Corona Times, Time to Plan
For people who like to travel, adventure, and experience the world, life in corona times is particularly frustrating. I long to pack my gear and discover new dive destinations. This is the perfect time to plan diving buckets lists and to prepare your itinerary for the moment travel opens up again.
An Unexpected Dive Destination
Kazakhstan is not the first destination that comes to mind when you talk about dream destinations with your dive buddies. However, having spent time in Kazakhstan, I know that it is an intriguing and beautiful country with some amazing “off the beaten path” dive options that are well worth exploring.
Kazakhstan is a former Soviet republic situated in Central Asia. It borders with the Caspian Sea in the west and the Altai Mountains on the eastern border with Russia and China. It is a country of unparalleled natural beauty, all the more enjoyable as it is just being discovered by western tourists.
The appeal of diving in Kazakhstan is that it offers dives that are suited to all types of divers, from the most experienced looking for a chance to max out their skills, to the newer diver looking for a seriously unique dive experience.
Two Kazakhstan Destinations, Two Experiences
Located in the Tien Shan Mountains, Kaindy Lake was formed when the surrounding area experienced a massive limestone landslide that blocked the valley, filling it with crystal clear water that submerged the pre-existing forest of Asian Spruce trees.
Depending on the season, Kaindy Lake offers two exciting dive experiences. In the summer months, while the water is still bracingly cold, it is a magical experience to slip through the turquoise water surrounded by the submerged trees.
The winter months offer a much different experience, one that is not for the faint of heart. Ice diving requires keen skills, specialized equipment, as well as specific and detailed preparation. For the adventure-seeking diver, this is a paradise seen by few.
Kaindy Lake is a well known ice-diving location in spite of its remote location. Getting to the lake in the winter months, is in itself a mission. After an overnight at local lodging where road access ends, it is a further 5km hike through the snow to reach the dive destination.
The effort is well worth it. Kaindy Lake in winter wears a mantle of crisp white snow and is circled by thick forest. It is nature at her most pristine, utterly unspoiled.
The dive itself is extraordinary. Outfitted in dry suits, you will gradually adjust to the temperature and then receive the priceless reward of pristine crystal clear water. It takes the otherworldly beauty of diving to the next level and it’s not hard to imagine that you are sojourning on a different planet. The ice formations above you are dappled where light enters and the submerged trees are a haunting visage.
This dive is an adrenaline rush, that coupled with the hidden beauty, will leave you with a post-dive-high for days.
The Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest inland lake, a host to a variety of sea life and diving opportunities. The Caspian Sea traverses an area of 400’000 square kilometers. While it is a salt sea, the salt levels are diluted by the fresh water that feeds the lake, primarily from the Volga River in the south, which creates a unique habitat for flora and fauna.
The waters of the Caspian Sea house 400 endemic aquatic animal species, including the Caspian seal (one of only two freshwater seals in the world) and sturgeons (90% of the world catch). It also hosts plant life that is as unique as the surroundings. All this biodiversity means that you will experience a dive unlike anywhere else in the world. In addition to the plentiful aquatic life, it is also considered to be a paradise for migrating birds, which makes for a pleasant post-dive ambiance.
The city of Aktau, which means ‘white mountain’ in Kazhak, is a nod to the white cliffs bordering the sea. It sits on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea and is the starting point for Caspian diving adventures. It is the perfect place for top side relaxation. Sometimes you have to leave the palm trees behind.
Diving the Caspian Sea is suitable for all levels of diver, from the novice to the most experienced. The majority of the diving is not deep, which allows ample bottom time to relax and explore this unique natural world. The Caspian Sea is largely unexplored by divers, which gives you an opportunity to pioneer the region’s burgeoning dive scene.
Until the skies open up again, I am taking advantage of my local dives and updating my list for future trips. Will you add Kazakhstan to your list?