On this page you can find all the information you need to know about backpacking in Kazakhstan.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find all the articles we've written about this country.
Kazakhstan is a republic in Central Asia. It takes the 9th place in the world by area and is the largest landlocked country in the world. It's a multinational state, which is inhabited by 17.8 million people, belonging to more than 120 nationalities! The official languages are Kazakh and Russian. The country stretches about 3,000 km from the Altay Mountains in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west; and more than 1,500 km from the Kyzyl Kum desert in the south to the grasslands in the north. Due to its large size, Kazakhstan has two time zones (GMT+5 and GMT +6), which can be a bit confusing at times! The weather in Kazakhstan is characterized by hot summers (+35°C), cold winters (-30°C), blossoming springs and scarlet autumns. The temperatures in the southern part of the country are more extreme with +45°C in summer and -40°C in winter.
Visa & Registration
Since January 2017 Kazakhstan extended its visa free program which allows citizens from the European Union, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Malaysia,Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to stay up to 30 days in the country.
Citizens from Russia, Armenia, Georgia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Mongolia are allowed to stay 90 days visa free.
Here is a complete list of countries eligible to visit Kazakhstan without visa. You get the free visa on arrival in the airport or at any land border.
If your country is not on the list, you'll have to apply for a visa at the embassy where your residence is. However, the embassies are willing to make an exception if you don't have an embassy in your home country. Check which documents you need to apply for the Kazakhstan visa here.
When entering the country - whether it's in the airport or at a land border - you receive a white migration card that you have to fill in. You'll receive two stamps on this card at the passport control upon arrival, which indicates that you're registered. This is your registration card that you have to keep with you throughout your stay in Kazakhstan. If you don't have this card with you when leaving the country, you'll have to pay a fine or even face deportation. In case you only see one stamp, ask nicely for the second one. If they refuse - which would be very unlikely - you have to register within 5 days with the Migration Police (OVIR).
Travelers who need an LOI - letter to visit Kazakhstan, always have to register with the Migration Police! Check this page with more information about how and where to get the registration done.
Kazakhstan shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. We entered Kazakhstan by boat, crossing the Caspian Sea from Alat (Azerbaijan) to Aktau (Kazakhstan). Check this page of Caravanistan for the latest updates concerning border crossings.
The currency in Kazakhstan is the Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT). Traveling in Kazakhstan won't cost you much money if you're on a budget. You can easily live on a daily budget of $10 - $15, depending on the location (touristic cities such as Almaty, Astana, Turkistan and Shymkent can be a bit more expensive). The average cost for a good meal is $5 and a bed in a budget hostel costs $5.
Hitchhiking & Camping in Kazakhstan
It might look as if many locals are hitchhiking in Kazakhstan, but don't be mistaken. It's common to ask for a ride by standing on the side of the road and waving your hand up and down but it's custom to offer the driver some money. Make sure to explain that you're hitchhiking and not paying for the ride before getting in the car.
We would definitely advice you to learn some basic Russian before hitchhiking in Kazakhstan. The Russian language is one of the two official languages in Kazakhstan and spoken by everyone. You won't meet many people who can speak English. Consider Russian as the English of Central Asia as this language will also come in handy if you're planning to travel to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Mongolia.
Designated camping areas are almost non-existent in Kazakhstan. Rules regarding (wild) camping are very loose, if they even exist. Just find a spot to your liking and pitch your tent! Be sure to remain respectful of any local farmers and herders who might use the area and take your garbage with you! Camping in the desert and steppes of Kazakhstan is a magical experience! If you camp in a national park or in the mountains of the greater Almaty region, look out for wild animals. Don't keep your food in the tent but put it in a bag and hang it on a tree on a small distance from where you're camping.
Where to go and what to do in Kazakhstan
We're currently exploring Kazakhstan and its neighboring countries in Central Asia. We'll make a complete guide about places worth visiting in Kazakhstan once we finish our travels here - we like to write from experience, not from what we've heard or read. In the meantime, check our articles below as we're slowly but surely covering the (unique) places we're exploring.
Kazakhstan is unique in that its people, the Kazakhs, are not the majority of the population living in the country. More than one hundred different nationalities live in Kazakhstan! The Kazakhs are more prevalent in the south, Ukrainians and Russians in the northern part of the country and big cities like Shymkent, Astana and Almaty are a real international mix!
The people of Kazakhstan, including all the ethnic groups living in the country, are called Kazakhstani.
Only people of the Kazakh ethnic group are called Kazakh. "Kazakh" means "a free and independent nomad" in ancient Turkish. Kazakhs have traveled for centuries along the steppes in their country. You can still find many nomads and herders living in small villages in the middle of the steppes.
The common greeting is the handshake, often done with both hands and a smile. Many Kazakhs are Muslim so men will not shake hands with a women - although they might make an exception if you're foreign. The main religions in Kazakhstan are Muslim and Russian Orthodox.
Kazakhs are very hospitable people and enjoy hosting dinners at their home. You can expect many invitations, especially in small towns and villages where you are a rarity. Although many Kazakhs are Muslim, some won't say no to a good shot of vodka!