Almaty is surely one of the less explored travel destinations. You won’t see it in the list of the «top 10 places you have to visit before you die» and you won’t see the most popular bloggers doings hundreds of check-ins from the area. But that is so wrong!
Having spent a long weekend in Almaty I can assure you that this is one of the world’s most underrated destinations.
Almaty, formerly the capital city of Kazakhstan, is very young. Kazakh people historically lived the nomadic life and only one hundred years ago, the Soviet regime started building the city located at the footsteps of gorgeous Tian Shan mountains.
Today, Almaty is a modern, elegant, cosmopolitan city with a charming soul that kept both Soviet and nomadic traditions.
On the first day I arrived at Almaty, the weather became more November than May – cold, rainy and dull. So I decided to go up into the mountains hoping to see some weather change there.
Medeu and Shymbulak
Almaty is located right at the footsteps of the mountains that are also the city’s main attraction. Over the years, the city created great infrastructure for winter sports and later for summer outdoor activities as well. Apart from that, the mountains are just beautiful.
The Natural Boundary Medeu that is located in the upper part of Almaty, at the footsteps of Altau mountains at 1961 meters above the sea level, has become a world-known place for the most alpine skating ring Medeu. It is also famous for hosting over 120 world records.
Medeu is also the lowest station of a cable car that goes up to Shymbulak, Almaty’s ski-resort. There are three segments of the cable car and the third segment takes you up to 3200 meters.
Once I sat in the cable car I wanted to make thousands of shots. Nature and the weather were changing every 100 meters as we went up. Soon my cable car cabin went into the clouds and by the time when I reached the last station I realized I was above the clouds. Well, actually I was in between the two levels of clouds separated by a strip of the bright blue sky.
The ski season in Almaty begins in November and ends in May, so here is another great reason to visit this city. While European ski resorts are not operating, you can get amazing slopes in Almaty. In summer this area is perfect for hiking.
The infrastructure is really great – modern cable cars, sun terraces, restaurants, ski schools, etc. I highly recommend this modern and elegant ski resort for the next season.
In the afternoon the weather became better and the sky became clearer. That was it! I knew I would have the opportunity to watch the sunset. The best spot in Almaty to watch is Kok Tobe Mountain, which is the highest point of the city.
The mountain has a beautiful view of the Tian Shan mountains and the city. I had half an hour before the sunset would begin so I went around to see what this place has apart from the view. Today Kok Tobe is a family amusement park with alleys, small zoo, souvenir shops and a restaurant.
Where to eat in Almaty
The Kazakh national cuisine is simple, high-calorie and nutritious and contains a lot of meat and flour. The famous traditional dishes of Kazakh cuisine are Beshbarmak, Kuyrdak, sausage from horse meat Kazy, all types of fermented milk products.
If you are visiting Almaty for a weekend, here is my list of the restaurants to go to:
- Rumi – perfect to try national cuisine
- Tyubeteyka – perfect for plov and pilaf (plov)
- Angel-in-Us – best coffee in Almaty
- LT Bar & Grill at Ritz-Carlton Almaty – Located on the hotel’s 28th floor, LT Bar and Grill impresses guests with stunning views of the city and the Trans-Ili Alatau Mountains. Thanks to its panoramic view and the outstanding creations concocted by the restaurant’s celebrated chef, LT Bar and Grill has become one of the most popular places in the city for romantic dinner.
Where to stay in Almaty
Almaty is an elegant city so I decided to stay at a very elegant hotel Ritz-Carlton Almaty that is located in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau. The hotel occupies the top 10 floors of Esentai Tower, the tallest building in Almaty, offering magnificent views of the mountains.
I arrived late so I couldn’t see the mountains. But when I woke up, I was in awe because the mountains were covered with snow and were just near. Then I went to explore the hotel and it is truly amazing. The main theme of its design is horses. Kazakhstan is land of horses and historically a horse was a nomad’s friend, means of transportation and food.
The breakfasts at Ritz-Carlton are amazing. Everyone will find their favorite meal and you can also try many traditional foods during the breakfast.
How to get to Almaty
There are several airlines that fly to Almaty and I chose Air Astana for the first time and I must admit that it is one of the best airlines I flew with. First of all there is enough of leg space even for tall people like myself. The meals are great and so is their service.
They play elegant music during the take-off and landing, I felt like I was sitting in a lobby of a luxurius hotel. These airlines were awarded as Asia’s best airlines and I totally understand why.
Almaty is a perfect destination to travel for a weekend or as a starting point to explore the mountains, steppes, lakes, and canyons as I did. Read about visiting the Sharyn Canyon in my next post.
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