Kazakhstan is a country I’ve always wanted to visit. In fact, I’ve always wanted to go to all the “Stans”. It’s the region of the world I probably want to visit the most. After having lived in Kazakhstan for 8 years, Doug Fears knows a thing or two about the country and how to navigate it. In this guest post, Doug offers some in-depth advice about how to travel around Kazakhstan by train!
Night spilled across the Kazakh steppe. The train’s steel wheels clickety-clacked below, gently prompting me to point toward a bowl of plastic-wrapped apples. Suddenly, my drunken dining car companion began gesticulating wildly while repeating his favorite, and perhaps only, English-language phrase, “No problem!” With a shake of the head and wave of the hand, this newfound friend seemed to dismiss all other apples as second-rate. Apples originated from Kazakhstan, after all, and we had just departed the city of Almaty, “the father of apples.” I simply had to try one. (It was delicious.)
aking the train through Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country, presents a changing cultural tapestry every time. Imagine a vast land, once secretive and closed to outsiders, where travelers can now experience an eclectic blend of Silk Road culture, offbeat Soviet-era history, and wide-open spaces spiced with warm Kazakh hospitality.
I’ve shared cabins with young soldiers, border police, language professors and martial artists, just to name a few. My favorite memories are the meals and card games enjoyed with these folks, even when I didn’t have a common language.
Planning Your Route
I suggest the following itinerary: flying into the capital, Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) (airport code TSE), heading north to nearby Lake Burabay, taking a fast train back south to Karaganda, then an overnight classic train to Almaty in the southeast, with a possible extension to Turkistan (a city and region in the south of the country).
If you want to continue on in Central Asia, you can easily extend your trip from Almaty to see the gorgeous mountain vistas of nearby Kyrgyzstan or continue by train from Turkistan south to Uzbekistan.
The best time to go is between May and October, as northern Kazakhstan is blanketed in snow from November through April, with typical temps in the minus-20 range. Those wanting to snow ski or experience the excitement of New Year’s, the country’s biggest holiday, however, should consider a wintertime trip.