A day trip to the Big Almaty Lake. A beautiful alpine lake at 2500m altitude, located just an hour away from Almaty. A must-see if you are visiting Almaty. Read below how to do it yourself as a day trip from Almaty.
About the Big Almaty Lake.
If you like beautiful turquoise blue alpine lakes and want to escape the pollution in Almaty then this day trip to Big Almaty lake is perfect for you! The beautiful Big Almaty lake is only an hour’s drive from the city, therefore it is a perfect day trip. Big Almaty lake is a proper alpine lake and lies at 2511m altitude. What makes the lake so beautiful is its surroundings and color. Usually, it is a deep blue or almost turquoise blue depending on when you’re there. It nests beneath 3 tall peaks in the Ili Alatau mountain region; Peak of Councils (4317), Peak Ozerny (4110), and Peak Tourist (3954). The contrast between the harsh grey/white mountain peaks and the blue color is magnificent! It is just an example of the many cool things to do in Central Asia!
It is located in the Ili-Alatau National Park and you have to pay a small fee to get in (about €1). Big Almaty lake is more than just natural beauty, it is also the main water source for the people of Almaty. Therefore it is not allowed to swim in it and sometimes (depending on the guards) not even allowed to go all the way down to the lake.
Did you know that the little sister of the Grand Canyon is close to Almaty? read our post about our day trip to the Charyn Canyon!
How to get to the Big Almaty Lake?
The lake is located about 31km away from Almaty City, which is an hour driving by car. Since it is a very popular tourist destination for locals who go there on a day trip. It is also very easy to get there, the road is in good condition and is beautiful as it winds into the Ili-Alatau mountain area.
The Uber of Central Asia and Russia! If you don’t already have this app, then download it now. Through the Yandex app, you can order a taxi and have him wait for you at the like while you explore the lake. This is a great option if you go as a group, then you can split the costs.
All taxi drivers are likely willing to take you there. So if you are using taxis in Almaty and you get a friendly driver that speaks decent English just ask him if he’s willing to do a day trip to Big Almaty Lake (drive there, wait for you and drive back) and discuss the costs. Just make sure that you have an idea of what the normal price is so you don’t get ripped off 🙂
Our tip: We do this a lot when we get to cities. Asking several taxi drivers if they go to tourist destinations/day trips. Most of them are willing. You’ll get a better feeling of what the normal price should be and be able to choose the most friendly one.
Always a great option in Central Asia! This is easy in Kazakhstan, just stand on the sidewalk and stick your hand out. Everyone who is driving a car can essentially be a taxi. Just remember that the drivers often ask for a fee, so just make sure to discuss this beforehand! Since the lake is so close to the city and is quite popular amongst both locals and tourists, it should be easy to find a ride to the lake, or at least towards the lake.
We’ve had wonderful adventures hitchhiking in Central Asia, read about our trip over the border to Kyrgyzstan, where we had to pay the border guard to drive us home!
If you have your own car or are renting a car in Almaty, then driving there is no problem at all. There is a good parking spot above the lake where you can leave your car while you go down to the lake. The road up there is good, except during the winter months. Make sure to check with your hostel/guesthouse how the road conditions are before you go.
It is possible to do an organized day trip to Big Almaty lake, but these are usually way way too expensive for what you get. One tour operator charged $95 for a guide to drive you there and back. If you want a knowledgeable guide who speaks good English and maybe want to do something extra, then I would consider a tour. But, because the lake is so close to the city it is very easy to find either a Yandex, shared taxi or hitchhike there. No need to spend your precious travel money on expensive tour operators. Plus, by talking to the local drivers you might make friends along the way!
Taxi: We paid 9000 KZT for a taxi driver. Since it was 3 of us we paid 3000 KZT each, or €6,63.
Park fee: 450 KZT or €0,99.
Note: Costs are based on our visit in September 2019. The situation at the national park changes quite frequently, so prices may vary. We have made a complete overview of our Central Asia backpacking budget!
Where to stay?
The lake itself is only an hour driving away from Almaty so it is best visited as a day trip from there! We stayed in the Alma cinema hostel in Almaty, a wonderful hostel with a great common area outside. It is located in the old center of Almaty and is fairly close to the main attractions in Almaty and main bus connections.
What to bring to the Big Almaty Lake?
It is a day trip not too far from the city, so not a lot of prep needs to be done!
- A bit of snacks/lunch
- Water bottle
- An extra layer (the altitude is 2500m, it might get cooler there)
- Sunscreen in the summer!
When to go to Big Almaty Lake?
The best time to do this day trip is in September-October. Glacier meltwater then turns the lake into a stunning turquoise color. It makes the lake beautiful.
Our tip: Make sure to go early morning, since it is a very popular spot among local tourists!
The lake changes a lot between seasons and has less water in it in February and most water in August. To catch this unique turquoise color, you need to go there in September/October. We were there at the end of August and the color was breathtaking. Also, keep in mind the lake is located at 2500m altitude. During the winter the road up to the lake might be covered in snow. Making it more difficult to get up there. Caravanistan has a great forum where you can get info about the conditions during winter.
Note: the situation at the lake is somewhat strange, there are some issues regarding ownership/rights. This does not make it unsafe to visit, but sometimes the entrance to the lake is just closed. Just check with your guesthouse, hostel before you go.
A day trip to the Big Almaty Lake.
Fixing a driver:
After seeing the pictures from our friends we knew we had to do a day trip to the Big Almaty Lake! At our hostel we met a friend of a friend, Vahe, he also wanted to visit the Big Almaty Lake – perfect! Conveniently, he knew a taxi driver from a different trip and had offered Vahe to take us there. Show us around, wait for us, and take us back. Always so nice when things fall into place like this, this is what makes traveling fun!
The drive to the lake:
The driver picked us up in the morning and started the drive to the lake. He was a super friendly guy, who spoke excellent English. The drive there and back were filled with interesting conversations. When he found out that I was from Iceland he told me that he was a big fan of the Sagas and was currently reading one of them. Small world we live in 🙂
After agreeing how much time we would spend exploring the lake we started walking down to the lake. There are paths going down, quite steep. But you’ll manage in normal shoes. There are usually lots of locals visiting there as well, making this also a good moment to make some new friends.
Beautiful Big Almaty Lake:
Once we started the walk down the lake revealed itself to us. It was a beautiful turquoise blue and was breathtaking. The tall peaks behind it make it even more dramatic, the whole scenery is beautiful. While walking down and a bit around the edge of the lake, taking lots and lots of pictures. We decided that this is an ideal spot for a lunch break and sat down next to a stream with the Big turquoise Almaty lake in front of us, nestled in between the alpine peaks.
We had heard that people aren’t normally allowed to walk all the way down to the lake. But I guess the guards were on a break (or just lazy) that day because we walked down and were able to touch the water! Like we said above, the situation there changes a lot from day-to-day. So just listen to the guards and look at what the locals are doing.
After about 2 hours admiring the lake, we headed back to our driver who was patiently waiting for us. Had great conversations with the driver and Vahe and headed back to Almaty with a bunch of beautiful pictures to sort out for the evening 🙂
This day trip is definitely a must if you are in Almaty. Try to either hitchhike or find a taxi driver to bring you and make the journey a bit more adventurous, while saving your money.
More about Central Asia:
- Backpacking budget Central Asia
- 10 reasons why you should visit Central Asia
- 20 things to do in Central Asia.
- Hike to Furmanov peak
- Charyn Canyon National Park
- Central Asia