Back to category Published: 06 march 2023 Author: Zhanna Mukhatzhanova

Saryarka – the Great Steppe of Central Kazakhstan


Saryarka, also known as the Great Steppe or the Kazakh Uplands, is a vast region in northern and central Kazakhstan that encompasses the grassy steppe, semi-desert, and desert ecosystems. It covers a total area of over 700,000 square kilometers making it the largest continuous plain in the world. It is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, including saiga antelopes, wolves, foxes, and various species of birds.

The region has a long history of human settlement and has been inhabited by various nomadic tribes for thousands of years. Today, the Great Steppe of Kazakhstan remains an important cultural and economic center for the country, with many traditional customs and practices still prevalent in the region.

Saryarka is also rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, and minerals such as coal, iron ore, and copper. These resources have played an important role in the development of Kazakhstan's economy.

The region has a harsh continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. Temperatures can range from -50°C (-58°F) in the winter to over 40°C (104°F) in the summer.

Saryarka & UNESCO

The Great Steppe hosts various fascinating ecosystems. In 2008, Saryarka became the first natural site in Kazakhstan to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, recognizing its unique and diverse wildlife. The region's swamps and lakes are home to numerous rare migratory bird species, including the curly pelican, Siberian crane, pink flamingo, and long-tailed eagle. One of the most remarkable inhabitants of the region is the saiga antelope, an amazing relic animal whose appearance has hardly changed since the Ice Age. The saiga antelope is listed in the Red Book of Kazakhstan, and any hunting or harm to them is strictly prohibited.

The local lakes are divided into two types – fresh and salty – creating a diverse and unique ecosystem that supports a wide range of plant and animal life. The Tengiz-Korgaljyn Lakes, for instance, are one of the most significant breeding grounds for waterfowl in Central Asia, hosting over 300 species of birds.

The area’s unique wetlands are included in the Korgaljyn and Naurzum Nature Reserves, which are worth visiting if you’re into birdwatching or ornithology.

Karkaraly National Park

Hidden gems of the Great Steppe

The vast territory of the Great Steppe offers a wealth of beautiful sights, rich historical and cultural monuments, vibrant cities, as well as protected areas, lakes, and rocks that make it a truly remarkable region to explore.

First of all, Saryarka hosts the country’s capital – Astana, a futuristic and vibrant city. Another major city is Karaganda, the mining capital of Kazakhstan.

One of Saryarka’s premier sights is the Ulytau Mountains, which many people call «The Cradle of the Kazakh Nation.» This place witnessed some of the crucial events in the history of Kazakhstan. It’s also the final resting place of many Kazakh rulers, including Jochi Khan, Genghis Khan’s firstborn son.

Located on the southeastern outskirts of Saryarka, Lake Balkhash is one of the world's largest lakes with a unique feature – half of its water is fresh and the other half is salty. Another lake in the area is Shaitankol, also known as the «Devil's Lake,» which is part of Karkaraly National Park and is popular among tourists. Inside the park is the Bronze Age Kent settlement, including the ruins of a Buddhist temple.

Lake Shalkar, with its salty water and abundant fish, is an excellent choice for a beach holiday with an active twist. Bayanaul National Park is another must-see attraction in Saryarka, with its Kempirtas Rock and Konyr-Aulie Cave. Buyratau National Park is home to Argali and rare black alder trees, especially in the Karaagash Tract.

The Kokshetau Nature Reserve is famous for its pine, birch, and aspen forests, representing the taiga-steppe species of flora and fauna. The Kumai archaeological complex showcases ancient burials dating back to different eras, including the largest number of Turkic tribe statues in Central Kazakhstan.

The Falcon Mountains provide an incredible panorama of the Great Steppe, while the ledges of Zhaushoky, resembling a layered cake, are a favorite among rock climbers. The Aiganym estate, built in 1824, is significant in that its owner was a relative of Abylai Khan (a ruler who united the Kazakhs under the Kazakh Khanate) and the grandmother of the famous Kazakh traveler and historian Shoqan Walikhanov. The memorial complex of Karasai and Agyntai batyrs, built on the grave of two great Kazakh warriors, is included in the list of «Sacred places of Kazakhstan.»

The Kyzylarai Mountains are home to the highest peak in the entire Saryarka, Aksoran, standing at 1565 m (5135 ft). In the vicinity of Kyzylarai, many archaeological finds dating from different periods were discovered, including the Begazy Necropolis, built using huge blocks of stone.

The Great Steppe is still largely unexplored, with many more secrets and legends, burial places, and monuments waiting to be discovered.

Kyzylarai Mountains
Kyzylarai Mountains

Other attractions in Saryarka:

  • Lakes Azhybay, Toraigyr, Jasybay, Birzhankol, Aiyrtaushyk, Imantau, and Sultankeldy
  • Ortau Mountains
  • Aulie Peak
  • Jetykudyk (Jetykazan) Tract
  • The ruins of Aktau fortification;
  • Ayakkamyr Mausoleum
  • Settlement of Baskamyr
  • Khan Ordasy (Khan's Headquarters)
  • Rock paintings in the Tamdy Valley
  • Timur's plate on the Altynshoky Hill
  • Akjar Mountains
  • Shunak meteorite crater
  • Monument to the unity of the peoples of Kazakhstan
  • KARLAG and A.L.ZH.I.R labor camps

Recommended tours:

View all offers

Read more:

Send comment

Your email address will not be published
Please Rate 1-10