Joining the ranks of brilliant blue lakes like Kaindy Lake and Issyk Lake, is Big Almaty Lake, which is situated outside Kazakhstan’s largest city. This alpine lake’s unusual teal hue and surrounding nature make it one of the most beautifully surreal sites in the country.
Big Almaty Lake is a natural reservoir perched high in the Ili Alatau mountains, more than 8,000 feet above sea level, backdropped by three peaks that rise above the canyon. The color varies depending on the time of the year, but expect the brightest and most beautiful turquoise during September and early October. The lake takes on a more milky blue hue during spring due to the melting snow.
One of the things that make Big Almaty Lake unique is that it is forbidden to swim in the lake, as it is the main water source for the residents of Almaty. Pipes carry the water from the reservoir down the mountains to the city. There are several guards walking around to ensure that no one oversteps the boundaries and goes down to the lake’s shore.
Hiking opportunities are in abundance at the lake, as it’s located within Ili-Alatau National Park, and the famous Big Almaty Peak is in the vicinity. Do be careful where you hike and walk, however. Many routes are closed off because they lead to the Kyrgyzstan border, which has been closed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Know Before You Go
The lake is located very close to the city of Almaty, and can easily be visited as a half-day trip from the city. The easiest way to get there is by taxi. The fare there and back should be around 6000 KZT. If you order a taxi on a phone app, have it wait for you if you're not planning to be there all day. It won't be that much extra. You can also have your taxi stop up or down the way on the mountain to get photos on the gorgeous drive.
Another option for getting to and from Big Almaty Lake is to hitchhike, although this should be done at your own risk. Visiting the lake itself is free of charge, but you must pay a fee to enter the Ili-Alatau park at the bottom of the mountain. The fee is a little over $1 USD.