Almaty is the former capital of Kazakhstan, and is still its largest city. Being a financial and cultural center of Central Asia, Almaty boasts moderately-sized tourist and expatriate communities.
On a clear day you can see the beautifully rugged, snow capped mountains, right at the city's doorstep to the south. The city, in general, slopes from south to north which makes navigating the streets easy. If you are traveling uphill, you're going south. There is also a small mountain range bordering the city to the east.
Almaty is in the top 50 most expensive cities worldwide for expats to live in according to Mercer Human Research. Although Almaty dropped from 30th place in 2007 to 44th in 2008, it's still more expensive than Toronto, Los Angeles or Hamburg. Still, if done carefully - Almaty can be as cheap as many South American and Eastern European cities. It is a wonderful gateway to this undiscovered and distinctive country. Kazakh people are very kind and welcoming, and you will be pleasantly surprised by the hospitality.
The airport is served by a number of airlines:
- Air Astana is the national carrier operating to many European and international destinations.
- KLM operates flights to Amsterdam.
- Ukrainian International Airlines operates less expensive services to European destinations through Kyiv.
- Lufthansa connects Almaty with numerous destinations through Frankfurt.
For people from most countries, the easiest way to get to Kazakhstan is by air. Several airlines have regular flights into Almaty, including the low-cost carrier airBaltic from Riga, Lufthansa, CSA, British Airways, Etihad Airways, KLM and Turkish Airlines, (twice daily) to name a few. It's roughly a 7-8 hour flight from Europe. Air Astana, with a fairly modern fleet of Airbuses and Boeings, has direct flights from major European cities such as London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, and is a comfortable and reasonably priced alternative to the European airlines. Easy connections from Almaty include Moscow, London Heathrow, Amsterdam, Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Istanbul Ataturk, Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen, Seoul, Beijing, Hong Kong, Delhi,Tehran IKA and Dubai, Antalya (summer only), Bodrum-Milas (summer only) with direct flights.
Visas must be obtained in advance of arrival, as they are no longer available on arrival at the airport, (unless you are arriving from a country that has no consulate, and that type of plane-side visa usually needs to be coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at least one week in advance).
Make sure you allocate ample time for obtaining a visa. It usually takes between 7-10 business days.
The airport is small, and sometimes several flights depart around the same time, meaning shocking queues and waits for no apparent reason. Be early, and expect delays to your flight. Lots of departures from Almaty end up leaving a bit late, but most arrivals are pretty timely.
A taxi from the airport to the city costs about $10-25 (2000-3500 Tenge.)You can also take a bus to the center, which starts at 7AM and costs 80 Tenge. The best is to ask at the airport information booth to order you a cab (it will be about a 10 minute wait for one to arrive), which they will, and it will cost you half the price of getting one outside the airport (1200 Tenge).
Check-in desks open around 3 hours before flight departure and you are not permitted into the check-in area until the desks for your flight have opened.
There are two railway stations, Almaty-1 and Almaty-2. Almaty-2 is located in the city centre, Almaty-1 is cca 4 km from the centre. Most trains end at Almaty-2, but some lower-class trains end at Almaty-1.
There are many direct trains between Russia and Kazakhstan. Train 8 goes from Moscow to Almaty, and departs from Kazanski Station. The trip takes about 82 hours, with stops in Saratov, Uralsk, Aktobe, Turkestan, and Shymkent on the way.
The K9795/K9796 (Formerly N895) train leaves every Saturday and Monday night (23:58 Beijing time) direct to Almaty. To buy the ticket in Urumqi the office is in the Yaou Hotel to the right of the main station. Tickets need to purchased a few days in advance and cost around ¥870 (about US$110).
Ticket sale for the Saturday train starts on Monday 10am, for the Monday train it starts Friday 10am. The train on Saturday is very busy, while for the train on Monday it is possible to purchase the ticket on the same day. There will always bee free seats in the train so you may enter the train directly at the Chinese side of the border after buying the ticket there the same day (July 2010).
Organizing the Kazakh visa in Urumqi takes at least 5 (July 2013) working days.
The trip takes 34 hours, eight of which are spent clearing Chinese and Kazakh immigration. Taking the bus or flying are better options if you are in a hurry.
Sleeper buses leave from Urumqi at 6pm every day of the week except Saturday and take approximately 24 hours to arrive in Almaty (May 2013: daily at 7pm). Tickets for a lower bed are Y420, upper beds are Y400, and a berth in the back bed of the bus is Y380. Buses depart from the international branch of the Nianzigou Bus Station (碾子沟客运站 +86-0991-587-8637 mandarin speaking), which is located about 50 meters to the left of the main Nianzigou station (if facing the front of the station) on the other side of the Wenshabao (温莎堡) building. Beware that the crossing at Korgas (霍尔果斯) closes on Chinese national holidays (including the first week of October for National Day).
Buses also leave from Yining and it takes about 10 hours to go to Almaty. They cost USD 30 or Y150. These buses leave two or three times in a week, ask the busdrives in Yining when they will go. You could also take a bus to Korgas from Yining (public buses from the bus station 19.5 yuan). You can not cross the border on foot!You have to take the minibuses to the kazakh side (1500tenge per person, plus 500tenge if you have luggage). After being on the other side of the border take a taxi to Zharkent for 1000 tenge, than you can catch a taxi to Almaty for 3000 Tenge.Sometimes they ask for 500more at the end, if they have to help you find your hotel in the city. The trip from Korgas to Almaty is about 4 to 6 hours. The city of Tacheng city (north of Korgas and north of Yining) also has buses that run several times a week to Almaty and back.
From Bishkek, KyrgyzstanEdit
Minibuses travel to Almaty Sairan station from Bishkek's western bus station, and cost about 400 som/1300 kzt and take up to 5 hours depending on how long the Kyrgyz/Kazakh border crossing takes. Enter the station in Bishkek and look for the minibus bay with Almaty written above it. They go when they fill up, so expect to wait about 20 minutes or so after arriving. Just get on and take a seat and payment occurs when the bus is full and about to leave.
The trip to the Kazakh border does't take long from Bishkek and when you arrive you must get out and take your luggage through the border crossing yourself. Each passenger and the minibus must clear the border individually, and hopefully he will still be waiting for you on the other side when you complete the ordeal. Unless you individually experience a major delay it is likely the minibus will wait for you. Once through the border crossing, the minibus will stop again after an hour for a rest stop at a gas station.
Kyrgyz/Kazakh border crossingEdit
The border crossing involves several lengthy, disorganised queues which frequently see large groups of people skipping to the front of the queue claiming young children or infirmity as an excuse. Forget any queuing etiquete and do your best to stand your ground. The border crossing begins with clearing the Kyrgyz immigration. If you're a non Kazakh/Kyrgyz national you simply have to go and present your passport to a man who resides in a room behind a mirrored door at the back of the first building you come across - you can either skip the scrum of people and try to walk around to the back of the building and knock on the mirrored door behind the immigration booths, or you can line up and have the man at the immigration booth point you through to the door.
Once through the Kyrgyz immigration point you must enter Kazakhstan, and at this point the scrum of people becomes even more intense as you are lined up through a green cage or sorts, although it doesn't seem to apply to everyone as large groups of people will attempt to skip to the head of the queue by waiting outside the end of the green fenced area. Once at the end of the green cage area, there is a larger area where you line up into three queues, one of which is let go at a time into the area with immigration booths. Once into the Kazakh immigration booth area, grab an immigration form and fill it out while you line up at one of the booths. Expect a lot of standing around, pushing, yelling and queue jumping. After the immigration booths, there are customs officers stationed at the exit of the building. They will be randomly letting people through, or searching them, or rejecting them. Locals will be hanging around wondering how to get their stuff through customs. There is no queue. Just go straight to the customs officers and say that you're a tourist and only have clothes in your bag, then they will probably let you through without a search.
- OVIR, Corner of Baytursnuly & Karasay Batyr, ☎ 8-7272544145. Mon–Fri: 9:00–18:00, Sat: 9:00–13:00, Passport collection: 17:00–19:00. Enter the side door through the blue porch and go to window No. 3. You need: photocopies of your passport photo-page and your Kazakh visa as well as your accommodation's address (Aug 2010). As of May 2010, you can drop off your passport (copies not accepted, nor letters from embassies confirming that they are holding your passport)with the aforementioned documents in the morning, and they will ask you to return later in the day to pick it up. If you do not register within 5 days(beware this duration starts from the day you landed in first kazak airport on your arrival till you take off on your departure from the final kazak airport, this is important considering that the cities are not well connected by international flights on daily basis due to which you spend in stopovers at domestic airports), the penalty fee is $100, otherwise you will prevented from leaving the country. Single-entry visa: 855 KZT. edit
The new number for the OVIR is 87272-544132.
- Those who registered at arrival at an international airport (at a border checkpoint), do not need to apply to police for registration.
Remember that the mountains outside of town are critical to direction. When someone tells you to head "up," they are telling you to head towards the mountains. When someone tells you to head "down," they are telling you to head away from the mountains. It is very easy to get around Almaty, since most of the roads are either parallel or orthogonal to each other. The destinations are usually determined by intersections like in New York. Therefore, for instance, if you know that Kazakhstan Hotel is located in intersection of Abaya street and Dostyk street, local people will be able to help you out with ease.
Central Almaty benefits from the new underground system launched on 1 December 2011 . It is comprehensive, boasts some great architecture, and is relatively cheap. There is only one metro line consisting of the following stations (Alatau, Auezov Drama Theatre, Baikonur, Abay, Almaly, Zhibek Zholy and Raiymbek batyr). The second line is under construction, which will reach more remote parts of the city.
As of December 2011, a single trip costs KZT80 (USD0.54). Payment does not depend on the length of the trip. The tickets (plastic yellow coin tokens) are currently sold at manned booths within the stations ("kassa") only.
There are no day tickets or similar offers tailored to visitors, but for those who do use Metro really often and for an extended period of time, there is a rechargeable unlimited trips smart-card (small refundable deposit is required), which can be recharged for a period up to 3 months. However, if you lose it, you will not get any refund or replacement.
The Metro is open from 6 am through midnight. The Metro is safe and guarded by police at all times.
By trams, buses and trolleysEdit
There is an extensive network  of buses and trolleybuses in the city. The trams lines are limited and serve only specific areas of Almaty. The fare is universal – KZT 80 as of October 2012. You need to put coins inside a dedicated machine inside every vehicle or pay the conductor when exiting.
There are both official and informal taxis. Official taxis can be booked in advance and normally show up quite soon. The fare difference between official and unofficial taxis may vary up to 3 times. Just raise your hand and a car will eventually stop. You should negotiate the price and direction in advance. Normally the fare varies from KZT200 to KZT1000, depending on the remoteness of the area. These are really efficient, and although it takes a bit of getting used to, it is the perfect solution to getting around. nevertheless, single travellers should be aware of mugging late at night. Avoid cars with more than one male occupant at night. Usually a car will stop within 30 seconds to 3 minutes of having your hand out. If the driver does not wish to drive to your destination, no problem. The next one will stop a minute or two after. You will need the name of your destination street and the nearest cross street, in Russian, in order to get to where you want to go. Very few people speak or understand even basic English. It is necessary to have small money. Usually drivers avoid giving change, so it is better to have the exact amount in hands.
- Kazakhstan English Language Theater, Ave. Abay 2, (email@example.com), . Started in 2001, the Kazakhstan English Language Theater (KELT) is the only English language theater in former Soviet Central Asia. KELT does two shows a year, and runs English language theater classes and workshops periodically throughout the year. Located on the campus of KIMEP Institute in the heart of Almaty. edit
- Presidential Palace. You will not be allowed to go inside. Nonetheless, the scenery and architecture is breathtaking. If the guards are out front, it means the President is there.
- National Museum. Opposite to Presidential Palace. Blue-roofed. Features displays on Kazakh history, from prehistoric times through the Mongol periods to the present. Guided tours in English (and other languages) are available if you call the museum ahead of time to reserve (their land-line number is 264-55-77, though must be dialed with the appropriate extension from a cellphone). The English guided tours are 2000 TG and Russian guided tours are 600 TG.
- The 28 Panfilov Heroes Memorial Park. Honors the men from Kazakhstan who died on the battlefields of the 2nd World War against Nazi fascism. There is an 'eternal flame' by the war memorial where schoolchildren put flowers on the last day of school, and newlyweds also come to have their photos taken there. In the park is an Orthodox church built from 1904 to 1907, painted in dollhouse colors with a metallic steeple. You can often hear the beautiful singing coming from inside.
- Republic Square/New Square. Former administrative center. Since the capital was moved to Astana, this square has been renovated. TV stations occupy some buildings. There are flower gardens. There is also a Kazakh memorial, consisting of a tall statue of the golden boy, an early Kazakh figure, whose name is Altyn Adam, and circled by metal bas relief panels recounting the history of Kazakhstan, from the time of the fierce Amazon-like queen, to independence 10 years ago.
- Arbat. Almaty’s artist row on a tree-lined pedestrian street. "Arbat" - is a nickname of the street. The real name is Zhybek-Zholy (Silk road). On the same street you can visit the big mall - TsUM (in Russian - ЦУМ - Центральный Универсальный Магазин). At the East end of this pedestrian street there is the Silk Way Mall. Here you can find Wi-Fi access at Cafemax on the second level (500 tenge for 100 minutes) and a selection of "upscale" shops. Most of these shops are imitations of western chain stores such as Zara. They also imitate western prices.
- Chocolate factory. Tours possible.
- Medeu. The highest Olympic sized ice stadium. More than 180 world records were made on in this location. Fun to visit in winter. Tipsy teenagers teeter across the ice, colored lights and loud pop create a slightly surreal but fun ambiance. There is also a large mountain-water swimming pool just below the ice rink, open in the summer. The water is extremely invigorating, about 15 degrees Celsius. As of June 2015, the 12 Bus can take you directly to Medeu. Bus stop is across from the Hotel Kazakhstan.
- Kök Töbe ("Green Hill"). Nice place to relax and enjoy the view of the city. The green hill is situated in the south-east of Almaty and is easily accessible by bus no. 95 or 99 (final station) or by taking cable car (2000 KZT return) from near cinema at intersection of Dostyk and Abai. Entrance fee: 100 KZT. On top of the hill you can find an amusement park, a small zoo, cafés, souvenir shops as well as many benches from which you can enjoy the panorama. A great place for a beer and a scenic view.
- Abai State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, 110, Kabanbai batyr street, ☎ +7 727 272 79 34, . Stages international and Kazakh opera and ballet several times a week - typically around 5pm. From 2500T. edit
- Skating at Medeu Ice-skating stadium. Outside town, on the road to Chimbulak. Adult entry price 1,800 tenge, skate rentals are available, 1,000 tenge. Closed 4-6 pm for cleaning. Evening session until 11pm. Take bus number 12 across from Hotel Kazakhstan on Dostyk Ave. to go to the Medeu (80 tenge), every 20 minutes.
- Ski or snowboard at Chimbulak, Ak-Bulak and Tabagan ski resorts. 2,500 tenge to take return journey on cable car from Medeu to Chimbaluk, about 1 hour. 3,500 tenge lets you take the cable car and then the two ski lifts (Kombi 1 and Kombi 2) up to top station at 3,100 m.
- Ski jumping.
- Cable car / Kok-tube on the cable car up to Kok-Tobe for wonderful views of the mountains, vineyards, and Almaty. The cable car leaves from Satpaeva and Dostyk (still sometimes referred to as Lenin street) and costs 800 tenge (about $5) one way, 2000 tenge both ways. As of December 2015 the cable car station is under major construction and nonfunctional. Take bus 99 in the southward direction on Dostyk and Abay or take bus 95. Entry Fee 100 tenge minimum by walk. Buy souvenirs and have a cup of hot chocolate at a table under the shadow of the TV tower or take a ride on unpowered roller-coaster. Note: The tower itself is inaccessible to tourists.
- Ride a bicycle. Rentals are available at "Extremal" stores chain in front of the departure location of the bus 12.
- See the famous Charyn canyon and the gorgeous red and orange sandstone layers. Driving 3 hours from the city. The "Singing Dunes" are also not too far - a day trip.
- Dance in a various city's nightclubs and bars if you're in the mood. Remember do not pay for every drink as you get it, get a table and get a receipt.
- Walk at Panfilov Park, a beautiful park in the center of the city, featuring Soviet-era architecture and Cathedral. You can find there the museum of Kazakh Folkloric Music. The military museum was closed.
- Relax at Tau Spa is up in the mountains and is worth a visit summer or winter. Try the plunge pool at -15 degrees!
- Cheap shopping at Barakholka, a large vendor-style market, find name brands (knock-offs) for cheap. Be aware of pick-pocketing.
- Visit the Green Market, an indoor/outdoor labrynth of stalls selling everything from homemade goat cheese or Korean salads to hand-knit woolen mittens and socks and pirated DVDs and CDs. Wallet in your front pocket, lest the pickpockets relieve you of your hard-earned money.
- Pack a picnic and drive 2 hours out to the Tamgaly petroglyphs (about 30 km past Copa off the road to Bishkek). The famous "Sunman" is worth the drive.
- Apples Apples are native from the region. You can find the wild trees at altitude between 1500m - 1800m. If you eat them up, please throw the seeds back into the forest as they are more then threaten by lumbercutting industry and real estate development. The seeds are also a rich genetic ressource. Perhaps you can send a few seeds to one of your regional experimented apple grower.
- Arasan sauna center. Since its cold and windy weather condition visiting saunas with friends is very popular in Kazakhstan. Saunas (Russian banyas or Finnish steam rooms) are an excellent place to discuss business issues or just socialize with friends. Having parties (birthdays, New Year, etc) in saunas is normal practice. In fact many modern sauna complexes in Almaty are usually fully equipped with karaoke, billiards, swimming pools, relax rooms, massage rooms, and private rooms... edit
- Explore off-the-beaten track Almaty in its chastny sektor, or suburban cottage districts, where carved wooden windowframes and plaster decorations adorn charming old homes, mostly built in the 50s and 60s.
Big Almaty Lake and Chimbulak restricted
Almaty is surrounded by mountains and, weather permitting, there is some fantastic hiking. See above for getting to Medeu, from where you can hike, or get the cable car to Chimbulak, where you can find good hiking.
There is also good hiking around the Big Almaty Lake area up in the mountains (the lake is at 2,500m and there are peaks overlooking it, some of them above 4,500). The lake and surrounding area are beautiful. The lake freezes in the winter and in the autumn it is a stunning turquoise blue colour. The hiking is also possible in lower altitude. The Areas around 1500-1800 will offer a forest rich in wild fruit and nut trees. The apple tree is native from the Tian Shan mountain. You can find the old Soviet Orchards around.You can reach the area by:
- bus and hike: goes from the roundabout at Al-Farabi and Navoi up Dulati street and terminates at the last left turn before Almaarasan. This is a good way up towards Big Almaty Lake; the remainder can be done on foot: the hike is about 15km and a 1000m altitude increase (to 2,500m). Follow the road about 8km until you reach a big water pipe, and then follow the water pipe - the first bit is steep but beyond that it gets easier. If you don't take the water pipe the journey is much longer.
- bus and taxi: when you get off the 28 bus there are taxis waiting: they will take you up to within 4km of the lake for 2,000 KZT (22/20/2011) - but you might as well skip the bus (see below).
- taxi: from the roundabout at Al-Farabi and Navoi a taxi will take you to within 4km of the lake. You should be able to barter them down to 2,000 KZT (22/10/2011) for a one-way trip.
- Organised tours
- Bus : You can grab the bus 12 that will bring you to Medea and the Ice ring for 80 Tenge.
You can also hike up above the Big Almaty Lake to the Observatory, an old soviet building.
If you know English and do not have a guide-interpreter in Almaty, then you can buy Pogulay, an indispensable guidebook to the city which is printed in English and Russian and sold at newsstands. It is priced at $3 US and covers all the attractions, including photos and descriptions.
As of 24 April 2015, $1 equals about 185 tenge and 1 Euro is 200 tenge. As a comparison: a Snickers bar is 80 tenge; a can of Coke is 70 tenge; a cheese pizza at il Patio is about 1200 tenge; a cinema ticket for a movie is about 1000 tenge; a small trip about 10 minutes in length in a taxi - 300-400 tenge; cigarettes 50-150 tenge; vodka 500+ tenge, beer 500ml 120+ tenge, a litre of juice is around 150 tenge. Beef is 900-1500 tenge a kilo, pork 800 tenge a kilo, horse meat 1500 tenge a kilo. A loaf of bread is 40-70 tenge. A 2 bedroom modern apartment is about $1000 a month. Clothing is expensive unless buying knock-offs at Baraholka. Green Market is relatively expensive.
Many of shopping centers and malls are scattered throughout the city.
- On the Arbat street you will find 'Tsum' (stands for 'Centralniy Universalniy Magasin'). Every post-Soviet town has this department store. It's filled with hundreds of identical little counters selling electronic goods on the first floor, and souvenirs and clothes can be found on the second. There is a good selection of souvenirs.
- The Green market, or 'Zelyoni Bazaar' in Russian, has fresh vegetables, dairy products, and meat, as well as a number of non-food household items. There is also a good selection of clothes from different countries available. Fruit and vegetables are on the lower level. On the upper level you will find dried fruits, nuts, spices, honey and plants, as well as cheese and meat. The meat section includes horse sausages and is a bit challenging to the nose, so vegetarians beware.The prices increase seasonally, and unless you come from Tokyo or London, you will find it quite expensive, as opposed to your "usual" Asian market shopping experience.
- Handmade carpets.
- Felt goods. Handmade dolls, rugs, and slippers made with boiled lambswool and natural dyes.
- Handcrafted metal jewelry, including a "tumar", which is a pendant that opens like a locket.
- Handcrafted leather chess sets in a leather folding case with a board pattern stitched on. In most souvenir shops, and on ground floor of Silk Way (Zhybek Zholy and Furmanova).
- One Saturday a month, there is an 'ad hoc' market on Ablai Khan across from the Tsum. Craftsmen from all over come and sell their wares. It's worth checking out.
- In Almaty there is also a market place called Barakholka, which is 4 km long and 20 rows wide and can be seen easily it is a very busy place. You can find virtually anything there, and if the price isn't right, you can easily haggle with the merchants. Want to find a $300 winter coat for about $45? It's possible.
- As the city continues to modernize, largest international brands continue to establish stores in the city.
- Korean restaurants. Almaty has a huge diaspora of ethnic Koreans. The ladies sell their salads at the market places around town, and there are several quite good restaurants. One of the more Korean popular restaurants is in the square in front of the entrance to the "Exhibition" (Russian: Выставка) on Timiryazyeva (a few blocks away from the Intercontinental and the new Holiday Inn). You'll often see business men from Samsung and LG here having lunch with people from the Korean embassy.
- Chinese restaurants. "Princessa" is a popular Chinese restaurant located on Gogolya and Tulebayeva (not far from Panfilov Park, just behind the Arasan Bathes) Very popular and clean, generous portions.
- Modern International restaurants. New lounge restaurant called "Boudoir" has picked up the baton, and offers "contemporary global cuisine" in an intimate underground space. The menu includes kangaroo and crocodile dishes, and specialties of the house are the live mudcrabs cooked in 5 different ways, and the chef's selection of homemade icecreams. Menus are in English, Russian and Kazakh, and the place has the funkiest cocktail menu in Central Asia. Open till midnight 7 days a week. Located on Bogenbai Batyr underneath the Kazpost (near Ablai Khan).
- Georgian restaurants. Feature khachapuri, cheese filled bread, eggplant stuffed with nuts, spinach with nuts, and various savory kababs. Try Tbilisi on Zheltoksan or Pirosmani on Ablai Khan (two blocks down from Tsum). Georgian restaurants are great places for vegetarians to dine.
- Indian restaurants. One of the more popular Indian restaurants is Namaste, on the corner of Kosmonaft and Satpaeva (about mid-way between the Intercontinental and the Hyatt). Service is very slow, but if you have time the food is pretty good. Govindas is a wonderful Indian restaurant that is entirely vegetarian.
- Restaurant chain Il Patio / Planeta Sushi. Predictably passable pizza and decent sushi in a clean and efficient atmosphere at decent prices.
- Mama Mia's. Located on Gogol between Ablai Khan and Panfilova (across from Dastarkhan grocery store) and the second Mama Mia is located on Tole Bi and Zharokova. Another pizza restaurant, but with a large assortment of fresh salads (a good place to go when you tire of carrots and potatoes in the winter time). A small, separate non-smoking section. For a change, stop in and order your dishes to go, then walk across the street to Dastarkhan to buy some sodas and pastries for dessert; then walk two blocks east on Gogol and eat in Panfilov Park.
- Venezia. Located on Dostyk (Lenina) between Satpaeva and Abaya. Four pages of choices. The pizza has very good thin crust. The restaurant has two rooms.
- Mend-Al (Mendikulova Street No: 31, Alfarabi Corner). Mend-Al is one of the nice places in Almaty. It serves delicious dishes of Mediterranean, Turkish and European Cuisine. Also serves the sea foods that comes from Istanbul in every two weeks.
- Bon Appetit (Corner of Timirjazev St and Markov St). Near Five Seasons Hotel. Pleasant restaurant/cafe with English translations in the menu serving wide selection of laghman (noodle dishes) for 650-750T, also salads around 300T and mains.
- La Grenouille (Shevshenko 18, corner with Dostik). Certainly the best french restaurant in town. Friendly atmosphere and tasty food (you should try the frog legs !) www.lagrenouille.kz
- Emporio Armani Bar (Al-Farabi and Shashkina). Recently opened bar with moderate prices and excellent service. Life DJ and cosy atmposhere.
- Gakku (7 Nikitina Street, between Nauryzbay Batyr street and Seyfullin avenue). On of the best restaurant serving Kazakh national food for reasonable prices. One should try "Beshparmak", "Kuyrdak" and other traditional Kazakh dishes. Foreigners are increasingly frequenting this new restaurant. (Western prices, e.g. beshbarmak 3400)
- The Grill (on top of the hill at Kok Tobe). Take the cable car up, near Hotel kazakhstan on Dostyk. Located in a picturesque setting overlooking Almaty. You are perched over the city on a wooden verandah (some parts nice & shady) and it is an awesome setting. The beers are a bit pricey, but the shashliks are awesome and a few drinks here is a 'must do' experience.
- Jantik Club (138 Bogenbay Batyr Street, Shagabutdinov street corner). Western-style bar. Life music and XX century super hits. Beatles fans will be very placed to visit this bar. Residents include Jeraldine Hunt, Oleg Magomayev and Jantemir. Moderate prices.
- Mad Murphy's (somewhere on Tole Bi Street). Unless you're desperate for an Irish pub. The food is predictably mediocre and the bar is thick with smoke and English-speaking expats. Prices are a little steep but you are getting what your money's worth. Some of the best americanized food in Almaty. Although it is filled with middle/elderly business men mostly from America and The U.K it has recently attracted a younger crowd becuase of its fabulous live band. On fridays and saturdays the crowd at Murphy's is treated to great live english music, by the end of the night the whole bar is rocking to the band.
- Queens Pub (Shevchenko and Seifullina). Modern English pub with live bands and evening shows (www.queens.kz).
- Sapphire. Late night club and restaurant for the young people. Basic Chinese menu and live DJ with a dance floor. The main drawcard here is the shisha, or 'hubbly bubbly' 'nargile' or 'water pipe'. Other places in Almaty also have shisha (fruit flavoured tobacco, smoked for an hour or two from a hookah), but this is one of the few to use real charcoal and authentic Al Fakher shisha tobacco from UAE. The bar delivers the vodkas pretty promptly too.
- Soho. Lunch isn't bad - a buffet with a nice assortment of breads, soups, salads, and main dishes called a "business lunch" at a reasonable fixed price. However the evenings are quite pleasant with live music and reasonable drink prices - no entrance fee during the week. Soho is a great place for a single business man to attend during the night. It is not a very classy joint and is usually packed with Almaty's working woman. Never the less they have one of the best bands in Almaty and they sing in English! Some of their covers are better than the originals, it's a must see event. Try making a booking for a table, to avoid having to stand at the bar.
- Taj Mahal (59,Masanchi street, corner of Kababai Batyr Street(Near Celinni cinema),Amaty). This is the most authentic Indian restaurant,with Traditional Hukkah & special pizzas, under new management has started to attract an expat crowd,because of their tradional interior & moe prompt service.
- Tau Dastarkhan (halfway up to the mountains). Located in a large area made up of "islands" with Kazakh, Russian, Georgian, and Uzbek kitchens. Not to be missed in the summertime. It's as fun to walk around and see the various settings as it is to eat.
- Turandot (two locations: one on Abai between Kosmonaft and Zhandosova attached to the theater building, other on Ablai Khan just below Makataeva). It is a very cheap and very tasty Chinese eatery. Servings are huge, so don't go overboard! There are plenty of vegetarian dishes to choose from, including tofu dishes.
- Ultra's (Satpaeva between Kosmonaft and Seifulin). Fun restaurant with its own microbrewery on site. It is one of the Staut bars chain. The restaurant has an excellent array of beer, even if it's a little costly.
- Zheti Qazyna (Ablai Khan and Makataeva). The restaurant with three kitchens: Uzbek, Asian (ie Chinese), European. The Uzbek room has wonderful wood decorations, blue-tiled kitchen you can see into.
What to eatEdit
Local foods include:
- Beshbarmak: a traditional Kazakh food that translate as "five fingers" and used to be eaten with the hands. Made from a pile of lasagna-like noodles, topped with pieces of boiled mutton or horse, and boiled onions. Sometimes garnished with carrots and potatoes, depending on who's making it.
- Baursaki: heavy, spongy bread dough cooked in deep fat (similar to a donut, but not sweet).
- Plov: a rice pilaf made with meat (usually mutton), onions and carrots. This is a very popular dish across central asia and Uzbek Plov is usually considered the best.
- Shashlik: (Russian: Шашлык) is a very popular food found across Kazakhstan. It is a kebab made out of almost any kind of meat, but most often chicken, mutton, or beef (although you can find fish, duck and veggie in more upscale places) and is grilled over a small grill that is long and just narrow enough for the skewers. Served with raw, sliced onions and vinegar. Shashlik is popular throughout this part of Central Asia and is best enjoyed in warm weather at small cafes with cheap beer and flat bread.
- Doner kebab or "shwarma" can be easily found at any number of stands through the city. Be sure to go to the stands with the most customers, a sign that it is quality and fresh.
Almaty has many modern supermarkets, offering everything from baked goods to toiletries and vodka. Most western foods are readily available. There are four major supermarket chains: Ramstore, SM-Market, Gros and City. And, of course, there are plenty of independent supermarkets and small local minimarts with your basic goods.
Ramstore is a Turkish chain and has 11 locations around Almaty according to their website, but is a bit pricier. The favorite stores among locals are Stolichni (Ablai Khan and Kabanbai Batyr) - super helpful staff and decent fruits/vegetables year around, but vegetable prices are very expensive. Dastarkhan (Gogolya Street between Ablai Khan and Furmanova) has excellent baked goods, especially cakes and cookies. Silk Way City (Tole Bi and Nauryzbai Batyr) shopping center has a supermarket in the ground floor.
Of course, if you really want to save money and enjoy an adventure, go to the Green Market and bargain with the old ladies. Inside, top floor is more expensive than the lower floor and outside vendors, since space costs more to rent. Inside you can find Korean salads, produce, cheese, honey, meat, and teas/herbs/spices. Outside is much of the same, but often times cheaper. Keep close watch of wallets and phones - backpacks and cameras will make you stand out and a potential target!
- Water. The municipal water is more or less drinkable, with no real nasties, but try to boil it if possible. Bottled water is cheap and easily available. When at restaurants or cafes, you will most often find Tassay, Asem, or Asu. International brands include Evian, Perrier and Borjomi. Many other widely-known water brands can be found in restaurants and supermarkets.
- Tea is widely available and usually served with milk and sugar. If you are on a budget this is the thing to order with your food. Tea is culturally important in Kazakhstan - "chai" time is one of the most important things a visitor can engage in to learn about the culture.
- Coffee. Modern coffee houses and western-style cafés are appearing. They serve good coffee. Coffeedelia (Kalinina and Furmanova) is popular with expats and does OK coffee. Gloria Jeans and Marone Rosso also can be found.
- Kumis. Exotic mare's milk that you can find, taste and buy on markets.
- Tan. Quaint fizzy beverage made of mare's milk.
- Local beer. Higher end: Staut, Ultras (formerly Tinkoffs, only served in their restaurant), Line Brew, and Pinta (many locations around the city). Lower end: Tian Shan, Derbes, Irbis, Alma-Ata, Zhigulevskoye. Local brands brewed in Almaty are decent, as are Karagandinskoye (beer from the city of Karaganda).
- Local wine. Try if you dare, but local wines are not what they used to be after many crops were destroyed in Gorbachev's campaign to dent alcoholism. Though a decent amount is still produced, it is cheap ($3-4 per bottle) and usually fermented using poor technique and additives. Your best bet for cheaper wines is to try some of the Georgian Wines.
- Vodka. Good vodka at $8–10 per bottle. In restaurants that do not usually cater to foreigners you get 20(!) cl if you order a vodka, smaller servings not available. Buy a bottle of "Kazakhstan" vodka to take back. It is in a pretty bottle with a picture of Kazakh hunting with a falcon seen through a "window". Try Edil vodka, which is made with the pantacrene of local deer antlers.
- Mountains You can take the bus 12 in front of the Guns and roses Hotel (the very tall hotel with a golden crown at the top). The bus will cost you 80 Tenge. After a certain point you can sleep basicaly anywhere along the river with a tent. If you want more privacy you can reach more isolated locations by crossing the river in front of the cable car.
Note that there were quite some changes in the hostel scene in 2014, an update of this section would be needed. One place burnt in Sept-Oct 2014 (being rebuilt but seems to be turned into a hotel), some closed etc.
There are also many apartments rent by the night, some by agencies, or from women on the main road from the train station to the city center, these whom shake large key rings, and this apartments are cheaper.
- Almaty Silk Road hostel. Elebekova Ulitsa 20/9, 050013 Almaty.
About 20 minutes walk from Ploshchad Respubliki, in a residential area. Can be difficult to find, look up the location in advance. Situated in a cosy house, it has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Friendly staff. Wifi, shared kitchen, living room with TV, no breakfast. Bed starting at about 2500-2700 tenge (dorm, Nov 2014).
- Almaty-2. Upstairs from the international hall of Almaty-2 train station, tel.: +7 727 260 42 13. Dorm: 2/4-Bed 2,000 tenge. Cheap but very modest accommodation: shared bathroom often without warm water, room doors have no locks or even handles. The trains make constant noise at night.
- Apartments. Travel agents can help you find an apartment for a single night for about 4,000 tenge. Apartments are located downtown, making them ideal for the tourists wanting to see the city. Apartments also come fully furnished with bedding, a kitchen, television, internet and a fully operational bathroom.
- Five Seasons Hotel, +7 778 951 1711, Markova 46A. Dorm for 2,500 tenge, rooms from 7,000 tenge (December 2015). New, clean, friendly budget hotel with private rooms and dorm rooms with private bathrooms. Hot water all day. Helpful English speaking staff but no tourist information written in English. Large and pleasant outdoor area. Laundry 300 tenge. Kitchen. On bus route 79 from airport and Almaty-II station (about 15 mins), 80 tenge. Well connected to many other bus routes too. Close to a couple of good cafes and pub, 20 min walk to National Museum. This hostel/hotel may also be known as Almaty Backpackers and Marks Hotel.
- Hotel Transit. 12 Zheltoksan Str. ("Mira" Str.), tel.: +7 727 233 04 38. $7 for 3 hours. (June 2013: It's now a 3-star hotel, rooms for 13,000 tenge. The receptionist told me it's been like this for 2 years.)
- Kaz hostel. Shevchenko Koshe 190. Dorm for 2,000 tenge, small hostel with mostly Kazakhs staying there for longer. Very friendly people.
- Miras. 65a Baitursynov Str., tel.: +7 727 292 70 77. Singles from 2,900 tenge, doubles from 4,800 tenge.
- Ulytau. 176 Furmanova Str., tel.: +7 727 261 96 97. Quite a run-down place. $10 with shared bath, $30 with private bathroom.
- Hotel Turkistan. Right opposite the green market. Rooms start from 3,000 tenge (ask for a single room with a shared shower). firstname.lastname@example.org, 49 Makatayev st, 8(727) 2664136. One or two receptionists speak English.
- Apple Hostel. 145 Kurmangazi street (you can also ask the guards to let you in), +7(727)317-76-96, 8701-220-22-75. , email@example.com. Just 100 meters from the metro station: "Theater named after Auezov" ("Театр имени Мухтара Ауэзова"). Has friendly owners (the women speaks perfect English), is clean, soft carpet, kitchen and washing machine available. Beds available from 2000 to 3000 Tenge, and a single room (3000). Enter via the guardhouse on Mukanov between Shevchenko and Kurmangazi, and find the middle lobby of the apartment building to your right. Ring '95' on the intercom to get to Apple Hostel. Washing of clothes is FREE. This hostel is actually an apartment within a huge complex of about 20-stories and quite wide - there are no signs outside that there is a hostel inside, so we kind of wonder if it's registered as a proper business. It is not so central (quite a walk from Furmanov Street). Update Nov 2014: check if the hostel still exists, some travelers said it shut down.
- Samal Hostel. 20 Samal-2 microdistrict (Dostyk Ave & Al-Farabi Ave) . +7 775 599 2991, +7 701 387 7670. New hostel located in the heart of Almaty city - beautiful microdistrict Samal-2. Just in 10-20 min from Almaty's most famous attractions - Kok-Tobe Mountain, Medeu Skating Rink, Shymbulak Ski Resort, etc. Reasonable prices, comofort and friendly atmosphere. Beds from 2500 KZT. Free Wi-Fi, kitchen for guests, clothes washing.
- Almaty Popcorn Hostel, Begalina St 25 (located in Almaty. It's close to Green Market, Gorkiy Park. Almaty International Airport is 12 km away), ☎ +7-707-467-9313, +7-777-8466960. 24-hour front desk, a garden and a friendly atmosphere. Other facilities include shared lounge, luggage storage and laundry facilities, parking. 1500 tenge. edit
- Alatau International Hotel & Business Center. 105 Dostyk Ave., tel.: +7 727 258 11 11, fax: +7 727 258 15 55, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Single from $80.
- Almaty Business Hotel. 152 Vinogradova Str., tel.: +7 727 269 90 86. Singles from $100, doubles from $120.
- Grand Aicer . 1 Pozharskogo Str., tel.: +7 727 250 33 50. Singles from 15,000 tenge, doubles around 19,000 tenge.
- Hotel Almaty. 85 Kabanbai Batyr Str., tel.: +7 727 272 00 70. Doubles from $180.
- Hotel Ambassador., 121 Zheltoksan Str., tel.: +7 727 250 89 88, fax: +7 727 272 64 41. Singles from $180.
- Hotel Berkana . 83 Aiteke bi Str., tel.: +7 727 279 78 33. Singles $75–150, breakfast incl.
- Hotel Kazakhstan. A Soviet-style hotel from 1977. 52 Dostyk Ave., tel.: +7 727 258 22 70. Singles from 8,400 tenge, doubles from 19,800 tenge.
- Kazzhol . 128/1 Gogol Str., tel.: +7 727 250 89 41. Singles from 7,900 tenge, doubles from 9,900 tenge.
- Anastasia Inn
- Hotel Almarasan 
- Hotel Dostyk . Big old and well maintained hotel in the center of the city. 162 Furmanov Street, tel.: +7 727 258 22 70, e-mail: email@example.com. Doubles around 27,300 tenge.
- Rahat Palace Hotel . Top end hotel with a decent health club. Formerly licensed by the Hyatt Chain. 29/6 Satpaev Ave., tel.: +7 727 250 12 34.
- InterContinental Almaty . It offers most of what you'd expect from a luxury hotel. 181 Zheltoksan Str., tel.: +7 727 250 50 00. Singles & doubles from 46,000 tenge.
- Rixos Hotel Almaty 
- Worldhotel Saltanat Almaty . One of the most modern hotels in Kazakhstan, opened in 2011. Located in the city’s historical centre. 164 Furmanov Street, tel.: +7 727 2590935, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ritz-Carlton Almaty . Almaty's newest luxury property located in the tallest building in the city with excellent views of the mountains. Modern and chic finishes, luxurious spa and dining. Esentai Tower, 77/7 Al-Farabi Avenue, tel.: +7 (727) 332-8888.
- Holiday Inn Almaty . Ideally located in the city centre, the Holiday Inn Almaty is the ideal stop over for business and leisure travellers. The hotel is in the heart of financial district next to Nurly Tau Business centre and close to Atakent. It is steps away from major sights, such as Republic Square, Kok Tobe & Panfilov park. Visit the Saks Fifth Avenue in Essentai Mall, to enjoy an amazing panorama of the city. 2D Timiryazev Street, tel.: ++7 727 3155363, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Corner of Baytursnuly & Karasay Batyr (Near the OVIR). Eight computers and a telephone service but you can't use USB devices. 28/07/2008 KZT240/hour.
- In the underpass of Zhibek Zholy & Tolebaev (Near the Silk Way mall). KZT240/hour. 27/07/2008.
- Corner of Abai & Baytursnuly; Omega Sector BiG internet cafe (Near the Main stadion). KZT200/hour. 27/07/2008.
- Samal-3 micro-district, Online Club (Silk Way City). If you have your own hardware, there's free wifi inside the supermarket. Best signal is on second floor in the middle.
Risks in Almaty
Almaty enjoys a relatively low crime rate and is, generally, a safe place to travel. Although theft and confidence tricks are common. Be careful of overly friendly strangers or unregistered taxi drivers (you may find two or three at the end of your journey demanding 5 times the agreed value). Use common sense at night, particularly on Friday and Saturday when the youth hit the streets to get drunk and in some unfortunate cases look for trouble. You should abstain from any arguments with locals, otherwise you may end up in the hospital. Kazakh people are extremely friendly and welcoming towards foreigners and nothing should happen to you unless you really want it yourself. If you don't care about them, they don't care about you and nothing should be in your way of having a great holiday! Never try to go to places which you don't trust or don't know about, unless you have a local person with you to help out on the language.
Racism is a generally of very minor concern, however if you are of Chinese heritage, you may get some sour looks. The situation is akin to the US/Mexican racism predicament, where locals feel as though the Chinese are taking their jobs. For the average visitor, however, it is highly unlikely that you will encounter any problems. You must be always respectful to the country and locals. In this case, you will feel comfortable with anyone.
Police may sometimes round up foreigners and ask for various details, idea is to find someone without his passport, or who has not registered and cough up some cash. They are normally not harmful and after some bickering will let you off. Its advised to keep a copy of your permits/passport with you. They can get serious at times, if you attempt to confront them. A good suggestion is to call up a local friend and ask them to talk to the police.
Center streets such as Furmanov st, Abay st, Zheltoksan st, Dostyk st, Abylay Khan st are strictly regulated and constantly monitored by police officers, while video cameras are installed on 70% of city crossroads. Although there are some Kazakh drivers, who reveal their aggressiveness on the roads. Therefore, it is always better to take great care when crossing the roads.
In case of emergencyEdit
In case of emergency, please call "101" (Fire services), "102" (Police), "103" (Ambulance), "104" (Gas Service), "112" (Rescue service in emergency situations).
- Canada, Kabanbay, Batyr Street 13/1, ASTANA, 010000, Kazakhstan, ☎ +7 (727) 50-11-51/52/53 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +7 (727) 582-493), . Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday: 09:00 - 17:30. edit In Almaty now closed, above info now for Astana Embassy, to be contacted for aid"
- China, 12, Baitasov Str. Almaty, Kazakhstan, ☎ +7 (727) 2700207 (fax: +7 (727) 7272700227), . Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 9 -12 am.. Visa Office. At the moment the chinese consulate in Almaty (and probably also in Astana) does not accept visa-requests of non-Kazakhs who do not have a Kazakh working, student or residence visa, but they can still get a visa in the embassy through some of the travel agents that can be found there (cost of urgent visa, issued in 4 days, is 80 USD). edit
- India, Maulenov Str. 71, ☎ +7 3272 92-14-11, +7 3272 92-14-11 (fax: +7 3272 92-67-67). edit
- Uzbekistan. (On 30/06/2010) immediate pick up with LOI, 75 US dollars for EU, come at 13-13.30 in the afternoon, (before noon only Kazakhs) to get listed at 1400 by the staff, wait around outside. You need 2 copies of your passport, a copy of your Kazakh Visa and one photo, took us less than 2 hours. edit
Practically all establishments accept only Kazakhstan Tenge. Banks are ubiquitous, so exchanging currencies will in most cases not present any major difficulties. Exchange offices (some are open 24/7) are very widespread, which often have good rates and charge no commission.
Credit cards are accepted in major supermarkets, restaurants and bars, but this is usually limited to Visa, Mastercard or American Express.
- Turgen Gorge.In the National preserve Ile-Alatau in 90 km from Almaty a delightful place of the nature – Turgen Gorge - is situated. In the gorge that has a depth of 44 km. you can take pleasure from visiting hot springs, waterfalls and plenty of forests. Gorge is famous with its waterfalls and relic Chim-Turgen moss fir-woods that spread over the ground and create a dense fir-tree carpet
- Big Almaty Lake. Big Almaty Lake (Bolshoye Almatinskoye Ozero) is one the most admirable mountain lakes of Almaty outskirts, located in Trans-Ili Alatau in the gorge of Bolshaya Almatinka river on the height of 2510 above sea level. It lies in the cavity and is like a sparkling mirror, surrounded from all the sides with majestic peaks. Three main peaks tower over the Lake: Peak of Soviet (4317 m) – in the South-East, Ozerniy (4110) – in the South, Tourist Peak (3954 m) in the South-West. Depending on the season the Lake changes its color from light-green to turquoise-blue. Can be reached by car. Be prepared for the illegal checkpoint just past the Alpine Rose Hotel. Men dressed in camouflage, with no official identification, will cite a dubious "fire danger" sign, even in the middle of winter. They will then try to extort 1,000 to 2,000 Tenge to lift the schlagbaum. Hopefully one day the police will actual confront these criminals and stop the harassment. The permit for the border zone is not needed unless traveling above the lake and on to the observatory.
To get to Big Almaty Lake from Almaty, take bus 28 on the bus stop next to President's park. Go till the very end (till GES-2 - ГЭС-2) and then walk for 10 km. Alternatively, you can take a car next to the pedestrian bridge crossing Sain street. Just cross Sain towards the Park and right on exiting the bridge, you'll find locals forming a "shared cab" to GES-2. If you speak Russian or Kazakh it is 300-400 Tenge.
- Alpine park. Outside town, on the road to Chimbulak. Medeu skating rink is on this road too.
- Chimbulak. Ski-resort with snowboard and ski tracks. Opened from November till April-May. A base for some great hikes. You can hike up to the top to get a great view of the city. Or you can bypass Chimbulak and carry along the road, past the hotel and walk up to the dam and then the glacier. A tough but beautiful walk. Hiking is definitely a highlight here. To go to Chymbulak, you can take the bus from the corner of Satpayev and Baitursynuly at 8 am every day; don't miss the way back! Every Tuesday is lift out of order.
- Charyn Canyon. The second largest canyon in the world. Located 200 km to the east of Almaty. Recommended for tours more than one day. One of the most remarkable nature wonders, left by world ocean is the canyon of Charyn river. Charyn Canyon is considered to be a miniature of the Grand Canyon carved by the Colorado River in the U.S. state of Arizona. It is unusual and very diverse in its forms that remind the towers of fairy-tale castle. That is why canyon has another name - the Valley of Castles. On the slopes there could be found the remains of fossil fauna, dated 300 mln years.
- Kolsai Lakes. Lakes of amazing beauty about 250 km away from Almaty. The first lake can be reached by car. To see the other lakes you have to hire a horse for about 500–1000 tenge. You can stay overnight in a small two storey houses for about 2000–5000 tenge per night. The lakes are very clean and you can even drink it. You can see the fish jumping out of it.
- Old orchards. The orchards give Almaty its name. Ironically, most have been destroyed in recent, ill-thought out building developments, but a few remain.
- Tamgaly. Temple of Sun. In 170 km from Almaty, in the North-West direction, a unique sanctuary in the open air- Tamgaly is located. In the desert lands, where ancient rocks and gorges tower their crowns, a chain of kurgans-burial grounds lie. This is the very place, where a gallery of rock drawings left by ancient people of Saks and Turks tribes could be found. On the petroglyphs you can see deities, that Kazakh ancient people worshiped, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic creatures, spiritual rites.
Nearby Chimbulak is a skiing village. There are a number of ski resorts in the area.
There are the gorgeous Tian-Shan mountains and lakes around Almaty, the most famous of which is the beautiful Big Almaty Lake. Another popular daytrip destination is through the Medeu Skating Rink and on to the Shymbulak Ski Resort. More experienced hikers can continue on from Shymbulak through Mynzhilki.
There is a nearby desert park with a giant canyon (Charyn Canyon), although it does not approach the Grand Canyon in size. It also has petroglyphs and waterfalls.
If travelers have several days to spend (and are craving a beach experience), Lake Balkhash, the largest lake in the nation, can be reached by bus within 12 hours or private car within 8 hours. Lake Balkhash is half fresh (the eastern half where the river enters from China) and half salt (the western half). There are a couple of 2-star hotels in the village of Balkhash, which is the half-way point between Almaty and Astana if you want to drive 800 km instead of flying or taking the train.
The Tamgaly petroglyphs, a UNESCO site, are about 2-1/2 hours away by car (on the road to Bishkek). The petroglyphs range from ancient (3,000 years) to "modern" (75 years), and feature pictures of the Sunman and hunting nomad tribes. There are also several grave sites. Not to be missed in the spring, summer, or fall, but watch out for snakes when it's hot! Be sure to bring water and snacks in with you from Almaty or a town along the highway, as there are no provisions in or around the park.
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, is a 3-1/2 hour drive away on the best highway in Kazakhstan (pot holes are rare and you can keep a 100km pace easily after leaving the Almaty oblast, but watch out for crazy oncoming passers). You can catch a taxi to Bishkek at "Sayran" international coach station. Approach a group of cars with Kyrgyz number plates and negotiate the price in advance. As of 19 January 2009, the average fare is KZT2,500-3,000 per person. It is definitely worth the drive if you have a day or so to spend. You'll wind along the foot of the Tien Shan range through incredible landscape created by young volcanoes. Most of the "local" felt goods and rugs sold in Almaty come from tribes in Kyrgyzstan, and can be bought for a quarter of the cost in Kyrgyzstan. Make it into a two-day excursion and stop at Tamgaly petroglyphs on the way from or the return trip to Almaty.
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