Kazakhstan is the largest and most intriguing former Soviet Union state. It is the ninth biggest nation in the world, and the largest country away from the ocean. It shares borders with Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, China and the Caspian Sea. While to many tourists Kazakhstan is just a vast and empty open space, many appreciate the significance of its biodiversity. As the country is slowly and steadily gaining significance in international tourism, it boasts of its mountains, desert valleys, snowcapped peaks, canyons and nature reserves. One of its leading natural parks is Kurgaldjino Natural Reserve.
Located in central Kazakhstan, Kurgaldjino Natural Reserve is most popularly known for its birds, specifically pink flamingos. It is the home of the largest gathering of pink flamingos in the world. In addition to these charming birds, the park is home to 300 species of plants. This collection makes Kurgaldjino internationally relevant and often visited by tourists. It is about 3,280 meters above sea level and within it is Aksu-Zhabagly, a UNESCO biosphere reserve that is teeming with a variety of birds, more than 1,200 species of plants and 51 species of mammals, including the white-clawed bear and the rare snow leopard.
The Aksu-Zhabagly biosphere covers Red Hill and Stalactite Cave with more than 2 kilometers of underground road networks, halls of stalactites and an underground lake. Near Aksu-Zhabagly and Kurgaldjino Natural Reserve are Kshi-Kaindy Waterfalls, Ulken Kaindy Gorge and the Kaskabulak Petroglyphs. Majestic Kshi-Kaindy is one of the most popular waterfalls in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Around the waterfalls are ranger cabins and a campsite for visitors who wish to stay overnight and get to enjoy the stunning view of the cascading waters early in the morning. There are also surrounding villages where tourists can homestay and get completely immersed in the local culture. Not far from the reserve are Aksu Gorge, which is more than 500 meters deep, the snow-covered Ugamskii Mountain Range, Bokeitau Mountain and Aksu River.
Kazakhstan is a mountaineer’s and hiker’s paradise. It offers so many amazing land formations, mountains, hills and rugged landscape to cover. From June to September, the Camp Khan-Tengr International Mountaineering group hosts guided tours to the country’s top hiking destinations. The best hikes are in Altai Mountain and Tien Shen Mountain Range. Other mountains are perfect for skiing, specifically in the icy northern regions. The most popular ski resort is Chimbulak ski resort, 2,000 meters above sea level. During the time of the Soviets, all major skiing and winter competitions were held here.
In addition to Kurgaldjino Natural Reserve and Aksu-Zhabagly, Kazakhstan offers other rich natural parks such as Altyn-Emel State National Park (the largest in the country), Bayanaul National Nature Park (one of the most picturesque places in Central Asia), Burabay National Nature Park (known as the “resort pearl of Kazakhstan”), Karkaralinsky National Nature Park (mostly pine and birch forests), Karton-Karagay National Park (bordering Russia, China and Mongolia), Kokshetan (mountainous forests), and Sairam-Ugamskiy State National Park (popular for its glacier lakes and high mountain valleys).