Almaty is an exciting city, but you probably aren’t planning to come to Kazakhstan just to see city life.
The country is enormous, and there are so many great day trips from Almaty that you can take while you’re here. The hardest part will be to choose which one.
Okay, actually the hardest part will be to plan your trip because it’s not quite as easy to get out and see the region as in other parts of the world.
So here are ten fabulous Almaty day trip ideas from experienced travelers with the details on how to actually play your trip.
Essential Travel Resources for 2021 & 2022
These are my favorite companies that I use on my travels.
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
For road trips and ground transportation, rent a car through Discover Cars.
Find the best city tours, day tours, bus tours, & skip-the-line tickets on GetYourGuide.
For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
Get reliable travel insurance through World Nomads.
5 Things to Know Before Planning a Day Trip from Almaty
The Tourism Infrastructure is Not Fully In Place
This means that many popular day trips do not run every day. You should plan ahead and look at company schedules to make sure you can go while you’re here. It would be terrible to miss a trip because you didn’t know exactly which day it will run.
This also means that information about which companies to use isn’t always widely available. For example, one of the day trips I went on was booked through Instagram’s DMs.
Tourism in Kazakhstan is Cash-Oriented
Don’t expect to be able to book your tour online. Only in rare circumstances is something to be booked through Viator or GetYourGuide. Have cash to pay for your trip. You may need to pay early in person (or at least leave a deposit).
You will also want to have cash for snacks, tips, etc.
Yandex is Your Friend
If you want to take a day trip that’s a bit off the path, you can use the taxi app Yandex. The app lets you plot up to four addresses, so you can list where you want to go (up to 3 stops) and your return drop-off point. The app will give you an estimate for your total cost, but this will not include the additional wait time.
Pack your own snacks and lunch unless you know the tour company is providing it. Even if your meal is included, I would still bring snacks and drinks just in case. Sometimes the timetable for group tours is more a “suggested” time and less of an actual schedule.
Things happen on the road. You need to be patient if your bus breaks down, if the boat refuses to pick you up, or if the tour bus comes back two hours later than expected. You can be prepared by bringing snacks, an extra battery to charge your phone and something to read. If you get hurt or end up missing a reservation because your trip is delayed, a good Travel Insurance Policy will make sure you stay relaxed and reimburse you for the unexpected costs.
Best Almaty Day Trips and Day Tours
Here are ten amazing day trips you can take plus tips on how to take them.
Big Almaty Lake
Perhaps the quintessential Almaty day trip, I was lucky enough to visit this stunning turquoise mountain lake in the middle of September when it was positively shivering with blue. Seriously, it looked like I was staring at a pool of blue paint. It was so hard to believe it was actually water!
It’s an easy trip to take from Almaty. I wrote up how to visit Big Almaty Lake by Taxi, so you can follow my instructions step-by-step. There are more things to do out here, though, than just visit the lake. It’s common for people to come out and spend an entire day hiking to the waterfall and enjoying the other beautiful nature in the area.
The Singing Dunes at Altyn Emel National Park
There are so many amazing day trips from Almaty but one of my very favorites is a trip to the Singing Dunes at Altyn Emel National Park. This tends to be one of the longer trips away from Almaty at slightly over four hours, but once there, you will be in a landscape so obscure and otherworldly that you’ll be glad you made the trek to see this wondrous scenery.
The Singing Dunes, also known as the ‘Singing Barchan’, have a sonic vibration that gives off a noise that many compare to singing, hence the name. These dunes are high at 120 meters, but definitely worth climbing as the views of the park are nothing short of spectacular. Unfortunately, going to Altyn Emel National Park as a day trip is a bit difficult if you want to see more than just the Singing Dunes. I suggest setting aside time to only see the dunes or joining a two-day tour up that way that will give you more time and an opportunity to see the rest of the park in addition to the dunes (and truly, it is spectacular and even on UNESCO’s Tentative List).
In order to get to Altyn Emel as a day trip, I can recommend one of the few community tours that are available. They are by Steppe Spirit, Campit.kz, and Tour Almaty. You can see their offerings as released (or schedule a private trip) on their respective Instagram pages. In order to book a two-day, organized trip up to Altyn Emel, you may want to consider this tour. If you’re looking for a unique and very off-the-path Kazakhstan experience, be sure to schedule a trip up to Altyn Emel National Park.
Contributed by Megan from MeganStarr.com
The Medeu is a great day trip no matter what season you’re visiting Almaty. This area is home to one of the world’s highest ice-skating rinks which sits at 1691m above sea level. The rink is huge and is open day and night for locals and tourists to enjoy.
If skating is not your thing the Medeu is also the starting point of some great hiking. You can follow a couple of marked routes or head off along the winding paths of the mountains to see what you can find. The main path leads you up hundreds of stairs to a great mountain view at the top. If you’d rather not work up a sweat there is also a cable car which offers panoramic views of the mountains and can be used for sightseeing or as transport to the ski fields which are open in winter.
To get to the Medeu you can take a taxi or use the Yandex app. Or simply jump on bus number 12 from opposite the Kazakhstan Hotel which will take you all the way to the ice skating rink.
Contributed by Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker
Almaty is located within the Medeu Valley of the Alatau mountain range and for the relatively minimal effort, you can be enjoying the amazing views of the Ile-Alatau National Park, its wildflower meadows, glaciers, and hazy views of the city itself.
Getting to the National Park by public transport from the center of Almaty is fairly easy (especially for Kazakstan). Hop on the bus to Medeu ice rink and once at the rink, there is a regular shuttle bus that takes you up to Shymbulak itself. You can buy tickets from the wooden kiosk and it runs approximately every 15 minutes. From here, you can buy tickets for two stages of cable cars all the way to the top.
In the winter, Shymbulak is the largest ski resort in Central Asia, complete with ski lifts, cafes, restaurants, bars, ski lodges, and ski hire. In summer it is a bit of a tourist hot spot with plenty of local Kazakhs on day trips to admire the views. If you’re feeling spendy and craving some western comfort food after one too many plovs, you can treat yourself to a tasty pizza, we even managed to find some decent wine, woohoo!
For slightly more adventurous tourists, there are plenty of hiking trails including the Eagles Nest and Gorelnik Waterfall (routes available on maps.me). From the top of the last cable car, you can take a short 1-hour hike on the path to the right which takes you to the start of the Bogdanovich glacier, across rocky paths with panoramic views of the soaring peaks in the distance.
Contributed by Laura from Two Stay Wild
Tamgaly Tas is an open-air Buddhist rock art sanctuary with petroglyphs showing carvings of Buddha in different positions. According to the Astana Times:
Local legend has it that a Buddhist mission had stopped by the banks of the Ili River under some rock cliffs when a sudden earthquake caused a hunk of rock to fall from the cliffs near them. In gratitude at their deliverance, they created the largest Buddha image there, facing the sky from a large, sunblasted rock, before they continued.
For more, here are the details on how to visit Tamgaly Tas, plus tons of photos of the beautiful Ili River.
One of the best day trips from Almaty to explore the beautiful nature outside of the city is to the Charyn Canyon. This canyon makes you wonder whether you are still in Kazakhstan and it is very different from the green grasslands and rolling hills that surround it. The 90-kilometer long canyon is a world of red sandstone formations created by years of erosion through wind and rain.
For a day trip, the easiest way to explore the Charyn canyon is to do the 4-kilometer hike through the valley of castles. The short trail is spectacular with different views around every corner. You will end at the Sharyn river where the contrast of the blue river and the red sandstone landscape around you is incredible. This is nature at its best.
Unfortunately, public transport to the Charyn canyon is limited. The best way is to go on a tour and there are plenty of travel agencies offering day trips with other people. If you are really dedicated to doing it on your own you can take a shared taxi and ask to be dropped off at the turnoff. It will be a long 12-kilometer hike to the entrance of the Charyn Canyon and back.
If you have more time on your hand you can consider to either stay overnight in the canyon or combine Charyn Canyon and Kolsai Lakes in the Tien Shan mountains for more of Kazakhstan’s astounding nature.
Contributed by Ellis from Backpack Adventures
Nomad’s Land is an abandoned movie set along the Ili River. It’s basically Instagram crack, but it’s also cool to visit on its own. The government is putting money into upkeep and restoration so that people can come visit this strange abandoned town for years to come.
I visited it as part of a day trip to Tamgaly Tas, but you can also choose to visit it on its own. (Though the two places are so close it would be a shame to miss one or the other if you’re in the area).
You can read my post on exactly how to visit Nomad’s Land, plus tons more photos.
Hidden deep within the Tien Shan Mountains lie two spectacular series of turquoise lakes – Kolsai Lakes National Park and Kaindy Lake. For hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, a visit to one or both of these lake areas is a perfect escape from the chaos of Almaty.
Kaindy Lake is a beautiful, blue lake located just outside of the town of Saty. You can only access the lake by 4WD, so I highly recommend hiring a local driver in Saty if you do not have one. The most unique attraction in the Kaindy Lake area is the white tree trunks that stem from the lake, casting an otherworldly reflection in its azure waters.
Similarly, Kolsai Lakes is located outside of Saty and can be accessed via 4WD from the town. Inside the national park, you can find a series of 3 vibrant, blue lakes. The hike from the first lake near the entrance to the second one is ~9 kilometers, and extra-brave travelers can go for an ice-cold swim in the second lake!
Not for the faint of heart, this journey can technically be done as a day trip from Almaty, but the trip to Saty can take up to 5 hours each way from Almaty. I’d strongly recommend taking at least 1-2 nights in Saty to fully enjoy and appreciate all of the sights. The best way to get here is by rental car or with a tour, but there is a very unpredictable “daily” bus at 7:00 AM from Almaty to Saty if you’re willing to take the risk. There are many reports of this bus simply not showing up at the station on many days of the week.
Contributed by Kay from Jetfarer
As a new city, Bishkek doesn’t have that many historical attractions from bygone eras. Instead, the most interesting period of its history is the Soviet era, which is still quite visible in the form of several monuments and buildings around town. Don’t miss the Soviet-era State Historical Museum, with its Lenin shrine and anti-American propaganda. It’s a fascinating insight into the way the Soviet Union presented itself to its citizens.
Even nowadays, the Kyrgyz authorities still sing Lenin’s praises; they just do so a bit less conspicuously than before. A statue of Lenin once adorned Lenin Square at the heart of the city. Now the square has been renamed Ala-Too Square, and the statue has been moved to a quieter area behind the museum.
Bishkek is a very Soviet/Russian style city with a far less Central Asian feel than other Kyrgyz cities such as Osh. Many restaurants serve Russian food, there are lots of ethnic Russians walking about, while you’ll almost never see women wearing headscarves, let alone veils. Even mosques seem to be few and far between.
It’s a long day trip from Almaty to Bishkek, but it can be done. The trip takes about 3.5 hours by car along a pretty good highway. Minibusses are comfortable but take a bit longer, so it’s probably best to share or rent an entire taxi from Almaty. If you want an English-speaking guide and personalized service, you could also hire a private car and drive from a travel agency.
Contributed by Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan
Tamgaly UNESCO Site
The UNESCO Site that covers the Tamgaly petroglyphs is actually different artwork that the Buddhist petroglyphs mentioned above. I haven’t personally been (since I thought I’d be seeing them when I went), but whenever I want information on how to reach an obscure UNESCO site I know exactly where to turn.
World Heritage Site is a website where UNESCO Hunters write out trip information. Here are the basic instructions for how to get to Tamgaly’s UNESCO site:
Tamgaly is the most striking site of rock arts in Central Asia; it is located about 125 km northwest of Almaty and can be reached only by private transportation. There is no public bus going there, or even going to the villages nearby. I organized it with Stantours, the driver/tour guide (ask for Marat) was very knowledgeable and is doing this trip on a weekly basis during the tourist season in summer. It is probably a good idea to travel with other people to reduce costs. To rent a car is another option, but you won’t have a guide to explain the site.
The total number of rock drawings is about 5,000, mainly scenes of goats, horses, warriors, animal sacrifices, and images representing the worshipped sun and their gods; there is even an erotic scene, most probably the first pornographic rock art worldwide, as most of the petroglyphs were made in the Bronze age about 3000 years ago. There is also a scene of dancing men with a woman giving birth.
For updated information about recent visits to Tamgaly, check for updated reviews and trip reports here.
5 Things to Pack when Traveling to Kazakhstan
- Lonely Planet Central Asia which is available as a paper copy or in a Kindle edition.
- Your Passport since you might be required to show it to a guard at some of the activities in border zones. While you might be tempted to leave it behind in your hotel room, you’ll want to have it handy in your day bag when headed to places like Big Almaty Lake.
- Your Cell Phone and Camera to get that Insta Pics you know you’re dying to come back with.
- Trekking Poles for anyone planning to do the hikes while in Kazakhstan, especially if you have knee issues.
- Travel Insurance Policy information, because things happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’re going to be doing any hiking or trekking while in Kazakhstan.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’re going to be doing any adventure sports like horseback trekking, hiking, or traveling off-road. Even in Almaty, you’ll be happy when you’re able to replace your stuff if it’s lost or stolen.
Kazakhstan Travel Resources
If you’re heading to Kazakhstan, here are more resources to help you plan your trip.
- 25 Reasons You Need to Travel Kazakhstan ASAP
- Big Almaty Lake: 15 Pictures of Kazakhstan’s Stunning Turquoise Jewel
- How to Get to Big Almaty Lake by Taxi
- Tamgaly Tas: How to Visit Kazakhstan’s Enchanting Buddhist Rock Art Sanctuary
- Visiting Nomad’s Land: The Abandoned Movie Set in the Kazakhstan Steppe
- 10 Mind-Blowing Facts about Kazakhstan