Many people know about Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and yet some don't actually know that it is in Kazakhstan. It was built during the soviet era in 1950's when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union. That's why people still associate it with Russia.
Baikonur Cosmodrome is the launch complex where Sputnik 1, Earth's first artificial satellite, was launched. The rocket that lifted Yuri Gagarin, the first human in orbit, was also launched from Baikonur. In fact, all Russian crewed missions are launched from Baikonur, as well as all geostationary, lunar, planetary and ocean surveillance missions. Nowdays launches are still beeing made by the Russian Federation under the Lease Agreement between the two countries to rent the Baikonur Cosmodrome facilities until 2050.
The name Baikonur is misleading. The former Soviet Union used the name and coordinates of a small mining town, Baikonur, to describe the location of its rocket complex. In fact, the launch complex is about 322 kilometers southwest of the mining town near Tyuratam in Kazakhstan. This misrepresentation was done intentionally to hide the actual location of the launch complex. Although the true location is now known, the launch complex is still referred to as Baikonur.
Originally it was built for certain types of nuclear weapon test-launch site. To build one, certain criteria had to be met in choosing the right area. These criteria were: vast and sparcely populated area, preferably no agricultural activities nearby, presence of a railway and fresh water sources.
It was to be one of the most expensive projects that the Soviet Union undertook. The infrastructure alone was massively expensive – hundreds of kilometers of new roads and railway lines had to be created as well as a town to provide support infrastructure for the station and its workers. As was the case in soviet times the town was named after Lenin and was known as Leninsk until it was renamed Baikonur in 1995.
The cosmodrome was built in complete secrecy but today it receives visitors from all over the world. The spectacle which makes Baikonur worth visiting is the launch of a space rocket, which the vast majority of people only see in movies and documentaries. After suspension of the Shuttle program, Baikonur remains the only place on Earth where you can witness such an occasion! To get in the real cosmodrome is the dream of many travellers. And YOU can go to the real space tour — to Baykonur — the first and biggest cosmodrome in the world! Baikonur Spaceport Tour >>Baikonur, Kazakhstan
For some cities it takes centuries to grow up, for others - thousands of years, but there are cities that can grow up in several decades only. Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, is one of the “champions”. In the 19th century it grew from a small fortress to the regional center. And having received in 1997 the status of the capital, for 10 years has increased more than 3 times, both in area and in population.
Today’s Astana is the youngest capital in the world and a large modern metropolis with a fully developed infrastructure, transport network, the social sphere. In 1999 on the initiative of UNESCO, it was awarded the title of the City of Peace. Due to the special economic zone the city became the center of the construction of modern architectural complexes involving such famous architects as Kisho Kurokawa, and Norman Foster. Astana has become the face of the country and is among the top 30 cities of the world.
Geographically Astana is located in the north of Kazakhstan and connects the main transport routes: automobile, rail, and air. The climate of the city can be characterized as sharply continental: winters are cold, long with little snow; summers are hot and dry.
The economic development of the capital is rather rapid. Industry is mainly connected with agriculture, which is distinguished by excellent performance. Lucrative economic ties with companies from the former USSR countries and abroad have been established.
The city transport network is based on the use of modern buses. To maintain the ecological balance in Astana there are plans to build a high-speed light rail underground line and high-speed tramline. Besides, located 16 km from the city is the international airport of Astana, connecting air routes between Europe and Asia.
In Astana there are 14 higher educational institutions, Akmola regional philharmonic society, museums of history and arts, theaters, libraries, etc. Of course, Astana has its own attractions. The most important are Ak-Orda the residence of the President, Baiterek the symbol of the capital, the Palace of Independence for a variety of international events, and the Palace of Peace and Accord - a unique structure designed for the Congress of Leaders of World Religions.
The city has changed during the 10 years of bearing the status of the capital and keeps on growing. Beautiful modern buildings decorate Astana, and at night - the lights and spotlights, garlands, colorful fountains, brightly lit shop windows. Just like Baiterek has become the symbol of Astana, the city itself has become the symbol of Kazakhstan – the symbol of the 21st-century Kazakhstan.
Astana mirrors realities of modern-day Kazakhstan that is a multiethnic and multi-confessional country. Representatives of all races and great religions live and work together in peace and harmony here. It is not accidental that Astana became the venue of big forums and conferences where issues of interethnic relations and cooperation among religions are widely discussed. Astana hosted several forums of world religions leaders. In 200l, Pope John Paul II visited Astana during which he highlighted Kazakhstan’s remarkable contributions to religious tolerance and communal amity. In 2010 Astana hosted the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Summit and Kazakhstan held the presidency of OSCE for a year. In 2011 Astana also hosted Asian Games, Shanghai Organization of Cooperation Summit and the World Assembly of Kazakhs. Several world leaders visited Astana and of course, they had a common perception about Kazakhstan as a dynamic Eurasian country.Astana, Kazakhstan
The multicultural Almaty is the biggest city and the main cultural and economic center of not just Kazakhstan but all of Central Asia. This beautiful city occupies land in the south of the country for many millennia given to acre upon acre of apple orchards, a fruit which gives the city not only much of its historical identity but also its name, Almaty meaning literally, ‘Father of Apples’. For over a century has the city claimed the honour of being the birthplace of this most nourishing fruit.
The city occupies an area of over 170 square kilometers. It stands in the valleys of the Big and Small Almaty rivers and their feeders running down from the Trans-Ili Alatau glaciers and ravines to the Ili Valley (Balkhash Lake Basin). Mountain rivers and lakes are the main source of the city’s water supply
Life in Almaty
Situated in the foothills of the Tien Shan, Almaty is now a city of modern architecture, orderly streets lined with trees and adorned with flowers. It has attention-grabbing fountains, interesting parks and spectacular mountain views. It is also possible to witness the legacy of Soviet times by walking the many streets which encapsulate the spirit of days gone by.
The city brings together people of different cultures and faiths and Almaty is a comforting example of how easily people from such diverse backgrounds can live together without the scarcest hint of racial or religious tension. Its traditions are as varied as its people, with Eastern and European traditions closely interwoven here leading to an openness and tolerance felt by locals and visitors alike.
Expatriates feel particularly at home here, many choosing to stay permanently in spite of coming from some of the most prosperous countries in the world. The city has managed to create a well-developed infrastructure which has led to high standards of living, this in part to thank for the political and social stability the people are so proud of. In turn, the city planners have had the resources to devote to introducing popular attractions and recreational facilities of international standards, and Almaty is without doubt the scientific, financial, commercial and tourist centre of Kazakhstan, in spite of the capital having been changed to Astana in 1997.
Attractions include Panfilov Park, a popular destination for families and couples. This surrounds the stunning Zenkov Cathedral which is an entirely wooden structure, famous for being erected at the beginning of the 20th century without the use of a single nail. A few short paces away, the Green Bazaar, a huge market in Almaty is another place very much worth visiting, not only to pick up a bargain but to witness first hand the colour and buzz of shopping in Almaty. Other sights include New Square, which is the venue of choice for many national ceremonies and festivals, these being very important features on the Kazakh calendar.
No city break would be complete without taking in a bit of culture and heritage, and coming to Almaty affords the tourist numerous possibilities of doing this. Within easy reach of each other are, art-galleries, theatres, including the Museum of Kazakh National Instruments, the Central State Museum and the State Art Museum which has amongst its exhibits traditional Kazakh rugs, jewellery and clothing. The Arasan Baths, right next to Panfilov Park, have Turkish, Finnish and Russian saunas, popular all year round.
Almaty is known as the City of Apples but to many who live here it is a city of fun, home to countless modern entertainment facilities and places to simply chill out and let your worries fade away. In abundance are Western-style coffee lounges crowded with both locals and expatriates, fine restaurants serving top quality and diverse cuisine, lavish bars, luxurious nightclubs not to mention well-stocked supermarkets and glamorous international shops, like Saks Fifth Avenue – the only store of its kind at the territory of the former Soviet Union.
Mountains and Outdoor Activities
Towering over the southern reaches of the city are some of the highest and most amazing mountains in the Central Asian region. Yet the Ile Alatau Mountains just outside Almaty are not just a view, however stunning. Instead, they offer numerous opportunities all year round for sports and recreation at world-class ski resorts with state-of-the-art facilities. There is also the famous Medeo ice skating rink, not only one of the world’s biggest but also its highest, the proud host of many world and national speed-skating records, for most of the year given to recreation and visited by thousands. There are large areas of unspoilt nature among the vast stretches of mountains which attract many tourists both in summer and in winter, not only the intrepid mountain walkers but also families with children.
Medeo itself, and its twin ski resort Shymbulak are known as popular winter attractions not only in Kazakhstan, but also probably in the entire former Soviet Union. The rink, located at 1700m and about 15km from central Almaty, and Shymbulak at 2300m, were the main venues for the 2011 Asian Winter Games.
A short hop from the city is an amazing deep gorge on the Charyn River, the Charyn Canyon, one of the natural wonders of Central Asia. It stretches further than the eye can see and despite the amazement it holds for those who see it, few chance to walk its entire distance. Other southern waterways add yet more choice to the intrepid traveller’s itinerary. The Kolsai lakes, great for fishing and the Ili River and its valley, equally good for rafting, trekking, hunting, or simply spending time surrounded by unspoilt nature.
Another picturesque destination is the Almarasan Gorge, which has become a place of choice for residents of Almaty during the warmer months. Here, visitors can find the Pearl of the City, the Big Almaty Lake whose beauty is enough in itself to attract many guests. Once here, at a height of 1750m, locals spend their weekends eating in one of the many dining places offering Uighur, Dungan, Caucasian, Uzbek and European cuisine.
Burabay (Borovoye), the resort pearl of Kazakhstan, is a fantastic mountain land harboring mysterious wonders. Gorgeous pine forests, cliffs formed of neat gigantic natural bricks, and fantastical shapes of peaks resembling sometimes exotic, sometimes Egyptian pointed pyramids separated by serene lakes. Although Burabay Park does not have any artifacts on its territory, every rock here has its own legend.
Burabay State Natural Park was established in August 2000 and it is under the supervision of the Administration of Presidential Affairs. The territory of the park is a part of the Kokshetau steppe, a mixed steppe and forest and hilly upland. The climate is extreme continental here, with hot summers and severe winters. The topography of the territory consists of lowlands, hills and plains.
There are many legends and stories about Borovoye. “When God was creating the world, one of the nations received the lands rich of forests, another got fertile fields with large rivers, and the third got the beautiful mountains and blue lakes. But the Kazakh ended up with only feather-grass steppe… This offended him and he asked God to endow him with some natural beauty. God took the mountains, rocks, beautiful pine and deciduous forests, blue lakes with pure water, and emerald fields covered with grasses and flowers and spread them with a bountiful hand into the boundless steppes. It was the appearance of Borovoye, of one of the most picturesque places in Kazakhstan, which for its beauty and rare harmonic combination of mountains, forests, lakes, and unique flora and fauna received the poetic name “The pearl of Kazakhstan”.”
Borovoye is also the name of a health resort, which is situated in the Shuchinsky district of Kokshetau Region. From the north it is surrounded by the Kokshetau Mountains at a height of 974 m above sea level, covered with birch forests. In the neighboring of the resort are such interesting rocks and cliffs as: “Okzhetpes”, “Sphinx”, “Cow”, “Sleeping knight”, and “Knight”. The first private health resort was opened here in 1910. Average temperature in January is -16′C, in July is +19′C. Atmospheric precipitation is up to 400 mm, with about 2000 sunny hours per year. The main medicinal remedies here are fresh air and picturesque views.
There are many lakes in Borovoye. Lakes Shychie, Borovoye, Big and Small Chebachie, and Koturkul glitter on the green atlas of the forest. The small lakes Svetloye, Karasye, Gornoye, Lebedinoye can be seen from the Kokchetau Cliffs. The visiting card of Borovoye is the Blue Bay on the lake of the same name. Right out of the waters of the bay, Mount Zhumbaktas (Mystery, Sphinx) soars.Akmola Region, Kazakhstan
The ancient city of Otrar has had many names: Tarban, Turaband, Turar and Farab as well as Otrar. It was the birthplace of the great scholar known as Al-Farabi (meaning "from Farab»). Otrar was among the most celebrated cities along the Silk Road during its golden era. It is thought that it was first founded as early as the 2nd Century ВС, at the time of the Kang-yu confederation of states, located in the middle reaches of the Syr Darya. Also known as Kangu Tarban or Kangly in subsequent centuries, this tribe was able to retain control for a relatively long time by mingling with various Turkmen communities. Its influence only waned with the coming of Islam into Central Asia. It was during this period, from the 10th to 12th centuries, that the city, then known as Otrar, reached its zenith as a centre of trade and manufacturing. It struck its own coins, and the city's library attracted scholars from all parts of Central Asia.
In 1219, Otrar was the first city to fall victim to a horrifying campaign of revenge and conquest by Genghis Khan against the Central Asian oases. The town fell in February 1220, when the Mongol hordes burst into its alleys, murdering, ransacking and setting property on fire. The city, once so rich and beautiful, was left into ruin. However, Otrar did not take long to flourish once more - its conquerors soon recognized its strategic location and used it to their advantage.
Today, at the city's excavation site numerous walls remain (though in poor condition), showing the layout of large parts of the city. They clearly demonstrate that Otrar was built according to a coherent construction plan, based both on social order and hygienic principles. To see vases and wall carpets found during the initial excavation of Otrar, you will have to visit the Presidential Cultural Centre in Astana.
Otrar is situated off the main roads of the modern world. In its halcyon days, it was ideally located in an oasis at the foot of a chain of hills, close to the point where the Arys flows into the Syr Darya. To get there, follow the road from Shymkent to Turkistan, turn left beyond Tortkol, cross the Tashkent-Orenburg-Moscow railway line and drive to the village of Shaulder.
Here, there is a museum dedicated to the history and archaeological works of Otrar. The actual excavation site is located some 20 kilometres to the north of Shaulder, beyond Kogam aul and 1.5 kilometres off the road. The road from Otrar to Shymkent through Arys and Badam provides many minor spots worth stopping to explore. As in so many parts of South Kazakhstan, every aul has something special to offer: a mosque, group of barrows or the ruins of old settlements.
Medeo is the largest high altitude winter sports complex in the world. Its ice rink is 1,691 metres (above sea level. Medeo is situated in the valley of the Small Almaty River, 1520 - 1750 metres above sea level, and surrounded bу mountains on all sides – Kimasar to the west, Kabyrgatau to the east and Kumbel the south-east. With an Olympic-size ice rink, Medeo is а popular place with locals and visitors alike.
The ice rink was built in 1972 in this picturesque gorge 16 km outside Almaty. The mild climate, optimum level of sunshine, low pressure, calm weather and ice made from the purest spring water make Меdeo one of the world's top skating rinks, while its location makes it perhaps the most beautiful. The 10500 sq.m ice rink is the perfect venue for outdoor international competitions in speed skating, figure skating and ice hockey. 120 world records have been set here by the world's top skaters.
The first skating rink was opened in 1951, and it was an instant success. There, skaters showed results which the rest of the speed skating world had hard time to believe. The secret of the track, apart from the pure air, were the famous fall winds, which led skaters having the wind in their backs during the entire lap. Another ‘secret weapon” is the structure of the ice crystals that increases speed. Initially, Medeu was a stadium with natural ice. Some years later it was destroyed by a rock avalanche and was not used for several years.
This is the largest area of artificial ice field. The system of artificial freezing of the ice has no analogues and allows maintaining ice rink surface for eight months of the year. The ice rink is open to the public between November and March, and skates аге available for hire.
Another must-see for tourists is the dam constructed in the Small Almaty valley to protect Almаty from melt water floods. This dam actually saved the city from а potentially fatal flood in 1973. The walk up 830 steps to the dike is highly recommended, as once you reach the top there are magnificent views of Ile-Alatau peaks.Almaty, Kazakhstan
The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a distinguished Sufi master of the 12th century, is situated in southern Kazakhstan, in the north-eastern section of the city of Turkestan (Yasi). Built between 1389 and 1405, by order of Timur (Tamerlane), the ruler of Central Asia, it replaced a smaller 12th century mausoleum. Construction of the building was halted in 1405, with the death of Timur, and was never completed. The property (0.55 ha) is limited to the mausoleum, which stands within a former citadel and the archaeological area of the medieval town of Yasi; the latter serves as the buffer zone for the property.
Rectangular in plan and 38.7 meters in height, the mausoleum is one of the largest and best-preserved examples of Timurid construction. Timur, himself, is reported to have participated in its construction and skilled Persian craftsmen were employed to work on the project. Its innovative spatial arrangements, vaults, domes, and decoration were prototypes that served as models for other major buildings of the Timurid period, in particular in Samarkand. It was left unfinished, providing documented evidence of the construction methods at that time and by having a unique architectural image.
Considered to be an outstanding example of Timurid design that contributed to the development of Islamic religious architecture, the mausoleum is constructed of fired brick and contains thirty-five rooms that accommodate a range of functions. It is a multifunctional structure of the khanaqa type, with functions of a mausoleum and a mosque. A conic-spherical dome, the largest in Central Asia, sits above the Main Hall (Kazandyk). Other notable attributes include fragments of original wall paintings in the mosque, alabaster stalactites (muqarnas) in the intrados of the domes, glazed tiles featuring geometric patterns with epigraphic ornaments on the exterior and interior walls, fine Kufic and Suls inscriptions on the walls, and texts from the Qu’ran on the drums of the domes. The principal entrance and parts of the interior were left unfinished, providing exceptional evidence of the construction methods of the period.
The property, burials and remains of the old town offer significant testimony to the history of Central Asia. The mausoleum has been protected as a national monument, while UNESCO recognized it as the country's first site of patrimony, declaring it a World Heritage Site in 2003.
Charyn Canyon and Castle Valley, located about 200km northeast of Almaty, is the sightseeing must for every traveler to Kazakhstan. It is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and some say it does not give in to Colorado.
Castle Valley is the most beautiful part of the canyon. It has a peculiar bright red color and its rock formations resemble castles. If you happen to stay overnight in Castle Valley, sacrifice some sleep to take a moonlit stroll. You will not be the first to have started singing serenades in appreciation of the view. During the day, it is possible to find fossils in the canyon. But please be careful climbing up and down rock formations since they are extremely fragile.
The canyon is about 1.5km long with an easy trail along the floor. Wonderfully shaped, wind eroded, reddish cliffs surround the canyon. The canyon is closed by the Charyn River, which originates on the northern slopes of the Alatau and runs through its own deep canyon before joining the Ili.
The best time to visit Charyn Canyon is during the spring or autumn when the temperature is not excessively hot.Almaty Region, Kazakhstan
The State National Natural Park «Kolsai» is the youngest of the specially protected areas in the Tien-Shan Mountains in Kazakhstan. The total area of the park is 161,045 ha.
The park is located in north-eastern part of the Tien-Shan Mountains which includes the northern slopes of the eastern Kungei Ala-Tau. The park is situated at the altitude of 1800-3500 m above the sea level and has the unique landscapes with a cascade of lakes, rich flora and fauna and still conserves some huge parts of wild and untouched nature. The main attraction of this natural park is a cascade of the three great Kolsai lakes located in a beautiful valley surrounded by very high mountain peaks. All the three unique mountain lakes are of the tectonic origin - Upper, Middle and Lower Kolsai lakes are located respectively at 1870, 2250 and 2650 meters above the sea level. All of the Kolsai lakes are very deep. The deepest place is 80 meters.
In the next valley there is one more incredibly beautiful mountain lake called Kaindy situated at the altitude of 1,867 meters above the sea level and surrounded by mountain peaks. The lake was formed only 100 years ago and it's also of the tectonic origin. The lake is very interesting and mysterious because of a plenty of Tien-Shan spruces growing right inside of it. It's understandable that such a natural paradise attracts people from all over the world.
The flora of the park is very rich and presented with the majestic Tien-Shan fir-trees or scientifically Schrenk’s spruce which is one of the most beautiful in the world among all the existent fir-trees. In the early age (20-40 years) the spruce grows slowly, the intensive growth is observed when it is 40-60 years old. The most common age is at least 200-250 years; sometimes single trees reach 350-450 years or even 550 years.
The plant community is presented with more than 700 species. There are 12 species of plants listed in the Red Book. There is also an abundance of the most beautiful birds and animals in the park. There are more than 200 types of animals, 4 species of fish, 2 species of amphibians, 197 species of birds and 29 species of mammals. Among them are the ones listed in the Red Book: blue bird, golden eagle, bearded vulture, falcon Balaban, Kumai, ibex, argali, Tien-Shan white-clawed bear, snow leopard, Turkistan lynx, Central Asian otter, Marco polo mountain goat, red wolf, etc.Almaty Region, Kazakhstan
The Altyn-Emel State National Park was established in 1996 by a decree of the Kazakhstani government to preserve a unique natural complex on the right bank of the Ili River and rare species of animals and plants. The total area of the park is about 520,000 hectares, which makes it the biggest park in Kazakhstan. Its area consists of western branches of the Dzhungarskiy Alatau, desert mountains of Katutau, Aktau, Ulken and Kishi Kalkany, and a unique natural monument the “Singing Sand Dune”. The park is a unique combination of various natural landscapes, which results in versatile vegetation and wildlife. The security includes regular control by the park inspectors stationed in 19 cordons, both along the perimeter and in key spots.
The park has different archeological sites. The most impressive of them are the so called Besshatyr (“Five Tabernacles”) King Mounds. These are huge hills of 20 m high and 100 m in diameter. They are burial places of the Saki chiefs in the 7th-3rd centuries BC. You can see here the ruins of settlements, numerous petroglyphs of animals and hunting scenes. The sight is striking – the mounds, which are quite numerous, shine in the sun as black pearls, at the foot of blue mountains. These structures are more than 2,500 years old. The mounds are amazing in their power, color and beauty. Notably, their tops are somewhat cut off. The mounds are girded with a ring of menhirs, megalithic structures which remind of the famous Stonehenge in Great Britain . The rocks look like they are lacquered – the so called desert varnish.
Here, you have an opportunity to see a wonderful natural phenomenon, the “Singing Sand Dune”. If while traveling in this area you hear the sound of a plane or the hoot of a steamship, in the middle of a rocky desert, you should know this was the voice of the sand dune. This sand hill is about 100 meters high, and its ridge is about 0.5 kilometer long. Unlike other sand dunes, this one never changes its shape because here, in the hollow between the hills, the wind rose has a special direction. The ridge of the unique sand dune is sharp as a blade. The sand crumbles underneath your feet, but the ridge does not get blunt. Two smaller sand dunes continue this one. The sand ridge has an area of about 10 square kilometers. The voice of the sand dune can be heard only in dry weather, as after the rain it keeps silent. Scientists fail to give a clear explanation of why this sand dunes “sings”. There are a lot of versions saying this phenomenon is caused by friction of moving particles or resonance.
The Katutau Mountains are just as attractive and unique a shrine. Time, water and the sun have created intricate rock rarities here. As you pass wild and uninhabited gorges, you can see a mother bear bending over a bear-cub, or a huge upturned boat of Robinson Crusoe, with the dead Aktau Mountains nearby. These lifeless, ragged, white, pink, green and red slopes look like an alien landscape. Even animals rarely come here. The environment looks like that of the Mexican savannah or North America ’s canyons. A willow tree grows in Khoz-Bastau, which is 700 years old, according to scientists. It takes eight people to embrace this giant tree which has survived through many epochs.
The flora of higher plants includes 634 species of which 41 species are rare, and 29 species are endemic. Altyn-Emel is famous for groves of the relic argan tree (Caucasian hackberry), riparian scrubs (a kind of the Semirechye jungle), and black saxaul .The Asiatic poplar, dzhida and various shrubs grow in flood-plain forests. Black saxaul woods occur in the desert, and the white saxaul shrubs on the slopes of the “Singing Sand Dune”.
The park is one of the few places in the country with freely roaming goitered gazelles, argali, tau-teke ibex, and, of course, Asiatic wild ass. All in all , there are 7 species of artiodactyls here, listed in the Red Book, and 120 species of birds. The Ili River on the one side and the mountains on the other side are the natural protective barrier of Altyn-Emel. The fauna of mammals includes more than 50 species, with such rare ones as snow leopard, wild Pallas’ cat, Central Asian otter, and stone marten. Here are 250 species of birds in the park, of which 22 are rare. Mountains are nested by golden eagles, serpent eagles, bearded vultures, saker falcons, etc. The desert is inhabited by black-bellied sandgrouse, Pallas sandgrouse and ruffed bustard. The swamps are inhabited by herons, ducks, sandpipers and other birds. The Ili River and Kapchagai Reservoir are abundant in European carp, grass carp, catfish, zander, asp, etc.