Almaty in Kazakhstan is a truly unique city – a bustling urban metropolis surrounded by the most gorgeous mountains on all sides. It’s intense scenic beauty, coupled with the fact that Kazakhstan offers visa-free entry to Indians, makes it ideal for the perfect city break. Here is everything you need to know for planning a trip to Almaty. With a backdrop of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains, Almaty offers a diverse array of activities for all kinds of travellers – whether you are seeking adventure, cultural exploration, or relaxation.
Flying to Almaty, Kazakhstan
Air Astana (and its budget arm FlyArystan) link Almaty to most major cities in the world. Direct return flights from New Delhi to Almaty start at approximately INR 20,000 per person. It takes 3 hours to fly from New Delhi to Almaty, making it ideal for a short break. Immigration is seamless upon arrival. We carried print outs of our flight and hotel bookings but we were only asked for our boarding passes by the immigration officer. However we would still recommend having these on you, should the need arise. You can compare fares and book here.
Things to keep in mind upon arriving in Almaty – Visa, Currency, Transport
Kazakhstan is visa free for Indian travellers (December 2023) but it’s always best to check the latest visa requirements before your travels as these rules keep changing.
The local currency is KZT (Kazakhstani Tenge) – 1 INR = 5.4 KZT and 1 USD = 450 KZT ( December 23). Cards are accepted widely but we always recommend carrying small currency notes to begin with. You can withdraw some local currency at the airport.
Make sure you download the Yandex Go App on your phone. Uber doesn’t work in Kazakhstan. However local cabs are extremely cheap and plentiful. Use it to request taxis, no matter where you are, even at the airport.
Also make sure you download Google Translate or any other translation app of your choice as English is not very widely spoken or understood.
Upon reaching Almaty, we recommend buying a SIM card from the airport so your apps work seamlessly. There are 2 options at the airport – Beeline and Tele2. You can choose either. One sim with 10 GB data costs INR 900 ($11). Best to pick this up from the airport itself so you can easily order Yandex taxi for your transfer to your hotel.
Best time to visit Almaty, Kazakhstan
There is no bad time to visit Almaty – it is a gorgeous city. However the two best periods to visit are during peak summer (August-September) as the lakes are absolutely blue in colour during that time of the year and then during winter months (December-January) in case you want to enjoy snowfall and winter sports. 4 days are sufficient for Almaty and its surroundings. Do beware that this is one of the coldest cities in the world, so make sure you pack well for your winter trip to Almaty. You can read our guide to packing for extreme winter here.
Where to stay in Almaty
It is easy to base yourself in Almaty and plan day trips to several scenic places in Kazakhstan. For this reason we ended up staying in Almaty during our entire time in Kazakhstan. We chose to stay at the Ritz Carlton in Almaty and truly cannot recommend it highly enough. To be honest, we chose the hotel because it offers incredible views of the city of Almaty. But upon getting there and staying there for the better part of a week, we realised it is truly the best hotel in the city.
Staff is friendly. Rooms are spacious and tech-savvy. But even so, they are packed with the old world charm Ritz is famous for! Everything from the tea cups and toiletries to the wardrobes and bathrobes is carefully curated. We chose a mountain view room and we would highly-recommend you do the same! Look at the view we woke up to each day. We miss it dearly 🙂
Another thing that the hotel is famous for is its breakfast buffet! And we can safely say it lives up to the hype! The spread is high-quality and expansive. You will find everything from continental staples to Kazakh sweets and breakfast dishes. But the best part is that you can devour these delicacies with a view to match. There are plenty of hotels depending on different budgets and locations.
Things To Do in Almaty
There are lots of things to do in Almaty. But here are some you must check out on your city break in Almaty, Kazakhstan
- Kok Tobe A visit to Kok Tobe, meaning “Green Hill,” is a must for panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains. Reachable by a scenic cable car ride, this hill hosts the iconic 372-meter-tall television tower. At the summit, the Kok Tobe Park provides a leisurely escape with a mini zoo, souvenir shops, and the famous “LOVE” sculpture. The observation deck a nice 360-degree view of Almaty, making it a perfect spot for photos.
- Try the food – Kazakh food provides a unique mix of Asian and Russian influences. You must try Kazakh sweets and traditional dishes like Besbarmak (boiled meat and thin squares of homemade noodles similar to lasagne sheets), manti (steamed dumplings stuffed with minced meat), local cheeses such as Irimshik and Kurt (dried balls of sour milk with salt). Navat in Almaty is a nice restaurant chain to sample these foods!
- Zenkov’s Cathedral Zenkov’s Cathedral, also known as the Ascension Cathedral, stands as a remarkable example of wooden architecture. Built entirely without nails in 1907, this Russian Orthodox cathedral is a symbol of cultural heritage. Set within Panfilov Park, its vibrant exterior and intricate detailing make it a picturesque landmark. Visitors can explore the interior adorned with frescoes, gaining insight into the city’s historical and religious roots.
- Arasan Baths Nestled in the heart of Almaty, the Arasan Baths provide a rejuvenating retreat. Dating back over 50 years, these Turkish-style baths offer saunas, steam rooms, and therapeutic massages. The mineral-rich waters provide a soothing experience, allowing visitors to unwind after a day of exploration. The Arasan Baths offer a glimpse into Almaty’s historical bathing culture, providing a tranquil oasis in the midst of the bustling city.
- Central State Museum If you want to learn more about Kazakhstan’s rich history and cultural heritage then visit the Central State Museum. Located in a grand building, the museum showcases artifacts, exhibitions, and displays that trace the country’s journey through time. From ancient artifacts to modern art, the museum provides a comprehensive overview of Kazakhstan’s diverse cultural tapestry.
- Green Bazaar Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the Green Bazaar, a bustling market where locals gather to sell fresh produce, spices, and traditional Kazakh goods. This sensory-rich experience allows visitors to taste local delicacies, shop for souvenirs, and interact with the friendly vendors, providing a glimpse into daily life in Almaty. This is also the perfect place to buy famous Kazakhi dried fruits.
- Almaty Botanical Garden: Nature in the City Escape the urban hustle by exploring the Almaty Botanical Garden. Situated at the base of the mountains, this peaceful oasis showcases a diverse collection of plants, flowers, and trees. The garden provides a tranquil environment for leisurely strolls, picnics, and nature appreciation.
Day Trips from Almaty, Kazakhstan
- Shymbulak Ski Resort For those of you who visit Almaty during winter months, this is a must-do half day trip. You can take a Yandex cab to the Shymbulak Ski Resort, which is a haven for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. Upon getting there, take an all-inclusive Gondola Ticket that take you right to the top station (around KZT 5000 for return trip). Located in the Zailiyskiy Alatau mountain range, Shymbulak offers a range of slopes for all skill levels. The picturesque surroundings and the crisp mountain air create a winter wonderland that is perfect for both adventure and relaxation.
- Big Almaty Lake Approximately 28 kilometers south of Almaty lies the breathtaking Big Almaty Lake, a turquoise gem nestled in a glacial valley at an altitude of 2,511 meters. The lake’s vibrant colour, framed by rocky slopes and snow-capped peaks, creates a mesmerising sight. The pristine beauty of Big Almaty Lake makes it a perfect destination for nature lovers and photographers alike. You can hike to the lake during summer time and drive to the lake during winter when it is frozen. It’s advisable to check with your hotel concierge whether the lake is open or not.
- Kaindy Lake If you are in Almaty for longer than 4 days, then you must plan a day trip to Kaindy Lake, a natural wonder located about 130 kilometers east of Almaty. Often referred to as the “Sunken Forest,” Kaindy Lake was formed after an earthquake triggered a landslide, creating a natural dam. The resulting lake submerged a spruce forest, leaving ghostly tree trunks rising from the turquoise waters. Visitors can explore the lake’s shores, go hiking in the surrounding mountains, or take a boat ride to fully appreciate the surreal beauty of this unique destination. You can combine it with a visit to Kolsai Lake and Charyn Canyon if you don’t mind a packed trip!
- Kolsai Lake & Charyn Canyon Situated in the northern Tien Shan mountains, Kolsai Lake is a series of three stunning alpine lakes, each more captivating than the last. Surrounded by coniferous forests and snow-capped peaks, the lakes offer a peaceful escape from the urban bustle. The first lake is easily accessible by car, while the second and third lakes require a moderate hike. The crystal-clear waters of Kolsai Lakes are perfect for photography, hiking, or just enjoying the charms of nature. Charyn Canyon, often referred to as Kazakhstan’s Grand Canyon, captivates with its dramatic red rock formations.
And that is it – the perfect guide to planning a trip to Almaty in Kazakhstan. Let us know if you have any questions or comments. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.