Set against the snow-capped mountains of the Zailiysky Alatau on the southern border of Kazakhstan, the cosmopolitan city of Almaty is home to roughly 1.5 million people, and is the symbol of Kazakh prosperity. Almaty is a key centre of commerce for Central Asia, and its wealth is evident in the 24-hour supermarkets, fine restaurants, bustling nightlife, and brand-new ski resorts.
Central Almaty is an attractive, leafy city, with a large concentration of shops and restaurants, and some beautiful parks. Many visit the Presidential Palace and the National Museum, and see the colourful Zenkov Cathedral at Panfilov Park. Most upscale shops are imitations of Western stores (with similar prices), but visitors will find bargains and a lively atmosphere at outdoor bazaars like Barakholka and the Green Market.
Almaty is best-known to tourists as a winter sport paradise. Excellent ski resorts like Chimbulak, Ak-Bulak, and Tabagan are located nearby, and activities like skiing, snowboarding, heli-skiing, and ice skating are popular pastimes. The Arasan Sauna Centre is a fun place to be in cold weather as well, and the saunas are filled with local holidaymakers.
The mountain range offers year-round activities, so there's always something to do in Almaty. Travellers can go horseback riding at the stunning Kolsai Lakes, take the cable car up Koek Toebe to the amusement park at the top, swim in the enormous pools at the Eight Lakes Park Resort, go hiking in the red and orange Charyn Canyon, or take a picnic to the famous Tamgaly Petroglyphs.