Let’s Go To the Beach…The Aktau Beach In Kazakhstan!
Let’s be honest, the vast nation of Kazakhstan isn’t exactly the first destination which comes to mind when you plan a beach holiday, but on the shores of the Caspian Sea, I found myself drinking beer and kicking back on the sand in the city of Aktau.
Aktau is a sprawling metropolis in the far west of Kazakhstan, built on the vast profits of oil companies. It’s isolated, an arduous 3 day train ride from Almaty in the east and a 2 day ride from the capital Astana- all across arid desert and sparse steepe. It was built by the Soviets, far from anywhere else, simply to enable the plunder of the region’s abundance of natural resources.
So for the tourist, there isn’t really much to see, or do for that matter…except hit the beaches.
‘Why are you here?’
I found myself in this strange Soviet creation after crossing the Caspian Sea by cargo ferry from Baku in Azerbaijan. I landed on the shores of Kazakhstan, and for as far as I could see there was just endless dry dust. No one spoke English, my Russian was hideous, but somehow, I made it through immigration and passport control, with the one officer who spoke a few words of English asking in a very confused manner: “Why are you here?”
Formalities and incoherence aside I made it to the city itself, jumping on a beat up Soviet bus where old ladies took it upon themselves to make sure I safely made it to my hotel. With lots of sign language and pointing at my phone map I got the bus to stop where I thought I needed to be. The old ladies waved me goodbye, and I went in search of the hotel. The only problem was, it wasn’t there…
After walking around confused and bewildered in the city, I eventually stumbled across a run down old hotel selling beds for only a few dollars a night. Jackpot. The corridors were filled with smoking itinerant workers from neighbouring Uzbekistan slamming doors and for some strange reason continually asking me if they could drink from my water bottle. Maybe they thought it was Vodka.
It was time to explore Aktau
I braved the scorching midday summer heat and walked into the city centre. The streets were organised, planned and lined with high rise buildings and apartments from the 1960’s. As in most former Soviet cities, there was a grand memorial remembering the struggle of World War II, an eternal flame alight beneath it.
There was also a battered and sun damaged Soviet fighter jet proudly on display nearby.
Down on the coast, a five minute stroll from the memorial the local Kazakhs were making the most of the summer sun. The coast was rocky and arid, the occasional water snake slithering silently between boulders. The locals were diving in, rowing out small boats and splashing around.
The small stretches of sand were strewn with broken glass here and a dilapidated pier was being used as a fishing platform into the somewhat oily waters.
Sitting on the rocks, it was a nice enough spot to relax and observe local life, but it wasn’t the golden sandy beach I was looking for.
Let’s Go to the beach
I headed along the coast, back towards my hotel and away from the city centre. I could walk all the way along the sea front uninterrupted for a few kilometres and on the outskirts of the city the rocks turned into long stretches of sand.
There was music thumping and beer flowing. These beaches were cordoned off though. Private access for a small fee. To keep the ruffians out. For only 2 dollars I got access to the best beach in Aktau. Beer was only a dollar too.
Now my Kazakhstan beach holiday could really begin
The smell of barbecued Shashlik drifted across the beach while I sat in the sand and sipped on Russian beer.
After a few beverages it was time to cool off in the waters. Being the Caspian Sea- one of the most polluted bodies of water on the planet- it was slightly oily, but still, maybe it was good for my skin?
The beach was packed with locals sunbathing, drinking beer and eating picnics, but not so overcrowded. There was plenty of space for a traveller to enjoy the Kazakh beach life alongside them.
After tanning out to the max, I washed off in the oily water and then as the sun set on the Caspian, headed back to my cheap Aktau hotel room after a hard day at the beach.
Aktau Travel Advice
I stayed in the Keremet Hotel. From the research I did, it is literally the only hotel in the city which won’t cost an arm and a leg. It’s basic, grotty but seemed reasonably safe overall. And for 1,500 Kazakh Tenge a bed you can’t really go wrong. It’s also only a ten minute walk from the nearest beach! It can’t be booked online as far as I’m aware, so just rock up.
You can find it on the map below. If you’re arriving at the Sea Port, the bus into town stops on the main road just down from it.
You’ll probably be in need of onward travel too. I took the 24 hour sleeper train down to Kungrad in Uzbekistan, but you can also travel to anywhere in Kazakhstan, although anywhere is a long way. Tickets can be booked at the train station, but this is a bit of town- I paid 2000 Tenge for a taxi there when I left- or there’s a few booking office’s in the city centre. Tickets can sell out, so book your onward travel as soon as you arrive.