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.
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.