If you enjoy trekking, horseback riding and camping, steppe and mountains, horses and camels, wild nature and the smell of nomadic life-style then Kazakhstan is most certainly for you. Here you can find old traditions, Central Asian mystique, Soviet-era trappings as well as modern cities. Travelling in Kazakhstan is generally safe, also for solo women travelers (of course, you need to follow some general safety rules like everywhere in the world).
Location: The world’s largest landlocked country. Located in Central Asia, Kazakhstan shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and also adjoins a large part of the Caspian Sea.
Population: around 18 million
Language: Kazakh. You can also hear a lot of Russian – if you can speak it, it’s not a problem to travel there, younger generation can generally speak at least basics of English as well. Of course, you can always use body language, and don’t forget – smile gets you further!
People: Super friendly, helpful and curious. It’s not rare to get invited to local home/yurt for a tea or lunch.
Currency/prices: Currency used in Kazakhstan is tenge (KZT). 1 € = 400 tenge (June’18). Compared to Estonia the cost of living in Kazakhstan is rather cheaper: transportation is very cheap, groceries a little cheaper (alcohol, tobacco and sweets much cheaper), accommodation is also a little cheaper (hostels). The prices are a bit higher than in the neighboring country Kyrgyzstan.
SIM-card: To get a local number is fairly cheap depending on the service provider. It is possible to buy a SIM-card almost everywhere, from the stores or from the sellers on the streets.
Visa: Check your country here: https://caravanistan.com/visa/kazakhstan
For Estonians Kazakhstan is visa free for 30 days. Then, plan A, you have to buy a visa or, plan B, cross the border of one neighboring country, for example, it is easiest to go to Kyrgyzstan (60 days visa-free). Crossing the border is easy and if you wish you can just return and get your another 30 days visa-free in Kazakhstan!
Food: Traditionally Kazakh people eat a lot of meat, including horse meat. In bigger cities cafes and restaurants offer traditional food as well as sushi and pizza. In bigger grocery stores you can find almost everything you need. It is possible to get fresh vegetables at the markets (bazaars) all year around.
Plane: The main airports are in Astana and Almaty, but also in the smaller cities.
Marshrutka/bus: Marshrutka aka minibus is one of the most common and also the cheapest means of transportation in Kazakhstan. Prices vary depending on the distance, for example, driving form Almaty to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) will cost you 1500 tenge. Keep in mind that marshrutkas will not start their journey before all seats are taken! This is the case with shared taxis as well and might mean waiting a couple of hours.
Buses are common inside the cities like Almaty or Astana. In Almaty, the ticket is 150 tenge (if you have a special card, it’s 80 KZT). Very useful webpage and an app is 2GIS (www.2gis.ee), which works in the cities like Almaty and Astana, but also in Shymkent. 2GIS works perfectly offline as well and after entering your destination you can check the exact buses you need to take to get there. Includes info about bars and places where to eat.
Shared taxi: Between bigger cities you can also take a shared taxi, which is more expensive than a marshrutka, but more comfortable and faster.
Train: The most convenient and popular transportation in Kazakhstan. As often you need to pass very long distances you can also sleep in the train. Prices vary depending on the distance, seat and train (new or old, fast or slow, platzkart or coupe). FE: Shymkent -> Taraz (4-5 h, new train, coupe) = 1500 tenge. Aktau -> Shymkent (42 h, old, sleeping, platzkart) = 5200 tenge.
Accommodation: What ever you are looking for you can find: fancy hotels, laid back hostels, comfortable homestays, camping is allowed almost everywhere, Couchsurfing is active. Mostly you are able to find a place in a hostel for 5-10€.
Nature: Kazakhstan is full of steppe, but you can also find high mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers and hiking paths. They mine mineral extractions, gas and petroleum. Kazakhstan has also uranium, chromium, lead and zinc reserves. Manganese, copper, coal, iron and gold can also be find.
Climate: Continental with warm summers and cold winters. Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world (after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia). The best time for visiting is spring or autumn. Winter offers good opportunities for skiing, in the summertime you can escape to the mountains to enjoy cooler weather and wonderful nature.