Zenkov Cathedral in Almaty © Andyrejoices
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world and the largest landlocked country in the world, with a landmass that nearly eclipses Western Europe. Although little visited by outsiders, its rich cultural history speaks to its diverse demographics and, bordered by Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan's magnificent natural landscape has become home to many people from neighbouring nations; a friendly and hospitable, but reserved society.
Kazakhstan was formerly a Soviet Republic, but gained independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, becoming the last nation to leave the Union. The rugged terrain of the country boasts diverse natural beauty, ranging from the arid, treeless steppes of the centre to the snow-capped peaks and glaciers of the Tian Shan mountain range, down to the canyons, turquoise lakes and alpine meadows of the Almaty area.
Rich in natural resources such as oil, natural gas and minerals, Kazakhstan has huge economic potential. Although there is still widespread poverty in the country, and unemployment and inflation are rife, oil exports have caused massive economic growth in recent years.
Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan and is one of the main commercial hubs, home to many major government organisations and foreign businesses. Leafy Almaty, situated in the fertile fruit-producing region in the southeast is the former capital of Kazakhstan and is the largest city in the country. Famed for its beautiful architecture, grand ballet and opera houses, public sculptures and market stalls, Almaty is the cultural centre of Kazakhstan and well worth a visit.
Other sights and activities in Kazakhstan include skiing, visiting the Baikonur Cosmodrome (the prominent spaceport launch site), bird watching in Korgalzhyn, and visiting one of the country's striking nature reserves where visitors can see animals like bears, ibex and raptors.