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 fortunate 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 north 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 alongside 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.
Start Point: Your Home Destination: Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan) 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.
Start Point: Nur-Sultan Destination: Shymkent Travel: Plane 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.
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.
Start Point: Turkestan Destination: Aktau, via Sauran and Shymkent Travel: Saloon Car and Plane 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 port city of Aktau – you will travel to your beachfront hotel. Supper is at a local restaurant where you will have the chance to sample some regional produce.
Start Point: Aktau Travel: Car, Foot and Boat
This morning, you’ll explore the industrial, beachside city of Aktau. After Soviet prospectors discovered uranium deposits in this area in the 1950s, a Nuclear Power Plant was built here – making it one of the USSR’s most important outposts. Plenty of Soviet relics remain in the city, including socialist frescoes and a WW2 memorial.
This afternoon, you will go for a boat trip on the Caspian Sea. While its status as ‘sea’ or ‘lake’ is disputed, the Caspian is a fascinating body of water that shares the coastlines of five countries: Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. If you do sail here, keep an eye out for wriggling sturgeon, darting salmon and cawing Caspian gulls.
Tonight is in the same seaside hotel.
Start Point: Aktau Destination: Sherkala Airaky Travel: 4WD
This morning, you’ll be heading to Mangistau with your local driver-guide. You’ll be travelling in the comfort of your own Mitsubishi 4WD, and the guide knows this landscape like the back of his hand.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the otherworldly terrain of Mangistau comes straight out of a sci-fi film. This Martian landscape – which is made up of a vast, salty former sea-bed and towering white peaks – may well remind you of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Many centuries ago, an ancient ocean swallowed these canyons and plains; you’ll see its marks around every corner, from multi-coloured chalk to shark’s teeth fossils.
Today your first stop is the underground mosque of Shakpak Ata. 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 unique 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.
Start Point: Sherkala Destination: Becket Ata, via Tuzbair Travel: 4WD
First off today, you’ll visit Sor Tuzbair (meaning ‘colourful mountain’) and its malformed natural arch. Here, the white cliffs of Ustyurt, combined with the dazzling white surface of a dried salt lake, create a place of astonishing beauty and harmony.
You’ll walk to the center of the lake on salt fields whose shallow waters give the impression of infinity being at your beck and call. Very few places in the world are anything like it.
After this you’ll visit another desert mosque, Becket-Ata, before setting up camp in the wilderness.
Your guide will make supper before you turn-in for a night under canvas among the 20-million year-old globular rock formations. Yes, you read that right.
*If you’re not a fan of camping, we can alter this Mangistau itinerary so you don’t have to camp at all, but instead sleep in a simple hotel one night and a yurt camp the next.
Start Point: Becket Ata Destination: Aktau, via the Bozzhira Valley and Mount Bokhty 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 stunning panoramic views.
Here you can search for ammonites and take photos of the Bozzhira valley, which is considered by locals to be the most beautiful valley on the otherworldy Ustyurt 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 two 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 Bozzhira tract, where you’ll stop for a picnic lunch.
After lunch you’ll have the final stop on the “oddities of Mangistau” part of your trip. Mount Bokhty 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.
Start Point: Aktau Destination: Nur-Sultan Travel: Plane 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 Travel: Foot or Car, as you prefer
Today, after breakfast at your hotel you’ll meet your guide and set out to explore this fascinating city. Among the things you’ll see are the yurt-shaped Khan-Shatyr shopping mall, the city park, Nur Astana Mosque, the egg-shaped National Archive and Nur Sultan’s Northern Lights – three light-green apartment towers that loom above the city.
In the early afternoon you’ll visit the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, where you’ll see the replica of the famous ‘Golden Man’ (the real one is in a state vault, and can’t be seen) and a staggering collection of Scythian gold found on the Kazakh steppe.
Tonight you’ll be in a very good hotel in the city centre.
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.
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.