From Halal Food & Travel
Almaty is the largest city and the Islamic financial and cultural centre of Kazakhstan.
Almaty was the country's capital before, which is now Astana. But it remains the obvious gateway to visiting this region, as indeed it has been for over a thousand years, standing astride the Silk Road. Just south of the city, snow-capped mountains mark the border with Kyrgyzstan.
The city is modern, laid out on a grid pattern, so if you're going uphill, you're probably going south. It's not a affordable city, but the people are friendly and hospitable.
Pogulay is a helpful guidebook to the city, printed in English and Russian and sold at newsstands. It's priced at US$4.50 and covers all the attractions, including photos and descriptions.
- Tourist Information Office 81 Bogenbai Batyr - Very helpful.
See Kazakhstan for the entry requirements—most westerner won't need a visa for visits up to 30 days.
- Almaty International Airport - Kazakh: Xalıqaralıq Almatı Äwejayı/Халықаралық Алматы Әуежайы, Russian: Международный Аэропорт Алматы IATA Code: ALA - The airport is small and often quiet, but it doesn't take many flights for it to become congested and slow-moving. Be early, but not more than 3 hours ahead of flight, as you're not allowed into the check-in hall until your desk is open.
The national flag-carrier is Air Astana, with flights around central Asia and the Middle East. Their destinations from Almaty include Antalya, Baku, Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi, Beijing-Capital, Bishkek, Delhi, Dubai-International, Dushanbe, Kazan, Hong Kong, Istanbul-Atatürk, Kiev-Boryspil, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow-Sheremetyevo, Saint Petersburg, Seoul-Incheon, Tashkent, Tbilisi and Ürümqi. Other carriers fly direct to Ashgabat, Dubai, Frankfurt, Novosibirsk, Osh, Riga, Samarkand, Sanya and Xian. So most journeys from the west will involve at least one change of flight, Frankfurt and Istanbul usually being the most convenient.
Kazakhstan is a very big country, so most cities have regular flights to Almaty with Air Astana or SCAT Airlines or both. These include Aktau, Aktobe, Astana, Atyrau, Karaganda, Kokshetau, Kyzylorda, Kostanay, Oral, Pavlodar, Petropavlovsk, Semey, Shymkent, Taraz, Uralsk, Urdjar, Ust-Kamenogorsk and Zhezkazgan.
To the city
Note, every taxi tout/driver will probably assure you that buses are not running, but they are. Most buses run from 200 m outside the airport as early as 05:00. The trip to the city is 300 tenge, collected by a guy in the bus or the driver.
- Bus 92 runs to Green Bazaar, though it takes a circuitous route through the city and it's quicker to switch to the metro at Raiymbek Batyr
- Bus 79 runs to Nazarbayev Ave (formerly Furmanov)
- Bus 106 runs to Sayran Bus Station (from 05:30)
- Bus 86 also runs downtown
Taxis can be ordered at the booth in the arrivals hall. It may take 10 min to arrive, but it will be a sensible price, around 3,000 tenge.
From the city (Stay safe)
Beware that Aport is a retail and leisure park 10 km west of the city on the road to Bishkek and Taraz. It's a great gift to crooked taxi drivers, who will pretend you directed them here instead of to the airport and who'll demand ransom to bring you back where you need to be. If you seem to be driving west not north, with road signs for Almaty Arena but not for the airport, then Aport is where he's taking you.
Travel by train to Almaty
The main long-distance train routes from Almaty are:
- To Astana via Karagandy: six trains a day, the quickest taking 13 hours.
- To Russia: no direct train west, so for Moscow and European Russia change in Astana, or (even dates) in Saratov. For Yekaterinburg or Omsk change in Astana or Petropavl. There is a direct service (even dates) between Almaty and Novosibirsk via Aktogai and Semei.
- To Tashkent alternate days, 16 hours via Taraz and Shymkent.
- To Bishkek is a round-about route changing near Taraz, bus is much better.
- To Urumqi (Wulumuqi) in China, there is at least one train per week (late Saturday night), 30 hrvia Dostyk. A second, Chinese, train may run (Monday morning), 24 hrvia Khorgos, around US$100 and comfortable. For details see Moscow to Urumqi rail itinerary.
All mainline trains run from Almaty-2 Railway Station - Железнодорожная Станция Алматы-2 - Abylai Khan Ave, at the north end of city centre. It's a small-to-medium sized station with marble decor that looks kind of Masonic. There are ticket kiosks, waiting rooms, two cafes, small shops, ATMs and left luggage facilities, but no currency exchange. Outside in the square, where Abylai Khan (in a funky circus-master's top hat) is gesturing towards Delhi, is the stop for Trolleybuses 5 and 6 running downtown. Mango is a small retail mall with a cafe, restaurant and internet cafe. Head west 500 m east along Rayimbek for the Metro station. Head south a block or two on Abylai Khan for more eating places and currency exchange booths. These have only a 2% spread between "buy" and "sell" rates, far closer than any western exchange, so you're unlikely to find a better deal.
Northbound trains also stop at Almaty-1 Railway Station - Станция Алматы-1 Richard Sorge St, 4 km further north in the Turksib district, out towards the airport. A few local trains start from here. Trolleybus 7 runs here from the centre.
Take a bus to Almaty
Sayran Bus Station Sairan, Междугород автовокзал «Сайран» Ulitsa Sadovnikov (yлица Садовникова 294) - This is the main station for long distance routes. International buses run to Bishkek, Tajikistan, Novosibirsk and Urumqi in China. Daily buses to Taraz, Shymkent, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Astana, Türkestan, Karaganda and Balkhash.
Sayakhat Bus Station - Rayimbek Prospekt - It's still there, just about, although the upper half fronting onto Rayimbek is demolished and boarded up. Enter 100 m north via Suyumbai however and the lower half remains active, with a small terminal building, toilets and a few kiosks. Marshutkas run from here to the north and east of Almaty, also to Talgar, Esik, Kegen and Narynkol. You can reach eastern Kyrgyzstan that way, via Karkara, though there's not much traffic on that route. Just beyond Narynkol is the border with China, but there's no crossing point.
Sleeper buses leave Urumqi at 18:00 daily except Saturday and take 24 hours to reach Almaty. Tickets for a lower bed are ¥820, upper beds are ¥800 and a berth in the back bed of the bus is ¥780. Buses depart from the international area of Nianzigou Bus Station (碾子沟客运站), 50 m to the left of the main station (as you look towards the front) on the other side of the Wenshabao (温莎堡) building.Beware that the border crossing at Khorgos (霍尔果斯) is closed on Chinese national holidays, including the first week of October for National Day.
Buses also run from Yining, 100 km east of Khorgos, taking 10 hours to Almaty, fare US$60 or ¥700. They run two or three times a week, ask the bus drivers at Yining for times. Local buses also run from Yining to Khorgos (¥60-80), from where you can walk across into Kazakhstan. A taxi onward to Almaty might charge 3,000 tenge and take 4-6 hr. Tacheng (Qoqek) further north also has buses to Almaty several times a week.
Minibuses run to Almaty Sayran station from Bishkek's western bus station for about 500 som, taking 3½-4½ hr including the border crossing. In the station at Bishkek, first locate the minibus stand with "Almaty" signed above buy your ticket from the "Kassa" right there and keep it until journey's end when you've reclaimed your bags. (In Aug 2018, the stand indications were ignored. So, you had to look around for minibus 100 to Almaty and paid the driver directly). The process at the border (Korday) takes about 10 min while the bus often needs longer, bus and passengers (incl. luggage) go separately. So, on the other side stay patient and find your bus either via its number on your ticket or by watching where the other people from your bus go. Once into Kazakhstan, the minibus will drive on for an hour then take a rest stop at a gas station.
The second option is a little more adventurous but more flexible and affordable. In Bishkek, take any bus to the Alamedin Market—use the 2GIS app. The bus stop for the border can be found just north of the junction GPS 42.88838,74.63565 towards the border. Keep looking for marshrutkas with таможня (meaning customs), #333, or ask the locals waiting there. Apparently bus #285 also goes from the center of Bishkek directly to the border. From the Alamedin bus stop, it is 50 som to the border, from the center of Bishkek 30 som. On the other side of the border, either shared taxis for 3,000 tenge, or minibuses (far less often, depending on the time of day) for 2,000 tenge run into Almaty—bargain hard or just pretend to wait for a better option. This option equally fast as the shuttle mentioned above.
The Korday border crossing into Kazakhstan is only 15 km north of Bishkek. Each person must cross individually. First the Kyrgyz border people give you an exit stamp. Cross the border bridge over Chu River and fill out the Kazakhstan migration card: name, nationality, reason for visit and sign it. You will normally get two stamps on the migration card, i.e. both entry and registration (as described here). Safeguard this card as carefully as your passport! Then go and clear customs and that's it.
For the return journey, see Bishkek.
How to get around in Almaty
The city is laid out on a modern grid-pattern and "up" usually means south, towards the mountains. However it's a gentle gradient and in places the gradient east is similar. By day you can double-check against the position of the sun.
The Metro has a single line. The northern terminus is on Raiymbek Batyr east of Almaty-2 railway station. The line runs south to Abay, then turns west along Abay to Moskva Station just short of Altynsarin Ave.
The Metro is open from 06:00-24:00. The Metro is safe and guarded by police at all times. A single trip costs 80 tenge, regardless of length of trip. The tickets are plastic yellow tokens, buy them at machines or booths ("kassa") within the stations. Contactless payment at the gates is also possible by Mastercard, Visa or Union Pay. There are no day tickets or similar deals for visitors, but for frequent travellers there are rechargeable multi-trip smart cards.
The Metro stations starting from the north are:
- Raiymbek batyr - Russian: Райымбек батыра, Kazakh: Райымбек | For Almaty-2 railway station & Sayakhat bus station
- Zhibek Zholy-Dostyk - Russian: Жибек Жолы | for Ascension Cathedral & Kazakh-British Technical University
- Almaly - Russian: Алмалы | For Hotel Almaty, Opera & Ballet House
- Abay - Russian:Абая, Kazakh:Абай | for Kazakh National Agrarian University & State Academic Russian Drama Theatre
Here the line turns west and runs beneath Abay Avenue to:
- Baikonur - Russian:Байконур, Kazakh: Байқоңыр | For Sport Palace/Central Stadium
- Auezov Theater - Russian: Театр имени Мухтара Ауэзова, Kazakh: Мұхтар Әуезов атындағы театры | For Auezov Theatre, Circus, Rahat Palace Hotel & Kusteyev Fine Arts Museum
- Alatau - Russian: Алатау
- Sayran 1 km south of Sayran bus station
- Moskva (Almaty Metro)
By buses and trolleys
There is an extensive network of buses and trolleybuses in the city. The fare is universal, 160 tenge. Buses that go through the outskirts of the city or to places like Medeu cost 300 tenge. You need to touch a prepaid yellow transport card "Onay" to a smart-card contactless reader inside every vehicle or pay the conductor at entrance. 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.
A new bus terminal has been completed at the corner of Rayimbek and Zheltoksan.
The fare is collected by the driver or a guy running around in the bus.
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 200-1,000 tenge 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.
There is a town bike scheme, with pick-up/drop-off stations dotted around. Almost every bike store rents bikes, thus just ask in your hotel for a bike store. The prices are 2,000 tenge for a day and 2,500 tenge for 24 hr.
What to see in Almaty
- Ascension Cathedral - Zenkov's Cathedral, Voznesenskiy sobor Zenkova, Свято-Вознесенский собор Зенкова | Completed in 1907, it is the second-tallest wooden building in the world. It's closed for restoration, probably until the end of 2018, with services continuing in the adjacent chapel.
- Holy Kazan Cathedral - Svyato-Kazanskiy Sobor, Свято-Казанский собор | Small, brightly painted Russian Orthodox Church.
- St Nicholas Cathedral - Никольский собор. | Was built in 1909. It was used as a barn for Soviet cavalry horses but was eventually restored and reopened as a church in 1980. Main entrance is west side from Baytursnov, but there's also a little gate from the park just south.
- Central Mosque of Almaty - Мечети города Алматы | Spacious decorated interior.
- Sophia Cathedral - Софийский собор/Sofiyskiy sobor, Свято-Богоявленский храм | Tranquil monastery compound centred on the cathedral, plus small chapels.
- Akhmet Baytursynov Memorial Museum - Ахмета Байтурсынов дом-музей | Akhmet Baytursynov (1873-1937) was a Kazakh intellectual active in politics, poetry, linguistics and education, so inevitably he was shot during Stalin's "Great Purge". The museum is becoming crumbly.
- Museum of Archaeology - Музей Археологии АН Казахстана | Mammoths, dinosaurs and similar.
- Museum of Rare Books - Сирек кездесетін кітаптар мұражайы | The guided tour is recommended.
- Geology Museum - Геологический Музей Республики Казахстан | Small museum of Kazakhstan's rich geology.
- A. Kasteyev Art Museum - Республиканский музей изобразительного искусства им. А. Кастеева. | Huge collection spanning Oriental, Russian and Kazakh arts. The Stakhanovite scenes from Stalin's era are fascinating.
- Central State Museum - Центральный государственный музей РК | Blue-roofed. Features displays on Kazakh history, from prehistoric times through the Mongol periods to the present. Guided Tours in Almaty by ehalal.io (email firstname.lastname@example.org for prices) in English (and other languages) are available if you call the museum ahead of time to reserve.
- Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments - Республиканский музей музыкальных инструментов им. Ыкыласа. | Small museum with fine traditional facade; exhibits have descriptions in Kazakh, Russian and English.
- Railway Museum - Алматинский железнодорожный музей. | Small museum about the railways in Kazakhstan.
- M. Auezov Literature Memorial House - Дом-музей писателя М. Ауэзова | Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1961) was a distinguished Soviet / Kazakh playwright and novelist; he lived here for his last ten years. Atmospheric, but you'll need decent Russian to glean much. He's also commemorated further down the boulevard by the Auezov Theatre.
- Heroes Memorial Park - Honors the men and women from Kazakhstan who died on the battlefields of the WWII against the Nazis. There is an eternal flame by the war memorial where schoolchildren put flowers on the last day of school and newlyweds also come to have their photos taken there. In the park is an Orthodox church built from 1904-1907, painted in dollhouse colors with a metallic steeple. You can often hear beautiful singing inside.
- Presidential Palace Furmanov St (ул. Фурманова), You will not be allowed to go inside. Nonetheless, the scenery and architecture is breathtaking. If the guards are out front, it means the president is there.
- Republic Square - New Square, пл. Республики | Former administrative center. Since the capital was moved to Astana, this square has been renovated. TV stations occupy some buildings. There are flower gardens. There is also a Kazakh memorial, consisting of a tall statue of the golden boy, an early Kazakh figure, whose name is Altyn Adam and circled by metal bas relief panels recounting the history of Kazakhstan, from the time of the fierce Amazon-like queen, to independence many years ago.
What to do in Almaty
- Panfilov Park - Stroll this agreeable park, featuring Soviet-era architecture, Zenkov cathedral (which is closed) and World War II monuments that are popular for wedding photographs.
- Arasan Baths - A large public bathing complex with a magnificent Samarkand style domed pool. The perfect place to spend a few hours relaxing. Due to its cold and windy conditions, visiting saunas with friends is very popular in Kazakhstan. Saunas (Russian "banyas") are an excellent place to discuss business issues or just socialize with friends. Having parties (birthdays, New Year, etc.) in saunas is normal practice. In fact many modern saunas in Almaty are fully equipped with karaoke, billiards, swimming pools, relax rooms, private massage rooms, etc.
- Kazakhstan English Language Theater - Started in 2001, the Kazakhstan English Language Theater (KELT) is the only English language theater in former Soviet Central Asia. KELT does two shows a year and runs English language theater classes and workshops periodically throughout the year.
- Mountains: see section below for access and amenities. One easy option is to ride the Cable car to Kok-Tobe - The base station is by the corner of Abay and Dostyk.
- Film Festival: the first was on 15-19 Sept 2018, with the intention of holding it annually, but 2019 dates have not yet been announced. There is also a separate Indie film festival, next held 1-7 July 2019.
- Watch football ie soccer at FC Kairat, who play in the Premier League, the top tier of football in Kazakhstan. Their home ground is Central Stadium, capacity 24,000, on Abay Ave (Metro Baikonur / Stadion).
- Route P22 (Dulati Street, becomes Svezhest St) runs south up the valley of River Bolshaya Almatinka. Along this route are Kok-Tobe, Tau Spa Centre, Alma-Arasan and Big Almaty Lake:
- Kok-Tobe is the top station of the cable car. Great views of the mountains, vineyards and city. Buy souvenirs and have a cup of hot chocolate at a table under the shadow of the TV tower or take a ride on an unpowered roller coaster.
- The Grill - In a picturesque setting overlooking Almaty. You are perched over the city on a wooden verandah (some parts nice & shady) and it is an awesome setting.
- Tau Spa - Relax at this mountain spa, worth a visit summer or winter. Try the plunge pool at -15 degrees
- Big Almaty Lake - Bolshoye Almatinskoye Ozero | 43.053552,76.984318 content= is a scenic lake at 2,510 m altitude, surrounded by high mountains. It glistens like a mirror, changing colour with the season (a deep turquoise in autumn) and freezing in winter. Towering over it to the south east is Soviet Peak (4,317 m), to the south Ozerniy (4,110 m) and to the southwest Tourist Peak (3,954 m). Great for hiking and climbing. Getting here and back is obviously easiest by car, otherwise:
- Bus 28 runs from the roundabout at Al-Farabi and Navoi up Dulati St and ends at the last left turn before Alma-Arasan. Taxis here will take you to within 4 km of the lake for around 2,000 tenge. Otherwise it's a 15 km hike and 1,000 m rise of altitude: think about the weather and the coming back. Follow the road about 8 km until you reach a big water pipe and then follow the steep trail next to the water pipe.
- Or take a taxi all the way from Al-Farabi and Navoi.
- Dostyk Ave south becomes Gornaya St which climbs the valley of River Pravy Esentai. Along this valley are Medeu Ice Rink, Ile-Alatau National Park and Chimbulak Ski resort. A bus runs up to Chimbulak from the corner of Satpaev and Baitursynuly daily at 08:00.
- Medeu Ice Skating The world's highest Olympic-sized ice stadium. More than 180 world records were made on this ice. Fun to visit in winter. Skate rentals are available. Tipsy teenagers teeter across the ice, coloured lights and loud pop music create a slightly surreal, but fun ambience. There is also a large mountain-water swimming pool just below the ice rink, open in summer. The water is extremely invigorating, about 15°C.
- Ski & Snowboard at Chimbulak, Ak-Bulak and Tabagan ski resorts, open November - April, lifts closed Tuesday. And hike anytime, beyond the resort up to the dam and then the glacier: tough but beautiful.
Muslim Friendly Shopping in Almaty
US$1 equals about 359 tenge and 1 Euro about 435 tenge (Aug 2018). As a comparison (2023): a Snickers bar was 130 tenge; a can of Coke 70 tenge; a cheese pizza at il Patio about 1,200 tenge; a cinema ticket for a movie about 1,650 tenge; a 10 minute taxi trip about 500-600 tenge; cigarettes, 50-150 tenge; a litre of juice around 250 tenge. Beef, 1200-1,800 tenge a kilo; Beef 1300 tenge a kilo; horse meat, 1,900 tenge a kilo. A loaf of bread, 70-90 tenge. A 2-bedroom modern apartment about US$1,300 a month. Clothing is expensive unless buying knock-offs at Baraholka. (Green Market is very expensive.)
- Handmade carpets
- Felted goods. Handmade dolls, rugs and slippers made with boiled lamb's wool and natural dyes
- Handcrafted metal jewelry, including a "tumar", which is a pendant that opens like a locket
- Handcrafted leather chess sets in a leather folding case with a board pattern stitched on. In most souvenir shops and on ground floor of Silk Way (Zhybek Zholy and Furmanova).
- Kaspi Bank Sharipov St 90 43.2473,76.9233
- Arbat - Zhybek-Zholy "Silk Road" | Almaty's artist's row on a tree-lined pedestrian street. "Arbat" is a nickname of the street. On the same street you can visit the big mall - TsUM (in Russian - ЦУМ - Центральный Универсальный Магазин). At the east side of this pedestrian street there is the Silk Way Mall.
- Barakholka - Affordable shopping at a large vendor-style market, find name brands (knock-offs) for cheap. You can find virtually anything there and if the price isn't right, you can easily haggle with the merchants. You want to find a US$300 winter coat for about US$45? It's possible. Be wary of pick-pocketing.
- Green Market - Zelyoni Bazaar | Extensive market in a big lime-green concrete building. Fresh vegetables, dairy products and meat, as well as clothing and other non-food household items. Fruit and vegetables are on the lower level. On the upper level you will find dried fruits, nuts, spices, honey and plants, as well as cheese and meat.
Almaty has many modern supermarkets, offering everything from a bakery section to toiletries. 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 food 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 and vegetables year around, but vegetable prices are expensive. Dastarkhan (Gogolya St between Ablai Khan and Furmanova) has excellent baked goods, mainly cakes and cookies.
- Ramstore Atrium Supermarket Trade Center - Рамстор Атриум - International retail store chain.
- Passage Shopping Center
- Tsum Shopping Center Centralniy Universalniy Magasin | Every post-Soviet town has this department store. It's filled with hundreds of identical little counters selling electronic goods on the first floor and souvenirs and clothes can be found on the second. There is a good selection of souvenirs. One Saturday a month, there is an ad hoc market on Ablai Khan across from the Tsum. Craftsmen from all over the country come and sell their wares. It's worth checking out.
Halal Restaurants in Almaty
Kazakh restaurants are all over the place, selling shashlik, soup, salad and others. Fast food places are also everywhere - the local favorite is hamburgers, with sliced Halal kebab meat on a hamburger bun with pickles and garlic sauce.
- Alasha - Uzbeki restaurant. Brace yourself for Halal horse meat.
- China Town - formerly Turandot | A very affordable and very tasty Chinese eatery. Servings are huge, so don't go overboard. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes to choose from, including tofu dishes.
- Gakku - One of the best restaurants serving Kazakh national food for reasonable prices. Try "beshparmak", "kuyrdak" and other traditional dishes.
- Korea - May have moved, no recent reviews. Five other Korean restaurants within ten mins walk.
- Mama Mia's - Pizza restaurant, but with a large assortment of fresh salads - a good place to go when you tire of carrots and potatoes in winter. Has a small, separate non-smoking section. On a fine day, order pizza to go, get soda & pastries at Dastarkhan opposite, then eat in Panfilov Park 300 m east.
- Namaste - One of the more popular Indian restaurants. Service is very slow, but if you have time the food is pretty good.
- Pirosmani - Georgian restaurant. Features khachapuri, cheese-filled bread, eggplant stuffed with nuts, spinach with nuts and various savoury kebabs. Good vegetarian options.
- Princess - Popular Chinese restaurant.
- Soho - Lunch is a buffet with a nice assortment of breads, soups, salads and main dishes called a "business lunch" at a reasonable fixed price. Evenings have live music and reasonable drink prices. No entrance fee during the week. Soho is a great place for a single businessman. It is not a very classy joint and is usually packed with Almaty's working women. They have one of the best bands in Almaty and they sing in English. Some of their covers are better than the originals. It's a must-see event. Try making a booking to avoid having to stand at the bar.
- Tandoor - Good-value Indian food.
- Tyubeteika - Uzbeki restaurant, gets good reviews.
- Venezia - Four pages of choices. The pizza has very good thin crust. The restaurant has two rooms.
- Zheti Qazyna - The restaurant with three kitchens: Uzbek, Chinese, European. The Uzbek room has wonderful wood decorations, blue-tiled kitchen you can see into.
Muslim Friendly Hotels in Almaty
- Ata Hotel Edge-of-town hotel & business centre.
- Astra Hotel Mid-range business hotel, a bit worn and thin-walled, but friendly & very convenient for railway station and much cheaper than the international chains.
- Grand Aiser 3-star, mostly positive reviews.
- Hotel Almaty Central 3-star, generally positive reviews.
- Hotel Ambassador Central 3-star, needs repair, creaky and smelly.
- Hotel Berkana Central 3-star.
- Kazakhstan Hotel 4-star in 1977 Soviet block, mixed reviews.
- Hotel Kazzhol Almaty Comfy 4-star with restaurant & indoor pool.
- Mercure Chain hotel, central, oasis of calm clean efficiency.
- Holiday Inn Almaty Good international hotel next to the government sector.
- Hotel Dostyk Big, old and well-maintained hotel in the center of the city.
- Intercontinental Almaty Luxury hotel with 4 restaurants and indoor pool.
- Rahat Palace Hotel - formerly Hyatt | 5-star hotel with a decent health club.
- Rixos Hotel Almaty 5 star, central.
- Worldhotel Saltanat Almaty Modern 4-star hotel.
- Ritz-Carlton Luxury 5 star, 3 restaurants, spa & pool.
Stay safe as a Muslim in Almaty
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.
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.
In the event of an emergency, call:
- 101 Fire
- 102 Police
- 103 Ambulance
- 104 Gas Service
- 112 Emergency rescue
Cope in Almaty
Very few western visitors nowadays need to register upon arrival and for those who do, your hotel will usually sort it for you. But a few will have to attend OVIR in person, eg if you hope to stay longer than 30 days.
- OVIR (Migration Police) | GPS 43.250,76.925 Corner of Baytursynov & Karasay Batyr St Phone +7 727-2544132 Monday to Friday 09:00–18:00, Saturday 09:00–13:00, Passport collection: 17:00–19:00 Enter the side door through the blue porch and go to Window 3. The building is marked "Migration Police" on Google Maps. You need photocopies of your passport photo-page and your Kazakh visas as well as your accommodation's address. You can drop off your passport (copies not accepted, nor letters from embassies confirming that they are holding your passport) with these documents in the morning and they will ask you to return later in the day to pick it up.
Consulates in Almaty
China | 12 Baitasov St - east side of Satpaev - Phone +7 727 2700207 +7 727 2700227 - Will only accept visa requests from citizens or residents of Kazakhstan, ie those with a work, student, or residence visa. Non-residents might be able to apply through some of the nearby travel agents, but don't count on it. An urgent visa, issued in 4 days, costs US$ 120.
India | 115 Kazyibek Bi - between Seyfullin & Nauryzbai Batyr - Phone +7 727 3388646, +7 727 3388642
Uzbekistan 36 Barybayeva - corner with Gogol | Immediate pick up with letter of invitation, US$ 75 for EU Muslims. Kazakhs only before 12:00, others come at 13:00-13:30 to get listed at 14:00 by the staff, wait around outside. You need 2 copies of your passport, a copy of your Kazakh visa and one photo.
Where to go from Almaty
- Winter sports & hiking around nearby Chimbulak, Ak-Bulak and Tabagan ski resorts; an easy day-trip.
- Sharyn Canyon (Шарын шатқалы, Шарын каньоны): Canyon 80 km long and as much as 300 m deep, eroded into fantastical shapes, mainly along the 3 km stretch known as "Valley of the Castles". It's 200 km east of Almaty towards the Chinese border (follow A351) and often done as a day-trip, but longer tours of the area are recommended. Not far from the "Singing Dunes".
- Astana is the new showcase capital and while Almaty feels like a Russian city, Astana has more of a mixture of cultures.
- Lake Balkhash is along the road between Almaty and Astana, so you could break the long journey here. Balkhash village (12 hours by bus) has a few hotels. The lake is salty west of here, but fresh to the east where the river flows in from China. It's the closest you'll get to beach action in this very land-locked country.
- Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan is a four drive, see "Get in" for options. From there see Lake Issyk Kul.
- Tamgaly Petroglyphs ("Temple of The Sun"): This UNESCO site is 2-3 hours away by car (170 km west, 30 km past Copa off the road to Bishkek). The petroglyphs range from ancient (3,000 years) to "modern" (75 years) and feature pictures of the Sunman and hunting nomad tribes. There are also several grave sites. Watch out for snakes when it's hot.
- Turgen Gorge. In the national preserve Ile-Alatau, 90 kilometers from Almaty. In the gorge that has a depth of 44 m. you can take pleasure from visiting hot springs, waterfalls and plenty of forests. Gorge is well known with its waterfalls and relic Chim-Turgen moss fir woods that spread over the ground and create a dense fir-tree carpet.
- Kolsai Lakes. Lakes of amazing beauty about 250 km away from Almaty. The first lake can be reached by car. To see the other lakes you have to hire a horse for about 1,000 tenge. You can stay overnight in a small two storey houses for about 2,000–5,000 tenge per night. The lakes are very clean and you can even drink it. You can see the fish jumping out of it.
- Urumqi in China can be reached by train once or twice a week.
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