Sat between the desert and the Caspian Sea, hundreds of kilometers from anywhere else of any area, with all its water obtained from desalination, Aktau holds a population of 190 000 people. Aktau is also the the administrative capital of Mangistau Region, about 1700 km west of Astana. Aktau was born as a Soviet-era town and its construction was linked to the processing of nearby deposits of uranium, which gave it the status of a closed city in the Soviet period. This means that most of the buildings here are from the Soviet era as the city was built from scratch according to a plan by the Leningrad Design Institute. Later the city grew even further to provide for the needs of the oil industry developing in the region which still remains the lifeline of the city today.
Aktau is an entry point into the Central Asia by air from the Caucasus and İstanbul, as well as through an occasional ferry from Baku, Azerbaijan. The city is growing fast, fueled by the wealth produced by the oil industry. Aktau is also the main spot of Kazakhstan in developing the offshore hydrocarbon reserves and a maritime export corridor to the west. At the beaches of Aktau, one can find all the usual beach resort fun activities and there are also some nice beaches for swimming or sunbathing. But the real value of Aktau for a tourist is that it acts as a great base to start and end the Mangustay tours. In addition, there are also few nice sights to be seen in the Aktau city and also in the very vicinity.
What to see in Aktau
Skalnaya tropa - the coastal promenade of Aktau
‘Skalnaya tropa’ translates from Russian as the ‘rocky path.’ The length of this coastal promenade is about 1,5 km and it follows the rocky coast of the Caspian sea where it was very hard to walk before installing the man made walking path. The promenade has about 20 viewing platforms, and the whole path is equipped with ambient music equipment accompaniment by different colored lighting that make those rocky terrains look like as a fascinating underwater show especially after sunset. On holidays, there is a laser show which in addition to tourists also attracts the local Aktau people. Here you can also enjoy street food.
Aktau lighthouse is a memorial that was installed in 2013 in honor of the city’s fiftieth anniversary on top of a Soviet residental building. This 3,5 m tall lighthouse is a symbol of the city’s guardian. It is made of stone, including a decorative illumination inside. You can see the lighthouse by walking along Primorsky Boulevard and enjoy the spirit of Aktau while at it.
"Caravel of Columbus"
This ship monument is located at the square called “Astana”, in front of the Aktau city administration building. It is a copy of the main ship of Columbus from the voyage that aimed in finding a sea route to India but ended up discovering Americas instead. The ship statue was created by 40 Aktau craftsmen and stands on top of a granite wave imitation. Its height is 11.8 m, and it weights about 150 tons.
Aktau Botanical Garden
The botanical garden is a real pride in the city of Aktau. It located at a distance of 1800 m from the city center and called the Mangyshlak Botanical Garden, spreading over an area of 29 hectares. On the territory of the botanical garden, there are about 280 species of trees and shrubs, as well as 102 herbaceous and flower-ornamental plants. Seedlings of more than 29 trees and shrubs in addition to 102 species of decorative floral, and perennial herbaceous plants are grown here.
Sights around Aktau
For millions of years, roaring river flowed here making its way to the Caspian Sea and forming mountain valleys and gorges while at it. Over the long period of time, the rivers became shallow, creating magnificent natural features called canyons. Occasionally the rivers themselves disappear after that, leaving behind deep dry gorges. A unique ecosystem has developed in these places, and they amaze tourists with their unusual appearance and bizarre shapes.
Kapamsay canyon is situated 250 km north from Aktay and 4,5 km from the Shakpak-Ata “mosque”. The walls of the canyon are of mixed colors of a snow-white and cream, and in some parts even silvery. The wall length reaches up to 70 meters, which is quite unusual. According to the experts, the canyon was formed in the Jurassic period.
Ybykty-Say gorge is known for its stunning natural beauty, with towering cliffs, a crystal-clear river, and a variety of unique flora and fauna. One of the distinctive features of the Ybykty-Say gorge is the presence of several natural arches, which have been carved out of the rock over time by wind and water erosion. The arches are popular with hikers and climbers, and offer incredible views of the surrounding landscape.
The Ybykty-Say gorge is also home to a variety of wildlife, including eagles, hawks, and other birds of prey, as well as a number of small mammals like foxes, badgers, and hares. Visitors to the Ybykty-Say gorge can take part in a range of activities, including hiking, camping, rock climbing, and bird watching.
Sultan Epe Complex
According to a legend, Sultan-Epe is considered as a the protector of sailors. There is a belief that if those drowning in the Caspian turn to him, they will definitely be saved. Today Sultan Epe is a complex that consists of an underground mosque, numerous monuments, a garden with a well, and ancient settlements. Underground mosque Sultan-Epe is located about 57 km to the east of the city of Fort-Shevchenko settlements. The entire complex is dedicated to him including his tomb and the underground mosque, which resembles Shakpak-Ata. The underground mosque comprises several rooms and low passages. Archeologists discovered here also some artifacts dating back to the prehistoric period.
Sor Tuzbair is a unique sight of natural beauty with interesting geological formations. One of the main features of Sor Tuzbair is its salt dome, which is one of the largest in the world. The dome rises 400 meters above the surrounding landscape and is composed of layers of rock and salt. The dome has eroded over time, creating a series of canyons and valleys that are visually striking.
In addition to the salt dome, Sor Tuzbair is also known for its extraordinary flora and fauna. The area is home to a number of endangered and rare plant species, including the Sor Tuzbair tulip, which is found only in this region. Wildlife in the area includes wild boar, foxes, wolves, and various species of birds. Visitors can explore Sor Tuzbair by hiking, taking a guided tour, or driving around the area.
Aktau by Plane
The most convenient way to get to Aktau is by plane. Astana Airlines operate several daily flights to/from Almaty and daily flights to Atyrau. Bek Air flies twice a week to Oral and SCAT Airlines has daily flights to Atyrau, Almaty and Astana and more rare flights to Nukus in Uzbekistan.
There is also a direct international connection to Yerevan in Armenia and to Kutaisi in Georgia. Moreover, Aeroflot operates three flights weekly to Moscow and Azerbaijan Airlines AZAL operates straight flights to Baku. Aktau airport is located about 12 km northeast of the city. Since 2017 there is an airport shuttle bus that operates from Microdistrict 15 to the airport and back.
Aktau by Train
Aktau does not have a railway station. Visitors arrive at Mangyshlak Station, which is about 20 km away from the city and connected to the city by a shuttle bus number 105 or a taxi.
It is also possible to drive to Aktau but it is a long long drive from almost anywhere in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan.
More Mangistau sights
Page updated 22.4.2023