What to do and where to go in Karaganda? Our picks here.

Karaganda is the fourth most populous city in Kazakhstan, after Almaty, Nur-Sultan, and Shymkent. But it is often not on the radar of most visitors to Kazakhstan. This could be due to its fairly isolated location, but don’t just write the city off — it offers a fascinating look into Kazakhstan’s complex history, and more.

For Soviet history buffs

The KarLag Gulag Museum in the small town of Dolinka, some 40km southwest of Karaganda, is housed in the former administrative headquarters of KarLag, or the Karaganda Corrective Labour Camp. KarLag was one of Joseph Stalin’s largest gulags, where purported criminals, including prisoners of war during World War II, were interned and often tortured. At least one million prisoners were said to have passed through KarLag during its operation from 1931 to 1959. Many perished under the cruel living conditions.

But it is not all doom and gloom. The museum also features the scientific and agricultural achievements of inmates, who included scientists and engineers. You can also view the art pieces created by the artists among them.

Getting to the museum is fairly easy. Board bus 121 from Karaganda’s main bus station in front of its railway station. Let the bus driver know you are headed for Dolinka, and he will alert you when it is time to alight. The journey takes about an hour and costs $0.50. On reaching Dolinka, it is a 2km walk to the museum.

At the museum, you can arrange for an English speaking guide to take you on a tour for about $4.00.

A feast for the eyes

Standout Soviet murals that dot the walls and streets of Karaganda are a welcome sight. Many buildings sport beautiful murals that depict the mining industry and the Soviet space programme, reflecting the city’s history as a mining town and its links to the country’s space ambitions. The best works can be found around Independence Stele, including one featuring Soviet cosmonauts in space.

One of the best-known symbols of Karaganda is the Glory to Miners monument, a tribute to the selfless and heroic labour of the city’s miners, metallurgists and builders. Back in the 1800s, locals discovered coal in the city and this prompted a coal mining boom. The mines attracted workers from nearby villages, as well as merchants and entrepreneurs from Russia, France and England.

For nature lovers

Surrounded by rich nature and small wooden houses, the Karkaraly National Park is the perfect spot for a relaxing suburban getaway. While the journey here takes about 3 hours by car from Karaganda, it is well worth the trip.

The park is huge at 90,323ha, with half of it being forested land. That is bigger than the size of Singapore, which stands at about 72,150ha!

Rewarding sights at Karkaraly include Lake Shaitanko, or Devil’s Lake, where the water never freezes and its level never changes no matter the season. Horse and ski tours are also available for adrenaline junkies. If you visit Karkaraly during winter, cross-country skiing on the roads and in the forests is a must-try.

When to visit Karaganda

Karaganda has an extreme climate with scorching summers and freezing winters. Avoid July – the hottest month of the year – and January or February, when the temperature can drop to -20 to -30 deg C. September and early October are the most agreeable months with good weather and pleasant temperatures of 10 to 20 deg C.