Kazakhstan on budget
--- the ultimate backpacking travel guide ---
The local currency in Kazakhstan is Kazakhstani Tenge (KZT). The exchange rate in 2018 was 1 USD = 357 KZT. Like everywhere else it is best to bring US dollars and exchange them. Otherwise you can withdraw money from ATM.
Average cost per person: 25 USD per day
including accommodation, food, transport, entrance fees, souvenirs
excluding visa and flight tickets
Check also top things to see in Kazakhstan in our photo journey.
The main thing you can save money on are the flight tickets. Read our tips how to find cheap flights.
Use public transport or Uber in the big cities to keep your budget down. If you want to travel independently, head to the bus or train stations where you also find shared taxi drivers. In Almaty go Sahayat bus station, in Astana - the old train station, called just vokzal. The highways in Kazakhstan are very good, the small roads heading to all the national parks are terrible, so get prepared for bumpy rides.
Prices example per person (2018)
- public transport Almaty (also airport bus) - 150 KZT (0.4 USD)
- public transport Astana - 180 KZT (0.5 USD)
- uber Almaty/Astana - 500-900 KZT (1.4-2.5 USD)
- bus 12 Almaty - Medeo - 150 KZT (0.4 USD)
- Ecobus Medeo to Shymbulak - 300 KZT (0.8 USD)
- shared taxi Almaty - Charyn Canyon - 3 000 KZT (8.4 USD)
- shared taxi Almaty - Saty (Kolsai&Kaindy) - 3 000 KZT (8.4 USD)
- Saty-Kolsai lakes return - 2 000 KZT (5.6 USD)
- Saty-Kaindy lake return - 2 000 KZT (5.6 USD)
- sleeping train Almaty - Astana (bought late) - 24 000 KZT (67 USD)
- shared taxi Astana - NP Burabay - 2 500 KZT (7 USD)
- taxi to Astana airport at night - 2 000 KZT (5.6 USD)
We were traveling as a group of friends, mostly camping in the mountains or national parks. In Almaty and Astana we stayed at hostels. We would like to recommend Mountain Road Hostel in Almaty – brand new&clean (English speaking Asya was super friendly and helpful).
Don’t miss staying in a traditional yurt. You can get lucky like us and get a night for 1000 KZT/person (2.8 USD) in Saty village. If you decide to stay in a tourist yurt in Charyn Canyon, prepare 150 EUR/night. It is better to rent a tent in Almaty and camp there for free by the river.
Prices example per person&night (2018)
- hostel dorm - 2000-2500 KZT (5.6 - 7 USD)
- staying with locals - 2500 - 3000 KZT (7 - 8.4 USD) per night – dinner&breakfast included
- Altyn Emel hotel - 5000 KZT (14 USD) per night – each meal 1000 KZT (2.8 USD)
Food is very good if you love meat and fat meals. Kazakhstan is not a country for vegetarians nor horse lovers as Kazakhs love horse meat.
The Kazakh food is a combination of Central Asian and Russian cuisine. The most common meal is shashlik (grilled cubes of meat, usually lamb).
The national dish is called Beshbarmak (boiled horse meat and pasta), but Kazakh people eat in on special occassions, so you don't find it in every restaurant. Try plov (rice pilaf), manty (pasta with meat), lagman (pasta with vegetables). From drinks you must try kumis (fermented mare's milk) and shubat (fermented camel milk). It really doesn't taste that bad as it sounds :)
Small snacks like samsa (pastry filled with meat or cheese) on the street cost only 150 KZT (0.4 USD). If you want to eat cheap and good, look for stolovaya (столовая) - a Soviet style cafeteria. You will pay there around 1500 KZT (4.2 USD) for a meal, soup and drink. The prices vary a lot, we usually got a lunch or dinner in a range from 1000 KZT (2.8 USD) to 2500 KZT (7 USD).
- Samsa - 150 KZT (0.4 USD)
- Kebap - 650 KZT (1.8 USD)
- Ice cream - 350 KZT (1 USD)
- Coke - 150 KZT (0.4 USD)
- Beer in a pub - 500 KZT (1.4 USD)
- Beer in a shop - 250 KZT (0.7 USD)
Entrance fees for most of the tourist attractions in Kazakhstan are still cheap. The permits to national parks are usually issued for 24 hours and they cost up to 1000 tenge (2.8 USD).
If you don't have much time in Astana and you have to choose what to visit, go for EXPO 2017 rather than the National Museum.
Prices example per person (2018)
- Charyn Canyon permit - 740 KZT (2 USD)
- Kolsai lakes permit - 740 KZT (2 USD)
- Kaindy lake permit - 740 KZT (2 USD)
- Altyn Emel permit - 1000 KZT (2.8 USD)
- Almaty - Altyn Emel organized trip 2 days (car&driver included): - 24 000 KZT (67 USD)
- NP Buarabay permit - 250 KZT (0.7 USD)
- Ferris wheel in Astana - 1200 KZT (3.4 USD)
- National Museum - 1700 KZT (4.8 USD)
- Baiterek Tower - 1000 KZT (2.8 USD)
- Expo 2017 - 1500 KZT (4.2 USD)
- Don’t smoke in front of the airport in Almaty (you can smoke on a designated smoking area just across the road). There is a corrupt police who will catch you and ask for a bribe. They will argument that the fine is 50 000 KZT (140 USD), that is probably not true, and they will ask for a bribe of “only” 15 000 KZT (42 USD). We had been in Kazakhstan for only 20 minutes and our friend was caught by the police in the booth. This was our first bad impression of this country, luckily the last. We bargained the bribe to 10 000 KZT (28 USD) as we didn’t want to spend more time with them.
- If you want to save money for the train from Almaty to Astana, book your tickets in advance, two days were obviously not enough as everybody said that there are only expensive and upper bunk tickets left.
- Don’t get ripped of at Green Bazar in Almaty. They have special tourist prices. Check the prices first in a supermarket, so you don’t end up paying 5 times more.
- Hitchiking is very easy and common in Kazakhstan. We met really nice people. Uber in the cities is popular and usually cheaper than public transport if you are 3 pers and more.
- The last tip is the funny one. There are special guards in Almaty that protect the grass in front of the shopping centres. This is not a joke! :) It is forbidden to step on the grass. Don’t ask me why, but they start to scream and run when you do that.
More tips for traveling cheap here