Explore Day-Trip Adventures Beyond Astana’s Urban Core

ASTANA — While Astana exudes a modern, futuristic charm with its ever-evolving skyline, a short trip outside or around the city reveals untouched, picturesque landscapes and the delightful essence of old-world Kazakh culture. The Astana Times has compiled a range of adventurous yet relaxing day-trip activities near Astana, offering readers a chance to experience the city beyond its bustling urban core. 

The Astana Times correspondent Nagima Abuova with a group of horseback riders at Qulatay equestrian yard. Photo credit: The Astana Times / Nagima Abuova. Click to see the map in full size. The map is designed by The Astana Times.

Astana’s countryside horse riding 

Residents and visitors of the Kazakh capital can immerse themselves in traditional Kazakh equestrian culture with horseback riding tours in the countryside surrounding Astana. Several ranches and tour operators provide guided horseback riding experiences ranging from a few hours to several days, with prices ranging from 3,000 tenge ($6) to 25,000 tenge ($55), depending on the program.

For example, recreation areas such as BalQaragay, Kulager, Jansaya Resort, and Zolotoi Fazan are 30 to 40 minutes from Astana’s center. These areas offer relaxed horseback riding along with a full range of services for a day trip, including accommodations, restaurants, saunas, swimming pools, paintball courts, and activities for kids.

Meanwhile, equestrian sports clubs offer unique experiences to riders of all levels. They select horses based on the rider’s experience, providing calm horses for beginners and more challenging ones for advanced riders. Some clubs offer strolls through scenic parks, while others provide gallops across the vast steppes, allowing riders to channel their inner nomad. 

Expedition camp organized by At (Horse)-Travel club. Photo credit: at-travel.kz

For those seeking a more traditional and wildlife-centric experience, Qulatay equestrian yard, located at Sofievka village, 15 kilometers from Astana, and At (Horse)-Travel club offer hourly and daily horseback riding trips, including 10 to 30-kilometer routes for beginners and up to 1,000-kilometer extensive expedition camps to picturesque Buraitau National Park. 

In addition to guided rides, introductory riding courses are available for adults and children.  These courses teach essential skills such as sitting in the saddle, controlling the horse, walking, trotting, galloping and performing various elements of advanced riding. For experienced riders, particular equestrian sports such as show jumping or dressage are available. 

Professional horseback riding courses are available at places like Prestige Horse Club in the Michurino residential area, along the Astana-Karagandy highway and the Tulpar Equestrian Sports Club near Koktal Park in Astana. These facilities offer classes of all levels, always under the guidance of professional instructors. 

Riding through the open steppe and scenic landscapes provide a unique and immersive way to connect with nature and Kazakh traditions. 

Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve

A 130-kilometer journey southwest of Astana takes you to the Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This vast wetland area, spanning over 500,000 hectares, is home to diverse flora and fauna. It is one of the most important wetlands in central Kazakhstan and a vital breeding ground for flamingos. Bird watchers and nature enthusiasts will find this reserve a paradise, especially during the migration season when thousands of birds flock to the area. Flamingos can usually be seen from the end of April to October, while ground squirrels and saigas are most visible from May to July.

Several tour operators in Astana offer one-day trips on weekends. The road from Astana to Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve takes approximately two hours. Tours usually start with a visit to the Ptichyi Rai (Bird’s Paradise) visitor center within the reserve.

Visitors are offered a half-hour film, “Secrets of the Protected Land,” which introduces the reserve and its wildlife. To further enhance their understanding, visitors can explore the Hall of Steppes, the Winter Garden, and the Hall of History and Ethnography of the region.

Flamingos are a trademark of the Korgalzhyn state nature reserve. Photo credit: Dook Travels

Further ahead, some agencies offer guided jeep tours of the reserve’s open areas, where visitors can see over 60 species of rare animals and plants included in the Kazakh Red Book’s List of rare and endangered species.

In addition to the flamingos, the reserve is home to pelicans, geese, sandpipers, river diving ducks, dwarf eagles, steppe eagles, white-tailed eagles, steppe harriers, gyrfalcons, bustards, flutters, cranes, and many other bird species.

To observe these birds, visitors need to travel around the reserve, but some designated quiet zones prohibit stopping to avoid disturbing the wildlife. Noise is not allowed in the reserve, and visitors are encouraged to observe and admire the environment quietly.

Visitors can plan the trip to go alone or in groups of up to ten people, but access to the protected area is only permitted under the guidance of the local inspectors. All visitors must register at the administration and pay the fee before entering the reserve, which is typically included in the tour package or payable upon arrival.

Skydiving: Adventure for thrill-seekers 

For those seeking an adrenaline surge and a thrilling experience as a weekend getaway, the Astana Parachuting Federation offers an unforgettable experience at Severny (Northern) Airfield, located approximately 30 kilometers from Astana on the Astana-Burabay highway. 

People after the skydive receiving certificates at Severny (Northern) Airfield. Photo credit: Skydive Astana’s Instagram Account

The adventure begins with a thorough briefing by experienced instructors who ensure all participants are well-prepared and confident. Safety is the top priority, and the training covers essential techniques, body positions and emergency procedures. Once instructed and fully equipped, skydivers can take the plunge from an altitude of 800 meters independently or from 3,000 meters with an instructor. 

Astana’s skydiving season starts in May and lasts until October. Prices range from 40,000 tenge ($90) to 150,000 tenge ($335), depending on the complexity of the dive. 

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