5 things to know about the Caspian Sea

Google “Caspian Sea” and you will see several results on whether it is a lake or a sea. The answer, however, is far from straightforward. Like most lakes, the Caspian Sea does not feed into an ocean but it boasts the size and depth of a sea.

Beyond semantics, the distinction also has political, economic and military ramifications for the countries bordering it. These nations finally signed a convention in 2018 on how to divvy up the hotly disputed Caspian Sea, which has been defined as neither a sea nor a lake under a special legal status.

Now that we’ve got the tricky part out of the way, here’s other trivia about the world’s largest body of landlocked water.

It is surrounded by 5 countries

The coastline of Caspian Sea is shared by Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran and Turkmenistan. This is great news for those who wish to cover as many Central Asian countries as possible at one go. But do note that getting around the Caspian Sea can be unpredictable, given the rather erratic transport services in certain countries. But don’t let this deter you. Go with the flow, and you might just find yourself watching a Caspian sunset on a cargo ship to Kazakhstan.

Aktau sits on its Eastern shore

Aktau, the capital of the Mangystau region in Kazakhstan, is famous for its beaches. With clear waters and not-too-hot weather, it is an ideal place to kick back while enjoying traditional Shashlik and a Russian beer (or two). There is action aplenty for adrenaline junkies too: try windsurfing, parasailing or water skiing on the Caspian Sea.

It has remarkable biodiversity

The Caspian Sea is not just rich in oil and gas reserves but also in marine life. Some 400 aquatic animal species are endemic to its waters – you cannot find them anywhere else in the world. A case in point is the adorable (but endangered) Caspian seal that is often found along the shoreline. Avid bird watchers are in for a treat too. The Caspian Sea lies along part of a major migration route and sees millions of migratory birds fly over the area twice a year. The coasts also serve as key nesting sites for many birds such as gulls, terns, waterfowl.

Its caviar is world-famous

Caviar is dubbed “black pearls of the ocean” for a reason – the cost can be eye-watering. Beluga caviar, the world’s most expensive caviar, costs about $300 for 10g. But Kazakhstan’s sturgeon farms along the Caspian Sea offer the delicacy for a fraction of the price: $10 for 10g. Caspian caviar is said to be the best in the world, with the natural waters imbuing it with a rich, creamy flavour.

You can have a crude oil spa here

That the Caspian region is rich in oil reserves is no secret. What is less commonly known, perhaps, is what some people in the Caspian region do with the oil. Crude oil spas have gained popularity among locals and tourists alike in recent years. The oil used for such spas – Naftalan – is different from Caspian crude oil, and is said to ease skin, joint and bone diseases. While it sounds bizarre, this treatment is definitely a must-try for intrepid travellers to the region.