Shymkent is the “capital” of South Kazakhstan region and the third most populated region of the country inhabiting about a million residents. Shymkent is situated 690 km west from Almaty and 1483 km south from Astana. It is one of the largest industrial and commercial centers of Kazakhstan and is located relatively close to the capitals of two neighboring countries, Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan.
Shymkent was established in the 12th century as a caravanserai to serve the Silk Road center of Sayram in about 10 km to the East. Shymkent developed as a market center for trade between nomads and residents. In the 18th and 19th centuries the city become an object of the fighting Khanates of Bukhara and Kokand. In 1864, a five-thousandth detachment of Russian troops under the command of Mikhail Chernyaev took over Shymkent by storm. Since 1867, Shymkent has become a district town of the Syrdarya region of the Turkestan Governor-General. At the same time, the cities appearance significantly changed where the European-style houses arose and the city is gradually improved.
In 1930 a lead production plant was built in Shymkent and it provided 70% of all the lead produced in the USSR. During World War II, 17 industrial factories were evacuated to Shymkent from the advancing German army. During the later Soviet-era in the 1950 – 1980s, the city’s economy developed rapidly due to petrochemicals center building with the establishment of the oil pipeline to bring Siberian crude from Omsk and the construction of an oil refinery that is today run by Petrokazakhstan.
Shymkent is located along the river badam origininating from the nearby high mountains at the border of Kyrgyzstan and due to the location as a trading place of the Great Silk Road Shymkent has many marvelous buildings that were created throughout the years of the silk trade. Shymkent also obtained a big influence from the Uzbek culture since Tashkent is only 120 km away from Shymkent. Therefore, many tourists shortly stop in Shymkent before continuing their journey to Uzbekistan. Today Shymkent is a booming trade center that refines oil and brews of the Kazakhstan. The town is surrounded by green national parks and has developed its ecological tourism programs.
Shymkent itself does not offer that much to see for more than a day or two but it is a good base of operations to explore the nearby ancient sights, nature and other places of interest in the South Kazakhstan or on the way to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan or other cities inside Kazakhstan. There are the old town of Turkestan (Ecki Kala) with the ancient fortress next to it but the old town can mostly be detected from the curvy erratic streets compared to soviet 90 degree junctions and the fortress is pretty much a pile of rubble behind the bazar. We have no reports of the access or the excavation situation of Shymkent fortress.
What to do in Shymkent
Shymkent Zoo is a home to about 1600 animals and for more than 200 species. Among them more than 20 species are listed in the Red Book of threatened species.
In Shymkent zoo you can observe for example ungulates, predators, primates, reptiles and even hippos. In addition there is a large aquarium with 510 species of fish. About 25% of the food for the zoo animals is grown at the own territory of the zoo. The zoo is surprisingly nice compared to the usual conditions of the post Soviet Zoos but would still benefit from some renovations and infrastructure updates.
Bazaars of Shymkent are exceptionally colorful and pictoresque. The most atmospheric and popular one is the “Upper Bazar” or Central bazar which is located at the center of the old town between the two channels going through the city.
This market has preserved the enchanting atmosphere of the ancient bazaars from the times of the Great Silk Road: Shelves are full of spices, vegetables, dried fruits and oriental sweets together with delicious hotcakes and not forgetting the cheap Chinese products that are filling most of the Central Asian bazars nowadays.
There is another bazar called the Samal bazar about 5 km northwest from the city center, next to the Samal bus station. This bazar is fully covered and is the largest bazar of Shymkent. A great place to observe the life of the local people away from the more usual path of tourists.
Ken Baba Park
Ethno Park “Ken-Baba” is located in the center of the of Shymkent. The park is popular mainly with the numerous nationals cuisines such as Kazakh, Uzbek, Slavic, Tatar-Bashkir, European, Korean-Uyghur and Chinese. Furthermore, there is a gallery of artists and the village of masters.
In addition, entertainment carousel and playgrounds for kids. On the entrance, you may notice a sculpture of golden hands holding the globe with children.
Independence Park was opened in 2011, for the 20th anniversary of the country’s independence. There is a unique singing fountain created by an architect from China, numerous flower arrangements and plants brought from Netherlands.
The central monument has 137 steel pillars representing 137 nationalities in the country. The park is located at the top of stairs and offers good views over the city of Shymkent.
Alley of Glory and War Memorial
The park is largely dedicated to the victims of the WW2, there is Walk of Fame, a memorial complex and an entire alley with the memorials. The war memorial presents well the huge scale of loss in the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
Shymkent was one of the most important cities in Kazakhstan during the WW2 when 17 factories were built to produce spare parts for tanks with shells and lead. More than 140 000 people from Shymkent region lost their lives during the second world war.
Museum of Victims of Political Repression
Opposite to the War memorial there is a small museum dedicated for the victims of political repression presenting the Kazakh history of opression during the Soviet Union time. It is the first political museum in the country, open to preserve the memory of victims of political repression of 1937-1938. There are two floors and two halls – the exhibition hall and the “Worship” hall. In the center, there is a sculpture “Repression”, which reflects the suffering and torment of the Kazakh people. You can get a brochure translated by the British Council with some background information since the information in the displays is mainly in Russian and Kazakh.
South Kazakhstan Regional Museum
Regional Museum of Southern Kazakhstan is located in the north part of Shymkent city center. The exhibition area of the South Kazakhstan Museum of History and Local Lore has four exhibition sections: “Nature, science, archaeology”, “Ethnography”, “Kazakh Khanate and the new century” and the “Independent Kazakhstan”.
Shymkent by plane
Shymkent international airport is located 10 km northwest of the city center. Bus 12 operates between the airport and the main train station. From the airport you can also always take a taxi from outside the arrivals exit.
Air Astana and SCAT Airlines fly daily to Almaty and Bek Airline fly to Astana and Aktau. Atlasjet Airline offers straight flights to Istanbul three times a week and Aeroflot the same to Moscow.
Shymkent by train
The train station of Shymkent is situated Southeast from the city center at the Southern end of Karabai Batyr Avenue. For the schedules you can check railways.kz. The rails from Shymkent go towards West to Turkestan and Kyzylorda towards the Aral sea and to the East towards Taraz, Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Almaty and all the way to Astana.
Shymkent is also connected with Tashkent via rails towards South and the border can also be crossed by international travelers of course taking into account the possible visa needs.
Shymkent by bus
Shymkent Samal bus station is located next to the Samala market and has numerous departures all around Kazakhstan as well as Kyrgyzstan and Urumqi in China. You can purchase tickets on the same departure day or 15 days beforehand. There are about six buses departing to Almaty in a day, one to the capital Astana and two buses to Kyzylorda and one to Bishkek. You may buy a ticket from the station website. Also, there are shared taxis to the neighboring cities such as Taraza and Turkestan and they leave when seats are filled up.
Other sights & destinations near Shymkent
Page updated 23.1.2022