Living in Almaty as a Digital Nomad — Andy Sto

Almaty is an attractive city for digital nomads offering natural landmarks, strong internet connection, various foods and affordable accommodation and services. It is surrounded by the Northern Gorge of Tien-Shan Mountains making it a perfect destination for those who like hiking and other mountain activities such as skiing, snowboarding and ice skating. There are 10 ski resorts around the city. Almaty is located in Kazakhstan, Central Asia. It is not the capital but yet the largest city of the country. This article is dedicated to helping you be a digital nomad in Almaty.

You can reach Almaty by direct flight from Europe, or through Kazakhstan’s capital — Nur-Soultan (former Astana). There are several domestic flights, trains and buses. We will leave the links below for the most popular domestic airlines:

What to see in Almaty?

Natural landmarks around Almaty

Ice Rink Medeu and Shymbulak Ski resort

It is due to the high attitude that helps keeps the temperature cool and the pure mountain water that make the ice smooth and nice. You can reach the ice rink by bus number 12 (150 kzt) or by taxi (1500 kzt) and it takes approximately 15 min.

Medeu is a popular leisure place among locals. From October until April they go for ice skating and during the other months the rink is open for rollers and skaters. Moreover, there are cafes and restaurants to enjoy a good time with mountain breeze. Also, it is a starting point for many hiking paths. Many people exercise on Medeu stairs which lead to the view point. There are buses and funiculars (1500 kzt) to Shymbulak ski resort. The road between Medeu and Shymbulak is also popular among bikers and hikers. On the way from Medeu to Shymbulak there is a natural spa which is open during the whole year and is free of charge. More information about Medeu is available on their website.

Shymbulak ski resort is open during the whole year. Ski season starts between 1–16 thof November and ends between 1–15 April depending on the weather conditions. It has 6 slopes for different levels with ski suits and gears available for rent. You can also book an instructor. We recommend you book in advance in a case you want to catch a good English speaking trainer. There is also a rope park and balloon riding for kids, cafes, restaurants, hotels and hostels. You can find more information on their website.

Big Almaty Lake

Cosmo station

Charyn Canyon

Kaindy, Kolsay and Issyk lakes

Kolsays lakes contains three lakes in total. It worth renting a house or camping to explore all of them with no rush. But it is also possible to go through all of them in a single day trip.

Not far from Kolsay lakes there is another unique lake with a three birch bottom — Kaindy lake. This is a must see, unusual experience. The lake was formed in the canyon during the Keminski Earthquake in 1911. The main attractions of the lake are the Tianshan spruces coming out right from the lake. Therefore, many divers go there despite the cold temperature of the water. There is no direct public transport. You will need to rent 4WD car (20 eur per day) or book a trip with a guide or agency (approximately 50 eur for 2 days trip).

Tamgaly & Tambaly

There is another similar place but with a totally different history root. To the East from Almaty along the Ili river is a place called Tamgaly and there you will find Tibetan petroglyphs. Tibetans had their station as the Silk Road passed through the territory of Kazakhstan. It probably isn’t worth going there (unlike Tanbaly) because this place has only Rock. However, there are several activities like rafting championship and camp party festivals etc. Unfortunately there is no website with details about events. You will need to check it out with local hikers or travel agencies.

Singing Dunes

There is no public transport going there. You can a rent a car but a better idea is to hire a guide to find it (tours available from 30 eur depends on what is included in the package)

Butakovskiy and Crystal waterfall

In winter it is called Crystal waterfall as it turns into a giant volume crystal and looks astonishing.

In the city

Kok-Tobe park

Central Park

Orthodox Church

Central Museum

Geological museum

Botanical garden

Folk Museum

Main squares

The Republic square is the size of two football fields. It is surrounded by Akimat (city hall) which used to serve as the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Another important object of the square is the Monument of Independence. It represents the history of Kazakhstan, each stage can be found on the semi-circle behind Stella. Stella itself is a Golden man on Bars (snow leopard) — endemic of Kazakhstan.

Astana square had been a main square of the city for over 70 years until they built a new bigger Republic square. However, it still plays significant role with many public events and concerts held there. It is surrounded by Manshuk Mametova park and the Ex Parliament building (currently Kazakh-British university) .

There are also two large pedestrian areas: Arbat and Panfilov street.

First President’s Park

Communication

Map

https://info.2gis.com/

We recommend you get a local sim card upon arrival. It is very affordable in Kazakhstan and you can get nice packages for less than 10 eur with unlimited calls, messages and internet. All operators are more or less the same. The exception is probably Kcell, which is slightly more expensive than the rest but the quality isn’t noticeably better. According to the locals the best providers are Beeline and Tele2.

Language

Service

The cost of living in Almaty

Accommodation

Apartments are available from 25 eur per night. Long term contracts will make between 500 and 2000 eur per month for 1–2 bedrooms apartment depending on the conditions. Apart from well known platforms such as airnbnb and booking, you can also check local sources: https://krisha.kz/ and https://www.olx.kz/ Unfortunately, they are available only in Russian for the moment.

Hostels are available from 5 eur per night. There aren’t too many options however. Also, co-living culture is raising the city with monthly fees from 250 eur.

Food and beverage

Obviously, it will depend on your tastes but here is the average range per person for 2 course meal+non alcoholic drink:

  • restaurants -25 eur,
  • cafes — 15 eur,
  • canteens — 4–8 eur

Some posh areas in the city may charge higher prices but living on a low budget is completely possible when it comes to food costs.

Average prices for alcohol in bars and restaurants are the following:

Home cooking is a great option. Bazaars & supermarkets offer fresh fruits, vegetables and meat which will help keep your expenses on an appropriate level and stay healthy. Summer is the best season because everything is rather cheap and fresh. Many restaurants and cafes have menus on their websites so you can check the price beforehand.

Websites and Apps for Food delivery

Traditional food

Places to taste traditional meals

Restaurants like Zheti Kazyna, Navat, Jeryuk, Rumi, Kishlak, Tubetyeka will serve you a 2 course meal for around 10 eur per person.

Here is the sample of a menu for your overview https://plov.kz/ru/almaty

Also, there are many canteens where you can have a 2 course meal for 2 eur. Kaganat, Darstarkhan, Tagam, Lanzhou, Uzbechka, Shafran. For example, Kaganat canteen chain is quite popular in Almaty. It works 24/7 (except for a break between 5 and 6 am) and provides tasty, simple food with reasonable prices.

Talking about street food we would suggest you try samsa (20 euro cents). It is a pastry with various fillings like cheese, chicken and meat.

The second street food is a wrap with meat and vegetables similar to Turkish doner or greek gyros (1 eur).

Special food

Transport

Public transport is not well developed but in a case of centrally located accommodation it can be convenient. In the metro you can pay by card, coins, cash or use paypass to go through the tournikets (80 kzt per ride, approx, 0,15 eurocents). A monthly public transport pass is 15 eur. There are buses, trolleybuses and metro as means of transportation.

There are also intercity lines to connect with smaller cities/villages. However, it is not easy to check the schedule and rely on accuracy, therefore many locals and tourists stick to Taxi Apps.

Almaty is a nice place to walk especially in the old center of the city.

Transport to other cities of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has improved the train network and the stations, allowing visitors to visit all major cities effortlessly. The tickets can be purchased online via the monopolist railway company. Also, domestic flight are available (see the links above).

Visas

Currently the borders are closed due to the Pandemic. Only people with business, medical and diplomatic purposes are allowed. In case you don’t qualify for these, we researched a way to get in. You can apply for a Russian or Kazakh language school. The average price is about 1000 eur for ten months which is 2 semesters and about 300 hours per semester. Here are the list of schools that provides such courses with visa/invitation sponsorship:

Locals

Kazakhstan belong to CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States or Post Soviet countries) which defines the typical mentality. It is less noticeable in Almaty as it the fastest developing city among other post soviet cities. However, the common features are the following: focus on making a family before a certain age, respect and care to elder adults (low amount of pensions), narrower understanding of privacy and space, women will expect you to pay the bill at restaurant.

Service

Money/exchange

The national currency is the tenge KZT and at the moment 1 eur equals about 500 tenge

Wi-Fi

Co-workings

List of travel agencies to book your safe trips and hiking

Pros and Cons living in Almaty

Advantages

Food variety. Sometimes when digital nomads are traveling to a new destination similar food can be annoying, although they are tasty. This is the definite advantage of Almaty. You will find everything here: central Asian, Chinese, European, American, Korean etc.

Prices. Average cost of living in Almaty should not be more than 1000 eur. Obviously it will depend on how you set up your routine. Nevertheless, considering living in central located 1 bedroom flat, eating out 3–4 times a week, going out on weekends, doing some sport and mountain activities can cost you this amount.

Internet connection is a crucial point when making a decision about a destination for digital nomads. As described above, there is no problem with good speed connections in Almaty.

Entertainment. Apart from mountain activities, there are plenty of other activities for a very affordable price: bowling, karaoke, cinema, theatres, concerts, escape rooms etc.

Safety. It is relatively safe in the city. You don’t have to worry about your bags while using public transport or taxi’s when receiving change. However, it can be dangerous regarding gay tolerance issues. We will give more details in the section below.

Disadvantages

Pollution: The city has a good mountain breeze at the South part of the city. Due to lack of public transport locals use cars and taxis that produce a lot of smog. On top of that the city is located in the valley surrounded by mountains, which keeps the smog inside the circle. The smog concentration is under 60 AQI (air condition index) which is still in healthy norms. However, we do not recommend you to stay at lower parts of the city.

Language. Even though most of the city signs are available in three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English and all three languages considered to have an official status in the country. Many people don’t speak good English, except the young generation. Many websites are available only in Russian, considering that small businesses use Instagram instead as a channel for their sales, therefore it is not convenient even to translate.

People. Although locals are very friendly and welcoming and they will make you speak Russian in less than three months there is an obstacle to make friends among locals. Due to the economical situation in the country most of them run business among their full time job or work in two or more places. Also, they don’t have much travels experience and that can be tricky to discuss at some point.

Poor expat community. There are expats in Almaty. However, the community is not big enough to make friends from the circle of people with the same values.

Tolerance. Local community is not tolerant and inclusive regarding LGBT and same sex marriage even though it is not against the law in Kazakhstan. They are tolerant to all types of nations and races, expect when afro Americans are dating Kazakh women.

Also Almaty is not friendly for people with special diet. There is lack of choice for vegans/vegetarians and those who seek for gluten/sugar free food.

Other things to see in Almaty.

Arts and Culture

Hidden gems of Almaty

University campus with outstanding mountain view. It has more than 30 000 inhabitants, 3 tennis courts, football fields, nice green areas for a walk and tasty canteens at a very affordable price.

Not far from Shymbulak ski resort, in about minutes walk there is a park with memorial for Alpinists who left their lives in the mountains. Each of them has a unique story, that helps to discover more about local mentality and spirit. The place is open and free of charge.

Ice rink Medeu is a popular leisure place for locals and tourists, however, not many people know about underground Church just below. If you are lucky to meet a priest there, you will be entrained by the history of such a unique place. Accessible by public transport (bus #12) or by taxi (around 3 eur).

Central Asia is a country of nomads. They always kept moving and lived in portable houses — yurts. Therefore, it might be surprising to see a stoned castle that reminds you of a medieval European fortress. The secret behind it is a romantic Kazakh man promised a castle to his girlfriend and he made it himself by carrying the stones from the mountains around. Only a few people know about the place. The ones who know use for their photo/video content. The place is free of charge.

In a case you want to visit a real central Asian castle there is one 40 km from the city. It is a historical town which was built for movies. It is currently used as a place for photo/video content. It is a good place to feel the spirit of medieval Central Asia. There are also traditional clothes and other requisites for photo/video shooting. There is no public transport going there. You’ll need to hire a car or join a group planning to shoot there.

Conclusion

Originally published at https://andysto.com on October 10, 2021.

Digital Nomad focused in #remotework and #digitalnomadism