Kazakhstan Horse Trek

Explore Kazakhstan on Horseback

If you're a seasoned traveller, with a taste for horse riding, join our local team of park rangers and ride the wilds of Katon-Karagay National Park. This rarely-visited corner of the far east of Kazakhstan, with its fascinating mix of post-Soviet culture and spectacular scenery, is a horse trekking paradise. 

Trip Length:
Trip Length:
17 days

Daily plan

Price:
Price:
$4,700 NZD

What's included?

Time in the Saddle:
Time in the Saddle:
12 Days

Scheduled Departures

Including current availability

27 June - 13 Jul 2021
10 Aug - 26 Aug 2021
When would YOU like to travel?
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Saddle up your horse and ride with us

In 2021 we will be returning to the far east of Kazakhstan, a beautiful region of forests, lakes and high mountains. Close to the Russian, Mongolian, and Chinese borders, this remote wilderness area is best explored by riding and using pack horses. Perfect for a Zavkhan Trekking expedition.

We will once again be working closely with Amangul, our trip manager from the Altai region of Mongolia, famous for its Kazakh culture. Having established the right connections with local officials we are now in the perfect position to help develop ecotourism in the area, with your help.

One day this region will be known as a world class trekking destination, but in the meantime we have it to ourselves.

Viewing platform

Who is this trip aimed at?

Intrepid travellers of all sorts, not just serious horse folk. Experienced riders will be able to make the most of the great horses and fantastic riding country, but confident, less experienced riders are welcome. Keep in mind you will be wilderness camping with packhorses so you need to be prepared to rough it when necessary.

If you've had a good time in Mongolia with us, then this is the trip for you. If you haven't ridden with us yet, but like the look of our trip style, then you are welcome to join us. The more fit and active you are, the more you will enjoy the trek. You need to be comfortable with not having a rigid itinerary.

Experiencing the local culture is of course half the reason for travelling, so we will be meeting and mingling with the local people along the way.

Three riders

The Kazakh horses

We work with the National Park rangers who spend their time patrolling the mountain trails on their horses. The horses are fit and sure-footed, and well-trained (forget everything you might have learnt in Mongolia regarding the perils of a flapping raincoat or approaching from the wrong side!).

We have a range of horses available, from those that require a firm hand (such as John's favourite, 'Sparkles the Destroyer') through to those that will look after a less experienced rider.

The tack is basic but functional, and the horses respond to neck-reining. We are sure you will love these horses as much as we do.

zavkhan content khaz trip 01

A typical day on the trail

During this trek you will experience everything from lush meadows and forest, to rocky mountain trails and high passes. The pace varies from slow (sometimes you may need to get off and walk over rough terrain), through to flat out galloping. Some days you will be using packhorses, and other days you will meet the support vehicle at camp.

You will ride through quaint Kazakh villages, and explore remote wilderness areas. The wildlife is slowly returning now that the entire region is a national park - you may encounter elk and ibex, and perhaps an occasional bear.

It's hard to describe a typical day - every day is different, but the riding is always superb.

What's the riding pace like?

If you worry about being on a trek where you follow along behind the leader and never get beyond a slow canter, fear not. Confident riders are welcome to go as fast as their horse will carry them. This video will help (warning: contains scenes of reckless galloping). There are endless rolling meadows, without a fence to be seen, perfect for a fast ride. Less experienced riders will be able to stay at a more moderate pace.

The pace will be slower at times as we head in to the mountains, or find our way through dense forest and follow narrow trails. It's not all about the galloping!

Rangers

Meet the local people

A trip with Zavkhan Trekking always involves getting down from your horse to meet the local people. The evolving post-Soviet mix of Kazakh, Russian and other cultures is wonderfully hospitable. The country is famously home to over 100 ethnic groups - a result of Stalin's forced movements of entire populations to Kazakhstan.

The park rangers we work with are keen to show you their way of life, and you will be invited to share lunch with their families. Life in the rural villages is simple, and in summer the focus is on producing enough food to get through the long winter. Delicious wild berry jams and clotted cream go perfectly with scones!

If you are brave and have a strong stomach, you've got to try koumiss, or fermented horse milk.

Trip Plan

Note, this trek is constantly evolving as we try new routes, and is weather dependent. Please don't take this as a rigid itinerary. There will be days away with packhorses, and days where we meet the support vehicle. Every day will be different, but always memorable. Think of our trips as non-itinerised.

Day Activities
Day 1 Meet at our hotel in Ust-Kamenogorsk and head out for our first group dinner together. If you have time during the day, we can help with site-seeing around town. Ust is a pleasant place with plenty to see and do for a day or two
Day 2 Drive from Ust-Kamenogorsk to Katon-Karagay, (330km, 6-7hrs). Watch the rural life of Kazakhstan pass by as we head east toward the Altai Mountains. Stay the night at our first camp site, at Tukhem Bak rangers station
Day 3 First riding day. Learn the Kazakh style of horse handling while riding through forest and meadows
  During the next 12 days of trekking we have 6400 square kms of National Park to explore, much of it accessible only by packhorse
Days 4 to 5 Load up the packhorses and ride south, up in to the mountains to establish a basecamp just above the tree line. The views north to Russia over the main Katon-Karagay valley are spectacular. Spend the next day riding higher to where the remains of an old gold mine can be seen, before returning to basecamp. Chew the fat around the campfire and marvel at the stars - there's no light pollution here
Day 6 Follow old horse trails through dense forest back down to the main valley, and then enioy some galloping action as we head further east along the valley floor. Meet the support vehicle at Sayabak ranger station, where there is the possibility of a traditional banya (sauna)
Day 7 Today we change to fresh horses and new rangers, as we enter a new ranger territory, making our way back up in to the mountains to camp at Saram Sakhta ('place of wild onions'). Meet the support vehicle (if the dirt track is passable), and prepare for a night away with packhorses
Days 8 to 9 Ride on up to the jailoo, or summer highland pastures. Depending on the amount of snow still lingering, there are several high passes to choose from. Herders bring their cattle here to graze the lush meadows each year. Return to Saram Sakhta camp via the route we call 'the Kazakh Pass of Death'. If you've been on our Mongolian Altai Expedition you will know what we mean. It's steep, but nothing that you and the local horses can't handle
Day 10 Descending from the mountains, we reach the village of Junga Urga ('new example'), where we change to our third and final set of horses and wranglers. Ride north across the mighty Bukhtarma river, flowing down from the Altai Mountains, to our perfect riverside camp near Akhainar. This is a long day, but there is plenty of galloping action, and the river is ideal for a cooling soak at the end of the day
Day 11 Continue up river to camp at Batbakbulag, another lovely riverside spot. Stop off at our ranger Sergei's 'bee farm' and sample his honey which is uniquely flavoured from an amazing array of wildflowers. Unlike the local people, the bees can be a bit belligerent, so try not to annoy them
Days 12 to 14 It's packhorsing time again as we head north to the Russian border, to reach Maralkol ('elk lake'). We camp beside the lake for two nights and explore the uninhabited surrounding area of forest, meadows and rolling hills. Take your horse for a swim in the lake if you are keen! By the third day we return to Batbakbulag camp, via a different route
Day 15 Ride back to our campsite at Akhainar. This is a shorter ride, leaving time in the afternoon to compete in traditional Kazakh horse games. These include audaryspak, or wrestling on horseback, kyz kuu, where one person chases another with a whip (usually a woman whips a man, but in these enlightened times, anything goes), and kume alu, where a rider tries to pick up objects from the ground at a gallop. Fun times!
Day 16 Drive back to Ust-Kamenogorsk, and enjoy a well-earned final dinner together. If the timing is right, we take a ferry across Bukhtarma Lake, as an interesting shortcut
Day 17 Depart Ust Kamenogorsk. If you would like to see more of Ust before heading away, we can help (or ask us about a stop-over in Almaty or Nur-Sultan)

The area where we ride

We don't follow a regular trail, but this map shows the area of Katon-Karagay. [better to use an image showing the park boundaries]

What you need to know about riding in Kazakhstan

If you don't see an answer to your question here, please see our general FAQs, or we are happy to have a chat

What's included in the price for the Kazakhstan Horse Trek?
When do I need to arrive in Ust Kamenogorsk?

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

Бізге Қазақстанда қосылыңыз, біз сізді күтіп отырған жылқымыз бар!

That's Kazakh for 'join us in Kazakhstan, we have a horse waiting for you!' Get in touch and we will gush about how fantastic the riding is.