In the city itself, besides a couple of churches, some parks and markets where to walk around, there is not much to see. What it is indeed very impressive and interesting to explore are all the natural places that surround it. So many different landscapes, from high mountains to flat lands and from lakes to canyons.
So make the former capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty, your base for one week or more and move around the province to discover the wonderful nature, without of course missing the vibrant life of the city, full of activities and things always going on.
Here you have a map with all the locations I’m going to talk about.
Medeu & Shymbulak
Medeu is the winter sports center constructed not so far from the city, only 15 kilometers away. You can easily reach it with the bus number 12, which costs 80 KZT (0,20 €), and from there you can decide either to walk it up until the sky station of Shymbulak or take the cable car (which costs 1,500 KZT one way or 2,500 KZT both ways).
We decided to make it walking and we have to say that the trek, even if it’s most of the time in a paved road with some cars, was really nice, with beautiful views on the way. On the other hand, we found Shymbulak itself actually a bit disappointing, most probably because of the lack of snow, which we are sure will make it way much nicer during the winter.
You will be glad to know that approximately at the halfway there are a couple of small wooden swimming pools filled with fresh river water. They are totally free of charge, so don’t forget to grab as well your towel and swimsuit for your walk to relax a little in the chilling water before you keep on going.
To go back to Almaty we don’t know exactly at what time the last bus passes by, but we took the one at 9.40 PM and in any case, if you need, there are always taxis around.
Big Almaty Lake
We did not plan on doing so, but in the end we spent more time than expected in Big Almaty Lake, since due to endless rain we had to stay one full day inside of the tent.
Actually it turned to our advantage, because the second morning that we woke up in there the sky was so clear and the sun so shining that the view from our camping spot was simply amazing. The contrast of the blues of the sky and the lake, even if in its lowest water level period, and the green of the mountains still covered on top by the snow.
To reach the lake you can get the bus number 28 that will bring you until the entrance of the natural reserve and from there you can walk for 15 km or try to hitch a ride. We were lucky and after walking few kilometers a young couple, that was just going to take some water from a spring, was so nice to bring us until the astrology observatory, up on the lake, where we could pitch our tent for the next two nights. We were totally alone in the middle of the mountains, really awesome!
Moving farther from the city of Almaty, you will find this beautiful and very characteristic lake, definitely one of a kind.
Why is it so peculiar? Because it’s located in a valley where formerly there was just a forest, but nowadays those trees are getting out of the crystalline water of the lake itself. Seems like an unreal place coming out of a fairy-tale book, moreover if you are there alone.
The way to get there is not at all easy, moreover if you are going hitchhiking as us, but I will say that is totally worth it for the beautiful panorama that you will see. Not just the destination, but all the way it’s really nice even thought the road is quite a disaster.
The trekking to the lake starts from the little village of Saty, that already is quite charming with gradual green mountains in both sides and a big light blue river flowing right next to it, and it is 7 kilometers long per way. Fortunately we had a little help from a quad to cross the a small river you find on the way and by a car that brought us all the way back to Saty.
This beautiful lake is located right after Saty village and actually to be more accurate, I have to say that are two lakes. The first can be reached easily by car, but to get to second one there is no other way than hike.
To be honest is less characteristic than Kaindy but anyway is worth a stop. When you arrive to the first lake, you will find in front of you a big valley with the mountains totally covered by the forest and in the middle a so calmed lake. After the hike we really needed to let our feet breath a little and even if the water was so cold (around 6°C), it was like heaven to plunge our legs into the lake.
While there, you can also rent a boat to move up and down the lake or, as I said above, hike to the second one. If you have done it, you should tell us how it is because we couldn’t get there since we got ‘hitchhiked’ by a Kazakh family with who we started talking at the lake and was so happy to speak about their country with us and to know about ours that invited us to go with them for the rest of the day.
After we spent the afternoon speaking, eating and taking a lot of tea with the nice family that we met in Kolsay Lake and their relatives in Saty, we got to the canyon so late that it was quite dark already. The positive side of it is that we didn’t have to pay for the entrance, since there was nobody working at the toll!
After a couple of pictures there and having seen the family off, we looked for a nice spot and we pitched the tent for the night hopping that nobody would come to kick us out. Luckily it didn’t happen and the day after at 6 AM we were waken up and ready to explore what they usually call the ‘little Arizona’ for its resemblance with the Grand Canyon in the USA, also if we don’t actually know how true this is since we haven’t been there yet.
Actually Charyn Canyon has like five different kinds of valleys to visit, but since it was hard to move around to see them all hitchhiking, we decided to walk along the most known one, that is named “castle valley”, for the conformation of its cliffs.
Hiking down the valley was really impressive, I am always amazed by the Mother Nature works and I have to say that it was way more beautiful than I expected. Useful tip: try to get there early in the morning because on our way back it was starting to be super full of tourists, which break big part of the magic of walking between these massive rocks splendidly shaped by nature. Also don’t forget to bring a lot of water and a hat because it is really hot.
On the way back to Almaty, near to Issyk town, in the area of Turgen, there are a couple of nice waterfalls to discover in the middle of its green mountains.
Due to an expected and very nice barbecue with a group of young guys in the park we ended up, having a couple of guides for the visit of the first waterfall. The trail to reach it is not so long, more or less 1,5 km, and quite easy to do it. You should only take care not to get your shoes wet since a lot of time you will have to cross a small river or walk directly on it.
At the end of the path you will have reached a 30-meter high waterfall and from it you will have also a nice view of the mountains around. We wanted to visit also the second and biggest waterfall, but a local told us it was not a good idea in this time of the year. So after a little of relax, speaking and taking pictures with our spontaneous guides and with some local tourists we made our way back before getting dark and we put the tent for the night, right in time, before a heavy rain started.
While all the other places we visited were on the South or East of Almaty, to get to Tamgaly Tas you will have to head North.
The landscape of green forests and high mountains partly covered by snow will change to a more arid and dusty scenery with a dominant yellow color. As well the temperature will be higher, so going around with the backpacks you can imagine we were dying. Anyhow in this place there is something completely different to see and is that on the rocks of the mountains next to the bank of Ili river there are carved images of Buddha and other symbols. And even if it may not be the most impressive thing to see, I thought was certainly interesting to visit.
And that’s all! We really found the province of Almaty charming and enthralling, with all the mountains, lakes and rivers almost untouched with all its wild life around. Sincerely wonderful!