Visit Kazakhstan – Where Old Meets New on the Ancient Silk Road

Until twenty years ago Kazakhstan was one of the great unknowns, a relatively undiscovered region of the former USSR. But today, many travelers are excited to visit Kazakhstan.

Located along the ancient Silk Road, this land of vast plains, beautiful mountains, clear lakes and clean rivers was considered basic, unwelcoming and remote to all but a few of the hardiest adventure travelers.

Today, Kazakhstan is an ethnically diverse republic with a unique culture mix on the border between Europe and Asia.

It is prosperous, modern, and chic in places, unspoiled, cultural, and quiet in others. It borders the Caspian Sea, the only inland sea in the world and is famous for its caviar; it is also the nation which gave the world tulips, apples and domesticated horses.

Bol'shoye Almatinskoye Ozero, Almaty in Kazakhstan
Bol’shoye Almatinskoye Ozero, Almaty

History of Kazakhstan

In the past Kazakhstan was broadly divided in two – the area of the settled Silk Road in the south, and communities of nomadic horseback herders who covered the rest of the country.

This situation continued until the early 20th century when the Kazakh people, under Soviet rule, suffered serious hardships.

An estimated 1.5-2 million died of hunger, some people fled to China, whilst others, mainly intellectuals, were repressed by the regime; this is undoubtedly where the image of an unwelcoming and cold land originated. However, in December 1991 Kazakhstan was proclaimed an independent state, and circumstances started to change.

Places to visit in Kazakhstan – Its Towns, Cities & Countryside 

As large as Western Europe and four times the size of Texas, Kazakhstan is totally diverse. North, south east and west, there are opportunities to enjoy everything from five star hotels to traditional Kazakh tent homes – yurts, where guests can learn about local customs, lifestyle and traditions.

There are mountain trekking and wildlife reserves, extreme touring adventures and chances to try out the ancient tradition of hunting with birds of prey. There are also opportunities for those interested in history and culture.

Kazakhstan is eager to attract foreign visitors, so those that take time to visit, are treated with enormous respect and genuine hospitality.

Visit the south of Kazakhstan

The south is rich with ancient history and culture. It is renowned for its medieval architecture, mausoleums and ancient burial mounds, it also the location of Kazakhstan’s equivalent of Cape Canavera — the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

  • Almaty, the city of the apple tree, was the nation’s capital between 1929 and 1998, and is the largest financial and cultural centre in the south. It is one of Kazakhstan’s most beautiful cities situated at the foot of the Zailisky Alatau Mountains, a base for exploring and winter sports. 
  • The Shymbulak ski resort offers exhilarating runs on deep snow between November and April, and during the spring, summer and autumn, there are walking and hiking opportunities through the gorges and foothills as well as chances to relax by crystal clear lakes.
  • The vast steppe of Baikonur is the location of the Baikonur cosmodrome, the largest of its kind in the world. This was where cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was blasted into space in April 1961 to become the first man to orbit the earth; it is also where the first satellite ‘Sputnik I’ was launched into obit. Until a few years ago tours of the site were not available to foreign visitors, but today everyone can view the launch complex, space shuttle ‘Buran’, Gagarin’s launch site, as well as a small museum which houses photographs of every expedition launched. There are also pieces of Gagarin related memorabilia, including his uniforms and a keepsake of soil from his landing site.

The site is located in a semi arid and unpopulated area with links by road and rail. It is advisable to arrange visits through a specialist tour company such as Country of Tourism Ltd or Kendala Adventures, as permits are in high demand, especially leading up to launches.

Visit Kazakhstan, Almaty
Almaty, Kazakhstan

Places of the Silk Route in Kazakhstan

The most highly populated region of Kazakhstan, Shymkent, is the third most populated city in the country. The city was founded during the 12th century as protection for the town of Sayram, an important stop on the Silk Route 10km to the east, but the town soon grew to become a central market town for trade between the settled people and the nomads.

Two other fine examples of an important towns on the Silk Route are Turkestan (Yassay) and Taraz.

Taraz is more than 2,000 years old and known as the city of merchants. It has ancient archeological monuments such as the fretwork covered 12th century mausoleum of Aishai-Bibi, a UNESCO protected monument, and the unique 16 rib umbrella dome of the 11th century Babadja-Khatun mausoleum, the only one of its kind in Central Asia. Finally is the city of Turkestan, 1500 years old, and the final resting place of the Muslim poet and humanitarian, Hodzha Ahmed Yassavi

Sayram, Kazakhstan
Sayram, Kazakhstan

Visit Western Kazakhstan

Western Kazakhstan is the crossroads between Europe and Asia. The Caspian Sea, the Volga, and the Ural Rivers make it a prime area for hunting, angling, and water sports. Here, it is also possible to witness the second lowest land level on the earth, the Karaghiye Depression; 132 meters below sea level. There are clear springs, beach resorts and canyons where extreme travelers will appreciate rock climbing on striking cliffs.

It is not just southern Kazakhstan that was influential in the Silk Route, the west and the Caspian Sea were also hugely significant. Small settlements – Caravanserais, survived here at Sartash, Ketyk, and Alta. There is also the legendary sacred mountain of Sherkala, where ruins of a fortress belonging to Jochi, eldest son of Genghis Khan, can still be seen.

As well as a thriving beach resort, the area around Aktau is the home to galleries of rock carvings attributed to nomads dating back between the 10th and 2nd centuries BC, and an underground necropolis created by Beket-Ata, the Muslim prophet to whom all creation was open. 

Ustyurt National Biosphere Reserve is a land of desert landscapes, lowlands, plateaus and a haven for rare animals. Ustyurt moufflon, cheetah, jackal, fox, saiga, gazelle, and long spined hedgehog are all found here. As well as the reserve, Ustyurt also features the ruins of ancient settlements and cemeteries on the banks of the Dead Kultuk, which are thought to belong to nomadic tribes from the 4th century BC.

Visit Northern Kazakhstan

Northern Kazakhstan is another region which provides excellent outdoor opportunities such as cycling, boating, and off-roading, as well nature reserves and health resorts.

One of the most popular resorts for both locals and visitors is Borovoye. Known as the Switzerland of Kazakhstan, and just like its namesake, it has a rich variety of restaurants, bars, shops and nightlife. It is a natural oasis with lakes, and unspoiled green forests, camping sites and spa resorts on the lakeside. Visitors looking for a remote experience can cross the small mountainous isthmus to reach Big Chebach Lake, which is a perfect, unhurried wild experience.

The capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, is a cosmopolitan and architectural city. Set on the banks of the Ishim River, the city has everything from opera and ballet to modern architecture such as the Baiterek Tower, the symbol of the city. At the top of the 97 meter tower there is an observation deck with a bird’s eye view for miles around. There is also a restaurant, art gallery, and a large aquarium lower down.

Astana, Kazakhstan
Astana, Kazakhstan

Visit Central Kazakhstan

Central Kazakhstan is a huge and relatively undiscovered region of the country, and location of the unique Blakhash Lake; one of the largest lakes in the world.

Balkhash Lake is the largest undrained reservoir after the Aral and Caspian seas. It is unique because of the different mineral composition of its water in the eastern and western parts, and it’s also a phenomenon because of its fish. There are an incredible amount of fish in the lake; trout, marinka fish, carp, white amur, barb fish, bream, barbel fish, catfish and many others. Every year between 8 and 10 thousand tons of fish are caught here.

The central region is also home to Bektauata Mountain Massif which comprises of bizarrely shaped rocks. In clear weather the massif can be seen for hundreds of kilometers, giving it the nickname ‘the lighthouse of Balkhash’. Daylight penetrates deep into its caves, where cavers explore grottoes and crystal cellars. Over thousands of years the pounding elements have eroded the granite to create fantastic rock formations with names like the Mushroom, the Chest, and the Turtle.

Visit Eastern Kazakhstan

Eastern Kazakhstan is distinguished by the Altai and its wooded foothills, the Irtysh River and lakes; this is the border with China, Mongolia and Russia. The mountain ranges of Rudnyi, Southern Altai, Kalby, and Saur-Tarbagatai play a considerable part of the region’s landscape.

Snow capped Belukha Mountain is the highest mountain in Altai and Siberia. It is the kingdom of ice and snow, with incredible thundering avalanches and clear, sparkling waterfalls. Berkutaul, meaning home of an eagle, is the neighboring mountain and another of the of the Southern Altai’s popular peaks. At 3,373 meters, this area is also home to the endangered Snow Leopard, some of the most illusive animals on the planet.

Markakol Reserve is another land of animals. Siberian stags, ermine, brown bears, elk, foxes, lynx, sable, the rare red wolf and birds such as falcon, grouse, black stork, and herring gull can all be found in the woods. There are attractive rocky mountains covered with greenwoods, fir forests, and sub alpine meadows, rich in flowers and rare medicinal plants.

Kiin-Kerish, which literally translated means proud beauty is a natural city made from tertiary clay; an incredibly beautiful and unique place with distinctive orange, white and red structures. The main feature of Kiin-Kerish is small layers of sand and clay with imprints of plants from its ancient tropical past and the fossils of rhino, crocodile, turtle and salamanders.

Visit Kazakhstan, Belukha Mountain
Belukha Mountain

Dresden mit Blick in Richtung Sachsische Schweiz

Dresden Elbland: Where Baroque Meets Urbanity and Nature Abounds


After something new? A city hard to resist? And nature not to be missed?

Look no further than Dresden Elbland: the embodiment of culture, relaxation and active holidaying in one.

With world-class architecture and art wherever you look, the superlative culture on show in Dresden has few peers. And while the list of must-visits in the Elbe metropolis is long, pride of place goes to classics such as the Frauenkirche cathedral, the Semper Opera, the Zwinger and the Royal Palace.

Amid innumerable architectural highlights, the Frauenkirche is among the very finest protestant church buildings of the Baroque era, while the Semper Opera is one of the most beautiful opera houses anywhere worldwide.

Meanwhile, the Fürstenzug (Procession of Princes), Stallhof and Brühl’s Terrace are no less worthy of your time and attention. The Procession of Princes, for example, is the world’s largest porcelain painting, with 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles and 102 metres long. The epic-scale cavalcade depicted showcases the 34 Wettin dynasty margraves, dukes, electors and kings who ruled Saxony between 1127 and 1873. An absolute must-see!

Few pleasures in life could beat a leisurely stroll around the old town area and its visual feasts.

And speaking of feasts – why not recharge your batteries en route with some fresh regional delicacies and specialities at one of the many cafés and restaurants? Then continue your enlightening tour past the Catholic Court Church and a stair climb up to Brühl’s Terrace, nicknamed the “Balcony of Europe”. Completed by 1551 and before a key component of the city’s former ramparts, its military importance gradually declined. It has since regained a new lease of life alongside the Academy of Arts and the Albertinum as one of the tourist and architectural highlights. In its shadow, remnants of the former Dresden Fortress, the oldest building in the Elbe city, remain to this day.

The Museum Festung Dresden (Fortress Museum) reopened its doors with an exhibition entitled “Celebrations, Dramas and Disasters – the Like of Which you’ve never Seen”. Stunning 360-degree projections combine with the latest audiovisual technology to give visitors unforgettable hops back in time. And its setting – apparently subterranean – will entice all those keen to explore Dresden from a new perspective.

In fact, Dresden is heaven for museum-lovers and stands on a par with London, with more than 50 venues to enjoy. The Old Masters Picture Gallery, for example, home to countless masterpieces by Rubens, Rembrandt and Canaletto, not forgetting the famous Sistine Madonna by Raphael. And treasure troves come no richer than the world-famous Green Vault, which is also one of the oldest museums in Europe.

If whiling away time more actively on the water ticks your box, why not enjoy relaxing on a rubber dinghy or canoe tour on the River Elbe, as the beautiful old town scenery unfolds before your eyes.

Or perhaps on a paddle steamer of one of the oldest and largest steamship fleets anywhere in the world, en route to Loschwitz, where the beauty of Dresden’s most famous bridge, the Blaues Wunder (Blue Wonder), awaits.

Yet more reasons to visit this part of town – as if you needed them – are the lazy alleys and colourful boutiques, magnificent villas and their sumptuous entrances and decorative half-timbered homes.

This is also the point where the funicular railway bound for the Weißer Hirsch district and the suspension railway to Oberloschwitz came into service over a century ago, offering an Elbe valley view that will take your breath away.

Another must-stop for Elbland holidaymakers is Pillnitz Park and Castle further east – nowhere else in Europe will you find a finer example of a Chinoise palace complex.

In every sense, Dresden and all its myriad facets constitute a collective work of art bursting with life, colours and exuberance right to the core.

Casual lifestylers, meanwhile, should look no further than the city’s alternative scene, most of which unfolds in over 150 Neustadt bars, clubs and studios. Street and experimental art abound and pride of place goes to the Kunsthofpassage, an ensemble of connected backyards, with the individual courtyard facades each embracing their own design theme.

But dreamlike Dresden, beautiful enough to earn the nickname “Florence on the Elbe”, is not the only jewel this region boasts.

Equally visitworthy is the “Saxon Switzerland” mountain range with its epic rock formations, while wins for wine-lovers are the castles, palaces and magnificent landscapes of the Dresden Elbland region, the epic greenery of which deserves a special mention. You will find no better place in which to enjoy healing alone time amid beautiful nature, whether walking or pedalling along.

The hikers among you will be equally happy with the extensive range of tours and unforgettable views they include, in the cleanest of air and far from the normal stresses and strains. Days filled with nature and encounters beckon. We recommend working up an appetite exploring the castles, parks and gardens of the area, strolling romantically along to your gourmet venue of choice and enjoying the finest regional dishes and specialities.

In Dresden Elbland, you are never too far from a welcoming vineyard, and the numerous rustic wine taverns at the heart of the Saxon Wine Route are likely just minutes away. This may be one of Germany’s smallest wine-growing areas, but the exclusive tastings and vineyard tours it houses will create a lasting memory.

Visitors to Wackerbarth Castle can enjoy the first wine-themed adventure estate anywhere in Europe, which promises to be just as unmissable as nearby magnificent Meissen. Dating back more than 1,000 years, this city rose to global fame when production of Meissen porcelain – the first anywhere in Europe – got underway in 1708.

Top of the list for visitors should be a stop at the Porcelain Manufactory Meissen. Live workshops on show here give visitors an inside look at how Meissen porcelain is hand-crafted using the finest in traditional techniques. Right to this day, the intertwined Saxon swords are synonymous with porcelain of unrivalled quality and exceptional craftsmanship.

Another attraction you shouldn’t miss before heading home is the late gothic Albrechtsburg Castle, perched high above the Elbe. It is considered to be the first castle of its kind throughout the German-speaking world and the cradle of Saxony.

Take it from us – the narrow-gauge railway from Radebeul, the heart of the Saxon Wine Route and the home of Karl May, wending its way along the beautiful Lößnitzgrund valley to Moritzburg is more than worth your while.

Visit the former hunting lodge and summer residence of Augustus the Strong, one of Europe’s most picturesque moated castles and having now earned cult venue status thanks to the German-Czech film adaptation of “Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella”. And if you need more Moritzburg motivation, look no further than its dense forests, pond landscapes of loveliness and Saxony’s smallest castle, the Fasanenschlösschen.

World-class art & culture, beautiful landscapes and pristine nature reserves, picturesque vineyards producing excellent wines, great hiking trails and gourmet treats galore!

Whatever facet you unveil at whatever time of year, Dresden Elbland remains an irresistible draw.