Tourism in Kazakhstan - The Land of Wonders
Kazakhstan is a unique region in the world, because of its history, geographical position and size. Being the world’s 9th largest country and located in the centre of Eurasia, it is also the largest landlocked country in the world. These resulted in a specific climate and a peculiar natural system of the country, which seems to absorb the brightest examples of landscape of both continents. In addition, complicated history of Kazakh people and constant interaction of nomadic lifestyle with settled people in South Kazakhstani ancient cities, have lead to a unique and authentic culture of Kazakhstan.
These peculiarities have created an opportunity to develop various and diverse offers for travel and tourism in Kazakhstan, which include authentic cultural tourism,nature-based activities, including ecotourism, birdwatching, etc. in national parks and protected areas, skiing or trekking in mountains, water sports, sunbathing andswimming in lakes and rivers of Kazakhstan, and many others.
Diversity of natural areas has contributed to rich flora and fauna of Kazakhstan. The country is a habitat for about 122 mammal species, 500 species of birds and 107 species of fish; and over six thousand species of plants grow in the region. In order to preserve such a rich world of plants and wildlife, a network of national parks and nature reserves were established in the country. Recently, these protected areas have become accessible to visitors.
The most famous of them among tourists include Aksu Zhabagly Nature Reserve, which is a habitat of snow leopard and other rare animals, and is also known as a Kingdom of Tulips, where tulips are believed to originate, long before they were introduced in Holland; Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve is famous for its pink flamingos and other rare species of wildlife, and popular among bird-watchers; Altyn Emel National Park is interesting for its mystery of Singing Dune; Katon-Karagay National Park is a habitat of marals (red deers), unossified antlers of which are used as a precious medicine.
Mountains: Trekking and winter sports
A range of high, middle and low mountains, such as Tien Shan, Altay, Ulytau, Kazygurt, etc. have a beautiful nature attracting tourists from all over the world. Tien Shan Mountains is the highest among them (with the highest peak of about 7000 metres), and Almaty, the largest city of Kazakhstan, is located at its bottom. Thus, an easy access to marvelous landscapes for tourists interested in trekking and winter sports is available from Almaty city.
Most popular climbing routes are located in the Small Almaty Valley and Bogdanovich Glacier. Attractions of these places include Pogrebetsky Glacier (4,231 meters), Tuyuc Su (4100 m), Ordzhonikidze (3980 m) peaks, and many others. In addition, high mountains of Kazakhstan are ideal for winter sports. There is no wonder that Kazakhstan hosted Winter Asian Games in 2011: one of the priorities of the country has been propaganda of winter sports.
A unique sport complex Medeu (sometimes spelled as Medew or Medeo), with a skating rink popular among tourists, was built in 1950’s, at 1691 metres above sea level, which makes it the highest skating rink in the world. A sophisticated artificial refrigeration system enables to keep high quality ice coverage over 8-months of the year. Another major winter sport attraction of Kazakhstan is Shymbulak (Chimbulak) ski resort, also located not far from Almaty. Snow lies in these places from November till May; however, sunny weather is usually registered there during more than three hundred days each year. The resort hotel can accept up to 114 tourists.
Lakes and rivers: water sports, sunbathing and health resorts
Kazakhstan is not only steppes and mountains; it is also a country of rivers and lakes. Lakes among the steppes are usually like an oasis among empty deserts. Coast of the biggest lake in the world – Caspian Sea is perfect for sunbathing, swimming and fishing. The largest number of reservoirs is concentrated in the south-east part of the country, in the region with a symbolic name Zhetysu - “Seven Rivers”. Almost all the rivers of Zhetysu belong to the basin of Lake Balkhash, which is also a popular tourist destination for its health centres and recreation camps. Besides health resorts, rafting in mountain rivers for extreme tourists, boating and sailing in lakes are only a few examples of activities offered for tourists in Kazakhstan.
Unique culture of Kazakhstan is a reason to travel to Kazakhstan for many tourists. Almost in every corner of the republic, a visitor, interested in real life of Kazakh people - their traditions, rituals, art and culture, will find many things of interest. These include museum complexes, ethno villages, depicting traditional lifestyle of Kazakh people, historical sites of medieval cities and many others.
For example, tourists are offered to experience traditional lifestyle of Kazakhs, to try national dishes and to interact with the local people in Shabanbay Bi Village, situated in Kyzylaray Mountains, Central Kazakhstan. Zhambyl Zhabayev museum complex in Almaty region includes a house with a garden, where the poet lived in XIX-XX centuries and a mausoleum. This is a visual representation of not only Zhambyl’s life, but also of a whole era in which the poet lived and worked. South Kazakhstan is famous for ancient cities located at the routes of the Great Silk Road with historical monuments and other sites.
Ethno-memorial complex Map of Kazakhstan - Atameken, located in Astana, is the largest ethnographic park in Kazakhstan and a unique outdoor museum. Cities and landscapes of the country, as well as mini copies of main attractions and historical sites can be found on the map.
Nur-Sultan is located in the center of Kazakhstan in the dry steppe zone and in the grass steppe subzone. The area of the city stands above the flood plain of the Yessil River. The city has a climate similar to North and South Dakota with cold winters, beautiful springtimes and sweltering summers.
Nur-Sultan’s favourable location in the centre of the Eurasian continent makes it an economically advantageous transport, communication, logistics and financial center - a natural bridge between Europe and Asia and point of integration into the global economy for the region.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev made the decision to change the capital from Almaty to Astana in 1997. Astana was subsequently renamed Nur-Sultan in 2019.
Nur-Sultan - Then & Now
Important reasons and indicators drove the effort to move the capital North. Massive construction would spark the national economy and create a new epicenter for modernization, prosperity and job growth. Always looking to the future, President Nazarbayev recognized that Kazakhstan population was young, was growing, and would exceed current capacity of the fledging Republic. New and expanded cities would be needed to meet the coming demand for housing, jobs and services for foreign guests.
Several other reasons drove the move in 1997
- Advantageous geopolitical location
- Considerable industrial potential
- Crucial resources for subsequent development of the construction industry
- Location in the largest transport junction
- Essential transport and telecommunication infrastructure
- Highly skilled urban workforce
- Large private sector
- Potentialities for entrepreneurship development
- Political and social stability
- Open land for development
The transfer of the capital to Nur-Sultan gave a powerful impetus to its economic development. The city’s high economic growth rates attract numerous investors. The share of Nur-Sultan in the overall volume of investments attracted to Kazakhstan accounts for 10 percent, while the Gross Regional Product of the city amounts to 10.2 percent.
The city is the largest business center in Kazakhstan.
Entrepreneurship is rapidly developing in Nur-Sultan. Today there are more than 128,000 small and medium enterprises in the city.
Nur-Sultan is among the leading cities of the country in terms of the volume of construction. Ten million square metres of housing facilities have been built. Hundreds of companies from Kazakhstan and abroad took part in the construction of Nur-Sultan.
The architectural concept of Nur-Sultan was based on the idea of Nursultan Nazarbayev implying a special Eurasian style of Nur-Sultan should harmoniously combine the cultural traditions of both the East and the West. A well-known Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa became the author of the general layout of the capital city.
Today Nur-Sultan, located in the heart of Eurasia, is a venue for numerous international forums, congresses and large scale international events. The Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, the Astana Economic Forum and other forums are held regularly in the city. In December, 2010, the historical Summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe took place in the capital city of Kazakhstan, after which it hosted the anniversary summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. In early 2011, the city welcomed the participants and guests of the 7th Asian Winter Games. In 2017, Nur-Sultan hosted the international specialized exhibition EXPO-2017.
The Akmolinsk outer military district was founded in 1832 on the banks of the Esil River, in the Qaraotkel woods. Until 1961, the name of this town was Akmolinsk (Aqmola in Kazakh), and because of its ideal location, it soon turned into a central point for trade livestock fairs. In 1961, the name was changed to Tselinograd, then to Aqmola in 1992. Astana was not the official name until 1998. In 2019, the capital was renamed to Nur-Sultan after the First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
- In 1998, Nur-Sultan’s area was over 300 sq. km., but today, the city boundaries are rapidly expanding.
- Nur-Sultan’s population in 1998 was about 300,000. The population now exceeds 1.1 million and growing.
- The distance between Nur-Sultan and Almaty, the former capital, is 1,318 km.
City of the Future At Nur-Sultan’s historical inauguration ceremony, the President declared, “From now on any major decisions important for the future of the people will be made here in the centre of this colossal country. Now the heart of our motherland is beating here. Kazakhstan is making and defining its history and destiny here and today.”
In 1998, the decision was made to officially change the name of the new capital Akmola to Astana, (“capital” in Kazakh). A year later, the Astana from waterUnited Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted the status, “City of Peace,” to Astana.
The city’s rapid growth as the administrative and business center of the country matches the original concept for social and economic development. The theme of this concept is “The blossoming of Astana is the blossoming of Kazakhstan.”
More than 200 joint ventures and foreign companies are operating in the capital, including those belonging to:
- Switzerland. Astana is a member of the International Association of Capitals and Cultural Cities of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS); it also has close bilateral relations with 13 cities and regions of the CIS.
The growth of Astana, as a result of it becoming the new capital, has had a powerful influence on neighboring industrial regions, such as:
- East Kazakhstan
The move has also supported the development of entrepreneurship and businesses which will, in turn, lead to the opening of foreign companies, firms, and major bank branches within the city of Astana.
Astana is a major center of activity and the hub of national and international transport links. The extensive traffic is mainly due to strong economic ties between:
- South and Central Kazakhstan
- Western Siberia and the Ural region
- The Volga region and Central Russia.
Construction and the business of government have spurred investments in the local economy as well. Between 2000 and 2004, the number of new legal entities registered in the capital more than doubled, and the local housing stock nearly tripled in size.
The centers of the capital city’s economic activity are:
- The food industry
The city boasts a growing number of restaurants and hotels that cater to business travelers. Major exhibition centers and universities, such as the L. Gumilyov Eurasian University, can be found within Astana. The A. Barayev Research Institute of Grain Farming is another establishment, not only famous in Kazakhstan but within the scientific world. In addition to the three museums, Astana also has branches of the Union of Writers and Artists of Kazakhstan, with over 40 newspapers and two literary magazines being published in the city.
Astana’s tourist attractions include:
- Astana-Baiterek, a monument to the country’s independence with a sweeping view of the city
- A circus
- An ethnic park
- A presidential culture museum
- The world’s most inland aquarium
- A 10,000-seat skating stadium and cycle track.
Additionally, Astana is fast becoming a mecca for sports tourism; new sport centers are planned for the neighboring areas of Korgalzhyn and Ereimentau.
Culture and the Arts
The Presidential Cultural Center of the Republic of Kazakhstan was established in the center of Astana. The structure of the Center includes a museum Cultural Centerwith various rooms and displays representing Kazakhstan’s past and present values. In addition, the Center has a library containing more than a million books and electronic catalogues.
The Kazakh National Music Academy has also been established in Astana. This Academy combines specialized and general musical education into one school. The Academy is a member of the European Association of Conservatories, Academies and Musical High Schools.
Spectators enjoy visiting theaters such as:
- The Theater of Drama and Music, named after K. Kuanyshbaev and opened on November 15, 1991
- The State Theater of Russian Drama, named after M. Gorky
- The National Opera and Ballet Theater, named after K Baiseitova and opened in Cinema City2000.
In addition to theaters, the pristine new cinema complex, Cinema-City, was opened in 2000. It was built in the tradition of international cinemas and has become a favorite of the people of Astana.
Eighth Wonder of the World
In September 2006, the inauguration of the Palace of Peace and Accord (62 meters in height), also known as the Peace Pyramid, marked another milestone in Astana’s evolution and may well become the Eighth Wonder of the World. Built to house the Assembly of Nations of Kazakhstan, a university, a museum, a library and a winter garden, the pyramid was designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster, who is famous for his futuristic glass roof on the German Parliament, the Reichstag.
Special Economic Zone
Construction of the new city developments on left bank of the Esil River has started. To aid in this process, the Special Economic Zone (SEZ), providing more favorable conditions for investment, has been created. According to the General Development Plan of the Capital, the integrated structure of this complex, located on the left bank, will symbolize the new capital.
The creation of the SEZ will provide many benefits to both the state and potential investors, including:
- State support of direct investments into construction of Astana city
- Significant tax privileges and preferentials
- Opportunities to introduce modern technologies and scientific achievements in the field of construction
- Land for construction in the new center of the capital
- Formation and development of the real estate market
- Guaranteed right to prolong the investment activity on the initial terms, until the expiration of the SEZ period. This cannot exceed ten years, irrespective of the changes in the juridical regime of the SEZ or its liquidation before the appointed time, including the extension of the area.
The Customs regulation in the territory of the SEZ is applied in accordance to the customs legislature of Republic of Kazakhstan. The territory of the SEZ is considered to be a part of the customs-free territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
The following goods and equipment are customs-free:
- Machines and equipment for construction
- Goods that will be completely consumed in construction
- Goods and equipment necessary for construction.
The region around Astana is one of the Republic’s granaries and a large center of agricultural machine-building. In fact, it produces:
- One-fifth of all grain
- One-tenth of cattle-breeding products
- One-fourth of grain being sold to the country.
Land being used for crops constitutes 3,422.6 hectare (ha), a metric unit of area equivalent to 107,637 square feet. Other industries are thriving too, including:
- Cattle breeding
- Pig breeding
- Sheep breeding
- Horse breeding
- Poultry farming
Industry development within the region has most often been associated with agriculture, namely the processing of agricultural raw products. The region is fairly active in conducting foreign economic activities; it maintains mutually advantageous relations with many countries, including the major trade partners of:
Exported products to CIS countries, such as those listed above, are primarily:
- Milk products
- Imports from CIS countries consist of:
- Power resources
- Products of chemical industries
- Rolled stock of ferrous metals
- Consumer goods.
The remaining share of exports is shipped to non-CIS countries, such as:
- The United States
- These countries receive:
- Uranium oxide
Imported products from these countries include:
- Food products
- Machinery for agro-industrial complex
In addition to agricultural products, there is also an abundance of mineral reserves, concentrated in the northern region of Astana. The most common are:
- Industrial diamonds
- In other areas, more deposits are found, such as:
- Caoline ores
- Quartz sands
Astana lies in the northern part of Central Kazakhstan. Its territory is approximately 96,800 sq. km. The surrounding landscape is far from uniform, as hills intermingle with low mountains, plains, and river valleys. In the North is found the Kokshetau summit; in the southern and south-eastern portions of the region is the Saryarka, part of the Kazakh topography; and plains compose the North-East.
The climate is sharply continental with aridity rapidly increasing to the South. The average temperature in January is -16° C, rising to 22° C in July. At the extreme, winter temperatures can reach - 40° C, and summer temperatures sometimes rise above 35° C, with dust-laden storms and hot dry winds.
The largest rivers in the area are the Ishim and the Nura. Lakes include:
- The Tengh
- The Karasor
- The Korgalzhyn
- The Balyktykol
- The Kypshak
The region contains a vast variety of animals:
- 55 species of mammals
- 180 species of birds
- 30 species of fish.
The rarest species include:
- Pamir argali (arkhars)
- Saker falcons
- Golden eagles
- Demoiselle cranes
- Steppe eagles
- Dalmatian pelicans
- Little bustards
To protect rare disappearing species of animals, nature and game preserves have been established. Some 66 species of plants exist in the region, filling an area of 4,391.6 ha.
To promote tourism, Kazakhstan enforced a “Law on Tourism” (1992) that embraces virtually all types of tourism. The law also addresses key issues of tourism activities:
In addition to this law, the Government has adopted several enactments concerning tourism concerns, including a number of documents that regulate the licensing of tourism activities. In 1993, the National Program for developing Kazakhstan’s tourism industry was adopted, and in 1997, the Government passed the State Program of the Republic of Kazakhstan, designed to accomplish the following goals:
- Regenerate historic centers of the Great Silk Route
- Preserve and development the cultural legacy of Turkic-speaking states
- Create the tourism infrastructure from 1997-2003.
Additionally, Kazakhstan became a member of the World Tourism Organization in 1993. The Committee for Regulation of Trade and Tourist Activity, a branch of the Ministry for Industry and Trade, is the body that manages tourism in Kazakhstan. Certain executive departments and tourism representatives from other countries carry out the administration of this committee.
In 1997, Kazakhstan created the Strategy of tourism development, intended to be intact through 2030. Today, 430 tourism agencies, firms, and bureaus of various property forms function effectively in the Republic of Kazakhstan. They employ nearly 6,000 people and 1,500 professional guides. Kazakhstan tourism firms cooperate with almost 80 countries of the world; approximately 25 tourism firms in Almaty and five in regional centers arrange charter flights to the following countries:
- The United Arab Emirates
- South Korea
There are also cooperative agreements with the following places:
- The Xinjang Uigur Autonomous Area of China
- The State of Israel
In addition to those already in place, Kazakhstan is in the process of making intergovernmental and interdepartmental agreements with other nations, including:
Kazakhstan has experienced a significant increase in United Kingdom tourists over the past few years, and with the recent visa simplification procedures (letters of invitation are no longer required of EU and US citizens) still greater numbers are expected.