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Located in Central Asia, hugged by Russia on its northern border and China to the east, Kazakhstan is truly massive in size – after all, it is ranked as the world’s ninth biggest country. Kazakhstan means “land of wanderers”, and the country’s futuristic cities, dramatic landscapes, and friendly locals reward those, who chose to explore it. Kazakhstan is also the most economically advanced of the “stans” (the five “stan” countries include Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan), thanks to its abundant reserves of oil and most other valuable minerals.

The upshot? Visitors can expect more modern, higher quality hotels, restaurants, and travel options than elsewhere in Central Asia. The biggest city, Almaty, is almost reminiscent of Europe with its leafy avenues, chic cafes, glossy shopping centers and decadent nightlife. Almaty is the country’s financial and commercial center, it’s a conglomeration of Soviet-era architecture. Worthwhile sights include the wooden Zentov cathedral and the Green Bazaar.

The other city not be missed is Astana. Located on the windswept northern steppe, this city has been transformed into a 21st-century showpiece with a profusion of bold futuristic architecture, packed with ultra-modern buildings, many designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster. One such building is the transparent, tent-shaped ‘Khan Shatyr’. Impressive from the outside, the interior boasts shops, entertainment venues, a monorail, boating river, and even a beach resort. There’s the Bayterek Tower too, an exhibition space and observation tower shaped like a tree, topped with a gold mirrored sphere. It measures 97 meters (318 ft.) in height, representing 1997, the year that Astana became the country’s capital. Another of Foster’s creations is the pyramid-shaped Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, home to an opera house, a museum and conference facilities.

But it’s beyond the cities that you’ll find the greatest travel adventures, whether hiking in the high mountains and green valleys of the Tian Shan, searching for wildlife on the lake-dotted steppe, enjoying home-spun hospitality in village guesthouses, or jolting across the western deserts to remote underground mosques.

In the Tamgaly region, you can see thousands of Iron Age rock carvings. In the country’s south, you can visit the Baikonur Cosmodrome – it was here that Russian Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin was launched into space in 1961, the first human to make the journey. Wildlife lovers should head to the Ak-Zhaiyk Reserve – a wetland habitat for migratory birds. It’s a great place to spot pink flamingos, pelicans, spoonbills and ibis, and the river delta hosts the endangered Russian beluga sturgeon, sought after for its caviar eggs. Kazakhstan’s abundant wildlife also includes red bears, snow leopards and the Steppe Eagle, a symbol of the country, which appears on the national flag.

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Spring (April – June) and fall (September – November) are typically the best times to travel to Kazakhstan, as temperatures are moderate. In July and August it can get very hot (reaching 40 Celsius/104 F), while during the winter months, temperatures hit serious lows (minus 43 Celsius/minus 45 F). To enter Kazakhstan, a valid passport is required, nationals of the U.S., Canada, Australia, and all EU-countries may stay up to 30 days, without a visa. For longer stays, you must obtain a visa from the Embassy.

Astana is currently hosting EXPO 2017, and about three million visitors are expected in Kazakhstan, as the country builds its international reputation. This year, it is the first time that EXPO is being hosted by a Central Asian country, and the capital Astana went through a major facelift in time for the start of EXPO 2017.

AirlinePros partner Air Astana is the official carrier of Astana EXPO 2017. Air Astana is offering its international passengers arriving in the capital, Astana, a free ticket to attend WORLD EXPO, taking place June 10 – September 10, 2017.   Passengers, holding a flight ticket dated June 10 – September 10, 2017, can benefit from this unique offer. To obtain a free ticket, eligible passengers can visit www.airastana.com click on the EXPO tab to register and print their ticket.

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In an attempt to welcome international guests to this major event, Astana is working with 13 official tour operators, providing as many as 73 different tour packages, stretching out to all corners of the country. Starting in Astana, visitors can pick their own route, which may be a weekend break in Almaty, a more historic trek through Turkestan to the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum and ancient settlements, or a scenic trip to the Sharyn Canyon and Baikonur Cosmodrome.

EXPO 2017 itself operates under the headline “Future Energy”, examining the latest in sustainable technology. The event focuses on generating global discussions, and developing intelligence to help control energy consumption and minimize environmental impact. Some 115 countries and 22 international organizations are here, joining forces to tackle the energy related issues of our time.

Air Astana headerKazakhstan’s flag carrier Air Astana currently operates a network of 65 international and domestic routes from hubs in Almaty and Astana. Air Astana’s fleet of 31 aircraft includes Boeing 767-300ER, Boeing 757-200, Airbus A320 family, and Embraer E-190 types. The carrier will take delivery of 11 Airbus A320 neo family aircraft, including four A321 LR between 2016 and 2019, and three Boeing 787 in 2019. Air Astana became the first carrier from Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (the CIS) and Eastern Europe, to be awarded the prestigious 4-Star rating by Skytrax at its World Airline Awards 2012, and was also named ‘The Best Airline in Central Asia and India’ that year. Both achievements were repeated in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Air Astana is a joint venture between Kazakhstan’s national wealth fund, Samruk Kazyna, and BAE Systems from the UK, with respective shares of 51% and 49%.