From the New Capital to the Old
This itinerary takes you to the two worlds of Kazakhstan. The principle cities are distinctly modern; Almaty has a sophisticated European air, while Nur-Sultan is filled with cutting-edge architecture that gives it the feel of a mini Dubai. Out in the steppe and the mountains, history and nature prevail. You’ll see the ruins of a once-prominent Silk Road oasis, a canyon filled with gorgeous variegated rock formations, and a UNESCO-listed medieval mausoleum with the largest dome in Central Asia.
Travels to: Kazakhstan
Days 1-2: Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan), Chimkent
Begin in the new city of Nur-Sultan, capital of Kazakhstan only since 1997, and under its current name only since 2019. (Prior to that it was known as Astana.) Take in its impressive modern architecture including Baiterek Tower, inspired by a Kazakh folk tale, and the Khan Shatyr Complex, the “World’s Biggest Tent.” Fly to Chimkent on the evening of your second day.
- The ultramodern architecture of Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s purpose-built capital
- The viewing platform of 344-foot Baiterek Tower
- Khan Shatyr Complex, a shopping and entertainment center topped with a 490-foot-tall transparent tent, blending Kazakhstan’s tent-dwelling culture with neofuturist design
Days 3-4: Chimkent, Otrar, Turkistan
Begin the day at the vibrant bazaar of Chimkent, Kazakhstan’s third-largest city. In the afternoon, set out through the desert to visit the excavated remains of Otrar, once a major Silk Road oasis with a hilltop fortress. Continue to the historic city of Turkistan, where a tour the next day features a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mausoleum of revered Sufi sheikh Khoja Akhmed Yasavi, the first Turkic Muslim holy man.
- Colorful piles of produce, spices, and handicrafts at Chimkent’s booming bazaar
- Evocative ruins at Otrar, a town with roots dating to the first century
- Turkistan’s UNESCO-listed Mausoleum of Khoja Akhmed Yasavi, commissioned by Tamerlane in the 14th century and topped with the largest dome in Central Asia
Days 5-7: Chimkent, Almaty, Charyn Canyon
After returning to Chimkent for the night, fly to Almaty – the country’s largest city and a thriving business center, situated amid the majestic Tien Shan mountain range. Visit Panfilov Park, a hub of the city and home to Zenkov Cathedral; explore the Museum of Musical Instruments; and then head to the Tien Shan foothills for a falconry demonstration. The following day drive through spectacular Charyn Canyon, with its striking rock formations and colorful strata, before returning to Almaty for a final overnight.
- Panfilov Park, a green oasis where locals meet to stroll and unwind
- Colorful Zenkov Cathedral, one of the tallest wooden structures in the world and an impressive feat of engineering that survived a massive 1911 earthquake unscathed
- The beautifully handcrafted traditional instruments at the Museum of Musical Instruments — particularly the lute-like dombra, which features significantly in the music of Central Asia
- Hunters on horseback giving a private demonstration of traditional Kazakh falconry
- Charyn Canyon, known as the “Valley of Castles” for its spectacular rock formations carved out of a deep, 50-mile path through the Kazakh steppe
Dates & Prices
- Private trip prices vary by season and are subject to hotel availability for your travel dates.
- Listed prices below are based on double occupancy and a 2 traveler minimum.
- Hotel upgrades, additional nights, and solo traveler prices are available on request.
Land tour price, per person, starting from:
- Shared accommodations as noted in the itinerary. Contact MIR for hotel upgrade prices.
- Meals, as noted in the itinerary.
- Restaurant tips for included meals.
- One arrival and one departure transfer. Additional arrival and departure transfers available at additional cost.) MIR will arrange for travelers to be met upon arrival and seen off on departure, whether or not we make your air arrangements.
- Ground transportation throughout itinerary by private vehicle (type of vehicle depends on number of travelers in your group).
- Services of experienced, English-speaking local guides, drivers, and other staff, as noted in the itinerary.
- Guided sightseeing tours and entrance fees, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Special events, excursions, and cultural performances, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Complete pre-departure information, including detailed packing list, reading list, and Touring with MIR handbook with country-specific information, maps, and travel tips.
- Final document packet, including luggage tags, final updates, and more.
- Assistance booking your custom flight arrangements, on request. (Please note that international airfare is not included in the land tour cost).
- International airfare and taxes/fuel surcharges.
- Internal airfare. (Internal airfare is quoted separately and subject to change by airlines).
- Meals and drinks not specified as included in the itinerary.
- Single supplement if requested or required.
- Baggage handling.
- Gratuities to local guides, drivers, porters, and other service personnel.
- Expenses incurred as a result of delay, modification, or extension of a tour due to causes beyond MIR’s control.
- Travel-related insurance, including cancellation, medical, and evacuation insurance.
- Visa fees, excess-baggage charges, airport departure taxes, vaccination and other medical costs.
- Optional pre- or post-tour extensions.
- Items of a personal nature, such as phone calls, email, laundry, and alcohol.
Level 2: Moderate, but Customizable
This ‘Essential’ itinerary, which is designed for private travel, features long days walking and standing, and some possibly long days in the touring vehicle. Only those fit to travel and who accept the local conditions should consider joining this program.
There is a significant amount of touring on foot, and those travelers planning to take the program as written should be able to walk one to two miles a day comfortably. Footing can be an issue and travelers should be able to negotiate cobblestones, uneven surfaces (possibly steep and/or wet), and deal with situations without handrails or ramps. In the hotels, you may find that showers/baths have steep steps up or ledges, which can become slippery and require extra caution. Some attractions are only accessible via steep staircases. Museums rarely have elevators and hotels may not have elevators as well.
Past travelers have also encountered challenges with plumbing, bureaucratic service, variety of locally available foods, and availability and quality of public restrooms.
Accommodations in the basic program are generally three- to four-star hotels, some quite small with basic amenities and services. Upgrades may be available, please call for details.