An important trend in international tourism and nature preservation is ecotourism. This kind of tourism highlights the beauty of Mother Nature and importance of preserving and protecting it. Central Asia is a popular ecotour destination and one of the leading countries in the area is Kazakhstan, the “Giant of Central Asia”. Ecotouring in Kazakhstan takes tourists to some of the most intriguing and magnificent destinations in this part of the globe.
A former state of the Soviet Union, the beauty of Kazakh steppes, mountains, hills, valleys and plains was kept away from the public eye for too long. Today, this huge country is regularly drawing in a considerable number of ecotourists. It is the wealthiest among the former Soviet Union states, thanks to its natural gas and oil reserves. With borders reaching Russia, China, and other Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan has a wide land area that covers spectacular mountainous regions, snow-capped peaks, lush forests and grasslands and semi-arid areas that aid in the protection of biodiversity. The country offers a wide variety of ecotourism activities, such as rafting, trekking, rock-climbing and nature trips to its vast steppes.
Ecotourism in Kazakhstan is specifically supported by the UNESCO Regular Programme Funds through the Development of Cultural and Eco-tourism in the Mountainous Regions of Central Asia and the Himalayas. The program aims to preserve and conserve the region’s natural and cultural wealth. In the end, it is the people and communities of Kazakhstan that benefit from the program the most.
The leading ecotour destinations in Kazakhstan are the Tien Shen Mountains and Caspian Sea and Lake Balkhash. Found along the country’s south-eastern fringes, “Tien Shen Mountains” is actually Chinese for “Celestial Mountains”. People visit this popular natural landmark to hike, trek, climb and go rafting. The tourism potential of Tien Shen (as well as Kazakhstan’s vast land area) has not yet been completely exhausted. UNESCO and the Kazakh Mountaineering Foundation continue to survey the mountainous area with the hopes of fully tapping into its huge ecotourism potential. UNESCO and the Foundation have now put up a website and released tourism-resource maps to promote Tien Shen, protect biodiversity, and involve the local people as tour guides. Also promoted are Kazakh handicrafts, rural homestays in traditional nomadic yurtas, trekking and mountain hiking. The mountains stretch all the way to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, and the two governments are now working together, along with UNESCO, to promote the area.
On the other hand, the Caspian Sea and Lake Balkhash area is also a picturesque venue for ecotouring in Kazakhstan. Lake Balkhash is one of the largest lakes in Asia and 12th in the world. Found in southeastern Kazakhstan, the lake is teeming with an array of exotic flora and fauna covering a wide 16,400-km2 area. Sadly, biodiversity has declined since the 1970s when water quality was observed to have deteriorated. Meanwhile, the Caspian Sea is a popular ecotour destination found in the ancient city of Atyrau. This beautiful port city is so picturesque and strategic since it is found between Europe to the right bank of its river and Asia to the left bank.