Embark on an extraordinary journey to the heart of two undiscovered gems in Central Asia alongside Crooked Compass Founder, Lisa Pagotto for this one-off departure never to be repeated.
Where sapphire lakes shimmer and the steep architecture of ancient cities impress. Sheer peaks capped with snow stand as testaments to the wild nomadic frontiers you will explore on this journey. In Kazakhstan and Mongolia, the landscapes are as diverse as they are pristine, offering travellers some of the most incredible and traditional experiences our planet has to offer.
Your adventure begins with a visit to Mongolia’s renowned Eagle Festival, a captivating celebration of tradition where Kazakh eagle hunters, known as Burkitshi, honour their heritage. Here, they showcase their exceptional skills alongside their specially trained golden eagles, competing in thrilling contests of speed, agility, and precision. As you join in the festivities, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the captivating bond between these majestic birds and their masters while immersing yourself in the rich Kazakh culture. Along the way, you’ll share moments with nomadic communities, gaining insight into their traditional way of life and the resilient spirit required for survival in this rugged landscape.
Join Lisa for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, where the allure of Kazakhstan’s natural beauty and Mongolia’s Golden Eagle Festival combine to create an unforgettable expedition into the heart of Central Asia’s untamed beauty.
Welcome to Mongolia! Upon arrival, you will be met at Chinggis Khaan International Airport and transferred to your hotel in the centre of Ulaanbaatar (which the locals call “UB”), the capital of Mongolia. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure. This evening you will enjoy a welcome dinner where you’ll meet your fellow travellers and your guide will give a briefing on the adventures to come. Enjoy witnessing an incredible folklore concert this evening – a great introduction to Mongolian culture. (D)
Overnight Shangri La Hotel or similar
Today you’ll take a three-hour flight to Bayan-Olgii Province, where 90% of the population is Muslim Kazakh. This is the westernmost province in Mongolia and it has the feel of a wild west frontier town. Meet your support crew for the next leg of your Mongolian adventure before enjoying lunch in a Turkish restaurant.
Continue to drive out to Altai town. On arrival, you will transfer to your ger camp. Tomorrow is festival day. Dinner and overnight ger (elevation 2100m). (B,L,D)
Overnight Altai Ger Camp or similar
Distance: 3.5hour flight and 3-hour drive to Altai town
After breakfast, you will start the day by visiting a local horse race. Mingle with the locals who have come to celebrate their unique cultural heritage.
Witness Kazakh hunters in all their glory, and see a parade of falconers on horseback, their prized eagles perched on their arms. After the parade, each hunter will demonstrate how well their bird obeys his commands by placing his eagle on a nearby cliff edge and calling it from below. It’s a spectacular sight to see these birds of prey soar down to their owners and alight on their arms.
The festival provides a unique opportunity to be up close and be part of the festivity and to capture some incredible photographic opportunities. The Golden Eagles are evaluated for their speed, agility and accuracy. Return to your Ger camp. (Elevation 2100m). (B,L,D)
Overnight Altai Ger Camp or similar
Distance: 40 min drive to Horse racing field
This morning after breakfast, you will head out for another fascinating day at the Eagle Festival. Today you will witness trained golden eagles display their speed and agility. To test their eagles’ skills, hunters drag a fox skin behind their horse, and the fastest eagle to land on the skin is considered the best hunter.
Witness traditional Kazakh games, such as aitis, a poetry duel; kyzkuar, a dating game played on horseback; and kokpar, a team sport played on horseback with a goatskin – some of you may know it as ‘goat polo’, the national sport of Afghanistan! We invite our Golden Eagle masters to join us at dinner. (Elevation 2100m). (B,L,D)
Overnight Altai Ger Camp or similar
This morning, you will take it easy before setting off to visit a local Golden Eagle Master’s family and join them in their home for lunch. Drive out to Ulgii town in the afternoon. Transfer to your local ger camp (elevation 1650m). (B,L,D)
Overnight Altay ger camp in Ulgii or similar
Distance: Less than 1 hour drive to Local Eagle Master family. 3-hour drive to Ulgii town.
Following breakfast, take your flight back to Ulaanbaatar city and transfer to your hotel. Visit the Gandan Monastery which is home to a huge gold-plated Buddha, a symbol of Mongolian national pride and cultural revival. (B,L,D)
2 nights Shangri La Hotel or similar
Distance: 3.5-hour flight and 1-hour drive to the hotel.
Today you will explore Terelj National Park. Walk through meadows carpeted with edelweiss and wild flowers, view fascinating rock formations against a backdrop of pine-covered mountains and wander along the wooded banks of a mountain stream.
You will also visit the Aryabal Meditation Temple. As you climb the 108 stairs to the temple (the number 108 holds great significance in Buddhism), stop and take time to read the Buddhist teachings that are on signs along the way. You will also find 108 prayer wheels and 108 small stupas at the temple. The 108 stairs leading up to the temple are said to symbolise an elephant’s trunk, the long path is designed for walking meditation and reflection.
The main temple hall has beautiful carvings on its wooden posts and beams, and the walls of the interior space are brightly decorated with paintings and stories depicting the lives of famous Arhats.
Continuing on, you visit the great Genghis Khan statue on the banks of the Tuul River. Over 40 metres high and visible for miles around, it is possible to climb the statue to enjoy some sweeping views across the countryside. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with your group. (B,L,D)
This morning is at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward flight to Kazakhstan.
On arrival at 1.30 pm, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Enjoy some time at leisure to relax before meeting at 4 pm when you will transfer to the 1st President Park and witness the Sunkar Falcon show. Here you will visit the nursery of rare endangered species of birds “Sunkar” which are totally unique. The nursery is the only one in the whole of Kazakhstan and has raised 1060 birds and released 260 falcons back into nature. By visiting the falcon nursery, you can admire these most beautiful birds, learn about their biological characteristics, and more than that, watch a falcon show. The trained birds take part in the show as they demonstrate hunting and collecting food out of the water. The story about the tradition and history of falconry will be shared during a spectacular performance with freely flying birds of prey. Enjoy dinner in a local restaurant. (B,D)
Overnight Dostyk Hotel or similar
This morning you will transfer to Issyk Lake. Issyk Lake beckons with its stunning turquoise waters, surrounded by the majestic Tien Shan mountains, offering tranquillity and natural beauty. Continue on to Charyn Canyon. Admire the grand panorama and descend to the bottom of the canyon to walk approx. 2km through the maze of the Valley of the Castles.
Charyn Canyon is a natural complex, unique in its kind not only in Kazakhstan but also worldwide. It was formed during the Paleogene and reminds you of the Grand Canyon in North America, although inferior to it in size. The height of the steep slopes of the canyon is up to 150-300m. The extraordinary dissection of the terrain is striking: the numerous ravines form a dense, chaotic network. Wind and water have created the beautiful ‘Valley of Castles’, where you are always surrounded by fancy towers composed of sedimentary rocks. The length of the valley is more than 2km and its width is 20-80m. For millions of years, nature has been creating a unique architecture, erecting magnificent castles carefully and slowly. You can spend hours walking amongst the strange towers and columns, being absorbed in the wild imagination of nature.
The bottom of the canyon has a slight descent to the end of the walk, where you will reach the fresh oasis on the banks of the icy cold Charyn River. Relax and take in the surrounding beauty before walking back and driving to one of the observation points for another breathtaking panoramic view.
Lunch today is in the village of Baiseit where you will have the opportunity to try Uighur cuisine. (B,L)
Overnight in a local guesthouse in Saty Village or similar
The Kolsai Lakes, known as the ‘Pearls of the Northern Tien-Shan’, represent a cascade of three lakes. The largest lake is accessible to all travellers. It is the most beautiful lake, with a lack of civilization and an abundance of wild mushrooms. For those who are horse lovers, there is the option to explore on horseback. The highest lake is small. It is located on the border of firwood and the alpine meadows and amazes with its harsh alpine beauty, as well as the rich flora and fauna. The vertical drop between the three lakes is about 700m. The lowest lake can be reached by vehicle. Walk a few kilometres along mountain trails to see the second and third lakes. This will be one of your highlights. This area is rich in berries, mushrooms and fishing. The water in the lakes is cold and clean and is home to the rainbow trout – a fish that lives only in running or spring water. In the surrounding mountains, you can see Marals, mountain goats, wolves and even bears.
From here, continue to Kaindy Lake, often referred to as “birch lake,” which is nestled amidst a magnificent pine forest at an altitude of 2,000 metres above sea level. The lake’s fame stems from its unique origin—it was formed in 1911 following a powerful earthquake that triggered a landslide, creating a natural dam that flooded the valley. As a result, the water in the lake remains remarkably cold, preserving the pine needles of the submerged trees, which are clearly visible through its crystal-clear surface. Dry fir tree trunks rise above the water, resembling the masts of a submarine squadron. The lake’s mystical beauty is truly indescribable. Return to Almaty. (B,L,D)
Overnight Dostyk Hotel or similar
This morning you will set off to the Hunni Ethno Village where you will receive a welcome greeting by two warriors wearing armour showcasing the Saka Period. Participate in a national ritual called Shashu, which is a traditional practice of showering guests with anything from cookies that are crumbed, to sweets to coins! Following this, participate in Baursaks Kazakh puffy bread cooking master class. Whilst your bread is cooking, become acquainted with the construction of a Kazakh yurt and its sacral meaning for a nomad. You will also learn about old-time Kazakh housekeeping duties such as whisking wool, spindle yarn making and grinding flour by hand.
At midday, witness a Sarbaz Nomad Group performance. Here you will witness National Horse Games such as Jigitovka – horseback riding with acrobatic elements including Atpen audaryspak (struggling and pushing a rival while horseriding), Kyz kuu (a game for when a lady rejects a man’s approach) Kara Zhorga (traditional Kazakh dance) and of course horseback riding. Enjoy a lunch showcasing national cuisine such as plov, fresh salads, and of course, local tea. Following lunch, you have the opportunity to participate in an archery master class! From here, you will transfer to the train station to catch a train to Tulkubas. (B,L)
On arrival at Tulkubas, head to Aksu Zhanagly National Park. Located in the southern part of Kazakhstan, this park is a natural wonder and one of the oldest protected areas in Central Asia. The park’s terrain is incredibly diverse, featuring everything from lush alpine meadows to rugged mountain ranges. It is part of the Western Tien Shan Mountain system, which is known for its towering peaks and deep valleys. The Aksu River flows through the park, creating picturesque gorges and dramatic canyons along its course.
Aksu-Zhabagly National Park is a haven for biodiversity. It’s home to a wide range of flora and fauna, including rare and endangered species. The park boasts over 50 species of mammals, including the elusive snow leopard, brown bear, and ibex. Birdwatchers will delight in the park’s diverse avian population, which includes golden eagles and Himalayan griffons. The park is also famous for its diverse plant life, with numerous species of wildflowers, medicinal herbs, and rare endemic plants.
In addition to its natural beauty, the park has cultural significance as it’s home to Kazakh nomadic herders who graze their livestock in the high-altitude pastures during the summer months. Their traditional yurts and way of life offer a glimpse into Kazakhstan’s nomadic heritage.
Dinner this evening is in a local home with a Kazakh family. Dining with a Kazakh family in their home offers a heartfelt glimpse into Kazakhstan’s culture. You will be warmly welcomed into a traditional setting with cushions on the floor. The meal is a showcase of homemade delicacies like beshbarmak and manti, enriched with aromatic spices. The Kazakh tea ceremony is an integral part of the experience. Cultural exchange is encouraged, with stories and laughter filling the air. (B,L,D)
Overnight in a local guest house
This morning you will transfer to Turkestan. Turkestan is a city of profound historical and cultural significance. It’s renowned for its role as a prominent Silk Road hub, where traders, scholars, and travellers once converged. The city boasts architectural gems like the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, showcasing stunning Timurid-era design. Turkestan is a pilgrimage destination for Muslims, honouring the revered Sufi poet Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. You will be drawn to its grand bazaars, ornate mosques, and vibrant festivals. Today, Turkestan remains a captivating blend of ancient heritage and modern life, preserving its rich history as it embraces the future.
Visit Arystan Bab Mausoleum, which is a revered religious and pilgrimage site. It is dedicated to the memory of Arystan Baba, a Sufi saint and spiritual leader who lived in the 12th century. You will also visit the ancient city of Otrar, an ancient Silk Road city in Kazakhstan, which offers a glimpse of its historical importance through archaeological ruins and a museum showcasing artefacts. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Rixos Turkestan or similar
This morning you will visit Khodja Akhmed Yassui mausoleum. Continuing on, visit Sauran Settlement which is a journey back in time to a once-prosperous Silk Road city. Explore ancient ruins that reveal its trading legacy, architectural marvels, and cultural heritage.
In the evening, transfer to the train station to catch your train back to Almaty. (B,L,D)
Arrive into Almaty around 10.30 am. Depart for a city tour. Starting in the central part of Almaty, you’ll learn about the city’s history and development as the Southern capital of Kazakhstan, and visit its major attractions.
Your tour begins at Panfilov Park, home to Zenkov Cathedral, one of the world’s most beautiful wooden buildings. You’ll also visit the Memorial of Glory and Eternal Flame, dedicated to those who fought for the country’s freedom and independence. Explore the Central State Museum and Republic Square.
Next, head to Kok-Tobe Hill, home to the world’s tallest TV tower when measured from sea level. Reach it via a scenic, winding mountain road, and take some time to stroll through Kok-Tobe Park, where you can enjoy city views from a special observation deck. Dinner this evening is at the Abai restaurant at Kok Tobe. (L,D)
Overnight Dostyk Hotel or similar
Today is yours at leisure until it is time to check out and transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at any time until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 4 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.