Kazakhstan travel guide

Unexplored by many, Kazakhstan is a curious yet little-known land of vast plains, mountainous horizons and beautiful culture. Bordering Russia in Central Asia, it's truly massive in size – this is, after all, ranked as the world's ninth biggest country. It's also the most economically successful of those countries surrounding it, known fondly as the 'stans'. This is largely thanks to oil reserves, as well as other natural resources. The upshot? You can expect more modern, higher-quality hotels, restaurants and travel options compared to some of the country's poorer neighbours.

South Kazakhstan is a focus of Central Asian history, featuring many famous monuments. It is a scenically diverse region where the snow-capped peaks, lakes and glaciers of the Tian Shan range give way to steppe and desert. The desert is home to the Singing Barkhan - a sand dune 3.2km (2 miles) long, which, as it crumbles, produces a peculiar singing sound.

Almaty was until very recently the former capital of Kazakhstan and it enjoys a beautiful setting between mountains and plains. Still the country's biggest city, it is a hub of modern architecture, cool fountains, parks and spectacular mountain views. You can also expect irreverent nightspots, trendy cafes, and palatial malls there. The present capital of Nur-Sultan (Astana) is following in its predecessor's footsteps as a modern metropolis, with its space-age buildings clinging to the northern steppe.

The truth is, though, that travellers are more likely to be attracted to Kazakhstan's natural wonders. It's a beautiful country in its own haunting way, where intrepid travellers will enjoy hiking through the lofty mountains and down in the valleys of the Tian Shan. Its sparseness can seem mind-boggling, but you'll find plenty of wildlife if you look for it, especially in the lake-strewn steppe. It's also worth seeking out the underground mosques and villages that are scattered about the land. All in all, Kazakhstan is a special, unique country well worth discovering despite it being low on the radar of most tourists.