Known as “the Grand Canyon of Kazakhstan”, Charyn Canyon is a spectacular sight to be found in Central Asia. Created by the Charyn River, it lies around 200-kilometres East of Almaty and close to the Chinese border. The impressive canyon was eroded over 12-million years sculpted by wind, water and sand that vary from deep orange to light brown. From the snow-capped mountains surrounding Almaty to the craggy cliffs, this was not exactly what we had in mind for Kazakhstan. Charyn Canyon is not only picturesque but also a very unique nature’s creation to be found in Central Asia.
When to visit?
Charyn Canyon can be visited any time of the year. However, if you visit during the peak Summer season between May to August, you’re likely to get roasted because it gets so hot in this area.
The best months to visit the Charyn Canyon are probably March/April and September/October as the weather stays fairly pleasant. If you are planning to camp here, ensure that you have picked some layers as it can be cold and windy in the night even in Summer.
The entrance fee to go into Charyn Canyon at the gate near the Valley of Castles cost about 730 KZT (US$2). You will need to show your passport (and driving documents if driving in). There is an additional fee for those that want to take a car onto the 4×4 tracks beyond the parking lot at the gate and viewpoint.
Where to stay?
You can actually camp in the Charyn Canyon for just an additional small fee of 350 KZT (US$0.80) per tent. There are some cleared and designated camping spaces near the river. Of course, don’t pitch a tent too near the edge of cliffs as it can be dangerous at night.
The Eco park is the only accommodation in the Charyn Canyon with some basic bamboo huts on stilts, yurts that sleep up to eight people and a clutch of basic but comfortable rooms. It is a 3-kilometres walk to the end of the valley of castles.
What to see in Charyn Canyon
Charyn Canyon is actually comprises of 5 canyons: Valley of Castles, Temirlik Canyon, Bestamak Canyon, Krasny (Red) Canyon and Dzhelty Canyon (Yellow). The Valley of Castles is the most well known of the canyons and easiest to access. For those with a couple of days or more to explore around, it’s definitely worth spending a couple of days to hike and camp around the canyons. We wished to have a car, so it would not be just a day-trip as there is still so much to see of the canyon.
Our host in Parasat Hostel managed to help us book a tour through a local website to visit the Krasny (Red) Canyon. As all other tours was already fully booked, we took up this tour to at least have a view of part of canyons. We find it a good deal as it only cost 4,500 KZT (US$10) per person with return bus ride and a guide. We were the only foreigners on the bus.
The drive from Almaty to the Canyon is about 3-hours, from monotonous rolling steppe landscape to the amber hues and crazy shapes of the monolithic rock formations come into view amidst the dust. From where the bus stopped, it was an hour hike to the top of the cliff. The view was just mind-blowing.
Ways to get to Charyn Canyon
Like most beautiful places in Kazakhstan, it is not easy getting to Charyn Canyon as well. The travelling part might be hard, but it is really worth it!
By Shared Taxi
Head to Sayahat Bus Station in Almaty and look for shared taxis going to Kegen (Кеген). A ride should cost 2,000-3,000 KZT (US$5-US$7) for a one way trip. You may ask to be dropped off at Charyn Povorot where the intersection of the road going into Charyn Canyon National Park is. From there, it is a 12-kilometres hike through the grasslands, without any shade, to the entrance of the Valley of Castles. Or you may try your thumb at hitching a ride.
Join a Tour
I guess this is probably the easiest way to get to the canyon. The tour we were in was in Russian and obviously catered to the locals crowd. It was completely fine as it was hassle-free and doesn’t cost that much for a little nature and scenery. We were the only tour bus over there and we were actually glad we didn’t go for the more popular one.
Rent a car
This is the best way to explore the canyons freely and venture further than just the Valley of Castles. However, the downside of such freedom comes with a big hole in the pocket. Depending on the time of year you can find rental cars for as little as 15,000 KZT (US$36) per day or closer to 30,000 KZT (US$72) per day in peak times. It would be great if you can find more travellers to share the cost with.
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!