Kapchagay is best-known as the beach of Almaty. Situated 70 km north of the city, the town of Kapchagay is located on the shore of an artificial lake of the same name formed by a dam across the Ili river. Besides sandy beaches, Kapchagay also has a lot of casinos and ruined factories, earning it the moniker “Lost Vegas”.
The Kapchagay reservoir stretches for more than 100 km east from Kapchagay city. You will find sandy beaches along the length of the lake. However, most resorts that offer a place to sleep, a swimming pool, bar, beach chairs and umbrellas, are located on the beach of Kapchagay city.
Beyond, especially on the other side of the bridge, are many wild beaches. You will need your own transport to get here. Gates are posted at the entrance of the beaches, where an entrance fee of around 3000 tenge for the car is demanded. You can then drive up the beach with your car.
Some of these beaches might offer additional services like food or umbrellas, but it’s best not to expect anything. Be self-sufficient. Especially when it comes to protection from the white-hot sun: you are unlikely to find natural shade.
Seeing how you get very little for your 3000 tenge, you might want to look for a free beach. We cannot point you to one, but we know they exist. Ask locals or browse Kazakh internet forums. The main difference will be in the ease of access, and the amount of trash. Paid beaches are kept clean.
For people without their own car who don’t want to go to a resort, the Kapchagai city beaches cost around 500 tenge per person if you are entering on foot.
The water at Kapchagay is warm in summer. The downside is that the lake is shallow, and you have to wade for a while before you can swim. Ideal for kids, though.
In 2007, casino’s were banned from Almaty and Kapchagay became the designated gambling zone. A string of luxurious establishments now provide entertainment along the road to Kapchagay beach. Bombay, Astoria, Bellagio and Macao have some of the most eye-catching designs. Expect an air of extravagance and high standards in the adjoining bars, restaurants, hotels and saunas.
Casinos in Kapchagay work with a minimum amount players need to exchange to start playing: 300$ during the week, and 500$ on weekends.
Low rollers can still have fun at Cashville’s Malina Hall (4 poker tables and 2 American roulettes), where the minimum exchange is only 25$.
There’s even more fun to be had in the town center of Kapchagay, where games in hidden illegal casinos are rumoured to be had. No further info, but sounds exciting!
The dam at Kapchagay was built at the end of the 1960’s, and this is when the town of Kapchagay got its start. After the dam was finished, Kapchagay was designated as an industrial zone: factories for porcelain, concrete, bread, elevators and fish canning went up.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the factories stopped working. Like in other ghost towns, the disemboweled skeletons are still standing, making Kapchagay look more like Pripyat than Saint-Tropez once the summer season is over. Robot, a factory for high-precision equipment that never got off the ground, is the playground of Almaty’s paintball community.
The town itself is very typical of provincial Kazakhstan and well worth a look if all you have seen of Kazakhstan so far is the center of Almaty. Yvision has a good photoreportage.
From Kapchagay, it’s not too far to the Buddhist drawings at Tamgaly Tas and the Nomad film set. Altyn-Emel is also not too far off from here, especially the Besshatyr route. You can swim in Kapchagay near Besshatyr as well – you will have the beach to yourself in that case.
The better resorts in Kapchagay have online booking. Besides these, there is a huge supply of apartments for rent in the town of Kapchagay. It’s easy to arrange on arrival as touts will approach you.
You cannot camp on any of the privatised beaches, but you are free to do so on the free beaches.
Taxis and buses to Kapchagay leave both from Sayakhat and the central bus station, but mostly from Sayakhat. The road is a 3-lane highway once past the shopping zone of Barakholka. Depending on traffic, the ride takes 1 to 1,5 hour.
You can also get there by train. All Almaty trains to Semey, Pavlodar and Oskemen stop in Kapchagay (1h15 to 2h).
We welcome your tips and questions about Kapchagay in the Kapchagay forum thread.