Info Shymkent - 30 Years of Independence - Tour through Kazakhstan

30 years of Independence: Tour through Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is not just Baikonur & Semipalinsk. The country has more to offer. We take you on tour to the tourist jewels of this young nation.

Today Kazakhstan is celebrating the 30th anniversary of it’s Independence. On the 16th December 1991 the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic left the Soviet Union and got as the Republic of Kazakhstan its Independence. The young nation became with a land mass of 2,724,900 square kilometres the 9th largest country in the world.

But still people around the world just connecting Kazakhstan with the rocket launch site Baikonur, the horrible nuclear disaster of Semipalatinsk Test Site “The Polygon” and the disappearing of the Aral Sea.

But inside of Kazakhstan’s borders is so much BEAUTY! There are beautiful high snow capped mountains with Khan Tengri (7,010 meters) in Tian Shan mountains as its highest peak and also low places like like the Karagiye depression near the Caspian Sea which is 132 meters below sea level. There is not only grassland steppe in Kazakhstan. There are also cyan blue lakes and green forests, sand dunes and deep canyons. The historical heritage is huge: You can find Petroglyphs from the Bronze Age in Aksu-Zhabagly, colorful Islamic Architecture built during the Timurid Empire in Turkestan, Soviet Architecture in Almaty or super modern architecture in the newly built capital Nur-Sultan.

We would like to take our readers on a tour through the beautiful Kazakhstan on today’s Independence Day holidays to show the tourist marvels of this young and amazing country with the photographs taken by the great Kazakh photographer Farhat Kabdykairov. Let’s go!

Oasis of the steppe: Burabay National Park

Info Shymkent - Burabay Lake during winter (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)
Tent like stone mountains at Burabay Lake during winter time. (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

Our journey begins at the Burabay National Park and around 200 kilometres north of Kazakhstan capital. Burabay is a green oasis in the Kokshetau steppe and it is famous for its scenic tent-like formed stone mountains, the dark blue lakes and embraces by dense pine forests. Burabay with a size of 83,511 hectares became a national park in 2000. One of the most famous species you can found in the national park is the grey partridge and the capercailie.

The modern city: Nur-Sultan

Info Shymkent - Modern Kazakhstan's capital Nur-Sultan at Night (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)
Nur-Sultan – the new capital of Kazakhstan is a ‘City of Light’ during night. (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

After we left Burabay National Park we driving south 200 kilometres to Kazakhstan’s new capital Nur-Sultan. The city – previously known as Akmola and Astana – has been the capital of Kazakhstan since 1998. The extravagant and modern architectural style of many government buildings, cultural and sports facilities, museums and skyscrapers in the new capital built on the drawing board attracts many architecture enthusiasts.

Bizarre granite rocks: Bayanaul National Park

Info Shymkent - Bayanaul National Park is one stop at our tour through Kazakshtan (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)
A small beautiful lake between the bizarre formed granite rocks of the Bayanaul National Park. (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

Our next destination on our tour through Kazakhstan is the Bayanaul National Park around 400 kilometers to the east of Nur-Sultan. Bayanaul is Kazakhstan’s first national park and was founded in 1985. The national park is also a green oasis in the steppe and offers three huge lakes for swimming and the bizarre round granite rocks in the midst of pine forests are ideal for climbing and hiking.

Mountains touching the skies: Katon-Karagay National Park

Info Shymkent - Impressive mountain landscape of east Kazakhstan (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)
Yazevoe Lake in Altai Mountains of the Katon-Karagay National Park. The Belukha is reflecting in the water. (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

The next leg of our tour through Kazakhstan is the most eastern point of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In this corner of the Central Asian country is located the Katon-Karagay National Park. The visitors describe this region as the Kazakh version of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The Katon-Karagay National Park in the Altai has endless forests, crystal-clear lakes and snow-capped mountains with the Belukha (4,506 meters) as the highest peak.

Singing dunes: Altyn-Emel National Park

Info Shymkent - Wind over the singing Dunes in Altyn Emel National park of Kazakhstan (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)
The Singing Dunes are the most popular attraction of Altyn-Emel National Park (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

We are now driving south along the Chinese border and reach the Altyn-Emel National Park, the closest and largest national park in Kazakhstan. The singing dunes are the biggest attraction. It feels like you have arrived in the Sahara, but from above you can see the colorful red and white striped mountains of the Aktau Mountains and, with the best of luck, a herd of kulans grazing on the banks of the Ili River.

Brother of Grand Canyon: Sharyn Canyon

Info Shymkent - The Sharyn Canyon in South East Kazakstan
The Valley of Castles is part of the Sharyn Canyon and a stop on our Tour through Kazakhstan.

After crossing the Ili River to the south we arriving at the 50 kilometre long Sharyn Canyon, with its thinly stratified red sedimentary rock, it is often called the small brother of the Grand Canyon in the United States. Take the time to walk down the Valley of Castles and look up to the left and right. Some rocks look like Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars other like castles, faces or items.

A forest in a lake: Kolsai Lakes National Park

Info Shymkent - Kaindy Lake - a forest in a cyan blue mountain lake (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)
Kaindy Lake – a forest in a cyan blue mountain lake (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

We leaving now the Sharyn Canyon to the west to drive up the valley of the Shylek River to arrive at the Kolsai Lakes National Park. This young national park of Republic of Kazakhstan was founded in 2007 and was named after the three beautiful Kolsai Lakes in the northern slopes of the Tian Shan Mountains. You can find the Kaindy Lake – another popular lake – in this national park. It went popular because of its very cyan blue water and with old trees in it. The trees are remains of a forest which was set under water after a massive landslide during a earthquake in 1911.

The vibrant city: Almaty

Info Shymkent - Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty on our tour through Kazakhstan (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)
The vibrant city Almaty looks beautiful during sunrise and the Trans-Ili Alatau in the background. (Almaty, Kazakhstan)

The next stop after our visit in the Tian Shan Mountains is the largest city of the Republic of Kazakhstan: Almaty. The former capital is a modern and vibrant city with Skyscrapers, Museums and Parks. On sunny days the view toward the snowcapped Trans-Ili Alatau mountains is incredibly. If you have time you can also visit the highest ice-skating rink in the world in Medeu. You can start also your hiking tour from there into the Shymbulak ski resort.

The oldest one: Aksu-Zhabagly National Reserve

Info Shymkent - Shymkent from Above - Cyan blue river in Aksu Canyon near Shymkent
The Aksu Canyon is deep canyon with beautiful cyan blue water and it is part of the Aksu-Zhabagly National Reserve.

We leaving the city of Almaty and driving westward. After around 650 kilometres, just before we arriving city Shymkent we visiting the Soviet Unions oldest National Reserve – the Aksu-Zhabagly National Reserve. It was founded in 1926 and is protecting the beautiful Western Tian Shan Mountains and parts of the breath-taking deep Aksu Canyon. This area is home of the Snow Leopard, the Himalayian brown bear, Sibirian Ibex and the Menzbier’s marmot. It is also home of the wild tulip flowers Tulipa kaufmanniana.

The spirit of the Kazakhstan: city Shymkent

Info Shymkent - Shymkent from Above - Pedestrian street Arbat at Night
The Colorful night city life at Shymkent’s pedestrian road “Arbat”.

After leaving the Aksu-Zhabagly National Reserve we making a rest in Kazakhstan’s third largest city: Shymkent. The 2200 years old city is famous for the delicious Kazakh cuisine. the newly reconstructed old citadel, the Baidibek Bi monument (Kazakhstan’s largest statue) and the vibrant colorful pedestrian street Arbat. A trip to the even older Sayram suburb with its tiny but beautiful old mausoleum is recommended.

On the old silk road: city Turkistan and the silk road ghost towns

Info Shymkent - View to the Yassawi Mausoleum
The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi is the main attraction of the Silk road city Turkistan.

Our next leg of our tour through Kazakhstan is just 130 kilometers long. We arriving in the city Turkistan. Its main attraction is the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi which was built by famous King Amir Timur and it is with its cyan blue ceramic domes and colorful ceramic patterns the prototype of the Timurid architecture that you can find all over in Uzbekistan, Iran and Afghanistan. The Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 2003. Near the city Turkistan you can find multiple old ghost towns of ancient silk road cities – like Otrartobe (destroyed by Dshingis Khan in 1219) and Sauran (former capital of the Blue horde).

The door to space: Cosmodrome Baikonur

Info Shymkent - Cosmodrome Baikonur is another stop on our tour through Kazakhstan
A life-long experience – to watch a rocket launch at Cosmodrome Baikonur.

We driving 530 kilometres to the north-west and following the Syr-Darya river to reach our next destination: the Cosmodrome Baikonur. The first satellite, first animal, first human and first woman launched from here to space. Russia is renting this area from Kazakhstan and still launching rockets into space. Since 2020 it was the only human access to space. A life-long experience is to watch a rocket with cosmonauts onboard climbing from the ground of the steppe up to the skies.

Kazakhstan’s Monument Valley – Ustyurt National Preserve

Info Shymkent - Bozzhira tract at the Ustyurt plateau in Kazakhstan (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)
The Bozzhira tract in the Mangystau region of Kazakhstan in the early morning. (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

After a long way on the street we arriving the far west of Kazakhstan. Here you can find Ustyurt National Reserve which has a size of 223,000 hectares. The national reserve is protecting the unique Ustyurt plateau with very impressive table mountains and rock formations as well as the endangered Ustyurt mountain sheep and the Saiga antelope. One of the most popular sights are the Bozzhira tract, the Sherkala Mountain (formed like a Yurt) and the Valley of Balls (very much perfect round shaped rocks).

From the desert to the Sea: Caspian Sea

Info Shymkent - Sunset at the Caspian Sea near Aktau (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)
The grand finale of our tour through Kazakhstan: Sunset at the Caspian Sea near Aktau (Image: Farhat Kabdykairov)

From the desert to the Sea: That is our last leg of our journey through the Republic of Kazakhstan. We driving from the Ustyurt Plateau to west till we arriving the Caspian Sea near Aktau. The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest inland body of water. You can find sandy and rocky beaches on its shore and it is home to some beautiful animals like the Caspian Seal and the Greater flamingo. It is a great place to watch the sunset and to finish our tour through Kazakhstan.

We hope you liked our photo tour through Kazakhstan and you learned that the world’s 9th largest country is not only Steppe, Baikonur and Semipalatinsk. The country offers very much unique and diverse landscapes, cities and over 130 ethnic groups who celebrates their culture. It is time to tell this the world and we hope you spread this world and will have a visit to these nice places in Central Asia in the future.

Happy 30th Independence Day from Kazakhstan!

Read more about Shymkent and Kazakhstan: