April 29 - May 9 2024

Explore Kazakhstan | Astana to Almaty (May)

Enigmatic Central Asian
Giant Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is where a vibrant multi-cultural society
meets the dark legacy of deportations, gulags, and nuclear

From 2,500 USD per person

Please apply by 20th March, 2024.

Explore Kazakhstan | Astana to Almaty (May)

Enigmatic Central Asian
Giant Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is where a vibrant multi-cultural
society meets the dark legacy of deportations,
gulags, and nuclear weapons.

From 2,500 USD per person

  • Overall

    On this incredible 10-night adventure, we will start in the new capital of Kazakhstan, Astana and finish in the old, Almaty.

    In between these two fascinating cities, we will travel by road, rail, and air as we adventure and explore parts of Kazakhstan only a few have seen before. We will be heading to the industrial base of Karaganda, the infamous Semipalatinsk (in two words; Gulags and Nukes), and Kurchatov - the Los Alamos of the USSR, where the Red Bomb was developed and tested. Plus, we will even visit The Polygon; the vast nuclear testing range full of abandoned measuring platforms, bunkers, craters, buried machinery, and the scenic yet chilling ‘Atomic Lake’.

    We’ll get a history lesson on the darker side of this little-known land, as well as updates on what’s been going on in the cities and countryside as we pass between them seeing local life, industry, and so much more. Combining our expertise working in the country, contacts, and in-depth research, we’ve put together a tour that is like no other to offer you the best in Kazakhstan tourism.

    Please Note: the situation vis-a-vis access to the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Polygon is very much changeable with no notice. So while we do intend to run the tour as scheduled here there is a chance that things may change and we have to adjust to which areas we visit, where we stay overnight, and so on. We have explored this area thoroughly though and have redundancies and backup plans in place, so we can still assure all visitors that they will experience as much access to the site as possible when they visit with Koryo Tours.

    Dates don't suit? Check out our Explore Kazakhstan | Astana to Almaty September Tour, or contact us for more information on private tours.

    Scroll down for an overview of our Explore Kazakhstan - Astana to Almaty May tour highlights, tour itinerary, transport options, DPRK tourist visa information, and extra add-ons.


    Astana - once the centre of the Virgin Lands campaign, now national capital

    Semipalatinsk – fascinating small city and once home to an exiled Dostoyevsky

    Nuclear Polygon – USSR’s testing range for atmospheric and underground nukes

    Chagan – Abandoned long-range bomber base and garrison town

    Kurchatov – Home of the bomb-boffins and Beria. Semi-abandoned these days

    Karaganda – In the heart of Kazakhstan, also the heart of the old Central Asian Gulag system

    Almaty – The old capital nestled against the Tian Shan Mountains

  • Itinerary

    Day 1 of 11
    1. Tuesday 30th April

      Arrival Day

      • Flights to Astana (airport code NQZ) arrive from many international destinations – let us know which flight you will be on, and we will arrange your pick-up and transfer to the hotel. Arriving even earlier is, of course, fine and can be accommodated.
      • Today we start the tour with a group dinner of some excellent local food, coordination and briefing session, before the adventure ahead!

      Overnight: Astana - Kazakhstan's shiny new Capital City!

    2. Wednesday 1st May


      • Astana is a new city rightly famed for its unique approach to architecture; it piles together with a wide range of different styles and forms. The result is either a glimpse at the future of post-modern cities or a horrifying un-curated mish-mash of clashing buildings. Our tour today will include, but not be limited to, the sites listed below...
      • Bayterek Tower – now the icon of the city, this ornate monument has a viewing platform 97 metres above the ground (1997 is when Astana become the capital city) and is designed to evoke a folk tale about a bird laying an egg in a tree. Amazing views over the city from here.
      • Palace of Peace and Reconciliation – glass Pyramid from the eminent architect Norman Foster with the vague but noble aim of reconciling the world’s faiths and ideologies and bringing an end to violence. Even if this goal remains elusive, it is a stunning building and worth exploring!
      • Hazret Sultan Mosque – the biggest in Kazakhstan (and second in the region only to the monstrous Gypjak Mosque in Turkmenistan). Classically Islamic in style and Kazakh in décor, this impressive building can house up to 5000 worshippers at once.
      • Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre – perhaps the building that architecturally sums up modern Astana more than any other. Another Carbuncle/work-of-genius (delete as you prefer) from Norman Foster, this ingenious structure looking somewhat like a lop-sided tent that maintains an even temperature year-round and provides leisure facilities, shopping, entertainment in general.
      • River Ishim – we’ll stroll the banks of this waterway in the centre of town, a good way to see a slice of local life and people enjoying their time. Remember that almost all of Astana’s population are recent arrivals so a big mix of people from around the country and beyond can be met with here.

      Overnight: Astana

      NOTE: Today is May 1st, International Labour Day. Events may be happening in Astana and we will adjust the itinerary to include those that are available to the public. So the order of events will likely change on this day.

    3. Thursday 2nd May

      Akmol & Karaganda

      • We take a drive out of the city to the nearby village of Akmol; home of the chilling Museum of the Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland – A sensitively-done spot telling the story of the loyal (going to such a place could often be avoided with a divorce and public denunciation) women sent here when their husbands were persecuted.
      • We set off on a 3 hour drive to the major city of Karaganda (lunch along the way)
      • An introductory walking tour of the city centre - focusing on the architecture, history, and local culture of this city (all of which is varied and fascinating), we’ll visit the central park as well and see and mix with locals spending leisure time here.
      • Karaganda is a large city but with a very walkable centre – the Russian/Soviet influence here is strong and our guide (a local to this place) will tell us all about the city, you’ll find it fascinating for sure! He can also recommend good spots for dinner/evening socialising/etc
      • We will also visit a local painter - famed for having no arms and painting with the brush in his mouth. He sells his amazing work and can speak about his history growing up close to the nearby nuclear weapons testing area. His works can be purchased directly if anyone is interested in some amazing evocative and unique pieces.

      Overnight: Chaika Hotel – amazing brutalist Soviet monstrosity. Real time-warp stuff. One part of the hotel was built specifically for the visit of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. The rooms are comfy and modern. The building itself is timeless!

    4. Friday 3rd May


      • We drive an hour out to the museum of KarLag, the local gulag system – a dark part of history indeed told through the rooms of this former NKVD HQ. State ‘enemies’, departed nationalities (a vast number of whom were dumped in Central Asia due to Stalin’s paranoia about enemies within – the largest numbers being Germans from the west and Koreans from the east. Their stories are told here in this chilling memorial to the all-too-recent evils.
      • The village around this museum is made up largely of former Gulag barracks, admin buildings, and medical centres, we will take a look around and also visit the depressing cemetery for children who died in this cruel system.
      • In the afternoon we offer the choice between free time to further explore Karaganda city or a trip to a former execution ground (what a choice, we know!) marked by tasteful and meaningful memorials to the various nationalities whose people were among the unfortunate souls to perish here.

      Overnight: Chaika Hotel

    5. Saturday 4th May

      Astana/Train Ride

      • We return to Astana by road in the morning. A special lunch with a local family awaits us when we arrive back in the Kazakh capital (including Beshparkak - the national dish) and then time to shop for some supplies for the overnight train ride ahead of us.
      • All aboard! We jump onto a sleeper train making its way through the night and across the country to the city of Kurchatov - home of the Soviet atomic weapons program. Comfy beds and a clean restaurant await us and rolling steppe outside the windows for this 800km journey.

      Overnight: Onboard the train – 4 beds in each room. Comfortable and clean

    6. Sunday 5th May

      Semey/Nuclear Polygon/Kurchatov

      • We arrive in the morning in the eastern city of Semey and grab breakfast and the chance to leave our luggage in a local hotel (we will be back in a couple of days) - we then board our vehicles for an epic adventure in a fascinating and formerly forbidden area
      • We go deep into the Polygon - heading for a wide range of sites associated with the Soviet nuclear weapons program - the Atomic Lake, abandoned and derelict ICBM sites, underground bunkers, buildings erected and then destroyed in nuclear test explosions, and much more. it will be an epic adventure and, of course, protective clothing is provided when required.
      • We’ll make a few stops on the way through but most significantly Atomic Lake – caused by a deep underground nuclear blast – this was in fact made deliberately and is known as the world’s first and only use of industrial nuclear weapons. Find out what on earth they were thinking and meet some fishermen looking for three-eyed fish in the 180m deep lake.
      • We’ll have a Roadside Picnic (note to non-literature lovers, this is a joke – read this book and you will find some eerie similarities to this part of the trip) and continue to see some relics of the testing program. A local expert will also be with us to explain in detail, answer questions, etc.
      • We arrive in Kurchatov and check in at our hotel, used mainly by scientists still studying the effects of all the nuclear tests in this region.  Kurchatov was founded in 1947 simply to make Soviet Nuclear weapons a reality. Under the control of then KGB Chief Lavrentiy Beria and scientist Igor Kurchatov, this is where the arms race became a two-horse event.

      Overnight: Mayak Hotel – another time-warp hotel with period furnishings and decor.

    7. Monday 6th May


      • Museum of the Semipalatinsk Test Site – a detailed and deep explanation of what this place is, what happened here, and what effect their inventions can have. Some machines from that time are displayed here too. (note: this museum opens and closes at the whim of higher powers, so its opening cannot be 100% confirmed - if not open we will have a lecture on the history of the area at a different location
      • We board our vehicle and take a drive, deep into a formerly off-limits (very off limits!) area; the Semipalatinsk Polygon – nuclear testing ground chosen due to its remoteness, lack of population, and because it seemed like a good spot to blow a few things up. we provide protective gear of course
      • Next stop is Chagan – once a deeply secret long-range bomber base. Now a deeply abandoned former long-range bomber base. See the massive runways, the remaining ammunition hangars, and the collapsing main buildings of the base. Plus the garrison town nearby which housed the base staff from 1954 to 1994 and now stands completely stripped like a spooky post-apocalyptic warning. A bit of UrbEx here
      • We will visit a local family who used to live in Chagan - hear their stories of what it was like living at the front line of the Cold War so far in the USSR interior, and what things have been like for them since the base closed and their lives changed forever.

      Overnight | Mayak Hotel

    8. Tuesday 7th May


      • We leave Kurchaov and the Polygon/Test Field behind us today as we return to Semey. Semipalatinsk is actually the former name of this city; correctly it is now referred to as Semey, we explore with a city tour of this little-visited settlement.
      • Once upon a time Semipalatinsk was a wealthy trading city, situated between China and Russia, and acted as a gateway to the Central Asian territories added to the Russian Empire in the 19th Century. We will explore mainly on foot and see buildings from various eras, statues and monuments, mosaics and a little-known part of history. All explained to us as we make our way on a short walking tour around this unexpectedly-charming place. Sites we visit include...
      • Lenin Alley – a common sight in Kazakhstan’s smaller cities; a collection of Lenin's in a nice park setting. The central piece is awe-inspiring.
      • Victory Park – with statues, tank monument, and a hang-out place for locals.
      • Dostoyevsky Museum – the titan of Russian Literature, as exiled out here in Semipalatinsk and this museum explains the importance of his works. Pro-tip: read Crime and Punishment before your visit.
      • Free time from the later afternoon to explore the city, have an evening out away from the shadow of nuclear tests and enjoy a very unique place indeed.

      Overnight: Semey Hotel – very Soviet-style place with an aesthetic unlike what you may be used to! All the charm of the late-USSR but with free wifi! You’ll love it!

    9. Wednesday 8th May


      • We will spend some time with a very special group of people - a local school who specialise in teaching disadvantaged children from more modest backgrounds. They teach English to a very high level here and we will meet with some teachers and children from the school who will give us some information about their hometown, give us a performance, and give us a chance to learn from these kids as well as helping them with a chance for conversation time with visitors - this is another Koryo Tours exclusive and something you will never forget
      • After an early lunch we head to Semey Airport for a flight to Almaty - the former capital and the most charming city in the country
      • We transfer to our hotel and you can head out for exploring, enjoying the very lively coffee shop scene, hot up some amazing restaurants and bars, pamper yourself at a beauty centre. Do whatever you like in this very modern but also laid-back place. You've earned it after the long journeys of the last few days!

      Overnight: Hotel Kazakhstan – a towering monstrosity offering great views over the city as well as faded-luxury. An iconic structure in an iconic city; ideal for finishing off our Kazakhstan adventure

    10. Thursday 9th May

      Almaty/Victory Day

      • We embark on a walking tour of this amazing city - Almaty. Nestled against the precipitous Tian Shan Mountain range and dotted with parks, theatres, boulevards, and much more. Sites we visit include...
      • Almaty Metro – one of only two subway systems in the whole of Central Asia (the other is the Moscow knock-off in Tashkent) this system opened in 2012 and strikes a balance between Moscow opulence and modern efficiency
      • Green Bazaar & Rakhat Chocolate Factory – these neighbouring sites are local institutions. You can smell the sweetness from the latter all across this part of the city. Banter and barter with sellers in the market, pick up the apples that Almaty is known for as well as all manner of other delicious local delicacies. Get your sweet tooth into action with the terrific and very affordable selection at the chocolate factory (ideal for gifts too!)
      • Panfilovets Park – Almaty's main place of leisure. Very pleasant and marked with stunning and evocative monuments to the Kazakh soldiers who fell while fighting to defend Moscow from the Nazi invasion. Zenkov Cathedral is also located in this park.
      • Arbat Street – every good former USSR town has one; a pedestrian area ideal for promenading, window shopping, café culture, public art sales, and so on. This one is very modern, and is lined with some great examples of brutalist apartment buildings.
      • Kok-Tebe – a cable car ride up to a mountain overlooking the city. Amazing views, a statue of the Beatles, A Ferris Wheel and toboggan ride, small zoo, bars, and entertainment in general. Simply put, this is the city’s best spot and a very popular area for local families, youths, and everyone really. We’ll have a final lunch of the tour along the way. A fitting relaxing end to an intense, mind-blowing week!
      • Today is also Victory Day – the anniversary of the German surrender to the victorious Red Army. Events are happening across the former USSR on this occasion, and whatever will be happening in Almaty, we will go along for a look. In true Soviet style, there will likely be a drink or two involved, plus some nostalgic nationalism to observe. The itinerary will change to adapt to whatever events are planned and possible to attend.

      Overnight: Hotel Kazakhstan

    11. Friday 10th May

      Departure Day

      Flights leave from Almaty airport to various destinations both international and domestic. Let us know where you are going, and we will get you there in time!

      You may also wish to spend more time in Almaty, a charming city – walkable, friendly people, lots to see and do. We recommend continuing at least one more day to make the most of the trip – you won’t regret it!

      Don’t forget that Almaty is also very close to the border with Kyrgyzstan – the capital city of Bishkek is just a few hours away, and there are buses and shared taxis plying this route very frequently. We can help with this if you like and can recommend a visit to Bishkek too.

      TOP RECOMMENDATION – however, this is the best choice – Join our tour to Turkmenistan! If you take this option not only do you join the ranks of Koryo Tours’ extra-special veterans but also get an extra night in Ashgabat. We fly from Almaty to Turkmenistan this afternoon. When there we meet our local partners and have time to relax, explore, do whatever you like really until the Turkmenistan Tour (more info on this here) begins on Saturday 11th May. Continue your Central Asian adventure with us – it’s the best way to see the region's most amazing parts!

  • Extras

    • Upgrade to your own room in Kazakhstan

      All hotel rooms on our all-inclusive group tours to Kazakhstan feature twin beds, and will be shared. If you'd like a room to yourself then you can upgrade for an extra $50 USD per night

  • What is / is not included?


    • English-speaking local guide
    • Western tour leader
    • Meals other than those taken at leisure
    • Accommodation
    • Internal flight
    • Internal train
    • All included sightseeing
    • All taxes & entrance fees to areas where special permits are required.
    • Airport transfers
    • An amazing time in a fascinating country!


    • Tips for local guides and drivers Incidentals, extra drinks, etc
    • Optional single supplement: USD 40 per night
    • Visa fee - depending on nationality – most western nationalities do not need visas to Kazakhstan. Please do check first to be sure
    • International flights to/from Kazakhstan not included
  • Notes

    How to Apply: To apply click on the application button listed with this tour and fill out the online form, upload a passport copy and photo (or send to us by email) and you can consider yourself to be booked on this adventure! For any questions, comments, etc. about this trip get in touch with Simon Cockerell at [email protected] We ask for an application to be complete a minimum of one month in advance of the tour, ideally, six weeks or more if possible: Please also indicate where you plan to join the tour from and finish the tour by going (we can offer advice on this, drop us a line to discuss it) We also require a deposit to be paid at this time as we start taking on administrative costs. We ask for a deposit of 50% of the tour fee. Cancellation & Refunds: Please note that if you require a visa for Kazakhstan, you will need to pay this fee yourself. Most visitors do not require visas, though. Check https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_Kazakhstan We practice the same cancellation policy with this tour as we do with our DPRK tours. This is listed on our website T&C. However we do not seek profit from people who cannot go on tours, but we do make arrangements and commit to payments in good faith once a booking is received and payment is made. So we always try to refund more than the minimum. As with any trip it is best to be as sure as possible that you will attend the trip when making the final booking. If Koryo Tours cancels the tour for any reason, then a full refund is of course made. In all cases, we return as much as we can, and we do not take a fee for the client's cancellation. Please be sure that you will definitely be joining the tour when you send all the application details.

Please apply by 20th March, 2024.

[email protected] | + 86 10 6416 7544
Room A409, Jucai Building. No. 76 Caoyuan Hutong.
Dongcheng District, Beijing, 100027, PR China

中国北京市东城区草园胡同76号聚才大厦A 座409 室,
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