Kazakhstan is an incredible country to visit. As tourism grows, more travelers are discovering the natural beauty, fascinating history, and welcoming culture of this Central Asian gem. However, as an off-the-beaten-path destination, Kazakhstan also requires some advance preparation and cultural awareness. This article provides tips to help you plan an enjoyable and hassle-free trip to Kazakhstan.
Essential Travel Information for Kazakhstan
If you’re planning a trip to Kazakhstan, the first decision is which city to fly into. The two main gateway cities are Almaty and Nur-Sultan (formerly called Astana). Almaty is the largest city and was Kazakhstan’s capital until 1997. Set against the backdrop of the Tian Shan mountains, it offers incredible hiking along with museums, markets, restaurants, and an upbeat urban vibe. Nur-Sultan became the new capital in 1997 and features unique modern architecture, green spaces, and cultural sights.
Once you’ve booked your flights, there are a few other travel preparations worth making:
- Apply for a visa ahead of time if required. Many countries can enter visa-free.
- Arrange any necessary vaccinations. Hepatitis A and typhoid are recommended.
- Get travel insurance with emergency medical and evacuation coverage. SafetyWing and WorldNomads both offer good options.
- Pack suitable clothing. Light layers work well for the variable weather. Don’t forget sunscreen and hiking boots if exploring the mountains near Almaty.
- Obtain some tenge (local currency). Have a mix of USD cash and tenge on hand. Get more tenge from ATMs once there.
- Download an offline map and translator app. Google Translate works pretty well for simple interactions.
- Learn a few key Russian or Kazakh phrases. English is gaining ground but not widely spoken outside major cities.
Is Kazakhstan Safe for Tourists?
One common question from prospective travelers is “Is Kazakhstan safe?”. In short, yes – Kazakhstan is generally very safe with low crime rates, especially toward foreigners. Tourism has grown rapidly as word has spread that Kazakhstan is a secure destination.
The US and UK governments rate most of Kazakhstan at Level 1 or 2 in their travel advisories, similar to Western European countries. Safety levels in the major cities of Almaty and Nur-Sultan are on par with other modern metropolitan hubs worldwide.
Petty crime does exist, so usual urban precautions apply. But violent crime and confrontations are rare, especially involving tourists. Scams directed at foreigners might include taxi overcharging or police fishing for bribes. Just use registered taxi apps and stand your ground respectively.
For female travelers, Kazakhstan is safer than most destinations. Local culture is relatively respectful toward women and solo female travelers won’t draw much attention or harassment. Of course, any traveler should still exercise normal vigilance about situations they enter and people they interact with.
Using Credit Cards and Currency in Kazakhstan
Payment methods have modernized rapidly in recent years. Nowadays, most shops, hotels, restaurants, and services in Kazakhstan’s cities accept major credit cards. Visa and MasterCard are most commonly accepted. So plastic can generally substitute for cash, especially in bigger establishments.
That said, having some local tenge on hand is still wise for situations like small vendors at bazaars, bus tickets, or tips. Get tenge from ATMs using your debit card once you arrive.
For backup, also carry a bit of US dollar cash. USD is welcomed almost everywhere if needed, albeit sometimes at poor exchange rates. Avoid very worn or torn USD notes which may be rejected.
When crossing between Kazakhstan and neighboring countries, beware that customs rules prohibit carrying tenge or other currencies over the border. Spend down or exchange your tenge before exiting Kazakhstan.
Top Attractions and Activities in Kazakhstan
From cultural sights to natural wonders, Kazakhstan offers incredible diversity for travelers to discover:
- Almaty – Enjoy the cosmopolitan cafes, shops, markets, parks and nightlife of this lively city against a scenic mountain backdrop
- Big Almaty Lake – Be awestruck by the vibrant turquoise waters of this alpine lake surrounded by peaks
- Kolsai Lakes – Take in these gorgeous high-altitude lakes and charming mountain villages
- Charyn Canyon – Descend into this “little Grand Canyon” with colorful rock formations and great hiking
- Turkestan – Explore impressive monuments and mosques at this ancient Silk Road city, and shop at bustling bazaars
- Otrar Oasis – Get a glimpse into Kazakhstan’s history at the excavated remains of a city that dates back over 2000 years
Nur-Sultan (Astana) Area
- Bayanaul National Park – Escape to this nature reserve featuring pine forests, lakes, and unique rock formations
- EXPO Site – Marvel at the futuristic architecture, including the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center (the “world’s largest tent”)
- Kaindy Lake – Discover an underwater forest at this lake, where leafy trees poke up through the clear water
- Steppes & Deserts – Journey through the epic grasslands, salt flats and deserts that cover much of this expansive country
This just scratches the surface of Kazakhstan’s wealth of destinations. Wherever your interests take you, be prepared for warm hospitality and striking landscapes that will leave you in awe. The natural beauty and cultural depth make Kazakhstan an absolutely incredible place to visit.
Tips from Fellow Travelers’ Top Posts
To wrap up this guide, here is some crowdsourced advice from the Reddit subreddit r/Kazakhstan. When asked for suggestions about traveling in Kazakhstan, here is what experienced travelers recommended:
“You can just use card or apple/google pay everywhere”
“I would recommend getting your hands on the Lonely Planet Russian phrasebook and dictionary”
“Always have a mix of USD cash and tenge on hand. Get more tenge from ATMs once there”
“Almaty is far safer than big European cities like Paris or Berlin. The crime rate there is very low”
“For female travelers, Kazakhstan is safer than most destinations. Local culture is relatively respectful toward women”
What to See
“Issyk Lake, Qaindy Lake, Big Almaty lake, Kolsai lake resort, Kok Tobe, Charyn Canyon“
“Ili River Canyon, Assy Plateau, Turgen River”
“Check out Tamgaly petroglyph site, over 5,000 ancient rock art carvings. Great day hike spot”
Kazakhstan is waiting to be explored.
While the major cities and nature highlights were covered already, Kazakhstan still has much more to offer intrepid travelers. Venturing beyond the usual tourist circuits reveals a slice of authentic local life and unexpected surprises.