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Things to do in Almaty, Kazakhstan: An interview with a resident

Almaty is a vibrant metropolis of 2 million people located in the south east of Kazakhstan. Originally founded in 1854 as a Russian military outpost, Almaty served as the capital of Kazakhstan until 1997 and today is a hub of cultural diversity in Central Asia. Almaty is known for its beautiful landscapes, cosmopolitan history and culture, and unique cuisine. We spoke to Zere, a resident of Almaty, to learn more about the city.

Hi Zere. Almaty is referred to as the ‘City of a Thousand Colours’. What are some of the main attractions and nice places to visit for a tourist?

Zere: There are various attractions located throughout Almaty. Tourists can explore Kok-Tobe Hill offering panoramic views, Ascension Cathedral (also known as Zenkov Cathedral), The Main Botanic Garden and the picturesque Big Almaty Lake to enjoy the natural beauty. For those seeking active leisure, the Medeu Skating Rink and the Shymbulak Ski Resort are popular spots. Almaty also has a diverse culinary scene, bustling markets, and lively nightlife.

Where can a tourist go to learn about and experience the history and culture of Almaty, and of Kazakhstan in general?

Zere: Tourists keen on learning about the history and culture of our country can visit several places such as the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan that offers comprehensive exhibits covering the history, culture, and heritage of Kazakhstan. The Almaty Museum is dedicated specifically to the history and development of Almaty. This museum provides insights into the city’s past, including its role as the former capital of Kazakhstan.

Furthermore, Arbat Street is lined with shops, cafes and galleries, offering a taste of local crafts, cuisine, and cultural activities. It’s a great place to interact with locals and immerse oneself in the city’s atmosphere. Visiting local markets such as the Green Bazaar allows tourists to observe daily life, taste traditional foods, and purchase handmade crafts, textiles, and souvenirs, all while interacting with locals, where you can see the national character.

Skyline of Almaty, Kazakhstan at night
Almaty, Kazakhstan at night.

Almaty is a bustling city integrated with nature. What are some things tourists can do to experience the natural beauty of Kazakhstan?

Zere: To experience the natural beauty of Kazakhstan, tourists can embark on hikes in the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains, visit Charyn Canyon, or take a trip to the serene Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes. Shymbulak Ski Resort offers opportunities for skiing and hiking, depending on the season.

What is the best way to travel around Almaty? Taxi, bus, walking?

Zere: Tourists in Almaty can navigate the city using taxis, buses, subway or simply by walking. Taxis offer convenience but can be more expensive, while buses and metro provide a budget-friendly option. Many central areas of Almaty are pedestrian-friendly, with sidewalks and designated walking areas. Personally, I think walking allows for a leisurely exploration of the city’s streets, parks, and landmarks.

What are the main languages spoken in Almaty? Will it be difficult for a tourist who, for example, can only speak English?

Zere: The national language of Kazakhstan is Kazakh. The official language is Russian, which is known by the majority of residents in Almaty. While English may not be as widely spoken, many individuals in the tourism industry and younger generations have some proficiency in it. In tourist areas, it is easy to find someone who speaks English.

Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan
Charyn Canyon

What kind of weather can a tourist expect in Almaty?

Zere: In Almaty, the climate is generally milder than in other major cities of Kazakhstan. The mountain ranges shield the city from strong winds, and temperature fluctuations here are not as abrupt and significant as, for example, in Astana. You can expect a continental climate here in Almaty, with hot summers and cold winters. Spring and autumn generally offer milder temperatures, making them pleasant times to visit.

What about safety in Almaty? Would it be suitable for a solo traveler to visit?

Zere: Almaty is a safe and peaceful city, for solo travelers too. There is a significant presence of police and patrols in public places such as parks, shopping malls, and the metro. It’s perfectly safe to take walks here during both daytime and evening hours. However, it’s advisable not to leave personal belongings unattended, as it’s important to remember basic safety precautions.

What are some examples of traditional Kazakh food and drink you recommend to a tourist visiting Almaty?

Zere: In Almaty, you can find the entire spectrum of Kazakh cuisine. From traditional and hearty meat dishes like “beshbarmak” and “kuyrdak” to various meat and vegetable snacks. Here, everyone will find something to suit their taste. In restaurant Auyl, you can sample the cuisine of the “neo-nomads” presented in a super modern style and in restaurant Tör (which translated, means an honourable place for the most esteemed guests), you can order a contemporary version of the traditional “dastarkhan”.

Big Almaty Lake, Kazakhstan
The Big Almaty Lake, Kazakhstan – Located an hour’s drive south of central Almaty.

From a personal perspective, is there anything in particular that you appreciate about living in Almaty?

Zere: One of the aspects I appreciate most about living in Almaty is the warmth and hospitality of the people. The residents here are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and hospitable, making it easy to feel at home. Also I admire the natural beauty that surrounds the city. Almaty also feels like a city of opportunities, where one can pursue their passions and aspirations, whether it’s in education, career, or personal growth.

Do you have any other tips for tourists visiting Almaty?

Zere: Certainly! We Kazakhs are hospitable, open, and responsive. If you ever need help, don’t hesitate to ask strangers. We will help and guide you in whichever language we can. We kindly ask tourists to respect local customs and traditions, dress appropriately, especially when visiting religious sites and learn basic Kazakh or Russian phrases that can enhance the tourist experience.

Other than Almaty, what other cities do you recommend a tourist to visit in Kazakhstan and why?

Zere: Aside from Almaty, each city offers a distinct glimpse into Kazakhstan’s rich cultural heritage, diversity and natural beauty. East Kazakhstan is a bright pearl of the country where one can observe practically all types of landscapes typical for Central Asia: from mountain peaks to sandy deserts, and from coniferous forests to endless flat steppes. Aktau, the major city on the coast of the Caspian Sea is great to visit too. And Turkestan, renowned for its Silk Road heritage, invites travelers to explore the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and other ancient landmarks.

Cable cars transporting passengers between Almaty and Kok-Tobe Hill in Kazakhstan.
Cable cars transporting passengers from Almaty to Kok-Tobe Hill.

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