Visas are required for everyone, except of the CIS states (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Kyrgizstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Armenia). You can apply for a visa in any Kazakh consulate around the world. For getting a visa you should have an official invitation from a Kazakh citizen, or organization. Usually you don't need to visit the embassy personally ,because, as a rule, many travel agencies in Western Europe and the US can also apply for your visa and are concerned about all the appropriate documents. It usually takes between 2-3 weeks and costs around $70 ( not including the agency fare ). On arrival to Kazakhstan, you must register your arrival in OVIR (Department of visas and registration) within 72 hours. Note - once, if you had a valid CIS visa, you did not need an additional visa to the CIS countries while transiting through by public transport. Know, that this agreement is no longer exist! What means, that if you have, let's say, a visa to Russia, and you intend to cross throw Kazakhstan (or any other CIS country) on your way to, lets say, Uzbekistan - you will need to obtain a kazakh transit visa in advance ! Important ! Sometimes, kazakh border officials in the frontal railway stations, pass throw the wagons only, without checking the passports- thanks to visa-free regime between two countries. Don't trust on their "kindness" ! Ask them to stamp your passport and visa, don't let them go, before they do so. Know, that an entry without any entry stamp - is illegal act, and you can be stopped by any policemen within Kazakhstan. In best case you would be fined, in worth - arrested. In opposite, Russian border officials getting serious about an entry checks. Be sure, that your papers and passport are OK, be ready to answer questions related to your visit.
Getting to Kazakhstan
Most travelers arrive to Kazakhstan by train on their way to/from Russia. However, Almaty international airport connected with many European and Asian capitals and main cities. There are no discounted, of charter flights to Kazakhstan, what means, that in order to get to Kazakhstan by air, you will pay at least around $600 from any European country. Some times, there are cheaper flights via Moscow, and Kiev.
Kazakhstan is connected by rail with Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgizstan. Daily trains depart from Almaty to Moscow, St.Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Tashkent and Bishkek. A brand new capital, Astana, has its own connections to Moscow, St.Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. The usual fares between Almaty / Astana to Moscow / St.Petersburg vary around $100 for the first class (double-bed coupe), $60 (4-beds) and $40 (3-rd class, common wagon). There is a brand new railway route, that was opened a couple of years ago - from Almaty to Urumchi (China).
Buses usually connect the frontal towns of Russian Federation and Kazakhstan (Chelyabinsk- Kustanay, Omsk-Petropavlovsk, Orenburg-Aktobe and so on). However, when traveling south, between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Kyrgizstan - in many cases, an international buses would be your only mean of transport.
Traveling in Kazakhstan
What do we know about this country that is ninth (!) largest amongst the world states, or, in other words is twice bigger, than France, Germany, Spain and Italy together ? Once, up to 1991, Kazakhstan was one of the 15 Soviet republics. The territory of the republic stretches on from the low reaches of the Volga river in the west to the foothills of the Altai mountains in the east - for some 3,000 km, from west Siberian lowland in the north to the desert of Kyzylkum and the mountain range of Tien-Shan in the South for some 2,000 km. About 90% of its territory is endless, arid desert. The longest border is with the Russia - 6500 km. From the travellers points of view, Kazakhstan isn't the most interesting place to visit amongst the Central Asian states. There is no such a great historical monuments, as Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan, there is no beautiful Issuk-Kul lake as in Kyrgyzstan, there is no ancient fortresses and temples as in Turkey, Uzbekistan and Iran. But, if you're heading throw, or near by - that's really interesting idea to spend some time in Kazakhstan ! There are two main routes that can head you into this country: from/to Moscow to Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan and back; from Ekaterinburg (central Russia) to the same direction, but by using another way. In the first case you, probably, will enter Kazakhstan by Moscow bounded train, that crosses the border in Sol-Iletsk / Yaisan border crossing that is near by the Russian town of Orenburg. This route heads you to Uzbekistan, after the 56-hourly trip. On the ways that's worth to visit some interesting attractions, like an ancient town of Turkestan and Shimkent. Both of them are close to the Uzbek border. Second one route brings you first into the northern Kazakhstan, where you can visit two main places, as Borovoe (Burabay-kaz.) national park, and Astana - a brand new country's capital.
Astana (former - Tzelinograd, Akmolinsk)
Once, it wasn't more, than small provincial town in the central Kazakhstan. At 1994, kazakh government decided to revert this forgotten place into the capital of the independent Kazakhstan. During the last ten years, a capital of the republic was moved from Almaty to Astana, about a thousand kilometers to the north. Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazyrbaev, argues that Almaty is too distant from the commercial axis that connects present-day Europe with Asia and entrenched enough in Kazakh territory to leave half the population of the republic without a capital. Before long, Nazarbaev wins and Almaty loses its status as capital; embassies, main banks, trading centers, and other centers of major activity, however, remain there. At 2002, Astana had a population of about 450,000 inhabitants. The ethnic mix is about 60% Kazakh, and 40% - others, mostly Russians. For Astana to become a center of politics and commerce, it needs to install a modern communications system and facilities for generation and distribution of power and water distribution. It needs a sewage disposal as well as a system of transportation to and from Astana. The latter, in present-day terms, requires an international airport with a modern air traffic control system as well as an efficient system of trains and buses. To become a center of culture, Astana needs to add to the few schools, the theater and the museum of Aqmola, new theaters, a symphony hall, and many of the other structures that stayed back in Almaty. From the travelers pint of view, Astana is a pleasant town to spent in half a day, by walking around its beautiful Ishim river promenade, visiting the national eastern-styled museums, aqua-park with the hundreds of sea animals and fishes, President palaces and halls. City's railway station is far from the center (6 km), so use the buses in order to get there. There are several daily trains to Almaty, one to St.Petersburg via Ekaterinburg, one to Moscow and number of suburban trains to Karagandy, Kustanay and Petropavlovsk. Astana contains about 40 (!) hotels of the different levels, but take into account, that as foreigner, you're expected to pay twice, that locals pay. The cheapest place to stay, is: "Bus station hotel" (take left from the railway station) - $12 for the basic double room, with the outside situated facilities. There are several cheap, private pensions in the Railway station area, so you just ask locals for the information. However, in our opinion, the best place to stay is "Tourist" hotel 3*, that is just a couple of minutes from the central square (Chupa-Chups) and the President palace. They charge about $40-50 for the double room, including all the required facilities.
Borovoe national park
Well know natural mountain reserve, in northern Kazakhstan, some 60km south of the town of Kokshetau and 280km north of Astana. There are at least four beautiful lakes, mountain peaks, caves, dramatically cliffs. Getting there is piece of cake. The town of Borovoe is situated on the main trans-kazakhstan rail and road way, between the towns of Astana and Kokshetau.