Astana is one of the controversial "brand new" capitals built on an enormous scale - similar to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan or Baku in Azerbaijan. Kazakhstan's capital defies all the presumptions and stereotypes a person from the West might have - especially those set in place after the famous comedy film "Borat" (as a matter of fact, "Borat" was not even filmed in Kazakhstan). Astana couldn't be more different from what you probably imagine Kazakhstan to be like. You won't find carts pulled by cows along muddy streets nor any wooden shacks that are deteriorating and falling apart. Walking through the large main boulevard, you might think you're in one of Dubai's luxurious neighborhoods rather than in some country in the middle of nowhere that no one is interested about.
Big Almaty Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes we've ever seen. If it was located somewhere in Europe, it would definitely be one of the most visited natural attractions, especially considering the fact how easy it is to reach it. However, because it is in the high mountains of the country that no one cares about - Kazakhstan, hardly anyone even heard about it. But if you love off the beaten path places, you'll love Kazakhstan. And Big Almaty lake will be one of the highlights of this vast and rich in spectacular natural wonders country. But although it's so close to the largest city in Kazakhstan - Almaty - and getting there is not a problem, it's quite tricky because it has been closed off for tourists by the government. So, how to get there?
Charyn Canyon, although completely unknown in the west, is probably the biggest attraction of Almaty region and maybe the whole country of Kazakhstan. It is way smaller than its famous counterpart – the Grand Canyon, however this fact doesn’t make it a less exciting place to visit. The canyon is located where two huge climate zones clash - between the barren Altyn Emel desert and the massive, lush green Tien Shan mountain range. From the red rocky cliffs of the canyon, you can spot the snow-covered peaks in the distance.
The diversity and natural beauty of the vast Altyn Emel National Park in southern Kazakhstan is nearly impossible to express by just using words, and even photographs don't give it justice. You just have to be there yourself! After visiting golden, desert like "singing" sand dunes with spectacular views over mountainous peaks (I'll describe it soon), we set off on another journey through the rugged and deserted yet surprisingly colorful Katutau and Aktau Mountains. Our final destination was the latter, we had stopped at Katutau first in the morning. Although we went to both places in one day, I decided to split the trip into two posts because of the variety of rock formations and scenic landscapes we had encountered. I hope you'll enjoy it as, I think, you can hardly find any other blogger who would write about it.
Almaty - Kazakhstan's largest city and the former capital. At first, it looks completely ordinary and uninteresting, and if it weren't for the world's class natural wonders surrounding it (I'll describe them all in detail soon), probably no one would be willing to come here. But if you take a second, closer look, you'll notice the uniqueness, vibrancy and diversity. Having said that, it seems that no foreign travelers (especially from the western countries) ever make it to Almaty or other Central Asian places anyway. We didn't meet any westerners there. This is, of course, not because of the lack of attractions in the region - I suppose the mainstream media are at fault here - by always depicting the post-Soviet states as backward, grey, boring and gloomy.
Lake Kaindy in southern Kazakhstan is one of the newest and most unique natural wonders on our planet. Although literally unknown in the West, if it was located in any European country, it would be its best tourist attraction. Especially beautiful in the fall (autumn), Lake Kaindy boasts not only exceptionally attractive blue color of water and snowy rocky mountains surrounding it but also the unique, silver trunks of dead spruce sticking out of the lake's surface. The "flooded forest" is indeed one of the natural landmarks of Kazakhstan. It all creates a fairy-tale like scenery, not seen anywhere else.