The Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country by area in the world, and about the same size as all of Western Europe combined. Both Russian and Kazakh are official languages, and other ethnic groups include Uzbek, Ukrainian, German, Uyghur, and Tatar. It is sparsely populated and blessed with mineral resources. It has strong financial security compared to many Eastern European countries. The Baikonur Cosmodrome is where the Russians sent the first man into space, and launched the Mir space station. Lake Balkhash is quite enormous, and it is composed of half salt and half fresh water. Kazakhstan has mountains, grassy steppe, and multiple seas and rivers. Its climate is continental and fairly temperate. The many animal species of the country include saiga antelope, red bear, snow leopard, and golden eagle. See the Central State Museum in Almaty, great for those who want to learn about the history and ethnography of the country. The Tamgaly Petroglyphs in Semichirye date from the Bronze and Iron Ages, and it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Meats and dairy, including sour milk, are very popular in Kazakhstan. Preparations are often very simple, as in the national dish of quwurdaq, which contains just mutton, onion, and fat. The nomadic history of the country influences modern preferences for dried and other preserved foods that will last a long time. Organic restaurants aren't really a thing here, but you can get a vegetarian meal if you try hard. Try the one Indian restaurant in Almaty. You can probably count on shalgam, a radish salad, to be meatless. Dishes like baursak (fried dough), shelpek (flat cake), manti (dumplings filled with ground meat), and nan (traditional bread cooked in a tandoor oven in towns along the Silk Road) reflect the importance and varied uses of wheat. If you are treated as an honored guest in the countryside, you may have the rare opportunity to feast on fresh-killed lamb. This is, strangely, tied to traditional Kazakh belief that spirits inhabit domestic animals among other beings and natural forces. It's more culturally enlightening than a Borat-themed tour.

Almaty Region