Kazakhstan is often described as a land of deserts, vast steppes, yurts and camels. The country has suddenly gotten popularity among the travelers who want to experience the outdoors. Almaty is from where you can start your trip and after exploring the culture and cuisine of the city, you can move on to explore some other gorgeous places around it. Here are some of the best day trips you can take from Almaty:
Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake
Starting the list with some of the most stunning lakes in the country. While you might visit the big Almaty Lake near the city, the day trip to Kolsai and Kaindy lake is a must.
The Kolsai Lakes are a system of three lakes, nestled among the hills of the Northern Tien Shan Mountains. They are also called “The Pearl of the Northern Tien Shan. The 3 alpine lakes of Kolsai promise clear, shimmering blue waters surrounded by peaceful conifer forests. The lakes are so clear that, when the sun is out, the surrounding forests, hills and snowy mountain peaks are mirrored in the water. It is one of the most beautiful places for recreation, hiking, and horse riding in Kazakhstan.
Kaindy Lake is another beautiful lake hidden in Tien Shan Mountains. This magical lake with birch trees is the result of an earthquake in 1911 that flooded the forest. The natural calamity caused the occurrence of a natural dam in the gorge amidst spruce trees. The lake is almost 30 m deep and if you look underwater, which is very easy because the water of the lake is very clear, you can still see the needles on the submerged trunks. Due to the cold temperatures, the trees were naturally frozen and well preserved in the water. You could go diving in this lake to see its unique beauty, but brace yourself for the cold! The temperature of the lake is maximum 6ºC in summer! With water that shifts from turquoise to emerald green depending on the light, it’s particularly scenic to walk here.
Distance from Almaty: Around 280 km
How to get there: The best way is to rent a car. Lake Kaindy is situated around 36 km from Kolsai Lake
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One of the best day trips from Almaty to explore the beautiful nature outside of the city is to the Charyn Canyon. This canyon makes you wonder whether you are still in Kazakhstan as it is very different from the green grasslands and rolling hills that surround it. The 90-kilometer long canyon is a world of red sandstone formations created by years of erosion through wind and rain.
For a day trip, the easiest way to explore the Charyn Canyon is to do the 4-kilometer hike through the valley of castles. The short trail is spectacular and has stark landscapes and striking rock formations, for which the area is named. You will end the hike at the ice-cold and deep-blue Charyn River where the contrast of the blue river and the red sandstone landscape around you is incredible. This is nature at its best.
Distance from Almaty: 220 km
How to get there: Of course, you can drive there but if you’re looking for cheaper options, join a Community Tour or another tour that goes out there.
Shymbulak and Medeu
For a perfect winter getaway, go no further from the unassuming ski slopes of Shymbulak and ice rink of Medeu in Kazakhstan. Shymbulak is the premier ski resort around Almaty. It attracts visitors from all over the world. Medeu is a Soviet-era ice skating rink just a stop away from Shymbulak. The architecture is killer and it is a very popular place in the winter. The gondola ride is an attraction in itself. Humming quietly above mountain ridges, tree tops and rivers, at 4.5km it’s the world’s third longest.
If skating is not your thing the Medeu is also the starting point of some great hiking trails including the Eagles Nest and Gorelnik Waterfall. From the top of the last cable car, you can take a short 1-hour hike on the path to the right which takes you to the start of the Bogdanovich glacier, across rocky paths with panoramic views of the soaring peaks in the distance.
Fun fact: Prince Harry visited the place and has skied here.
Distance from Almaty: 32 km
How to get there: Hop on the bus to Medeu ice rink and once at the rink, there is a regular shuttle bus that takes you up to Shymbulak itself.
Altyn Emel National Park
Altyn Emel National Park is listed on the UNESCO tentative list and is one of the most gorgeous places in Kazakhstan. The park itself is teeming with nomadic history and various landscapes. It is home to a number of unique landscapes, from relic forests to otherworldly mountains. There is history as well, with ancient burial mounds and petroglyphs to seek out. Most importantly, a number of rare hoofed mammals live here. You might spot them.
Visit the Aktau hills. Bands of white, red and orange run horizontally across the range with striking effect. Known as a unique paleontological deposit, 56 species of Early Miocene flora like pine, spruce, birch, alder, oak, walnut, chestnut, linden, frame, pistachio, ailanthus have been discovered here, as well as remains of ancient animals like crocodiles, turtles and giant rhinos with an estimated age of 25-30 million years.
Another popular sites here are the singing dunes. The Singing Dunes, also known as the ‘Singing Barchan’, have a sonic vibration that gives off a noise that many compare to singing, hence the name. These dunes are high at 120 meters, but definitely worth climbing as the views of the park are nothing short of spectacular.
Distance from Almaty: 220 km
How to get there: Drive on your own or join one of the tours from Almaty
Turgen may be one of the most underrated places in all of southeastern Kazakhstan and it most definitely is ‘off-the-path’ in terms of tourists. The area is a nature lover’s paradise and you will find everything from deep valleys to high mountains to the famous Kairak Waterfall. If you’re looking for gorgeous alpine scenery away from the city and removed from other tourists, look no further than Turgen Gorge and its surrounding area.
Along the way we visit a trout farm, where you can fish and have your catch served for lunch. The gorge is also known for the ancient Chin-Turgensky moss fir groves creeping on the ground, forming a continuous fir tree carpet. The gorge is 44 km (27 mi) to the Plateau of Assy, where, at an elevation of 2560 m (8,399 ft), ancient caravans passed on their way to China and India from Europe.
Distance from Almaty: 77 km
How to get there: The best way is to rent a car and drive to the beautiful gorge.
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