Big Almaty Lake was one of my favourite places in Kazakhstan. It’s only 30 km away from Almaty and can easily be reached with car. The journey takes about one hour, depending on traffic, and the roads has apparently improved a lot this year so it’s much easier to get there with a car. It’s Kazakhstans most famous lake and with good reason. Unfortunately, not many people in Europe knows about this place because, well, no one actually travels to Kazakhstan. Which is both a shame and a bonus for me, because we had the lake all to ourselves. But if you do happen to be traveling in Kazakhstan, here’s how you can get to Big Almaty Lake.
How to get there
I was lucky enough to have my couchhost who offered me to go on a tour with her and two other German girls. She would take us with her car, bring lunch to us and pay the entrance fee. She asked for 5,000 tenge per person, which is approximately 12€. I thought that was a fair price and didn’t ask any other tour guides. So I just jumped in her car, went all the way up to Big Almaty Lake and then back home basically. Super easy for me. But if you don’t have a couchhost who also happens to be a part-time tour guide, you can always catch a bus, taxi or go on a private tour. If you want to save some money, take the bus. Next to the President’s Park is the bus stop. You need to catch the bus number 28, which drives all the way up to Dulati Street every 30 minutes. The bus doesn’t stop next to the lake though (it can’t drive further), so you’ll either have to hike the last kilometres or you can try to hitchhike. Do note that hitchhiking here doesn’t really work like at home. People sometimes asks for a bit of money from you. It’s perfectly normal. Some people may take you in for free. Just make you settle for a price or that it’s for free before you go inside the car. You can also take a taxi up to the lake. It will cost you about 2,000 tenge. You’ll have to pay a small entrance fee to the national park too, which is about 500 tenge per person. If you’re with a local, you can probably get it for cheaper. My host paid about 600 tenge for all of us.
There’s several tours here as well and the best way you can contact them is by WhatsApp. Check out “Bananatour” on Instagram, they do several tours around the area of Almaty. My host Alfiya can also arrange tours to Big Almaty Lake. It will be cheaper if you’re three people so you can share the car. You can reach her on WhatsApp: +77 05 191 08 84.
You can also hike to Big Almaty Lake, although people didn’t really recommend it to me because they said it was pretty boring. But there are some beautiful hikes you can do to different peaks and glaciers. You need permits for these though and can get them at the Migration Police (OVIR).
What to bring for a trip to Big Almaty Lake
Warm clothes! The temperature can get chilly in the mountains so even if it’s hot in Almaty, it’ll be cooler in Big Almaty Lake. Also, remember to bring your passport! I forgot mine though and didn’t have any problems, but my host told me that there’s times when the guards come and asks to see your passport. Since it’s so close to the Kyrgyz border, you’ll need your passport with you if you decide to hike around the lake. Bring some snacks, water and fruits with you too, as you’ll probably be there for a few hours.
What to think of
You can only look at the lake from above – it’s forbidden to climb down and touch the water since the Big Almaty Lake is one of the reservoirs that provides fresh water for Almaty. So just admire it from afar! It’s stunning from the viewpoint though and I didn’t feel like I needed to climb down further to get a better view of it.
I went there in May month and loved it. The weather wasn’t too cold, there was still some snow in the mountains and the lake was turquoise. But during winter, the lake is all frozen and you won’t be able to see the colours. My host told me that in autumn, the lake becomes more greyish in colour and everything’s more dry then.
Where to stay in Almaty
I really recommend couchsurfing, but if it’s not your thing, there’s a few hostels in Almaty. One of the most popular one is called “Dom Hostel“. My friends stayed there and really liked it. They also stayed at “Hello Hostel” but didn’t really recommend it. It’s very affordable though, only 1,600 tenge for a bed in a dorm.