Almaty City Guide
Travelling to Almaty
The financial depot of Central Asia and the biggest city in Kazakhstan, previously known as Alma-Ata, the city of Almaty is unquestionably one of the tourist hotspots of Central Asia. Find personal guides in Almaty.
Due to the nature of Almaty, there really isn't a better place to start your trip to Kazakhstan, the city is filled with a sense of joy and comradery which you will notice almost immediately from the friendly locals volunteering to help you get around.
If your someone from New York or a similar city, then Almaty will definitely be a breath of fresh air. The city portrays itself as one that is extremely relaxed and easy-going, which the environment compliments perfectly with the greenery and mountains that overlook.
With this nonchalant feeling about the streets of Almaty, there is nothing better then the influx of cafe's, especially if your someone who works via laptop. Most of the corners are filled with coffee shops that are openly spaced and occupied with several plants that keep the air fresh and a smile on your face.
When your not in the mood for coffee or looking at the buildings, just outside the city lies the Tien Shan Mountains.
Populated with fresh apples, these mountains are the perfect place for anyone who wants to go on long hikes and see magnificent sceneries, or to just take a couple of hours to bask in the nature of Kazakhstan.
Almaty holds a considerable amount of expatriate groups, making it a comparably more tourist-friendly place than the other cities in the country. If choosing to visit the former capital of Kazakstan, go no further for knowledge, below are details, tips, and insights regarding what you need to know before taking your trip.
Almaty is also perfectly located to undertake some day trips to national parks, mountain lakes and canyons. Read here about the best places to visit outside of Almaty. Browse these tours and itineraries in and around Almaty to get inspired.
The people of Almaty
During my stop in the city, one thing that really struck me was that out of all the places and countries in Central Asia, Almaty has one of the kindest and genuine groups of people.
You will find because of natural skepticism that this openness and willingness to help might be interpreted as them trying to bribe you or do something for a return, I assure you to be open-minded in this area though while still maintaining your common sense when something is not right.
This topic is of particular importance, when traveling you can often find yourself stressing about not knowing everything and getting lost, you will find comfort in the fact that when visiting this city, on top of scheduling and finding out as much information as you can, the people are very willing to fill you in on a number of topics including anything from buses to the best foods to eat. Bring your phone translator for keywords, since not many of the locals can speak English (except expatriate groups).
One important tip to keep in mind for the above is to make it evident you are a tourist, although this seems nonintuitive, you will be surprised and delighted at how people will jump at your feet to help you.
What to see in Almaty
The city of Almaty is amongst one of the most mountain covered areas in all of Kazakhstan, resulting in extra fun when choosing activities to participate in on top of all the expected choices.
Bazaars of Almaty
I'm sure you have a very clear picture of a peaceful city where everyone is gentle and moving about gracefully. Scramble this for a short while because I'm about to explain the one exception.
Just around the corner from Panfilov Park, the Green Bazaar is one of the most known bazaars out of the many that the city hold, although it is not the only market and arguably not the most interesting, it is reliable for providing the residents of the city with the products they need to sustain there days.
Being the largest farmers market in Almaty, besides fresh fruits and vegetables, there is also a large variety of meats and dairies. Both convenient and easily accessible to any tourist visiting the city, it is obvious why it is popular among the crowds and often referred to first among all the other Bazaars.
By far, the most active, crowded and fast-paced Bazaar in Almaty is the Baraholka Bazaar. I recommend any shopaholic to visit this market as it contains everything you need to make your blood boil. One of the main features of its shops is the high quantity of products at lower prices.
Situated north of Raimbek, I highly recommend planning out a whole afternoon for this Bazaar, if rushing, you will find yourself quickly overwhelmed and frustrated as there are countless alleyways with long aisles of shops, with most selling something that will capture your attention.
Ideally, if you are staying in Almaty for a long period of time, this is the ideal market due to price and quantity tendencies.
When visiting Almaty without prior research or knowledge, this Bazaar will most likely go unnoticed unless locals recommend it.
Located around the corner from the Cathedral on Baytursynov Street, Nikolsky Bazaar is ideal for anyone who wants to pick up special items or services that are predominately more expensive and not as common in traditional vendors.
This includes a lot of technological repair shops and other services or products that will fulfill your needs which otherwise wouldn't be met in other popular Bazaars. Therefore, it is also ideal for someone who is having a long stay in the city and comes across menial problems or requires certain items and/or services that don't include the common products such as produce or furniture.
Located approximately 25km outside the city, if you're into winter sports, or just want to go skiing, then get excited as this resort will fulfill all your needs.
Due to Almaty hosting the 2011 Asian Winter games, 2017 Universiade Games and also anticipating hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Shymbulak Ski Resort during the correct season is the perfect place to tender your thrill-seeking spirit or hone in on your skiing and snowboarding prowess.
Sweat room centers
Saunas provide an incredibly relaxing contrast to the typical cold weather in Almaty and are something that is quite common in the area. The residents call them banya's, they are an optimal experience when visiting with friends to see how long each of you can last in the heat.
The saunas are at their best when following the processes that many of the locals abide.
After sweating in one of these after a couple of minutes, expect to be swatted by a birch leaf from whoever you came with or is in the sauna at the time. At this point, you will be at your peak temperature, and gain some relief (and shock) when you dip your whole body into a cold neighbor pool, which feels as if it's freezing due to the temperature contrast, what a wonderful activity! Expect to feel extremely relaxed and mellow after this.
An exciting recreational park that is both good for being with friends and with family, the Kok-Tobe has various places to visit for both food and fun.
On top of this, if you're going to the park, then be also sure to check out the Tv Tower which will give you a very scenic view of the city.
Central State Museum
Renowned as the best museum in Almaty, and one of the biggest museums in Central Asia, the Central State Museum will fill you in on all the history of Kazakhstan's history as well as beautiful artifacts to gaze your eyes upon.
No matter what your tastes are regarding the period of history, the museum offers modern reconstructions, as well as old funeral and ceremonial buildings.
It goes without saying that in the major cities there's going to be big nights, the night-life in Almaty is quite active for anyone looking to enjoy it. The city has various bars and nightclubs to suit any volume or crowd taste.
With a wide array of music choices, whether you're into international DJs or relaxing live music, you can pretty much guarantee that you will find your taste in music.
Cathedral of the Holy Ascension
Last but certainly not least, when going past leafy Panfilov Park, stop and gaze at the world's second-tallest wooden building.
Rising almost 60 meters, the Cathedral is a highly friendly place to all religions, and it's not uncommon to see people from a broad range of spiritual belief systems including Christians, Muslims, and even Atheists.
The President's Park
Last on the activities of interest, definitely not least, is the Presidents Park.
Situated among a beautiful mountain view, in the south of Almaty, Bostankdyk district, the famous park serves many purposes, one being Almaty's yearly music festival "Almaty – my first love" which is also referred to as Alma-Ata.
The park's name is inspired by the first President of Kazakhstan "Nursultan Nazarbayev".With 73 hectares of land to cover, there are many wonderful sections of the park to explore including the observatory site, beautiful fountains, diverse flowers and trees, seating areas to bring food and large spaces to walk. When not coming to the festivals, this park is a very nice location for having a relaxing afternoon with a picnic.
Safety in Almaty
This post would not be informative if it didn't shine a light on some of the imminent dangers of traveling to foreign countries, here are some specific ones that you should keep your eye out for in Almaty.
Patrol Officer corruption
It is common sense for an avid traveler that a lot of places in Central Asia have police who are corrupt, Almaty is no different. Although being a tourist attracts a lot of help from the lovely locals, it also gains the attention of some dishonest police officers.
The most common way they take advantage of is by blackmailing you in some shape or form, usually through tactics like false arrests or accusing you of breaking a wrong law.
One of the only ways to minimize this is through self-effacing clothes and behavior when walking about in police hotspots, such as airports, entering hotel rooms (own experience), public events, and any other event you think would constitute patrol.
Now I'm not saying walk around with a fake smile and pretend to speak the language, but I suggest not wearing any outlandish clothes in the above-listed places just to minimize the risk.
Avoid these areas
The further out you go from Almaty city, the poorer it becomes, resulting in higher desperation and more crime rates. Without question, this means your priority should be staying in a living space that is near or in the city.
When going about your nights, it is crucial that you take precautions before you become intoxicated to make sure you don't end up in the wrong places. The best way to judge this is your distance from the central section of Almaty, the further away you go, the more evident it becomes that you're entering the lower socio-economic area, and by now I don't have to tell you what that means.
Transportation in Almaty
The Almaty bus system is extremely convenient for travelers, unlike other places in Central Asia, you can catch one at almost every 2nd street block of the city, the only real issue lies in interpreting the bus schedules, which can be assisted by some friendly nearby people.
Be sure not to rely on this method of transport after a night out as the bus service runs from around 6 am in the morning to 8 p.m. Although crowded, the buses are predominately clean with simple fee mechanics and ticket dispensers.
Surprisingly, the train system in Almaty is spotless and well kept to a high standard, and would be the most recommended method of transport if it was more convenient.
Unfortunately, the metro only runs one line which is situated in a small sector of the city, though if you ever do get the chance to take it, I highly recommend it. You’ll see some of the most beautiful (and expensive) metro stations.
For adventurous personalities only, a common thing that backpackers will tell you when visiting Almaty is to raise your hand for public transport.
Do this, and you will find various cars stopping at your aid for a chance to make a few extra Tenge's, 99% of the time it is safe and most likely profitable due to the discount, though it is an at-your-own-discretion method.
If you are arriving in the city via the airport, then taxi's are almost a must to take as not only are they usually the only readily service to use but also the most convenient (generally waiting right outside).
When going about your usual days, don't rely on these as a primary method of transport. There is likely to be no official costs or fixed prices with most taxi drivers, and more than likely you will massively be overcharged due to your inexperience and language barriers. Or check these listing if you want to hire a local driver.
Food in Almaty (Almaty Food Tours)
No doubt, food had to be mentioned when talking about Kazakhstan, if you did everything else and missed this, it wouldn't be a full trip. Below are some hot spots and particular foods that should be the focus of your taste buds (see Traditional Kazakh Food).
For all the sweet tooths, the baursaks are a very delicious treat to swallow. Served alongside the main meal, it is the Kazakhstan equivalent to a western donut, though with a much more diverse taste.
If you have traveled to any of the other countries that surround Kazakhstan, you will notice a trend in food commonalities. Due to immigration, there has been a notable linkage between refined foods in the country.
Fortunately for food lovers who don't have the time or money to travel abroad, you’re able to try nationwide cultural dishes including Manti dumplings, tukhum barak, somsa's, pilafs, Lagman noodles and much more.
For a classy and expensive time, the restaurants in Almaty are suitable. During my short stay here I could only afford to go to very few, they are remarkably optimized and catered for tourists with respect to the wealthy impression they give. For some recommendations of restaurants and bars in Almaty, read the post ‘Apples are from Almaty’
The experience was very enjoyable, and you will find most of the staff treating you like a royalty figure if it's evident your a tourist. If you don't have money to blow, I would recommend visiting some of there other restaurants that involve foods from other nations, my favorite being Italian.
In conclusion, Almaty like many other places in Central Asia is beautiful, and it shares a lot of the cultural trends and patterns that are apparent in other neighboring countries.
Once you visit Almaty make sure to check out the places mentioned, and I assure you it'll be a blast! The most evident thing you're likely to notice and find breathtaking is their nearby mountains, which makes everything else look like a bonus.