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  • Overview

    Set against the snow-capped mountains of the Zailiysky Alatau on the southern border of Kazakhstan, the cosmopolitan city of Almaty is home to roughly 1.5 million people, and is the symbol of Kazakh prosperity. Almaty is a key centre of commerce for Central Asia, and its wealth is evident in the 24-hour supermarkets, fine restaurants, bustling nightlife, and brand-new ski resorts.

    Central Almaty is an attractive, leafy city, with a large concentration of shops and restaurants, and some beautiful parks. Many visit the Presidential Palace and the National Museum, and see the colourful Zenkov Cathedral at Panfilov Park. Most upscale shops are imitations of Western stores (with similar prices), but visitors will find bargains and a lively atmosphere at outdoor bazaars like Barakholka and the Green Market.

    Almaty is best-known to tourists as a winter sport paradise. Excellent ski resorts like Chimbulak, Ak-Bulak, and Tabagan are located nearby, and activities like skiing, snowboarding, heli-skiing, and ice skating are popular pastimes. The Arasan Sauna Centre is a fun place to be in cold weather as well, and the saunas are filled with local holidaymakers.

    The mountain range offers year-round activities, so there's always something to do in Almaty. Travellers can go horseback riding at the stunning Kolsai Lakes, take the cable car up Koek Toebe to the amusement park at the top, swim in the enormous pools at the Eight Lakes Park Resort, go hiking in the red and orange Charyn Canyon, or take a picnic to the famous Tamgaly Petroglyphs.

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    Almaty has a humid continental climate with hot summers and no dry season. The temperature typically varies from 9°F (-13°C) lows in the winter (December to February) to 88°F (31°C) highs in the summer (June to August) and is rarely below -6°F (-21°C) or above 95°F (35°C). July to September are the hottest and driest months, while November to March can be quite cold. Spring (March to June) experiences the most rainfall, with nearly 10 wet days per month. Almaty's proximity to the mountain ski resorts make it a year-round destination, with plenty to do no matter when you visit.

    Almaty International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated 10 miles (16km) north of the city centre.
    Time: GMT +6.
    Getting to the city: Local buses run regularly from the airport terminal to the city, as do taxis, and private car hire is available at the airport.
    Car Rental: Avis provide rental services at Almaty Airport.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis are easily available at the airport. Remember that, because not all taxis have meters it is wise to agree on a fee upfront, or book with one of the popular companies beforehand.
    Fascilities: Facilities include bureaux de change, cafeterias, bars, duty-free shopping and an information desk, as well as a chemist at the departures terminal.
    Parking There are parking facilities available at hourly rates and the first 15 minutes are free.
    Website: www.alaport.com

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    Almaty is served by a network of buses and trams, which charge a flat fare no matter the distance. These can get crowded though, and are impractical with baggage. There is also a limited Metro service with a single line stopping at Moscow, Sairan, Alatau, Auezov Drama Theatre, Baikonur, Abay, Almaty, Zhibek Zholy, and Raiymbek batyr. Additional lines are under construction.

    The quickest and most direct way to get anywhere is by taxi. These can be booked in advance, and the fare negotiated before setting off. There is a more unofficial kind of shared taxi that can be hailed on the street; however these are run with little rhyme or reason and can be confusing to travellers. Almaty is laid out in an easily navigable grid pattern, so walking can be a simple way of getting around as well.

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