Sat at the meeting point of modern space exploration technology, ancient Silk Road history and former U.S.S.R roots, Kazakhstan’s culture is as varied as its landscapes. For the most part, Central Asia’s vast Republic of Kazakhstan is shrouded in mystery, known mostly for its association with the former USSR, for its endless landscapes of desert steppe, and sometimes for Borat. But this country also provides a dramatic backdrop for many pioneering and modern space exploration missions.
In June 2016 Kazakhstan made the world news, warding off its fictional character-led reputation by welcoming an inter-planetary visitor back to earth. After launching from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome – the world’s first and largest space launch facility – British Astronaut, Tim Peake, returned to terra firma safely having spent six months on the International Space Station. Indulge the curiosity of your inner cosmonaut and visit Baikonur with us. Here you’ll have the opportunity to tour the Integration and Test Facility complex, visit the Space and Spaceport History Museums and see cottages inhabited by astronauts Gagarin and Korolev.
But when Kazakhstan is dotted with Silk Road trading towns and intriguing remnants of its place in Soviet-era history, there are so much more to explore. We’ll also take you deeper into the country on a journey almost through time; spend a few days in bustling Almaty, admire the huge lakes that sit cradled by snow-capped mountains and visit the archaeological sites at 12th-century Aisha-Bibi and Karakhan Mausoleum. Head on to Turkestan, where you’ll tour the impressive medieval fortress at Sauran – once the largest civilisation in the country.
Bringing you back to the modern day, this tour ends in Astana. Kazakhstan’s futuristic capital city boasts an eclectic skyline dominated by the domed Bayterek Tower and flashy glass buildings.
Depart London Heathrow and fly direct to Astana.
Arrive in Astana where you will be met by your guide and transferred to your hotel where you will have time to freshen up and relax. After lunch explore this futuristic capital city visiting the Norman Foster designed Palace of Peace and Accord and Khan Shatyr shopping and entertainment centre. Ascend the iconic Bayterek Tower and enjoy stunning views over the city before continuing up Green Water Boulevard to the Presidential Palace area and the impressive Khazret Sultan Mosque. (B,L,D)
After an early breakfast check-out of the hotel and transfer to the airport for a flight to Kyzylorda. Transfer to Baikonur, driving across the steppe (approx 3.5 hours) which will give you an appreciation of the size of Kazakhstan. (B,L,D) where you will pass one or two service stations and little else other than fields, camels and horses. On arrival expect a short wait whilst your passes are issued and you are granted entry to the city - Russia leases both the town and Cosmodrome from Kazakhstan so you will technically be on Russian soil - if you want to buy souvenirs from the Cosmodrome you will need to bring Russian roubles. (B,L,D)
Baikonur is the world's oldest and largest space launch site. Sputnik was launched from Baikonur, as was Yuri Gagarin's first manned mission through to Tim Peake in 2016. Transfer to the site and the the Integration and Test Facility complex, followed by the Space museum, "Buran" Orbital complex and the cottages of Gagarin and Korolev, before Gargarin's Start complex. In the afternoon take a city tour of Baikonur and visit the Spaceport History Museum. (Please note that access to some sites is subject to Roscosmos permits and subject to change). After dinner transfer to the station for the overnight train to Turkestan (departing at 01:04 to arrive at 09:48 - shared berths but private cabins are available for a supplement). (B,L,D)
On arrival into Turkestan head for breakfast at a local restaurant/cafe, then travel to the medieval settlement of Sauran - one of the most important monuments in Kazakhstan. For many years Sauran fortress has been visited by adventurers and lovers of antiquities: see the interesting underground water conduits - kahrezes - that brough water to the settelment from the Karatau mountains. Return to Turkestan and visit the Azret-Sultan historical and architectural complex, the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yawasi, Turkestan ancient settlement, necropolis and Hilvet underground mosque. Continue on to Shymkent for the night. (B,L,D)
Have breakfast and drive 180km (approx 3 hours) to Taraz and see the 11th and 12th century monuments of Aisha-Bibi Mausoleum, Babaja Hatum and Karakhan Mausoleum as well as the Tekturmas Historical Complex before returning to Shymkent. (B,L,D)
Spend the morning exploring Shymkent. Visit the bazaar, Abai Park and the museum of history. After lunch have the afternoon free to explore at leisure before meeting for dinner in the evening. (B,L,D)
After breakfast transfer to the airport for the short flight to Almaty (10:00/11:15) the former capital of Kazakhstan (and said to be the original home of the apple!) where you will be met and transferred to your hotel for lunch. After a busy few days spend the afternoon relaxing in the hotel or exploring the city under your own steam. (B,L,D)
Spend the day enjoying a tour of Kazakhstan's former capital city - visit Panfilov Park and Zenkov Catherdral (the second largest wooden building in the world built without the use of nails), Green Bazaar, Kok-Tobe Hill and Medeo Gorge - proud home of Kazakhstan's outdoor speed-skating rink. Visit the Museum of National Musical Instruments, Republic Square and the Independence Monument. (B,L,D)
Head out of the city to the countryside outside of Almaty. Start by visiting Big Almaty lake, at an altitude of 2,510 metres this is one of the most picturesque lakes in Trans-Ili Alatau. The lake was formed by the movement of an ancient glacier and the water remains cool all year round and the number of visitors is restricted. After spending time at the lake continue to an altitude of 3,300 metres to the base of Big Almaty peak where you can enjoy a fantastic panorama of the lakes and moutnains, the slopes covered with fir-trees, aspen and juniper. On the way back to the city visit a falconry and see a demonstration of the traditional way of hunting before returning to the city. (B,L,D)
An early morning start to transfer to the airport for the flight to Ust-Kamenogorsk (07:05/08:35). On arrival transfer to the city of Semey (approx. 3.5 hours) founded in 1718 as a Russian fortification against the Zhungars, in the heartland of the Kazakh Middle Horde, noted for their eloquence and intellect. The area has produced several major Kazakh writers and teachers, notably the poet Abai Kunanbaev (1845-1904), and Semey was also a home in exile to the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. Visit museums dedicated to both writers as well as the monument to the victims of nuclear testing, known as "Stronger than Death". (B,L,D).
Today travel from Semey to Kurchatov (approx. 3 hours) which was the home of the Soviet nuclear testing programme. En route visit the abandoned town of Chagan, once home to the troops serving the nearby airforce base and today a series of empty blocks gradually being taken over by nature. (B,L,D)
This morning visit the museum of the test site. With such a rich history Kurchatov was the centre of the Soviet nuclear testing programme and the town's environs provide an educational, if sobering, experience about the legacy of nuclear weapons testing. After visiting the museum you will be driven into the Opytnoe Pole test site itself where you can see teh concrete instrument towers rising from the steppe. The residual radiation levels now make it safe to visit (it would take about 400 hours to receive the same dose as a single x-ray) but as a precaution you will provided with safety equipment and your guide will have a dosimeter to monitor the radiation levels. After visiting the epicentre of the first test you will visit various other areas depending on what your local guide is permitted at the time to show you, as this remains a restricted area. (B,L,D)
Today travel to Pavlodar, stopping for lunch in the small town of Aksu where you can visit the statue park full of monuments from the Soviet period including a copy of the famous 'Worker and Kolkhoz Woman' statue by Mokhina. Cotinue on to the city of Pavlodar, a large industrial, economic and cultural centre in Kazakhstan. (B,L,D)
Spend a day sightseeing in Pavlodar, visiting the Regional History and Military Glory Museums, the Checkov Teatre, Cathedral of the Annunciation as well as the Monument ot Victims of the Famine. (B,L,D)
Transfer to the airport for the flight to Astana (12:00/13:00) where you will be met and transferred to the city of Karaganda, stopping for lunch en route. Located in the hear of the Kazakh steppe, Karaganda is know for two things: coal and labour camps. The two are connected, as the vast "KarLag" network of Stalin-era camps around the city was established to provide food and labout for the mines, and prison labour also built much of Karaganda itself. Visit the Spassk memorial to the victims of Soviet repression. (B,L,D)
Today visit the former centre of the KarLag correctional labour camp in the village of Dolinka. The newly restored former main administrative building shows photos, personal images and stories from the Gulags, and visits the nearby children's cemetery. In the afternoon undertake a city tour of Karaganda visiting the Miners' cultural palace, Stanislavskiy theatre, Nurken Abdirov monument and the cosmonaut and war memorials. Few tourists visit Karaganda so this is a good chance to see a normal Kazakh city going about its business. (B,L,D)
After breakfast transfer to capital city of Astana (approx 3 hours). Drive to the village of Akmol to visit the Museum of Soviet Repression at the former ALZHIR prison camp. ALZHIR, which stands for "Akmolinskiy internment camp for the wives of the betrayers of the homeland" was one of the largest prison camps for women in the Soviet Union and was opened at the beginning of 1938. This is a really fascinating and well-presented museum. (B,L,D)
Today visit the modern part of Astana taking in the Norman Foster designed Khan Shatyr shopping and entertainment centre with its indoor beach and distincitive "tent" design, walk up Green Water Boulevard to the iconic Baytarek tower and and ascend to the golden glove for stunning views across the city. From there head to the area surrounding the Presidential Palace and the Palace of Peace and Accord as well as the Khazret Sultan Mosque. (B,L,D)
Transfer to the airport for your flight back to the UK. (B)
No single supplement.
Please note that this tour will operate with a minimum of 8 persons and maximum 16 persons.
This tour is a combination of our Beyond the Cosmodrome and Back in the USSR tours