Sat between the desert and the Caspian, hundreds of kilometers from anywhere else of any area, with all its water obtained from desalination, Aktau holds a population of 180-190,000 people. It is perhaps the most inexplicably situated of all the weirdly located places scattered across the former USSR. The administrative capital of Mangistau Region about 1700 km west of Nur-Sultan, Aktau was a Soviet-era new town, erected on the arid banks of the Caspian, its construction linked to the processing of nearby deposits of uranium, which gave it the status of a closed city in the Soviet period and then to the needs of the developing oil industry in the region.

Aktau is a Soviet-era town built on the arid banks of the Caspian sea and an entry spot into Central Asia by air from the Caucasus and İstanbul, as well as by an occasional ferry from Baku and Azerbaijan.  Its establishment related to the processing of nearby deposits uranium and the need of the growing oil industry in the region. The city was built from scratch – completely scaled according to the developed plan by the Leningrad Design Institute, which created the nation’s new cities. In 1963, the settlement of Aktau received town status and the same year were built Soviet-style apartment blocks. The infrastructure presented a modest living for people in a waterless desert. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Aktau has largely become a center of oil and gas fields opened in the 20th century and those discovered more recently. Today the city is a significant oil and gas production center and is known for its unique heated oil pipeline. It is a fast-growing town, developing fuelled by the oil industry since the Mangistau is one of the most important oil-producing regions if Kazakhstan. The town is the main spot of the country in developing the offshore hydrocarbon reserves and to develop a maritime export corridor to the west.  

What to see in Aktau


Lighthouse is a memorial sign that was installed in 2013 in honor of the city’s fiftieth anniversary. The 3.5 m high lighthouse is a symbol of the city’s guardian. It is made of stone, inside is a decorative illumination that revives the statics of the monument. You can walk along Primorsky Boulevard and enjoy the spirit of Aktau.

"Caravel of Columbus"

Monument located in the square  “Astana”, in front of the city administration building. This is a copy of the main of the three legendary ships, on which Columbus went in search of India, and discovered America. The ship was created by 40 Aktau craftsmen. It is located on a granite wave imitation. Its height is 11.8 m, and its weight is 150 tons. 

Botanic Garden

This place is a real pride in the city of Aktau. It located at a distance of 1800 m from the city center, the Mangyshlak Botanical Garden is spread over 29 hectares. On the territory of the botanical garden collected about 280 taxa of trees and shrubs, as well as 102 herbaceous and flower-ornamental plants.  Seedlings of more than 29 trees and shrubs, 102 species of decorative floral, and perennial herbaceous plants are grown here. 

Sights around Aktau

For millions of years, roaring river flowed made their way, forming mountain valleys and gorges. Over the long period of time, the rivers became shallow, making 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

Kapamsay canyon is situated 250 km north from Aktay and 4.5 km to the east stands Shakpak-Ataon. The walls of the canyon are appeared mixed colored of a snow-white and cream, and in some points, they are typically 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, and possibly one of the rivers flowed here.

Ybykty-Say gorge


Ybykty-Say​, Mangistau
Ybykty say in Mangystau, Kazakhstan

Sultan Epe Complex

According to 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 compled that consists of an underground mosque, numerous monuments, a garden with a well, and ancient settlements. Underground mosque Sultan-Epe is located about 57 to the east of the city of Fort-Shevchenko settlements. The entire complex is dedicated to him with his: there is his tomb and the underground mosque, which resemble Shalpak-Ata. The underground mosque comprises several rooms and low passages. Archeologists discovered some artifacts dating back to the prehistoric period.

Sor Tuzbair


Sor Tuzbair, Mangistau
Sor Tuzbair, Mangistau

How to get to Aktau


The most convenient way to get to Aktau is by plane. Astana Airlines operated several daily flights to Almaty and daily flights to Atray you can reach within 45 minutes. As well as domestic airlines such as Bek Air flies twice to Oral and SCAT Airlines has daily flights to Atyrau, Almaty and Nur-Sultan. 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 reverse. 


Aktau does not have a railway station. Visitors arrive at Mangyshlak Station, which is about 20 km away from the city, then take shuttle bus number 105 or a taxi. Beynaul has a train station 

More Mangistau sights

Photo credit @mangista_explorer

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