Almaty, in Almaty Province, is the former capital of Kazakhstan, and still its largest city and the financial and cultural center. It is an old city, once one of the main centers of the Zhetysu region along the Silk Road.
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.
As an important hub, not just for Kazakhstan but for Central Asia as a whole, Almaty has a moderately large expatriate community and is on the itinerary for most tourists in the region.
Almaty is in the top 50 most expensive cities worldwide for expats 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. Nevertheless, 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.
If you can read 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's priced at US$3 and covers all the attractions, including photos and descriptions.
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, Etihad Airways, KLM, British, 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, Seoul, Beijing, Delhi, Tehran IKA, Hong Kong and Dubai 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 planeside visa usually needs to be coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at least one week in advance).
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 flight delays. 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 USD20–25 (KZT3,000-3,500). You can also take a bus to the center, which starts at 07:00 and costs KZT80 . 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 (KZT1,200).
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 in the city centre, Almaty-1 is about 4km 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 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 be purchased a few days in advance and cost around ¥870 (about USD110).
Ticket sale for the Saturday train starts on Monday, 10:00, for the Monday train it starts Friday, 10:00. 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 be 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 (Jul 2010). Organizing the Kazakh visa in Urumqi takes at least 5 working days (Jul 2010). 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 18:00 every day of the week except Saturday and take approximately 24 hours to arrive in Almaty (Nov 2008: only buses on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 19:00). Tickets for a lower bed are ¥420, upper beds are ¥400, and a berth in the back bed of the bus is ¥380. Buses depart from the international branch of the Nianzigou Bus Station (碾子沟客运站), which is located about 50 m 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 Almaty. They cost USD30 or ¥150. These buses leave two or three times in a week, ask the bus drivers in Yining when they will go. You could also take a bus to Korgas from Yining (¥30-38) and go to Kazakhstan by foot from Korgas. After being on the other side of the border you could take a taxi which will cost about KZT3,000 to go to Almaty. The trip from Korgas to Almaty is about 4-6 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, Kyrgyzstan
Minibuses travel to Almaty Sairan station from Bishkek's western bus station, and cost about KGS400/KZT1,300 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 doesn'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 the bus 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 crossing
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 etiquette and do your best to stand your ground. The border crossing begins with clearing 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.
- OVIR (Corner of Baytursynuly & Karasay Batyr St), ☎ . M–F, 09:00–18:00, Sa, 09:00–13:00, Passport collection: 17:00–19:00. Enter the side door through the blue porch and go to Window 3. You need photocopies of your passport photo-page and your Kazakh visas 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 Kazakhstani airport on your arrival till you take off on your departure from the final Kazakhstani 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 USD100, otherwise you will prevented from leaving the country. 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 City. Therefore, for instance, if you know that Kazakhstan Hotel is at the intersection of Abaya and Dostyk, local people will be able to help you out with ease.
Central Almaty benefits from the underground system launched in 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.
A single trip costs KZT80 (USD0.52). Payment does not depend on the length of the trip. The tickets (plastic yellow coin tokens) are sold at booths within the stations ("kassa") only (Dec 2013).
There are no day tickets or similar offers tailored to visitors, but for those who use Metro 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. If you lose it, you will not get any refund or replacement.
The Metro is open from 06:00-24:00. The Metro is safe and guarded by police at all times.
By trams, buses, and trolleys
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, KZT80. You need to put coins inside a dedicated machine inside every vehicle or pay the conductor when exiting. Make sure that you have the correct change; you won't please the conductor by giving her notes. Younger conductors speak a bit of English and are more than happy to help point you in the right direction and tell you about where to get off or connecting buses.
There are both official and informal taxis. Official taxis can be booked in advance and normally show up rapidly. 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 KZT200-1,000 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 muggings 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 hand.
- Charyn Canyon (3 hr from the city). Gorgeous red and orange sandstone layers. The "Singing Dunes" are also not too far. A day trip.
- Heroes Memorial Park, 28 Panfilov. Honors the men and women from Kazakhstan who died on the battlefields of the WWII against the Nazis. 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 1904-1907, painted in dollhouse colors with a metallic steeple. You can often hear beautiful singing inside.
- Kazakhstan English Language Theater, Ave Abay 2 (On the campus of KIMEP Institute in the heart of Almaty), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
- National Museum (Opposite the 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. English guided tours are KZT2,000 and Russian guided tours are KZT600.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ascension Cathedral. Completed in 1907 without using single nails, it is the second tallest wooden building in the world.
- Arasan Sauna Center. Due to its cold and windy conditions, visiting saunas with friends is very popular in Kazakhstan. Saunas (Russian "banyas") 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 saunas in Almaty are fully equipped with karaoke, billiards, swimming pools, relax rooms, massage rooms, etc.
- Hike Big Almaty Lake (Bus 28 bus goes from the roundabout at Al-Farabi and Navoi up Dulati St and ends at the last left turn before Almaarasan. This is a good ways up towards Big Almaty Lake; the remainder can be done on foot: the hike is about 15 km and a 1,000 m altitude increase (to 2,500 m) Follow the road about 8 km 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. When you get off the Bus 28 there are taxis waiting: they will take you up to within 4 km of the lake for KZT2,000 (Oct 2011). From the roundabout at Al-Farabi and Navoi a taxi will take you to within 4 km of the lake. You should be able to barter them down to KZT2,000 (Oct 2011) for a one-way trip.). There is good hiking around the Big Almaty Lake area up in the mountains (the lake is at 2,500 m and there are peaks overlooking it, some of them above 4,500 m.) The lake and surrounding area are beautiful. The lake freezes in the winter and in the autumn it is a stunning turquoise.
- Kok-Tobe (The cable car leaves from Satpaeva and Dostyk (still sometimes referred to as Lenin St) and costs KZT800 (about USD5) one way or KZT2,000 both ways. Or take buses 95 & 99 (KZT50)). Take the cable car up to Kok-Tobe for wonderful views of the mountains, vineyards, and Almaty. Buy souvenirs and have a cup of hot chocolate at a table under the shadow of the TV tower or take a ride on an unpowered roller coaster. KZT100.
- Medeu Ice Skating (Outside town, on the road to Chimbulak. Take Bus 6 in front of Hotel Kazakhstan on Dostyk Ave to go to the Medeu (KZT50 on weekdays, KZT70 on weekends), every 20 min). The world's highest Olympic-sized ice stadium. More than 180 world records were made on this ice. Fun to visit in winter. Skate rentals are available. Tipsy teenagers teeter across the ice, coloured lights and loud pop music create a slightly surreal, but fun ambience. There is also a large mountain-water swimming pool just below the ice rink, open in summer. The water is extremely invigorating, about 15°C.
- Panfilov Park (City center). Stroll this beautiful park, featuring Soviet-era architecture and cathedral.
- Picnic at Tamgaly Petroglyphs (Drive 2 hr out, about 30 km past Copa off the road to Bishkek). Pack a picnic and. The famous "Sunman" is worth the drive.
- Tau Spa. Relax at this mountain spa, worth a visit summer or winter. Try the plunge pool at -15 degrees C!
USD1 equals about KZT182 and 1 Euro about KZT250 (Mar 2014). As a comparison (2011): a Snickers bar was KZT80; a can of Coke KZT70; a cheese pizza at il Patio about KZT1,200; a cinema ticket for a movie about KZT1,000; a 10 minute taxi trip about KZT300-400; cigarettes, KZT50-150; vodka KZT500+; beer 500ml KZT120+; a litre of juice around KZT150. Beef, KZT 900-1,500 a kilo; pork KZT800 a kilo; horse meat, KZT1500 a kilo. A loaf of bread, KZT40-70. A 2 bedroom modern apartment about USD1,000 a month. Clothing is expensive unless buying knock-offs at Baraholka. (Green Market is relatively expensive).
- Handmade carpets
- Felted goods. Handmade dolls, rugs, and slippers made with boiled lamb's wool 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).
- Arbat (Zhybek-Zholy "Silk Road"). Almaty's artist's row on a tree-lined pedestrian street. "Arbat" is a nickname of the street. 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 Internet access at Cafemax on the second level (KZT500 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.
- Barakholka. Cheap shopping at a large vendor-style market, find name brands (knock-offs) for cheap. You can find virtually anything there, and if the price isn't right, you can easily haggle with the merchants. You want to find a USD300 winter coat for about USD45? It's possible. Be wary of pick-pocketing.
- Green Market (Zelyoni Bazaar). Fresh vegetables, dairy products, and meat, as well as a number of non-food household items. 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 typical Asian market shopping experience. Wallet in your front pocket, lest the pickpockets relieve you of your hard-earned money.
- Supermarkets. Almaty has many modern supermarkets, offering everything from a bakery section to toiletries and vodka. Any food you could possibly want to find is readily available. There are four major supermarket chains: Ramstore, SM-Market, Gros, and City. And plenty of single supermarkets and small local grocery shops. The chain called "Gros" has convenient locations around town and a good selection of drinks and snacks. Ramstore also has at least three locations, 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 St 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.
- Tsum (Centralniy Universalniy Magasin) (On Arbat). 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. 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.
- Boudoir (On Bogenbai Batyr underneath the Kazpost, near Ablai Khan). Daily till 24:00. Lounge restaurant offers "contemporary global cuisine" in an intimate underground space. The menu includes kangaroo and crocodile dishes, and specialties of the house are the live mud crabs cooked in 5 different ways, and the chef's selection of homemade ice creams. Menus are in English, Russian, and Kazakh, and the place has the funkiest cocktail menu in Central Asia.
- Emporio Armani Bar (Al-Farabi and Shashkin). Moderate prices and excellent service. Live DJ and cosy atmosphere.
- Gakku, 7 Nikitina St (Between Nauryzbay Batyr St and Seyfullin Ave). One of the best restaurants serving Kazakh national food for reasonable prices. One should try "beshparmak", "kuyrdak" and other traditional Kazakh dishes.
- La Grenouille (Shevshenko 18, corner of Dostik). Certainly the best French restaurant in town. Friendly atmosphere and tasty food (try the frog legs!)
- The Grill (On top of the hill at Kok-Tobe. Take the cable car up, near Hotel Kazakhstan on Dostyk). 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 St (Corner of Shagabutdinov). Western-style bar. Live music and 20th century super hits. Beatles fans will be very pleased to visit this bar. Moderate prices.
- Mad Murphy's (On Tole Bi St). The food is predictably mediocre and the bar is thick with smoke and English-speaking expats. Prices are a little steep, but you get your money's worth. Some of the best Americanised food in Almaty. Although it is filled with middle/elderly businessmen mostly from America and the UK, it has recently attracted a younger crowd because 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.
- Mama Mia's (On Gogol between Ablai Khan and Panfilova, across from Dastarkhan grocery store, and the second Mama Mia is on Tole Bi and Zharokova). 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.
- Namaste (On the corner of Kosmonaft and Satpaeva, about mid-way between the Intercontinental and the Hyatt). One of the more popular Indian restaurants. Service is very slow, but if you have time the food is pretty good.
- Il Patio / Planeta Sushi. Predictably passable pizza and decent sushi in a clean and efficient atmosphere at decent prices.
- Pirosmani (On Ablai Khan, two blocks down from Tsum). Georgian restaurant. Features khachapuri, cheese filled bread, eggplant stuffed with nuts, spinach with nuts, and various savory kebabs. Georgian restaurants are great places for vegetarians to dine.
- Queens Pub (Shevchenko & Seifullin). Modern English pub with live bands and evening shows.
- Sapphire. Late-night club and restaurant for young people. Basic Chinese menu and live DJ with a dance floor. The main draw here is the shisha, 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 businessman. It is not a very classy joint and is usually packed with Almaty's working women. 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 to avoid having to stand at the bar.
- Taj Mahal, 59, Masanchi St (Corner of Kababai Batyr St, near Celinni Cinema). The most authentic Indian restaurant, with traditional hukkah and special pizzas. Has started to attract an expat crowd due to their traditional interior.
- Tau Dastarkhan (Halfway up the mountains). 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.
- Tbilisi (On Zheltoksan). Georgian restaurant. Features khachapuri, cheese filled bread, eggplant stuffed with nuts, spinach with nuts, and various savory kebabs. Georgian restaurants are great places for vegetarians to dine.
- Turandot (Two locations: one on Abai Ave between Baitursynuly St & Zhandosov St attached to the theater building, the other on Abylai Khan Ave just below Makataev St). 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 (Satbaev St between Baitursynuly St & Seifullin Ave). Fun restaurant with its own microbrewery on site. It is one of the Staut chain. The restaurant has an excellent array of beer, albeit a little costly.
- Unnamed Chinese Restaurant (On Gogolya and Tulebayeva, not far from Panfilov Park, on the ground floor of an apartment building). Popular Chinese restaurant. Strange location, but very popular and clean.
- Unnamed Korean Restaurant (In the square in front of the entrance to the exhibition on Temirazova, a few blocks away from the Intercontinental and the new Holiday Inn). One of the more Korean popular restaurants. You'll often see businessmen from Samsung and LG here lunching with people from the Korean Embassy.
- Venezia (On Dostyk (Lenina) between Satpaeva and Abaya). Four pages of choices. The pizza has very good thin crust. The restaurant has two rooms.
- Zheti Qazyna (Ablai Khan Ave & Makataev). The restaurant with three kitchens: Uzbek, Chinese, European. The Uzbek room has wonderful wood decorations, blue-tiled kitchen you can see into.
- Almaty-2, ☎ . Upstairs from the international hall of Almaty-2 train station. 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. KZT2,000.
- Apple Hostel, 145 Kurmangazi St (100 m from the metro station), ☎ , e-mail: , email@example.com. Has friendly owners, is clean, soft carpet. Kitchen and washing machine available. Beds, KZT2,000-2,500; single room, KZT3,000).
- Hotel Transit, 12 Zheltoksan St, ☎ . USD7 for 3 hr.
- Hotel Turkistan, 49 Makataev St (Opposite the Green market), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. One or two receptionists speak English. KZT3,000+.
- Miras, 65a Baitursynuly St, ☎ . Singles, KZT2,900+; doubles, KZT4,800+.
- Ulytau, 176 Furmanov St, ☎ . Run-down place. USD10 with shared bath, USD30 with private bath.
- Alatau International Hotel & Business Center, 105 Dostyk Ave, ☎ , fax: +7 727 258 15 55, e-mail: email@example.com. USD80+.
- Almaty Business Hotel, 152 Vinogradova Str., ☎ . USD100-120+.
- Grand Aicer, 1 Pozharskogo St, ☎ . Singles, KZT15,000+; doubles around KZT19,000.
- Hotel Almaty, 85 Kabanbai Batyr St, ☎ . USD180+.
- Hotel Ambassador, 121 Zheltoksan St, ☎ , fax: +7 727 272 64 41. USD180+.
- Hotel Berkana, 83 Aiteke Bi St, ☎ . Singles USD75–150, breakfast included.
- Hotel Kazakhstan, 52 Dostyk Ave, ☎ . A Soviet-style hotel from 1977. KZT8,400-19,800.
- Kazzhol, 128/1 Gogol St, ☎ . KZT7,900-9,900.
- Hotel Dostyk, 162 Furmanov St, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Big, old, and well-maintained hotel in the center of the city. KZT27,300.
- Intercontinental Almaty, 181 Zheltoksan St, ☎ . It offers most of what you'd expect from a luxury hotel. KZT46,000+.
- Rahat Palace Hotel (Formerly Hyatt), 29/6 Satbaev Ave, ☎ . Top end hotel with a decent health club.
- Worldhotel Saltanat Almaty, 164 Furmanov St (In the city’s historical centre), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. One of the most modern hotels in Kazakhstan, opened in 2011.
- Internet (Corner of Baytursnuly & Karasay Batyr, near the OVIR). Eight computers and a telephone service but you can't use USB devices. KZT240/hour.
- Internet (In the underpass of Zhibek Zholy & Tolebaev, near the Silk Way Mall). KZT240/hour.
- Omega Sector BiG Internet Cafe (Corner of Abai & Baytursnuly, near the main station). KZT200/hour.
- Supermarket, Samal-3 micro-district, Online Club (Silk Way City). There is free Wi-Fi inside the supermarket. Best signal is on second floor in the middle.
Almaty enjoys a relatively low crime rate and is, generally, a safe place to travel. 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. Never go to places which you don't trust or don't know about, unless you have a local person with you to help out with the language. Racism is a generally of very minor concern although the average visitor is highly unlikely to encounter any problems. You must be always respectful to the country and locals. In this case, you will feel comfortable with anyone.
Central streets such as Furmanov, Abay, Zheltoksan, Dostyk, and Abylay Khan are strictly regulated and constantly monitored by police officers. Video cameras are installed on 70% of city crossroads. There are some Kazakh drivers who reveal their aggressiveness on the roads. Therefore, it is always best to take great care when crossing the roads.
In the event of an emergency, call:
- 101 Fire
- 102 Police
- 103 Ambulance
- 104 Gas Service
- 112 Emergency rescue
- Canada, 34 Karasai Batyr St, ☎ +7 727 50-11-51/52/53, fax: +7 727 582-493, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- China, 12, Baitasov St, ☎ , fax: +7 (727) 7272700227. M, W, F, 09:00-12:00. 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 work, 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 an urgent visa, issued in 4 days, is USD80.
- India, Maulenov St 71, ☎ , , fax: +7 3272 92-67-67.
- Uzbekistan. Immediate pick up with letter of invitation, USD75 for EU citizens. Come at 13:00-13.30 in the afternoon, (before 12:00: Kazakhs-only) to get listed at 14:00 by the staff, wait around outside. You need 2 copies of your passport, a copy of your Kazakh visa and one photo.
- Alpine park. Outside town, on the road to Shymbulak. Medeu skating rink is on this road too.
- Big Almaty Lake. Big Almaty Lake (Bolshoye Almatinskoye Ozero) is one the most admirable mountain lakes in Almaty's outskirts, in Trans-Ili Alatau in the gorge of Bolshaya Almatinka River at an elevation of 2,510 m. It lies in the cavity and is like a sparkling mirror, surrounded on all the sides by majestic peaks. Three main peaks tower over the lake: Peak of Soviet (4,317 m) – in the southeast, Ozerniy (4,110 m) – in the south, Tourist Peak (3,954 m) in the southwest. Depending on the season the lake changes its color from light green to turquoise. Can be reached by car.
- Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, is a 3.5 hour drive away on the best highway in Kazakhstan (pot holes are rare and you can keep a 100 km pace easily after leaving the Almaty oblast, but watch out for crazy oncoming passers). You can catch a taxi to Bishkek at "Sairan" international coach station. Approach a group of cars with Kyrgyz number plates and negotiate the price in advance. The average fare is KZT2,500-3,000 per person (Jan 2009). 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.
- 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 KZT500–1,000. You can stay overnight in a small two storey houses for about KZT2,000–5,000 per night. The lakes are very clean and you can even drink it. You can see the fish jumping out of it.
- Lake Balkhash. If travelers have several days to spend (and are craving a beach experience), the largest lake in the country 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 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.
- Sharyn 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 natural wonders is the canyon of Sharyn river. Sharyn Canyon is considered to be a miniature Grand Canyon. It is unusual and very diverse in its forms that remind the towers of fairy-tale castle. That is why the canyon has another name, the "valley of castles". On the slopes there could be found the remains of fossil fauna, dated 300 million years.
- Shymbulak. 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 Shymbulak 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 Shymbulak, you can take the bus from the corner of Satbaev and Baitursynuly at 08:00 every day; don't miss the way back. Every Tuesday is lift is closed.
- Tamgaly - Temple of Sun. The Tamgaly petroglyphs, a UNESCO site, are about 2.5 hours away by car (170 km, 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 gravesites. Not to be missed in the spring, summer or autumn, but watch out for snakes when it's hot.
- Turgen Gorge. In the national preserve Ile-Alatau, 90 km from Almaty. In the gorge that has a depth of 44km. 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.