With its diverse landscape, Kazakhstan has so much to offer — canyons, forests, mountains and lakes. This Kazakhstan itinerary is the perfect introduction to the Almaty region, covering the highlights that must not be missed during you trip.
Overview Of This Kazakhstan Itinerary
Download Yandex, 2Gis and Google Translate
The main ride hailing app in Kazakhstan is Yandex Go and the app for maps is called 2Gis. Google Maps does work in Kazakhstan, but 2Gis is the preferred choice.
Also have Google Translate on hand as majority of the signs are in Kazakh or Russian.
There aren’t many Singaporean telcos that offer data roaming for Kazakhstan, not at a low cost at least. After some research, I found that Airalo offers a few eSim data packages for Kazakhstan, starting at US$4.50 for 1GB and it also comes with the option to top up during your trip if you need more data.
My experience with the eSim in Almaty city center was alright, it wasn’t the fastest and the connection was spotty at times, but it did its job. I also managed to have my laptop tap onto my mobile’s hotspot for a zoom meeting.
Though Kazakhstan is generally safe, you should still get travel insurance, especially with the current political climate. For this trip, I went with Tiq Travel Insurance as they pay out upon a 3-hour flight delay, even without submitting a claim. This was pretty important as we had transfer flights on this trip!
Day 1 – City Tour
The Ascension Cathedral (also known as Zenkov Cathedral) is a Russian Orthodox cathedral made out of wood. Its distinctive bright colours make it one of the most stunning and unique piece of architecture in Almaty.
You can enter the cathedral, free-of-charge, but ladies are required to cover their hair. Scarves are provided at the entrance.
The ambience in the church was solemn and there weren’t many other tourists around. Photos are allowed but please be mindful as most visitors are there to pay their respect.
Opening hours: 7am – 7pm
Address: Gogol St 40в, Almaty 050000, Kazakhstan
Panfilov Park honours the 28 soldiers of an Almaty infantry unit who died fighting off the Nazis during World War 2.
From the Ascension Cathedral, which is located in Panfilov Park, it is about a 100m walk to where you will see a giant monument of that commemorates the guardsmen. You can also type “Memorial of Glory” if you’re using Google Maps to find your way.
Green Bazaar is a large indoor market, selling various goods, including meat, cheese and dried goods. This marketplace is popular not only with tourists, but locals as well, which isn’t surprising due to the large variety of goods that can be found here.
Prices are relatively reasonable too. We bought some nuts at around 800₸/100g. Do be careful though, they do tend to push you to buy more than the amount you asked for.
Green Bazaar is less than 10-minutes walk from Panfilov Park.
Opening hours: 9am – 7pm
Address: улица Жибек Жолы 53, Almaty 050000, Kazakhstan
Kok Tobe is the perfect spot for a bird’s eye view of Almaty. You can take the cable car or a bus up to the top of the mountain but the cable car offers a better view.
Once on top, you’ll find yourself in a park, filled with various fun fair rides and games. Do note that the cost of playing the games are not included in your cable car/bus ticket. You’ll have to pay for them separately.
Something I recommend is the traditional Kazakh swing. Unlike the swings most of us are familiar with, the traditional Kazakh swing requires 2 people, with each standing on either ends of the swing. The swing costs 300₸/person for 5 minutes.
Tip: Visit in the late afternoon for cooler weather and sunset. The area is not sheltered.
Price for Kok Tobe Cable Car:
Round Trip: Adult 5,000₸, Child 2,500₸
One Way: Adult 3,000₸, Child 1,500₸
Last ride: Mon – Thurs 11pm, Fri – Sun 12am
Starting Point for Cable Car: Luganskiy St 2, Almaty 050000, Kazakhstan (Next to Novotel” қонақүй)
Day 2 – Trip to Charyn Canyon and Kolsay Lake
We decided to take a trip out of the city to explore the nature landscape Kazakhstan has to offer. As most of the locations we wanted to visit were quite a distance away, we hired a private guide from Explore Kazakhstan. They have a team of around 10 English speaking guides and we loved our guide, Chingiz.
The tour cost us 222,000₸ (SGD 645/USD473) and it was a 2D1N tour. Chingiz picked us from our Almaty accommodation at 8am in the morning, dropped us off at our accommodation at Kolsay Lake around 5pm for the night and picked us up at 10am on the following morning.
Please note this is not sponsored, we just really loved our guide and I wanted to share this with you guys. If you wanna know more, feel free to reach out and I’ll be happy to share more!
Charyn Canyon (also known as Sharyn Canyon) is often known as the Grand Canyon of Kazakhstan, with a unique blend of rugged terrain, towering sandstone formations, and a meandering river.
The most straightforward path to explore the canyon, also known as the Valley of Castles, is about 2.5km long that leads you to the river. It is a relatively flat walk and can be completed in about 30 minutes one way. If you do not want to walk, you can also choose to take a van.
We walked one way and took the van on the return trip. The van cost about ₸500 one way. There is no proper queuing system in place for the van. Everyone has a queue number on the van ticket and you’ll just have to constantly check with the staff if you’re on the next van. The staff speaks Kazak and Russian, so the language-barrier may cause some problems, but our guide took care of everything for us.
To get a van ticket, find a staff wearing military-looking uniform. He will be hanging around the areas where the huts are, at the end of the path of the Valley of Castles. You will know when you get there as there will be many people hanging around/in the huts.
Charyn Canyon is a 3 hour drive from Almaty. If you’re unable to drive, its best to go with a tour group or to hire a private guide like we did as there aren’t any public transport options.
Tip: Wear a cap and bring water as it can get really hot in summer
Entrance fee: 730₸ (covered in the private tour)
Traditional Lunch At A Guest House
We stopped by Alban Guest House in Saty Village on the way to our next destination, and got acquainted with the local food like Manti and Barusak. The guesthouse was simple, but clean, and made for a really good toilet break. Alban Guest House also offers overnight accommodations but you’ll have to contact them directly to book.
Note: Food in Kazakhstan is heavily focused on horse meat, mutton and beef. You won’t be able to find pork as majority of its population is Muslim.
Check out Carrie’s detailed post about the food in Kazakhstan if you want to find out more!
Kolsay Lakes National Park
Kolsay Lakes (sometimes spelled Kolsai), is a hour’s drive from Charyn Canyon and just a short drive from Alban Guest House. There are 3 lakes, with the first lake being just a 500m walk downslope from the carpark. The second and third lakes are quite a hike away, so unless you have an extra day to spare, I would skip it.
We took a walk around the first lake and rented a peddle boat for ₸10,000/hour. It took us about an hour to peddle across the lake and back.
Tip: As the area sits on a high elevation of 1800m, bring warm clothes or a jacket, even in the summer. It gets chilly at night and when it rains.
Entrance fee: 806₸ (covered in the private tour)
Sleep @ Kolsay Lakes Town
We stayed a night at the lakes and chose Kolsay Lakes Town as our accommodation for the night. As there were 4 of us, we got the Junior Suite (≈ 67,000₸/night), which was small cabin but sufficient for a night. Kolsay Lakes Town was right by the first lake. We started our day at 7am the next day and had the whole area to ourselves!
Note: if you do choose to stay here, sleep in long pants as the sheets might be dirty, my friend had an itch the entire night.
The accommodation cost is not included in the private tour.
Day 3 – Kaindy Lake and Black Canyon
Have you seen a forest in a lake? Because that’s what Kaindy Lake is — a forest frozen in water. Kaindy Lake was formed after an earthquake formed a natural dam, causing rainwater to fill the area and submerging the forest.
There are various paths to get to the lake and the paths do contain some steep slopes. It can also be very muddy and slippery when it rains, so wear proper trekking shoes with good grip!
Kaindy Lake is a short drive away from Kolsay Lakes. However, it is a rough, bumpy 20-minute drive from the main road to the entrance of the lake.
Tip: Take motion sickness pills if you’re prone to motion sickness.
If you’re doing a self-drive and do not have a 4-wheeler, you can take a van to where the hike starts. I’d still recommend getting a guide as it is not an easy lake to get to. There are few road signs and also few signs along the trail.
On our way back to Almaty, we did a quick pitstop to view Black Canyon, which is a smaller canyon part of Charyn Canyon. Unlike the Valley of Castles we visited on day 2, you cannot walk through the canyon and can only view it from the roadside. To get to the Black Canyon viewpoint, you can use these coordinates.
You can also choose to see the Black Canyon together with the Valley of Castles as they are in close proximity.
Drive Back to Almaty
We stopped by Complex Zhibek Zholy on our way back to Almaty. There are a few Zhibek Zholy branches along the way back to the city and this is a great rest stop for road-trippers. If you do drop by, be sure to try the dry lagman, which is a traditional dish with Uyghur origins. Lagman is a thick hand-pulled noodle, usually made with meat and vegetables.
Day 4 – Shymbulak
Shymbulak (also known as Chimbulak) is a ski resort 40-minutes from Almaty. Despite it being a ski resort, there are still activities available when it’s not snowing.
During the off-ski season, visitors can take the chairlift or cable car for a panoramic view of the area and hiking is a popular activity during the summer.
Tip: As Shymbulak sits at an elevation of 2,200m, it is advisable to spend some time in Medeu before heading over so that your body is able to acclimatise. Drinking more water also helps, as blood can thicken at high altitudes, so water helps “thin” the blood. Bring medication if needed, but it’s best to consult your doctor before the trip, especially if you’ve never visited a place of such high elevation!
Along the way to Shymbulak, you will pass by Medeu, where the world’s highest ice skating rink is located. However, it is only open during winter, so if you’re visiting during winter, you can skate at Medeu!
The Medeu Dam is also a popular spot for admiring the view.
Getting to Shymbulak
There are a few ways to get up to Shymbulak, but the most straightforward way is by cable car. Take a taxi or drive to the Medeu-Shymbulak station and purchase your cable car tickets there, around 500m from the ice rink. As the price of tickets changes, do check the Shymbulak website for updated prices.
You can drive up to Shymbulak, but only if you have an electric vehicle (EV). The EV must also be registered. If your car is not an EV, you’ll have to leave your car at the Medeu.
You can get a taxi from the Medeu ice rink into Shymbulak and it costs 3,000₸ per taxi.
RealKZ does a great job at detailing the various ways of getting to Shymbulak, check out the guide on their website for more detailed instructions.
Getting Around Kazakhstan
Taxis are the best transport option. It is very easy to get a taxi on the Yandex Go app and you often can get a car in less than 10 minutes. You can also pay via cash if you order a taxi on the app. Just make sure you have the exact amount as drivers often don’t carry cash since the country is majorly cashless.
In the words of my Kazakh friends — just don’t. The train system only covers a small area in Almaty. Public transport timings are also unreliable.
Driving is also a good option, but it can be tough to find parking space, especially around popular sites and restaurants.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit Kazakhstan?
This largely depends on what you want to do. If you want to visit sites and do road trips comfortably, the best times to visit Kazakhstan would be the periods of April – May and September – October, when the weather is not too hot or cold. If you’re a fan of skiing or snowsports in general, I would recommend going in winter as Kazakhstan has great facilities for them.
How cheap or expensive is Kazakhstan?
A rough estimate of average daily expenses in Kazakhstan is around 23,000₸, or USD50, excluding accommodations.
Do I need cash in Kazakhstan?
Credit cards are widely accepted in Kazakhstan. In fact, the country has gone almost cashless. It is still good to carry some cash with you in case of emergencies. For example, we had to pay in cash for some toilets we visited during our road trip.
What is the currency is accepted in Kazakhstan?
The currency in Kazakhstan is the Kazakhstani tenge (₸). The most widely accepted currencies at currency exchanges in Kazakhstan are the American Dollar USD, Euro (EUR) and Russian Ruble (RUB).
What is the main religion in Kazakhstan?
Most identify as Muslims in Kazakhstan. As such you will also not be able to find pork in most eateries.
I hope you found this Kazakhstan Itinerary useful. If you have more spots to recommend, please drop them in the comments!
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. There are affiliate links but all opinions remain my own.