A mysterious moon-like landscape that straddles Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the remote Ustyurt Plateau spans a total area of about 200, 000 sq km. Essentially a clay and stony desert interspersed with swaths of sand, it is nestled between the Aral and Caspian seas.
Discover wildlife in a barren land
Though nearly devoid of vegetation and water, some folks once called this inhospitable desert home. More than 60 Neolithic sites have been discovered, and traces of the Mongols have been preserved. The plateau is also a habitat for birds of prey such as vultures and eagles, as well as wild horses and camels. If you are lucky, you may even get a shot of some of these shy – and fast – creatures.
Drink in the gorgeous views
Ustyurt is especially beautiful at sunset and sunrise, when the chalky white rocks are bathed in purplish hues. Its colourful cliffs – rippling shades of pure white, blue and pink – make for a fab backdrop for a sci-fi movie, while the surreal terrain looks like something straight out of space.
Welcome to Instagram paradise
The Ustyurt Plateau plunges sharply at its edges, with sheer drops of about 150m. The escarpments offer eye-popping photo opportunities of boundless salty valleys and breathtaking panoramas. Take the plunge and sleep under the stars for a night – some tours include camping as part of the itinerary.
How to get there
You can cross the Plateau by train between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, but it is faster to get there by car. Or sign up for an organised tour so you can cover the vast area properly.
Feeling adventurous? Join a motorcycle tour, where you get to ride a motorbike in Karagiye Depression at the bottom of a dried-up ocean (132m below sea level). While you are at it, keep a lookout for fossils of ancient sea creatures, such as the shells, bones and teeth of sharks.