Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Taking a taxi in Almaty has finally become a more streamlined and painless process but not without a lot of trial and error over the years.  This Almaty taxi guide will instruct you on how to successfully take a taxi in the Kazakhstan city as well as give advice to ensure you don’t put yourself in harmful situations like I have endured in the past.  It will also give you a couple of apps to help you successfully take a taxi in Almaty.

Taking a taxi in Almaty has been a huge learning curve for me over the years.  In fact, the Almaty taxi situation was the main reason I left Kazakhstan a bit early in 2016 when I lived here for the latter part of the year.

Is Taking a Taxi in Almaty Really Necessary?

I want to be that person who promotes walking and taking public transportation everywhere around Almaty.  But, unfortunately, it isn’t always feasible for me and the biggest problem is that I am claustrophobic.  The Almaty Metro runs in areas that I don’t live, so getting there is quite the walk.  The buses are pretty efficient here but they always seem to be jam-packed.  And it stresses me out just gazing inside of them more often than not.  I do tend to walk more here than in any other city I live in or visit and I usually lose weight when here.  Maybe I should visit Almaty more often?

But, I do take a taxi fairly often in Almaty.  They are extremely affordable here- more so than anywhere else I’ve ever been.  And the city is spread out so it is difficult to walk from the bus station to the area of the city that I live in.  It would take me hours and hours to do so!  I often stay out late at night here because I am the world’s worst at getting over jetlag, so I tend to get lazy in the late hours and call a cab.

So, while I suggest trying to walk if it is feasible, do know that taxis are pretty standard in Almaty and a part of many people’s everyday life.

Hiking to Butakovskiy Waterfall in Almaty: Kazakhstan Nature at its Finest and a Day Trip from Almaty mountain

Taxi Apps in Kazakhstan

There are several ways to get a taxi in Kazakhstan but these are the two that I use regularly.  It is rumored that Taxify is also looking to move into the Central Asian market which will be great and offer another option if they do (I have used them in other regions of the world and they have been great).

Yandex Taxi Kazakhstan

The Yandex taxi app is my go-to taxi app in Kazakhstan.  It took me a while to start using it as it was not in English initially but the Russian app is now in English (among other languages) and offers the quickest service in Almaty.  Now I use Yandex around 80% of the time here.  Click here to download Yandex for iPhone and click here to download Yandex for Android.

Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan yandex
Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan yandex
Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan yandex

Pros:  Yandex has more registered drivers than Uber.  So, the taxis are more ubiquitous around the city and tend to come within a short matter of minutes.  Yandex also tends to be cheaper than Uber in Almaty.  Another thing I love about Yandex is that the rate you’re shown is the rate that you will be charged.  And getting to the airport is easy as the rate is a flat rate of 1500 KZT which is half the price of hailing a cab upon arrival or from the street.

Cons:  For some reason, my card will not register with Yandex so I can only use the app if I have cash.  This sucks.  I also find that Yandex drivers sometimes don’t really carry much cash on them so if you don’t have exact change, you may end up having to just leave them a tip.  I, truthfully, think that they do this on purpose sometimes.

Uber Kazakhstan

Uber was my go-to app of choice here a few years ago.  But, times have changed and Yandex has become more user-friendly for tourists so now I use Uber only sparingly.  Click here to download Uber for iPhone and click here to download Uber for Android.

Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan uber
Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan uber
Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan uber

Pros:  My favorite thing about Uber is that I know how to file a complaint if I have an issue.  And don’t worry, I have in the past.  Uber was quick to reply to me and reimburse me after the situation.  Another thing I like about Uber is that I can use my card with the app.  I can also use Paypal if I wish.  For some reason, I can’t seem to get this to work with my American bank card on Yandex.

Cons:  Uber has fewer drivers than Yandex, so wait times can be a bit longer than expected.  The prices are also slightly higher than Yandex’s.  Another thing I am not a fan of is Uber as a company in general (research for more information if you’re curious what I am talking about).  But, as an often solo female traveler, I do feel security in the app and knowing that I can hail a cab anywhere at any time by the press of a finger on my phone.

Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan

How to Catch a Taxi in Almaty From the Street

Something you may observe when spending time in Almaty is that you will likely see people hailing cabs from the street.  And when the cars pull up, they are not marked and just look like an everyday, private vehicle.  Well… they are.  In Almaty and other parts of Kazakhstan, people willingly take rides with strangers.  I have done this several times around the city.  Basically, you find a good place (where you won’t hold up traffic) and just stick your arm out to initiate pickup.

Once a person stops, you just agree on a price and if he or she are going in that direction, they may opt to take you with them.  And sometimes, they may just give you a ride in that direction for a fee even if not going there.  I always use my calculator on my phone to agree on the price if the language barrier is strong.  I have done this several times and I have not yet had an issue with it.  I have also met several people doing this and some of them have become friends.

If you’re not catching one from the street but a taxi stand of some sort, you may run the risk of getting an insanely high ‘tourist tax’.  This would be the last way I would attempt to take a taxi in Almaty, to be honest.

Hailing a Taxi From Transportation Hubs

Arriving at any transportation hub in Almaty is a real treat as you are bombarded with people wanting to take you to your next destination.  ‘Taxi! Taxi! Taxi!’ are words that ring relentlessly in my ears for days after I pass through the Almaty Airport or the Sayran Bus Station.  Unfortunately, getting into the city by taxi from either place is a pain if you don’t have wifi or a way to access a transportation app like Yandex or Uber.

Taking a Taxi From the Almaty Airport

Getting a taxi from the airport sucks.  While it should be easy as Yandex offers a flat rate of 1500 KZT, it isn’t easy because if you just arrive at Almaty Airport, you won’t be able to get online (because they use Chocolife’s service for internet access and it only works for locals and people with Russian numbers).  How horrible is this?  So basically, you have two choices:  get screwed over and get a SIM card or find a way to get a local to order you a taxi… OR… just chance it with ones out front.  I chance it.

If you plan to chance the taxi situation, head out front toward the police office (small little hut directly out of the front doors) where you will see a woman wearing a bright yellow vest and shouting like she is directing traffic at Shibuya in Tokyo.  Go talk to her, tell her where you need to go, and she will get you in a taxi to the city or your address.  The rate should be no more than 3000 KZT.  That is a rip-off, but better safe than sorry by taking one of the guys wandering around telling you 1000 KZT (trust me… been there done that and they tried robbing and beating me later).

Don’t want to bother with a taxi from the airport- you can catch Bus #3 which runs every 24-hours from the airport to the city.  It will take a while, however.

Taking a Taxi From the Sayran Bus Station

Another place you may have to take a taxi from where things are a bit sketchy.  Again, I wouldn’t bother getting a Kazakhstan SIM card at the bus station.  The companies selling there aren’t authorized dealers and who knows what you could end up with.  The rate with Yandex app is about 800 KZT from Sayran to Dostyk Plaza area just to give you an approximate rate.  But, I have paid up to around 2000 KZT for this route from taxis from the street or hitchhiking just to avoid being around this bus station.  I have also been cheap and walked to the Sayran Metro Station (quite far away, really).  Don’t play around in Sayran if you can avoid it, especially after dark.  It is one of the seedier places in Almaty.

I would go to the street and try to hail a taxi from there.  If not, then you can find the guy annoying you the least and try to use him.  I always go for the oldest man in the bunch as some of the younger people tend to be in taxi gangs.

Lake Issyk, Kazakhstan: A Turquoise Slice of History and Pleasure Near Almaty

Tips for Taking an Almaty Taxi

Taking a taxi should be pretty easy but it is definitely an experience in Almaty if you don’t know what you’re doing (and sometimes if you actually do).  I used to have a personal driver here so I could avoid taxi situations, actually.  But since taxis have become easier to take, I don’t feel the need to have a dedicated driver.  Keep the following tips in mind:

Taxi Gangs

This is a weird one, I know.  It took me a couple of extremely negative experiences with taxis in Almaty to learn what was happening.  A few years back when the economy crashed here, a lot of younger men formed taxi gangs.  I have been told this by several people and I still don’t know their actual purpose.  But basically, it was traced back after police reports (which nothing was done about for the most part) I had to file that this was the case with both companies used.  Anyway, if you use Yandex and Uber, you won’t have a problem with this.  It was some of the other companies circulating a few years back but I don’t see them on the streets as much anymore.

Negotiate a Price Beforehand

If you’re using an app, this won’t apply to you.  But, if you’re hailing a cab from the street, you will need to negotiate a price before you take off.  Some taxi drivers will not reply quickly with a price and try putting you in the car.  DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN.  They are avoiding a price because you’re about to get screwed over.  I negotiate on a calculator or have a piece of paper ready so they can write the price on there.

Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Smoking in Taxis

Yes, people smoke in Almaty just like other cities.  And many taxi drivers will smoke.  I don’t usually have someone smoking while I am being driven, but the car may reek of smoke when you enter it.  Such is life… not much can be done about it.

Talking on Cell Phones While Driving

This is also extremely commonplace.  I wish it wasn’t.  I would love to say that if this scares you, take a bus.  But then again… bus drivers do it too.

Never Get Out of the Taxi Without Your Stuff

If you throw your belongings in the trunk of a taxi, ALWAYS ensure that the driver gets out of the car to help you grab them.  Make sure that he or she gets out before you.  Never ever get out of that taxi without your things and a driver still being in the taxi.  You’re likely safer with Uber and Yandex as all information is on file… but never do this with street taxis.  I have had a friend very wronged at the Bishkek Airport.  He threw his stuff in the trunk and went climbing in the backseat of the car and the taxi drove off with all of his stuff and not him.  Be careful.  This happens everywhere though, not just when traveling in Central Asia.

Get Dropped Off Nearby If You Can

I never get dropped off directly where I am staying.  I have had multiple instances here with Almaty taxis in the past, so I just get dropped off somewhere nearby and walk.  I always pick a prominent place by where I’m staying and consistently stick with that.  Lately, the place is Dostyk Plaza.  I just tell everyone that and they know where it is and no harm.

My Three Negative Experiences with Taxis in Kazakhstan

I was contemplating talking about these or omitting them but I feel it is important to discuss them so you know why it is important to use a reliable taxi source when in Almaty (the third was Uber, on the other hand).  These incidents can take place anywhere.  They are not Almaty-specific.  But, here is a little insight as to why I eventually was keen on writing this post.

From Dostyk Plaza to Sayran Bus Station

My first visa run a few years ago took me from the Dostyk Plaza area to Sayran Bus Station early on a Saturday morning to catch a marshrutka to Bishkek.  The hostel I stayed at at the time called me a taxi to take me to the bus station and they used an actual company.  The driver picked me up and we started our way to Sayran.

I had exact change on me for this ride as well as the amount needed to buy a bus ticket to Bishkek.  Nothing more.  Once we pulled up to the bus station, I told him to let me off before and he refused.  He then proceeded to pull through the pay station and demanded I pay for it so I could be dropped off close to the station.  I was furious.  The extra money was dipping into my marshrutka ticket.  I told him that it would come out of his tip.

Once he stopped the car and I gave him the money with no tip (as it was used on the pay station), he was so furious he started shouting at me.  I quickly grabbed my things and got out of the car walking away as fast as I could.  He decided that would be a great time to try to run me over.  He stepped on the gas and made his way for me.  I was able to maneuver in between two parked cars and he stopped his car and got out running after me trying to hit me.  I was able to go in between two other cars and when he was about six feet from me, he threw a coin at my head as hard as he could.  I reacted and my hand went up, deflecting the coin but leaving a mark on my hand and it in agony.

I started running toward the bus station screaming as he was chasing me and a group of about 10 Central Asian men just stared at me doing nothing.  I eventually ran inside and he had turned around.  I reported to my hostel and then to the police.  Nothing was done.  The car below was the culprit (I took photos of the car for license plate reasons as I was running away and have no remorse for sharing them).

Almaty Taxi Guide: How to Successfully Take a Taxi in Almaty, Kazakhstan

From Almaty Airport to Hotel Kazakhstan

I arrived back at Almaty Airport from Bishkek via a flight because the roads were icy and snowy from a visa run to Kyrgyzstan.  My flight landed in Almaty late in the evening and I had to get a taxi from the airport to my hostel.  While I was on my way to grab an Eco-Taxi out front (don’t think these taxis exist anymore), two men approached me and the one said he would give me a lift to the city as he already had a passenger going there (the other guy with him).  I asked the price and it was half-price and since he had another passenger with him, I obliged.

He spoke to me a lot during the trip asking me where I was from (I almost always say Germany when I feel a situation could be potentially dodgy as saying American will almost always make it dodgy and more expensive) and other things.  We pulled up to a corner near Hotel Kazakhstan (the place I lied about staying at so they didn’t know my actual destination) and as I was starting to pay, he demanded about $100 more than what initially stated (around $5).  I pretty much told him to get bent and quickly realized that the other man in the car was not really a passenger, but rather an accomplice.

I was able to open the door and grab my belongings (a lot of tech equipment and photography stuff) and start to run.  Because of the recent blizzard, it was slick outside and the snow was deep.  The driver ran after me and tried punching me down to the ground.  While he clumsily did this, he lost his gait and fell down.  I was able to continue running to the hotel and was screaming at the top of my lungs to get the security guards attention.  The man got up, continued running and followed me inside of the hotel.  Security stared and did nothing.  The front desk didn’t seem to care.  And the man said he did nothing but was trying to collect his 1500 KZT for the fare (after telling me it was a ridiculous amount more than that and trying to beat me down to rob me).

After about an hour of trying to explain things to the front desk while the man was standing there, they called the police.  He dashed out the door as soon as they were called and told me to not leave the hotel because he would be waiting for me.  Again, security didn’t care and did nothing.  The police came and told me if I filed charges, I’d have to stay around Kazakhstan until they were cleared or went through which could be a year.  I said no and that I needed out of Central Asia asap at that point.  I then waited a few hours until the early hours of the morning to leave the hotel to go to my hostel so the men wouldn’t see me leaving.

Hiking to Butakovskiy Waterfall in Almaty: Kazakhstan Nature at its Finest and a Day Trip from Almaty

From Dostyk Plaza to Rozybakiev Street

This one was not nearly as frightening, thank goodness.  The Uber app back in 2016 in Kazakhstan used to only give estimated fares (not sure if it still does or not) for getting to places.  I called an Uber to go from Dostyk Plaza across the city to Rozybakiev Street.  This should be an easy trip down Al-Farabi and done.  The driver picked me up, drove me around for an hour, racked up huge charges to my account, started cursing and trying to hit women drivers (telling me that females shouldn’t be allowed to drive) along the way.  It was the weirdest and scariest taxi ride I had ever had (thank goodness Bulgaria topped it a year later).  I eventually was charged an astronomical amount for this ride and ran out of the car.  I contacted Uber and told them and they refunded the money to me.

I am not telling these incidents as a way to scare people.  I am asked about them often and I think they fit the reason that knowing how to take a taxi in Almaty is super important to me and I want to ensure everyone has a positive experience in this city.  After a lot of trial and error, I haven’t had any issues here in the last two years and I can truthfully thank Yandex for that.  If you have any questions, updates, or suggestions- please add them in the comments!

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2 Comments
  • offline1trips
    Posted at 18:14h, 12 September Reply

    Hi Megan! I love your blog. I’ve visited Ukraine (Kiev and Odessa) 2 months ago and have seen Black Sea for the first time. It was amazing!
    One suggestion for you. You love mobile apps, internet booking, cashless payments… stop it! Enjoy your trips with (almost) no electronics. Actually I’m a web developer (so I use internet a lot) and I decided to find a hotel after arrival, pay only in cash, buy train tickets in ticket offices, and so on. I didn’t have to worry about unacceptable cards, depleted phone batteries or wrong hotel bookings. The only useful app was offline map of the county (because I didn’t have data connection).

    • Megan Starr
      Posted at 08:34h, 13 September

      did you even read this post or are you trying to promote something here? as a female traveler who has been beaten by taxi drivers, im a HUGE fan of apps. and i dont care to be disconnected- thanks.

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