The most popular way of getting around Kazakhstan on land is by train. As the largest landlocked country in the world (ninth largest overall), the trains offer arguably the most enjoyable and convenient form or travelling.
Traveling by train
The main train stations are found in the capital Astana, Almaty and Karaganda. Travel tickets are typically very affordable, and the ticketing and reservation systems follow the old Soviet Railways system and are very similar to how Russia does it today.
A train trip from Almaty to Astana alone takes about 24 hours, but the trip is well worth it, providing a great way to meet people and get to know more about the local culture. Vodka drinking parties are known to burst into life at the slightest provocation, and it’s common for local passengers to pack vodka and plenty of food to last the trip.
As there are not many good restaurants along the way, it’s a good idea to bring your own food as well - perhaps you could even exchange some for a glass of that vodka! If you run out of supplies there are food vendors at each station, but note that the trains only stop for around 15-20 minutes.
If you are in a bit more of a hurry, the Talgo express train can cover the distance between Astana and Almaty in just 9 hours, but it is much more expensive.
Traveling by bus
Kazakhstan is perhaps the only country in the world where the buses are faster than the trains, and are are a popular alternative because of this and the cheaper ticket prices. They are less comfortable, however, since long-distance bus rides are often crowded with people, produce and even livestock. You will need to buy tickets in advance if you want to guarantee having a seat.
Taking the public bus is a popular way of getting around the major cities of Almaty, Astana and Atyrau. There are a number of public transportation systems to choose from in the cities such as buses, minibuses, trams and trolleys. Despite their popularity, they are often crowded and never come on schedule. There are no planned or scheduled bus stops either, so make sure you wave down an approaching bus and let the driver know when you want to get off. This final point might prove difficult for expats, as the drivers often only speak Russian; it might be a good idea to get to grips with the local language before venturing out.
A fun and cheap alternative to the public transport system is the marshrutka - old vans that have seen better years that drive around the city. They have a sign with their destination in Russian, and the driver will normally call it out when you’re getting on. You can find marshrutka in most towns apart from Almaty.
Traveling by air
Some tourists and expats who can afford it find it much more convenient to get around Kazakhstan by plane. Air Astana is the main local carrier, offering trips to major cities across this Central Asian state.
This article was contributed by Optimum Translation Agency, offering language services in Kazakh, Russian and English.