The Best Backpacking Kazakhstan Itinerary for First-Timers

A trip to Kazakhstan isn’t easy to plan with so many unknown places to see. Here you will find the ideal backpacking Kazakhstan itinerary of the main highlights, costs, and essential tips.

A mosque in Astana, Kazakhstan

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Things to do in Kazakhstan and places to visit

Kazakhstan is a bizarre and fascinating country with plenty of opportunities to marvel at the architecture, go hiking in the world’s most stunning landscapes, and relax by pristine lakes. This backpacking Kazakhstan itinerary will see you visit the incredible cities of Shymkent, Almaty and Astana, whilst also making plenty of trips out to nature paradises.

Things to do in Shymkent

If like us, you are entering Kazakhstan from Uzbekistan, then you are likely to end up in Shymkent. There isn’t much to see in Shymkent itself, but many people come here to take a day trip to nearby Turkistan. Turkistan is famous for its mausoleums and underground mosque. Whilst we did have plans to visit, we got a little lazy and decided to skip it due to the similar architecture in Samarkand and Bukhara. However, if you are not planning on visiting Uzbekistan, then it’s highly recommended that you check it out.

A building in Bukhara, Uzbekistan
The architecture in Uzbekistan is similar to what you will see in Shymkent

Where to stay in Shymkent

Feeling luxurious: Rixos Khadisha Shymkent – Elegantly decorated suites! Boasts an indoor swimming pool and fitness centre. Perfect for those who need a break from camping in Central Asia and are looking to pamper themselves.

Budget private room: Express City Hostel – Great Value for money! Breakfast is included and there are tea and coffee-making facilities in the rooms.

Dorm life: House Hostel – A nice hostel that is located just outside of the centre but is well-connected by many buses. The owner is helpful, and the rooms are well-kept.

For more prices and deals on properties in Shymkent, CLICK HERE.

Shymkent to Almaty

From Shymkent head to Kazakhstan’s former capital; Almaty. Almaty is a modern city and even has a metro station to get around. Like most cities in Central Asia, there isn’t much to see in the city itself but there are some nice parks and gardens to stroll around. The real beauty of Kazakhstan lies just outside of the city. Almaty is the perfect base to make day trips from.

Almaty places to visit and tours from Almaty

Big Almaty Lake

Big Almaty Lake should be on anyone’s radar when in Kazakhstan. It’s easy and cheap to get to and you can reach the nature and lake in no time. To read how to get there in more detail check out our Big Almaty Lake post.

View of Big Almaty lake - Almaty, Kazakhstan
Couple shot at the stunning Big Almaty Lake

Charyn Canyon

Charyn Canyon is probably Kazakhstan’s greatest attraction and is located just a 3 to 4 hours drive away from Almaty. The canyon spans over 90 km and is over 30 million years old. The best way to get there is by an organized tour on the weekend. The cheapest price we found was with Kaz Tours at 4,500 Tenge ($11.58) for a day trip. If you choose to go in the week you will need to either spend a lot of time on public transport or lots of money on a private taxi.

To get there using public transport you will need to take a bus from Sayhat Bus Station in Almaty heading for Kegen (you will need to ask the driver to stop before then at the turning for the canyon). From there you will need to find a shared mini-bus or hitch a ride. In total, you will probably end up spending the same as going on an organized day tour from Almaty at the weekend.

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Kolsai & Kaindy Lake

Another trip you can make from Almaty is to the stunning Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes. You can get here by going on an organized tour for 2 days, or by making your way there through a combination of public transport and hitchhiking.

For more information on Almaty check out this Almaty guide.

Where to stay in Almaty

Feeling luxurious: Renion Park Hotel – Modern style rooms that are well equipped with everything you need; sofa, TV, slippers, hairdryer and more! The hotel also has an indoor swimming pool for you to relax at the end of the day.

Budget private room: Interhouse Almaty – Has cosy home-style rooms with breakfast served each day. Perfect for those who want time to themselves and are on a budget.

Dorm life: Almaty Central Hostel – Perfect for meeting other travellers! Highly rated and has a well-equipped kitchen for those who like to cook.

For more prices and deals on properties in Almaty, CLICK HERE.

Things to do in Astana

Last on this Kazakhstan backpacking itinerary is Astana. Take an overnight train from Almaty to Kazakhstan’s newly formed capital, which is just 20 years old. There isn’t much to do activity-wise in Astana, but it’s a cool city to roam around. It’s like stepping into a futuristic city! We like to think of Astana as a city of many shapes due to all of the cool buildings that are dotted around. Astana is also filled with nice cafés and bars; perfect for relaxing and catching up on the blog.

Looking for more things to do in Kazakhstan? Check out these 13 best things to do. 

Modern skyline of Astana, Kazakhstan
Modern skyline of Astana

Where to stay in Astana

Feeling luxurious: Hotel Duman – Spacious rooms with excellent facilities. The hotel has a large indoor swimming pool, bowling alley and restaurants! Great for those who don’t want to stray too far from the hotel!

Budget private room: Hotel Inju on Braeva 9 – Cozy double rooms! Great for couples that need some relaxing time away from the hostel life. The hotel is next to a bus stop, making it easy to get around.

Dorm life: Elite Hostel – Clean and modern 4-bed dorms. It’s a nice place to stay for such a cheap price. It also has a kitchen and is surrounded by shops and restaurants.

Cost of this backpacking Kazakhstan itinerary

Currency: The local currency is Tenge. The exchange rate is 388 Tenge to $1. ATMs are widely available in all the major cities, so there is no need to bring tons of cash with you.

Daily budget: We originally budgeted $30 per day for the two of us. However, accommodation in Kazakhstan turned out cheaper than we had anticipated, and in the end, we averaged $22 per day for the two of us. NOTE: This budget does not include a trip to Charyn Canyon or a trip to Kolsai Lakes.

Accommodation: Accommodation is very cheap in Kazakhstan. We stayed in dorms during our trip. A bed in a dorm averaged $3.50 per night.

Food & drink: Food and drink are relatively cheap. It cost us around 2,000 Tenge ($5.15) per day to buy ingredients from the supermarket, which would last for 3 meals each. Meals consisted mainly of rice, pasta, sauce, veg and potatoes. A large bottle of water costs around 120 Tenge ($0.31).

Deer statue on the way to Big Almaty lake - Almaty, Kazakhstan
Jake patting a deer statue on the way to Big Almaty Lake

Transport: Buses are relatively cheap. A bus ride in Almaty is 150 Tenge ($0.39), or 80 Tenge ($0.21) if you use the Unified transport card. You can buy these cards from one of the small kiosks for 500 Tenge ($1.29), and then top up the card at the many top-up stations around the city. Buses in Astana cost 90 Tenge ($0.23) per ride.

For transport across the country, we recommend using the trains. Prices vary depending on the train and which type of seat you choose. Whatever you do, make sure to book in advance as seats and beds fill up quickly.

See also  The Best 14-Day Backpacking Japan Itinerary

Activities: For an easy time in Kazakhstan, the only way to see the beauty of this country is to take organized tours. Tours to places outside of Almaty are cheap if you choose to go at the weekend, but during the week, they are very expensive.

Backpacking Kazakhstan travel tips

Book trains in advance – Trains fill up quickly, so we fully recommend booking online beforehand as far as a couple of weeks before you want to travel.

2GIS app -Download the 2GIS app; it’s a lifesaver. Trust me! It shows you the map of the city and you can input your location and where you want to go. The app will then show you how to get there and which bus you need to catch.

Tours at the weekend – Try to take tours at the weekend as they are 10 times cheaper than going in the week. Do your research on the tour companies as some are a lot cheaper than others.

Unified transport card – Buy the bus card in Almaty. The card will save you quite a bit of cash. You can buy the bus cards at the small kiosks for 500 Tenge ($1.29).

Don’t drink tap water – The tap water in Kazakhstan is not edible like it is in Kyrgyzstan. Avoid it by buying bottled water, or investing in a sterile pen.

Know some interesting facts before you go – Before you head on your adventure through Kazakhstan, geek out and read up on some interesting facts about Kazakhstan before you go.

Essential resources for travelling in Kazakhstan

Travel Insurance – No matter where you’re travelling to, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re covered for any accidents or losses. We spent days and weeks searching for insurance, but most insurers would not allow us to take out a policy as we were already abroad. Our personal choice is Safteywing. You can opt for automatic monthly payments, just like a subscription. More importantly, it is available in 180 countries and can be purchased whilst already travelling. There is no cap on the duration of travel.

Visa – Before you travel to any country, make sure to check if you need a visa. iVisa is a fantastic website that is super easy and quick to use. Just type in where you are from. and where you are going. to check if you need a visa. If you do, you can quickly make an application online.

AccommodationBooking.com is our go-to when looking to pre-book accommodation online. Booking.com tend to almost always have the best rates and a FREE cancellation policy for most properties.

Tours & Activities – If you want to book tours and activities online, make sure to check out Get Your Guide. Get Your Guide takes the stress out of booking activities abroad. You will also find a range of benefits, such as skip-the-line passes, lunch included in your tours, and so much more.

Travel tips ebook -Before you head off on your adventure, make sure to download our free ebook. It has a whopping 109 budget travel tips to help you make your hard-earned cash go further. Click here to download your FREE ebook.

We hope this backpacking Kazakhstan itinerary has helped kick-start your trip. This itinerary takes in the best that Kazakhstan has to offer in all of the major cities. So, book that flight and let your Kazakhstan adventure begin.

Have you visited Kyrgyzstan yet? If not, it’s right next to Kazakhstan and it’s the perfect place to delve deeper into the Central Asian culture. Check out our backpacking Kyrgyzstan guide here.

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The Ultimate Backpacking Kazashtan Guide & Itinerary

12 thoughts on “The Best Backpacking Kazakhstan Itinerary for First-Timers

  1. Frugal Travellers says:

    Great post! Just arrived in Astana and were surprised to be charged 180 tenge each for the No# 21 bus from the train station to our hostel, as every blog post/guidebook we’d read had said 90 tenge… did a bit more online research and the price went up in July 2018 to 180 tenge, or still 90 tenge with a travel card until the end of this year. Am pleased we didn’t get annoyed with the bus driver… hahaha 🤣

    • Katie says:

      Thanks guys 🙂 ooh those cards are so annoying. We struggled to find where to buy them for ages, particularly in Almaty. We heard that you can also take them back and they buy them back off you. But we didn’t have time to see, but maybe it is something you can look into. Hope you are still having a fab time in Central Asia.

      • Frugal Travellers says:

        We bought the Onai cards in Almaty for 500 tenge each, fully refundable, except we couldn’t find anywhere near Almaty 1 railway station to get the refund… they’re our Almaty souvenirs 🙂
        We’ve got 1 week left in Kazakhstan, heading to Aral today then finally crossing into Uzbekistan next week… will be studying your Uzbek posts!
        Loving your trip around Eastern Europe – great blog posts and photos.

  2. Verena says:

    Kazakhstan was never on my bucket list, but after this post I should consider it! The country has such a beautiful nature and landscape – especially the Big Almaty Lake looks so beautiful 🙂

  3. jenny bhatia says:

    Astana looks pretty cool. This is a place that I’ve never thought of traveling to, but you make it look fun and beautiful. I will need to research the area more and add it to my bucket list. Great thorough information. Thank you.

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