September 23 - October 3 2024

Explore Kazakhstan | Astana to Almaty (September)

Epic Kazakhstan Trip; Journey
in Remote Central Asia

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

From 2500 USD per person

Please apply by 1st September, 2024.

Explore Kazakhstan | Astana to Almaty (September)

Epic Kazakhstan Trip; Journey
in Remote Central Asia

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

From 2500 USD per person

This tour is managed by...

Simon Cockerell

Simon has been Koryo’s General Manager since 2002. He has travelled to North Korea more than 175 times and has probably been to the country more than any other Westerner. He is a respected speaker on the country and appears regularly in international media. He is also a tour specialist in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and the Russian Far East where he has personally designed and led multiple tours over the years.

  • Overall

    Our incredible Kazakhstan Tour is new and improved for 2024. This 10-night adventure 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 and the infamous Semipalatinsk. In two words, Gulags and Nukes. We will also visit Kurchatov. This is the Los Alamos of the USSR, where the Red Bomb was developed and tested.

    Plus, we will even visit The Polygon’. This vast nuclear testing range is 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. Plus, 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.

    NOTE: Access to the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Polygon is very much changeable with no prior notice. We plan to run the tour as scheduled. But, there is a chance that things may change. We may have to adjust which areas we visit, where we stay overnight, and so on. 
    We have explored this area thoroughly and have redundancies and backup plans in place. Rest assured all visitors will experience as much access to the sites as possible when they visit with Koryo Tours.

    Dates don’t suit? Check out our Explore Kazakhstan in May tour, or consider combining your tour with Turkmenistan. Contact us for details on private tours.

    Scroll down for an overview of our Explore Kazakhstan September tour highlights, tour itinerary, transport options, visa information, and extra add-ons.


    Koryo Tours International Tours

    Mongolia | Turkmenistan | Kazakhstan | Bhutan | Russia | Tajikistan 



    • Nur-Sultan: once the center of the Virgin Lands campaign, now the national capital.
    • Semipalatinsk Nuclear Polygon: the USSR’s testing range for atmospheric and underground nukes.
    • Semi-abandoned Karaganda in the heart of Kazakhstan, is also the heart of the old Central Asian Gulag system.
  • Itinerary

    Day 1 of 11
    1. September 23 | Monday

      Arrival Day

      Flights to Astana
      • Arrive at Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport (NQZ) from many international destinations. The latest recommended arrival time is before noon. Arriving even earlier is, of course, fine and can be accommodated.
      • Let us know which flight you will be on, and we will arrange your pick-up and transfer to the hotel.

      Welcome group dinner
      • We start our tour with a group dinner of some excellent local food, coordination, and a briefing session, before the adventure ahead!

      Accommodation | Hotel in Astana. Kazakhstan's shiny new Capital City!

      Included Meals | Dinner

    2. September 24 | Tuesday


      Astana City Tour
      • A new city rightly famed for its unique approach to architecture, Astana piles together 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.
      • Bayterek Tower | The icon of the city, this ornate monument has a viewing platform 97 metres above the ground. This relates to 1997 when Astana became the capital city. It 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!
      • Hazrat 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 | The building that architecturally sums up modern Astana more than any other. Another work-of-genius from Norman Foster, this ingenious structure looks somewhat like a lop-sided tent that maintains an even temperature year-round. It provides leisure facilities, shopping, and 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.

      Accommodation | Hotel in Astana

      Included Meals | Breakfast, Lunch

    3. September 25 | Wednesday

      Akmol and Karaganda

      • We take a drive out of the city to the nearby village of Akmol. It is home to the chilling Museum of the Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland.
      • Museum of the Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland | A sensitive area. It tells the story of the loan women sent here when their husbands were persecuted. Going to such a place could often be avoided with a divorce or public denunciation.  
      • Akmol sightseeing | We see a little more of this settlement on a walk around. A church, mosque, and apartment buildings now occupy this former gulag site before leaving for a 3-hour drive to the major city of Karaganda. We will stop for lunch along the way.
      • A large city with a very walkable centre, the Russian/Soviet influence in Karaganda is strong. Our guide from Karaganda will tell us all about the city. You're sure to find it fascinating!

        Our local guide can also recommend good spots for dinner and evening socializing.
      • An introductory walking tour of the city centre | Focusing on the architecture, history, and local culture of this city. All of which are varied and fascinating. We’ll visit the central park, and see and mix with locals spending leisure time here.
      • Local painter | He is 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.

      Accommodation | Chaika Hotel.

      This hotel is an amazing brutalist Soviet monstrosity. You will feel like you’ve entered a time-warp here. 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, and the building itself is timeless. 

      Included Meals | Breakfast, Lunch

    4. September 26 | Thursday

      Karaganda Region

      • We drive an hour out to the museum of KarLag, the local gulag system.
      • KarLag Gulag Memorial Museum | A dark part of history told through the rooms of this former NKVD HQ. State ‘enemies’ and 'departed nationalities' were interned here. 

        A vast number of them were Germans from the west and Koreans from the east and dumped in Central Asia due to Stalin’s paranoia about enemies within. 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.
      • The nearby town of Shahtinsk hosts us for lunch and some views of local industries. Primarily coal mining, but also steel production and agriculture.
      • We take a trip to a former execution ground marked by tasteful and meaningful memorials to the various nationalities whose people were among the unfortunate souls to perish here.
      • Alternatively, you can stay in Karaganda to further explore the city at your own pace.

      Accommodation | Chaika Hotel

      Included Meals | Breakfast, Lunch

    5. September 27 | Friday

      Return to Astana and Train to Kurchatov

      • We return to Astana by road in the morning.
      • Lunch with a local family | A special treat of local delicacies and traditional Kazakh hospitality awaits us when we arrive back in the Kazakh capital.
      • Free time before train departure to shop for some supplies for the overnight train ride ahead of us.
      Overnight Train through the Kazakh Steppe
      • All aboard! We jump onto a sleeper train making its way through the night and across the country to the city of Kurchatov, the home of the Soviet atomic weapons program.
      • Comfy beds and a clean restaurant await us, and rolling steppe outside the windows for this 800 km journey. In the evening, we will have a delicious homemade dinner delivered to us on the platform at Ekibastusz Station.

      Accommodation | Overnight train in 4-berth compartments

      Included Meals | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    6. September 28 | Saturday

      Semey, Nuclear Polygon, and Kurchatov

      • We arrive in the morning in the eastern city of Semey where we 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.
      Nuclear Polygon
      • Deep into the Polygon | We will head for a wide range of sites associated with the Soviet nuclear weapons program. This includes 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.

      • Atomic Lake | Formed by a deep underground nuclear blast, it was 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 180-meter-deep lake.
      • Roadside Picnic | To non-literature lovers, this is a joke – read this book and you will find some eerie similarities to this part of the trip.
      • After the picnic, we will continue to see some relics of the testing program.
      • A local expert will also be with us to explain in detail, answer questions, etc.
      • Kurchatov | The town 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.
      • As we arrive in Kurchatov, we will check in at our hotel used mainly by scientists still studying the effects of all the nuclear tests in this region.  

      Accommodation | Mayak Hotel.

      Another time-warp hotel with period furnishings and decor.

      Included Meals | Breakfast, Lunch

    7. September 29 | Sunday

      Kurchatov and Chagan

      • 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.

      Please note that this museum opens and closes at the whim of higher powers, so its opening cannot be guaranteed. If not open, we will have a lecture on the history of the area at a different location.

      • Semipalatinsk Polygon | We board our vehicle and take a drive deep into a formerly off-limits (very off-limits!) area. The nuclear testing ground was 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.
      • Cold War Bomber Base | Once a deeply secret long-range bomber base, today a deeply abandoned former long-range bomber base. See the massive runways where the Tupolev Tu-95s took off and landed, the remaining ammunition hangars, and the collapsing main buildings of the base.
      • Garrison Town | Nearby the Bomber Base, this is the place where the base staff was housed from 1954 to 1994 and now stands completely stripped like a spooky post-apocalyptic warning. A bit of UrbEx here.
      • Visit with a local family | The family used to live in Chagan. You will 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.

      Accommodation | Mayak Hotel

      Included Meals | Breakfast, Lunch

    8. September 30 | Monday


      Return to Semey
      • Semey | We leave Kurchatov and the Polygon/Test Field behind us today as we return to the administrative centre of the region, formerly known as Semipalatinsk. 

        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.
      Semey City Tour
      • Cultural Exchange (Koryo Tours Style) | We will spend some time with a very special group of people. The students of a local school that specializes in teaching disadvantaged children from more modest backgrounds.
      • They teach English to a very high level here. We will meet with some teachers and children from the school who will give us some information about their hometown and give us a performance. We will have a unique opportunity to learn from these kids as well as help them with a chance for conversation time with visitors. This is another Koryo Tours exclusive and something you will never forget.
      • Fine Arts Museum | Not just the best collection in Kazakhstan but also a display of abnormal anatomy, something quirky and troubling, especially with our trip to the nuclear test site coming up.
      • Stronger Than Death Monument | Located in the Tatar section of town, which is an attraction in itself we will explore some more. It shows the resilience of those who live and have lived in this remote part of the world.
      • Free time at your own leisure from the later afternoon to explore the city more. Have an evening out away from the shadow of nuclear tests, and enjoy a very unique place on a very special day.

      Accommodation | Semey Hotel.

      A 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!

      Included Meals | Breakfast, Lunch

    9. October 1 | Tuesday

      Semey and Domestic Flight to Almaty

      Semey City Tour
      • 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.
      • Lenin Alley | A common sight in Kazakhstan’s smaller cities. It is a collection of Lenins in a nice park setting. The central piece is awe-inspiring.
      • Victory Park | Statues, tank monument, and a hang-out place for locals.
      • Dostoyevsky Museum | The titan of Russian literature was exiled out here in Semipalatinsk and this museum explains the importance of his works. Pro-tip: Read Crime and Punishment before your visit.
      Domestic flight and arrival to Almaty
      • After an early lunch, we head to Semey Airport and board FlyAryastan flight KC7151 to Almaty, the former capital and the most charming city in the country.
      • Upon arrival, we will transfer to our hotel and you can head out to explore, enjoying the very lively coffee shop scene, hit up some amazing restaurants and bars, and 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!

      Accommodation | 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.

      Included Meals | Breakfast, Lunch

    10. October 2 | Wednesday


      Almaty City Tour
      • We embark on a walking tour of this amazing city nestled against the precipitous Tian Shan Mountain range and dotted with parks, theatres, boulevards, and much more.
      • 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's opulence and modern efficiency.
      • Green Bazaar and 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. This place is 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.
      • Central Mosque | With its broad ethnic mixture and clear secularism, it is easy to forget that Kazakhstan is a majority-Muslim country. We’ll have a look at the main mosque in Almaty to see how the locals worship and what their faith means to them.
      • 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, a 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. We’ll have a final lunch of the tour along the way. A fitting relaxing end to an intense, mind-blowing week!
      Free time at own leisure
      • You may also wish to spend more time exploring Almaty. A truly lovely city, walkable, with friendly people, and lots to see and do.

      Accommodation | Hotel Kazakhstan

      Included Meals | Breakfast, Lunch

    11. October 3 | Thursday

      Departure Day

      • Flights leave from Almaty International Airport (ALA) to various destinations both international and domestic. Let us know when and where you are going and we will get you there on time!
      • 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, 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.
      Koryo Tours Turkmenistan Tour
      • Join our tour of Turkmenistan! If you take this option not only do you join the ranks of Koryo Tours’ extra-special veterans but you also get an extra night in Ashgabat for free of charge.
      • We fly from Almaty to Ashgabat this afternoon with a connecting flight.
      • Upon arrival to Turkmenistan, we meet our local partners and have time to relax, explore, and do whatever you like until the tour begins.
      • Continue your Central Asia adventure with us. It’s the best way to see the most amazing parts of the region!
      • You can book our Kazakhstan And Turkmenistan Adventure here.
  • 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 and a Koryo Tours tour leader
    • Meals other than those taken at leisure
    • Accommodation
    • Internal flight and internal trains
    • 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 50 per night
    • International flights to and from Kazakhstan
    • Visa fee, if applicable
  • Notes

    How to Apply

    Simply 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 or comments about this trip get in touch with Simon Cockerell at [email protected].

    We ask for applications to be completed 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 where you are headed after the tour (we can offer advice on this, drop us a line to discuss).

    We also require a deposit to be paid at this time as we start taking on administrative costs as well as an obligation to pay for the visa invitation as soon as we send off an application. We ask for a deposit of 50% of the tour fee.

    Kazakhstan Visa

    Most nationals can travel to Kazakhstan without a visa. However, please note that if you require a visa, you will need to pay this fee yourself.

    To check whether you need a visa or not, please visit the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

    Cancellation and Refunds

    We practice the same cancellation policy with this tour as we do with our DPRK tours. Please check our Terms and Conditions for further details.

    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.

    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 be able to attend the trip when making the final booking.

    If the tour is cancelled by Koryo Tours for any reason then a full refund is made.

    In all cases, we return as much as we can and we do not take a fee for client's cancellation.

    Please be sure that you will be joining the tour when you send all application details.

Please apply by 1st September, 2024.

[email protected] | + 86 10 6416 7544
WhatsApp (message only): +44 7822 014058
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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