Exploring Kazakhstan’s Wilderness: Hiking in Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve

Exploring Kazakhstan’s Wilderness: Hiking in Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve

#Kazakhstan, a single country equivalent in size to Western Europe, has plenty of places to explore. But if you want to get #active, I have to recommend the Aksu-Zhabagly #Nature Reserve. It's not too hard to get to, has stunning views, and some interesting animals still roam the area, including the beautiful snow leopard.


Kazakhstan may be known for its oil and the antics of the pseudo-Kazakh Borat, but few people are aware of the wilderness that covers a large part of the country. Last week, as part of my overlanding trip through Central Asia with Oasis Overland, we spent two nights camping out in the Aksu-Zhabagly nature reserve and experiencing the Kazakh backcountry at its best.

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 Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve, South Kazakhstan Region, Kazakhstan
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Located near the border of Uzbekistan, the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve is a huge area of wilderness that is surprisingly close to Kazakhstan’s southern capital of Shymkent. 

Big animals like the ibex, lynx, wolves and bears still roam this area freely.

The territory of the reserve encompasses different types of terrain, ranging from steppe and upland meadow or jailoos, to juniper forests, high-altitude mountains and glaciers. Due to efforts by the government to protect this fragile environment, big animals like the ibex, lynx, wolves and bears still roam this area freely. Even snow leopards have been spotted in this part of Kazakhstan.

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While I didn’t come across any wildlife in the area, I did feast on some spectacular views of the valley and mountains. I highly recommend a visit to the Aksu-Zhabagly nature reserve if you’re ever in Kazakhstan to see a side of the country that’s wildly different to Astana or Almaty. Here are some quick shots from the nature reserve:

The peaks of Aksu-Zhabagly are a short hike from the base
Our campsite, Ruslan Camp, at the entrance of the reserve
Hiking up to one of the peaks with our Oasis Overland crew
Making our way up the plateau and onto the ridge
Crossing a river stream that flows from the top of the mountains to the valley
Wild berries grow in abundance at the foothills of the mountains
Flowers are also found in clusters around the foothills.
Flowers are also found in clusters around the foothills
Our Oasis Overland truck parked right at the entrance of the reserve
Camping just next to the mountains

How To Get To Aksu-Zhabagly

The Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve is located in the southern part of Kazakhstan. The nearest town, Zhabagly, is around 7km from the nature reserve. The daily fee for entering the reserve is 2,000 tenges per person. To get there on public transport, get a mashrutka at Shymkent’s bus station and it’s a two-hour drive to Zhabagly.

I traveled to Aksu-Zhabagly as part of my Silk Road overland trip with Oasis Overland. Over a period of two months, our group of travelers are traveling through Central Asia on an overland truck and we’ll be camping and cooking along the way. I chose this option instead of independent travel in order to see more of the backcountry of Central Asia and experience the countries on a closer level, and it’s proving to be an excellent way to see the region.

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