On the first weekend of September 2016, I visited Kazakhstan. Its capital city Astana, to be specific. While I have been wanting to visit Kazakhstan for quite some time, I faced a lot of questions and some weird looks regarding this plan of mine.
Whoever I told about my plan to visit Kazakhstan and even those I told after my visit to Astana, they all immediately asked me the same question with a weird facial expression, “WHYYY Kazakhstan?” It wasn’t a bad question. I could understand their reaction. After all, Kazakhstan is a country which doesn’t appear on the bucket list of many travelers. Though many people have heard of the country from “Borat”… (the reality is different though!)
But as someone who is quite aware more or less about most countries in the world, Kazakhstan was no stranger to me. Since the country’s independence from Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has been experiencing a rapid economic development – mainly thanks to its oil and gas industry.
But here’s why I wanted to visit Kazakhstan. And why you should consider it too 😉
– The 9th largest (and largest landlocked) country in the world has a beautiful capital city – Astana. As a capital city, it is only 18 years old and therefore one of the newest and planned capital cities in the world! It was several years back when I saw some photos of Astana I realized that I must visit this place someday! Because on the pictures, Astana looked really modern and beautiful with its shiny boulevards and glassy tall buildings. After researching more about the city, my interest to go to Kazakhstan only grew more. I wanted to see the modern architecture with my eyes that defines the skyline of Astana!
– Kazakhstan has a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious society. According to statistics, there are around 130 ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan. Though a majority (64%) are native Kazakhs, nearly 1 in 4 people in the country are Russians – the largest minority group. Other ethnicities include Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Uyghurs, Tatars, Germans etc. Islam is the main religion of the country, with around 71% of the population following it. Christianity is followed by 25% of the population, with Russian Orthodox Christians being the dominant group. In most cities of Kazakhstan, you will find beautiful mosques and orthodox churches standing not far from each other!
Smaller number of Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, and other religious groups also exist in the country. There are fortunately no conflicts between different ethnic or religious groups and everyone in Kazakhstan live together peacefully!
– Last but not least, Kazakhstan has a diverse landscape, incredible nature, and wide, open spaces! The eastern part of the country is an ideal place to admire alpine mountains, while the southern region is a vast desert. The central and northern regions are characterized by cold steppes. Being a very large country with just 18 million people, there are endless spaces! The western part of the country is rich with oil industries.
Since I was only in Astana during my short trip to the country, I can’t unfortunately mention more about Kazakhstan’s countryside and landscape. But I hope that now it at least answers the question about why I wanted to visit Kazakhstan! 😉
And if you are more interested or need more convincing, then check out my other posts regarding my travel to Astana! Cuz now I will talk about how I planned and budgeted my first visit to Kazakhstan 🙂
My Travel Plan for Astana
So how come I planned to go there this year? And how did I exactly plan it?
Well for starters, KLM launched 4x weekly flights to Astana in May of 2016. I always wanted to fly medium/long haul with a European carrier so KLM provided the perfect opportunity for my flight to Astana for two reasons. I wanted to try flights with KLM and check out their products and services and secondly, their fare for this flight was quite affordable!
In fact, just 3 weeks after KLM launched flights to Astana operated by Airbus A330, I already have made my booking! After checking my travel and other important schedules, I picked the dates 2 – 5 September (2016). Also on these dates, the fare was quite good. The return ticket cost about € 400.
Of course, booking the flight ticket was just the beginning of planning and budgeting this trip to Kazakhstan. There were two other important to be done – booking an accommodation and arranging a visa.
Unfortunately my passport isn’t ‘strong enough’ to get visa-free access to Kazakhstan. I needed to obtain a visa from a Kazakh embassy/consulate in Germany. Though in my case, obtaining a visa would be possible only with a so-called Letter of Invitation (LOI). This is unfortunately a common case in Russia and in most other former Soviet countries where they require you to have a LOI for visa. While there are many websites/companies who provide a LOI, not all of them are reliable or legit.
After some research, I luckily found a great tour company online who provided the LOI for me. But part of their LOI service included booking a tour in Astana as well as my accommodation in a hostel. So all in all, it was quite a good deal! I will write more about how to obtain a Letter of Invitation and a Kazakh Visa later on.
Budgeting my Astana trip
Here comes (probably) the answer to the most important question – how much did I spend for the whole trip? Or how much a potential visitor to Astana would need to spend?
This is how the budget breakdown was for me.
Flight ticket : € 400
Visa fee : € 35
LOI service was about € 150 which included the following :
– 3 nights accommodation : (3 x € 10) € 30
– A booked tour by the company : € 50
– Letter of Invitation itself : € 70
Food, transportation, and other general expenses during my stay : € 100
Let’s say I needed about € 700 for my 3-days Astana trip. As you can see a majority of it was spend on the flight. Of course, the budget can vary depending on you and your lifestyle or way of travel. For example, if you can enter Kazakhstan without a visa, you can save up almost € 150 right there! On the other hand, if you prefer to spend your nights in some hotel, then you may have to add more cash to your budget 😉
My budget here is only meant as a ‘guidance’ or an estimation of how much you might need if you ever plan to visit this wonderful city. But I think you would be perfectly fine if you plan your budget around € 700 – € 800.
I hope that this post was quite informative! Everyone finally has an answer to why I visited Kazakhstan and hopefully won’t be looking at me weirdly. In addition, hope this entry helps you and others plan and budget a trip to the modern, growing capital city of the largest landlocked country in the world one day! 🙂