Almaty

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.

Understand

Soviet monument to WWII heroes

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.

Get in

By air

International Flights

For people from most countries, the easiest way to get to Kazakhstan is by air. 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. Also there is the low-cost carrier airBaltic from Riga.

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.

National Flights

By train

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.

From Russia

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.

From Urumqi, China

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.

By bus

From China

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 to an hour 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.

Registration

Get around

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 Kurmangazy, local people will be able to help you out with ease.

By Metro

Central Almaty benefits from the underground system launched in 2011. It 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.

Metro Stations

From North to South(west)

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.

By taxi

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.

See

Churches

Zenkov's Cathedral
Central Mosque of Almaty

Museums

Others

Further afield

Charyn Canyon

Do

Medeu Ice-skating

Buy

USD1 equals about KZT300 and 1 Euro about KZT340 (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).

Good buys:

Banks

Markets, Shops

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.

Shopping Centers

Eat

Cheaper Kazakh restaurants are all over the place, selling shashlik, soup, salad and others. Fast food places are also everywhere - the local favourite is gamburgers, with sliced kebab meat on a hamburger bun with pickles and garlic sauce.

Drink

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Internet

Free wifi is common in hotels but it may be unreliable. Some bars and restaurants offer free wifi.

Stay safe

Crime

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.

Driving

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.

Emergencies

In the event of an emergency, call:

Cope

Consulates

Go next


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 19, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.