The Kazakh Desert is the southernmost region of Kazakhstan, spanning the vast Qyzylqum and Aral Karakum deserts. It comprises the provinces of Kyzylorda, South Kazakhstan, and Zhambyl. This area is home to the lion's share of Kazakhstan's historical monuments, as well as the car-wreck-fascinating ecological disaster of the Aral Sea. You will also find here the main border crossings into nearby Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
- 1 Aral — A struggling city, with a fishing economy that was dependent on a now disappearing sea.
- Kentau — A medium-sized mining city, formerly a destination for Soviet exiles.
- Kyzylorda — A major stop on the Silk Road, with plenty to see and do.
- Sayram — A 3,000-year-old city, with Kazakhstan's oldest mosque and a very strong sense of Central Asian culture—there is a lot to see here.
- Shieli — A small town midway between Shymkent and Kyzylorda, very popular for its fruits and vegetables such as huge watermelons and melons. Also, marjan kurus (diamond rice) is the highest quality rice grown in Shieli. The region is full of very kind, hospitable and nice people who will always provide you a warm welcome!
- Shu — A relatively small town, and the administrative center of Zhambyl Province.
- 2 Shymkent — Kazakhstan's third largest city, an old market town located near Tashkent and some beautiful mountains; now booming with oil exploration.
- 3 Taras — A 2,000-year-old city, rich in archaeological finds.
- 4 Turkestan — Another ancient city, long a liminal town between the Persian culture to the south and the Turkic nomadic culture to the north, now majority Uzbek and home to several important cultural-historical monuments.
Aralsk, Qazaly Shardara, Jetisu, Saryag'ash and Lenger
- 1 Aksu-Zhabagly - The oldest nature reserve in Central Asia.
- 2 Aral Sea
- 3 Baikonur - Site of the spaceport. A closed city- permit strictly required- on loan to Russia.
- Barsa-Kelmes Nature Reserve — A wildlife preserve on an island in the Aral Sea.
- Otrar — An oasis surrounded by the ruins of the various castles and towns that once occupied this spot.
- Sauran — An archaeological site with echoes of Middle Earth and Ozymandias, once a major Silk Road waypoint. 50 km north-west of Turkestan.
There is a good bus network both between and within cities. Expect to pay 40-70 tenge as a flat fare within a city, around 100-150 tenge from a city to any surrounding villages, and around 400-500 tenge per hour on intercity buses and marshrutkas. The roads are generally good quality, but streets in small towns can be shockingly poor past the point of recognition; best to park on the outskirts if you don't have a four-wheel drive.