no matter what your guidebook says, the cable car that goes up to Kok-Tobe hill from behind the Palace of the Republic is closed. it’s been closed for a long time and from the looks of it today, it will be closed for a long time to come.
so, how do you get up there? (it’s a nice little getaway and great view of the city below but the amusement park/zoo is meh unless you have little kids, imho) BY BUS! see my earlier post on taking public transportation in Almaty for more information on how to work the bus system.
big thanks to the Lonely Planet for these instructions: take bus 95 or 99 — i took the 99 from the corner of Abay and Dostyk all the way to the end of the line (you’ll know because everyone else will get out or the driver will turn off the bus or you’re the only one and the lady looks at you funny, as was my case). the 99, by the way, starts off more central into the city, running south on Abylai Khan then east on Abay, then going south up the hill on Dostyk; going back into the city it goes west on Abay and up Zheltoksan (since Abylai Khan is one-way, i think).
once you reach the terminus (the stop is Omarova), continue walking uphill (towards the tower) to the little booth where you can buy a round trip ticket for 500 tenge (about $2.70) for the minivan that will take you to the top of the hill. usually one will be waiting, but if not, it will be there shortly.
give the ticket to the driver who will tear off a stub and return the rest to you. you will need to give the rest of the ticket to the driver on your way back down the hill.
you probably don’t want to walk up yourself — it’s hella steep and windy.
the view from the top down to the city is pretty magnificent (as long as it’s a clear day), but other than that, like i said, there’s not too much there: some random animals (mostly birds) in a small zoo and carnival rides for the kids, and some park benches for resting up and/or canoodling i suppose.
by the way, if you’re looking for the famous Beatles park bench, it’s all the way on the opposite side of the hill from the tower. keep walking as far as you can (the hilltop isn’t that big) — it’s tucked into a little corner towards the middle on the far end. i had to ask twice; hopefully you’ll manage better than me!
p.s. if you’re traveling solo and want a picture, i discovered there is a power plug box sticking up out of the ground in the bushes opposite the bench with a flat top you can prop your camera up on and set a timer.