The Big Almaty Lake. How and when to get there. Kazakhstan
One of the most pleasant places to spend your free days is the Big Almaty Lake, located in the Ile-Alatau National Park, about 27 km in the South of Almaty. Created by perennial ice, the lake has a length of about 1.6 km and a maximum depth of 40 meters. Its crystalline waters change color depending on the mood of the sky, becoming turquoise at the end of summer when the glaciers reach their maximum degree of dissolution.
The basin is 2511 meters high and is surrounded by magnificent reliefs adorned with conifer woods and perennial snows on the peaks. From its banks it is possible to admire the Sovetov peak of 4317 meters in the South-East, the Ozyomy peak of 4110 meters in the South and the Turist peak of 3954 meters in the South-West, all part of the Trans Ily Alatau mountain range.
It is not recommended to practice climbing around the lake for two main reasons. First the walls are extremely slippery due to the mud. Second reason is that you are on the border with Kyrgyzstan, terefore you are not allowed to walk without permission in most parts of the Park. Not only that: the shores of the lake are off-limits! Customs officers patrol the coast continuously and stop any attempt to descend. So it is appropriate to have a passport with you.
However, there are practicable paths on the North side, with outlets on green slopes where locals use to come and rest after a picnic with a view on the clear waters of the lake.
Continuing along the asphalt road, you can reach the Tien Shan Astronomical Observatory after about 2 km, at a height of 2700 meters. Walking for another 8 km, about 3300 meters above sea level, you will find the Cosmic Ray Research Center, near the Zhosylkezen Pass.
How and when to reach the Big Almaty Lake
There are organized tours that start from the center of Almaty, but if you have little time I suggest to organize by yourself the trip during the week. At the intersection of Al Farabi and the Dulati roads, where the entrance to the President’s Park is located, many taxi drivers are waiting to take you to the Big Almaty Lake. They often have cars with 6-8 seats, prepared even for larger groups. The cost is 2000 tenge per person. The downside of the coin is that they generally allow the stop at the Lake for just an hour; in order to have time for other possible customers.
Another variant is to take the city bus number 28 at the same point, whose last stop is inside the Park. However from the terminus to the lake the distance is 16 km and I do not suggest to walk until the top; both for the distance, both because the walk on the asphalt road is not very pleasant. You can try to stop the cars along the road for a paid ride; but it is very difficult to make them stop. Time ago there was a taxi driver at the beginning of the Park, but he disappeared.
There is also the possibility to ask the driver to leave you at the base of the water pipe to Almaty. In fact, a hydroelectric system starts from the lake, which ensures water to the city. The climb next to the pipes, known by the locals, is rather steep; but it allows you to save a lot of time (about two hours to reach the goal).
The road that leads to the Great Lake of Almaty is hardly practicable from November to early April depending on the amount of snowfall.
Others point of interest on the Road to The Lake
From the Valley of the Bears there is a very pleasant path, (here is the link), where you can do trekking next to the murmur of small waterfalls. Before the Valley, you can observe how the locals stop with their big SUVs to have picnics in the open air with the family.
Just before the path described, there is a restaurant equipped with several yurts, where you can dine. It is not my intention to do advertising at the restaurant; I want to describe a possibly interesting place for travelers; either because drinking a hot tea in a traditional yurt furnished in all details is an experience not to be missed, both because the owners are extremely kind. In the courtyard was also planted the typical Kazakh swing used during the Nauryz, for the joy of young and old.
Last interesting note is that along the road, at the entrance of the park, you can find some little markets where you can buy fresh milk of goat, honey and the salty balls of local cheese, the kurt.