Kazakhstan holiday, Back in the USSR

Description of Kazakhstan holiday, Back in the USSR

Discover remote Kazakhstan on this exclusive and unusual small-group tour. The north-eastern corner of Kazakhstan is one of the lesser-visited areas of Central Asia and in the mid-20th century the reason would have been obvious as it was home to the Soviet nuclear testing programme. Today it remains quiet but the region has opened up to visitors and you can now visit the laboratories of Igor Kurchatov, the director of the Soviet atomic bomb project and head into the Semipalatinsk Test Site where the experiments were carried out. You can see the concrete towers which housed the test instruments, and sites such as the re-constructed Moscow metro station.

This tour also visits the ghost town of Chagan, the town of Semey where Dostoevsky was exiled, as well as the former gulags at Alzhir and Karaganda, starting and finishing in the fascinating capital of Astana with its futuristic architecture.

Day-by-day experiences

Day 1Fly to Astana via Almaty.
Day 2:On arrival in Almaty transfer to your hotel. after lunch embark on a tour of Kazakhstan's former capital city. Visit Panfilov Pakr and Zenkov Cathedral, as well as the museum of national instruments. End the day at the Green Bazaar, one of the city's liveliest markets. (B,L,D)
Day 3:Continue your exploration of Almaty, visiting the Old Square along with the Opera and Ballet Theatre. Head up to Kok-Tobe Hill with sweeping views over the city, various attractions, and bizarrely, a monument of the Beatles. (B,L,D)
Day 4:Transfer from Almaty for the flight to Ust-Kamenogorsk. Drive to Semey, founded in 1718 as a Russian fortification against the Zhungars and home in exile to Dostoevsky. Visit his museum and that to Kazakh poet Abai Kunanbaev as well as the monument to the victims of nuclear testing known as "Stronger than Death." End the day with a stroll through Victory Park and discover the collection of Soviet statues. (B,L,D)
Day 5:Travel from Semey to Kurchatov, the home of the Soviet nuclear testing programme. En route visit the abandoned town of Chagan, once home to the troops serving on the nearby airforce base and now being taken over by nature. This afternoon take a walk around town. (B,L,D)
Day 6:Kurchatov was the home of the Soviet nuclear testing programme. In the morning visit the museum of the test site before driving into the Opytnoe Test Site. You will be provided with protective clothing and your local guide will talk about the history of the site and show you as much as they are permitted to. (B,L,D)
Day 7:Travel to the city of Pavlodar, stopping for lunch in the small town of Aksu where you will visit the statue park, which includes a copy of the famous "Worker and Kolkhoz Woman" by Mokhina. Continue on to Pavlodar for the night. (B,L,D)
Day 8:Spend the day sight-seeing in Pavlodar, visiting the Regional and Military History Museums, Checkov Theatre, Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Monument to Victims of the Famine. (B,L,D)
Day 9Fly from Pavlodar back to Astana and transfer to the city of Karaganda in the heart of the Kazakh steppe. The city is know for coal mining and labour camps and you will visit the centre of the KarLag correctional labour camp in Dolinka, part of the Gulag Archipelago. The restored former main administrative building now houses a fascinating museum charting some of the country's darkest times in the modern era. (B,L,D)
Day 10Spend the day in Karaganda, visiting the Miners' Cultural Palace, Stanislavskiy theatre, Nurken Abdirov monument and the cosmonaut and war memorials. Few foreigners visit Karaganda so this is a great chance to see a normal Kazakh city going about its business. (B,L,D)
Day 11:After breakfast return to the capital city of Astana and visit Akmol village and the ALZHIR prison camp, which was set up in the Soviet era for the wives of the "betrayers of the homeland". Return to Astana and check-in to your hotel for 2 nights. (B,L,D)
Day 12:Visit modern Astana with it's Norman Foster designed building, Green Water Boulevard and the iconic Bayterek Tower - ascend the tower and into the golden globe and enjoy a spectacular vista across the city. (B,L,D)
Day 13:Transfer back to the airport for your return flight. (B)

Travel Team

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Responsible tourism

As the pioneers of responsible tourism, we screen every trip so you can travel knowing your holiday will help support conservation and local people.

Kazakhstan is a country where 'green' policies and principles are only slowly making inroads into the country so it's all about the little things adding up to slowly start to make a difference. The very nature of this tour as a shared transport, group tour helps to minimise the environmental impact of visitors compared to many individual travellers using separate vehicles. Many of the hotels used on the tour are locally owned and staffed and, while some of them may be larger properties, all are important employers of local people from hospitality staff right up to management level. Many of the smaller, more remote hotels make use of solar energy panels for electricity and our ground agents also try to use LPG as opposed to petrol in their vehicles where possible.

We are always talking to our local ground agents about the need to stress to clients the importance of basic responsible principles such as appropriate waste disposal, not to waste water, turning off lights on leaving the room in hotels, not replacing towels and bedding daily etc.

As a company we have introduced responsible practices in our UK office including paper, cardboard, aluminium and plastic recycling. We also support local UK charities including the RNIB and various charities around the world. 50% of our office staff use public transport (bus and train) and cycle to work. Management encourages this with their introduction of the cycle to work scheme which offers subsidised cycle ownership.

The Impacts of this Trip

On our Kazakhstan holidays all services are provided by local Kazakh people which includes your local English-speaking group guides, the drivers, local guides at various monuments/sites and hotel staff. All staff are paid a fair wage for Kazakhstan and all wages are kept within the local communities thereby supporting local people. Furthermore, by visiting these hotels and sites additional income is brought into the region, further helping to develop the local area. All meals are included on the itinerary and food is sourced locally whether it is served in the hotels or a locally owned and managed restaurant.

Every year at the start of the busy tourist season our ground agents provide training to local villagers involved in the CBT (community based tourism) initiatives on how to interact with and welcome visitors into their communities. The local agents also sponsor local communities to collect rubbish and plant local plant life in their region.


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