Karaganda (Russian: Караганда, and also spelt as "Karagandy" or "Qaraghandy") is a large city in the Central Highlands of Kazakhstan. It's a coal mining city and in Soviet times its population was much greater: Stalin deported ethnic Germans from the Volga region to use as forced labour here as well as in Siberia. The survivors relocated to Germany when the Soviet Union collapsed. The city itself had already collapsed, undermined by coal workings, and was rebuilt further south on its present site. The name "Karaganda" derives from Caragana bushes but became a wry pun in Russian for "where the hell?", ie the middle of nowhere. The main reasons to come are to see KarLag forced labour camp, to access Karkaraly National Park, or to break up a journey across vast Kazakhstan.
By plane: 1 Sary-Arka airport (KGF IATA), 15 km southeast of the city, has regular flights from Almaty, Moscow SVO, Novosibirsk, Kyzylorda and Ust-Kamenogorsk. Nur-Sultan is too close to fly.
By train: Karaganda is on the main line between Nur-Sultan (4 hr) and Almaty (11 hr overnight), with some six trains a day. See Kazakhstan#Get_in for ticket options.
By bus: buses ply frequently to Nur-Sultan, some continuing to Petropavlovsk and Novosibirsk.
The 2 bus & railway stations are side-by-side at the south end of city centre. The railway station has a left-luggage office, 400 tenge per piece, and its waiting rooms have more seating than the cramped bus station. However the bus station has much the better cafe, "Rational", open 24 hr.
Within Karaganda the buses cost 65 tenge per ride. Information on their routes is available here, or here. A Russian language smartphone app for the bus09.kz is also available called Smart Transport by developer Проект Bus62.
- 1 Karaganda Regional Museum (Karagandinskiy Oblastnoy Muzey) is nowadays a small art gallery with changing exhibitions. It's on the corner of Buqar-Jyrau (the main boulevard) and Yermekov, rather hidden away behind Pyramid shopping centre. The only exhibit from the museum still on display is a huge formation of creedite crystals (or, if you prefer, Ca3Al2SO4(F,OH)10·2(H2O)). It's open Tu-Su 10:00-17:00, 600 tenge.
- 2 Ecomuseum at 47 Buqar-Jyrau has interesting exhibits, including on the area's role in the Soviet space programme. It's open M-F 09:00-18:00.
- Monuments along Buqar-Jyrau are to independence (Stela Nezavisimosti), the miners (Shakhtorskaya Slava), to Yuri Gagarin the first cosmonaut, and to the poet Pushkin.
- 3 Cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima (Roman Catholic) is in Pobedy Park south of Prikanalnaya.
- Two fine mosques lie south of the centre: 4 Staraya Mechet at the corner of Respublika and Kuvskaya, and Oblastnaya Mechet by the RC cathedral at the foot of Buqar-Jyrau where it turns into Prikanalnaya.
- 5 Cathedral of Archangel Michael (Russian Orthodox) is on Popova in the suburb of Fintry 10 km north of city centre.
- 6 Karaganda Zoo, on Yermekov to the southwest, is cramped and smelly. Adult 400 tenge, open daily 09:00-19:00.
- 7 KarLag, in the village of Dolinka 40 km west of Karaganda, was one of the Soviet Union's biggest gulags or forced labour camps. From 1931 to 1960 over a million entered its gates, many of them never to be seen again. Ticket 700 tenge, photos 300 tenge extra, English-speaking guide 800 tenge. It's open daily 09:30-18:00. Take bus 121 from Karaganda to Dolinka, then local bus 5 or 205 or 239 for three stops along R-191 the main village road.
- Central Park surrounds a small lake. Just west of it, the Children's Railway is a 5 km loop of 750 mm gauge diesel-hauled railway, originally intended as a training track for young pioneers. It's lurched from one financial debacle to another, with lengthy closures, but was again running in summer 2019.
- Theatre: the Kazakh Drama Theatre is at 25 Buqar-Jyrau opposite the Pushkin Monument. The Stanislavsky Theatre is at 19/1 Mira Bvd.
- The Circus is central at 45 Komissarov with regular shows.
- Watch football (ie soccer) at FC Shakhtar Karagandy, who play in Qazaqstan Premer Ligasy, the country's top tier of football. Their home ground Shakhtar Stadium, capacity 19,000, is on Buqar-Jyrau at the north edge of city centre. Shakhtar (which means "miners") sacrifice a sheep the day before matches: they're not allowed to do so in European away games, which may explain their limited success there.
- The main shopping area is along Buqar-Jyrau, with Absolut the biggest mall.
- There's a slew of eateries along Buqar-Jyrau, with other strips along the cross-streets of Nurken Abdirov and Mira.
- Vegetarians and vegans should check out Kafe Rada IK at 6 Nurken Abdirov, open daily 10:00-22:00.
- The pubs are mostly around Nurken Abdirov. They include Parimatch, Krg.shisha, Rational Next Bar, and Gin Karaoke.
- 1 Metelitsa, Buqar-Jyrau 56a, ☏ +7 7212 40 00 04, firstname.lastname@example.org. Comfortable place in city centre. Double US$50.
- 2 Hostel Ekonom, Keramicheskaya 86a (1 km southeast of station), ☏ +7 701 239 0194. Clean, friendly hostel. Dorm from 1700 tenge.
- Decent signal in the city, everyone relies on their mobile here.
- Karkaraly National Park is some 225 km east of Karaganda.
- Nur-Sultan the capital to the north and Almaty to the south both deserve exploring.
- China: trains run once a week from Nur-Sultan via Karaganda to Dostyk then onward to Ürümqi.