Dagmar Schreiber, a German living in Kazakhstan, has devoted the last 20 years of her life to helping rural villages in Kazakhstan to explore opportunities in tourism. Currently, the government does not provide much support for tourism in rural areas, because this does not fit into its picture of displaying Kazakhstan as a modern country. After 20 years of being liberated from the then Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has changed its infrastructure tremendously, however, the first priority has been given to developed areas like Almaty and Astana.
The EU and some gas companies had supported ecotourism, but that support is vanishing because of the global financial crisis. Thanks to idealistic people like Dagmar Schreiber, ecotourism is slowly becoming more popular, but it will likely take another 20 years to see any noticeable changes in the rural areas.
Most of the rural population lives in small villages relying on family businesses, which truthfully are not providing any real income and almost no public services. Unemployment reaches as high as 80 percent in many places, and with the villagers not having access to any money, most must live off the land within their family structures. Ecotourism not only brings desperately-needed money to the small communities, it also helps in education, understanding, and development. Because of eco-tourism, many rural villages are starting to gain access to electricity, and taxable income is staying in these rural regions for their own future development.
Kazakhstan, the 9th largest country in the world with only 16 million people, has huge amounts of open spaces. Tourism opportunities abound with visits to snow-topped mountains, deep forests, cool lakes, vast steppes, and rich wildlife. Whether you are seeking relaxation or an adventure, this country provides exhilarating opportunities to experience nature’s beauty, but perhaps the most moving experience a traveler can have in Kazakhstan is to actually stay with a family in a rural village.
The proud people of Kazakhstan place great honor on receiving guests. In the villages of Ugam, where people only opened their homes to visitors in the summer of 2005, travelers who have found their way there report on the warmth of the welcome and how good it was to experience the Kazakh village life. The distant communities of Ridder and Katon-Karagai present more of a challenge to the visitor, but that just adds to their appeal, and the people of Ridder have recently received training and advice from staff at a resources center and are eager to welcome visitors into their homes.
The Ecotourism Information Resource Center in Almaty (phone: +7-727-279-8146, email@example.com , www.eco-tourism.kz ) has a wealth of information on how travelers can experience the real Kazakhstan by staying with rural families.
Kazakhstan is a vast country still waiting to be discovered and may be one of last real adventures in tourism. Go and stay with a family and find out for yourself. It is a memorable experience that will better the lives of the people who live there and your own life as well.