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Planning Your Trip

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At the threshold of East and West, Kazakhstan often surprises visitors with its diverse geography, which includes deserts, steppes, mountains, lakes and the sea. Almaty, the vibrant former capital, brims with just as much natural beauty — as well as sophisticated dining, rich cultural attractions and buzzing nightlife.

Ritz Carlton Hotel image
Ritz Carlton Hotel image
What To Pack

Save room in your suitcase for a local memento or special gift. Oner, Almaty’s only art gallery shop and conveniently on Shevchenko Street in central Almaty, is a fine place to discover an only-in-Kazakhstan treasure. Its staff selects the work of local artists who combine tradition with a modern perspective, for a unique assortment of paintings, drawings, sculptures and decorative arts, as well as traditional Kazakh souvenirs made from felt, leather and ceramics. English-speaking associates are available.

Business Travel

A business trip to Almaty is a wonderful opportunity to mix some sightseeing and cultural adventure into the workday. Pack to maximize your luggage allowance and your valuable time.


  • In Almaty, summers are hot and winters are cold, but spring and fall can be unpredictable. Bring lightweight, compact layers to prepare for any weather.

  • Pack versatile pieces that can go from office to dinner with ease — a blue suit, white shirt and brown or black shoes for men; a blazer, a couple of dresses and comfortable shoes for women. Pack sneakers and activewear to work out and to explore the outdoors.

  • Kazakhstan uses plug types C and F. Travelers from many countries, including much of the Americas, should bring a travel adapter to power their devices.
Winter Vacation

Winter in Almaty is cold, no doubt about it. But it’s also the premier time to enjoy Central Asia’s best skiing, at Shymbulak, the ice-skating at Medeu rink and the invigorating Alpine air.


  • You’ll want skiing or snowboarding equipment to explore Shymbulak Ski Resort, the area’s premier ski destination, in the breathtaking Tian Shan mountain range. If you don’t have your own, the hotel’s Ski Butler can customize and arrange rentals, recommend the best spots and even join you on the slopes.

  • Dress very warmly for winter mountain sports — it’s even colder in the mountains than in Almaty, and you’ll be closer to the sun, so don’t forget to bring sunscreen and polarized sunglasses.

  • Even if you’ll be relaxing indoors for most of your trip, be sure to take along warm clothes. Your warmest coat, boots, hat and gloves will keep you toasty and ready for a magical winter experience.
Outdoor Adventure

Aside from its thrilling winter sports, the best of Almaty’s outdoor attractions come alive in spring, summer and fall. Here’s what to bring with you.


  • Pack comfortable, active-appropriate layers ready to wear on long strolls as you admire the architectural highlights and green spaces of the “city of gardens” — and its sometimes unpredictable weather.

  • Bring a trusted pair of hiking boots to explore the mountains in any season.

  • Wear sturdy shoes and plenty of sunscreen to visit the famous “singing barkhans” — sand dunes that emit an organ-like sound in dry weather — and colorful mountains at Altyn-Emel National Park.
A row of glasses, filled with fruit cocktails and custard, overlooking snow-capped mountains
A row of glasses, filled with fruit cocktails and custard, overlooking snow-capped mountains
What To Reserve

Kazakhstan is more than twice the size of the other Central Asian states combined. Its lively former capital, Almaty, is the ideal entry point to a Silk Road adventure. From dining and culture to ecotourism, here’s what not to miss.

World-class skiing brings many travelers to Almaty. The season runs from December through March, and abundant sunshine makes for delightful days on the slopes. There are many small ski resorts in the area, but Shymbulak is the largest and most modern, with instructors and slopes for all skill levels. Experienced skiers might choose to reserve a guide instructor to explore the uncharted, yet safe, backcountry routes. For the ultimate adventure, heli-skiers can reserve a helicopter ride from Shymbulak to Pik Talgar, the highest point of the Tian Shan, to experience untouched routes.

Cosmopolitan Almaty also brims with natural beauty. Kazakhstan’s diverse geography lends itself to unique nature-based activities like bird-watching, skiing, hiking, watersports and swimming. Nearby natural wonders include Charyn Canyon, called the Grand Canyon’s younger brother, the singing sand dunes in the steppes of Altyn-Emel National Park; and stunning mountain lakes and plateaus. In winter, do not miss ice-skating at the legendary Medeu Sports Complex, home to the world’s highest open-air ice rink, cradled in the majestic Tian Shan mountains. Your concierge can arrange a day trip to any one of these signature landmarks.

In Kazakh culture, no meal is complete without tea. It is also a central component of the country’s renowned hospitality. Anytime you visit a Kazakh house, even for a moment, expect to be presented with a fragrant cup of tea and assorted sweets. The traditional Kazakh tea ceremony is accompanied by local desserts such as baursak and zhent, and irimzhik cheese. Immerse yourself in Nomadic culture by reserving a traditional afternoon tea ceremony at Sky Lounge and Bar, overlooking the buzzing city and majestic mountains, at The Ritz-Carlton, Almaty.

The ideal Almaty stay includes a luxurious taste of Central Asia’s esteemed beauty traditions. Six Senses Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Almaty is the highest spa in the city, offering breathtaking views of Almaty and the Tian Shan mountains as you enjoy personalized treatments and a one-of-a-kind escape. Unwind after a long-haul flight or a day on the slopes with a signature hammam massage, a soothing spell in the sauna or an array of face and body treatments designed to tone, firm, lift and beautify. Reserve an appointment with our expert therapists, who can customize the ideal spa experience for you.

Ritz Carlton Hotel image
Ritz Carlton Hotel image
Things To Do in Almaty

Put It in Park. Almaty’s 44-acre Panfilov Park offers an abundance of historic sites that pay homage to Kazakhstan’s heroes and heritage. Start at Ascension Cathedral, the ornate, tsarist-era church that’s one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world, and then wander through the Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments, which contains exhibits and information about more than 50 different native instruments. And don’t miss the memorial statues in honor of the “Panfilov Heroes” and the soldiers of other military conflicts.


Enjoy Really Local Produce. The apple genome has been traced to groves outside Almaty, now recognized as the origin of all apples throughout the world. Wild apple forests still thrive in protected areas of nearby Ile-Alatau National Park, but you also can find apples aplenty throughout town — including at the Green Bazaar, a two-story food emporium that also sells fresh and dried fruits and exotic meats. 

Discover Your New Candy Crush. For more sweet souvenirs, stop by the Rakhat Chocolate Factory, a Kazakh confectioner that has been in business for more than 70 years.


Make an Alpine Getaway. Big Almaty Lake provides the city’s water supply and is a source of hydroelectric power, so visitors to Ile-Alatau National Park are able to appreciate the lake’s splendor only from afar, not its actual shores. Its backdrop includes three stunning peaks of the Tien Shan range that create picture-perfect reflections on the lake’s water, which changes from turquoise to ice-covered midnight, depending on the time of year.


Hit a High Note. The troupes at Abay State Opera & Ballet Theatre perform several shows a week, interspersing international classics such as “Swan Lake” and “Carmen” with modern dance performances and operas written by Kazakh composers in the late 1990s.

Catch Up on Current Affairs. Almaty has more than 100 fountains scattered throughout the city, and one of the most elaborate is even more fascinating when the lights turn on after sundown. The Oriental Calendar Fountain features carved sculptures of the 12 animals in the Kazakh zodiac.


Grab a Gondola (or Three). Medeu, the world’s highest ice-skating rink, is a destination in its own right each winter, but today you’re headed to even greater heights. Three sequential aerial gondola rides will deposit you first at the base of Shymbulak ski resort, then up to its summit more than 10,000 feet above sea level. The eight-piste Shymbulak is a major destination in winter, of course — Prince Harry was a guest in March 2014 — but the summer views of the Kazakh steppe and Zailiyskiy Alatau mountain range from the Medeu Valley are just as breathtaking.


Body Work. The elaborate bathing complex at Arasan Wellness & Spa includes a Finnish sauna, a marble Turkish hammam and even a Russian parilka steam room, complete with switches to provide the light lashings meant to increase circulation. If you prefer your experiences more spa than spartan, recharge your human batteries at Six Senses Spa Almaty — first with a signature massage, then by settling into one of the relaxation pods designed to enhance the post-treatment renewal process.


Meet the Golden Warriors. A national emblem of Kazakhstan is the representation of a Scythian warrior, after the remains of a young man in an elaborate conical headdress and lavishly gilded garments were uncovered in the late 1960s along with more than 4,000 gold objects he was buried with. A representation of “Golden Warrior”-era finery is on display at Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, while a statue of the man honoring the man himself stands high atop the Monument of Independence in Republic Square.


Go Out on Top. One last gondola carries you up to Kok Tobe (translation: green hill), the highest park in the city. Drop a coin in the apple-shaped granite fountain and grab a shot with the life-sized statue of the Beatles before heading to Abay Restaurant, where you’ll dine on elegantly presented cuisine in a bright, spacious room inspired by the yurts that Kazakh nomads once called home.


A Monumental Visit. After breakfast at one of Almaty’s sidewalk cafés, stroll through the 44-acre Panfilov Park. Statues here honor the “Panfilov Heroes,” local members of an infantry troop who died defending a Russian village from German tanks during World War II, as well as the soldiers of other military conflicts and former Soviet republics.

Board Certified. Tread the boards of Ascension Cathedral, the beautifully ornate tsarist-era church in Panfilov Park. One of the tallest wooden buildings in the world, the bright yellow cathedral, which was consecrated in 1907, survived both the 1911 Kebin earthquake and the Communist era and returned to its Russian Orthodox roots only in the late 1990s, after the fall of the USSR.

Instrumental Success. The wooden building in Panfilov Park that now houses the Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments was built the same year as Ascension Cathedral — as a military officer’s club. Today’s visitors can examine displays about more than 50 different Kazakh instruments, including the stringed kobyz, the fretted-lute dombra and the sybyzgy flute.


Go Green. Almaty’s Silk Road past has been reincarnated for a new millennium at the Green Bazaar, a two-story food emporium where vendors sell everything from native apples — the fruit is believed to have originated in the area — to sweets and exotic meats based on Kazakhstan’s nomadic past. For lunch, safe eaters can opt for plov — a simple but tasty combination of rice, carrots and meat — while the adventurous can sample horsemeat sausage, a local delicacy.

Heighten the Experience. A gondola whisks you from downtown Almaty to Kok Tobe, the mountain park that’s the highest point in the city. You’ll find not just panoramic views but also an amusement park, an art gallery, an apple-shaped fountain, a bronze statue of the Beatles, and Almaty Tower, the landmark TV spire.

Artistic Immersion. The permanent collections at the A. Kasteyev Museum of Arts include decorative, applied and fine arts from Kazakh artists; classic Russian, Western European and Asian arts; and contemporary art from around the world. The national museum, named for Soviet-era painter Abylkhan Kastayev, also hosts as many as 80 exhibitions a year, featuring national and international artists in all media.


It’s Hip To Be Square. Republic Square, once the political center of Kazakhstan, is still surrounded by imposing government buildings such as the former presidential palace (now city offices) and remains a popular park area with a series of fountains and walking paths. The glittering glass domes you’ll see are skylights for the 500,000-square-foot Almaty underground shopping mall.

See History in the Making. “The Golden Man” or “Golden Warrior,” a figure dressed in the ornately gilded garments of a young Scythian who lived in fourth or fifth century B.C., is a national symbol of Kazakhstan, and an example of his typical finery greets visitors in the lobby of the Central State Museum, one of the largest museums in Central Asia. The museum explores Kazakhstan’s past — the paleontology collection includes trilobite imprints from creatures that lived 420 million years ago — as well as its more recent metamorphosis into an independent republic.

Press Your Luck. Luck. Another replica of the Golden Warrior stands atop the 91-foot Monument of Independence at the center of Republic Square. (Legend has it that touching the monument brings good luck — but only once, so don’t get greedy.)


It’s Showtime! Find your seats for tonight’s performance at Abay State Opera & Ballet Theatre. Its repertoire includes international staples such as “Madam Butterfly,” “Rigoletto” and “Carmen,” and the venue also hosts Kazakh operas such as “Abay” and “Abylai Khan” and modern dance performances.

The Steaks Are High. The sleek, chic LT Bar & Grill is the culinary crown atop the glittering Esentai Tower, a 37-story building that’s also home to The Ritz-Carlton, Almaty. The signature steaks, seafood and sushi of Chef Laurent Tourondel — Bon Appétit’s Restaurateur of the year in 2007 — are all in plentiful supply at this chophouse and bar.