Almaty

20th April 2024

12 Things to know Before Visiting Almaty: Plan Your Perfect Trip

Hey there, wanderlusters! Ready to embark on an extraordinary journey to the heart of Central Asia? Today, we’re delving into a must-read guide on things to know Before visiting Almaty.

From our last visit to this place, we learned that Almaty has a captivating charm that’ll sweep you off your feet.

With a mix of cultural wonders, awe-inspiring landscapes, and delightful culinary experiences, it’s a destination that promises unforgettable memories.

So, before you pack your bags and hop on that plane, let’s dive into the essential tips and insider insights that’ll ensure you make the most of your Almaty adventure.

Trust us, you won’t want to miss a single moment of this enchanting journey!

Things to Know Before Visiting Almaty

1. Food in Almaty

Almaty is a culinary paradise, offering a rich blend of traditional Kazakh cuisine and international flavors. Kazakh dishes often incorporate hearty ingredients like meat, potatoes, and dairy products, reflecting the country’s nomadic heritage.

Beshbarmak, a national dish, consists of boiled meat (usually horse or lamb) served on a bed of flat noodles with onions. Other must-try dishes include Kazy (horse sausage), Manty (steamed dumplings), and Baursaki (fried dough balls).

For those with adventurous palates, shubat (fermented camel’s milk) is an iconic Kazakh beverage.

Besides traditional fare, Almaty boasts a diverse selection of international restaurants. Visitors can indulge in Chinese, Korean, Turkish, and European cuisines, among others.

The Green Bazaar is a bustling market where one can savor local delicacies, fresh fruits, and spices.

2. Coffee in Almaty

Coffee culture has been steadily growing in Almaty, and the city now boasts a thriving coffee scene. You’ll find numerous specialty coffee shops offering a wide variety of coffee beverages, from traditional espresso-based drinks to trendy cold brews and pour-overs.

These cafes often source their beans from local and international roasters, ensuring high-quality brews that cater to the discerning coffee connoisseur.

Many coffee shops in Almaty also prioritize aesthetics and ambiance, creating cozy spaces that are perfect for relaxing or catching up with friends.

Some even double as co-working spaces, providing free Wi-Fi and charging stations for digital nomads and remote workers.

3. Craft Beer in Almaty

For beer enthusiasts, Almaty has become a haven for craft beer lovers. The city has witnessed a surge in microbreweries and craft beer bars that offer a diverse selection of locally brewed beers, as well as international favorites.

These craft breweries often experiment with unique flavors and ingredients, providing a refreshing departure from mass-produced beers.

Craft beer venues in Almaty are known for their laid-back atmosphere, making them popular gathering spots for both locals and tourists.

Many of these establishments organize events, beer tastings, and brewery tours, giving visitors a chance to interact with the local brewing community and learn about the beer-making process.

4. Grocery Shopping in Almaty

Almaty provides a wide range of grocery shopping options, catering to different preferences and budgets.

From large supermarkets and hypermarkets to small neighborhood stores and open-air markets, the city ensures that residents and visitors have easy access to fresh produce, daily essentials, and specialty items.

For a more authentic shopping experience, locals often frequent “bazaars” or markets, such as the Green Bazaar.

Here, you can immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere, vibrant colors, and aromas of fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, and meats. Don’t forget to practice your bargaining skills to secure the best prices.

5. Scams in Kazakhstan

While Kazakhstan, including Almaty, is generally a safe country for tourists, it’s essential to be aware of potential scams that may target unsuspecting travelers.

Common scams include taxi drivers overcharging tourists, particularly those arriving at airports or train stations. To avoid this, it’s best to use reputable taxi apps or agree on a fare before starting your journey.

Another scam to be cautious of is currency exchange fraud. Only exchange money at authorized exchange offices or banks, as some street money changers might offer unfavorable rates or counterfeit currency.

Additionally, be cautious of strangers approaching you with overly friendly gestures or offers of assistance, as they might have ulterior motives. Keep your valuables secure, and be aware of pickpocketing in crowded areas.

Staying vigilant and being cautious about your surroundings can significantly reduce the likelihood of falling victim to scams while visiting Almaty and enjoying all that this beautiful city has to offer.

6. Hitchhiking Around Almaty

Hitchhiking can be an adventurous and budget-friendly way to explore Almaty and its surrounding areas. While it’s a popular option among backpackers and travelers seeking unique experiences, there are some important factors to consider.

Kazakhstan is generally considered safe for hitchhiking, but exercising caution is still crucial. It’s best to hitchhike during daylight hours and avoid remote areas with limited traffic.

Before starting your hitchhiking journey, familiarize yourself with common hand signals used by locals to indicate their direction of travel. Locals may also pick up hitchhikers, so be prepared to communicate in basic Russian or Kazakh. A smile and polite demeanor go a long way in securing a ride.

Keep in mind that hitchhiking may not always be the fastest mode of transportation, so allow ample time for your travels. Additionally, consider carrying some snacks and water, as it might take some time before you find a suitable ride.

7. Getting a SIM card in Almaty

Staying connected while traveling is essential, and getting a local SIM card in Almaty is a straightforward process. Several mobile service providers offer prepaid SIM cards, and you can purchase them at official stores, kiosks, or even at the airport.

To get a SIM card, you’ll need to present your passport for registration, as it is a legal requirement in Kazakhstan. The staff at the store will assist you with the registration process, and you’ll have the option to choose from various data and call packages based on your needs.

Having a local SIM card allows you to access mobile data for navigation, stay connected with family and friends, and use ride-sharing apps to get around the city. With a functioning local number, you’ll find it easier to communicate with locals and businesses.

8. Weather in Almaty

Almaty experiences a diverse climate throughout the year, so knowing the weather patterns can significantly impact your travel plans. Summers (June to August) are generally warm with temperatures ranging from 20°C to 30°C, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities and exploring the city.

Winters (December to February) are cold, with temperatures often dropping below freezing, especially in the mountainous regions surrounding Almaty. Snowfall is common during this time, making it a great opportunity for winter sports enthusiasts.

Spring and autumn bring milder temperatures, but they can still be unpredictable, so packing layers is advisable. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather, especially if you plan to venture into the mountains, where conditions can vary drastically.

9. Almaty Pollution

Like many urban centers, Almaty faces pollution challenges, particularly regarding air quality. The combination of urban development, industrial activities, and traffic contributes to increased pollution levels, especially during certain times of the year.

During the winter, temperature inversions can trap pollutants close to the ground, leading to smog and reduced air quality. This can be a concern for individuals with respiratory conditions, so taking necessary precautions is advisable.

The local government has taken steps to address pollution, including implementing public transportation improvements, encouraging carpooling, and promoting green initiatives.

However, travelers should still be mindful of the air quality and consider wearing masks in highly congested areas, especially during the colder months.

10. Public Transportation in Almaty

Almaty’s public transportation system is well-developed and serves as an efficient way to navigate the city. The two main modes of public transport are buses and the metro.

Buses cover an extensive network, connecting various neighborhoods and landmarks. They are an affordable option for getting around the city, with fixed fares regardless of the distance traveled.

However, traffic congestion during peak hours can lead to longer travel times, so planning your schedule accordingly is important.

The Almaty Metro, known for its beautiful and ornate stations, is a convenient and fast way to move through the city. It currently consists of three lines, with more expansion plans in the pipeline.

The metro operates from early morning until late at night, making it a reliable choice for daily commuting and exploring Almaty’s attractions.

For those looking for a more private and comfortable experience, ride-hailing apps are also available in Almaty, offering a range of options from cars to larger vehicles for group travel. These services can be particularly useful for trips to destinations not directly served by public transport.

Overall, Almaty’s public transportation system offers a practical and cost-effective means of traversing the city and experiencing all that this vibrant destination has to offer.

11. Almaty Metro

The Almaty Metro is the rapid transit system of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. It is a convenient and efficient mode of transportation for both locals and tourists.

The metro system currently consists of three lines, serving various parts of the city. Each line is color-coded for easy identification – the Red Line, the Green Line, and the Blue Line.

The metro operates from around 6:00 AM to midnight, with trains arriving at stations every 5 to 7 minutes during peak hours and every 10 to 15 minutes during off-peak times.

The well-maintained trains are equipped with air conditioning, making them a comfortable option even during hot summers.

To use the Almaty Metro, you’ll need to purchase a token or a rechargeable card, which can be easily obtained at the ticket counters or automated vending machines located at every station. The fare is affordable, making it a cost-effective way to explore the city.

The metro stations themselves are notable for their unique architectural designs and artwork, showcasing Kazakhstan’s culture and history. As you travel through the underground tunnels, you’ll find murals, mosaics, and sculptures that add an artistic touch to the commuting experience.

For visitors, the Almaty Metro provides easy access to popular tourist destinations such as Panfilov Park, the Central State Museum, and the Kok-Tobe recreational area. It’s an excellent way to navigate the city and avoid traffic congestion.

12. Hostels in Almaty

Almaty offers a wide range of budget accommodations, and hostels are a popular choice for backpackers and budget-conscious travelers. Hostels provide a comfortable and social environment, allowing guests to meet like-minded travelers from around the world.

These hostels typically offer various room options, including dormitory-style rooms with shared facilities and private rooms with en-suite bathrooms. The dormitories are equipped with individual lockers, ensuring the safety of personal belongings.

Many hostels in Almaty also have communal areas where guests can relax, socialize, and exchange travel stories. These areas often include cozy lounges, shared kitchens, and sometimes outdoor spaces like gardens or rooftop terraces.

While staying in hostels, guests have access to essential amenities such as free Wi-Fi, 24-hour reception, and laundry facilities. Some hostels may even organize group activities or city tours, making it easier for travelers to explore Almaty together.

When choosing a hostel, it’s essential to read reviews and consider the hostel’s location. Some popular areas to stay in Almaty include the city center or areas close to major attractions and public transportation.

For those seeking a more immersive experience and a chance to meet fellow travelers, hostels are an excellent choice in Almaty. They not only offer affordability but also foster a vibrant community of adventurers sharing their experiences of exploring this diverse and beautiful city.

13. Shopping

Shopping in Almaty is a delightful experience, offering a mix of modern malls, bustling markets, and specialty stores. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, traditional handicrafts, or trendy fashion, the city has something to cater to every shopper’s preferences.

The modern shopping malls in Almaty are well-equipped with international brands, luxury boutiques, and entertainment options. Some of the popular malls include Mega Center Almaty, Esentai Mall, and Dostyk Plaza.

These malls provide a comfortable and air-conditioned shopping environment, perfect for escaping the summer heat or the cold winters.

For a more authentic and vibrant shopping experience, head to the local markets. The Green Bazaar (Zelyony Bazaar) is a must-visit destination, offering a kaleidoscope of colors, aromas, and flavors.

Here, you can find a wide range of fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, and traditional Kazakh dishes like beshbarmak and shashlik.

Art enthusiasts and collectors should explore the Arbat, a pedestrian street lined with numerous art galleries and souvenir shops. It’s an excellent place to find unique paintings, ceramics, and other handmade crafts made by local artists.

When shopping in Almaty, bargaining is a common practice in traditional markets, so don’t hesitate to negotiate for better prices. However, in shopping malls and modern stores, fixed prices are the norm.

It’s worth mentioning that the shopping scene in Almaty is constantly evolving, with new boutiques and stores regularly popping up.

Whether you’re a fashion enthusiast or a curious traveler looking for cultural keepsakes, shopping in Almaty offers an enriching experience that reflects the city’s vibrant and dynamic spirit.

14. Health and Safety

Ensuring your health and safety during your visit to Almaty is of utmost importance. The city, like any other urban destination, has its own set of safety considerations, but with proper precautions, it can be a safe and enjoyable place to explore.

First and foremost, it’s essential to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and unexpected incidents. Familiarize yourself with the contact details of your embassy or consulate in Almaty in case of any emergencies or lost documents.

Almaty is generally a safe city, but it’s always wise to practice common sense safety measures. Keep your belongings secure and be mindful of pickpockets, especially in crowded places and public transportation.

Avoid displaying expensive jewelry or electronic devices in public to minimize the risk of theft.

When it comes to health, check with your healthcare provider before traveling to ensure you have all necessary vaccinations and medications.

While tap water in Almaty is technically safe to drink due to the city’s water treatment system, it’s advisable for visitors to stick to bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth to avoid any potential stomach upsets.

Almaty is situated at a high altitude, and some visitors may experience symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headache or dizziness, especially during the first few days. To acclimate better, take it easy, stay hydrated, and avoid excessive alcohol consumption.

15. Local Festival

isiting Almaty during one of its lively local festivals offers a unique opportunity to experience the city’s rich cultural heritage and vibrant community spirit. Throughout the year, Almaty hosts a variety of festivals that showcase traditional arts, music, and local customs.

One of the most significant festivals in Almaty is Nauryz Meyrami, celebrated on March 22nd. This ancient holiday marks the Kazakh New Year and the arrival of spring. During Nauryz, the city comes alive with colorful decorations, folk performances, and traditional games.

Visitors can join locals in trying various dishes like Nauryz-koje (a seven-ingredient soup) and taking part in Kokpar, a traditional horse-mounted game.

Another prominent festival is the Almaty Apple Festival, held in September. As Almaty translates to “Father of Apples,” this festival pays homage to the city’s apple-growing heritage. The event includes exhibitions, contests, and the opportunity to taste an array of apple varieties grown locally.

For those interested in film and cinema, the Almaty Film Festival is a must-attend event. Held annually, this festival features an exciting lineup of international and local films, attracting filmmakers, actors, and cinephiles from around the world.

During Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, Almaty’s streets are adorned with lights and decorations, creating a festive atmosphere. Visitors can partake in Iftar meals, where the fast is broken each evening, and enjoy a sense of community and spirituality.

Conclusion – Things to Know Before Visiting Almaty

In conclusion, Almaty beckons with its captivating charm and a plethora of cultural wonders, culinary delights, and breathtaking landscapes.

From savoring traditional Kazakh dishes like Beshbarmak and Kazy to exploring the burgeoning coffee and craft beer scenes, there’s something for every adventurous palate.

Embrace the city’s vibrant atmosphere while navigating its well-developed public transportation system, including the ornate Almaty Metro.

Just remember to stay vigilant against scams, acclimate to the weather’s variations, and immerse yourself in the local festivals for an unforgettable Almaty adventure.

FAQs – Things to Know Before Visiting Almaty

What’s the food scene like in Almaty?

Oh, get ready for a culinary paradise! Almaty offers a delightful mix of traditional Kazakh dishes and international flavors. Must-try local delicacies include Beshbarmak, a hearty dish of boiled meat on flat noodles, and Kazy, the famous horse sausage. But don’t worry, you’ll also find plenty of international cuisines to indulge in, like Chinese, Korean, Turkish, and European fare. And if you’re feeling adventurous, give shubat, the iconic fermented camel’s milk, a shot!

How’s the coffee culture in Almaty?

Coffee lovers, rejoice! Almaty’s coffee scene is booming, with specialty coffee shops serving up everything from classic espresso-based drinks to trendy cold brews and pour-overs. They source their beans locally and internationally, ensuring a fantastic cup every time. And you’ll love the cozy and aesthetic vibes in these cafes, perfect for catching up with friends or getting some work done as a digital nomad.

Is there craft beer in Almaty?

Absolutely! Almaty has become a haven for craft beer enthusiasts. You’ll find a variety of locally brewed beers and international favorites at the city’s microbreweries and craft beer bars. These places love to experiment with unique flavors, making each sip a delightful surprise. Plus, the laid-back atmosphere is perfect for mingling with locals and fellow travelers while enjoying a refreshing pint.

What’s the shopping scene like?

You’re in for a treat! Almaty offers modern malls with international brands and luxury boutiques. For a more authentic experience, head to the bustling local markets like the Green Bazaar, where you’ll be immersed in vibrant colors and aromas. Bargain like a pro to score the best prices on fresh produce, spices, and traditional crafts. You can even explore the Arbat street, filled with art galleries and souvenir shops, perfect for unique finds!

How about public transportation in Almaty?

No worries, getting around Almaty is a breeze! The city has an efficient public transportation system with buses and the beautiful Almaty Metro. Buses cover an extensive network, while the metro, with its ornate stations, is a convenient way to zip through the city. And if you prefer a more private ride, ride-hailing apps are available, offering various options for your travel needs.

What’s the weather like in Almaty?

Pack smart! Almaty’s weather varies throughout the year. Summers are warm and perfect for outdoor activities, while winters can be cold with snowfall, ideal for winter sports. Spring and autumn bring milder temperatures, but always be prepared for sudden changes, especially if you plan to venture into the mountains.

Any tips on staying safe and avoiding scams?

Absolutely, safety first! Almaty is generally safe, but it’s good to be cautious. Use reputable taxi apps to avoid overcharging, and only exchange money at authorized places. Be wary of strangers being overly friendly, and keep your belongings secure, especially in crowded areas. And don’t forget to have travel insurance for peace of mind!
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