One-Day Tours in Kazakhstan: Aktau City Tour

Aktau One-Day Tour

One-day tour to the port city on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Rich excursion to the main sights of Aktau and walk along the embankment.

History Museum, Orthodox Church Blagoveshchensk, Mosque Beket-Ata, Taras Shevchenko Monument, Main Square and Aktau seaport

1 Day | All year round | from US$ 100 per personDetails

Aktau, Kazakhstan

Aktau, Kazakhstan

Aktau is the capital of the Mangystau Region, a port city on the Caspian Sea, and the economic hub of southwestern Kazakhstan. For tourists, Aktau is the gateway to the enigmatic world of Mangystau. It's from here that adventurers set out in jeeps to explore underground mosques, mystical mountains, deep canyons, and otherworldly locations that seem like they're straight out of a sci-fi movie.

This small city appeared in the second half of the 20th century as one of the ambitious projects in the USSR. The city lacks natural sources of fresh water, so water is obtained through desalination or brought in from other regions. Initially, it was a center for uranium extraction and processing in the southern part of the Soviet Union. Today, however, the focus has shifted, and Aktau is regarded as the unofficial capital of Kazakhstan's oil and gas industry.

What can Aktau offer travelers? What interesting things are there in Aktau? How best to travel here and explore Mangystau?

Read on to discover more about all this.

Tours in Aktau

Aktau, Kazakhstan

Aktau may not boast a vast array of attractions, but it's possible to see the city in just half a day. The city's most famous tourist spot is the "Rock Trail" - a landscaped path along the Caspian Sea shore, complete with numerous benches, a variety of sculptures, ancient rock paintings, and observation decks. Aktau also houses several notable monuments, including those dedicated to Taras Shevchenko, a MiG-21 airplane, the Eternal Flame, among others.

A unique attraction in Aktau is a residential high-rise building which interestingly has a sea lighthouse installed on its roof. Moreover, from certain piers in Aktau, visitors can embark on a pleasure boat to view the city from the sea.

Aktau, Kazakhstan

Aktau serves as a starting point for extensive travels around the Mangystau region. For those who prefer not to spend a night in a tent in the middle of the steppe, there are shorter, day-long tours available from Aktau. These tours can take you north to the Torysh stone balls, the Shakpak-ata underground mosque, or the Zhygylgan cavity, with a return to a comfortable hotel by evening. Also, an early departure from Aktau allows for a visit to the jewel of the region - the Bozzhyra tract.

History of Aktau

Aktau, Kazakhstan

"Aktau" translates to "white mountain" in Kazakh, though the nearest limestone mountains are a hundred kilometers away. The current city is built on a deserted promontory with white rocks rising above the sea surface, and it's these that gave the city its name. Though nomads passed through these parts for thousands of years, there was never a permanent settlement here until 1956.

In the mid-1950s, the USSR was actively exploring all corners of the vast country. In 1956, uranium deposits were discovered on the Mangyshlak Peninsula (what was then called Mangystau). It was decided to build a settlement for engineers, builders, miners, and other specialists. In early 1959, the first builders arrived at the future site of Aktau. They quickly erected simple wooden barracks, and by the middle of the year, they had built the first two-story stone house. At that time, the settlement was named Aktau, although in secret documents it was referred to as Guryev-20. Two years later, housing for 2500 people had been built, and a minimum infrastructure was formed. However, there was a colossal problem - there wasn't a single source of drinking water nearby, and it had to be brought by ship from the other side of the Caspian Sea, from Baku and Makhachkala.

Aktau, Kazakhstan

The settlement grew and was developed according to a plan by architects from St. Petersburg. Schools, stores, cinemas were opened, landscaped parks and alleys were created. And on December 10, 1963, four years after the first construction, Guryev-20 was granted city status and renamed Aktau. On July 1, 1964, the city changed its name to Shevchenko, in honor of the famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, who lived in these parts between 1850 and 1857. In 1973, Aktau gained a permanent source of fresh water - the world's first nuclear reactor on fast neutrons was launched in the vicinity of the city, powering a giant desalination plant, and also providing residents with heat and electricity.

In 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the city was renamed back to Aktau. The focus gradually shifted away from uranium mining to the development of oil and gas fields. In 1999, the nuclear reactor was decommissioned, the power plant began operating on gas, and the uranium pit, located 20 kilometers from the city, was mothballed. Thanks to the oil and gas industry, Aktau has developed and continues to grow. Today, it boasts modern hotels, excellent restaurants, and an upgraded international airport situated 25 km from the city.

Aktau Sights

Aktau, Kazakhstan

The prime attraction of Aktau is the Rock Trail. This 1.5 km landscaped pedestrian path, unveiled in 2019, winds between white rocks and the stony Caspian Sea shore. Previously, this area was inaccessible, covered with boulders and reed thickets. As you walk, you'll encounter bronze sculptures, an ancient cave, and rock paintings.

Another unique feature is the Chalk Lighthouse, perched atop an 11-story apartment building since 1974. Located near Cape Melovoy, it replaced a smaller, 7-meter lighthouse and stands 43 meters tall. Though it ceased functioning in 2012, it remains an iconic symbol of Aktau.

Aktau, Kazakhstan

In Aktau, you'll find several picturesque monuments, including a MiG-21 military airplane, a replica of Columbus' caravel "Santa Maria," a Mermaid, a Sturgeon, a Seal, and others. These sites are perfect for memorable photos of your visit.

Entertainment and Shopping in Aktau

Aktau, Kazakhstan

Situated on the Caspian Sea, Aktau offers crystal clear waters, perfect for beach activities. There are several beach resorts and landscaped beaches in and around the city.

The city features various parks and alleys ideal for leisurely strolls, with nearby cozy cafes serving national dishes. Additionally, Aktau hosts an experimental botanical garden.

For shopping enthusiasts, Aktau has several malls with clothing, footwear, electronics stores, and more. There are also specialty stores for those planning a larger tour of Mangystau, offering tents, sleeping bags, flashlights, and other accessories.

Food in Aktau

Aktau's dining scene boasts several excellent restaurants serving traditional Kazakh, popular Russian, and European cuisines. The prices are generally reasonable, and the portions sizable. Along the city's main streets, you'll find cafes offering shashlik and similar fare. In and around shopping centers, there are fast-food outlets. You won't have trouble finding a variety of dining options in Aktau.

How to Get to Aktau

Aktau, Kazakhstan

The most convenient way to reach Aktau is by plane, especially given its remote southwestern location in Kazakhstan. Flights from Astana or Almaty take over 3 hours. There are also international flights from Istanbul, Baku, Tbilisi, Moscow, and other Russian cities. The airport is located 25 kilometers north of Aktau.

Traveling to Aktau by car is challenging. You'll need to first reach the small town of Beineu, then drive 470 km on the Beineu-Aktau highway. From central Kazakhstan, the journey exceeds 2000 km.

Alternatively, there's a train service to Mangystau village, 20 km from Aktau, but this isn't recommended. You can also take a car ferry from Baku's Alyat port to Kuryk port near Aktau, but it's a lengthy trip with an unpredictable schedule.

Safety in Aktau

Aktau, Kazakhstan

Aktau is a relatively peaceful and quiet city. It's not a typical tourist destination, and the only police observation point is at the start of the Rock Trail. Standard safety precautions are advised: keep your belongings secure and avoid unlit streets at night.

Best Time to Visit Aktau

The best time to visit Aktau is during spring and fall. Benefiting from the moderating influence of the Caspian Sea, the city offers a comfortable respite from the typically arid climate of southwestern Kazakhstan. Additionally, Aktau is often the launch point for extensive jeep tours of the Mangystau region, where travelers can enjoy overnight tent stays and off-road adventures. This region is particularly delightful to explore in the months of April-May and September-October.

Summer in Aktau can be quite hot, with daytime temperatures occasionally exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. However, this season is ideal for those looking for a beach holiday, as the waters of the Caspian Sea near the coast can warm up to about 26 degrees Celsius. Winter, while not extremely cold and with little snow, is not the best time to travel to Aktau due to the persistent winds.