No, we didn’t see Borat. In fact, when I brought this up to our guide whilst walking through the beautiful First Presidents Park, she told me that the people of Kazakhstan are not so fond of him (to put it nicely). The movie was not even filmed in Kazakhstan!
So, how was Almaty? Did we enjoy our short 4-day Eid getaway? Where were the highlights? What did we do?
If this was about two years ago, we would have covered everything that Lonely Planet recommended, together with recommendations from various blog posts, Tripadvisor, friends, and every possible source of information that we could gather to maximise our time away.
However, when you’re travelling with a 13-month old, it’s best not to be over ambitious with your itenary. It was also almost impossible to rent a car for ourselves to drive around (which is what we normally do when we travel with the baby).
Here’s a little summary of what we loved about this place that is so unknown to a lot of people that we know, living here in Dubai.
Little girl meets little piggy roaming free on Kok Tobe Mountain
We took the cable car from Almaty city up Kok Tobe, supposedly the highest point in Almaty city. It’s a nice ride up and you can bring the little ones in the pram. There’s lots of activities for the bigger kids like a scary house and carnival rides (which you have to pay), and a free mini zoo. Our highlight was a random little pig that ran out from one of the kids play areas and started coming up to all the tourists. Lots of photos were taken, including a very frightened 13-month old who wasn’t sure what this animal was 😀
Cost : About 20 AED return ticket on the gondola per person
How we got there : Walked from Rixos to Dostyk Hotel (as we wanted to find out more info from Central Smart Tourism on what to do in Almaty), then from Dostyk to Kok Tobe. The town is not the most pram-friendly place to be honest, have a peek at the photo below on the typical ramps that they have when you use the underpass.
Absorbing greenery and fresh air at Shymbulak Ski Resort
With the help of Leo from Center Smart Tourism who was extremely helpful and patient with us, whom are based in Dostyk Hotel, he got us a driver to take us up to Medeo on one of our days in Almaty. There lies the largest outdoor ice-skating ring – which unfortunately in the middle of summer isn’t all that much. From Medeo you can take the gondola all the way up to Shymbulak Ski Resort, and keep going to two more stations up till 3200m above sea level. Amazing views from the top.
Cost : About 35 AED return per person for the gondola from Medeo, and 90 AED for the car to take the whole family to Medeo and back to the hotel.
Tip : Bring a jacket even in June. We were the only two idiots in shorts and t-shirts. It goes from 32 degree celcius in town to possibly 8 degrees at the top. It was raining as well. Freezing!
Drove up the mountain, to Big Lake Almaty, largest water reservoir in Almaty
Highlight of the sights. It probably would have been better if it wasn’t so foggy, but it was beautiful nonetheless. About a 40 minute drive from town lies the Big Lake Almaty, largest natural water reservoir atop the mountains. It’s serene up there, almost magical.
Cost : Broke the budget on this one. We simply didn’t have any other alternatives as we booked it last minute and couldn’t find alternative transport that had a baby seat. We ended up booking through Ritz Carlton Almaty where we stayed at that time, and the tour was 200 USD (65000 KZT, or 740 AED) for a 5-6 hour trip. Though the guide had good english and we didn’t have any issues in general, I thought it was too expensive.
Tip : We were quoted about 270 AED for the same trip (minus going to First Presidents Park, and a Falcon Show that we didn’t go anyways) through Central Smart Tourism, so I do recommend you give them a try. Of course if you don’t have children, I’m sure there are cheaper ways to get there!
Spent the evening wandering through First President’s Park
Though not as big as the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, for some reason it reminded me of it. It’s very clean, and well taken care of. The snow capped mountains beyond, the flowers, families and children around. There were about 4 different couples having their wedding photos taken there. Great for families should you want to just spend the afternoon strolling and enjoying the scenery!
Cost : This was part of the Big Almaty Lake tour. I’m sure you can simply take a taxi here!
So there you go. A little recap of where we went and where you could go if you were in Almaty. Places we would have loved to go if we had more time were the Charyn Canyons (4 hours drive away), and Issyk Lake. Completely missed Zenkov Cathedral as well, and the Free Walking Tour which we do in every city we go to! This is organised by Center Smart Tourism – so if you do end up doing it, tell us how it went 🙂 And of course, we spent quite a lot of time mucking around in the two hotels that we stayed over the 4 nights there – Rixos Almaty and Ritz Carlton Almaty which I do recommend – they have their pros and cons. I’ll save a separate post for both 😉
Till the next trip!
Disclaimer : We paid for flights from Dubai to Almaty, Kazakhstan, using Air Astana – around 1600 AED return.