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Kyzylarai wildlife reserve

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Kyzylarai wildlife reserve is in Central Highlands of Kazakhstan. It is approximately 290km from Karaganda or about 500km from Astana.


Kyzylarai wildlife reserve situated at the territory of Kyzylarai mountain massif is mainly famous thanks to three things: 1) the highest peak of Kazakh Uplands, Aksoran mountain (1565 meters above the sea level) is situated here; 2) the 3000 years old Bronze Age necropolis Begazy is situated nearby; 3) Shabanbai Bi village, situated at the foothills of Kyzyalrai mountains, is the first and the most popular example of community-based ecotourism development in Central Kazakhstan.


Kyzylarai wildlife reserve exists since 1986. Projects in ecotourism development in the area, funded by EU, NABU and GEF/UNDP and implemented since 2008, resulted in building-up a network of homestays and development of trails at the territory of the reserve.


Kyzylarai wildlife reserve consists of two low-mountain (up to 1565 meters) massifs – Kyzylarai and Zhaman Kyzylarai, partly rocky, partly covered with pine forests and juniper shrubs. The mountains are surrounded by steppes (flatlands), which are also interested for the tourism, as long as majority of historical sights is situated there.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Kyzylarai is the biggest habitat of the red listed argali (Ovis ammon collium L.) throughout Kazakhstan. Elk (Alces alces), Saker falcon (Falco cherrug Geray), black stork (Ciconia nigra L.) and Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo L.) inhabit Kyzylarai as well.

Local flora is remarkable for Paeonia hybrida Pallas, Papaver tenellum Tolm and Ledebouriella seseloides (Hoffm.) Wolff.


The best time to visit Kyzylarai is from May to September.

Get in[edit]

You can get to Shabanbai Bi village (the gateway to Kyzylarai) by public bus from Karaganda bus terminal. The first option (for days since Monday to Thursday) is to go by bus till Aktogai (district center, two buses daily, at 8:30AM and 5:00PM) then to continue by taxi or a bus Balkhash-Kyzylarai (you can catch it in Aktogai at 2-2:30PM) till Shabanbai Bi. The second option, available since Friday to Sunday is to take the above mentioned bus (at 8:30AM and 5:00PM, which is prologed on these days till Kyzylarai) and go directly to Shabanbai Bi. More detiled info about bus routes is available in Russian at Karaganda bus terminal web-site: [1]

Bear in mind, that Shabanbai Bi, like many other villages in Kazakhstan, has some other names, except the main and official one. So, be ready to hear and see (even in bus schedule), how people name it Shylym or Karatal. And Kyzylarai is not only the name of the mountain massif, but also a name of the village which is situated 20 kilometers after Shabanbai Bi, which is the final point of the gravel road.

You can also rent a vehicle with a driver for going to Kyzylarai (and around the area) in Karaganda. Nomadic Travel Kazakhstan (49, Bukhar-Zhyrau Ave., office 209, Kazakhstan business-centre) can arrange this and many other things concerning travelling to Kyzylarai.


Upon entering the territory of the reserve (i.e. the mountanious part of the area) all visitors are asked to pay ecological fee for visiting protected area (212 KZT per person per day as of 2016). The fee can be paid in Aktogai forestry (16, Satpayev St., Aktogai village), as well as directly in Shabanbai Bi village (rural district administration building, forestry administration office, ground floor). In practice those rules are not so strict, and usually you can visit mountains without paying any fees.

Get around[edit]

There is no public transportation available between Shabanbai Bi and tourist attractions of Kyzylarai area. Tourist can hire transport in some of local guest-houses (in "Sulu Tas", for example). Approximate prices (per car) for transfer to Torkora is about 600 KZT one way, to Shaban is about 1000 KZT one way, to Begazy is 1000 KZT one way.

See[edit][add listing]

Begazy necropolis (19 km to the south of Shabanbai Bi village) is probably the most famous archaeological site in the territory of Central Kazakhstan. It was from this necropolis that the investigation of the Begazy-Dandybai culture of the late Bronze Age (12-9 centuries BC) began. The main part of the 3000 years old necropolis is two burial grounds made of huge granite slabs. Begazy was discovered in late 1940s by the famous Kazakhstani archaeologist, Alkei Margulan.

Auliye cave (6 km to the north-east of Shabanbai Bi village) is a big grotto, which triggers associations with female body structure. That is probably a reason why it is believed among locals as a magic one (women, who want to have a child, come here to ask for this).

Turkic stone statues in Karatal river valley (left bank, 16 kilometers to the south-west from Shabanbai Bi).

Do[edit][add listing]

Trekking to the 1565 meters high Aksoran peak (there are, at least, 5 main routes to reach it) is the most popular activity for tourists coming to Kyzylarai. Two of the routes (from Torkora and Shaban places) are well marked (rock ducks, signs on trees and rocks). Travellers call Aksoran the "roof of the steppes". From the top of the mountain, which is the highest point of Kyzylarai mountains in particular and Kazakh Uplans in general, you can have a great view of the surrounding steppes, exceeding 100 km. You can take a free tourist map of Kyzylarai (available in Russian and English) with trekking routes indicated in "Avalon" historico-geographical society office in Karaganda (49, Bukhar-Zhyrau Ave., office 209, Kazakhstan business-centre).

Trekking in Zhaman Kyzylarai mountains, situated to the east of the main Kyzylarai massif (you can ascend the Karasoran peak, for example), is less popular, but not less interesting. You can start your trekking from a small camp with hitching post situated from the south-western side of the mountain. From here it takes about 2-3 hours to teach the summit. Wooden trigger point is installed at the top of Karasoran. The route is not marked, so you should better have GPS.

Horse riding to any of local archaeological sights (Begazy and Turkic stone statues can be combined, for example, within a ride along the Karatal river valley) or even to Aksoran peak (it is really possible, especially from the northern side) can be quite interesting. You can rent a horse (1500 KZT per hour, 5000-10000 KZT per day) in one of local guest-houses.

Cycling to Begazy and Karatal valley, around Kyzylarai mountain massif (or through it, using one of the two roads) is a good way to look at the mountains and surrounding steppes. There is no asphalt or even gravel roads, only dirt roads, so be ready for good mountain-biking. You should have your own bicycle to do that.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Opportunities for shopping are very limited in Shabanbai Bi. One of the small shops is situated next to the rural district administration building.

Shabanbai Bi is also a good place to buy local dairy products, like koumiss (fermented mare's milk) and kurt (salty dried curd). Try to ask in a guest-house about those who can sell something like that.

Eat[edit][add listing]

There are no restaurants in Shabanbai Bi, but it is possible to eat in one of local guest-houses (without staying there, but by prior request). Breakfast is about 500 KZT, lunch is about 1500 KZT, dinner is about 2500 KZT per person.

Drink[edit][add listing]

Try koumiss (fermented mare's milk) in any of local guest-houses or in Karatal winter hut (on the way from Shabanbai be village to Begazy, on the right bank of Karatal river).

Sleep[edit][add listing]


You may stay in any of 7 homestays, which exist in Shabanbai Bi village for some years already. The homestays are marked with blue signboards in English and Kazakh (they are also marked at the tourist map of Kyzylarai and in Gooogle Maps system). The price, including 3 meals a day, is 6000-6500 KZT per person. Some of homestays, like "Sulu Tas" (northern part of the village) have bathroom inside, while majority has outside squat toilets.


It is possible to camp in your own tent in Shabanbai Bi. Local guest-houses provide this opportunity for 500 KZT (using bathroom and water is included).


There are a lot of good places for camping with your own tent in Kyzylarai. Those include Auliye place (after Auliye cave, next to the water source) and Myrzakozha place (next to the shelter and water source). You don't need to have any special permission for camping and it is free.

Stay safe[edit]

Get out[edit]

From Kyzylarai you can continue your journey to Karkaraly National Park, including its Kent part. It is also possible to move to the south-west across the steppes and reach Bektau Ata mountain oasis.

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