The flag of Kazakhstan is quite unique and beautiful. It features the sun and a golden steppe eagle soaring on a sky blue background. Also featured is an ornamental ribbon on the left that depicts rams’ horns. The blue represents the endless Kazakh sky, as well as ethnic unity. The sun has 32 rays shaped like grain, which symbolizes wealth, prosperity, and welfare. The golden eagle has been a symbol of Kazakh tribes for hundreds of years and represents freedom, power, and insight for the future.
A Kazakh city break —
Almaty, Kazakhstan?! I will admit, I had never heard of Almaty until searching for direct flights under 5 hours from Dubai for a quick city break and came across this Central Asian gem. We were looking for a city break–an easy short distance destination–where we could spend a weekend exploring a city off the beaten tourist path. Once I started researching Almaty online and viewed pictures of the city and surrounding mountains, I was convinced to take a chance.
Upon landing at the Almaty International Airport, our first impression of Kazakhstan was the massive snow-capped Trans-Ili Alatau Mountains (part of the Northern Tian Shan mountain system). The Northern Tian Shan mountain chain, which reminded me of the Rocky Mountains in the USA, rise to over 5000 meters (over 16,000 feet!!) above sea level. We arranged transfer from the airport to our centrally located hotel, The Grand Tien Shan Hotel. The hotel was very nice and within walking distance to a number of good restaurants and Panfilov Park, a popular park among locals. The July weather was almost perfect as we walked throughout the city.
Our first impression of Kazakhstan as we landed; stunning snow-capped mountains!
Panfilov Park —
Panfilov Park is a centrally located park named after the Panfilov Heros, the 28 soldiers of an Almaty infantry unit who died fighting the Nazis outside Moscow. Ivan Panfilov was the name of the General commanding the division who, in spite of suffering heavy losses, managed to significantly delay the enemy’s advance on the city, buying time for backup forces thereby saving the city. The large black monument depicts soldiers from all 15 Soviet republics.
Within Panfilov Park stands Chenkov Cathedral, also known as Ascension Cathedral, a candy-coloured Russian Orthodox church made entirely of wood (even the nails). It was constructed in 1907 and is the 2nd tallest wooden structure in the world. Religious services are still held in the cathedral. The park was buzzing with local people, street vendors, and entertainers.
First Presidents Park —
Opened in 2011, First Presidents Park is a beautiful public park (free admission) located on the south side of Almaty beautifully set against the grand Trans-Ili Alatau mountains. The park was built in honor of Kazakhstan’s first (and only) president Nursultan Nazarbayev who has retained office since the country gained independence from Soviet rule in 1993. The park is quite large, roughly 1.5 km end-to-end, so wear your good walking shoes. The gardens are beautifully manicured and everything is very green!
Day Trip into the Mountains —
With Almaty located at the foot of the Trans-Ili Alatau range, it was an easy 30-minute trip into the mountains up to the Shymbulak ski area. The mountains were gorgeous and massive with snow-capped peaks still in July. There is a gondola-type ski lift from the Medeu Valley up to Talgar Pass Station at some 3,200 meters (10,500 ft) above sea level. The vistas were breathtaking and the pictures really don’t do it justice.
Facts & Figures
— Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world by land mass
— Almaty literally means ‘city of apple trees’ and is famous for its wide variety of apple types; Almaty’s climate is ideal for growing apples
— Kazakhstan was under Russian control (Soviet Union) until 1993 when it became an independent nation; Russian is still the official language
— Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan where 9% of the country’s inhabitants reside
— Almaty was the nation’s capital until 1997 when it was moved to Astana, a more geographically centered location with less seismic activity
— Winter sports are the primary tourist attraction for Almaty, which hosted the 2011 Asian Winter Games and has bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics
— Kazakhstan currently offers visa-free tourist travel for up to 15 days for passport holders from some 18 countries, which includes the USA, UK, and UAE; the visa-free travel program is a pilot program that ends 31-Dec-2017
— We organized a private tour of the city one day and a private tour of the mountains the next day (including Medeo, Kok-Tobe, and Shymbulak ski area) through our hotel; prices were very reasonable; oddly, the private tours used the tour guide’s personal vehicle
— Almaty has many beautiful parks and tourist attractions, however there were not many tourists in July; winter is high season for tourism due to great skiing and winter sports
— English is not widely spoken in Almaty; we used the Google translate app on our iPhones to communicate with restaurant wait staff on a couple of occasions
— Currency used in Kazakhstan is the Tenge (₸)
If you are a world trekker like us and want to become more ‘worldly’, then you will want to try our books below. Thanks to the former British Empire and current Commonwealth, the English language is widely spoken across the world, however it is spoken quite differently depending on where you are traveling. We believe the books below are essential to worldly trekkers and think you will find them both fun and informative. The books include a dictionary of everyday words and phrases, traditional cuisine, some history and culture, and other handy information.
Simply click on the book covers below to find out more:
Psalm 96:11-12 – New Living Translation (NLT)
11 Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
12 Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
Let the trees of the forest sing for joy