Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan. The city is right in the middle of mountain ranges and wide plains, and that sight alone is enough to call the city beautiful.
However, the city offers more than just a spectacular view. Almaty is a collection of modern architecture, refreshing fountains, and relaxing parks and squares that make a trip to this picturesque city very worthwhile.
The New Square in Almaty is the location often used national parades and ceremonies. The southern President’s Residence overlooks the square.
Almaty also boasts of several business centers, cafes, theaters, art galleries, casinos, restaurants – you name it, they have it.
Museums in particular are featured in Almaty, with the Museum of Kazakh National Instruments, the Central State Museum and the State Art Museum. The State Art Museum hosts exhibits of traditional Kazakh items such as rugs, jewelry, and clothing.
Korgalzhyn National Park
The Korgalzhyn National Park is the largest reserve zone in the country. The centuries-old natural state of Kazakhstan is preserved in this 258.9 million hectare park, with 198,000 hectares of this being wetlands – considered to be the most biologically diverse form of ecosystem.
The wetland area of the Korgalzhyn National Park by itself is home to exotic Kazakhstan species of wolves, marmots, and saiga. The steppes and lakes in this area are natural wonders that have retained their beauty through the years. However, the birds are the main attractions – and, in particular, the pink flamingoes that roam and frolic in the area.
The park includes two big lakes inside – the Korghalzyn Lake and Tengiz Lake. Home to roughly 350 species of plants and 82 species of birds, the Korgalzhyn National Park is truly a sight to behold, and a fitting break from the towering structures and convenient technology found in the urban areas.
Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan and the second largest city in the country, just after Almaty. The city is currently experiencing an economic boom, with building projects being constructed practically everywhere. What was once a small mining town is now a bustling metropolis filled with modern-day structures such as malls, restaurants and casinos.
Astana was made the capital of Kazakhstan in 1997. The change was made because Astana was more accessible to the Russian Federation than the previous capital, Almaty. The city is also less earthquake-prone, making investments in the city much more attractive.
The city literally glows at night, filling the night sky with neon lights symbolizing the progress that Astana has undergone. Most of the modern structures in Astana have become tourist attractions as more and more people are excited to see what the little mining town has become.
The Zenkov Cathedral, also known as the Ascension Cathedral, is both a religious and structural wonder that has stood the test of time in Almaty. Its 54 meter frame towers over the city. It is one of the tallest wooden structures in the world.
Built between 1904 to 1907, the cathedral is one of the few buildings from the Tzarist-era that endured a massive earthquake in 1911. The Zenkov Cathedral is a prime example of Orthodox Church architecture, with multiple domes, sharply colored wall paintings, and murals and icons in the main chapel.
During the Soviet era, the Zenkov Cathedral also functioned as an exhibition and concert hall. After the revolution, it became a museum and cultural center. In 1990, it was given the Russian Orthodox cathedral status.
Another unique fact about this wooden structure is that it was built without the use of a single nail. With the Zenkov Cathedral still standing today, it is a building worthy of awe and amazement.
One of the biggest mosques in all of Kazakhstan, the Central Mosque has a maximum height of 47 meters in its biggest minaret. It is the central building of Islam worship in Almaty.
The Central Mosque is most popular for its trademark blue turquoise dome, which has a diameter of 20 meters and a height of 36 meters. There are also five towering minarets surrounding the mosque, each with a blue dome as well.
The mosque is an example of Timurid architecture, which was largely based on ancient Persian architecture. One of its defining characteristics is axial symmetry, which the mosque clearly follows.
Around 7,000 people can fit inside the Central Mosque, which was built on the site of an older mosque. Its construction started in 1993, and under the supervision of two Kazakh architects, was completed in 1999. The Qur’an verses that decorate the mosque’s large dome was added by Turkish calligraphy artists in 2000.
Lake Balkhash is the third largest body of water without an outlet to the open ocean, behind the Caspian Sea and Aral Sea. It is 614 kilometers long, with width ranging from as narrow as 3.5 kilometers to as wide as 44 kilometers, and its maximum depth is 26 meters.
What makes the Lake Balkhash unique is the different compositions between the eastern and western parts of the lake. Connected by a narrow gulf, the eastern part is salty and the western part, which receives water from the Ili River, is fresh.
The legend of Lake Balkhash tells the tale of a rich man, Balkhash, who had a beautiful daughter named Ili. During a feast, Balkhash promised to give his daughter to the winner of a contest. Since Ili was in love with Karatal, a shepherd, she helped him win.
However, Balkhash didn’t want to give his daughter to a shepherd, and so the two lovers ran away. The angry father was not able to catch Ili and Karatal, so he turned them both into rivers and turned himself into a lake between them.
Lake Balkhash is home to an assortment of animals for viewing, hunting, or fishing, including pelicans, wild boars, white swans, foxes, and catfish.
The Charyn Canyon is an 80 kilometer canyon traversing the Charyn River. It is often referred to as the Grand Canyon’s little brother, being the second largest canyon in the world.
The slopes of the canyon are steep, reaching heights of 150 to 300 meters. The canyon’s depth has actually preserved a species of rare ash trees from the Ice Age era, which can still be found growing in some parts of the canyon.
One part of the Charyn Canyon, the Valley of Castles, is known for its unusual rock formations. The constant exposure to wind and water have caused the sandstone rocks in the area to form fancy shapes and figures that are reminiscent of story characters and popular figures.
The Charyn Canyon is a breathtaking sight to behold. It’s not as massive as the Grand Canyon, but it is still a natural beauty worth seeing.
The Singing Barhan
Across the Ili River, northeast of Almaty, there exists a strange mountain named the Singing Barhan, or the Singing Mountain.
This 120 meter high and 1.5 kilometer long sand mountain is made of light tone sands which blend against the dark background of the ridges of the Dzungarian Alatau.
In dry weather, when the sand runs down the slope of the mountain due to the winds coming from the banks of the Ili River, a sound is formed. This sound can either be very faint or very loud. Sometimes, when the mountain is making very loud sounds, it can even start shaking, resulting in what feels like an earthquake.
The sound is caused by the movement of the sand through the slope as it rubs with the other sand particles. The phenomenon can also be observed in the Arabian Desert, and on the Hawaiian Islands.
The Baikonur Cosmodrome is the world’s largest and oldest space launch facility that is still in operation. This is Central Asia’s version of the United States’ Cape Canaveral – a sprawling complex of structures and machines all working together to ensure successful launches for space exploration.
Located in Kazakhstan’s desert steppes, a short drive from the city of Leninsk, the Baikonur Cosmodrome has been the launch point of most Russian space exploration projects.
Tourists who wish to visit must give a notice to the Cosmodrome at least 45 days before visiting to gain access to the grounds. If you are lucky, you might even witness actual spacecraft launches, which special tourism agencies can arrange for you.
It was from the Baikonur Cosmodrome that Yuri Gagarin, the first man to enter space, took off. Since then, there have been countless launches here, all adding to the world’s history of space exploration.
Duman Entertainment Center Aquarium
The Aquarium of the Duman Entertainment Center in Astana is a tourist attraction that allows visitors to dive into the mystical world living just beneath the surface of the oceans.
Located over 3,000 kilometers away from the ocean, the Aquarium needed 3 million liters of water and 120 tons of special sea salt to simulate the water of the ocean. The Aquarium also has a life support system made up of 11 kilometers of pipes, 34 massive pumps, 6 large, 200,000 liter sand filters, and a water clearing system.
The Aquarium is composed of a large main tank and two separate exhibition areas with eleven tanks. Tourists can visit the exhibition areas to view the various aquatic life in each aquarium, or go on a moving walkway that passes through a 70 meter long tunnel made of clear acrylic under the main tank.
The Aquarium at the Duman Entertainment Center is a truly unique experience, especially given the fact that Kazakhstan is a landlocked country.
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