Kazakhstan is a country of incredibly diverse nature. From its high snow-capped mountains to its dense emerald forests, its expansive wide steppe to its smooth lakes, and its hot deserts to its sinuous rivers. There is plenty to explore, so it’s not surprising that tourists from around the world are realising its potential. In 2019, the Kazakhstan government registered more than nine million tourists entering the country, a new record, as well as a 10% increase from the year before.
Tourism authorities in Kazakhstan are keen to preserve their natural and cultural heritage as the destination’s popularity increases — they are embracing ecotourism to do so. There are now several ecological nature-based tour opportunities which promote environmental education and cultural awareness in the Central Asian country.
1. What is ecotourism?
As defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), the oldest and largest ecotourism organisation, ecotourism is ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the wellbeing of the local people, and involves interpretation and education’.
The aim of this type of tourism is to encourage visitors to learn about the destination and visit responsibly, respecting both the natural and cultural environment, and to foster a positive relationship between tourist and destination, encouraging them to respect and appreciate it, and therefore understand the need to protect it.
2. Ecotourism in Kazakhstan
The Ecotourism Information Resource Center (EIRC) was opened in 2005 by Kazakhstan Tourism Association with the support of The Eurasia Foundation. EIRC promotes ecotourism, supporting the development of local communities and providing information and tours for tourists. It enables visitors to discover the best of Kazakhstan through ecotourism routes, providing experiences alongside untouched nature and typical rural life.
It offers the opportunity to get to know the people who live and work in these scenic places. Importantly, all excursions and services are provided by local people themselves, and tourists get the chance to visit protected areas whilst staying in guest houses, using environmentally friendly products and experiencing the boundless hospitality of the local people. Through ecological nature-based tours, tourists can absorb the beauty of the country’s nature, feel the warmth of local hospitality and discover the life of nomadic culture.
3. Ecological nature-based activities
Types of ecotourism vary throughout the country. In Western Kazakhstan you can get adventurous with mountain biking or hiking, or learn about the fascinating history of the region by taking a trip along the Great Silk Road before visiting the archaeological sights of Ustyurt. Eastern Kazakhstan offers skiing in its great mountains, or nature watching at Markakol reserve which is rich in wildlife; elk, foxes, lynx, and Siberian stags to name just a few.
The unique caves in Northern Kazakhstan make for a fascinating visit, or for something more active try some water-based activities on one of the regions many lakes and rivers. Central Kazakhstan offers the incredible steppe landscape of Saryarka, and to take a look at some intriguing ancient rock paintings, head to South Kazakhstan. There are a variety of eco tours to suit every interest, and the EIRC can help you decide which type of experience you are looking for.
4. Local hosts
There is a network of ecological accommodation sites to stay in during your tour, and you will be hosted in guest houses in rural villages, surrounded by beautiful nature and traditional life. Hosts welcome tourists, showing the country’s hospitable nature, and money that you spend during your stay here remains in the village, contributing to and ensuring the development of rural communities.
Accommodations vary in size, from guest houses for small groups, such as Ecosite Ugam which has guest houses that fit between 2-12 people, to larger accommodations, for example Ecosite Zhabagly which has (among others) a boarding house with 26 places. There is plenty of choice, and information on each site, including its size, location, facilities and the activities offered can be found here.
5. What Kazakhstan has to offer
From the dizzy heights of the Tian Sian mountain range to the lush landscapes of the Tekes River Valley, to the Glaciers and Lakes of Trans-Ili Alatau, Kazakhstan is a unique country with plenty to offer the tourist. Finding the balance between tourism and protecting the heritage of such a country is not easy, but with Kazakhstan’s ecological tours there is promise.
By providing unforgettable holidays which at the same time benefit rural communities and help fund the future conservation of its precious environment, Kazakhstan is certainly striving to do its very best for tourists, inhabitants and nature alike.
For more information on Kazakhstan’s ecological tours offer see here.