Our hostel host Ksenia Leonova was incredibly helpful and a wealth of information about Kazakstan. We sat down with with her over breakfast and asked her to give us her favorite tips about her country.
Tell us about yourself
I am originally from Almaty. First I worked in the Kazakstan tourist office for local and international tourists. After that I started work at Local Hostel which is owned by my friends. I really love my work and interesting for me to meet other tourists and foreigners. I love learning about their culture and trips.
What kind of tourists do you typically see?
We see a lot of Wild Tourists, those really interested in the nature and being out in the world. We mainly have European tourists, most of whom from Germany and France. We’ve started to see students from American on gap year after college. We also see a lot of tourist from Russia.
Favorite thing about Almaty
I love our nature, it is very wild. We have wild animals, birds, and places with flowers and trees without a lot of cars. We have a lot of ways to travel in nature: bike, kayak, horse, or however you wish.
Favorite thing about Kazakhstan
We love meat. We sometimes have vegetarians come visit and it is crazy to me that someone could come here and only eat vegetarian?
What is Kazak food?
Meat with meat. Horse meat, lamb meat, sometimes pork and beef. We don’t like chicken. Here in Kazkastan we have a mixed kitchen like a cocktail of food from Uzbekistan, Chinese, Georgia, Russian, Ukranian. It’s not one cuisine it’s all the food together.
What are your top recommendations for things to do around Almaty?
- Nature: Visit our mountains, this is the most interesting region of Kazkastan for hiking. There are lots of National Parks and also the Tianshan Mountains which is the range between Kazakstan and China.
- If you want to go somewhere with the most beautiful mountain and very little people go to Zaliikyskiy Alatay. It is about one hour by car from the Big Almaty Lake.
- A great two day trip from Almaty is to first visit Charyn Canyons, it looks like Bryce Canyon. From there go to Kolsai Lake from there camp at the villlage called Saty. There are many guests houses there as well as very local food! The next day visit Kaindy Lakes, there are three lakes that make up this area. The 3rd lake borders Kazkastan and Krygistan. You can see Kyrgistan from the 3rd lake.
- In the spring the most interesting place is Altyn Emel National Park, about 4 times the size of Hong Kong this national park has a diverse range of unique landscapes, historical sights and flora. The highlight are the Aktau hills which are a series of hills with bands of white, red, and orange running horizontally across the lake. In the spring time when it is windy, there is an area called the Singing Dunes because the winds makes beautiful organ noise.
- Animals: We love horses here, we call them the wing of men. There are many horses all around Kazakhstan. There are about 30-40 snow leopards in our mountains, they are very rare to see. Finally those falconry is a sport here for hunting.
- Culture: Almaty is no longer the capital as it was changed to Astana but we are the cultural capital of Kazakhstan. We have dramatic theater from Russia, Uigher, and Germany.
- In September, we have our City Days. It is on month of festivals with open air concerts, produce and ethical festivals.
- Shopping: We have lots of open air markets. There are markets called Barakholka which is like a city within the city. It has lots of vendors that sell anything you may need but you need to know the right place and how to negotiate the price.
What are the top things to do in Kazakhstan
Right now it is the Expo in Astana. They built a huge structure and some amazing buildings and sights to see. While it is happening it is the best thing to see in Kazakstan right now. Other than that Astana is not so interesting.
The best part of Kazakstan is in the eastern region. They have very nice mountains called Altay which are the ranges between Kazakstan and Russia. There are a lot of lakes with warm and healthy water.
What was your favorite trip?
I went on a group trip to Israel and met many people. There are also great mountains there!
I love the idea of Shabbatical, treating everyday like Saturday!