
Today, after breakfast at your hotel, you’ll have a chance to explore more of Shymkent. You’ll visit the historical museum, one of the largest mosques in Kazakhstan and the wonderful Southern Bazaar, a place people have gathered to sell their wares for almost a millennium.
Sated by a delicious lunch, you’ll then drive to the archaeological site of the ancient commercial oasis of Otrar, also known as Farab. Otrar was an important trading center of the Great Silk Road and a one-time capital of Amir Timur, better known in the West as Tamerlane. An advanced city, it was famous all-over Central Asia for its glass pottery and ingenious irrigation network.
In 2001 during the excavation works, new types of silver coin were found that are thought to have originated from Bukhara, China and other Silk Road destinations. Recently, UNESCO has placed Otrar on the “tentative list” of World Heritage designations.
After feasting on the history of Otrar, you’ll drive 60 miles to Turkestan. After check-in to a comfortable hotel, you’ll have a local meal and overnight here.
TURKESTAN - SAURAN - SHYMKENT - AKTAU
Start Point: Turkestan Destination: Aktau Travel: Saloon Car and Fly Notes: 2 hours 30 minutes plane
Today you can enjoy a leisurely start before meeting your guide and seeing the highlights of Turkestan.
Turkestan is host to the best-known UNESCO site in Kazakhstan, the complex of Hodja Ahmed Yassawi (14th century). This complex includes a mausoleum, citadel, an ancient bath complex, fortress wall and Juma (Friday) mosque. The Khoja Ahmed Yassaui Mausoleum – with its glazed ganch brickwork, cavernous entrance and turquoise domes – is the centrepiece of this sacred site.
In the afternoon, after a bite of lunch you’ll make the short transfer to the Sauran. Across its long history, Sauran has functioned as a trading centre, capital of a Kazahkh-Mongol Khanate and military fortress. Its prime position on the thriving silk road bought bags of riches to Sauran, supporting a vibrant community of merchants that travelled north, south, east and west.
After you’ve explored all the nooks and crannies of this desert-fortress, you will travel back to Shymkent city in time for an early evening flight to the coast of the Caspian sea. Once you’ve touched down at your destination – the waterfront city of Aktau – you will travel to your beach front hotel. From then, it’s all about supper at a local restaurant where you will have the chance to sample some regional produce.
Start Point: Aktau Destination: Aktau
Today is a rest day to relax, get settled into the Kazakh timezone and have as many swims in the Caspian Sea or your hotel pool as you would like. Aktau is an interesting place – a contradiction of new wealth from oil and older perhaps more staid Soviet attitudes that once prevailed in this very remote backwater of the old empire. Now part of the Belt and Road initiative for goods headed west, it makes for a fascinating day to pause and get ready for Mangistau.
There are some very nice hotels along the shore, so we’ll select one to meet your taste.
AKTAU – SHAKPAK ATA – TORYSH – SHERKALA AIRAKY
Start Point: Aktau Destination: Sherkala Airaky Travel: 4WD
You’ll meet your driver at the hotel for an 08.30 departure from Aktau to Shakpak Ata, which is a approximately 120km journey. Covering this distance is more than worth it to expereience this rather splendid underground mosque and necropolis. Perched on the Tupkargan peninsula, Shakpak Ata is a pilgrimage site that rewards those who make the ascent.
While here, you’ll have time to visit the unqiue valley of Torysh, which is famous for the bulbous stones that are spread across its fields. Nobody is quite sure how they were formed, but they have given Torysh an improbable name: The Valley of Balls. There really is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world, and it offers great scenery for a picnic lunch.
With the theme of today being one-of-a-kind rock formations, the final destinations today are Sherkala and Airakty-Shomanay (the Valley of Castles).
You’ll finish the day with a stay in an eco-village of yurts out in the wild. There, you will enjoy a sustainably-produced supper and enjoy plenty of good company.
SHERKALA – TUZBAIR – BECKET ATA CAMP
Start Point: Sherkala Destination: Becket Ata Travel: 4WD
Breakfast with the first rays of the sun. Life in the yurts begins early but you’ll have a good breakfast before the day really begins.
You’ll go with your guide to Sor Tuzbair (meaning ‘colourful mountain’) and visit its malformed natural arch. Here, the white cliffs of Ustyurt, combined with the dazzling white surface of a dried salt lake, created a place of astonishing beauty and harmony.
You’ll walk to the center of the lake on salt fields and shallow waters that give the impression of infinity being at your beck and call. Very few places in the world are anything like it. Think of it as Central Asia’s version of the Bolivian Salar de Uyuni.
You’ll get to see the Becket-Ata mosque from above before continuing 22 km north along the ridge and descending to the foothill plains. Here a camp will be set-up for you, so prepare for a night of star-gazing.
If you are fortunate, you might see the launch of a Mir spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome away to the South East. Your guide will make supper before you turn-in for a night under canvas amongst the 20-million year-old globular rock formations. Yes, you read that right.
BECKET ATA – BOZZHIRA – BOKHTY – AKTAU
Start Point: Becket Ata Destination: Aktau Travel: 4WD
After a breakfast prepared by your guide, you’ll depart to the Bozzhira valley.
On dusty dirt roads you will drive up to the remains of the Bozzhira Tract and take in the valley from the middle plateau. Its steep slopes and martian landscape make for a stunning panoramic views.
Here you can search for ammonites and take photos of the Boszhira valley, which is considered by locals to be the most beautiful valley on the otherworldy Ustyrt Plateau.In the afternoon, you’ll have time to climb the ‘Dreadnought’ rock formation. This is arguably the finest panoramic point of the Bozzhira Tract. The climb is around 80 vertical metres and takes around 2 hours.
A little further along the unmade road, you’ll reach the top of the Ustyurt plateau and do a detour of the upper panoramas of the Bozzhir tract, where you’ll stop for a picnic lunch.
After lunch you’ll have the final stop on the “oddities of Mangystau” part of your trip. Bokhty Mountain and its wild beauty offer a grand finale to this leg of the journey. Afterwards, you will return to back to the straight roads of Aktau, where a local supper will be provided.
AKTAU TO NUR SULTAN
Start Point: Aktau Destination: Nur Sultan Travel: Flight Notes: 2 hours 40 minutes
Today is a day off. There are some sights to see around Aktau, but this is a welcome chance to relax. Once again, feel free to freshen up with a swim, have your laundry done and soak-up the riches of the city.
Your flight (2 and a half hours) to Nur Sultan departs at 11.30 tonight, which is the best direct option availible. It arrives at early in the morning at around 03.00; from there you will be transferred to your hotel for the remainder of a night’s sleep.
Start Point: Nur Sultan Destination: Nur Sultan Travel: Foot or Car, as you prefer
You’ll have the choice to see the capital city with your guide, or find it for yourself. There are old and new parts of the city with very different ambiences.
You can stroll around Independence square and gaze at the Kazakh Eli monument. Afterwards, take your time in the Central Historical museum to observe the fruits of the most important excavations from all over Kazakstan. You might visit Hazret Sultan mosque, the largest mosque in Central Asia (for now, before Tajikistan finishes a bigger one) which can accommodate up to 10 thousand people.
There is plenty of architecture to see along the Millennium Axis (aka Water Green Boulevard), including the Ak-Orda Presidential Palace, Baiterek Monument, Astana Opera and the Nazarbaev Centre.
Tonight you’ll either transfer to your flight or spend the evening in a luxurious 5* hotel and fly the following morning.
Why should you travel with us?
Our directors Marley and Antonia have a combined twenty years of experience travelling across the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. Thread-by-thread, we have built an expert knowledge of the fabric of the Silk Road, from the Black Sea to the Tian Shan mountains. We know Kazakhstan’s sprawling plateaus, national parks and lakes (both natural and atomic) like the back of our hands.
Our inside knowledge won’t just give you a route to follow. By putting you in touch with local people, we enable you to make meaningful connections with the countries that you visit. After all, when has a view ever been lifechanging?
Where will you be staying?
On this trip, you’ll be staying in everything from excellent 5* hotels in Nur Sultan to yurt camps in Mangistau. To make things a bit more comfortable in our out-of-town destinations, we will provide you with extra duvets, camp beds and pillow. But that’s not to say that you’ll be living in luxury; the more remote stretches of Kazakhstan are not designed for tourism. However, the landscape and people with whom you stay will more than make up for any lack of amenities.
You will also be staying in at least one wilderness camp. This will be set-up for you by your guide, who will also cook for you. Fear not, as we will also be bringing along a generous stash of good wines, G&T and delicious food extras. If you measure luxury in terms of how many stars you will actually see, then this could be the best place you’ve ever stayed.
What will the weather be like?
This is a very difficult question to answer, as it very much depends on when you travel. We can advise you when the best time to travel is according to your itinerary, but Kazakhstan is at its most accessible from late April to early June and early September to early October. Nevertheless, we have the equipment on hand to help you deal with more difficult conditions, from glacial winters to the dry summer months.
How fit do I need to be?
You will need to be relatively fit and prepared to spend some time in rough terrain in the desert. Whatever effort you put in will be repaid many times over in the form of hospitable people and fantastic food and drink.
What kit do I need to bring?
We will provide you with an information pack after signing up to this trip, and this will detail any particular equipment we think either necessary or useful.
Do you use decent vehicles?
Yes. We will travel in top-spec 4WD or other vehicles with carefully chosen drivers that know these roads well.
How much are flights to Kazakhstan?
This entirely depends on where you are travelling from and how you want to get there. Again, we’ll send you an information pack containing all the information you need when you book your place. We are ATOL bonded so can easily book your flights as part of a package – please advise if you’d like us to do this.
What will the food be like?
In Nur Sultan, Shymkent and Aktau you’ll be eating very good local and international food, and of course enjoying fantastic breakfasts at your 5* hotels. In the wilds the food will be simpler, but hearty and tasty nonetheless – a mix of local meats, delicious hot soups, salads and homemade bread.
We will also bring good wines, G&T and a selection of tasty treats for you to enjoy after hard day in those more remote locations. In general we think food is a core part of any cultural experience and there are a good number of local dishes to try on our route.
Do you perform proper risk management on your expeditions?
Yes. We are members of TRIP – the Travel Risk and Incident Prevention Group – and perform detailed country risk assessments prior to departure, in line with the ISO 31000 international standard for risk assessment.
We also maintain close contact with the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for countries we plan to visit, in addition to making use of the Australian Smart Traveller assessment tool, and the US State Department’s OSAC service. Beyond this, we have a full set of risk management and disaster contingency plans for each expedition and are expedition first aid trained by Crux Medical.
For final back up we also use the services of Remote Medical Support that allows us to have a UK expedition doctor on the end of a telephone line wherever we may be. And we always carry a satellite phone where communications are at all iffy. We really don’t mess around when it comes to safety.
Is this for me?
Although this is an extremely enlivening way to spend a couple of weeks of your life, it’s also potentially dangerous. Travelling by 4WD can be an inherently risky activity anywhere in the world, let alone remote often mountainous areas.
Central Asia can be very tough to travel and in most places the tourism industry is in its infancy. There’ll be no Wi-Fi or mobile reception for some of the trip and the road conditions, bathrooms, food and temperatures won’t be the same as in London, Hong Kong or New York. Call us strange, but that’s exactly why we love this region so much.
We will be doing everything we can to make it as comfortable as we can. That being said, we feel that exclusivity, wilderness and lack of phone signal is in itself its own luxury.
If you like your holidays to include foie gras, butlers and quilted loo roll then please look elsewhere. This probably isn’t for you. If however, you want a proper, epic experience that you’ll remember forever, then you are in luck.