Kazakhstan – Borat, bride-napping and yurts. Think again. Almaty is cool. And in this YPT first, we’re going to show you the finer side of the Central Asian crown, this modern hip city. Almaty, which means the “Father of Apples” has moved beyond their simple culinary beginnings to be the home of a multi-ethnic, multi-cuisine, food-lover’s paradise. In this tour, we’ll show you wineries, breweries and even a distillery. You’ll learn how to make khachapuris, plov and lots of other classics that you might never have heard of. We’ll visit local Georgian, Korean and Uzbek restaurants, and get to try some of the sexiest Central Asia food available at the restaurant, Vechnoe Nebo.
As well as all the culinary delights, we’ll also take a tour to Charyn Canyon, a spectacular drive out of Almaty and a chance to witness some of Kazakhstan’ bizarre and unique landscapes. And of course it wouldn’t be a YPT tour without seeing some of the Soviet heritage of the city, so we’ll visit abandoned Lenin and Kalinin statues, some awesome Soviet buildings, and the Panfilov Statue – one of our favourite Soviet war memorials.
Arrive at Almaty International Airport, where you’ll be met by your YPT guide. If you’d like to arrive a day or two before the tour to spend some extra time in Almaty, let us know and we can help you make some plans.
Take a driving tour of Kazakhstan’s former capital and Central Asia’s most cosmopolitan city.
We’ll start with visiting Panfilov Park, named after the 28 Panfilov Guardsmen from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, who are the heroes of one of the Soviet Union’s many battle stories, and died during the Battle of Moscow in 1941.
Within the park you’ll see Zenkov Cathedral, a Russian Othodox Church which happens to be the largest wooden structure in the world constructed with only joins, and no nails.
You’ll see the war memorial to the 28 Guardsmen, a huge and very Soviet monument depicting the guards striding forward and breaking through the walls of oppression.
Scattered throughout the park are several Soviet war monuments, including one to the Afghan war, one to medics in WWII and of course an eternal flame.
Just a few minutes walk from the park is the Green Bazaar, or Zelyony Bazar in Russian, the main central market of Almaty. The meat section might be confronting for some with literally every part of a cow, sheep and horse dangling in view, but the colourful nuts and fruits section is fun for everyone.
As we drive around, we’ll pass Old Square and Republic Square, the two places where the Kazakh Parliament used to take place before moving to Astana in 1997.
Take a ride on the Almaty metro. One of only two metros in Central Asia (the other being in Tashkent), it has only nine stations, so is largely useless to the majority of people. However, like many metros in the former Soviet world, the stations themselves are ornately decorated, sparkling clean, and well worth a look.
If there’s time, we’ll take a walk down the recently renovated pedestrian street – Panfilov Street. Starting at one of the iconic landmarks of the city, the Opera and Ballet theatre, we’ll meander down Panfilov Street, past some brilliant Soviet buildings such as the Almaty hotel, Zhurgenov Kazakh National Academy of Arts, Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of the oldest jewellery stores Kazakhyuvelir, just to name a few.
During the renovation of Panfilov Street in 2017, the old paving stone was revealed underneath the tarmac. It turned out that the old pavement was built in the 1930s, and it was buried underneath the tarmac in the 1960s. The city administration decided to preserve a small piece of this historic pavement which we love, so there’s a section of the original cobblestones visible underneath a sheet of protective glass.
Driving out to the suburbs of Almaty, we’ll make a stop that isn’t on other tour itineraries, and in fact most people in Almaty aren’t even aware of this gem of Soviet history. Hidden in amongst medium density housing, there’s a park which is now home to all the unwanted Soviet statues that were moved from their original places throughout the city, and dumped unceremoniously here. Our favourite is the giant Lenin which used to be in Old Square, removed from his plinth and just standing flat on the ground with no sign or plaque to be seen.
Dinner at Vechnoe Nebo (Eternal Sky), a great place to experience some modern fusion twists on some Central Asian classics. If you haven’t tried horse before, but are game to, this is a great restaurant to have your first try at.
Day 2 Monday September 10th
Leaving Almaty we’ll visit Arba Winery in the Assa Valley, surrounded by the beautiful Tian-Shan mountains, where we’ll have a winery tour, wine tastings and an open-air lunch.
Having been abandoned for 25 years during the end of the reign of the Soviet Union and the early years of independence (they had other things to worry about at the time!), the vineyards have since been revived back to their former glory.
They harvest several varieties of grape, but they also produce plenty of organic seasonal fruits and vegetables.
After lunch we’ll go up into the mountains to see the Golden Man. The Golden Man is a Kazakh legend and is revered as their national hero. In 1969 archaeologists found his grave, and inside were more than thousands of pieces of golden jewellery, footwear and headgear, gold rings, figurines and weapons, but possibly most intriguing is a silver bowl inscribed with 26 characters, which have still been unable to be deciphered. Now the artefacts are housed in the National Museum in Almaty, but there’s a huge and statue of the legendary figure, and several other open graves that we can have a look at.
On the way back to the city we’ll stop at an ostrich farm, a pretty unique farm home to more than 35 African ostriches.
This evening we’ll have dinner at Alasha, an Uzbek restaurant. Popular with locals, the building itself was based on Timurid architectural traditions and styles, and its bright blue domes can be spotted from a distance.
Day 3 Tuesday September 11th
We’ll start the day by cooking lunch for ourselves! At Almaty’s top cooking school, Compote, we’ll make ourselves a three course meal consisting of traditional local dishes, the names of which you probably won’t be able to pronounce. It won’t matter though once we all sit down to enjoy the results of our “hard” labour with a glass of local wine.
After enjoying our own hard work for lunch, we’ll leave Almaty again to visit Aul Resort, about 30km from the city.
Here we’ll spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the countryside, with all sorts of activities available. There’s a spa complex which has an indoor pool, three different types of sauna, a small gym, and a masseuse. There’s also a big pond where you can fish, and if you manage to catch anything, the kitchen can cook it for you. A brand new water park’s opening this summer for anyone who wants a bit more of a thrill, or you can go horse riding or hiking in the mountains.
In the evening we’ll have a traditional meal in one of the many restaurants – either a yurt, or open-air.
We’ll stay overnight here in yurts. But here we get the best of both worlds – the resort is very Kazakh themed, with most buildings being yurts, and traditional designs appearing all over the place. However, the yurts are all air-conditioned, with comfortable beds, televisions, internet and en-suite bathrooms. The perfect way to experience some traditional Kazakh culture!
Day 4 Wednesday September 12th
Leaving Almaty again, we’ll make the three hour drive to Charyn Canyon (sometimes written as Sharyn Canyon), which is approximately 150 km long, and, in places up to 300 meters deep.
One area of particular interest is a 2km stretch called the Valley of Castles, because of the dramatic pillars and imposing rock formations that have somehow formed to look almost man-made structures.
Returning to Almaty in the evening we’ll have dinner at the Russian restaurant Gosti (which translates to “guests”). The restaurant is decorated in the bohemian style of a Russian noble mansion of the early 20th century, specialises in high-quality modern Russian cuisine.
Whilst drinking black tea, brewed in a samovar, a traditional metal teapot, the guests can look around and admire the wide array of decorative items from rusty coal irons to second-hand ice skates.
Day 5 Thursday September 13th
Today our first visit will be to the Pivzavod Brewery. Founded in 1858 this brewery gave a start to the beer industry in Kazakhstan, and now its portfolio includes 16 beer brands.
We’ll take a tour of the brewery, learn about the history of the beer industry in Kazahstan, and of course get a tasting of some of the varieties.
After lunch we’ll go to the Bahus distillery. Founded in 1948 Bahus is one of the oldest companies in Kazakhstan. They were the pioneers of winemaking in Kazakhstan, they manufacture both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and are now the leader in producing cognacs and wines. We will of course take a factory tour with the unavoidable tasting of wine, cognac, and sparkling wines.
With ethnic Koreans making up quite a large part of the population it is only natural that a local variation on Korean cuisine has been developed over time, so for dinner we’ll visit one of the most popular Korean restaurants – Korean House.
Day 6 Friday September 14th
The Huns village is a step back in time, to the way nomads used to live. Here you’ll get the chance to experience and learn about the customs of nomads, their way of life, culture and traditions. You’ll be greeted and shown around by nomadic warriors, participate in traditional games, master the art of making traditional Kazakh baursaks (sourdough bread), and enjoy plov for lunch.
After lunch we’ll return to Almaty for a khachapuri cooking class hosted by an entertaining and eccentric Georgian chef called Gigi, the owner of the restaurant himself. As a bonus, he’ll even treat you to a shot of traditional Georgian chacha (sometimes called “vine vodka” or “grape vodka”, it’s basically the by-product of wine, similar to raki).
Gradually the class will transit into our farewell dinner.
Transfers to the airport according to your flight times.
If you would like to spend longer in Almaty, let us know and we can help you make your plans.
Transport according to the itinerary
Accommodation according to the itinerary at the Kazakhstan Hotel or similar in Almaty
English speaking guide
Entrance fees according to the itinerary
Breakfast at the hotel each day
Meals according to the itinerary
Visa or LOI for Kazakhstan (many nationalities no longer require this – if you do we will help you with this process)
Flights to and from Almaty
Meals other than those stipulated
Activities outside the itinerary
Other expenses such as drinks, souvenirs, etc.
Single supplement ($180 per extra room)
We have expert guides ready to help answer any questions you may have.