Kazakhstan’s economic prosperity is most palpable in Alma-Ata, where at times you feel like you’re in Europe, with so many luxury stores lining the streets and foreign cars stuck in rush-hour traffic. Surrounded by greenery, Alma-Ata, located at the foot of the snow-capped mountains of the Trans-Ili Alatau, the “calling card” of the city, has been and remains one of the most charming “Soviet” creations in Central Asia. Today, Alma-Ata’s thriving middle class also owns expensive suburban real estate, and fully stocked supermarkets, gourmet restaurants, chic bars, nightclubs and even the latest ski resorts help this segment of society enjoy life to the fullest.
Note: according to allcitypopulation, the population of Kazakhstan is 19 million (2021).
Alma-Ata hotels attract with moderate prices combined with good quality of service. The most numerous – “three rubles” for 8000-14 000 KZT for a double room per day – is quite affordable even for the most budget tourists. Most of them have a restaurant, some even have a pool or a wellness center, free Wi-Fi and parking everywhere. The 4* hotels most in demand among tourists are distinguished by more spacious rooms, designer interiors, restaurants, a swimming pool, a spa, massage rooms and, of course, a higher cost – from 16,000 KZT per night.
The pleasure of living “for 5 stars” already costs from 48,000 KZT in the old well-deserved Rahat Palace and three times more expensive in the prestigious Ritz-Carlton. Most of the “fives” belong to international hotel chains, which guarantee service according to the highest Western standards.
Those wishing to settle down with home comforts are waiting for a lot of offers for renting apartments. You can find them in any area of the city – from a modest 40-meter “odnushka” on the outskirts to a luxurious 4-room apartment in the center.
Surrounded by the high Tien Shan mountains, Alma-Ata is the winter sports capital of Kazakhstan. 16 km from the city, at an altitude of 1691 m, there is the Medeo sports complex with the world’s largest skating rink with an area of 10,500 square meters. m. It is known for its unique ice, thanks to which almost 200 world records were set on the rink. The complex can simultaneously accommodate up to 3,000 people. It is open for skiing from October to May.
You can get to Medeo by city bus number 12, which departs from the hotel “Kazakhstan”.
A 4.5 km gondola cable car connects Medeo with the Chimbulak ski resort. It is built into a common system of 7 lifts, which allows you to climb in half an hour to the Talgar pass – the highest point of the resort (3180 m). Chimbulak trails are interesting for both beginners and experienced skiers, their total length is 20 km. There is a halfpipe for snowboarders and a trail for mogul lovers. The cost of a single trip on the cable car “Medeo” – Chimbulak in both directions: adults / children: 3500/ 1500 KZT, opening hours 9:30-18:00 (on weekends until 19:00).
Between “Medeo” and Chimbulak, an ecological minibus runs on gas.
17 km east of Alma-Ata, in the picturesque Kotyrbulak gorge, there is another ski resort Tabagan. The length of its trails of various levels is 37 km. The slopes are well adapted for snowboarders, there is an opportunity to ride on virgin lands. The cost of a ski pass for the day is 4000 KZT. An additional bonus of the resort is the Aqualandia water and health complex with swimming pools, jacuzzis, saunas and massage rooms. There is no public transport to Tabagan. Taxi from Alma-Ata from the bus station “Sayahat” (Suyunbay Ave., 15) – from 2240 KZT.
As in any modern metropolis, Alma-Ata has large shopping and entertainment centers where people come not only for shopping. The most famous is Mega Alma-Ata (off. site) with a multiplex, an ice arena, a bowling alley, a children’s amusement park and shops of leading world brands. Next in popularity are Dostyk Plaza (off. site) with a huge range of high-quality goods and premium Esentai Mall (off. site) with an art center and boutiques of luxury brands Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, etc.
As a rule, shopping centers are open daily from 10:00 to 22:00. Small shops – on weekdays and Saturdays from 10:00 to 20:00. Traditional sales last from early January to February and from June to early September.
For seasonal fruits, dried fruits, spices, nuts and grape sugar, you should look at the Green Market with a special atmosphere of an oriental bazaar (53 Zhibek Zholy Ave.). There is also a very good selection of national souvenirs, fully reflecting the nomadic traditions of the Kazakhs. Original and inexpensive leather vessels for storing koumiss or water are sabas and torsyks, warm slippers made of felt with curved toes are practical, backgammon decorated with fine carving or inlay is good.
Tourists from Europe willingly buy skullcaps and chapans – national Kazakh clothes made from camel wool. Felt, glass and silver-plated apples look quite appetizing. You can even buy a yurt, though made of ceramics.
Cuisine and restaurants of Alma-Ata
Alma-Ata will not disappoint lovers of good food. In its restaurants, cafes and other catering establishments with Kazakh, European, Japanese and other cuisines of the world, everyone will be fed and watered. Moreover, regardless of his taste preferences, the thickness of the wallet and even the time of day – some of them work around the clock. In almost every one, whether it’s the expensive colorful restaurant “Alasha” or the budget chain canteen “Kaganat”, the menu will definitely include popular dishes of Kazakh cuisine.
First of all, “beshbarmak” is finely chopped boiled meat with noodles and strong broth, milk soup with “ak-sorpa” meat, boiled or fried dumplings “tushpara”, Kazakh plov “palau” with a lot of meat. Fish lovers can order “koktal” – a dish of large carp or carp smoked with potatoes and vegetables. Mandatory components of any Kazakh meal are sour-milk products: koumiss, ayran, irimshik sheep cheese. You can have a snack on the go with traditional shawarma, pies and pancakes with various fillings, hot dogs and burgers.
Breakfast in a cafe-confectionery – 1000-1500 KZT, lunch in a cafe – from 2800 KZT, dinner in an expensive restaurant – about 14000 KZT.
When going to dinner at an expensive establishment, you should take into account one of the features of the local service – the extreme sluggishness of the waiters. And do not be surprised if there is no alcohol on the menu – this is quite in the spirit of Muslim traditions.
Entertainment and attractions
Having lost its capital status, Alma-Ata continues to be an important cultural center of the country. Eastern steppe motifs and Soviet neoclassicism, diluted with high-tech new skyscrapers of a rapidly renewing city, are easily guessed in its sights.
From the ancient settlement of the Turkic nomads, only memories remained – their burial mounds were buried under residential buildings. On the other hand, the Ascension Cathedral, which looks like a fabulous Russian tower, has been perfectly preserved. It was built of blue Tien Shan spruce without a single nail for the inhabitants and soldiers of Fort Verny, from which the city began. In the late 1990s on the old foundation, a new Central Mosque was erected (off. site) – the largest in Kazakhstan. The diameter of its golden dome is 20 m, and the height of the large minaret is 47 m.
On the main Republic Square in Alma-Ata, surrounded by Soviet-era administrative buildings along the perimeter, the Independence Monument is installed – a 30-meter stele crowned with a winged leopard, on the back of which stands the Golden Warrior. The snow leopard is the state symbol of Kazakhstan, just like the Golden Warrior is a unique archaeological find made in 1969 during the excavations of the Issyk mound near Alma-Ata.
The reconstructed figure of a warrior dressed from hundreds of gold plates is on display at the Central State Museum. He belonged to the royal family of the ancient Saka tribe, who roamed the steppe in the first millennium BC. In addition, the museum exposition has about 200,000 more exhibits – from Scythian gold and silver utensils to Turkic military armor and the Kazakh yurt.
In Alma-Ata there is an exact copy of the Golden Warrior, the original “moved” to Astana when the capital of Kazakhstan was moved there.
An obligatory point of acquaintance with the city is the ascent to Mount Kok-Tobe, where a cable car leads from the Palace of the Republic on Dostyk Avenue. In addition to the TV tower “Koktobe”, there is a small zoo and the fountain “Apple” – one of the symbols of Alma-Ata. The name of the city is translated from Kazakh as “Father of apples”. The first seedlings were brought here in the 19th century by a migrant peasant from the Voronezh province, Yegor Redko. From their crossing with a local wild apple tree, the famous Alma-Ata variety Aport was born.
- Are there tours to the Charyn Canyon during the New Year holidays?
The climate of Alma-Ata is temperate continental. It is due to the location of the city in a foothill basin at an altitude of 600-950 m above sea level. Winter is snowy, long and cold. Snow can fall as early as October and stay until mid-April. And even in May there are snowfalls.
The coldest month is January. Spring comes with a lot of rainfall, especially in April. Summers are hot and stuffy. Early autumn is perhaps the best time to visit Alma-Ata. The driest month is September. Due to the peculiarities of the relief, the ecological situation here leaves much to be desired all year round. Smog is a common and persistent phenomenon.