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The incredible Charyn canyon – Kazakhstan

After a restful stay in Almaty, we were sure that we would not be disappointed at the end of our stay in Kazakhstan: the southern mountains and the green meadows of this region were the best thing to come for nature lovers like us. On our notebook, Charyn canyon came first…

About Charyn canyon

Charyn Canyon is a 90 km long (indeed!) rock formation surrounding the Charyn River – a river that originates in the Tian Shan Mountains, whose snow-covered peaks can easily be seen from the canyon’s heights. If visiting a canyon remains a rather exceptional phenomenon, visiting Charyn canyon turned out to be… even more exceptional! Of course, this canyon does not surpass the abyssal depth of Hayghar, the great Iranian canyon, but the Kazakh rock formations have very beautiful ochre and red colors, with some quite unusual and exceptional shapes for a canyon!

But the particularity of Charyn Canyon does not stop there… because in truth there is not one canyon, but 4 different canyons, accessible from 4 different roads!

  1. Valley of Castles: it is the most popular and accessible part of the canyon, whose entrance is easily signposted from the main road 25km south of Kokpek village. There is an entrance fee for this part.
  2. Yellow canyon: a nickname given after the ochre rocks which are found in this canyon… A canyon which can be visited in free access by taking an unmarked track from the village of Aksay!
  3. Temerlyk canyon and…
  4. Red canyon: canyons located in the east, accessible free of charge from a dirt track from Aksay or from the A5 Aksay – Chundzha – Kolzhat road. 


We also heard about a fifth canyon, Bestamak Canyon. Problem is, this canyon would only be accessible on foot from the Valley of the Castles when the riverbed runs dry – which was not the case when we went there, in June 2018…

Note: all canyons listed above are very well referenced on the offline map application Remember to save their location before your visit!

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Valley of Castles

Our night in the Valley of Castles

Finding cars to reach all the canyons was not easy, so we only visited the Valley of Castles – the most popular part of Charyn Canyon. We arrived at the end of the day at the guardhouse, located about 10 kilometers from the main road. After paying our entrance fee, the car we hitchhiked continued on to a parking area with a few shelters and two toilet cabins. This was exactly what we needed; especially since the rain had started to fall on this fireland landscape! At this point, we decided to pitch our tent under one of the shelters, before exploring the Valley of Castles.

From the parking area, we followed a multitude of paths going down along the ridges of the glowing rocks, to find the dirt track at the bottom of the canyon: a magical moment, unique, like we were all alone, protected by these immense walls with sometimes unusual shapes. When we climbed back to the top of the Valley of Castes, by a small path passing along the Charyn River and the tourist complex exaggeratedly called “Ecopark”, the rain had stopped to make way for a magnificent rainbow. In front of us, Charyn was illuminated by these most beautiful colors before sinking into the night…

Useful information:
Charyn Canyon, Valley of Castles – 210 kilometers east of Almaty.

Entrance fee: 740 Tenge/person + 750 Tenge/tent (keep the receipt). Possibility to rent one of the Ecopark bungalows.
Duration: half-day + 1 night on the spot (ideally)
Access: accessible by 4×4 or by hitchhiking 

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* Post written according to our personal experience *

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