Skip to content

Why a trip to Kazakhstan should be on your bucket list

Feb. 16, 2020
6 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

When I first told my family I had planned a weeklong trip to Kazakhstan I was met with confusion, followed quickly by the Kazakh national anthem as sung in Borat. In short, it's safe to say that this Central Asian country is missing from many Westerner's travel plans — and it shouldn't be. Let me tell you why.

It's cheap

Chances are that if you're on a points and miles website you're looking to make the most of your currency. Whether you're rolling in reward miles or are simply looking to save a little cash, Kazakhstan is where you want to be. I found this trip much the same way I do with other trips — by trawling hotel's destination lists and finding a property that suited my award category needs. In this case, it was the Category 4 Ritz-Carlton Almaty that drew my eye, as it meant I could use my old Marriott Hotel + Air certificate to stay seven nights for free.

The hotel itself was fabulous, high-end and well located. (It is, after all, a Ritz). But even if you don't have a Marriott certificate, there are a plethora of options from which to choose. The Intercontinental Almaty costs just 25,000 points/night while the Hilton Astana can be had for 28,000 points/night.

When I say cheap, I don't mean just hotels, either. Everything is inexpensive — whether it's the local Uber app or the country's top fine-dining, your dollars go far here. A four-course meal can be had for $10 and your cab ride home is under $5. In short, it's easy to feel like a royal in this landlocked country.

Even better, flights to and from Kazakhstan are simple. The country's two main airports are Almaty (ALA) and Nur-Sultan (TSE). While it's not necessarily the cheapest location to fly to (you'll generally find flights for around $650 round-trip), there are tons of daily flights to these main airports. For those looking to travel with award miles, Star Alliance is heavily represented with Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and LOT. Aeroflot also flies in for Skyteam loyalists, and for those who don't mind paying cash Air Astana is the coolest little non-alliance airline you'll find.

It's delightfully different

I may get a little flak for this from my new Kazakh friends, but Kazakhstan is unique. Do they think so? Probably not, but to a Westerner, the country is unlike any other place I've been. Thousands of years old and with huge significance on the Silk Road, Kazakhstan is an amalgamation of ancient culture, Asian influence, nomadic tribes and Soviet era buildings.

They speak Russian and are culturally Muslim, though most folks I met celebrated Ramadan and not much else. My own tour guide spent her childhood in a yurt before moving to the city to pursue tourism, a budding industry with little development.

In fact, that's one of the best things I found about this country: lack of tourists. While Russians were sporadic and we saw a few Koreans, Westerners were far and few between. Kazakhstan is a highly developed country without a raging tourist industry, and I loved it. (I am aware of the irony as I myself am a tourist, but I digress).

In a yurt, without our shoes, with Arabic prayers on the walls. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy).

They also drink beer with a straw.

Sign up for our daily newsletter
When in Kazakhstan?
When in Kazakhstan? (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy).

It's breathtaking

To be honest, when I booked this trip I had little idea about what I was getting myself into. It turns out I had no need to worry. Although I spent the majority of my time in Almaty, the country's once capital and home of over 2 million people, the whole country is gorgeous.

The view from our hotel room. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy).

Whether you're looking to head to the mini Grand Canyon or the turquoise waters of Big Almaty Lake, everywhere you look you'll find stunning natural scenery.

Big Almaty Lake.
Big Almaty Lake. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy).

And although the capital of Kazakhstan switched from Almaty to Astana (now known as Nur-Sultan) just over 20 years ago, the new capital has come bursting out of the ground with style. From fanciful towers to futuristic pyramids, the city is an exercise in artful architecture.

Photo by kuanish Sarsenov/Pixabay.
Photo by kuanish Sarsenov/Pixabay.

It's action-packed

If you're thinking this all sounds great but wondering what you'd actually do during your trip, you're in luck. If you're staying in Almaty, you can head to Kok Tobe and ride the world's scariest (opinion) gravity-powered roller coaster. You can also saunter over to Medeu for a spot of skiing and a 30-minute cable ride through the mountains.

There are food tours and wine bars and dinners with locals, singing dunes and petroglyphs and huge markets where they'll sell you fermented horse's milk. There are nomadic yurt excursions and falconry and hiking to your heart's content. Is your mind boggled yet?

Charyn Canyon. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy).
Charyn Canyon. (Photo by Carissa Rawson/The Points Guy).

How about train rides across the Silk Road or day trips to Russia and Kyrgyzstan? Everyone is warm and welcoming, and although not everyone speaks English, everyone is willing to try.

Bottom line

I hope I've convinced you. While it may not have been first on your list for vacations, Kazakhstan is a wild and wonderful country with a beautiful history and a bright future. Head there now to see it for yourself.

Feature photo by Carissa Rawson.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023