So, I did a quick trip to Kazakhstan from India, with my best buddies. Here is a video documenting our experience!
Kazakhstan (Almaty) surprised us with its hospitality and resources. Beautiful natural resources, well-mannered people, lots of shopping and things to do – I think everyone should visit Kazakhstan. It’s a hidden gem for travelers.
What I loved about Kazakhstan
Here’s what I loved about Kazakhstan (and what I didn’t).
The surprise factor
From the moment we landed at the airport, Almaty and Kazakhstan surprised me at every corner. The airport was a small one with beautiful sceneries on either side. This surprise factor continued through out, right from the public transport infrastructure to the people and kind of places out there to see and enjoy.
All of us would have a pre-conceived idea about a country you visit. Most of it would be from the pictures you’ve seen, stories you’ve heard and the like. I too had some ideas about Kazakhstan, but it all was wrong (partly making me feel bad for myself).
To understand what I’m talking about, you must visit Kazakhstan once.
The friendly people
Kazakhstan is a melting pot of cultures and people. Not probably as diverse as Dubai but the native population itself is diverse by itself. It’s a Mulsim majority country with a dash of Mongolian, Russian and Eurasian influence. It’s a progressive, liberal community and it reflects in its demeanor.
The natural resources
This is where Kazakhstan blew me over!
Mountains, lakes, beautiful landscapes, even well maintained gardens!
This place has all the ingredients to become an amazing tourist destination but somehow isn’t favorited as much.
Here’s a review of Almaty by my friend Rizvin.
Almaty – City of Apples
Commercial capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty is one of the most beautiful cities in the Central Asia Region. In Kazakh language Alma means Apples and there are various versions on what exactly the word Almaty means. Almaty was the capital city of Kazakhstan until 1997, post which it shifted to Astana (Nur-Sultan) but it is still the biggest city in the country. Almaty Airport is the biggest airport in the Central Asia.
With a population of 1.50 million people, it is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in the region. The city is situated next to the Zailiyskiy Alatau mountain range and has amazing views of the majestic mountains. Almaty has a different charm, with its beautiful boulevards, parks, memorial buildings, museums, modern shopping malls, an array of cafes, pubs, clubs, fine dining restaurants, and a Green Bazaar.
Almaty receives heavy snowfall during winters and it gets quite cold from Mid-September to Mid-April. The summers are from May to August and the weather is warm between June and August. The ideal time to visit the city would be between March and October.
Currency – Kazakhstan Tenge
100 USD = 38,000 Tenge (approx)
Official Languages : Kazakh and Russian
Kazakh people are very friendly, welcoming and helpful. Even though language might pose to be a challenge to communicate, its fun working around that through sign language and broken English. The city is quite safe and most of the places are very well lit during the nights.
Almaty has various options for food and snacks. Almost all the prominent international chains like McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Hardees, etc. are dotted around the city and the malls. One local brand with a cute kiosk which stands out and serves amazing burger is “Gippo”. There are also various restaurants serving cuisines like Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Continental, Uzbek, Kazakh, etc., suiting all budget category.
Places to visit in and around Almaty
Let’s look at some places to visit in Almaty.
1. The Big Almaty Lake
Situated 30 km away from the city center and at 2511 meters above sea level, The Big Almaty Lake is a natural alpine reservoir made up of glacial water. As per our local friends from Almaty, the lake changes its color 7 times round the year. The lake is almost an hour drive and the views on the way are amazing. There is a viewpoint at almost midway to the lake and also various open places for setting up barbecues/ grills. The entire drive is a beautiful experience and passes through a Christmas Tree forest.
2. Charyn Canyon
Located almost 215 km away from Almaty City, Charyn Canyon is part of the Charyn National Park located in the territory of the Uygur, Raiymbek, and Enbeshikazakh districts. This is the second-best and preserved canyons in the world after the Grand Canyon in the USA, dating almost 12 million years. The landscapes of both Charyn and Grand canyon are very similar and researches have found the same vegetation and plant life unique to both the canyons, which was quite surprising, given the distance between them. The canyon has mainly 2 topographies one muddy and red the second one rocky and black.
The hike tracks end at the Charyn River which has super cold water and provides a perfect place to freshen up. On the banks of the river, there are few huts and barbecue area which can be used for overnight stay. The details for the same would be available in the checkpoint at the National Park entrance. There is also a shuttle service between the river and starting point of the Canyon Trekking track.
Perfect for a day outing and if visiting during summers, better to carry a hat, sunscreen, shades, etc.
3. Medeo Ice Rink & Shymbulak
Located 15 km from the city center and 1691 m above the sea level, Medeo Ice Rink is the highest mountain sports complex in the world. During winters the rink is used for ice skating, ice hockey, and figure skating.
The complex has a cable car which goes right up to the Shymbulak also known as Chimbulak Ski Resort. The cable car travels through three levels with the highest going up to 3200 m above sea level. There are eateries and bars at all the levels with amazing views of the peaks and the city down below. Definitely, a must-visit place at all times.
4. First President’s Park
Opened in 2010, this park is named after the first President of Kazakhstan. With a total area of 73 hectares, the park has a beautiful backdrop of the mountain range. An absolute jogger’s delight, the First President’s Park has dedicated jogging, cycling tracks across the perimeter, picnic spots, play area for children, a couple of kiosks for juice and water and an observation point at one end of the park which offers an amazing view of the mountains. There is no entry charge to the park and its a perfect place for a morning jog, lazy stroll or an evening picnic.
5. Ascension Cathedral/ Zenkov Cathedral
Completed in 1907, Ascension Cathedral is also known as the Zenkov Cathedral, is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located within the Panfilov Park. The cathedral, with a height of 56 meters, is the second tallest wooden building in the world, made without using nails. The cathedral is still under the Russian Orthodox Church and was reopened recently after a routine restoration. Religious services are conducted in the cathedral and entry inside is restricted. The Public area around the cathedral is vibrant with food and souvenir stalls, pigeon feeding, pony rides, etc.
6. Panfilov Park/ Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen
Another beautiful park located in the city, surrounding the Ascension Cathedral. This park is dedicated and named after the 28 soldiers of Almaty Infantry unit who died while fighting the Germans in defense of Russia. There is a memorial for the 28 soldiers and an eternal flame commemorating the fallen of World War II and the Great Patriotic War, within this park. In the eastern side of this park is the museum of national musical instruments. There are over 1000 items of instruments on display in this museum. Besides viewing these instruments, the visitors can also listen to the sounds of the instruments.
The Park is also dotted with few other monuments/ statues of Bauyrjan Momyshuly Monument, Tokash Bokin Monument, Afghan War Monument, etc.
7. Green Bazaar/ Zelyony Bazaar
Zelyony Bazaar or the Green Bazaar located close to the Panfilov Park is the typical local market which sells meats, fruits, vegetables, spices, dry fruits/nuts, clothes, souvenirs, food, etc. The market is a 2 storied complex which has meat, fruits and vegetables, local preserves, etc. sold at the ground level and the top floor is lined food stalls. Outside this building, there are stalls lined up which sells clothes, shoes, perfumes, stationery, chocolates, souvenirs, etc. The Bazaar is closed on Mondays.
Other Places of interest:
Arasan Wellness & Spa
Zhibek Zoly Street
Dostyk Plaza – Mid-sized mall with International clothing brands, cafes, food court and supermarket
Mega Mall – The Biggest mall in Almaty with International clothing brands, cafes, cinemas, play zones, food courts and supermarket
Esentai Mall – Luxury mall, part of the Ritz Carlton complex, with brands like Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Saks Fifth Avenue, etc.
Kazakhstan, you’ve been a pleasant surprise! Here’s to many more…..