Almaty is well-connected through Almaty airport, and over land by comfortable trains and tiring, old long-distance buses. Once in the center of town, you will notice the increasingly clogged up streets of Almaty. The metro is the quickest way to get somewhere if your destination is close to a stop.
City buses are cheap but crowded during peak hours. All cars double as cheap gipsy cabs, but official taxis and ride-hailing apps are also affordable. Cycling has become a viable option in recent years.
Transport to/from Almaty
For all info regarding route planning and buying tickets, see trains in Kazakhstan.
There are 2 train stations in Almaty, Almaty-1 and Almaty-2. The central station is Almaty-2, located on Ablai Khan street, just below Rayimbek Batyr avenue and metro stop (OSM/Gmaps). Almaty-1 is located 20 minutes drive northeast of Almaty-2 (OSM/Gmaps).
If possible, buy your tickets online, at a travel agent or at one of the many rail booking offices dotted around town. The train station often has long queues at the ticket office, and sells out before the online shop does (because cashiers want to sell you a more expensive ticket and pocket the bribe).
The train stations in Almaty are safe. 24/7 luggage storage is available. Outside, taxis will be waiting to quote you over-the-top prices. If your destination is in the center of town, don’t pay more than 1000 tenge from Almaty-2, 2000 tenge from Almaty-1. There are also plenty of city buses to bring you to the center of town.
Almaty has 2 bus stations: the long-distance bus station Sairan, and the shorter-distance station Sayakhat. Both have interesting bazaars attached to them.
Sairan bus station serves destinations like Bishkek (5h), Urumqi (23-30h), Taraz (8h), Shymkent (13h), Oskemen (23h), Karaganda (18h), Astana (20h), Taldykorgan (4h). It is located in the west of town at the crossroads of Tole bi and Otegen Batyr streets (OSM/ Gmaps). For details on ticket reservations, timetables and the bazaar, see our article on Sairan bus station.
Sayakhat is a jumble of second-hand buses, marshrutkas and bazaar stalls near the central mosque at the crossing of Rayimbek and Suyunbai avenue (OSM/Gmaps). It operates all buses going east and north of the city to smaller, nearby destinations: Talgar, Esik, Kegen, Narynkol, Kapchagai and Taldykorgan among others. Prices range between 100 – 300 tenge, payment is on the bus rather than at the ticket office.
Destinations: how to get to…
No trains. Daily flights (1h, 100$). Minivans (marshrutkas) leave from Sairan bus station when they are full (30 minute wait average) from 6am until 8pm (1500 tenge, 4-5 hours). It takes 4 hours to get to the border, 5 hours to Bishkek.
Earplugs and blindfold are a bonus depending on the driver’s tastes in music/movies. No A/C in most buses, it does get hot on a summer’s day in a traffic jam. Otherwise comfortable. Stop halfway for a doner or an ice cream and a pee break.
After the border, you can take a local bus or taxi instead of waiting for your van if you have some small Kyrgyz money. They will drop you off in the center of town, whereas the bus will drop you off at the bus station at the edge of Bishkek.
Outside of the Sairan bus station, shared taxis await. A good deal is around 2500 tenge for a seat in a shared taxi to Bishkek. Most of them will not cross the border, so you will have to do the last bit with local transport.
6 daily trains, taking between 13.5 and 22 hours. Prices depend on time of booking, type of train and class: from 4000 to 25000 tenge. Daily flights (90 min, 40$). If all else fails, old, slow, unreliable buses are your final option (3000 tenge, 20h).
Since 2017, a direct Talgo-train links Almaty and Tashkent in about 16 hours, 10 hours quicker than before. The train runs twice weekly either way. If it’s full, you can take a train to Shymkent and hop over the border from there.
If you prefer the slower version, train number 21 still runs between Almaty and Nukus. On this train, Almaty – Tashkent takes 26 hours (with long border halt). Prices fluctuate and the slow train could be more expensive.
Flights run daily (90 min, 100$). The slow bus to Shymkent should be avoided at all cost (13h, 1500 tenge).
A daily bus service connects Almaty to Urumqi (16000 tenge, 22-28h depending on the wait at the border). Previously we advised to book in advance, but this seems no longer necessary. The bus is a sleeper bus, the beds are Chinese-size and fit 2: prepare to get cosy with your neighbour.
Flights run daily (1h 45 min, 170$). The train from Almaty to Urumqi runs twice weekly. It takes 30 hours.
The long travel time is due to the fact that the Kazakh railroad system has a different gauge than the Chinese one, and 8 hours will be spent on the border, changing the wheels of the train carriages. Taking the bus is about 10 hours faster. Another problem with this option is that it books up fast, especially in summer. The Saturday train in particular can be booked out up to 1 month in advance in peak season. Get your tickets as soon as possible.
You cannot book this train online. Contact a travel agent (we cannot advise one). In Almaty, go to the train station or one of the many booking offices around town. In Urumqi, tickets are sold in the office at the Yaou Hotel, to the right of the central station. Ticket sale for the Saturday train starts on Monday 10am, for the Monday train it starts Friday 10am. Current price for a ticket is around 110$ one way.
8 trains daily, taking between 10 and 14 hours. Prices depend on time of booking, type of train and class: from 2000 to 10000 tenge. Flights run daily (1h, 50$). Old, packed buses leave around the clock (13h, 1500 tenge).
Getting around Almaty
The Onay Card is Almaty’s transport ticket. It is sold at kiosks or metro stations for 400 tenge. You get 1 free ride for your 400 tenge. You then need to charge the card at a Qiwi payment terminal, online or via the Onay app. You can sell the card back at the train station.
Be aware that it takes 15 minutes for your card to recharge, and that you cannot beep in someone else on the same card if you are 2 on the bus. The card is only valid in Almaty and can be used on the metro and the bus. You can still pay cash, or on the bus, by sms.
Almaty’s metro is shiny and clean, but limited to 1 east-west line under central Abay and Dostyk avenues. It is a quick way to get around the city if your destination is close to a stop. Fare price is 80 tenge. The metro runs from 6.30am to 11.30pm, roughly every 10 minutes.
There is also a poor timetable app (android only). Foreigners have been known to get hassled by underemployed security personnel asking for identification, so bring your passport or ID just in case.
Buses in Almaty are big city buses, not cramped marshrutkas like in Bishkek. They are very full in peak times though, from 8-10am and 5-7pm on weekdays. Traffic jams are a big issue. Buses drive from 6am to 9pm, except for 1 night route to the airport.
The price is 150 tenge for a ride if you pay directly to the bus driver, and 80 tenge if you pay by Onay Card or sms. To find routes, try the following: Wikiroutes (apps available), Citybus.kz (Android-app only, Russian-only).
Taxi and ride-hailing apps
3 options exist. First, gipsy cabs: just stand by the side of the road and extend your hand, a car will stop within a few seconds. Prices are low with these inofficial taxis, ranging from 1 to 3 USD for a ride, depending on your destination.
Second option: ride-hailing apps. These will be a bit more expensive and slower than the gipsy cab. Try Uber, Yandex Taxi or Indriver.
If you want to rent a car, go over the conditions carefully before you sign on the dotted line. Most rental companies have strict guidelines about how far you can take a car outside of Almaty and how many kilometers you can drive a day without paying a surcharge. Keep this in mind if you want to go to places like Altyn Emel or Kolsai – most cars are equipped with gps trackers, so they will find out where you were.
Cycle paths exist, but they are not ubiquitous. Bike sharing stations are dotted around Almaty. You can register online and pay by credit card and sms. It’s cheap to ride – free even if you dock in less than 30 minutes – but you need to pay a 37500 tenge deposit before you can start.
There is no dockless bike sharing yet. All bike-sharing info on the Almatybike website.
To rent, buy or repair a bicycle, see Cycling in Kazakhstan, where you can also find more information on good routes starting from Almaty.
Have a nice ride!