How to get from Almaty to Kolsai National Park

Step-by-step instructions on how to get from Almaty to Kolsai National park in Kazakhstan without going on a tour. Includes transportation times, locations, and tips for on the way!


Figuring how to get anywhere in Kazakhstan can be difficult, as there isn’t much in the way of public transportation. Rather than pay for an expensive tour to get to Kolsai National Park, we found our own way there through a combination of shared taxis and hitchhiking. Now you can, too!

How to get from Almaty to Kolsai National Park

By (theoretical) bus to Saty

We’ve been told that there is a 7 a.m. bus from Sayakhat bus station to Saty, the closest town to Kolsai.

But it’s not clear if this bus goes regularly. We didn’t make it, and we met other travelers who were told the bus doesn’t exist. You can try your luck if you’re a morning person, otherwise, you’ll have to take a shared taxi and hitchhike. If you do catch the bus, head to Saty, then find a taxi (virtually any car that’s not busy) to take you Kolsai. Oh, and let us know that it exists!

By shared taxi to Saty

Take the metro to Batyr metro station, then walk for 10 minutes to Sayakhat bus station. Here, you can find shared taxis to Kegen. Look for cars in the back right corner of the first lot (not the lot where the marshrutkas are leaving from). They should be shouting “Kegen!” occasionally.

A shared taxi should cost around 1,000 – 1,500 tenge per person. Tell the driver you want to go to Saty, and he’ll drop you off at the turn-off point. The ride should take around three hours, and you’ll probably stop in a small rest stop town along the way for snacks and drinks.

You probably won’t have to wait long at the turn off point to hitch a ride. Just stick out your hand, and tell people you need to go to Saty. Some might ask you for money, around 1,000 tenge, but most will just let you in. If they don’t go all the way to Saty, just keep on hitching from wherever they drop you off. When we were there in August, there were plenty of cars going all afternoon.

Heading north instead? Check out 6 things to do in Astana.

Staying in Saty and getting to Kolsay Lake

In Saty you can camp or stay at one of several home stays. Just ask your driver for a hotel or “Gostinitza” (гостиница), he’ll probably know someone or offer to host you himself. Homestays cost around 3,000 – 4,000 tenge, including breakfast. Dinner is another 1,000 tenge.

Camping to save money in Saty, Kazakhstan - Lost With Purpose

Being cheapskates, we camped in the fields outside of Saty to save money.

Hitching a free ride to the lakes might be difficult. Your best bet is to take a taxi to the first lake for 1,000 – 2,000 tenge. Make sure they take you all the way, not just to the entrance gate. The entrance gate is 8 km from the first lake, so walking will take a while! If you slept at a homestay, your host can arrange transportation for you.

Make sure to stock up on supplies before heading up to the lakes. Your only option up there is to buy from the yurt camps at the first lake.

The entrance to the park is about 750 tenge per person per day, plus another 1,000 tenge if you’re driving your own car. They might say something about a camping fee, but just tell them you’re staying in a yurt, even if you’re camping. Yurts at the first lake cost 7,000 tenge per person without food, 10,000 tenge with 3 meals. Gentle bargaining might bring this price down.

Planning your trip to Kazakhstan? Don’t miss our two-week photo itinerary for the Almaty region of Kazakhstan!

Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

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19 thoughts on “How to get from Almaty to Kolsai National Park

    Kim says:

    Ok so stupid question but what about the way back?
    Is it possible to arrange a taxi back to Saty from the yurts at the first lake? And then just hitch-hike back to the main road and flag down a passing shared taxi? Or is it hitch-hiking all the way?

    I’m not entirely fond of hitch-hiking as I’m traveling by myself. I’m not sure either if I’ll be going with a tent so I don’t want to get stuck in between cities…
    Did you use your tent a lot in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Georgia & Armenia? Or wouldn’t it be worth the weight?

    As you can see I’m continuing to plunder your site for info while planning my trip. I might spam you with more questions as autumn comes closer 😉 Keep up the good work and enjoy 🙂

    Sebastiaan says:

    If you know when you’re coming back, you can ask one of the homestays to pick you up. There are also plenty of people who visit on a day trip, and hitching a ride back with them shouldn’t be a problem. There are plenty of families and other travelers, so being by yourself shouldn’t be a problem.

    We camped in Kazakhstan, but not in the other countries. Uzbekistan has annoying registration rules at hotels, and camping is generally not recommended as the police might not like it. You can probably camp in Georgia and Armenia, but it was too cold when we were there. In Iran we camped in the desert.

    Karanjit says:

    Hello. I think your website it brilliant. I am planning a solo-trip to and around Almaty hopefully with a lot of day-hikes involved. I have a few questions:
    1. Fitness: Im healthy but not very fight. I’m a fat guy who doesn’t exersize much. Would hiking to and around the lake areas be difficult?
    2. Yurt stay: How would you rate the comfort and cleanliness of your average yurt stay in the area? And what exactly is the toilet sitaution in a yurt – is it western style or asian style? Are the toilets clean?
    3. Hot springs: Kyrgyzstan seems to have a lot of hot -springs. Are there any natural hot springs in this region as well?
    4. Solo-travel and tours: Is it easy to travel solo in this area? How expensive would local tours be?
    I would be most grateful for your response.

    Sebastiaan says:

    Yo, thanks for reaching out! I’m glad to answer your questions.

    1. You should be fine. You can get a taxi/hitchhike to the first lake. The walk to the second lake is demanding at the end, but if you bring enough water and leave early it should be doable. Just take enough rest as you go up.
    2. Uh, it depends on your standards of comfort. The yurts are pretty basic, with mattresses and blankets on the floor, but for our standards they were perfectly comfortable. The toilet is a hole in the ground outhouse. Don’t expect luxury, if that’s what you mean.
    3. Honestly, we are not sure. Ask around once you’re in Almaty, I would say.
    4. Solo travel can be tricky in places, as transport is not always available. But tours are expensive, and we generally don’t like tours. If you’re flexible and down to hitchhike places, or pay some more money for a taxi, solo travel is perfectly doable.

    Hope this helps. Check out our 2-week itinerary for Kazakhstan, too:

    Filip says:

    Hi! Me and my friends would like to visit Charyn Canyon, Kaindy and Kolai lakes during a 3/4-day trip. Do you think it is possible to do it by public transport? If so, could you please tell me what is the best way to do it?
    My idea was to go from Almaty to Saty using your instructions on this site. Accomodation in Saty- homestay via Ecotourism. 2nd day Kolsai lakes ( btw. can the lower and middle lake be visisted during one day?). 3rd day – Kaindy lake. On the 4th day we would like to visit the Charyn Canyon on the way back to Almaty – if possible. However I do not know, how to get from Saty to Charyn Canyon and from there back to Almaty. Maybe it is possible to take taxi from Saty to Charyn Canyon and to hitchhike from there?
    thank you in advance!

    Sebastiaan says:

    Hi Filip,

    This sounds very rushed. It’s possible in theory, but you either need a private car with driver, or be super lucky with hitchhiking. Everything would need to work our perfectly to make this feasible. And even then, you’d probably be spending more time in a car than in nature. Hardly what you came to Kazakhstan for, I imagine. If I were you, I’d slow it down. Especially your 4th day seems difficult, as Charyn is not exactly on the way to Almaty when you come from Kaindy/Kolsai.

    You can get to the first and second lake of Kolsai in one day, provided you leave early and get a car to the first lake. From there it’s a 2 – 3 hour walk to the second lake, depending on your fitness and how often you stop to enjoy your surroundings. I’m not sure how to get from Kolsai to Kaindy, though.

    If I were you, I’d leave out Kaindy, as you’ll already get to see two other beautiful lakes.

    Zoltan says:

    Hi Sebastiaan,

    I would like to do the same trip with my brother, my only concern is that we don’t speak Russian – how can we get along with English in the countryside? Was it an issue?


    Sebastiaan says:

    Hi Zoltan,

    Although English isn’t widely spoken in the countryside, you should still be able to get around. Just make sure to learn some basic phrases (how much, where to, etc.), and you should be fine. You can always get a Russian phrase book to make things easier, or use Google Translate or something like that.

    Krisztian says:

    Us, a group of four just visited Kolsai lakes from Almaty a couple of days ago. It took a total of five days. First, we went to Sayakhat bus station early in the morning. There were no bus neither shared taxis to Kegen. We asked several people, lady in the cassa and everybody said our only option is taxi. Finally we managed to bargain a fair price of 12000 tenge to the junction (called Pavarota) where the minor road starts to Saty. From here we got a taxi to Zhalanash for 2000 tenge. Here it got tricky. We managed to hitch a couple of kilometers to the next village where we spent almost 4 hours waiting for someone who offers a fair price to Saty. Local taxis and people seemed to be very greedy and tried to fool us with unreasonably high rates. Close to sunset our patience brought us a victory: a couple of soldiers gave us a free ride to Saty, where we were taken to Kolsai-1 by a local for 3000 tenge. (So getting there to the lake was 17000 tenge in total – for four people). We camped there.
    On our second day we hiked to Kolsai-2, which took us almost six hours. Alright, we are not the most outfit people and we all carried heavy backpacks full with stocks, tent, sleeping bags, clothes and as it was Saturday traffic slowed us down. So many tourists chose to be taken by horse to the second lake, which did not improve either the condition of the path, our progress, not to mention the poor animals. And we stopped several times for snacks, in one occasion for 45 minutes in the forest when heavy rain started to hit the ground. We camped by the beautiful second lake on our own. (Get warm clothes and a proper sleeping bags because it gets cold here at night – 4 Celsius degrees when we visited. Also there were annoying horseflies all around during the day. Get anti-spray or something against them if you can.)
    We spent the third day entirely by the lake, it was magnificent.
    On our fourth day we hiked down to the first lake then waited for an hour to be taken down to Saty for 2000 tenge. We camped near the village.
    On our fifth day, we waited all day to get a ride to anywhere out of the village. Seriously, most of the cars didn’t care about us at all or were full. The ones stopped offered us an unreasonable high price to the next village or to the junction by the main road. People there might have realized it is a popular place for tourists and try to rip off anyone they can knowing hitchhikers or independent travellers don’t have a lot of options here. Fortunately we were flexible enough with time not to take these rides. After 5 o’clock we got a ride back to Almaty for 8000 tenge from a young driver and his super drunk friend. It was a memorable journey. So we spent 10000 tenge in total on our way back.
    All in all prices of transportation written in this article might not be true anymore according to our experience. Take your patiance and flexibility if you are planning to visit Kolsai lakes independently. By the way, it worth the effort. Nature is beautiful, the lakes are miraculous. 🙂

    Sebastiaan says:

    Thanks for this useful update. It’s a shame it took much longer and that people wanted more money from you.

    I think the fact that you were with four people might have lead to people asking for more money. I guess it’s down to luck. The fact that Alex speaks some Russian probably also helped us getting a good price.

    Anyway, glad you made it, and the lakes are definitely worth the trouble of getting there. Thanks again for the update!

    Goran says:

    Hey guys, i did Kolsai lakes yesterday (8th of March) from Almaty to Saty by marshrutka. Yes, there is marshrutka from Almaty from Sayakhat bus station (just next to the station in some small street) leaving around 6AM (better to say standidng there from 6AM and waiting for passingers). I came there around 6:10 and we finally left from Almaty around 1 hour later. After that we pay visit to few villages and we took 45 minutes brake for breakfast-lunch on a half way and we finally get there around 1PM (this is winter time so last 1 hour the road was very rough and we were going 20-30 km per hour). The next day we took of from Saty to Almaty around 6:30 and arrived in Almaty around 11:30. I don’t know is there mashrutka every day or every other day (probably every other day) ‘cos driver stayed in Saty and drove the same marshrutka back to Almaty tomorrow morning. I had a perfect day at the lake Kolsai – the weather was PERFECT, the lake was frozen and there was nobody there! Couldn’t go to Kaindy ‘cos too many snow (villagers said only jip can go but they asked for 10 000 tenges, didn’t want to pay so much and i am a solo traveler). Enjoy

    Alex says:

    This is really helpful information, thanks for sharing Goran! I’m glad you had a good time at Kolsai, though BRRR, I could not imagine visiting in winter!

    Lenka says:


    I would like to ask you if is possible to book a yurt, do you know through which website? And for how many people is the yurt? Is there any shower facility?
    Thank you for an awesome article about Kolsai.

    IRATI says:


    We are a couple and we want to go trekking the 3 kolsai lakes. Is it any place in Saty to rent a tent? and 2-3 nights are enough to stay in the lakes?

    Thank you

    Uli says:


    I will be travelling to Kazakhstan in October this year as a solo traveller. I know I could get to Saty by marshurtka or shared taxi, but I wonder if there’s still at that time of year some kind of lodging close to Kolsai 1. I would like to know also if hiking in Otober is still posible.
    Best regards

    Tracy Wong says:

    Hello Sebastiaan,

    I would like to ask about the water and food supply in the national park, should we buy water and food earlier in town or we could just approach to the homestay down there. Also, is it okay for us to leave our camping tent and approach the homestay for meal in case we couldn’t bring food to cook over there. Thank you for the detailed explanations above :).

    Best Regards

    Pablo says:

    Hello! I want to know if nobodys have an idea how to reach karakol from saty! Thxs in advance 🙂

    Amar says:

    Where is the yurt and is it possible to book one or will they likely be available on the day upon arrival?

    Also, how easy is it to get from Saty to Charyn?

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