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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is one clear road through the snow and it winds up and down, the views more and more epic on every corner.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is also a fresh mountain spring area with fresh water. Locals turn up with buckets and fill them up with pure water.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are some videos from my day trip to Ile Alatau National Park in Kazakhstan: