You can easily travel between Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek to Almaty, Kazakhstan in just 4-5 hours across very good roads for less than $10.
Why Travel from Bishkek to Almaty (or vice versa)?
- Bishkek offers access to incredible day hikes in Ala Archa National Park and is the gateway to beautiful Kyrgyzstan — one of the world’s great off-the-radar travel destinations.
- Almaty is a cosmopolitan city nestled at the base of some stunning mountains, with an incredible cafe culture (check out my list of the best cafes in Almaty) and vibrant social scene. Its airport is also the best gateway for any Silk Road adventure, with daily flights to Europe, the Middle East, and all around Asia.
- Both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are now visa-free for many nationalities!
Getting Transport from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Almaty, Kazakhstan
There are two main options for travel from Bishkek to Almaty: minibus or shared taxi.
1. The Bishkek-Almaty Minibus Option
Minibuses leave from the new Western Bus Station in Bishkek. Note that there are other stations in Bishkek for other destinations. Also, some information on the internet is outdated, so be sure to go here:
These minibuses leave when full or near-full and cost around 700 Som ($10). If you don’t speak or read Russian, keep an eye out for buses marked “Алматы.” The minibus is the more direct option, as it will drop you at the station in central Almaty.
2. The Bishkek to Almaty Shared Taxi Option
Second, you can also get between Bishkek and Almaty is by taking advantage of the local marshrutkas, which are shared taxis that ply the dusty roads all over Kyrgyzstan. These are parked along the road just to the east of the Western Bus Station. I took a marshrutka, but it required waiting almost an hour for it to fill up with three other passengers. Again, look for a driver or car with the sign “Алматы.” And if you are pressed for time or want a private car, you can always buy up the other seats so that the taxi leaves immediately.
The cost should also be around 700 Som. My driver talked (well, he spoke no English, so more like “hand-signaled”) me into paying 1000 Som for a “direct” transfer to my Almaty hostel, though it ended up not being so direct (see below) and I think I was taken for the extra 300 Som.
Make sure that your driver will go through to Almaty, and not just to the Kazakhstan border (though note that in a worse case scenario, if you get abandoned at the border, there are lots of marshrutkas waiting on the Kazakh side willing to take passengers on to Almaty).
Though it may take a bit longer than a minibus, the marshrutka trip can be an interesting cultural experience. The three Kyrgyz women sharing my car were going to Almaty to do some shopping and, though we each only spoke a dozen words of each other’s language, I greatly enjoyed the ride with them.
Crossing the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan Border
The border lies just 25 minutes north of Bishkek. You will be required to take your luggage with you. Your driver will go through the border separately and should meet you on the other side. Be sure you remember the car you are in (perhaps take a photo of the license plate), as there are a lot of similar looking cars waiting on the other side.
First, you must clear immigration on the Kyrgyzstan side — assuming you are a foreigner, go to the line on the left side. After getting your exit stamp, you will have to walk 200 meters over a bridge to Kazakhstan.
On the Kazakh side, you will need to get a small and very simple entry form from a guard (note that many of the people there are locals who will be skipping this step). Fill this out, then get in any of the lines for entry to Kazakhstan.
Since both countries are now visa free for US citizens, the process was very simple. I was across the border in under fifteen minutes.
Once you clear immigration, you’ll exit the other side of the bridge where you will likely be approached by many drivers look to sell onward rides. Ignore them and, if you do not yet see your driver, continue towards the gas station, where there is a small seating area for you to wait for your driver.
If you want to exchange money, there is a small exchange counter near the gas station.
Getting to Almaty
The onward drive to Almaty takes you through largely barren steppe, although there are some pretty windmills and views of the mountains along the way. After about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, you should arrive on the edges of Amalty, where traffic begins to get busy at rush hour.
If you have taken the minibus option, it should take you straight into the center, where you will be dropped off and can grab a taxi or Uber (very cheap and easy in Amalty) to your final destination.
If you have taken a marshrutka, it can get a bit tricky here. After dropping off my taxi-mates at a shopping center, my driver pulled over on the highway, grabbed my bag and told me to get out of the taxi. I was a little rattled when he pulled over a random car and told me to get in!
Thankfully, the driver of this car spoke some English and explained the situation: in Almaty it is very common for private cars to act as unofficial taxis. Rather than bear through the rough traffic to the city center (and back out on the way to Bishkek), many marshrutka drivers will just send you in one of these make-shift taxis.
My driver paid a few hundred Tenge ($.70) to the new driver, meaning I lost out on a couple dollars by paying for the “full transfer” to Almaty. The new driver was thrilled to meet someone with whom he could practice English, as was the elderly lady we picked up on the way.
Although English is much more prevalent in Almaty than in Bishkek, it might be a good idea to have your destination written out in Russian (or have the number for your hotel/hostel) in case the new driver does not speak English.
Summary of How to Go From Bishkek to Almaty
Getting from Bishkek to Almaty is easy, safe, quick, and affordable. The minibus is probably the easier option, though I found the shared taxi to be an interesting experience. Whichever way you choose, be sure to check out both Bishkek and Almaty if you are in the area and have time!
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