Across the Kazakh Steppe

Across the Kazakh Steppe

Start: Almaty Finish: Astana

Visiting: Almaty , Altyn Emel National Park , Turkistan , Aralsk , Baikonur , Astana , Nur-Sultan

Duration: 13 Nights

Physical rating: Medium, Moderate

Special diets catered: Vegetarians, Vegans

Tour code: KAZ

Trip Styles: Active , Adventure , Scenic , Small Group

Activities: Birdwatching , Museum , Sightseeing , Walking

Tour operator: Explore!

Group size: 4 - 16

Age range: 14-99

Tour operated in: English

Interests: Cultural , Foodie , History , Ruins-Archaeology


From: $4920

What Happens Next?

We will forward your question onto the tour operator or guide and notify you by email when they respond.

Tour Overview

On this adventure through the wealthiest of the 'Stans, we travel vast swathes of the Kazak steppe, from the foothills of the Tien Shen Mountains in the south, through Silk Road cities and past Russian cosmodromes to Astana in the dusty north. Aralsk - Uncover eerie ships rusting in the desert where the Aral Sea once was. Baikonur - Visit the Baikonur Cosmodrome, explore a decommissioned spacecraft and sit in a cosmonaut's seat. Astana - Explore Kazakhstan's uber-modern capital with its glittering skyscrapers and bizarre architecture.

Highlights

  • iconAralsk - Uncover eerie ships rusting in the desert where the Aral Sea once was.
  • iconBaikonur - Visit the Baikonur Cosmodrome, explore a decommissioned spacecraft and sit in a cosmonaut's seat.
  • iconAstana - Explore Kazakhstan's uber-modern capital with its glittering skyscrapers and bizarre architecture.
More Information on the local operators website

Itinerary

icon Day 1: Join trip in Almaty

Location: Almaty

Accommodation: Kazzhol Hotel

Arrive in Almaty, the capital until 1997 which still remains the cultural and financial centre where Russians, nomadic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tartars and many other ethnic groups rub shoulders in its bustling markets. The city has a leafy, almost European feel, partly due to the earthquake in 1911 that flattened Almaty resulting in the complete re-planning and re-building of the city. Wide-leafy boulevards were constructed and lined with low-rise white-washed housing and offices, and the few period buildings that remained intact were restored to their former glory. The city enjoys an enviable position, nestled in the foothills of the Zailiysky Alatau Mountains, with beautiful turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains and chic ski resorts just a short drive away.

For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Almaty at any time although please note that your hotel room may not be available until after 2pm. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Almaty International Airport (ALA), which is 40 minutes' to one hour from the hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information over breakfast on day 2.

If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to explore the Pedestrian streets Arbat and Panfilov.

icon Day 2: Full day exploring the old capital of Almaty

Location: Almaty

Accommodation: Kazzhol Hotel

Meals: Breakfast

Today we set out to explore some of the city's major sites, starting in the Park of 28 guards. The park is diverse, serving as popular meeting place for locals as well as housing a variety of important monuments and buildings. The park's focal point is the Ascension Cathedral, a beautiful Russian Orthodox style Cathedral and one of only two wooden buildings left in the city. Also found in the park are imposing Soviet statues remembering falling soldiers from campaigns such as WW2 and the Afghan War, where many Kazakh nationals fought to support the USSR's interests. We also visit the Museum of Musical Instruments, the other wooden-structure building that would look more at home in Switzerland than in Central Asia. It showcases a wide-variety of folk instruments that are both native to Kazakhstan, or were brought by travellers from throughout Central Asia and Persia.

icon Day 3: Morning drive to Altyn Emel National Park, afternoon visit to 'Singing Dune'

Location: Altyn Emel National Park

Accommodation: Altyn Emel Guest House

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

As we head out of Almaty this morning, the urban sprawl of the city limits quickly give way to wide open plains, our first experience of the vastness of the Kazakh Steppe. It's a pleasant drive that passes several lakes before the tarmac changes to gravel on the last 40 kilometre stretch to the national park. Our guesthouse is located in a small village on the fringes of park, offering a chance to sample a taste of a real Kazakh village life.

This afternoon we set off for the Singing Dune. This huge 150 metre high sand dune is a geographical phenomenon, seemingly arbitrarily located in the middle of a rocky desert. Stranger still is the sound emitted from the sand when a combination of just the right conditions comes together - namely strong wind in the correct direction and a dry heat. It's not so much a singing but a low rumble similar to that of a jet engine, an eerie experience that is exacerbated by the deathly quiet desert environment that surrounds the dune.
We plan to hike to the top of the dune, a walk of approximately 650 metres in length and a 150 metres ascent. It can be quite hard-going in the heat and the soft sand, but the panoramic views from the top make the hard work more than worth it. For those that want to, there is the option to return to the bottom via the tried and tested 'sitting down and sliding' method, which interestingly produces the same 'singing' sound!

icon Day 4: Full day exploring the hills and gorges of Altyn Emel National Park

Location: Altyn Emel National Park

Accommodation: Altyn Emel Guest House

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Today we have the full day to explore the huge and bizarre landscapes of Altyn Emel National Park. The park covers some 4,600 square kilometres of desert and rocky terrain, and as we make our way through the park it's not uncommon to see gazelles bounding across the expanse, and animals such as lynx, Tien Shen brown bear, polecat and stone martens are also present here, albeit more difficult to spot.
We first plan to visit the Aktau Mountains, a series of jagged mountains of striking beauty. Literally translated to 'White Mountains', the mountains appear a white hue from a distance, but as we get closer deep crimsons, bright yellows and vivid oranges become visible. We will take a short one hour walk into the mountains, following a dried-up riverbed that has cut its winding way through the terrain. We climb a small rise that affords us wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and ample photo opportunities. After a picnic lunch, we continue onto Katutau Volcanic mountains, a deep-red rock formation formed by ancient lava flows by a now-extinct volcano. We make our way back to our guest house in the late afternoon, where the rest of the day is at leisure. You may like to take a short walk around the vicinity for a chance to witness daily life in this sleepy Kazakh village.

icon Day 5: Morning visit to Charyn Canyon, walk along the rim before returning to Almaty and overnight train to Turkestan

Location: Turkistan

Accommodation: Overnight Train from Almaty to Turkestan

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

We set off for Charyn Canyon this morning, in the far-east of Kazakhstan and just a stone's throw from the Chinese border. After travelling across the wide open expanses of the Kazakh Steppe, the Canyon adds another dimension to the landscape, plunging to a depth of 100 metres and extending for 80 kilometres in length. We stop off at a view point perfect for photos of the canyon, before descending into the valley to walk along one of the deeper sections.
After lunch we drive back to Almaty, where we make our way to the train station for our overnight train to Aksu Zhabagly. There is a restaurant cart onboard, however the food is fairly basic so the TourLeader will ensure there will be a chance to buy snacks and drinks before we board the train. Our accommodation on the train will be in 2nd class sleeper - a private lockable cabin containing 2 lower and 2 upper beds, with toilets located at each end of the carriage. Bedding is provided, but you may wish to take a sleeping sheet for your own comfort.

icon Day 6: Explore the old Silk Road trading post of Turkestan

Location: Turkistan

Accommodation: Khanaka Hotel

Meals: Breakfast

After some time to relax and unwind this morning, we set off to explore this ancient city. The city has been through several incarnations, first featuring as a centre-point on trade routes across Asia in the 5th Century, it then shot to prominence in the 12th Century when the revered poet and scholar Khoka Ahmad Yasavi set it up as a centre for learned scholars. As well as being a central city to Tamerlane's rule, it was also the capital of the Kazakh Khanate.
Turkestan's stand-out monument is the 14th Century Mausoleum dedicated to the scholar Yasavi, which was commissioned by none other than Tamerlane himself. The turquoise-blue domes rival those of Samarkand and the building has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spend time in and around this beautiful building this afternoon, as well as learning about the city's rich history when visiting the Hazrat Sultan complex and the mausoleum of the Kazakh Khan Esim.

icon Day 7: Catch the day train to Aral Sea, travelling across the vast Kazakh Steppe

Location: Aralsk

Accommodation: Nur Guest House

Meals: Breakfast

We rise early this morning to catch the train to Aralsk. The train ride takes us across the wide sweeping expanse of the Kazakh Steppe, and is a comfortable way to take in the huge landscapes that makes up much of this country. With few tourists in Kazakhstan, we expect to find ourselves causing a stir of interest among the locals, so we hope for some good opportunities today to engage with friendly Kazakhs with the help of our Tour Leader.
Today will be a long day of travelling, anticipated to be around 13 hours so be sure to bring a book, perhaps some playing cards and plenty of snacks. There is a restaurant cart on the train, and the setup is a 'two seats facing two seats' type configuration, with a table in-between. Toilets are available at either end of the carriage. The train will make several stops along the journey where it possible to get out and stretch the legs.
The train is scheduled to arrive into Aralsk in the early evening.

icon Day 8: Explore the stricken village of Aralsk, a once-busy trading port on the Aral Sea

Location: Aralsk

Accommodation: Nur Guest House

Meals: Breakfast

The Aral Sea is one of the great geological disasters of modern times, losing an estimated 90% of its mass over a period of 40 years. In the 1960's Soviet engineers decided to divert the main rivers that fed the Aral Sea to irrigate nearby desert areas in a bid to encourage agriculture. In the years that followed the waters rapidly receded, many of the fish perished due to the increase of salinity of the water, and a once-thriving fishing industry died. At one point the Aral Sea provided one sixth of the fish eaten in the USSR, now all that remains are rusting shipwrecks stricken in the middle of a desert, and abandoned towns; a sobering reminder of the devastating impact humans can have when tampering with the powers of nature.
We set off by 4WD today to explore Aralsk and its immediate surroundings. We first visit the Tsarist train station, complete with a poignant mural depicting Aralsk villagers providing fish for the people starving in Russia in 1921. The town has a small museum that provides further information on the disaster and charts the various efforts made to restore water to the area, efforts that are now, thankfully, starting to bear fruit. We then spend time driving over the former sea bed to see the stricken rusted ships that have been left out in the desert, along with other pieces of Soviet engineering that interrupt the otherwise-barren landscape.

icon Day 9: Travel by train to Baikonur, afternoon exploring Baikonur museum and International Space School

Location: Baikonur

Accommodation: Central hotel

Meals: Breakfast

After a leisurely breakfast we make our way back to the train station for the four hour journey to the town of Baikonur. The town itself is very isolated, hundreds of kilometres in any direction from nearby towns it was a perfect location to build a secret USSR Cosmodrome in the height of the 'Space Race'. Nowadays the Russians effectively 'rent' Baikonur from the Kazakhs, a lease that lasts until 2050 and is worth $100 million dollars per year.
Upon arrival we transfer to our hotel, a classic Soviet bloc type building that echoes its surroundings. It's clean and functional, but be prepared for it to bear all the hallmarks of the Soviet experience, both in service and comfort. This afternoon we set out to explore the town, starting with the Baikonur museum. It houses an extensive collection of all things space, documenting the city's conception, the construction of the cosmodrome and the rockets, the history of the space-race and how the Kazakh culture has influenced Baikonur. We move onto the lane of cosmonauts, a green park where a ceremonial tree is planted for each rocket launch and then onto the International Space School. This is the place where adventurous young children aged 10-15 are selected to learn about physics, maths, chemistry, and of course space! Founded in 1995 by the Kazakh government, the school was launched to capture young student's imagination about space travel and the science behind it, to try and ensure the legacy lives on with the next generation.

icon Day 10: Explore Baikonur Cosmodrome, and sit in a cosmonaut's seat

Location: Baikonur

Accommodation: Central hotel

Meals: Breakfast

Today we visit Baikonur Comsodrome, one of only two places on earth where humans are regularly thrust into outer space, and the sole launch site for manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Previously known as Leninsky and then 'Star City', Baikonur was selected in 1955 as the prime location for the USSR Space programme on account of its wide open steppe and lack of population under the rockets trajectories. Since then it has seen the launch of Sputnik (the first man-made satellite), Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space), Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space), and more recently British astronaut Tim Peake's mission to the ISS.

After completing passport checks and formalities, obtaining our special permits and exchanging some Russian roubles, we effectively pass into Russian territory as we set out to explore the Cosmodrome and learn about the fascinating history that has been made here. We visit the house of Yuri Gagarin before continuing onto the Space Museum which details the history of the Soviet and now Russian space programmes. One of the highlights of Baikonur is a visit to the decommissioned Buran spacecraft where we can explore the interior and complete a childhood dream for many - having the chance to sit in a cosmonaut's seat.

icon Day 11: Drive to Kyzlorda and fly to Kazakhstan's gleaming capital

Location: Astana

Accommodation: Best Western Plus Astana

Meals: Breakfast

There is some free time this morning before we leave Baikonur and drive the three hours on well-laid roads (thanks to the Cosmodrome and the Western Europe to Western China project) to Kyzlorda Airport. We then take the short flight to Astana, and after checking into our hotel, the evening is free to explore this modern and vibrant capital.

icon Day 12: Full day to explore the modern city of Astana

Location: Nur-Sultan

Accommodation: Best Western Plus Astana

Meals: Breakfast

In 1997 Kazakhstan's President, Nursultan Nazarbayev took the bold decision to move the nation's capital from the charming tree-lined city of Almaty to the wide wind-swept expanses of the northern steppe. Citing Almaty as having a lack of space for expansion, the capital moved to the site nearby a former gulag and has since been transformed into one of the world's most modern and fastest-growing cities. With the help of British architects Astana's skyline is now peppered with unique buildings and skyscrapers, and is still expanding by the year.
The centre-point of the city and the capital's show piece is the Bayterek Tower, a 100 metre high monument of white latticework topped off with a large golden orb. We visit the tower and take the lift to the top to learn about the symbolism behind the architecture and enjoy extensive views of the city. We also visit the Nur Astana Mosque, an incredible white and gold structure with space for some 5,000 worshippers, and the National Museum with its blue-glass and white-marble cubist structure that showcases a huge array of Kazakh history from Bronze Age to modern day.

The rest of the afternoon is free to either relax or to further explore this beguiling city.

icon Day 13: Morning visit to Alzhir gulag. Free afternoon in Astana.

Location: Nur-Sultan

Accommodation: Best Western Plus Astana

Meals: Breakfast

This morning we make the one hour drive out of the city to the Alzhir concentration camp. When translated from Russian, Alzhir stands for 'Akmolinskiy internment camp for the wives of the betrayers of the homeland', and as the name suggests it served as the main gulag for the wives (and sometimes children) of political prisoners that had been deemed traitors of the Soviet Union. Often no crimes had been committed by the spouses, they were found guilty purely through association. The camp was active between the 1930's and 1950's, forcing women to perform various labour tasks such as sewing, agriculture and construction work under harsh conditions and on meagre food rations. Life was particularly harsh through the brutal winters, with limited protection offered against the bitter cold experienced in winter time on the steppe.
Modern-day Kazakhstan has done a good job of bringing these atrocities to light, with the camp now acting as a memorial and museum, documenting what life was like during its operation.
After a guided tour of the memorial we head back to the city, where the rest of the afternoon has been left free for some last-minute souvenir shopping, or further exploration of Kazakhstan's capital and its mind-bending architecture.

icon Day 14: Trip ends in Astana

Location: Nur-Sultan

Meals: Breakfast

The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Astana.

There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Astana at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Nursultan Nazarbayev Internation Airport (TSE), which is 40 minutes\ to an hour from the hotel.

What's Included

  • icon
    Meals – Half Board

    Breakfast: 13 Lunch: 3 Dinner: 2

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    Fully Guided

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    All Domestic Transportation (including internal flights)

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    Airport Transfers at Destination

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    Accommodation

What's Not Included

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    1 bottle of Mineral Water per person per day

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    Country Entry Visas

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    Tipping and Gratuities

Videos

Check out our Q&As

Are airport transfers included in this tour?

Transfers are provided on the first and last day of the trip

Company Instant Book

Yes

What is the maximum group size?

16

Will I know the names and details of all the accommodation before I depart?

Yes

Can you assist with pre or post tour accommodation?

Yes

    Will there be an escort accompanying this tour?

    Yes

    Are the local guides on the tour English speaking?

    Yes

    What is the standard of the hotels on this tour?

    4 nights simple guesthouse 8 nights comfortable hotel 1 nights simple overnight train

    I'm going on a walking/cycling trip-do I need to train?

    It will depend on the grade and how fit you already are. Check the trip page for details of the walking or cycling grade and how far you’ll be walking/cycling each day. For moderate or challenging trips in particular we’d recommend doing some walks or cycles before you leave to build up your fitness and prepare you for the distances being covered.

    Who will be my travelling companions on the tour?

    We have a wide range of ages nationalities on our small group trips and they come from all walks of life.

    Should I get travel insurance?

    Yes–it is a condition of booking that you are fully insured when travelling with us

    How long has the tour company been trading?

    At Explore, we're the experts in adventure travel. Our small group adventure holidays have been running since 1981. Today, Explore is one of the most trusted travel companies in the UK with over 500 trips to more than 120 countries.

    Can I join the tour once it has departed?

    Yes, but there are no concessions for doing so, and we must have a record in your booking advising as such before the trip departs.

    Am I contributing to any charity by booking the tour?

    Being a responsible company is a large statement, something that has to be entwined within the very fibre of a company. Discover the charities and partnerships we support as part of this at https://www.explore.co.uk/about/sustainability/charities-and-partners

    What happens if I need to change my holiday date once I’ve booked?

    We want to be as clear as and as honest as possible about what happens if you decide to that you no longer wish to travel on your trip. Our booking conditions have details of the costs you’ll incur when you cancel-these charges depend on how long it is before your planned departure.

    What is the accommodation like?

    We choose comfortable accommodation in the best locations possible. We opt for small, local and family-run accommodation where we can, as opposed to large chain hotels. We typically use hotels that are the equivalent of European 3-star, and you’ll usually have an en suite room. Occasionally, where we want to get off the beaten trail we may stay in more basic accommodation.

    What Ethical Travel credentials does the tour company have?

    Sustainability is embedded within the fibre of Explore, it emanates from the inside out. But as we enter a new decade it is clearer than ever that our world needs help, and Explore has created a sustainability strategy based on the 2015 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

    What policies are in place for Covid-19?

    Our flexible booking and safety policies mean you're protected before and during your travels with us. Receive a full refund if your trip is cancelled, transfer your trip free of charge up to 10 days before departure minus any irrocoverable costs.

    Do I need to be very fit to book with you?

    All our trips require some level of active participation. This could be on a cultural trip, trek, safari, expedition or voyage. It is in the interests of all members of the group that everyone should be capable of fully participating in the activities of their chosen trip.

    What documents will I receive before I travel?

    Final documents will include a comprehensive trip itinerary, climate and country information, budgeting and packing advice visa and passport information and details on optional activities available.

    Do you operate a “single share” option and how does it work?

    Yes on most of our trips. Most trips are based on customers sharing twin-bedded rooms. If you book a group trip as an individual, you will share a room with someone of the same sex. However, on many trips we offer the opportunity to pay a supplement to pre-book a single room, known as our single room option. On some trips a single room will be provided every night, on others it will be provided o

    Do we have to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to travel

    It’s now a condition of booking a trip with us that customers should have one of the following before they travel - — Be vaccinated against COVID, having received the full recommended course, and allowing enough time for immunity to take effect. Full vaccination includes any booster required to keep the vaccine valid. — Have taken a negative test (rapid antigen or PCR) within 72hrs of departure.

    Will the accommodation included meet local health and safety regulations?

    Explore will only offer hotels that have specific COVID-19 protocols in place and comply with local government guidelines. We will ensure these measures include; enhanced room cleaning, ventilation, social distancing, regular cleaning and disinfection of high frequency touch points in public areas, food safety, staff re-training and minimising contact within the properties.

Reviews

Across the Kazakh Steppe
I would highly recommend this trip to any potential Explore travellers for its interest, variety and welcome. I felt very safe in all parts of Kazaghstan and confident to walk ....more I would highly recommend this trip to any potential Explore travellers for its interest, variety and welcome.

I felt very safe in all parts of Kazaghstan and confident to walk about the towns on my own.

The local eople were extremely welcoming and everywhere wanted to talk to us and have a photograph with us.

The company laid on limitless bottles of drinking water in the coaches and this was very welcome in hot conditions.

Some extra lunches were also included and consequently we used much less money than expected.

Extra excursions and extended tours were also incorporated such ad the wonderful trip up to the ski resort and cable car ride South of Almaty.

; ....less
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Nigel

21-Jun-2018

Across the Kazakh Steppe
This is an amazing trip and as Svetlana said 'It is a country of many different lights' and we saw all those lights. It was wonderfully varied and showed ....more This is an amazing trip and as Svetlana said 'It is a country of many different lights' and we saw all those lights.

It was wonderfully varied and showed all the major aspects of Kazakhstan.

Highly recommend this trip.

Shame the ships in the Aral Sea might not be there next year.

; ....less
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Angela

18-Jun-2019

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Dates & Availability

Starting

Jun 06, 2022

Monday

From

$4920

Ending

Jun 19, 2022

Sunday

16 +

Places Available

Ending

Jun 19, 2022

Sunday

16 +

Places Available

From

$4920


Multiple Room Types Available Multiple room types available. Choose your preferred room type when you book.

Instant Booking Available

Starting

Sep 26, 2022

Monday

From

$4920

Ending

Oct 09, 2022

Sunday

8 +

Places Available

Ending

Oct 09, 2022

Sunday

8 +

Places Available

From

$4920


Multiple Room Types Available Multiple room types available. Choose your preferred room type when you book.

Instant Booking Available

Starting

Jun 05, 2023

Monday

From

$4990

Ending

Jun 18, 2023

Sunday

16 +

Places Available

Ending

Jun 18, 2023

Sunday

16 +

Places Available

From

$4990


Multiple Room Types Available Multiple room types available. Choose your preferred room type when you book.

Instant Booking Available

Starting

Sep 25, 2023

Monday

From

$4990

Ending

Oct 08, 2023

Sunday

16 +

Places Available

Ending

Oct 08, 2023

Sunday

16 +

Places Available

From

$4990


Multiple Room Types Available Multiple room types available. Choose your preferred room type when you book.

Instant Booking Available
More Information on the local operators website

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