ASTANA – Warm weather, relatively cheap prices and hospitable people is how one would describe Shymkent, the third largest city in Kazakhstan and the largest in terms of land area.
The city has grown significantly in the last decade and, as of 2017, the population was estimated at 943,000. Officials expect it to grow to one million this year.
Shymkent is located in the south of Kazakhstan not far from the Kazakh border with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Translated from Farsi and partially from Turkic as green city, Shymkent in its own right lives up to its name with beautiful green gardens and plantations spanning across the city.
The history of the city is rich, as the first settlement emerged in the 11th-12th centuries, though some historians believe in a much earlier emergence dating to the 5th-6th centuries based on archaeological excavation carried out in the city.
Throughout the centuries, the city was invaded by Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, the Dzungars, Kokand and Bukhara Khanates and finally the Russian empire.
Despite that, Shymkent withstood the incursions and managed to grow from a small settlement to a major industrial, trade and cultural centre.
Shymkent, therefore, offers a great chance to get to know Kazakh history better, as the city preserved a wide array of medieval monuments. Taking a trip to Otyrar, Turkestan and Sairam, located several kilometres from the city, will enrich one’s journey into the Kazakh history, as these are among the oldest settlements in the country.
Shymkent has an international airport and has flights to Moscow, Istanbul, Antalya, Urumchi, Dubai, Novosibirsk as well as many cities in Kazakhstan. The city is also accessible by train.
The city’s vibrant atmosphere – a mix of medieval and contemporary culture in one place – mesmerises tourists.
To immerse in the history, visitors can walk along Kazybek Bi Street to see old buildings that lived through the Russian empire, the Soviet Union and now independent Kazakhstan. The street hosts some of the oldest buildings in the city, including Ken Baba park that previously served as Cathedral Garden.
The Museum of Political Repressions depicting the horrors of Stalin purges and dekulakisation and collectivisation that left millions of people starving and dying offers a glance at the tragic, yet important part of the Kazakh history.
Among other popular places to visit are eight parks, including famous Ken Baba ethno Park and Independence Park opened on the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence, and theatres, including Satire and Humour Theatre and Puppet theatre.
Visitors also enjoy the city’s bazaars to immerse themselves in the city’s lively and vibrant buzz.
Newly built districts with high and fashionable buildings and streets with shopping malls, restaurants, cafes and bars also offer a completely different experience of a modern, vibrant city.
Shymkent has a wide choice of places to stay ranging from budget hostels to luxury hotels, including the 34,000-square-metre Rixos Khadisha Shymkent hotel unveiled in 2014.