Kazakhstan is truly off the beaten track and sees few travellers, especially outside Astana and Almaty, and for much of this trip you will truly feel the remoteness of Central Asia.. Explore Baikonur, nick named ‘Star City,’ where the Russian Cosmodrome is located and unveil the mysteries of space explorations.. Discover the history and architecture of the Silk Road, visiting ancient mausoleums and mosques on guided tours in the cities of Turkistan, Sayram and Otrar.. Travel alongside locals and admire wild, sweeping vistas on epic train rides across the Kazakh steppe.
Beginning in the futuristic cityscapes of Astana, join us on this exploration through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. From the space port of Baikonur to the ancient city of Turkistan, the Silk Road portals of Sayram and Otrar, and the majestic, surreal landscapes of Altyn-Emel National Park and Charyon Canyon, the sights along the way are unlike anywhere else. Continue your journey to the mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan, skirt Issyk Kul and end in the relaxed capital of Bishkek. Discover a true adventure on the roads of rugged and remoteTajikistan. Visit the unique cities of Khorog, Dushanbe and remote villagesas you cross hundreds of kilometers of epic mountain passes and scenic landscapes.
Breakfast Included: 24 Lunches Included: 6 Dinner Included: 9
Welcome to Astana, Kazakhstan. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm in the hotel lobby. Please look for a note in the lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be checking your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details ready for your leader. Only made the capital city of Kazakhstan in 1997, Astana is one of the youngest capital in the world and also considered as the heart of the Eurasia continent. Similar to Washington D.C. in the US or Canberra in Australia, Astana is a planned city with the Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa as its master mind. Now, Astana is one of the most vibrant cities in Central Asia. If you arrive early, take your time to stroll in the city and take in the futuristic city skyline. Join your leader in the evening for a local dinner tonight.
This morning, go on a city tour with your leader and see some of the most impressive designs of the new Astana cityscape. Visit Nur-Astana Mosque, built in 2005. It has a capacity of 5000 worshippers inside and an additional 2000 outside and is one of the largest mosques in Central Asia. Then you'll stop at Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a pyramid shaped conference hall that's considered as Astana's symbolic center. You'll also visit the President's Culture Center which houses an array of exhibits that tells you the stories of the past, present and future of Kazakhstan, and of course, as its name suggests, the achievements of the President. The rest of the day is free to spend as you wish.
Today, take an early morning flight from Astana to Kyzyl Orda (approx. 1.5 hrs) and from here you'll head to one of the most unique destinations on this trip, Baikonur (approx. 3.5 hrs). Located on the desert steppe of Kazakhstan, Baikonur is leased to the Russian Federation until 2050. The town was originally constructed to service a huge space base that dispatches astronauts and supplies (and during the Soviet Union, cosmonauts) to the International Space Station. Firstly named Zarya (Russian for sunrise) it was renamed Baikonur by Russian president Boris Yeltsin in 1995.
Get ready for a full day of exploration today. Visit the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s first and largest operational spaceport. Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite, was launched from here. Visit a nearby museum where you’ll see a range of space artifacts, and check out the cottage once occupied by Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to every venture into outer space.
Today is another travelling day, this time by train. From Kyzyl Orda it's around 7 hours to the next destination: Turkistan. Grab some snacks, sit back and relax as the landscape rushes by. Located in southern Kazakhstan, the city of Turkistan contains more historical relics and cultural sites than any other place in the country. Your train will arrive in the late afternoon. We'll visit the main attraction of the Yasaui Mausoleum tomorrow morning, but you'll have the option to see it illuminated at night today.
Turkistan - Shymkent/Overnight train
Head out on a city tour this morning, the highlight of which is a visit to the Kozha Akhmed Yasaui Mausoleum, Kazakhstan’s most iconic building. The stunning blue and while-tiled Mausoleum is the final resting place of a great Turkic holy man and Sufi. Built by Tamerlane, it is said that three visits here are equal to one visit to Mecca. As it is a religious site, we recommend that women wear a headscarf when entering. In the surrounds you'll find a rose garden, other monuments, an archeological museum and a mosque, which are all included in the ticket price. Continue the journey to Shymkent (approx. 4 hours) Stop at the ancient Otrar settlement on the way to Shymkent. It was first excavated in 1969 and has a history dating back to the first century AD, Remnants of palaces, mosques and bathhouses can still be seen today. It is also where Genghis Khan's army is said to have fought heroically (though unsuccessfully) when the Mongols first invaded Central Asia. There'll be some time to explore Shymkent before boarding the overnight train (approx 11 hours) to Almaty.
Altyn-Emel National Park
Arrive in Almaty and head 240 km (approx 3.5 hours) out of town to the spectacular Altyn-Emel National Park, where you will spend the next two days exploring. This is the largest national reserve in the country and preserves many rare plants and animals, including zheyran (goitred gazelles), argali sheep and kulan (wild donkeys), which you may be lucky enough to spot during your time here. The program here may vary depending on the weather and season. Taigak Gorge houses the Kyzyl Lauyz Petroglyphs where you can make out ancient Tibetan inscriptions of the words 'Om Mani Padme Om', as well as images of hunting, farming and celebrations.There are also the Besshatyr Burial Mounds, which date from the sixth century BC when this area was a shrine of the ancient Saks people. Tonight you'll stay in a simple guesthouse within the national park where lunch and dinner is included.
Altyn-Emel National Park - Almaty
Explore the sights not visited yesterday, of which the best-known is the Singing Barkhan, a sand dune extending 3 km and up to 120 m high. It gets its name as the fine sand hums in windy weather and the view from the top gives a great panorama of the surrounding Djungarian Alatau, Sogety, Boguty and other mountains. In dry, windy weather, the sand dune's song can be heard up to a few kilometres away. These mountains have revealed preserved remains of prehistoric animals including giant rhinos, crocodiles and turtles, and many compare the huge, conical mountains to the man-made Egyptian pyramids. Return to Almaty tonight after a full day in the park.
Today embark on a full-day guided city tour of Almaty. The development and wealth you’ll see on display as you walk the streets comes from the country's main export – oil. Kazakhstan is one of the world's top five oil-producing nations. Visit Central Square, the colourful Zenkoff Cathedral and Medeo, a huge outdoor ice-skating and bandy rink in outside the city centre.
We’ll also head to historic Panfilov Park, dedicated to the 28 guardsmen who died defending Moscow against German tanks in WWII, and check out the Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments and the State Historical Museum, which features a great collection of ancient relics. Finally, summit Kok Tobe Hill for great views over the city before returning to the hotel after a long but fulfilling day.
Almaty - KAZ/KGZ Border Crossing - Karakol
Today before saying goodbye to Kazakhstan, stop at Charyn Canyon after about 4 hours' drive. The colorful formations of different shapes and sizes are no less impressive than the Grand Canyon in the US, though it's much smaller.
Continue to the border and enter the mountainous nation of Kyrgyzstan. Tonight you'll stay in the peaceful town of Karakol.
This peaceful Russian town was founded on 1st of July in 1869 as Russian military fortification. By this time the town already had a high proportion of military officers, explorers of Russian Geographical society, merchants and artisans. The town’s Soviet name was Przhevalsk after the Great Russian Explorer of Central Asia and China Nikolai Przhevalsky whose last expedition ended here and who is buried on the lakeshore near Karakol. Stroll along Karakol's streets spotting Russian-style "gingerbread" houses. Visit the Dungan Mosque, Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, a local market and the Przhevalsky Museum. After lunch, drive for about 1 hour for a hike (approx. 2 hours) in the picturesque Jety Oguz Valley, aka Seven Bull Valley. Your leader will take you hike through forest to a local waterfall (with draw dropping panaroma views). Return to Karakol for the night.
Today is a full day's drive to Bishkek along the northern shore of Issyk Kul - the second largest alpine lake in the world after lake Titicaca in South America. The view is just stunning along the way, especially seeing Issyk Kul surrounded by snow capped mountains. On the way, you'll stop at Cholpan Ata, visit a local petroglyphs site and take a boat out onto the lake to enjoy its stunning surroundings. Arrive in Bishkek in the late afternoon.