As a solo female traveler on a quest to visit all 193 UN-recognized countries in the world, I have embarked on countless adventures across the globe. With 88 countries already explored, my journey now brings me to Kazakhstan, my 89th destination. This solo travel to Kazakhstan itinerary highlights the excitement and discovery that awaits in this diverse and vibrant country.

Kazakhstan’s close proximity to Mongolia made it a logical next step in my travels, offering a seamless transition from the steppes of Mongolia to the vast landscapes of Central Asia. The allure of Kazakhstan lies in its blend of modern cities, breathtaking natural wonders, and rich cultural heritage. From the bustling streets of Almaty to the futuristic skyline of Astana (now known as Nur-Sultan), Kazakhstan promises a unique and exhilarating experience for solo travelers.

Join me as I embark on a 5-day adventure in Almaty, exploring its iconic landmarks, stunning natural scenery, and vibrant cultural scenes. Whether you’re an avid traveler or simply looking for inspiration for your next solo trip, this itinerary will showcase the best of what Almaty, Kazakhstan has to offer. Get ready for an unforgettable journey through the heart of Central Asia!

Solo travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan itinerary

Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, is a vibrant blend of modernity and tradition. Nestled in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains, Almaty offers stunning natural landscapes and urban sophistication. As the former capital, it remains the cultural and economic heart of the country.

This city is a cultural hub with landmarks like the Zenkov Cathedral and the bustling Green Bazaar. Almaty’s modern amenities include upscale hotels, shopping centers, and a dynamic dining scene featuring both Kazakh and international cuisine. The proximity to natural wonders such as Big Almaty Lake and Charyn Canyon makes it an ideal destination for adventure lovers.

Almaty’s friendly locals and rich history make it a welcoming and intriguing destination for solo travelers. Whether you’re exploring its vibrant streets or venturing into its breathtaking landscapes, Almaty promises a memorable travel experience.

Solo travel to almaty Kazakhstan itinerary
Solo travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan itinerary

How to get to Almaty?

By Air:

The most convenient way to reach Almaty is by air, with Almaty International Airport (ALA) serving as the main gateway to the city. Here are some key points to consider:

  • International Flights: Almaty International Airport is well-connected with major cities around the world. Airlines such as Air Astana, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, and Aeroflot offer direct flights from various international hubs including Istanbul, Frankfurt, Moscow, and Dubai.
  • Domestic Flights: If you are already in Kazakhstan or a neighboring Central Asian country, domestic flights to Almaty are frequent and affordable. Air Astana and SCAT Airlines are the primary carriers operating within Kazakhstan.

From the Airport to the City Center:

  • Taxi: Taxis are readily available outside the arrivals terminal. It is recommended to use official airport taxis or rideshare apps like Yandex for safety and reliability. The journey to the city center takes around 20-30 minutes and costs approximately 3,000-5,000 KZT ($7-12 USD).

    There is FREE WIFI at the airport BUT they send a code to your phone to verify which i found odd because if i wanted to turn on my roaming to get the code, I might as well continue using my roaming data as it is charged per day. It just didn’t make sense to me. Recommend buying sim at the airport to order yandex or use official taxi stand so you don’t get ripped off. more on sim cars below.
  • Bus: Several public buses (routes 79, 86, 92) and minibusses (marshrutkas) connect the airport to various parts of the city. This option is cheaper (around 150 KZT, less than $1 USD) but may take longer due to multiple stops.
  • Airport Shuttle: Some hotels offer airport shuttle services, either complimentary or for a fee. Check with your accommodation in advance to arrange this service.

By Train:

For those traveling from other parts of Kazakhstan or neighboring countries, the train is a scenic and cost-effective option. Almaty has two main train stations: Almaty-1 and Almaty-2.

  • International Routes: Trains from Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan connect to Almaty. Be prepared for longer travel times but scenic journeys through the Central Asian landscape.
  • Domestic Routes: Regular trains operate between Almaty and major Kazakh cities such as Astana (Nur-Sultan), Shymkent, and Karaganda. Trains in Kazakhstan are relatively comfortable, with options ranging from economy seats to sleeper cabins.

By Bus:

Long-distance buses and coaches connect Almaty with cities across Kazakhstan and neighboring countries. This is a budget-friendly option but can be less comfortable and take longer than trains or flights.

  • International Buses: Companies like Avtovokzal operate international routes to and from cities in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia.
  • Domestic Buses: Buses within Kazakhstan are frequent and connect Almaty with various regional cities. Ensure you book tickets in advance, especially for popular routes.

No matter how you choose to travel, reaching Almaty is the start of an exciting adventure in Kazakhstan. Plan your journey carefully to ensure a smooth and enjoyable start to your trip.

Which Kazakhstan sim card to buy in Almaty?

There are several mobile operators in Kazakhstan, each offering various plans and packages. Some of the major operators include:

Kcell (including Activ and Altel): One of the largest mobile operators in Kazakhstan, Kcell offers SIM cards under the brands Activ and Altel. They provide various prepaid and postpaid options for data and calling. I bought Kcell and it was decent, no drop outs gave atleast 20 mbps for upload and download. Bought at at Kcell store in Almaty city.

Beeline: Offers a range of prepaid SIM cards with different data and calling options. You can purchase Beeline SIM cards at their official stores or authorized retailers.

Tele2: Another popular mobile operator in Kazakhstan, Tele2 offers affordable prepaid SIM cards with data and calling packages. Their SIM cards are available at their official stores and partner outlets.

When purchasing a SIM card, make sure to check the coverage, data speeds, and pricing to choose the best option for your needs. You will need to present your passport for registration when buying a SIM card in Kazakhstan, as it is a legal requirement.

For accommodation, I recommend using booking.com and sorting with price, then consider the ones with highest reviews plus within 1km of center/old town. Below I have researched and linked the best ones with this filter (at the time of writing)
For tours, I recommend using get your guide and walking tours available in most places

Where to stay in Almaty?

Almaty offers a diverse range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. Whether you’re looking for luxury, comfort, or affordability, you’ll find a variety of hotels and hostels in this vibrant city. Here are some top recommendations:

For those seeking a luxurious stay, The Ritz-Carlton, Almaty is an excellent choice. Offering stunning views of the Alatau Mountains, this hotel is known for its upscale amenities, impeccable service, and sophisticated design. Guests can enjoy spacious rooms, a spa, an indoor pool, and fine dining restaurants, all in a central location near major attractions. Another top luxury option is the InterContinental Almaty, which is centrally located and surrounded by beautiful gardens. This hotel provides a perfect blend of comfort and luxury, featuring multiple dining options, an indoor pool, a fitness center, and easy access to Republic Square and the Presidential Palace.

For travelers looking for mid-range accommodations, the Worldhotel Saltanat Almaty is a great choice. Located in a peaceful area yet close to the city center, this hotel is known for its modern design and excellent service. It offers comfortable rooms, a fitness center, a restaurant, and complimentary breakfast. Another reliable mid-range option is the Holiday Inn Almaty, which caters to both business and leisure travelers. With a convenient location near key business districts and attractions, it features modern rooms, a fitness center, a restaurant, and easy access to public transportation.

Budget-conscious travelers and backpackers will find Sky Hostel Almaty to be a popular choice. This hostel offers affordable dormitory-style accommodations with a friendly atmosphere. Guests can enjoy a shared kitchen, communal lounge, free Wi-Fi, and a rooftop terrace with city views. Another excellent budget option is the Almaty Backpackers Hostel, which provides a cozy and budget-friendly stay. This hostel features shared rooms, a communal kitchen, free Wi-Fi, and a garden area, making it a welcoming environment for travelers.

When choosing where to stay in Almaty, consider factors such as proximity to attractions, transportation options, and your personal preferences for comfort and amenities. Whether you prefer luxury, mid-range comfort, or budget-friendly options, Almaty has a wide variety of accommodations to make your stay enjoyable and memorable.

Solo travel itinerary to Almaty, Kazakhstan Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Almaty

Morning:

  • Arrival: Arrive at Almaty International Airport
  • Transfer: Check-in to your accommodation in Almaty city center. (There is FREE WIFI at the airport BUT they send a code to your phone to verify which i found odd because if i wanted to turn on my roaming to get the code, I might as well continue using my roaming data as it is charged per day. It just didn’t make sense to me. Recommend buying sim at the airport to order yandex or use official taxi stand so you don’t get ripped off.
  • Breakfast: Light breakfast at a local café.

Afternoon:

  • City Tour: Start with a visit to Zenkov Cathedral in Panfilov Park, one of the few wooden Cathedral in the world built without nails.
  • Green Bazaar: Explore the Green Bazaar to experience local life and taste fresh fruits, nuts, and traditional sweets. I was suprised to find tons of Korean dishes. 
  • Lunch: Enjoy lunch at a nearby Kazakh restaurant (e.g., Navat, Gakku or Tyubeteika).

Alternatively, join this day tour which includes Cathedral & Kok Tobe Hill.

Evening:

  • Kok-Tobe Hill: Take the cable car up to Kok-Tobe Hill for panoramic views of Almaty. Stroll around the park and enjoy the attractions.
  • Dinner: Dine at a restaurant on Kok-Tobe Hill, soaking in the sunset views.
  • Overnight: Return to your accommodation and rest.

Day 2: Day Trip to Charyn Canyon

Morning:

  • Early Departure: Head out early for a day trip to Charyn Canyon (approximately 3-4 hours drive from Almaty).
  • Guided Tour: Join a guided tour to explore the “Valley of Castles” and other stunning formations.

Afternoon:

  • Picnic Lunch: Enjoy a picnic lunch in the canyon (prepare or buy provisions in Almaty).
  • Explore: Continue exploring or take a short hike to appreciate the canyon’s beauty.

Evening:

  • Return to Almaty: Head back to Almaty in the late afternoon.
  • Dinner: Relax with dinner at a traditional Kazakh restaurant in the city.
  • Overnight: Spend the night in Almaty.

Day 3: Almaty and Surroundings

Morning:

  • Breakfast: Start with breakfast at the hotel.
  • Big Almaty Lake: Take a tour to Big Almaty Lake because the road was closed off by Government and even if you go by yourself it would require 4-5 hours of hike one way. Hence best option is book a tour so you are back before it gets dark. Big Almaty is a stunning alpine lake surrounded by mountains (approximately 1-hour drive from the city). Alternatively, head for day trip to Lake Kolsai pic above.

Afternoon:

  • Lake Exploration: Enjoy a hike or simply relax by the lake, taking in the picturesque scenery.
  • Lunch: Pack a picnic or return to Almaty for lunch at a local café.

Evening:

  • Explore More of Almaty: Visit any remaining city sights such as the Central State Museum or Arbat Street.
  • Last-minute Shopping: Pick up souvenirs or enjoy a final stroll through the city center.
  • Dinner: Savor your last meal in Almaty at a highly-rated restaurant.
  • Departure: Transfer to the airport for your departure flight, or stay overnight if your flight is the next day.

Day 4: Lake Kaindy and the Kolsai Lakes

Morning:

  • Early Departure: Start your day early with a hearty breakfast at your accommodation before setting out on your adventure.
  • Travel to Lake Kaindy: Drive to Lake Kaindy, located about 5 hours from Almaty. Arrange a guided tour or rent a car for this scenic journey through the mountains and valleys.

Alternatively, suggest this day trip which covers Lake Kaindy, Lake Kolsay and Charyn Canyon.

Late Morning:

  • Explore Lake Kaindy: Discover the beauty of Lake Kaindy, famous for its submerged forest and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Take a hike around the lake to appreciate the unique underwater trees and serene surroundings. Visit 2 observation points.
  • Photography: Capture the stunning scenery and the surreal sight of the submerged forest with your camera.

Afternoon:

  • Picnic Lunch: Enjoy a packed lunch by the lake. Make sure to bring snacks and water as there are no facilities in the area.
  • Travel to Kolsai Lakes: Continue your journey to the Kolsai Lakes, a series of three alpine lakes located about 1.5 hours from Lake Kaindy. These 3 alpine lakes are turquoise blue from glacial water, surrounded by Tien Shan mountains and not only stunnign to see, the journey to get to these lakes are spectacular also.

Late Afternoon:

  • Kolsai Lake 1: Arrive at the first Kolsai Lake. Take a leisurely hike around the lake, enjoying the breathtaking mountain scenery and the clear, calm waters. Boating/ catamaran is an option.
  • Hiking to Kolsai Lake 2: If you’re up for a challenge, hike to the second Kolsai Lake. The trail takes about 3-4 hours round trip and offers stunning views along the way.

Evening:

  • Return to Almaty: Begin your journey back to Almaty. The drive takes approximately 4-5 hours, so you may want to stop for dinner at a roadside café or restaurant.
  • Dinner: Have a relaxing dinner at a local restaurant in Almaty upon your return.
  • Rest and Relaxation: Return to your accommodation to rest after a long but rewarding day exploring Kazakhstan’s natural wonders.

Day 5: Discovering Moon Canyon (Sharyn Canyon)

Morning:

  • Early Breakfast: Begin your day with an early breakfast at your hotel to fuel up for the adventure ahead.
  • Travel to Sharyn Canyon: Set out for Sharyn Canyon, also known as Moon Canyon, located approximately 3-4 hours east of Almaty. Arrange for a guided tour or rent a car for a self-drive experience.

Alternate, book a tour that covers Moon Canyon

Late Morning:

  • Arrival at Sharyn Canyon: Arrive at the canyon’s entrance. Sharyn Canyon is often compared to the Grand Canyon for its impressive and dramatic landscapes.
  • Hike in the Valley of Castles: Start your exploration with a hike in the Valley of Castles, a part of the canyon famous for its towering rock formations that resemble ancient castles.

Afternoon:

  • Picnic Lunch: Find a scenic spot within the canyon to enjoy a packed lunch. Take in the panoramic views and the tranquility of the canyon.
  • Explore More Trails: Continue exploring other trails within the canyon. Don’t miss the Eco Park, where you can see unique flora and fauna native to the region.

Late Afternoon:

  • Photography and Relaxation: Spend some time capturing the stunning views and unique rock formations with your camera. Relax and immerse yourself in the peaceful surroundings.
  • Optional Activities: If you have time, consider additional activities such as rafting on the Sharyn River or visiting the nearby “Yellow/Black Canyon” for more diverse landscapes.

Evening:

  • Return to Almaty: Begin your journey back to Almaty in the late afternoon.
  • Dinner: Enjoy a final dinner in Almaty, perhaps at a restaurant offering traditional Kazakh cuisine to celebrate the end of your adventurous trip
  • Reflect and Relax: Return to your accommodation to relax and reflect on the incredible experiences of the past few days.

solo travel to Kazakhstan itinerary

Best time to visit Kazakhstan ?

The best time to visit Kazakhstan depends on your preferences and the activities you plan to do. Here is a general overview of the weather and seasons in Kazakhstan:

Spring (April to June): Spring is a beautiful time to visit Kazakhstan, with the landscape coming to life after the winter. The temperatures are mild, and the countryside is lush and green. This is a great time for outdoor activities like hiking and exploring the countryside.

Summer (July to August): Summer is the peak tourist season in Kazakhstan, with long days and warm temperatures. This is the best time for hiking in the mountains, exploring the cities, and attending festivals and events. However, the cities can be crowded, and prices for accommodation and tours may be higher.

Autumn (September to October): Autumn is another beautiful time to visit Kazakhstan, with the landscape turning golden and temperatures cooling down. This is a great time for hiking, especially in the mountains, as the weather is still pleasant.

Winter (November to March): Winter in Kazakhstan can be very cold, especially in the northern regions. However, if you enjoy winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, this can be a great time to visit. The cities are less crowded, and prices for accommodation and tours are lower.

What are other the most popular places in Kazakhstan that are attractive to foreign tourists?

In addition to the places mentioned above, there are several other popular destinations in Kazakhstan that are attractive to foreign tourists. Some of these include:

  1. Astana (Nur-Sultan): The capital city of Kazakhstan, Astana (now known as Nur-Sultan) is known for its futuristic architecture, including the Bayterek Tower and the Astana Expo 2017 site. It also offers cultural attractions like the Kazakhstan Central Concert Hall and the National Museum of Kazakhstan.
  2. Aktau: Located on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Aktau is a popular destination for beach lovers and water sports enthusiasts. The city also offers unique rock formations in the nearby Mangystau region.
  3. Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve: As Kazakhstan’s oldest nature reserve, Aksu-Zhabagly offers stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and opportunities for hiking and nature exploration.
  4. Semey: Formerly known as Semipalatinsk, Semey is known for its historical significance as the site of Soviet nuclear tests. The city offers museums, memorials, and cultural attractions highlighting its history.
  5. Taraz: With a history dating back over 2,000 years, Taraz is one of Kazakhstan’s oldest cities. It offers historical sites such as the Aisha Bibi Mausoleum and the Karakhanid Mausoleum.
  6. Turkestan: Known for its ancient history and architectural heritage, Turkestan is home to the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  7. Karkaraly National Park: Located in the Karkaraly Mountains, this national park offers beautiful landscapes, hiking trails, and opportunities for wildlife viewing.

These are just a few examples of the many attractions Kazakhstan has to offer. The country’s vast and diverse landscapes, rich history, silk road and unique cultural heritage make it a fascinating destination for travelers looking to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations.

Where are other places people can go for hiking in Kazakhstan?

Here are additional hiking destinations in Kazakhstan, apart from the ones mentioned earlier:

  1. Ile-Alatau National Park: Located near Almaty, this park offers a range of hiking trails suitable for all levels. You can explore alpine meadows, glaciers, and stunning mountain vistas.
  2. Bogdanovich Glacier: For a more challenging trek, consider hiking to the Bogdanovich Glacier in the Zailiysky Alatau range. The trek offers breathtaking views but requires proper equipment and experience.
  3. Bartogay Reservoir: This area offers hiking opportunities along the reservoir and through the surrounding hills. It’s a great spot for birdwatching and enjoying the peaceful scenery.
  4. Karkaraly National Park: Apart from its historical sites, Karkaraly National Park offers scenic hiking trails through forests, mountains, and around picturesque lakes.
  5. Buiratau National Park: Located in the Pavlodar Region, this park offers hiking trails through diverse landscapes, including mountains, steppes, and forests. The park is known for its rich biodiversity.
  6. Bayanaul National Park: Another great hiking destination in the Pavlodar Region, Bayanaul National Park offers trails that lead to stunning rock formations, lakes, and panoramic viewpoints.
  7. Karkaraly Mountains: These mountains, located in the Karaganda Region, offer hiking trails that lead to beautiful rock formations, caves, and ancient petroglyphs.

These destinations offer a range of hiking experiences, from leisurely walks to challenging treks, allowing you to explore Kazakhstan’s diverse landscapes and natural beauty.

Must try food and drinks in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan offers a rich culinary tradition influenced by its nomadic heritage and diverse cultural influences. Here are some must-try food and drinks in Kazakhstan. (pics on IG)

1. Beshbarmak: Considered the national dish of Kazakhstan, Beshbarmak consists of boiled meat (usually lamb or horse meat) served on a bed of flat noodles and topped with onions. It is traditionally eaten with the hands.

2. Shashlik: Similar to kebabs, shashlik consists of skewered and grilled cubes of meat, typically lamb or beef, marinated in spices. It is a popular street food in Kazakhstan.

3. Kazy: Kazy is a type of horse sausage that is a traditional delicacy in Kazakhstan. It is usually served thinly sliced and is often enjoyed with bread and onions.

4. Baursak: Baursak is a type of fried bread dough that is often served as a snack or as part of a meal. It is typically shaped into small rounds and has a crispy exterior with a soft interior.

5. Borscht: Borscht is a hearty soup made with beets, cabbage, potatoes, and meat (usually beef or pork). It is often served with a dollop of sour cream and a side of bread.

6. Kumis: Kumis is a traditional fermented dairy drink made from mare’s milk. It has a slightly sour taste and is often enjoyed for its health benefits.

7. Shubat: Shubat is another traditional Kazakh drink made from fermented camel’s milk. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and is believed to have medicinal properties.

8. Kymyz: Kymyz is a fermented dairy drink made from mare’s milk. It has a slightly sour taste and is often enjoyed for its health benefits, particularly in aiding digestion.

These are just a few examples of the delicious food and drinks you can enjoy in Kazakhstan. The country’s cuisine is diverse and reflects its rich cultural heritage, making it a delight for food lovers.

Let me know in the comments:

If you have any questions about solo travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan itinerary
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Solo travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan itinerary

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