Kazakhstan is the largest Central Asian state that used to be part of the Soviet Union. It is most widely known since it is the richest country in the region, thanks to its natural oil and gas reserves. The mention of Kazakhstan in several Hollywood movies is not harming the growing popularity of this former Soviet state either. There are several ways getting to Kazakhstan since it is the main port of entry to the other states.
Where is Kazakhstan? It is so huge it has borders with Russia and China, making it is easy to spot on the world map. (Coordinates: 48°N, 68°E.) It is found in the middle of Russia, China and three other Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan,Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world and ninth biggest country in size. The country is practically made up of featureless steppe areas, lacking historical sites or landmarks. To many, this barrenness is a put off, but to some it is captivating and mysteriously attractive.
The fastest way to get to Kazakhstan is by plane, although there were concerns in the international quality standards of the country’s flagship carrier, Air Astana, before. Today, however, the airline company boasts of having a fleet of new airplanes that are ready to serve tourists and travelers from around the world. Air Kazakhstan stopped flying in March 2004.
Internationally, Air Astana regularly flies from Amsterdam, Baku, Bangkok, Beijing, Delhi, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hannover, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, London, Moscow and Seoul. Air Astana flies domestically from the capital city of Astana (Aqmola) to Almaty (the largest city and former capital), Aktau, Aktobe, Atyrau (the old capital) and Uralsk. There are domestic airports in Astana, Almaty, Kyzylorda and Oraland. Other international travelers are getting to Kazakhstan by air on Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM, Czech Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Asiana Airlines. Kazakhstan’s only international airport is in Almaty and it regularly services flights from more than 25 major cities in Europe and Asia. There are no direct flights from the United States yet.
Meanwhile, tourists and backpackers from Russia and China prefer getting to Kazakhstan by land. Moscow is a scenic 3-day train trip away, Novosibirsk (Russia) is a day and a half away and Urumqi (China) is also a day and a half. These are exciting train trips for those who love adventure, although the trip does include about 5 hours of stay at the border involving bothersome visa processes. The same number of days and hours apply when taking a bus. Entering the country by car from Russia, China or the other Central Asian states also requires a number of hours at the border due to a long line of travelers and poor facilities. International driver’s license is required.
Finally, getting to Kazakhstan by sea is quite a challenge and should be a last and ill-advised option. There are no regular passenger ships into the country. The only way to do it is by hitching a ride on a freighter ship delivering goods and shipments to the port of Aktau. Getting to Kazakhstan this way means a ton of adventure but very little comfort. A freight ship may get held up for days and weeks before entering the port.