Altai Travel Guide

Planning a trip to Altai, Kazakhstan? This comprehensive guide covers everything from must-see attractions and outdoor adventures to local culture, cuisine, and transportation options.

Altai is a region located in Kazakhstan’s easternmost corner, bordering Russia, Mongolia, and China. Known for its stunning natural beauty and rich cultural history, Altai has become a popular destination for travelers seeking outdoor adventures and immersive cultural experiences.

Whether you’re planning a week-long trip or just passing through, this guide will help you make the most of your time in Altai. From ancient ruins and museums to hiking and biking trails, there’s something for everyone in this diverse region of Central Asia.

Introduction to Altai

Altai is a region of Kazakhstan that is known for its stunning natural landscapes and rich cultural history. With its rugged mountains, scenic valleys, and ancient ruins, Altai offers something for everyone, from outdoor adventurers to history buffs and cultural enthusiasts.

The region is home to a number of diverse ethnic groups, including Kazakhs and Mongols, who have left their mark on the local culture and cuisine. Visitors to Altai can explore traditional yurts, sample local dishes, and attend cultural festivals to learn more about the local way of life.

List of Places to Visit in Altai

Altai is a region of Kazakhstan that is home to a number of must-see attractions, from ancient ruins to natural wonders. Here are just a few of the top places to visit in Altai:

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

  • Altaic Branch of the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan: This museum is dedicated to the history and culture of the Altai region, with exhibits on ancient artifacts, traditional crafts, and local folklore.
  • Rock Art Gallery of Tamgaly: This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains over 5,000 petroglyphs dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages, depicting scenes of hunting, fishing, and daily life.
  • Issyk Kurgan: This ancient burial mound contains the remains of a Scythian prince, along with numerous gold artifacts and weapons.

Natural Attractions of Altai: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

  • Lake Kaindy: This stunning alpine lake is known for its crystal-clear waters and the submerged trees that still stand upright in the water, creating a unique and otherworldly landscape.
  • Altyn Emel National Park: This vast reserve is home to a number of unique natural landmarks, including the Singing Dunes, a massive sand dune that produces a melodic sound when the wind blows.
  • Mount Belukha: This 4,506-meter peak is the highest mountain in the Altai region, offering incredible views of the surrounding landscape and challenging hiking opportunities.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Altai

Altai is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with ample opportunities for hiking and biking through the region’s rugged terrain. Here are just a few of the top hiking and biking routes in Altai:

  • Katon-Karagay National Park: This park offers a number of challenging trekking routes through the Altai Mountains, including the Katu Yaryk Pass and the Katon-Karagay Chilik Route.
  • Kokpek Pass: This difficult hiking route takes you over a 3,100-meter mountain pass, with stunning views of the Altai Mountains and the surrounding landscape.
  • Altyn Emel National Park: The park offers a number of trails for hikers and bikers, ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks through the sand dunes and canyons.

Best Things to Do in Altai: Activities and Tours

Altai offers a wide range of activities and tours for visitors, from cultural experiences to outdoor adventures. Here are just a few of the best things to do in Altai:

  • Attend a traditional Kazakh yurt camp: Spend a night in a traditional yurt, sampling local cuisine and experiencing traditional Kazakh hospitality.
  • Visit a local market: Explore one of the region’s bustling outdoor markets, where you can sample local foods, buy handicrafts, and mingle with the locals.
  • Take a horseback riding tour: Explore the Altai Mountains on horseback, with guided tours available for both beginners and experienced riders.

Week-Long Itinerary for Altai

If you’re planning a week-long trip to Altai, here’s a suggested itinerary to help you make the most of your time in the region:

Day 1: Arrive in Ust-Kamenogorsk, the largest city in the region. Explore the city’s museums and historical sites.

Day 2: Visit the Rock Art Gallery of Tamgaly, one of the most important archaeological sites in Kazakhstan.

Day 3: Head to Lake Kaindy, a stunning alpine lake surrounded by soaring peaks.

Day 4: Spend the day hiking in Katon-Karagay National Park, with options ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks.

Day 5: Visit the Issyk Kurgan burial mound and surrounding archaeological sites, learning about ancient Kazakh culture and customs.

Day 6: Take a horseback riding tour through the Altai Mountains, with guided tours available for all skill levels.

Day 7: Depart Altai or take an optional excursion to nearby attractions like Charyn Canyon or Karaganda.

Food and Drink Scene of Altai

Altai’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the region’s nomadic history, with dishes typically featuring meat, dairy products, and grains. Here are a few of the must-try dishes in Altai:

Must-Try Dishes

  • Beshbarmak: This popular Kazakh dish consists of boiled meat served over a bed of noodles and topped with onions.
  • Kazy: A traditional Kazakh sausage made of horse meat.
  • Baursaks: Small fried dough balls served as a snack or dessert.

Local Beverages

  • Kumyz: A fermented drink made from mare’s milk.
  • Shubat: A fermented drink made from camel’s milk.
  • Samsa: A traditional tea made with milk, butter, and salt.

Where to Stay in Altai: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

Altai offers a range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly hostels to luxury hotels and traditional guesthouses. Here are a few of the top picks:

  • Altai Village: This traditional yurt camp offers a unique cultural experience, with comfortable accommodations and traditional Kazakh cuisine.
  • Altai-M World Hotel: This modern hotel is located in the heart of Ust-Kamenogorsk, with comfortable rooms and a range of amenities.
  • Hostel Mriya: This budget-friendly hostel is located in the center of the city, with basic dormitory-style accommodations and a communal kitchen.

What to Buy in Altai: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

Altai is home to a number of traditional crafts and souvenirs that make great gifts or keepsakes. Here are a few ideas:

  • Traditional Kazakh rugs and textiles
  • Hand-carved wooden souvenirs
  • Local honey and dairy products
  • Kazakh musical instruments like the kobyz or dombra

Local Culture and Customs of Altai

Altai is home to a number of diverse ethnic groups, each with their own unique customs and traditions. Visitors to Altai should be respectful of local customs and traditions, including dress codes and social norms.

Best Time to Visit Altai

The best time to visit Altai is during the summer months, from June to September, when the weather is warm and dry. The winter months can be extremely cold and snowy, with limited opportunities for outdoor activities.

Do’s and Don’ts of Altai


  • Dress modestly when visiting religious sites or traditional villages.
  • Sample local cuisine and attend cultural events to learn more about the local way of life.
  • Respect local customs and traditions, including dress codes and social norms.


  • Drink tap water, which can be contaminated. Stick to bottled water or bring a filtering device.
  • Take photographs without asking permission, especially of people or religious sites.
  • Engage in political discussions or criticism, as this can be seen as disrespectful or offensive.

Safety and Health

Safety in Altai

Altai is generally a safe region for travelers, with low levels of crime and political instability. However, visitors should take basic precautions to ensure their safety, including avoiding walking alone at night and being aware of their surroundings.

Health in Altai

Altai is a relatively healthy region, but visitors should take basic precautions to avoid common illnesses like colds and stomach bugs. It is also recommended that visitors receive vaccinations for hepatitis A and typhoid before traveling to the region.

Getting to Altai: Transportation Options and Logistics

Altai is located in the easternmost part of Kazakhstan, with limited transportation options. Here’s what you need to know about getting to and around the region:

Airports Near Altai

The nearest major airport to Altai is in Ust-Kamenogorsk, with flights available from major cities in Kazakhstan and Russia.

Bus Stations Near Altai

There are several bus stations in Ust-Kamenogorsk, with connections to major cities throughout Kazakhstan.

Other Options

Visitors can also take the train to Ust-Kamenogorsk, or hire a private driver for transportation within the region.

How to Get Around in Altai

Visitors to Altai can get around the region by bus or private car. However, many of the region’s top attractions are located in remote areas that may require hiking or off-road vehicles to access.

Where to Go Next from Altai: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

Altai is located in a remote and relatively isolated part of Kazakhstan. However, visitors can explore nearby attractions like Charyn Canyon, Karaganda, or the Altai Mountains in neighboring Russia.


Altai is a region of Kazakhstan that offers incredible natural beauty, rich cultural history, and unique travel experiences. From hiking and biking through the mountains to exploring traditional Kazakh yurt camps, there’s something for everyone in this diverse and fascinating part of Central Asia. With the information in this guide, you’ll be able to plan the perfect trip to Altai and make lasting memories in this unforgettable region of Kazakhstan.