WHAT TO DO IN KAZAKHSTAN? Top activities around Almaty
Almaty is the biggest city and the main entrance point in Kazakhstan: it is easily reachable by air, train or by road. In addition to the usual sights of the big city (nightlife, bazaars, culture and shops), Almaty attracts with its unique location. Stretched on the slopes of Tien Shan mountains at the heights between 300 and 1600 meters ASL, the city provides tremendous opportunities for all kinds of active tourists loving to be on the move, whether on foot or horseback, by bike or ski, in raft or in snowshoes. Meanwhile, it is the best place to become active, even if you have never been before: the variety of landscapes around Almaty is amazing and it doesn’t leave any visitor indifferent. Glaciers and 5,000m peaks, deserts and colorful canyons, highland lakes surrounded by dense spruce forests are located just a few hours from the former capital center. You’re already here? Let’s start!
1. Hiking and trekking.
Almaty is surrounded by mountains. When look to the south from any point, you see the snowy peaks of the Northern Tien Shan. There is a number of gorges that you may reach from the city, and which lead up to the glaciers. But the best one, in terms of trekking of course, is Turgen – with its luxury vegetation, huge highland valleys, glacier streams and famous waterfalls. Plan 3-5 days for a hike up this gorge, and you will appreciate its wild landscapes, smoothly flowing into each other. Having started from cool spruce forest, you gradually get to the flowering alpine meadows, then to the moraine lakes and glaciers that feed them. As it is perfectly described in one of the guides: “Turgen Gorge: A+ Hiker’s Paradise” – nothing to add, indeed! Season: May - October
2. Backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.
Despite most Almaty citizens prefer to ski and snowboard at the nearby resorts Shymbulak and Ak-Bulak, the freeride community develops in parallel, and rather fast. It is not surprising: no other city in Kazakhstan provides such an easy access to skiable backcountry. Hiking trails, which lead up to the 3000m peaks, start in the urban area. In winter, low temperatures keep the snow fresh for days. The ski season lasts 8 months, while expeditions to higher peaks (above 4000m) can be even done in June. Maloalmatinsky, Big Almaty and Butakovka gorges remain most popular places, however, after a backcountry yurt lodge was set in Turgen in 2017, Almaty free riders began actively exploring new lines in that area.
3. Rafting and white-water rafting.
Whether you are a beginner or a professional, here you will always find your perfect water adventure. Variety of Almaty-based companies offer white-water rafting on the mountain rivers Chilik, Turgen and Charyn (2 to 5 difficulty grades). There is even a specialized rafter’s campsite at Chilik riverbank, where you can get any related service and have a great time. Well, if you are tired of being too active, you may head north and take a relaxing excursion by the Great Ili River in a float-café (stunning views are attached). One traveller said that rafting seems to be the best option to explore the surprising difference of Almaty nature - from Turgen’s dense forests to Charyn varicolored canyons and immense Balkhash steppes. Perhaps, he was not far from the truth.
Almaty is experiencing a real bicycle-boom: cycling races are held in the city on a regular basis (like Tour of Almaty); new routes – quick rides and long tours, uphill and downhill - appear on the maps and on the slopes. Even the streets inside the city were transformed in favor cycling enthusiasts: bicycle lanes now exist along the main roads in any direction. The service is developing as well: there is a number of bike shops, which sell, rent and repair. Since 2017, a network of bike-sharing stations is working within city limits. With the growing popularity of cycling, new info on the trails and conditions shows up in open sources (Bikemap, Mapmyride, Wikiloc etc.) and locally published guidebooks like that one presented by VeloAlmaty community.
5. Rock climbing and mountaineering.
One fact tells how comfortable it is to go climbing and mountaineering in Almaty: from the city center to the glacier there is 1 hour by car. Imagine, just in an hour you find yourself at an altitude of 3,000m, surrounded by snowy peaks and rock bastions of the harsh Northern Tien Shan. So, it doesn’t look surprising that climbing is a traditional sport here. Most of the popular climbing spots are located in the Touyuk-Su gorge (above Shymbulak ski resort), where there is variety of 4.000m summits with countless number of routes, rated from 1B to 5A of Russian mountaineering scale. Rock climbers will definitely enjoy those multi-pitch lines on the Oktyabrenok bastions, as well as free climbing on other walls of the gorge. In fact, the proximity to the city is not the only reason for Touyuk-Su popularity: the gorge has infrastructure and alpine facilities, which make it comfy. Other cliffs around Almaty are not as accessible: for example, to climb Talgar Peak (5017m - the highest point of the ridge) you need 1-2 weeks and specially organized expedition. In the avalanche season (March-May, October-November), Almaty climbing community heads to the north, into the warm steppes of Balkhash, where Tamgaly-Tas rocks offer all the range of routes flavored with stunning panoramas of Great Ili River.