Back to category Published: 16 july 2021 Author: Галина

Geography of Kazakhstan

The ninth largest country in the world is located in the heart of Eurasia. Kazakhstan stretches over an area of 2.75 million square kilometers (1.06 sq mi), roughly the same area as all of Western Europe. It stretches from west to east from the Caspian Sea to the Altai Mountains, and from north to south from Western Siberia to the southern deserts and mountain ranges of the Northern Tien Shan. A small part of Kazakhstan is in Eastern Europe, while most of the country is in Asia. Of the 14 regions of the country in the European part of Kazakhstan are Atyrau, Western Kazakhstan, partly Aktobe and Mangystau regions.

In administrative-territorial terms, Kazakhstan is divided into 14 regions. Three settlements have the status of City of Republican Significance: they are the capital of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan, and the cities of Almaty and Shymkent. In addition, there is a city with a special status in the country — Baikonur. The territory of the city and the cosmodrome of the same name are leased by Russia until 2050, and it has the status of a city of the federal significance of the Russian Federation.

The population of Kazakhstan is 19 million people. This is one of the lowest population densities in the world: just under 6 people per square kilometer. The most densely populated city is Almaty, with over two million inhabitants.

To the north and northwest, Kazakhstan borders Russia, the longest, uninterrupted land border in the world. In the south - with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, and in the east - with China. All countries are connected through the territory of Kazakhstan by roads of national importance, as well as by railways.

The territory of Kazakhstan is located in the heart of Eurasia and it is historically the shortest route for the movement of goods, cargo, and passengers between the two parts of the Eurasian continent, Europe and Southeast Asia. Earlier the Great Silk Road passed through the territory of Kazakhstan, today it is its modern analog - the international road transport corridor Western Europe — Western China. Air transport connection is also developing and increasing its volume. The cities of Almaty and Nur-Sultan are convenient connection hubs on the route from some Southeast Asian countries to Europe and vice versa.

Such a huge country lives in two time zones. The west of Kazakhstan is in the fifth time zone (GMT+5) and the center and east of the country are in the sixth time zone (GMT+6). Those tourists who come to Kazakhstan from other countries may need some temporary acclimatization.

Kazakh landscapes: steppe, mountains, taiga, and wetlands

The Great Steppes. Most of the country, almost a third of its territory, is occupied by the Great Kazakh Steppe, the largest plain in the world. Its area is more than 804.500 square kilometers (310.62 sq mi). This is several times more than the largest plains in the world. Even the famous American prairies and African savannahs are much smaller.

A variety of landscapes. But Kazakhstan has not only the Great Steppe. Everything you can imagine is here. The high mountains of the Northern Tien Shan with their glaciers, snowy peaks, alpine meadows and valleys, the Altai Mountains of Eastern Kazakhstan, the Dzungarian Alatau Range in the Almaty region, and the Karatau Mountains in the Turkestan and Zhambyl regions.
You can also find real hot sandy deserts and semi-deserts Betpak-Dala and Moyinkum, with dunes, not inferior to the famous sands of the Sahara. There is a real Siberian taiga in Altai. The only thing missing is the tropical jungle, but even without it, there is a lot to see in Kazakhstan.

The highest point in Kazakhstan is Khan Tengri Peak. It is located on the Tengri-Tag Ridge, on the border of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China. Its height is 7.010 meters (22.999 ft), taking into account the ice cover. The height of Khan Tengri without taking into account the ice strata is 6.995 meters (22.949 ft). Its name in translation from Turkic means Lord of the sky.

Kazakhstan's lowest point, the Karagiye Hollow, is located on the Mangystau Peninsula, 132 meters (433 ft) below sea level. As a result, the altitude difference between the highest and lowest points in Kazakhstan is 7,142 meters (23.432 ft), which can be called one of the most serious indicators among all countries of the world.

Wetlands. The Caspian Sea is the largest lake in the world, an inland sea that washes the territory of Kazakhstan to the west. To the southwest is the unique and infamous drying Aral Sea. Large freshwater lakes Balkhash, Zaisan, Alakol, Borovoye are nowadays the real nature reserves and the favorite places of rest not only of the Kazakhstan citizens but also of the guests from all over the world. Small lakes, such as lakes Kolsay and Kayindy, located near Almaty, are also unique natural sites.

Kazakhstani rivers are another special part of Kazakhstan`s nature. Large rivers: Irtysh, Ishim, Ural, Syr Darya, Ili, and many small rivers are a real boon for the fishing tourists. Rafting on rafts and kayaks is organized on many rivers for fans of extreme recreation.
The Irtysh is the longest river in Kazakhstan, its sources are in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China. After gaining strength, the river flows through the whole of Kazakhstan, goes to Russia, and becomes the main left tributary of the Ob, one of the three largest Siberian rivers. Interestingly, the length of the Irtysh is 4,248 km (2.639 mi), which exceeds the length of the Ob itself. The Irtysh is officially considered the longest tributary in the world.

Mineral Resources are also a kind of unique attraction of Kazakhstan. Its subsoil contains practically the entire Mendeleev's table. Our country is one of the world's ten largest exporters of oil and gas. It has the second-largest reserves of uranium, chromium, lead, and zinc in the world. Manganese reserves are the third-largest in the world. Kazakhstan is also in the top ten in coal, iron, and gold reserves. Not many people know that Kazakhstan is one of the exporters of diamonds to the world market.

Flora and fauna. Naturally, such a variety of natural landscapes implies the presence of the richest and most diverse flora and fauna. Out of more than 6,000 plant species, more than 500 can be found only in Kazakhstan in limited areas. For example, here grows saxaul (Haloxylon) tree specific to the Central Asian deserts, the wood of which is so thick that it sinks in the water, an amazing creation of nature, the Greig tulip (lat. Túlipa gréigii), whose petals reach 12-15 cm (4.2-5.92 in), the blue Tien Shan firs, wild Sivers apple tree (Málus sievérsii), which is considered the progenitor of all modern varieties of apples.

The animal world of Kazakhstan is no less diverse than the plant world. Many animals that live here are included in the Red Book: for example, the irbis (or snow leopard), saiga antelope, gazelle, steppe bustard. There are such rare animals as the Ustyurt mouflon or urial, honey badger of the family of the Mustelidae, Brandt's (long-needle) hedgehog, and wild cats: manul, caracal, sand cat (Felis margarita), and the famous Asian cheetah. 

Natural Sights of Kazakhstan

Naturally, in such a huge country like Kazakhstan, there are many beautiful places to go and interesting things to see. But some places a tourist just has to visit. Here's a little checklist of the most interesting natural attractions in Kazakhstan:

       •   Borovoye is a resort on the territory of the “Burabay” National Nature Park. A mountain oasis with numerous lakes in the north of Kazakhstan.
       •   The Caspian Sea is an inland sea in the west of Kazakhstan, the largest lake in the world.
       •   The Balkhash is a semi-precious lake, one of the largest lakes in Central Asia. The uniqueness of the lake is that it is divided by a narrow strait into two parts with different chemical characteristics of water — in the western part it is practically fresh, and in the eastern part it is salty.
       •   Alakol is a lake and a resort on the territory of the Alakol Nature Reserve. It is home to many species of rare birds.
       •   Charyn Canyon — the canyon of the Charyn River, according to many tourists, is no less beautiful than the famous Grand Canyon in Colorado.
       •   The Aral Sea is a drainless, drying, and disappearing sea. Due to improper irrigation policies, it has almost dried up at present. On the shallowed bottom of the Aral Sea, the remains of two settlements and the mausoleum of the XI-XIV centuries were found.
       •   Ustyurt Plateau, a plateau with unique shale formations resembling Martian landscapes. The area is the territory of the Ustyurt Nature Reserve. 
       •   The Northern Tien Shan and attractions of The Dzungarian Alatau: mountain lakes Kolsay and Kayindy, Burkhan-Bulak waterfall (the highest waterfall in Central Asia), as well as numerous waterfalls, mountain plateaus, and peaks.
       •   The Altai is the cradle of civilizations. A place of beautiful wildlife, beautiful mountains, and unique historical sites.
       •   Khan-Tengry Peak is the highest point in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Its height is 6995 meters (22.949 ft) above sea level.
       •   The Karagiye Hollow is the lowest point (-132 meters (-433 ft) from sea level) in Kazakhstan and the entire territory of the former Soviet Union.   
       •   The Betpak-Dala Desert is a desert and semi-desert area in the south of Kazakhstan. The habitat of the saiga antelope, which is included in the Red Book.

National Parks of Kazakhstan (13)

  • Bayanaul State National Nature Park. Pavlodar region.
  • Ile-Alatau State National Nature Park. Almaty region.
  • State National Nature Park Altyn-Emel” Almaty region.
  • State National Nature Park Kokshetau Akmola region and North Kazakhstan region.
  • Karkarala State National Nature Park. Karaganda region.
  • State National Nature Park "Burabay". Akmola region.
  • Katon-Karagai State National Nature Park. East Kazakhstan region.
  • Charyn State National Nature Park. Almaty region.
  • Sairam-Ugam state national nature park. South Kazakhstan region.
  • Kolsai Lakes State National Nature Park Almaty region.
  • Zhongar-Alatau State National Nature Park. Almaty region.
  • Buiratau State National Nature Park. Akmola region and Karaganda region.
  • Tarbagatai State National Nature Park. East Kazakhstan region.

It was planned to open two more national parks by 2020, but they are still in the planning stages:

Nature Reserves of Kazakhstan (10)

  •   Aksu-Zhabagly State Nature Reserve. It was founded in 1926. The first and oldest nature reserve in Kazakhstan is where the unique Greig tulip (lat. Túlipa gréigii) grows. Here is also the habitat of the rare snow leopard. It is located in the Turkistan and Zhambyl regions.
  •    Almaty State Nature Reserve. It was founded in 1931. The main purpose of the reserve is to protect and study the natural complexes of the Northern Tien Shan. It is located in the Almaty region.
  •    Naurzum State Nature Reserve, founded in 1931. 20 years after its creation, the reserve was closed but was restored in 1966. It is located on the territory of the Kostanai region.
  •    Barsakelmes State Nature Reserve. It was founded in 1939. The only reserve in Kazakhstan and the CIS with extreme environmental conditions. It is located in the zone of the ecological disaster on a global scale (decrease of the level and disappearance of the Aral Sea).
  •    Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve was founded in 1968. It is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the Saryarka — Steppes, and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan. It is located in Akmola and Karaganda regions.
  •    Markakol State Nature Reserve was founded in 1976, in the East Kazakhstan region.
  •    Ustyurt State Nature Reserve. It was founded in the Mangystau region in 1984.
  •    West-Altai State Nature Reserve was founded in 1992 in the East Kazakhstan region.
  •    Alakol State Nature Reserve. It was founded in 1988 and expanded to its current size on October 5, 2010. It is located on the territory of Almaty and East Kazakhstan regions.
  •    Karatau State Nature Reserve, founded in 2004 in the Turkistan region. The youngest Kazakhstani nature reserve.

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