Backpacking in Kazakhstan: Day Trip to Ile Alatau National Park from Almaty

Backpacking in Kazakhstan: Day Trip to Ile Alatau National Park from Almaty

Backpacking in Kazakhstan: Day Trip to Ile Alatau National Park from Almaty

When I was based in Almaty Backpackers in Kazakhstan, I was keen to organise a trip out to the mountains. Almaty itself is a city on a high elevation and only 40 kilometres outside the city is the stunning Ile Alatau National Park.

Zenkov's Cathedral, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Zenkov’s Cathedral, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Getting to Ile Alatau National Park
Getting here by Marshrutka or normal car isn’t really an option as in the winter time, the roads freeze up and are covered with ice and snow. Therefore you need to book a driver with a decent car and tyres so they can drive you into the National Park, or have a friend who can take you, or rent a car. But for me, a nice easy day trip with a driver.

With Aibek my driver for the day

With Aibek my driver for the day

Booking Your Tour to Ile Alatau National Park
The staff in the hostel, Almaty Backpackers, Dinara and Rahat helped me to organise a day trip out to Ile Alatau. If you happen to find other backpackers who want to join you, then you can split the cost. The others in my hostel weren’t keen to tour this national park, nor the recommended Canyon nearby. So I was left to go it alone, which bumps up the price of the driver and tour for the day. The day tour can cost from $30 US to $80 US depending on the length of time you tour the park and of course, the price comes down if there are more of you. For me, my tour was around $55 US and this included entry to the park, ride there and back (to the door of my hostel) and lunch in the mountains.

Touring Ile Alatau National Park in Kazakhstan

Touring Ile Alatau National Park in Kazakhstan

The Drive from Almaty to Ile Alatau National Park
My driver was Aibek and he collected me at 10 am from the hostel and off we went. The drive out of Almaty city is quite remarkable and picturesque in winter time. Through the snow, sludge and tunnels we go and we arrive at the entrance to the National Park.

With Aibek in the car on route to Ile Alatau

With Aibek in the car on route to Ile Alatau

The icy road to Ile Alatau

The icy road to Ile Alatau

However not all of our travels run smoothly. On arrival at Ile Alatau, the guards alert Aibek that the roads are too icy and snowy for us to pass. I am sceptical and am used to this time and time again, thinking it might be some kind of fake story because I am foreign. But I spot other tourists ahead (local ones) and they are fine, so I tell Aibek that we must go on. Of course, I won’t pay for or write about the tour unless I got to see the mountains and the lake and he knew that.

Arrival at the park entrance

Arrival at the park entrance

Arrival at the park entrance

Arrival at the park entrance

Eventually Aibek agreed it was the best option to head as far as we could. The roads were of course icy and dangerous, but I knew others were on tours out here so we managed to keep going until we reached the point where the oddly named Almaty Lake is situated.

The snowy roads in Ile Alatau

The snowy roads in Ile Alatau

Inside Ile Alatau National Park
The start of the national park features winding roads through the snow. At various points there are “picnic stop areas” and we stop twice for photos of the views and for a bit of ice cool snow exposure on the way to the lake, which is the main sight and in winter, the end of where you can drive to in hazardous conditions.

Inside Ile Alatau National Park

Inside Ile Alatau National Park

Inside Ile Alatau National Park

Inside Ile Alatau National Park

Inside Ile Alatau National Park

Inside Ile Alatau National Park

There is one clear road through the snow and it winds up and down, the views more and more epic on every corner.

A clear road through the snow

A clear road through the snow

This is a fabulous winter wonderland for any tourist. The locals hardly raise an eyelid – they are used to this beautiful scenery. As for me, I couldn’t take my eyes off it and keep snapping and savouring the extremely gorgeous views up into the mountains, down into the valleys and through the mysterious mist.

A feast for your eyes

A feast for your eyes

Almaty Lake, Ile Alatau National Park
It seemed a strange name to me to call the lake Almaty Lake, being 50 kilometres from Almaty itself. But that’s what it is. In summer apparently the lake is a gorgeous green. Here in the winter, the lake was completely white and frozen over.

Almaty Lake - frozen over in Winter

Almaty Lake – frozen over in Winter

There is a short walk down the hill to the viewpoint from where we park. A signpost revealed that we shouldn’t walk any further due to poor weather conditions, at least that’s what Albek told me. A reader later corrected me and said it actually says “Protected water reservoir. Entry forbidden”. They are quite strict about these things here, so we adhered to the cautions.

A signpost saying it was dangerous (apparently)

A signpost saying “Protected water reservoir. Entry forbidden”

I was just enjoying the snow and tremendous views. Aibek was on hand to take photos of me and we did the short walks together.

Flying my Northern Ireland flag in the mountains of Kazakhstan

Flying my Northern Ireland flag in the mountains of Kazakhstan

Simply in awe of the mountains of Kazakhstan and Almaty Lake below

Simply in awe of the mountains of Kazakhstan and Almaty Lake below

Myself and Aibek in Ile Alatau National Park

Myself and Aibek in Ile Alatau National Park

Simply loving it in the mountains of Kazakhstan

Simply loving it in the mountains of Kazakhstan

Chilling out in the mountains of Kazakhstan

Chilling out in the mountains of Kazakhstan

Mountain Views in Ile Alatau National Park
We did another walk on the other side through the gorgeous snow up to a viewpoint back towards the valleys we had driven through. Again, pictures show the beauty. The place is breathtakingly beautiful.

Walking through the snow

Walking through the snow

The view on the other side of the mountains from the lake

The view on the other side of the mountains from the lake

Hiking in Kazakhstan

Hiking in Kazakhstan

Misty background

Misty background

At one of the peaks admiring the views

At one of the peaks admiring the views

Aibek and I in Ile Alatau National Park

Aibek and I in Ile Alatau National Park

After the walk on the other side, we returned to the car and made a few more stops, mostly for photo taking and admiring the scenery.

Stopping off on the way back towards the entrance

Stopping off on the way back towards the entrance

Driving in Ile Alatau

Driving in Ile Alatau

The roads of Ile Alatau

The roads of Ile Alatau

Another stop off at a viewpoint in the Ile Alatau National Park

Another stop off at a viewpoint in the Ile Alatau National Park

Gorgeous views

Gorgeous views

Flying my AFC Bournemouth scarf in Ile Alatau

Flying my AFC Bournemouth scarf in Ile Alatau

There is also a fresh mountain spring area with fresh water. Locals turn up with buckets and fill them up with pure water.

Locals filling up buckets of pure water

Locals filling up buckets of pure water

Locals filling up buckets of pure water

Locals filling up buckets of pure water

Driving through Ile Alatau

Driving through Ile Alatau

Shashlik and Tea – Lunch in Ile Alatau National Park
On the way back, we stop off at a hilly recreational area where children pay 500 Tenge to go tobogganing down a hill. Outside in the cold snow, local vendors sell hot and cold drinks and food. The highlight here for me is my first time to try outdoor barbecued Shaslik.

Aibek and the chefs at the barbecue in Ile Alatau National Park

Aibek and the chefs at the barbecue in Ile Alatau National Park

Ready for the barbecue in Ile Alatau National Park

Ready for the barbecue in Ile Alatau National Park

A recreational area in Ile Alatau National Park for tobogganing and barbecues

A recreational area in Ile Alatau National Park for tobogganing and barbecues

Anyone that has travelled in Central Asia and parts of the Middle East will be aware of Shashlik. It’s basically like barbecued skewers of meat with a tangy sauce on them. They are like kebab sticks. You eat them with onions, bread and sauce.

The chef barbecueing the Shaslik

The chef barbecueing the Shaslik

Eagerly awaiting my first ever mountain barbecue in Kazakhstan to try Shaslik!

Eagerly awaiting my first ever mountain barbecue in Kazakhstan to try Shaslik!

The shashlik on the barbecue

The shashlik on the barbecue

Here in Ile Alatau, it is a freezing cold day so we have a cup of tea each with the Shashlik. My tea is milky. Aibek chooses plain tea.

My Shashlik and milky tea in the Ile Alatau National Park, Kazakhstan

My Shashlik and milky tea in the Ile Alatau National Park, Kazakhstan

Aibek and I eating Shashlik in the Ile Alatau National Park, Kazakhstan

Aibek and I eating Shashlik in the Ile Alatau National Park, Kazakhstan

After we eat, we have another stop for photos by a river inside the National Park. And then, for this lifetime at least, it’s time to move on. I spend one more night in the city of Almaty then decide to cross the border into Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan.

Farewell Ile Alatau, Kazakhstan

Farewell Ile Alatau, Kazakhstan

Area of Ile Alatau where children go tobogganing

Area of Ile Alatau where children go tobogganing

Here are some videos from my day trip to Ile Alatau National Park in Kazakhstan:

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About Jonny Blair

I'm Jonny Blair, a travelling Northern Irishman. Since leaving my hometown a decade ago I have managed to visit over 100 countries and over 600 towns or cities across all 7 continents. Along the way I have worked in countless jobs! Join my journey on Don't Stop Living - a lifestyle of travel as I provide you with tips and inspiration to live your travel dreams! Safe travels! Follow me on Jonny Blair Google Plus
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6 Responses to Backpacking in Kazakhstan: Day Trip to Ile Alatau National Park from Almaty

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  3. Yerlan says:

    Please make a small correction. The yellow sign says “Protected water reservoir. Entry forbidden”. Apparently this is where the potable water is taken or otherwise a protected place. Thanks.

  4. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Yerlan, Thanks for the update. I have changed it now. Safe travels, Jonny

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