May 2014

Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan

Where to score a great beshbarmak, why flowers should always be bought in odd numbers and other essentials

By Dinah Zeldin

Established by Soviet officials in 1956, the industrial town of Stepnogorsk, located in the Akmola province of Kazakhstan, was once a top-secret location developed around military facilities. This included a large uranium processing plant and a biochemical plant where anthrax was manufactured. When Stepnogorsk was opened to the public after the collapse of the Soviet Union the town was an industrial wasteland. But in 2011, Kazatomprom, the state-owned nuclear company, began partnering with foreign enterprises to develop the rich rare earth potential in the area, and Stepnogorsk started regaining its industrial clout. Today, the town (pop. 46,000) offers business travellers the basic comforts required for a pleasant stay.

Where to stay

The standard for business travellers is Hotel Stepnogorsk. Located a few steps from the city’s central square, the 1970s-era, four-storey complex includes a restaurant, a snack bar, and a selection of suites. Rooms start at $45/night. For travellers looking to offset the city’s grey landscape with a little glitz, the recently opened Mi- La Hotel promises luxury suites, starting at $115/night. Other hotels are not recommended. 

Hotel Stepnogorsk: +7 71645 60962 

Mi-La: +7 71645 32906


Where to dine


Local fare is based on meat, potatoes and pasta. Signature dishes include shish kebabs, “beshbarmak,” a horse meat and pasta dish with potato and onion, and “plov,” fried rice with meat, carrots and raisins.

The best restaurant, The Kazakhstan, is located on the first floor the Stenpnogorsk Hotel. Meals range from $20 to $30. Other popular dining spots are Charodeika (+7 71645 62572) and Zhuldyz (+7 71645 32898).

Quick meals are served at cafés, where prices range from $10 to $15 for a meal. Zhili-Bili and Dzenis, both located in microrayon 3 (micro-district 3), are recommended. Pastries and coffee are available at Kofeyina in the Kazakhstan Shopping Centre.

Tip: Make dinner reservations in advance, especially on weekends. Because there are only three restaurants in town they can get busy.

 How to pay


Irene 2005/Flickr

Transactions are done primarily with cash. The Kazakh currency is the tenge (KZT), and it is illegal to use foreign currency in financial transactions. Currency can be exchanged at any bank, and 1 CAD is worth about 165 KZT.

Tip: To avoid expensive roaming fees purchase a prepaid SIM card at the airport.



How to fit in

Business cards are common in Russian and English; some cards can be in Kazakh. Arranging meetings with senior officials and top managers of Kazakh companies can be a challenge. Be nimble; such meetings are frequently only confirmed at the last minute.

Kazakh is the official state language, but Russian is spoken by the majority of the population and is still the business language. English is not widely spoken. Very few people speak French. It is best to use a reputable and experienced translator during business meetings.

After establishing a business relationship, local businessmen may invite you to a restaurant or to their home. When invited to a Kazakh contact’s home, bring a bottle of wine, whiskey or cognac, and an uneven number of flowers for the women of the house (giving an even number of flowers is considered bad luck).

Where to explore

Travellers looking for a cultural experience should visit Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. You will have to pass through in any case if you are destined for Stepnogorsk. Designated as the capital in the late 1990s, the city underwent a major facelift and boasts a skyline dominated by impressive contemporary architecture. The Ishim River splits the New City, which is full of architectural marvels, from the Old City, which is occupied by Soviet-era structures and government buildings. The central promenade, the Avenue of the Republic, is bustling with shops and restaurants.

Ken and Nyetta/Flickr 

Make sure to stroll by the Baiterek Monument, a unique 105-metre tall construction of metal and concrete, with a glass sphere set at a height of 97 metres. Venture inside and ride the glass elevators to the top to enjoy a cocktail at a bar that offers a panoramic view of the city. The Khan Shatyr, a shopping mall and cultural centre, built to look like a tent from the outside, is also worth a visit.

In the evening, head over to the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation; the pyramid-shaped structure, designed by British architects Foster and Partners, was built in 2006 to house the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which is held in Astana every year. The structure also contains a 1,500-seat opera house, the national museum of culture and several other socio-cultural institutions.

If you have time to extend your stay, you might want to venture off the beaten path to Borovoye, a resort with rustic lakefront accommodations, a forest and small mountains. Fishing enthusiasts can arrange an angling adventure, and hikers can tour the hills. Your hotel will be able to organize transportation to the resort.

How to get there

Airplane-iconLufthansa, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines, KLM and Transaero Airlines fly from Canada to the closest airport in Astana in about 12 hours, with one or more stops. A taxi from Astana to Stenpnogorsk costs from $70 to $85. A shuttle bus, if there are enough passengers, is available for $15 per person. Although the drive from Astana to Stepnogorsk is just less than 200 kilometres, it can take as long as four hours due to poor roads and bad weather.


Getting around

Taxi-iconThe best way to get around is by cab. Use only trusted taxi lines Jaguar and Akdzol. Taxi fare to any part of the city should not exceed 500KZT (about $3). The city is fairly small, so in nice weather walking is also an option. At night, it is advisable to call a reputable taxi service before leaving popular restaurants and places of recreation, as foreigners have been specifically targeted for theft around such venues.


Tip: Foreigners have been robbed by individuals posing as police officers. If approached, ask to see police credentials.

Who to contact

Icon_Canada_flag Canadian Embassy | Kabanbay, Batyr Street 13/1, Astana, +7 (7172) 475 577,

Icon_US_flagU.S. Embassy | Embassy Rakhymzhan Koshkarbayev Avenue, No. 3, Astana, +7 (7172) 70-21-00,


The town clinic +7 71645 62127 | The emergency clinic +7 71645 62127 | The Bioritm Private Clinic +7 71645 27700

Further travel: Belo Horizonte, Brazil | Dakar, Senegal | Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Back to magazine home page

Post a comment


PDF Version