How to travel from Almaty to Bishkek

Almaty (Kazakhstan) to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)

The easiest way to get from Almaty to Bishkek in Central Asia is to take a marshrutka (minibus with a fixed route). These leave the utilitarian Sayran bus station (sometimes spelt Sairan) in the east of Almaty.

As of September 2022 there are four departures per day at 8:00am, 12:00pm, 4:00pm and 6:00pm. The journey time is around four hours depending on how long you spend at the border.

A ticket for the journey costs just ₸2,500 ($5.30) making it an excellent and cost-effective way to travel between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

There is little point flying between the two cities as with check-in and waiting around you won’t save much time and will be missing out on one of the most scenic journeys in Central Asia.

Boring stuff: I have visited each of the places I recommend and give you my honest opinion, warts and all. All photos are my own unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission. Affiliate links may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

Check out these great Kyrgyzstan tours:

Getting to Sayram Bus Station

I took a bus from Sky Hostel in central Almaty (Kurmangazy Street) and got off too early having to walk a couple of kilometres along the main road (Ulitsa Tole Bi) until I reached the large bus station next to a dried-out lake.

You can tell you are in the right place by the hordes of taxi drivers touting for customers and buses and trucks being loaded with goods and people.

Rural Kyrgyzstan
Rural Kyrgyzstan

Almaty to Bishkek Bus

I walked through the thronging car park up into the main building. Bishkek was signposted above the entrance and I found my way to the ticket counter and purchased my ticket for the next marshrutka.

I bought some water for the journey and went out the back to the waiting vehicles. As is common practice in this part of the world, there is no set time and the minibus won’t leave until it is full. Three or four people were already waiting and it took about an hour to fill up.

We left at around 3pm and set off through the congested streets of Almaty. It took over an hour to get clear of the city and then we drove up into rolling steppe land that was very similar to Mongolia.

Rolling green hills as far as the eye could see dotted with the occasional yurt or ger. To the south the Tian Shan mountains were an ever-looming presence.

The green pastures melded into the white jagged mountains towering thousands of metres above. I put my headphones on and gazed out of the window in my element. There is truly little better than being on the road surrounded by nature’s great majesty with the onset of a new destination on the horizon!


The Kordai Border Crossing

We reached the border at Kordai at around at around 7pm after a brief stop halfway to stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat from the roadside café (plenty of hearty dishes such as plov).  

As is customary, we left the marshrutka with all our belongings to cross the border on foot and be collected at the other side. It took a matter of minutes to exit Kazakhstan and enter Kyrgyzstan and I was surprised that there wasn’t even a luggage scanner. As both countries are VISA free for UK nationals it was just a case of showing your passport, being photographed and then through.


Almaty to Bishkek – Entering Kyrgyzstan

Burana Tower, Kyrgyzstan
Burana Tower, Kyrgyzstan

I followed the others from my marshrutka and waited on the other side of the border to be picked up. A river separated the two countries and border guards and soldiers patrolled the area.

I noticed some large birds of prey down by the river but thought better of getting my camera out. The sun was starting to set and it got chilly waiting the 30 minutes or so for our ride to reappear.

The journey into Bishkek took around half an hour and we were soon deposited at the Western Bus Station on Silk Road Avenue. As luck would have it my hostel (Apple Hostel on Chymkentskaja Street) was just round the back of the bus station less than 5 minutes walk away.


Bishkek

Bishkek is a capital city but is unlike one I have ever experienced and it seemed like a provincial village. No modern or high-rise buildings, mud roads and an air of the mysterious about the place.

It was pitch black by this time and bus stations always seem dodgy at the best of times so I was glad to find my way to the hostel quickly.

After checking in at the hostel I went next door to a soviet style canteen. I ordered a big plate of plov for a few pence and settled down to a beer in the hostel.

I could barely walk due to falling while hiking in the mountains at Shymbulak outside Almaty, and hobbled around waiting for my trip to the Burana Tower at Tokmok the next day.

Looking to get around more of Central Asia? Check out this useful guide on how to get from Bishkek to Osh.

You can also check out my guides on Urumqi to Almaty, Almaty to Tashkent, or how to Travel the Silk Road.



Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

About the author:

Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has traveled to over 60 countries, lived in Armenia, China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.

Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of the world by train, bus and boat. He has been interviewed multiple times by the BBC and recently featured in the documentary Scariest Places in the World. See the About page for more info.

Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲


50 thoughts on “How to travel from Almaty to Bishkek

  1. Maria says:

    Dear Steve, thank you very much for this useful information. Could you please tell me how you managed the payments still in Kasachstan. With which currency did you pay the taxi/shuttle from Almaty airport to the bus station – the same for the purchase of the bus ticket in Almay? did you need local currency? thank you very much for sharing your experiences.

    • steve says:

      Hi Maria, thanks for your comment. I used my Chinese unionpay card to withdraw local currency (Tenge) from ATMs in Almaty. You must pay for everything in Tenge so either withdraw when you get there, or you can exchange USD/Euros etc at the border or airport. Hope this helps and enjoy Kazakhstan – it’s a wonderful place!

    • steve says:

      Hi, Jo, just go to Sayran bus station on Tole Bi Street (metro stop “Sairan/Sayran) and you can buy the ticket on the day. Best, Steve

  2. Haji Ghulam murtaza says:

    Thanks ; good information for tourists; I have planing to these countries; by land from Pakistan ?

    • steve says:

      Thanks Haji, glad the information is helpful. I am in Central Asia again now and will update old posts with the latest info. Best, Steve

    • steve says:

      Hi Katie, the Kazakhstan land borders remain mostly closed to foreigners. I do believe you can cross from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan, but not the other way around. Cheers, Steve

      • steve says:

        Kazakhstan’s land borders with Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Russia will open for tourists from Monday 11th April 2022.

  3. Helen says:

    Hello Steve,
    Thank you for the very useful information. Do you know if getting the train from Almaty to Bishkek is still an option? It appears to be on lots of websites but I can’t find any reviews of people traveling that way. Any feedback would be much appreciated.
    Thank you
    Helen

  4. Juho says:

    Thanks Steve,
    This info is welcomed and came just in time. About to take the same leg in two days. Hopefully I’ll avoid the leg injury in Shybulak though.
    Nice writing too. Loved to read it. Will check for some more.
    However, I’ve been to Bishkek a couple of times. Can’t say what is your impression of a high-rise building, but there are some, aren’t there? : )

    • steve says:

      Hi Juho, many thanks for your kind words (and I certainly hope you avoid the leg injury at Shymbulak)! Not sure if the snow and ice would have completely cleared there by now?
      Enjoy your trip. I should be back in KZ in the next couple of months myself!

      I didn’t spend much time in Bishkek so may have missed the tall buildings. I just made a quick stop to the Burana Tower and then back to Almaty 🙂

      Best, Steve

  5. Juho says:

    Hi Steve,
    You’re welcome. I gotta add, that I took the leg from Almaty to Bishkek on 8.5.22. From Sayran station. At the time there were no marshrutkas available. Only shared taxis that cost 5000 tenge/person when the car is full. Then you need a taxi or marshrutka in Kyrgyzstan. The marshrutka is a good option is your are going to Gum/Zoom in the center of the town as it is practically free (some 45som). Just make sure you have those soms!

    • steve says:

      Thanks for the updated info Juho! So did the shared taxi just drop you at the border? I’ll update the article with this new info.
      Do you mean that the marshrutkas are not running at the moment because of covid, or there just wasn’t one at the time you were travelling?
      Cheers, and have a great time! Steve

  6. pipi_punky says:

    Hi! Just to share some updated info. Today, Sept 18, 2022 I did the Almaty-Bishkek journey. The bus Departed at Sayran station. There are 4 buses per day at 8, 12, 16, and 18hs. Journey is 4 hours and it cost 2500 tengue per person. Hope it helps. Cheers,

    • steve says:

      Hi Noam, you can only buy tickets on the day of departure as it’s a marshrutka not a bus service. I don’t think you will have a problem getting a ticket though. Hope this helps Best, Steve

  7. Peter says:

    Hi Steve, great site and helpful info! I made this ride earlier this week (11 October 2022), and I have some other observations that others may find useful:
    1) At Sayran, I was expecting a van / minibus, but this was a full-fledged coachliner bus (~50 pax, luggage hold below, etc.)
    2) Sayran station’s website indicates six “flights” daily, but as Pipi_plunky says above, there (currently) are 4. The 10:00 and 14:00 flights are deleted, but may be back soon???
    3) The rest stop you mention is a wayside by Targap, about 2 hours into the journey; nice if you need to use the WC or for smokers. For the WC, bring some of your own toilet paper. There are only tiny allotments of rough paper-towel caliber tp available
    4) Presently there is construction happening at certain intervals on the road, with small loop diversions where vehicles have to slow down to ~10mph / 15kmh…no problem, but just it means the ride takes a little longer than normal
    5) Duration for clearing immigration at Kordai is naturally a function of the volume of folks attempting to go through. I was on the 12:00 Sayran departure, which means we were hitting Kordai around 16:00. Peak time, things were really jammed up with cars and some busses, and there was a massive queue of pedestrians, throughput not helped by there being security screening on both sides and only a handful of immigration agents present. It took >1 hour before our bus set forth for Bishkek. We got to Western station a bit past 17:30
    6) After exiting the Kyrg immigrations building, my bus was parked quite a distance down the road…as in a good 1000′ = 300m. Had it not been daylight where I could see a it long way down the road, I would have been freaked out that my bus left without me
    7) In hindsight, rather than wait for everyone in my bus to clear immigration, I wish I had employed one of the throngs of taxis that wait at Kordai and just gotten on my way. There are numerous currency exchange booths present, so you can convert and thus pay your taxi driver in Som. Would have wished to order a Yandex, but my mobile reception at Kordai wasn’t great
    8) One additional motivation for taking a taxi from Kordai is that the Western station is somewhat out of the way from Bishkek city center. Unless you’re at Apple Hostel, you’ll likely want/need to take a taxi/Yandex to city center. Thus, a taxi directly from Kordai to your hotel/hostel will save you a lot of time

    • steve says:

      Hi Pedro, many thanks indeed for your detailed trip report. I’ll add some of this info to the article. Hope you’re enjoying Central Asia! Best wishes, Steve

  8. Gerd E says:

    Hi, I’m on the Almaty to Bishkek bus right now (Friday, Oct 28, 2022). Schedule and price: 0800, 1000, 1200, 1600, 1800; 2500 tenge. I paid an extra 200 tenge but I suspect maybe it’s because I bought my ticket in advance. Or, maybe just “tourist tax”, ha ha

    Bus is not bad…seems to be an old European tour bus, like you’d see in other countries like Burma. Seats reasonably comfortable although a little too close together for taller people like me

  9. ice says:

    Hi steve, great article very informative. Where can I get som currency if Im coming from Almaty or is there any exchange center in the border? or i can get it from Almaty before heading to the border? Which one is better? Thanks a lot…cheerrss!!

    • steve says:

      Hi Ice, there are lots of places to change currency at the border, but you will probably get a better rate if you go to a bank in Almaty before you travel. Hope this helps! Cheers!

  10. Uncle Al says:

    Very useful article Steve, thank you.

    Just wondering about the trip back to Almaty – did you find it’s pretty much identical, just in reverse?

    Do you know any of the timings for the return trip?

    • steve says:

      Hi Al,

      Glad you found it useful. The journey back was much the same. Someone has posted below that there are five buses a day at the present time, but only the times for the Almaty to Bishkek direction. I’d recommend just checking the return times at the bus station when you arrive (or maybe at Sayram they will know).
      Cheers, Steve

      • Uncle Al says:

        I passed by Sayran station today, to see if I could purchase an advance ticket – I was in a hurry, but when I asked the mashrutka drivers “Kordai/Bishkek”, they told me to go with taxi.

        The taxi drivers insisted there was no bus, and I had to get a taxi for 5000.

        It’s probably worthwhile in order to be able to leave at a time of my choosing, rather than waiting around for the buses to fill, but I don’t believe any of them – that said, not entirely why the bus drivers would send me to the taxi drivers, as surely they are in competition.

        • steve says:

          How strange. In the comment below from Gerd he says he took the bus as recently as 28th October. I’m not sure why now there aren’t any, and indeed, why the bus drivers are telling people to go by taxi? Although 5,000 is double the price of the bus, it’s still actually pretty reasonable. Safe travels!

          • Unkle Al says:

            It’s ok – there are still 5 buses a day. I had been in a hurry and asked outside, and they all gave incorrect info.

            I suspect that because the buses are now real buses, they have taken business from the mashrutka drivers, so they are working with the taxi drivers to give false info and try to force people into taxis.

            I still used a taxi coz I overslept and missed the bus. 5k a pop, so the taxi took 25k for filling with 5 people, and drove like a crazed lunatic. In spite of very heavy traffic, got to the border in about 3 hours.

  11. Chih says:

    Hi,

    I am a US citizen traveling to Bishkek. I see that flights are less expensive flying to Almaty. I will be staying at Bishkek anywhere from 2-4 weeks but my flight back will be from Almaty back to the US so I’m just wondering will I have any problems going back and forth from Almaty to Bishkek and back again?

    • steve says:

      Hi Chih, that will largely depend on if you need a visa for either country. If you do, then you’ll need a multiple-entry one for Kazakhstan. As a Brit I don’t need a visa for either, but not sure about US citizens. I think it’s also visa-free for you, but that might have altered after covid. I’d double-check on the embassy website. Best, Steve

  12. Robin says:

    Thank you for guides for the trip! So, I was planning to stay in Almaty for about 3-4days and move on to Bishkek. The train arrives at Almaty 1 station in 11 in the morning, so I was wondering should I go to sayran to buy bus tickets in advance. But, there is no need to buy them in advance, right?

    • steve says:

      Hi Robin, thanks for your comment. For piece of mind it wouldn’t hurt to buy your ticket in advance, but unless it’s a a particularly busy period (summer holiday, national holiday etc) it shouldn’t be necessary. Best, Steve

  13. Nik says:

    Nice write up steve….I am planning reverse trip from Georgia-Azerbaijan-Kazak-Bishkek. My return flight is from Bishkek. As a Indian PP holder i need visas for all except Kazak. My question is can i do my immigration at the boarder crossing (while leaving my backpack in shared taxi/bus). Thanks for your help.

    • steve says:

      Hi Nik, unfortunately, the land border between Georgia and Azerbaijan is currently closed. It will be reviewed again on 1st July, but it’s not hopeful. Re your question, you will need to leave the bus with your baggage to cross the border and go through customs. Hope this helps. Best, Steve

  14. Tony says:

    Dear Steve
    Any update for road trip Almaty to Bishkek? I plan to do it on 21 Sep 2023 (both Kaz & Kyr are visa exempted for Vietnam passport)
    Many thanks for your advise!
    Tony

    • steve says:

      Hi Tony, the route is running so you just need to go to Sayram bus station in Almaty and get a ticket (can do it a day or two in advance if you have time, but you can also do it on the day of travel). Hope this helps, best wishes, Steve

  15. Kristie says:

    I am going from Almaty to Bishkek because I want to go to Issyk-kul lake. Do I have to go to Bishkek or is there a way to go straight to the lake and to the Painted Canyon?

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