General information about Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is situated in the steppes between Altaj and the Volga, at the furthest distance from all oceans. The nomadic lifestyle of the tribes who live here has long delayed the formation of an independent state. After the rise and fall of tribes and states over thousands of years, continuous attacks from outside, mass migration and ultimately a long power struggle within the association of Kazakh tribes, Kazakhstan was finally founded in 1991. Since then, throughout the country there has been a renaissance of the Kazakh language and culture, which had largely been retained in the rural areas.
Kazakhstan has a fabulous wealth of natural resources: enormous oil and gas reserves, coal and ore deposits, semi-precious stones and building materials. Kazakhstan is the world's largest producer of zinc, tungsten and barite. It is the second largest producer of silver, lead and chromium ore, and the third largest producer of copper and fluorites. Kazakhstan has oil reserves of over 1.2 billion tons. By the year 2015, Kazakhstan intends to belong to the ten largest oil-producing nations. The Kazakhs are proud of these riches. However, the true exploitation for the national good has not occurred.
The Aral Sea looks back on a sad past as the former fourth largest inland lake in the world. In 1960, the Aral Sea was almost as large as Bavaria, with an area of 65,000 km2. Due to gigantic irrigation projects the sea has now shrunk to half of its original area, and a third of its volume. Whether the sea can be saved depends on political decisions regarding the future of cotton. However, the rescue is vitally needed for the climate of the region of central Kazakhstan.
The time difference to CET (Central European Time) is three hours in summer and four in winter.
Kazakhstan, with the capital city Almaty is not only the largest of all inland States, but is also the ninth largest country in the world, with an area of 2,717,300 km2. The extent from east-west is 2,800 km and in the north-south direction 1,600 km. The country is therefore so big that Spain, Portugal, France and the Benelux countries, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the UK would fit into its area. Kazakhstan is situated nearly in the middle of Eurasia, and extends from the Volga plain in the west to the Altai mountains in the east. The southern border is formed by the Tien Shan mountain range, the Aral Sea and the Kysylkum desert. To the north, Kazakhstan extends into the Western Siberian lowlands without a natural boundary. The majority of the country consists of plains (steppes and desert), in the northwest are the Mugodshar mountains, in the centre the Kazakh escarpment, and in the southeast, the Tien Shan mountains reach up to 7,010 m. Kazakhstan is bordered by Russia Uzbekistan, China, Kirghistan and Turkmenistan.
Kazakhstan is the furthest distance of any country from the oceans. As a result, the climate has a definitely continental character. This means large fluctuations in temperature over the year and little rainfall. Hot dry summers turn into cold winters with little snow, almost without an autumn. The long winter is then followed by the warm season, almost without transition.
In the north the average temperature in summer is 18°C and in winter -20°C. However, these figures do not say much about the extremes. Winter temperatures of -40°C occur mainly in the northeast and in the central steppes and desert regions. Here records are broken even in summer, and 40°C is not unusual. Protected by the Tien Shan mountain chain, the climate in the south is somewhat milder and more constant. The lower humidity also makes the extreme temperatures more tolerable for travellers from Central Europe.
Due to the desert-like structure in Kazakhstan it can be relatively cool in towards evening, even in the summer months. Therefore, even in this travelling period you should pack warm, windproof clothing. It is important to pack a sun hat, suncream and a good pair of sunglasses with UV protection for hot sunny days.
Kazakh cuisine can only by differentiated from that of the neighbouring countries with great difficulty. Only a few dishes can be said to be "real" Kazakh dishes. These are mainly various dishes made from boiled mutton, camel meat and horse meat.
To start a classical Kazakh banquet, the milk of the animals is served, either with tea or fermented in the form of Kumys or Schubart. Then Baursaki, raisins, Irimshik or Kurt are served. The following starters made from mutton or horse meat can be enough to satisfy most guests. As a banquet in a Jurte always goes on for a long time, and after a while there is also room for a further opulent meat dish. These dishes are usually served with Sorpa, a strong broth in which the meat was cooked. Thinly rolled out pieces of dough boiled in the broth serve to provide carbohydrates. The meal ends with more Kumys and finally with tea.
These days there are many dishes of Arabic, Tartar, Usbeki, Ugrian, Korean and Russian origin. However, all of these dishes are eaten in company with large quantities of vodka.
The hotels are of a good standard in all large towns. However, in some districts there are only hostels with a "scouting" atmosphere. For these, as well as for camping accommodation, it is therefore important to bring your own sleeping bag.
The national currency of Kazakhstan is the Tenge. This currency can only be obtained in the country. However, Dollars and Euro can be exchanged everywhere without problems. The exchange rate is relatively stable at 170:1 (Euro); 130:1 (Dollar).
In some hotels and shops the prices are stated in "y.e." which simply means that the price is stated in Dollars, but payment should be made at the current rate in Tenge.
Travellers' cheques are only accepted by large banks. Credit cards are considerably more common, and EC cards with the Maestro symbol are now accepted in large towns.
Foreign calls in Kazakhstan begin with an 8, then 10 and then the dialling code for the country without 0, the local dialling code without 0, and the required telephone number.
Phone calls abroad are best made from a card-phone, from the post office, or from your hotel. Telephones in private houses must be cleared for long distance calls. The dialling code to Kazakhstan is: 007.
The local doctors and their diagnostic skills can be trusted. However, particularly in the provinces, the equipment of the surgeries, clinics or hospitals is very meagre. In case of serious illness you should definitely return home for treatment. If you need a doctor in an emergency, it is advisable to call 03 or to contact a large hotel.
Pharmacies are called "Derichana" in Kazakhish, and are common in towns. Important medicines can be bought there, even without a prescription. In case of emergency, the tour guide has a comprehensive first-aid kit. If you need certain daily medication, please ensure that you have an adequate supply with you.
Radioactivity in all accessible areas is lower than prescribed by the strict maximum values permitted in Europe.
Hygienic conditions in Kazakhstan do not correspond to European standards. Therefore, several precautions should be taken: wash your hands often, and do not drink tap water or water which has not been boiled. Wash fruit well before eating, or better still, peel it.
It is also advisable to check your general vaccination status – diphtheria, tetanus and polio. We also recommend vaccination against hepatitis A and B, typhoid and possibly rabies. Travellers should obtain information about infection and vaccination protection in good time and seek medical advice. Please refer to to the general information available from health authorities, doctors experienced in travel medicine, specialists in tropical medicine, travel medicine information services or the Federal Centre for Health Education [Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung].
Unfortunately, this can no longer be taken for granted in all parts of the country. In the 90's poverty led to many cables being cut and turned into cash. In some regions there can still be power cuts. In many houses, as well as in older hotels, the mains sockets are somewhat old-fashioned. Users who bring electrical appliances with them should ensure that they have flat plugs, or bring an adapter with them.
The mains voltage is normally 220 Volt, frequency 50 Hz.
Foreign currency may be imported without restriction. On the other hand, only US$3,000 or the equivalent in other currency may be imported without a declaration. The checks on leaving are usually stricter than when entering the country. If there are no significant events (purchase of weapons, fine art objects, drugs, rare animals or plants, either dead or alive, pornographic "literature" or fissile metals), no difficulties are to be expected. A permit is required for the export of fine art objects, antiques and carpets. This should be applied for in good time at the Kastejev Museum in Almaty.
Especially in rural areas it is not usual to greet women by shaking hands. Women should not be lightly dressed when visiting a mosque, and if possible they should cover their hair with a scarf. Sneezing and blowing your nose, especially at table, is considered unhygienic, whereby many Kazakhs smack their lip demonstratively if they like their food. Almost everywhere, people like to be photographed and filmed. However, permission should be asked first, especially if people in uniform are in the picture.
Photography is restricted at railway stations and airports, and generally forbidden with object of national security.
"Opportunity makes thieves". To prevent problems, various things should be noted: Valuables and luggage should not be left in the car or otherwise left unattended. We recommend that you do not wear conspicuous jewellery and that you keep valuables close to your person. You should also keep your eyes open regarding what is going on around you. In addition, your cash should not be kept in one place.
As well as this, photocopies of all important documents should be kept separate from the originals.
This information has been compiled to the best of our knowledge, however this may be subject to change. We are not liable for the accuracy of the stated information.