Big Almaty Lake is surrounded high up by Trans-Ili Alatau mountains range, making it one of the most scenic lakes. For anyone who has ever glimpsed a picture of Big Almaty Lake on Instagram or the pages of Nat Geo, it is nearly impossible to get the vibrant turquoise color out of your head. Siting at an elevation of 2,511-meters above sea level, Big Almaty Lake’s surroundings is home to waterfalls, freshwater springs and stunning mountain scenery that feel like being in Swiss Alps.
Best time to visit Big Almaty Lake
The best time to visit is during the summer months due to accessibility and ease on the roads. However, the lake is said to be most beautiful in early autumn (September/October) when the lake is at it’s most vibrant due to the overflowing of melted glaciers. Nevertheless, you can also visit during the winter season when the lake is frozen. The surroundings are so white during day time that it can be almost blinding.
Of course, weekends in the summer are always busy with picnickers so if you want to visit with less of a crowd I recommend a weekday morning.
Getting to/fro Big Almaty Lake
Even though the lake is situated 15-kilometres South of city center, but it can be such a hassle to get there. It is not impossible to get there by public transport if you don’t mind to walk quite a distance. Below are some of the ways you can reach the lake from Almaty.
Setting off to Big Almaty Lake is a breeze with the Yandex taxi app. Yandex taxi is similar to Uber/Grab taxi and is super simple to use. It is mainly used across many ex-Soviet countries. A one-way trip through Yandex app cost us 3,600 KZT (US$8.50) to be shared among 3 of us. The journey takes about 1-hour.
Upon reaching, the driver will ask if you need him to wait for you. You can either negotiate a price with him depending on how long you want to stay at the lake, or you find a way out later. Do bear in mind that it is not easy to book a taxi back to city as no driver will accept the job.
First, catch a bus to First President’s Park. From here, take Bus #28 that will drop you around 10-12-kilometres before the Big Almaty Lake. You can either hike up or try your luck hitchhiking. Since we had the luxury of taking a taxi up, we though it would be good to slowly made our way down and took the bus back to city.
The bus ticket cost is 150 KZT (US$0.35) each way.
If you are travelling on a tight budget, you can do hitchhike. Hitchhike is easy in Kazakhstan and many locals visit this lake every single day since it is very close to the city, so you will always find a car passing by. We managed to hitch a ride mid-way so that helped us save some energy and time.
What to expect
Being a natural alpine reservoir in the Tien Shan mountains, the lake is a major source of drinkable water for the city of Almaty and as a result, no swimming is allowed. There are also plenty of guards to be seen patrolling the lake, not just to keep swimmers out– but also because the lake sits so close to the Kyrgyzstan’s border. During Soviet times, this border was open and it was possible to hike from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan from this area. However in recent years, the mountain border was closed and it’s now off-limits to get anywhere close.
Honestly, I had expected the lake to be much bigger than what I saw. We were blessed to have a super sunny day so it wasn’t cold at all. The lake itself is free of charge, but there is a small fee to enter the park at the bottom of the mountain (200 KZT per person when we were there). We went during a weekday and there were still quite a few people having picnics,taking selfies and doing wedding shoots. There was also someone with a golden eagle at the park, so you could have your photo taken with it if you wanted. Be prepared to spend at least 1-hour by the lake to take in the breathtaking view.
Around Big Almaty Lake
Of course, there are several treks in the mountains around Big Almaty Lake. However, these treks are not well marked and seems to be only familiar to locals. We had randomly spotted some waterfalls on the way down and eventually follow the locals to the trail. The waterfall itself was alright, but the valley is absolutely stunning and the hike is amazing.
What to bring:
- Passport: They may be checked at the gate for the park, and officers patrolling around the lake can ask you to see it too. Many places in Central Asia in sensitive border areas will have passport checks.
- Hiking Boots: If not, just a good pair of walking shoes are a wise choice to explore around the lake.
- Water: Fill up a water bottle before you leave your hostel. I recommend grabbing a LifeStraw water bottle.
- Snacks: There is a restaurant near a waterfall I mentioned above. But it’s still recommended to bring a few little snacks especially if you plan to hang around for a few hours.
- Camera/mobile phone: To capture your day trip to Big Almaty Lake.
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!