One of the most fun things you can do in Central Asia is go hiking in Kazakhstan, the largest and most intriguing country in the region that used to be a Soviet Union state. The country did not exist a few decades back, and now the world is taking notice at its many yet to be popularized sights and attractions.
There are several areas in Kazakhstan that resemble Aspen, Colorado without the highways, hotels, ski lifts and other modern facilities. There are broad sweeping valleys of alpine grassland and colorful flowers with rolling snowcapped summits in the background. One such location is Tien Shen Mountain near Almaty, the largest and former capital city. There are other picturesque mountains and parks that are perfect hiking venues, three of which are mentioned below.
Aksu-Dzhabagly State Nature Reserve is a top hiking destination in Kazakhstan. It is located in Talasski Alatau ridge, West Tien Shen in the southern regions of the country. Kazakhstan is a huge, almost barren country whose northern regions touch Siberia and southern regions reach the Middle East. It is so huge the country experiences extremes in weather and temperature. Located about 250 km northeast of Tashkent, the weather in Aksu-Dzhabagly State Nature Reserve is pleasant and perfect for a day hike. It covers a mountainous area where Kazakhstan has borders with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, two other former Soviet Union states. There are deep valleys and canyons that are teeming with juniper trees and bushes, dry meadows and high-mountain meadows, which make hiking in this park extremely picturesque. Hiking in this well-preserved natural reserve promises sightings of some of its amazing wildlife, which include the following animals and birds: brown bear, snow leopard, Himalayan snowcock, cinereous vulture, pale-backed pigeon, mountain finch and black-headed mountain finch among many others. In all, there are 240 protected bird species. Other activities offered in the park are bird watching, hunting and horseback riding.
Another national park that is worth checking out is Burabay National Park. It is popular not just for its hiking tours but also for bird watching, elephant adventure, rock climbing horseback riding and cross-country skiing. The park is located on the frigid northern Akmola region near the capital city of Asana. To get there from downtown Astana, tourists may take a “marshrutkas” bus from the Astana bus station going to Burabay Village. The trip takes about 3 and a half hours. Marshrutkas also come from the town of Shchuchinsk to Burabay for an hour bus trip.
Burabay National Park is so beautiful that people refer to it as the “resort pearl of Kazakhstan”. It showcases pine forests, cliffs that look like pyramids or gigantic pieces of brick and the scenic Burabay (Borovoye) Lake. The park was established in 2000 and is now protected by the Administration of Presidential Affairs.
The third national park, among many other venues where you can go hiking in Kazakhstan is the Katon-Karagay National Park. This park is home to a number of leopards, foxes, elks, white rabbits, black storks, the Golden Eagle, Siberian roes, and Asian chipmunks among others. Popular activities here are horseback riding, river rafting, fishing, berry picking and herb picking. The park covers the upper Bukhtarma River and southern slopes of the Listvyaga and Katunski ridges in the district of Katon-karagay, East Kazakhstan Province.