Kazakhstan. Kurgans of nomads, singing dunes and stunning views of the Ustyurt plateau

+ flight to Almaty and back home
14 days

What you get

Four main cities
and stunning wild nature
All transportation
and two domestic flights
Professional tour leader - traveler
and all food in Ustyurt
10 nights in hotels
and 2 nights in tents
Physical grade
Level 2 (easy) out of 5

Kazakhstan. Kurgans of nomads, singing dunes and stunning views of the Ustyurt plateau

We set off to explore the incredible landscapes of wild Kazakhstan. Contrast - walks through the main modern cities of the country.

  • Explore the rock paintings of people who lived four thousand years before us in Tamgaly
  • Walk in the footsteps of Genghis Khan in Altyn-Emel National Park
  • Enjoy an unforgettable sunrise at the Tuzbair Salt Lake
  • Plunge into the cool waters of the Caspian Sea in Aktau
  • Descend from the tops of the singing dunes 150 meters high
  • Explore ancient settlements and fortress ruins on the Ustyurt plateau

Trip code


08 September, Wed 20 September, Mon
$ 1530

Day 1

Almaty Green bazaar Medeo

We arrive in Almaty and check into a hotel. Let`s begin our small group trip to Kazakhstan in the Green Bazaar - one of the most vibrant spots in the city, where locals have been buying food since 1868. We observe the life of the Kazakhs, talk to friendly vendors who praise their goods.  Pay attention to traditional horse sausage qazi. Locals still preserve horse meat for the winter, like their ancestors used to do. Those who wish can also try camel meat, camel milk and kumis.

We leave for Medeo - a high-mountain sports complex 1691 meters above sea level. This is the world's largest alpine complex for winter sports with the largest area of an artificial ice field - 10.5 thousand square meters. You can also admire its beauty from a high point, to which a staircase built on the slope of Mount Mokhnatka will take us. Just a hundred years ago, there was a monastery grotto here. Pilgrims still come here and hold services. We will reach this spot by the cable car.

Day 2

Big Almaty Lake Chukur waterfall

In the morning we leave the city (one hour ride) to start our hike to the Big Almaty Lake. We will walk about 15 kilometers with mini backpacks and a small supply of food for the day. We walk along the Chukur gorge to the Moon meadow, admiring the views of the slopes. We reach the Chukur waterfall 2670 meters above sea level. Let`s have lunch, relax, swim in the waterfall and continue our journey.

Most likely, we will be the only travelers on this route. But we will almost certainly see the tracks of hares, foxes, mountain goats and even wolves! We reach the lake at an altitude of 2510 meters above sea level. Dark mountains surround the blue water surface, and just beyond them lies the border with Kyrgyzstan.

Day 3

Tamgaly rock paintings Kurgans of heroes

Our guided tour to Kazakhstan takes us to Tamgaly (3 hours on the way) to see the famous petroglyphs of the Bronze Age. Just imagine - these rock paintings were left by people who lived here four thousand years ago! Observe images of a spotted bull, deer, and even mythical animals such as unicorns. This canyon is home to more than three thousand such drawings!

Scientists believe that this place was a sanctuary of ancient people. The evidence is burials, altars, and kurgans, which we will definitely see. In ancient times not only leaders of tribes but also heroic warriors were buried in kurgans. The bigger the kurgan, the more revered was the person buried in it...

We will have lunch and drive to Basshi (3 hours) - a village in the Altyn-Emel National Park. We check into a hotel and have dinner.

Day 4

Altyn Emel national park Besshatyr necropolis Hot springs

The legend has it that in the summer of 1219, Genghis Khan's troops moved through this valley to conquer Central Asia. Seeing at sunset the mountains covered with yellowed grass, the great commander exclaimed: "Golden saddle!" This is how the name of this national park is translated.

The park boasts sheer cliffs of multi-colored chalk stripes. Their bases are red and green, and on top you can clearly distinguish shades of yellow, brown and blue. There are also radon springs in the park which locals believe to carry healing waters. Nearby in the Kosbastau tract, a huge willow grows, which is more than 700 years old!

Having admired the natural beauty, we set off to explore the Besshatyr necropolis, which consists of 30 burial mounds, known as kurgans. The main one is 17 meters high and 104 meters in diameter. Here lie the leaders of the Sakas and their entourage, who lived in the VIII-III centuries BC. Archaeologists believe that rulers were buried in large mounds, and warriors were buried in small ones. Daggers, gilded horse harnesses, swords, ancient dishes and quivers with arrows were found in the graves.

Day 5

Oshaktas stones Singing dunes Holy spring

In the morning we head to the Oshaktas stone blocks about two meters tall. According to one version, the blocks were used as a stand for a huge cauldron in which food was prepared for the entire army of Genghis Khan. Another version claims that the stones were part of a signal tower, and a fire was lit between them when enemy troops approached.

Next, we head to the singing dunes - the South one is 150 meters high, and the North one is 100 meters. These sandy mountains have steep slopes that make it impossible to climb up. Thanks to the winds and the special structure of the sand, a hum is formed in the dunes, which resembles the sounds of an organ. And when a sharp wind blows, the tops of the dunes "smoke" with a sandy drift. A wonderful sight!..

At the foot of the dune, on the banks of the Ili River, there is a spring named after Shoqan Walikhanov. If this is the first time you see this name, be sure to learn more about the outstanding Kazakh orientalist, who visited these places in 1856. The spring is popularly revered as holy. Nearby the famous Kazakh turangas grow - poplars, which have adapted to the local hot and dry climate.

Day 6

Charyn canyon Valley of Clay Castles Lunar Canyon

Our guided tour to Kazakhstan takes us to Charyn canyon (3 hours on the way) near the Chinese border. This gorge stretches for 154 kilometers along the Charyn River. It is often compared to the Grand Canyon in the United States, because the rocks here are no less impressive, reaching 300 meters in height!

Nearby we find the picturesque Valley of Clay Castles. They were “built” when river waters eroded clay boulders so that “walls” and “towers” up to 370 meters high were formed! And how about the Lunar Canyon? The ground here is completely white! We reach a 30-meter deep clay cave and a spring with crystal clear fresh water.

Day 7 - 8

Shymkent Turkestan Khoja Ahmed Yasawi mausoleum

We leave for Almaty airport (3 hours on the way) and fly to Shymkent. We check into a hotel there. If we have time we will walk through the old city to see the first buildings - the 1850 Koshkar Ata mosque and the house of the district governor, built after the city was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1864. In the modern center, we will walk along Ordabasy Square to the Independence Park.

The next morning we leave for Turkestan (3 hours on the way) to explore a city with 1500 years of history, based on the intersection of caravan routes from Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva. Until the 18th century, the city was the capital of the Kazakh Khanate, which was formed after the collapse of the Golden Horde.

Now pilgrims from all over Central Asia come here to worship the mausoleum of the Sufi philosopher and poet Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. If you are lucky to have visited Samarkand, then you will surely notice the resemblance to the Bibi-Khanym mosque. Both buildings were built at the same time and by order of the legendary ruler Tamerlane. It is interesting that among the Muslims of Central Asia, the three-time pilgrimage to Turkestan is recognized as equal to the Hajj to Mecca! In the evening we return to Shymkent (3 hours on the way), and spend the night at the hotel.

Day 9

Aktau Beaches of the Caspian sea Rocky Path

We go to the airport and fly to Aktau where we will continue our group trip to Kazakhstan. Since 1964, this city was called Shevchenko, in honor of the Ukrainian poet, who served his exile in these places. The name was returned to its original Kazakh one after the country gained independence. After checking into a hotel we walk around the city, which was built from scratch just eighty years ago. Perhaps the most unusual local attraction is the lighthouse right on the roof of a residential building!

Head to the beaches of the Caspian Sea. Locals swim in the summer, although the water only warms up to 18 degrees Celsius. If we have time, we will walk along the Rocky Path along the sea, which will lead us along sheer white cliffs into grottoes and open an unusual play of music and light. Intriguing!

Day 10 - 11

Ustyurt plateau Ancient settlement of Kyzylkala Karagiye depression Boszhira tract

In the morning we leave by jeeps to the Ustyurt plateau. We are driving through the saline desert. Huge, amazing spaces open before our eyes and bizarre statues of various shapes and sizes rise to the horizon.

Scientists believe that Ustyurt is the bottom of the sea that dried up millions of years ago. Take a closer look - maybe you will notice shells under your feet?.. This land remembers the Scythians and Mongol conquerors, the great migration of peoples and caravans going along the Great Silk Road. And now it is our turn to walk these open spaces, admiring huge white boulders.

We explore the remains of the ancient settlement of Kyzylkala, the Karagiye depression and the Boszhira tract, known as the Wild West of Kazakhstan. It seems as if this is where Hollywood Westerns were filmed! We spend the night in tents.

Day 12 - 14

Tuzbair salt lake Salt marshes

We meet the sunrise on the shore of the Tuzbair salt lake. Chalk rocks frame it like a mirror. And further, to the very horizon, stretches a lifeless salt marsh, over which the hot sun rises. The landscape and the sun's rays merge into special colors of the dawn. One wants to capture these views forever with every cell of the body...

We spend the night in tents. The next day we walk along the Tuzbair salt marsh. The reliefs are impressive - rocky cliffs, weathered outliers, salt marshes, steppe. In summer, the salt crust hardens and you can walk everywhere, occasionally sinking into salt deposits to a depth of 10-15 centimeters. We say goodbye to the desert, in the evening we return to Aktau and check into a hotel. 

In the morning we say goodbye to the guide, fly to Almaty and return home. If you have time, we advise you to buy Kazakh souvenirs - camel thorn honey, horse meat sausage kazy, “Kazakhstan” cognac, felt slippers, traditional silver jewelry. Our group trip to Kazakhstan has come to an end. Thank you for exploring with us!

Tour leader

Olga WuWei
tour leader

Подходит ли вам это путешествие?

This trip is of an easy level of physical activity, it is suitable for people in average health condition. We will take two short domestic flights and several short (up to three hours) journeys in rented jeeps. We will walk in cities and national parks, as well as hike for 15 kilometers. Accommodation in double/twin rooms in tourist class hotels. We will spend two days on the plateau without mobile coverage and Internet. We will spend two nights in tents.

Стоимость путешествия включает:

  1. Accommodation during the entire trip
  2. Tents and sleeping bags
  3. All transportation
  4. Two domestic flights
  5. Breakfast in hotels
  6. All food during our stay on the Ustyurt plateau
  7. Local guides in national parks and on the Ustyurt plateau
  8. Professional guiding services.

What is NOT included:

  1. Flight to Almaty and back home. (Let us know if you need help finding the best deals)
  2. Insurance (mandatory)
  3. Food.


Citizens of most countries do not need a visa to Kazakhstan.

We provide free visa consultations for clients.

Additional options

Local sim card with 4G Internet
Price: + $12
Sim card of a local provider with 6GB of Internet

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