How to get to Big Almaty Lake
Updated March 2020, How to get to Big Almaty Lake was originally written in October 2019
Sat perched in the Ile Alatau Mountains just a short drive from downtown Almaty sits the impressive Big Almaty Lake. In most of the photos you’ll see online, the lake appears to be a vibrant turquoise. When I was there in August 2019 it was a pale and milky seafood green– this is due to the lake changing colors because of fluctuating water and sediment levels throughout the year.
On my first trip to Kazakhstan, I never made it to Big Almaty Lake despite it being a short 15 kilometers outside of Almaty. This time back I knew I had to find a time block to squeeze in a visit between activities on the USAID project that I was brought over this year for. I convinced Valerie from Valerie & Valise and Shao who was providing coverage for We Travel The World to join me to Big Almaty Lake in the morning before our media campaign officially began. I’ll explain how we visited the lake by taxi, and also include information on getting there by thumb.
About Big Almaty Lake
Big Almaty Lake as mentioned before, sits in the Trans-Ile Alatau Mountains and is located roughly 15 kilometers south from the middle of Almaty. The lake is actually a natural reservoir that flows out into the Big Almaty River and provides much of the drinking water for the city of Almaty.
Because the lake is the water source of the city, no swimming is permitted in Big Almaty. There are plenty of guards around patrolling the lake, not just to keep swimmers out– but also because the lake sits so close to the Kyrgyz border. The border between the countries is closed here, so much of the surrounding areas are off limits.
Big Almaty sits at an elevation of 2,511 meters above sea level. Water levels and color fluctuate throughout the year.
How To Get To Big Almaty Lake By Taxi
Getting to Big Almaty Lake is a breeze with the Yandex.Taxi app. I highly recommend it for getting around in Almaty as well as several other cities in the country (and in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and Tashkent, Uzbekistan). For those of you not familiar, Yandex.Taxi is similar to Uber and is super simple to use. It has spread across many ex-Soviet (and some that aren’t) countries.
You should plan about 50 minutes drive each way to/from the lake.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of Bradt Kazakhstan to help you plan your Kazakhstan adventure
How To Use Yandex.Taxi
- Type in ‘Big Almaty Lake’ where to box.
- Tap the + symbol
- Add your next destination (wherever you want to be dropped back off at in Almaty).
- Select the class of car you’d like to take.
- Click order and wait for your taxi to arrive.
The price reflected when booking your taxi is an estimate (though I’ve always found it to be pretty accurate). At the end of the ride your driver will update the app and it will give you the final price.
Costs For Visiting Big Almaty Lake
Of course prices change all the time and currencies are always fluctuating. In August 2019 this is what we paid to visit Big Almaty Lake
- Yandex Taxi: 7,000 KZT/$18 USD (3,500 KZT each direction)
- Wait Time: About 1,000 KZT/$2.60 USD per hour
- Ile Alatau National Park Entrance: 650 KZT/$1.70 USD per passenger
Do note as mentioned previously that taxi prices can fluctuate some from the initial price estimate that Yandex will give you due to traffic and depending on how long you stay at the lake. If you want to keep costs down, try to find 2-3 other travelers to share the cost of the taxi with.
Need More Inspiration? Scroll Through My Post ‘32 Photos That Will Put Kazakhstan On Your Bucketlist‘
It’s pretty easy to hitchhike in Kazakhstan and it’s a pretty common way of getting around (and is relatively safe). I’ve hitchhiked all over Central Asia and can attest to this (despite being recently told by a travel blogger that she was, and I quote ‘too pretty to hitchhike’. Maybe I’m just that ugly, or maybe it’s that people in Central Asia aren’t dangerous heathens…). But alas, hitchhiking isn’t always free– most anyone with a car seconds as a taxi driver in Kazakhstan as well as greater Central Asia so most will expect some payment. Do negotiate before getting in a car.
For those that want to spend more time at Big Almaty Lake, you may want to get a Yandex (or hitch) out there and then hitch on your way back to avoid the wait-time fee if you plan to explore for a few hours. This is going to be the easiest to do on summer weekends as so many people go up to the lake as a city break.
Best Time To Visit
May-October are your best times to visit the lake as the windy road up here can get quite icy in the winter months. May-June I was told is a great time to visit as the lake is still frozen under a thin layer of ice and September-October are supposed to be when the lake is at it’s most vibrant due to the lake being inundated with glacial melt water. Weekends in the summer are always busy with picnickers who rally up for the day, so if you want to visit with less of a crowd I recommend a weekday morning.
Going to Kyrgyzstan as well? Check out the two week Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan itinerary
Tours To Big Almaty Lake
You can shop day tours to Big Almaty Lake here if you’re an advance planner and just don’t want to be fussed with sorting out how to get here on your own. You can also book day trips to the lake through many hostels and hotels around Almaty, and via local tour operators.
What To Take To Big Almaty Lake
- Passport: Bring your passport as they may be checked at the gate for the park, and officers patrolling around the lake can ask you to see it too (a copy will NOT suffice). Many places in Central Asia in sensitive border areas will have passport checks.
- Hiking Boots: If you want to explore around the lake. There are a couple of short treks you can do. If not hiking boots, just a good pair of walking shoes are a wise choice.
- Water: Fill up a water bottle before you leave your hotel or hostel.
- Snacks: There is a restaurant on your way up to the lake, but I’d still recommend bringing a few little snacks or a picnic especially if you plan to hang around for a few hours.
- Camera/mobile phone: To capture your day trip to Big Almaty Lake.
- Backpack: Preferably something small and weatherproof to hold your camera and other gadgets in.
Where To Stay In Almaty
Almaty is one of Central Asia’s largest hubs so there are a plethora of accommodation options. I recommend both Almaty Backpacker’s and Hotel Mildom from personal experience.