Trans Eurasia travel

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When to visit

Kazakhstan's extreme continental climate makes for large seasonal variations, with hot summers and cold winters. The large size of the country makes for big regional variations too. In general, the northern regions are at least a few degrees colder than the south.

Thus winter in northern Kazakhstan means snow cover between November and April, and temperatures regularly below -20°C. In Kyzylorda and Mangistau regions, there is relatively little snow, and winter temperatures which, while still often below zero, are nothing like as extreme. Winter brings with it opportunities for snow-related sports across Kazakhstan, including downhill skiing at Chimbulak and Ak Bulak outside Almaty. Cities in the north build elaborate 'villages' of ice sculptures. On crisp, cold but sunny winter days, Kazakhstan is perhaps at its most beautiful. However, for everyone except winter sports enthusiasts winter is nonetheless deservedly the low season for tourism. The cold weather inevitably restricts movement, and travel schedules are also subject to disruption: for example, flight delays caused by freezing fog or snowstorms. If you do come to Kazakhstan in winter, you will need to prepare your wardrobe carefully for the cold.

The Nauryz festival on 22 March announces the arrival of spring, with festive yurts placed in the squares of the main cities. It can, however, still be cold at this time in the north. Late April and May bring a wonderful carpeting of wild flowers to the steppes, and to the slopes of the mountains. The tulips on the slopes of the Tian Shan in May are a particularly fine sight. The trekking season in Kazakhstan starts to develop around mid-May, running to late September, though some high- altitude routes remain closed until June or July. The summer months are in general an excellent time to come to Kazakhstan, and represent the peak of the tourist season. With temperatures in the southern regions frequently reaching well above 30°C in July and August, budget travellers planning to visit at this time should consider trading up to accommodation with air conditioning. It is also worth bearing in mind that the best-known spots can get pretty packed with domestic tourists in August.

Autumn too can be a good time to visit, especially the south, where in the low- lying areas the weather often remains pleasantly warm, albeit with increasingly chilly evenings, into November. Note that Almaty hosts the Kazakhstan International Oil and Gas Exhibition in the first week of October: at this time many mid- and top- range hotels raise their prices, and getting a room at any price can prove difficult.