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. 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.
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, bmi 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 plane-side 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 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 $20–25 (3000-3500 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 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 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 (Jul 2010).
Organizing the Kazakh visa in Urumqi takes at least 5 (Jul 2010) 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 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 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 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 3000 tenge to go to Almaty. 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, Kyrgyzstan
Minibusses 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 brossing
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.
- OVIR, Corner of Baytursynuly & Karasay Batyr St, ☎ 8-727-2544132. 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 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 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. Single-entry visa: KZT855.
- 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 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 2013, a single trip costs KZT80 (USD0.52). 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 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 – KZT 80. 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 them 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 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, e-mail: 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.
- 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 internet 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 this ice. Fun to visit in winter. Tipsy teenagers teeter across the ice, coloured 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 summer. The water is extremely invigorating, about 15 degrees celsius!
- Koek Toebe ("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.
- Skating at Medeo Ice-skating stadium. Outside town, on the road to Chimbulak. Skate rentals are available. Take bus number 6 in front of Hotel Kazakhstan on Dostyk Ave. to go to the Medeu (50 tenge on weekdays, 70 tenge on weekends), every 20 minutes.
- 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. or take bus number 95 & 99 (50 tenge). 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. Butt TV Tower is closed for visitors due to restricted area. (26/06/2012)
- Ride a bicycle. Rentals are available at "Extremal" stores chain.
- 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 an get a receipt.
- Walk at Panfilov Park, a beautiful park in the center of the city, featuring Soviet-era architecture and Cathedral.
- 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 labyrinth 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.
- 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, etc.
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. You can reach the area by:
- bus and hike: the 28 bus 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 15 km and a 1000m altitude increase (to 2,500m). 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.
- bus and taxi: when you get off the 28 bus there are taxis waiting: they will take you up to within 4 km 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 4 km 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
You can also hike up above the lake to the Observatory.
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 September 2012, $1 equals about 147 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. 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 on Temirazova (a few blocks away from the Intercontinental and the new Holiday Inn). You'll often see business men from Samsung and LG here lunching with people from the Korean embassy.
- Chinese restaurants. Popular Chinese restaurant located on Gogolya and Tulebayeva (not far from Panfilov Park) in the ground floor of an apartment building. Strange location, but very popular and clean.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 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. Nevertheless 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 traditional 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 (i.e. Chinese), European. The Uzbek room has wonderful wood decorations, blue-tiled kitchen you can see into.
What to eat
- Local food:
"Five fingers", a traditional Kazakh food. "Beshbarmak", a stew with leaves of noodles and pieces of lamb. "Baurzaki", heavy, spongy bread dough cooked in deep fat (similar to a donut, but not sweet). "Plov", a rice dish with meat and carrots or other vegetables. "Shashlik" (Russian: Шашлык) is the most tasty Kazakh food. It is a kebab that is made out of chicken or lamb. Shashlik is not fried, but is grilled over saxaul. Shashlik is popular throughout this part of Central Asia. You can also easily find "doner kebab" or "shaurma" at any number of stands through the city. Just be sure to use the stands with the most customers – it is often the best food, and it is freshly prepared.
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.
Chain called "Gros" (really) 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 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 selling Korean salads, apples, eggplants, cheese, honey, and even arucola and rosemary sprigs!
- 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, ask specifically for "Sary-Agash" (of Asem-Ai brand) or Borjomi. Many other widely-known water brands can be found in restaurants and supermarkets.
- Tea is widely available, mostly very good and often quite strong. 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. One of the best coffee in Almaty can be found at 4A Coffee where they roast their own daily. 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. Becker, Staut, Tian Shan, Derbes, Irbis, Alma-Ata. Local brands brewed in Almaty are pretty good.
- Local wine. Try the local variety, a good one can be had for less than $4 a bottle. "Bibigul" is perhaps the most consistently good wine, and it comes in a semidry red or semidry white. Avoid to drink wine in restaurants, it's usually very expensive.
- 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.
- Almaty-2, ☎ . Upstairs from the international hall of Almaty-2 train station. 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.
- Apple Hostel, 145 Kurmangazi street (you can also ask the guards to let you in), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.. 7(727)317-76-96, 8701-220-22-75., 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 2500 Tenge, and a single room (3000).
- 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.
- Hotel Transit, ☎ . 12 Zheltoksan Str. ("Mira" Str.). $7 for 3 hours.
- Miras, ☎ . 65a Baitursynov Str. Singles from 2,900 tenge, doubles from 4,800 tenge.
- Ulytau, ☎ . 176 Furmanova Str. 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). email@example.com, 49 Makatayev st, 8(727) 2664136. One or two receptionists speak English.
- Alatau International Hotel & Business Center, 105 Dostyk Ave, ☎ , fax: +7 727 258 15 55, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.. Single from $80.
- Almaty Business Hotel, ☎ . 152 Vinogradova Str. Singles from $100, doubles from $120.
- Grand Aicer, ☎ . 1 Pozharskogo Str. Singles from 15,000 tenge, doubles around 19,000 tenge.
- Hotel Almaty, ☎ . 85 Kabanbai Batyr Str. Doubles from $180.
- Hotel Ambassador, ☎ , fax: +7 727 272 64 41. 121 Zheltoksan Str. Singles from $180.
- Hotel Berkana, ☎ . 83 Aiteke bi Str. Singles $75–150, breakfast incl.
- Hotel Kazakhstan, ☎ . A Soviet-style hotel from 1977. 52 Dostyk Ave. Singles from 8,400 tenge, doubles from 19,800 tenge.
- Kazzhol, ☎ . 128/1 Gogol Str. Singles from 7,900 tenge, doubles from 9,900 tenge.
- Anastasia Inn
- Hotel Dostyk, ☎ . Big old and well maintained hotel in the center of the city. 162 Furmanov Street, 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.
- InterContinental Almaty, ☎ . It offers most of what you'd expect from a luxury hotel. 181 Zheltoksan Str. Singles & doubles from 46,000 tenge.
- Worldhotel Saltanat Almaty, ☎ . One of the most modern hotels in Kazakhstan, opened in 2011. Located in the city’s historical centre. 164 Furmanov Street, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Omega Sector BiG Internet Cafe (Corner of Abai & Baytursnuly, near the Main station). KZT200/hour.
- (Corner of Baytursnuly & Karasay Batyr, near the OVIR). Eight computers and a telephone service but you can't use USB devices. KZT240/hour.
- (In the underpass of Zhibek Zholy & Tolebaev, near the Silk Way Mall). KZT240/hour.
- Samal-3 micro-district, Online Club (Silk Way City). If you have your own hardware, there's 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. 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. The average visitor, though, 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, while 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 case of emergency
In case of emergency, please call "101" (Fire services), "102" (Police), "103" (Ambulance), "104" (Gas Service), "112" (Rescue service in emergency situations).
- Canada, 34 Karasai Batyr St, ☎ +7 (727) 50-11-51/52/53, fax: +7 (727) 582-493, e-mail: email@example.com.
- 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 urgent visa, issued in 4 days, is USD80).
- Uzbekistan. Immediate pick up with LOI, USD75 for EU, come at 13:00-13.30 in the afternoon, (before noon only Kazakhs) 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.
- Turgen Gorge.In the national preserve Ile-Alatau is 90 km from Almaty. 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 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-blue. Can be reached by car.
- If travelers have several days to spend (and are craving a beach experience), Lake Balkhash, 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 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.
- 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 US 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 million 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.
- Tamgaly - Temple of Sun. The Tamgaly petroglyphs, a UNESCO site, are about 2-1/2 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 grave sites. Not to be missed in the spring, summer, or fall, but watch out for snakes when it's hot!
- 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 100 km 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.