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Aktau is a city of approximately 200,000 citizens located on the banks of the Caspian Sea (Kazakh: Каспий теңізі, Russian: Каспийское море) in Kazakhstan.
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Points of Interest in Aktau
There is an old Soviet-era plane on a pedestal just down the hill from the Asian-themed World War II memorial. At this memorial, an eternal flame (Russian: Вечний Огун) burns under a circle of partial-white arches, which are reminiscent of a yurt. Across from the memorial, there is a drama theater with regular productions in Russian.
Just south of these structures, on Aktau's middle north-south thoroughfare, you will find a collection of restaurants, night clubs and shopping centers. A well-appointed grocery store (Ramstor), movie theater and night club are in the Ardager shopping complex (district 9). Beyond that, in the furthest shopping center to the south is "Shoom" (ШУМ)(district 4), which has a large variety of low-quality stores.
To the north, in district 16, you can find Aktau's new mall. The mall includes a very small ice-skating rink, movie theater and a number of low and high quality shops (low quality children's clothes on the top floor, Hugo Boss on the main floor). The mall includes arguably the best deal in town for food at Asorti on its top floor.
District 10 has little of note, but it serves as a great viewing point of the huge frescoes, which cover one side of decrepit Soviet apartment buildings across the main street in district 9. The frescoes depict various "national fathers" of Kazakhstan, and rumor has it that current president Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev is keen to have his picture painted in a similar fashion. At the moment, he is making do with an enormous banner draped over an apartment building on that row.
Popular events in Aktau in the near future
Aktau means "white mountain" in Kazakh, but it is a very young city that has little to do with historical Kazakhstan. Despite its lack of history, Aktau is the capital of the Region of Mangestau.
Mangestau translates roughly from Kazakh as "eternal mountains", although the region is actually home to the Karagiye Depression - one of the lowest points in the world at 130 meters below sealevel. The region is also home to Sufi-pilgrimage sites such as Beket-Ata, Shakpak-Ata, Shopan-Ata and Masat-Ata, which exist due to Mangestau's location on ancient, but minor, land trading routes around the Caspian. The region is also home to some minor, albeit beautiful, natural attractions such as "Fire Mountain" (Kazakh: Отпантау), oases Tamshali and Saura, and Radon Hot Springs and Mudbaths. The Mangestau region is principally populated by Kazakhs of the Aday Tribe, which is one of the "little brother" tribes in Kazakh history.
Aktau was created as a uranium mining town in 1961 and was named Shevchenko, after the Ukrainian national poet Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko (Ukrainian: Тара́с Григо́рович Шевче́нко). The Soviets built a major nuclear power plant cum desalinization plant and the desert was transformed into a livable city. After independence, the Kazakhs renamed Shevchenko, and the city has become Kazakhstan's only port. Due to the large amount of oil and gas exported from Kazakhstan, the city has boomed and is now home to many new developments, which have stretched the infrastructure to its breaking point.
If you come to this city, you will be able to experience the paradox of large supplies of hydrocarbons, uranium and seawater coupled with frequent brown-outs and water shortages.
The Aday people are the overwhelming majority of Kazakhs who live in or near Aktau. This tribe of people usually describe themselves as fierce and prone to fighting while at the same time friendly and generous to guests.
Ethnic groups from across the Caspian populate Aktau as well. Most of these people were born in violent areas of Dagestan, Ingushetia, Chechnya or Ossetia and have wild stories if you are willing to listen. Groups here include Chechnyans, Utis, Lezgins, and Ingush. Many taxi drivers are Azeri or Georgian with a handful of Russians also present. People whose parents were born in other parts of the former Soviet Union live here. These groups include Koreans from Vladivostok, Ukrainians and Belarussians. The largest expat community are Italians due to the presence of Agip and Saipem.
The beaches of Aktau have nice water, and you are allowed to swim anywhere. However, the amount of glass on the beaches can make your beach experience dicey in many locations. Usually, the locals stick to the beaches below the Renaissance. Behind the beach-side grills and clubs there, the beaches are fairly clean and sandy.
Unfortunately you cannot kick back just anywhere on the edge of the Caspian, or around the town for that matter, and down a sunset drink. You are not allowed to drink alcohol outside of these beach-side bar and grills, although there are absolutely no signs to warn you otherwise. The local police take advantage of this situation and the general fear that many tourists have for police. If you are caught drinking, they only want 1000 Tenge as a bribe, even if you don't speak Russian or Kazakh. Most of the locals drinking on the street are ignored by police or pay the small bribe.
Bowling and Pool are very popular in the city. There are at least 2 bowling alleys of good quality: just down the steps from the Soviet plane is Alia Bowling Hall (in between districts 7 and 9) and in Aktau Mall (district 16). Pool is available at those places as well as in Elite Alliance (building 38 in district 8) in two places: near the corner of the main road in the small Baiterek Center and one directly behind the building in between Elite Alliance and apartment building 7. Nautilus Restaurant also offers pool.
Beach volleyball is available in the summers at Aktau Mall sports center in district 16 and on the beach near the Renaissance Hotel.
Grand Hotel Victory will let you use its saunas, gym, Turkish baths, etc. for one day for 4000 Tenge.
- In Aktau Mall (district 16), Restaurant Asorti on the top floor offers one of the best deals in town. There are two Asorti Restaurants in the mall, but the one on the ground floor doesn't offer the buffet. The top floor restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch between 12pm and 3pm every weekday for 1200 Tenge per person. There is a live piano player every weekday for lunch, and the decor is sleek.
- The second best deal in town are the Shwarma places near the Ramstor (Pamctop) behind Adagar (Ардагәр) Mall, near the eternal flame memorial. Ask for a 350 Tenge shwarma without sauce ("bez sosa") if you don't want it swimming in mayonnaise.
- The most expensive places are Taksim in district 12 (near the big roundabout separating districts 10, 14, 12 and 11), Noodles in district 2, or one of the restaurants at the Renaissance. Both of these offer what could be called a Soviet interpretation of Western-style service for around 25 USD per person. The food is mediocre for the price charged.
- Japanese, CIS style, is available at the downstairs location of Asorti at Aktau Mall, at Osaka in district 4, at Arabic down the steps from the Soviet plane in between district 9 and 7, and at the Jazz Club in district 5. You should expect to pay at least 20 USD to have a couple of small roles at any of those places.
- Alma-Ata Restaurant (behind Pinta and Taksim) has sturgeon caviar (Beluga) kebabs available for around 1500 Tenge per person. This is widely considered to be the best fish place in Aktau, but this doesn't say much about the quality of fish places in Aktau.
- Fuenta Club next to Ardagar (Ардагәр) Mall in district 9, near the eternal flame memorial, opens up for lunch on weekdays between 11:30 and 2:30, offering a mediocre buffet for around 1000 Tenge per person. It seems that this buffet is reluctantly all-you-can-eat. It is not worth the 200 Tenge savings to eat here instead of Asorti or the premium over Shvedski Stol.
- Shvedski Stol (шведский столь) has two locations, one in district 2 across from Shoom (ШУМ) and one in district 6 on the main east-west road. These restaurants also have an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet on weekdays, which costs around 900 Tenge per person. Be careful of overcharging, as the wait-staff will sometimes ring up your bill according to their perception of your ability to pay. Since both are located near Aktau's largest employers of office workers, good luck finding a table at lunchtime.
- Chinese is available at China Town Restaurant in district 9 for around 1500 Tenge per person. It is also available at Urumqi Restaurant in district 2 for around 3000 Tenge per person.
- Korean is available at Korea in district 11, next to Taksim. The food is not very Korean or very good.
- Pizza is available in district 4 at Napoli Restaurant for around 1500 Tenge. Napoli also has a location in Astana Mall in district 14, which has hookah (Russian: кальян) available.
- Restaurant Pinta at the major roundabout between districts 12, 14 and 11 serves a variety of coffees, teas and Soviet-foods. The food is reasonable but costs 2000 Tenge per person for an average meal.
- Coffee and People. There are two locations, one in district 2 near Aktau Hotel and one in district 7, off the main road behind a small city park and fountain. Both locations are swank, serve reasonably good food, and charge about 2000 Tenge per person for a meal at any time of day.
- Prag - This restaurant has tasty coffee and is located in district 6
- Hollywood Cafe - Two locations, one near Baiterek Center in district 27 and one in Aktau Mall in district 16. Both are located next to cinemas and both are expensively priced.
- Caucasian grilled meat (shashlik) is available at the beach-side grills below the Renaissance hotel. These are usually 800-1000 Tenge per person.
- The English Pub at the 5 Star Hotel "Grand Victory" in district 13 has a laid-back atmosphere and comfortable seats, but charges 5-8 dollars per pint.
- 3 Делфини near the Renaissance offers a well-priced menu and drinks
- Shamrock Irish Pub in district 7 is a reasonably attractive watering hole with expat prices similar to those at the English Pub.
- Guns and Roses in the Aktau Hotel in district 2 has a live music scene on weekends and expat prices to make it painful to enjoy.
- Mojito probably has the youngest crowd of expats (average age: 40) in district 4, and it is not as expensive as Shamrock even though it is almost directly behind it.
- Fuenta Club in district 9 is probably the most consistently crowded nightspot. The music is mostly Soviet techno and old hip-hop.
- The beach-side bars near Renaissance offer nightlife similar to that at Fuenta, but they mostly shut during the winter.
- Restaurant Pinta has occasional ballroom dancing parties on Sunday evenings.
- Arabica is a new club that has just opened up on the down the stairs from the Soviet plane. The club is a little bit cleaner than Fuenta and the location near the beach is nice. However, the music could be much better.
- Esperanza next to Ramstor in Ardager Mall shows live English Premier League matches and offers a decent menu in a rather small, cramped area.
Aktau is home to prices that are high, even by Western European standards. Quality electronics, clothes, western-style foods, hotels, entertainment and gyms are readily available. However, all of these are marked up anywhere from 100 to 300% above American or German prices. It is best to go local in Aktau and/or buy anything of any consequence before you come.
There are a few bazaars in Aktau. All of them have bad reputations for fleecing foreigners: Yellow Bazaar (Жолтий Базаар) in district 31, Wave Bazaar (Волна Базаар) in district 5, Old Bazaar (Старий Базаар) in district 22, and White Bazaar in district 8 (Ак Базаар).
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Aktau on Wikivoyage.