How to get from Almaty to Bishkek - Journal of Nomads

How to get from Almaty to Bishkek – Crossing the Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan border

 

A report on how we traveled from Almaty to Bishkek by bus, crossing the Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan border at Korday, including tips, prices and places to stay.

 

It’s very easy and straightforward to get from Almaty to Bishkek by bus. The ride takes about 4 to 6 hours, depending on traffic, weather conditions and the number of people when you arrive at the border. We made this journey quite often whenever we wanted to renew our Kyrgyz visa (more info about that here), so we became quite the experts on the subject!

 

Tip 1: Avoid traveling from Almaty to Bishkek on snowy days. The road conditions are pretty bad (and dangerous) when it snows. We did it once and our driver lost control over his vehicle on the slippery road. Nobody got hurt but it was a scary moment!

 

Tip 2: The best time to cross the border is early in the morning or late in the evening. During these times there shouldn’t be many people crossing the border and you’ll avoid being pushed and shoved around by the crowd. The best time would be to leave Almaty at 4 pm, so you’ll arrive at the border around 8 pm. This is a good and rather quiet time to cross the border.

 

 

How to get from Almaty (Kazakhstan) to the border

 

To take a mashrutka (minibus) from Almaty to Bishkek, you’ll have to go to the Sayran bus station in Almaty. The bus station is located 7km west of the city center so you’ll first have to take a city bus or a taxi to get there (see map). The mashrutkas to Bishkek run daily from morning (first one is at 7 am) to evening (the last one is at 7 pm), one ticket costs 1800 KZT and they leave when they’re full.

 

You can also get to the border by shared taxi but it will cost you more (2500 KZT per person) and they will only take you to the border, not to Bishkek. The shared taxis also leave at Sayran bus station.

 

Whenever we visit Almaty, we always stay at the budget-friendly European Backpackers Hostel (we really love it there!). This hostel is located near Dostyk Plaza, which is located in the center of Almaty. To get from the hostel to the bus station, we always go for the cheapest option, which is taking city bus #45 from the bus stop near Dostyk Plaza to Sayran bus station. Depending on the traffic, the ride takes about 60 minutes and costs 150 KZT if you pay cash, or 80KZT if you have a bus card (ask for it in your hostel). Ask the bus driver to stop at Sayran bus station.

 

You can also take a taxi to the bus station. If you use the Yandex taxi app, you’ll pay a fixed price (between 600 and 1000 KZT, depending on where you’re leaving from).

 

 

 

Once you arrive at the bus station, go inside the building and ask for ‘mashrutka Bishkek’. People will show you the little office where you can purchase your ticket. Once you’ve got your ticket, go through the first door near the office and turn right. The mashrutka to Bishkek is the very last one on your right-hand side.

 

Show your ticket to the driver and he’ll store your luggage in the back of the van. The mashrutka leaves when it’s full so you might have to wait 10 minutes to one hour. There’s a public toilet near the mashrutka in case you need it.

 

The ride to the border takes about 4 hours. The driver always takes a 10-minute break halfway the journey at “Cafe Eurasia” where you can go to the toilet (50KZT or 5 KGS) and buy some snacks.

 

 

Crossing the Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan border at Korday

 

There are several borders between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. When you take the mashrutka from Almaty, you’ll cross at the Korday border, which is located about 21 km from the city center of Bishkek.

 

Once you arrive at the border, you’ll have to get off the mashrutka and take all your luggage with you. Take note of the license plate number so you can easily find it back on the Kyrgyz side of the border.

 

The time it will take you to go through the border depends on how many people there are. If there’s a lot of people, you’ll see long and disorganized queues and you might experience a lot of pushing and shoving. Many people will try to cut in front of you so don’t be afraid to stick out those elbows and stand your ground! Especially be aware of elderly women! They might look like sweet grandmothers but don’t underestimate them. They are the worst! On two occasions I lost my patience with some women as they kept pushing me while trying to get in front of me. They didn’t expect that I would push them back…Don’t worry, nobody got hurt…

 

If there aren’t many people, you should be on the other side of the border within 20 minutes. First, you’ll have to show your passport at the migration booth on the Kazakh side. The Kazakh official might ask some questions like where you’ve been in Kazakhstan and what you’re planning to do in Kyrgyzstan. Once the official stamps your passport, you move on towards the Kyrgyz migration booths.

 

Sometimes you’ll have to queue there as well, other times the officials will notice that you’re a foreigner and will take you to a separate office or ask you to hand over your passport. Don’t worry about this, they’ll just take your passport to stamp it inside another office and will give it back to you. Sometimes they’ll ask for your visa and if you’re one of the many citizens who can travel visa-free to Kyrgyzstan, just tell them that you don’t need one. I sometimes get the impression that some migration officials aren’t really up-to-date with the different visa regulations…

 

 

How to get from the border to Bishkek

 

Once you’ve crossed the border, you’ll have two options (see map below).

 

You can wait and/or search for your mashrutka (that’s why you should take note of the license plate number) which will take you to the Western Bus Station of Bishkek. Sometimes the mashrutka will already be there, other times it’s still on its way crossing the border. Know that this mashrutka doesn’t go to the city center of Bishkek!

 

If you don’t have to be near the Western Bus Station, I’d suggest you take a taxi or another mashrutka to go to the city center. A taxi will cost you around 300 som, a mashrutka 30 som. Look for mashrutka #333 and #285. Both go to the center of Bishkek, with the last stop being the Tsum Shopping Center.

 

 

 

Tip: To find your way around Bishkek, use following apps:

  • Namba Taxi: This is a taxi service that is similar to Uber and is very straightforward.
  • Bus.kg: A great app to figure out the different mashrutka routes. Enter your starting point and destination and the app will tell you which mashrutka you need to take. Taking a mashrukta within the city costs 10 som.
  • Maps.me or 2GIS: Both apps function like Google Maps but are more accurate in this part of the world. They also tell you which bus or mashrutka you have to take to get to your destination.

 

Do you need more useful information about traveling independently in Kyrgyzstan?

Read our Ultimate Travel Guide to Backpacking in Kyrgyzstan!

 

 

Changing money at the border

 

There’s a small money exchange booth at both sides of the border with a decent conversion rate. However, exchange just enough tenge/euros/dollars to som to get you to the center of Bishkek. There you’ll find many exchange offices and ATM’s with a much better conversion rate!

 

 

Where to stay in Bishkek

 

If you’re only transiting through Bishkek, then I’d suggest staying at the Apple Hostel. This budget-friendly hostel is only 3 minutes walking from the Western Bus Station, which is the main bus station of Bishkek.

 

If you’re planning on staying a few days in Bishkek to explore the city, then I’d suggest you stay at a hostel or guesthouse that is located near the city center. I’d recommend Compass Hostel and Centre Hostel.

 

 

 

I hope this post was very useful to you and I wish you a great and safe journey to Bishkek! Let me know in the comments if you have any more questions and/or how your journey went!

 

Going on an adventure to Kyrgyzstan? You might want to read these guides:

 

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you book your accommodation through one of the links, we get a commission at no extra costs to you! See it as a small donation to keep this blog going. Thank you!

 

 

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Writer, travel photographer, Panasonic Lumix Ambassador and co-founder of Journal of Nomads

I have Belgian roots but the world has been my home for the past 8 years. I'm an artist at heart and often get lost in my thoughts. I like to create some-thing out of no-thing and once I feel inspired, I'm unstoppable. I love telling stories and taking photos, showing the beauty and extraordinary of the world around me. Oh, and I love making the impossible elegantly probable. Once you realize that you're a creator and the world is your playfield, there's no limit to what can be done!

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donikantokuLieven NachtergaleCynthia - Journal of NomadsVincentCynthia Recent comment authors
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donikantoku

Thanks for all the helpful information, especially regarding where to stay in Bishkek near the station! I was just wondering how much it costs for the reverse journey in Kyrgyz som (Bishkek -> Almaty), and if the bus arrives at Sayran bus station in Almaty?

Lieven Nachtergale
Lieven Nachtergale

Hello,
next month we will be in the Tien Shan mountains near Almaty. We will go to the Big Almaty Lake and then higher into the mountains to the so called Cosmo Station (a guide will be with us).
The road to Cosmo station continues into Kyrgystan. Do you think that we will be able to cross the border there while hiking in the mountains?
Kind regards,
Lieven

Vincent
Vincent

Est-il facile d’échanger des tenges pour des soms ou vice-versa? Mettons que je préfèrerais ne pas me ramasser avec trop de devises « secondaires » en revenant au Québec. :-X Merci!

Samy
Samy

Great article! Exactly what I was looking for as I’m planning a last minute trip in the area 🙂