Last Updated on December 12, 2019 by

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.

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. 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.

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:

Gorgeous, accessible mountains in Aksu Zhabagly

The peaks of Aksu-Zhabagly are within a short hike away from the base.

View of our campsite

Our campsite, Ruslan Camp, at the entrance of the reserve.

Hiking trail

Hiking up to one of the peaks with our Oasis Overland crew.

Hiking up the ridge
Making our way up the plateau and onto the ridge.

Water stream
Crossing a river stream that flows from the top of the mountains to the valley.

Wild berries

Wild berries grow in abundance at the foothills of the mountains.

Flora and fauna

Flowers are also found in clusters around the foothills.

Our Oasis Overland truck

Our Oasis Overland truck parked right at the entrance of the reserve.

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Camping right next to 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 seven km from the nature reserve. The daily fee for entering the reserve is 2000T 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.


Disclosure: While my trip was discounted, any opinions expressed above are my own.