Caspian depression

post-soviet wastelands, buddhist temples, lotus fields, red canyons and disappearing waters between europe and asia

Krasnodar – Kalmykia – Astrakhan – Kazakhstan – Karakalpakstan – Aral Sea


Tour dates

Regular monthly departures: this tour is offered regularly once a month from March to early June and again from late August to November. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the ask-us button below and we will match your preferences with the relevant scheduled group departure. If you are unsure about the month you wish to travel in, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours! 

Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with friends and there are 5 or more of you, you can set your own dates and we will organise a tour just for you without charging any additional fee. If you are travelling solo or with less than 4 companions we will organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.


ITINERARY

DAY 1 - Southern Russia: Krasnodar

  • In the morning you will meet our tour guide in the lobby of the designated hotel in Krasnodar (exact hotel address and meeting time will be communicated well in advance per email; private airport pickup and shuttle service available for a small additional fee).
  • Introductory briefing about the region, the route and the set of rules to observe while travelling in Southern Russia.
  • Krasnodar walking tour: Monument to Catherine the Great, Cossacks Memorial, Red Street, St. George's Church, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and plenty of Soviet concrete architecture. 
  • Lunch, dinner and overnight in Krasnodar

DAY 2 - Kalmykia: Elista

  • We will leave Krasnodar early in the morning for the 8-hour-long journey to the Republic of Kalmykia, a oddly fascinating and melancholically beautiful autonomous region in Southern Russia inhabited by friendly Buddhist mongolic people.
  • Besides the routine pauses for food, toilet and random landscape pictures, we'll break the long haul in some pretty traditional Southern Russian villages such as Dmitriyevskoye and Takhta.
  • A quick lunch on the road and finally we will reach Elista, the surreal and surprisingly lively capital of Kalmykia
  • Elista evening stroll through its communist monuments incongruously placed among Buddhist stupas and sacred wheels.
  • Dinner and overnight in Elista

DAY 3 - Kalmykia: Black Lands National Park and Saiga Safari

  • In the morning we will continue our tour of Elista's main sights, do some shopping around the exotic central bazaar and pay a visit to the surreal Chess City in the outskirts of town.
  • We'll then drive towards the gates of the Black Lands National Park, a unique grassland reserve where you'll be able to admire the saiga antelope 
  • We'll then visit the tiny Kalmyk villages surrounding the park, where we'll be able to learn more about Kalmyk culture and nomadic traditions.
  • Lunch, dinner and overnight with a local Kalmyk family

DAY 4 - Southern Russia: Astrakhan

  • In the morning we'll drive to Lagan, a large Kalmyk town located in the colorful wetlands near the shores of the Caspian Sea dubbed by the local as the Venice of the Steppes for the many navigable canals crisscrossing the surrounding area.
  • After lunch we'll then travel further north to Astrakhan, the biggest city of the Caspian Depression and the last stop along the mighty Volga.
  • Dinner and overnight in Astrakhan

DAY 5 - Southern Russia: Volga Delta

  • Astrakhan morning sightseeing: Kremlin, Fish Market, City Embankment, Cathedral of the Assumption, House of the Soviets, Lenin Square, Wedding Palace, Music Fountain, Temple Gate, Peter the Great Statue.
  • In the afternoon we'll head to the Volga Delta National Park to enjoy a romantic boat trip surrounded by a wild landscape of lotus flowers, water lilies and flocks of migratory birds. 
  • Lunch, dinner and overnight in Astrakhan

DAY 6 - Kazakhstan: Aktau

  • Morning flight to Aktau, Kazakhstan, one of the most isolated cities in the whole former Soviet Union
  • After having toured Aktau and its non-touristic sights (aka lots of socialist memorials, Soviet apartment blocks and brave-new-world architectonic wonders), we'll hit the beach for some truly post-Soviet vacation feeling. 
  • Lunch, dinner and overnight in Aktau

DAY 7 - Kazakhstan: Ustyurt Plateau

  • In the morning we will set onto a 4x4 adventure across the barren badlands of Ustyurt Plateau
  • We'll tour the western part of the plateau with its many natural sights, such as the bizarre chalky rock formation at Boszhira, and post-Soviet urban melancholia, best represented in the rather dull city of Zhanaozen.
  • We'll then reach the underground mosque-cum-mausoleum of Beket-Ata, where we'll enjoy a traditional Kazakh lunch and observe the mystic rituals of pious pilgrims. 
  • In the afternoon we'll head back to Aktau, where we'll enjoy a well deserved fresh beer in one of the many bars along overlooking the Caspian Sea.
  • Dinner and overnight in Aktau

DAY 8 - Kazakhstan: Fort Shevchenko and the Caspian Shores

  • We'll spend the day touring the many wonders scattered along the Caspian shoreline.
  • First we'll stop at the Koshkar-Ata necropolis, a holy muslim graveyard with impressive monumental tombs and pretty little mausoleums dating back to pre-Soviet times.
  • We'll then continue our journey heading to Aqshuqyr, a pleasant seaside village, where we'll have the chance to plunge in the fresh waters of the Caspian Sea.
  • After a traditional seafood lunch near the beach we'll drive north towards Fort Shevchenko, a Tsarist and later Soviet military-base town built on the western tip of desertic peninsula stretching out into the Caspian Sea.
  • For desolation lovers and melancholic souls we'll also pay a visit to the remote port town of Bautino and the nearby abandoned village of Kanga, before eventually heading back to Aktau.
  • Dinner and overnight in Aktau

DAY 9 - Kazakhstan: Beyneu

  • After a lazy morning in Aktau we'll set off on a desert ride towards Beyneu, a Soviet-planned town and a major junction along the remote railway connecting Kazakhstan to Karakalpakstan
  • Besides the routine pauses for food, toilet and random landscape pictures, we'll break the long haul in the end-of-the-world Kazakh villages of Shetpe and Say-Otes
  • Dinner and overnight in Beyneu

DAY 10 - Karakalpakstan: Moynaq

  • We will leave Beyneu early in the morning for the 9-hour-long journey to Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan internationally known for the Aral Sea disaster.
  • Besides the usual stops and border crossing formalities we'll break the journey in traditional Karakalpak villages scattered along the route such as Jasliq and Kungrad before finally reaching Moynaq, a former fishing town now surrounded by the eerily evocative desert that used to be the bottom of the Aral Sea. 
  • Dinner and overnight in Moynaq

DAY 11 - Karakalpakstan: Aral Sea

  • After an early morning walking tour through Moynaq (Ship Graveyard, Former Fish Factory, Aral Sands, School, Museum, Memorial, Cultural Centre) we'll set off on our second 4x4 adventure across the Ustyurt Plateau heading north towards the actual shores of the constantly retreating Aral Sea.
  • Besides the routine pauses for food, toilet, random landscape pictures we'll break the bumpy ride stopping at isolated Karakalpak hamlets that seem to have come straight out of a Mad Max movie.
  • Under good weather conditions (and if time permits) we might also be able to visit the lost city of a Kantubek, an abandoned Soviet town built on Aral's biggest island (now just a hill in the desert).
  • Once we reach the shores of the Aral we'll set up a camp and prepare for a night full of stars, hundreds of kilometres from any form of civilization; the brave ones might also to take a plunge in the extremely salty waters of the Sea. 
  • Dinner and overnight on the shores of the Aral Sea

DAY 12 - Karakalpakstan: Ustyurt Plateau and Nukus

  • Early wake-up call and long scenic drive across the Ustyurt Plateau towards Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan.
  • Food and photography stops along the way. 
  • In the afternoon we will admire the surprisingly rich Savitsky Collection of Renegade Soviet Art in the Karakalpak State Museum.
  • Nukus evening stroll for a last dose of Soviet architecture and Central Asian street culture. 
  • Dinner and overnight in Nukus

DAY 13 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations  

  • After enjoying a last Karakalpak-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to the airport/train station of choice.  
  • For those flying out: we will arrange transfer to Nukus International Airport for your flight back home.
  • For those wishing to take the train/bus to reach further destinations: we will arrange transport to the local train/bus station.
  • End of the tour. 

PRICE

4 to 9 participants: 3050 € 


The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 18 euro/night), private transport in the region, one-way flight from Astrakhan (RU) to Aktau (KZ), entrance fees to the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.

The price does not include: international flights and any other flight not explicitly included in the tour price and itinerary, meals, drinks and tips, transport to and from the airport of arrival/departure (35 euros/ride), visas if required, entrance fees to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.

The route of this tour has been carefully designed after several research trips in the region. It is, however, always possible to slightly modify the itinerary according to the needs and the suggestions of the participants. Our motto is flexibility. It is also possible to make the tour the other way around, starting from Nukus and finishing in Krasnodar, if a Caucasus extension is planned.

Please note: It’s advisable to arrive in Krasnodar one day before the actual tour begins. You should notice, however, that you’ll have to take care of your accommodation for any day and night preceding the actual start date of the tour. Without any additional charge we will readily and gladly reserve a room for you at our hotel of choice and you’ll be able to pay for it by cash or credit card once you check-in. If your flight lands on the same day as the tour begins and you prefer to rest a bit before going out sightseeing, you will then meet your tour guide and the rest of the group at the designated hotel in the late afternoon. 

Krasnodar has been chosen as the starting point of this route because the local airport is one of the busiest in the region and definitely the easiest and cheapest one to reach from Europe / North America. Alternatively you can also choose to land in Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd or Mineralnye Vody and we'll then take care of your transfer to Elista for an additional fee of 50 euros. Please contact us to learn more. 

Airport pickup/transfer in Krasnodar and Nukus is available for just 35 euros per ride.


WHERE THE HECK AM I TRAVELLING TO?  

BELOW YOU CAN SEE THE DIFFERENT TOUR STAGES MARKED ON A MAP OF THE REGION YOU ARE GOING TO EXPLORE WITH US

CLICK HERE FOR SOME NICE PICTURES AND MORE INFO ABOUT THIS DESTINATION

POSSIBLE TOUR COMBINATIONS FOR THIS ITINERARY INCLUDE

Volga Basin and/or Turkmenistan