The Charyn Canyon, touted as Kazakhstan’s answer to the Grand Canyon, might be a scaled-down version of the real deal. But the 80km-long natural wonder in the outskirts of Almaty is no less spectacular.
Chiselled over millions of years by wind and water, its red sandstone now forms fascinating shapes that visitors say remind them of myriad things from animals to buildings.
The Charyn Canyon comprises five canyons, but the Valley of Castles is the most well-known one. The Valley of Castles is named for the rock formations that resemble medieval buildings along a 3km trail. This is also the most accessible spot in the Charyn Canyon, and sees the most number of travellers.
Other parts of the canyon, such as the Bestamak (red), Uzunbulak (yellow or moon) and the Temerlik (iron) canyons, are equally captivating with their multi-hued naturescape. Each offers unique experiences. For instance, you will find guesthouses and hot springs near Temerlik, while Uzunbulak features gentler, walkable slopes.
These other canyons are accessible only by specialised four-wheel drive vehicles. This is also why most travellers stop at the Valley of Castles and don’t venture further in, due to accessibility issues. But if you are able to rent your own ride, you should consider spending a few more days there, and set up a tent and camp by the riverside. Camping is allowed in the empty spaces next to the river, and is free of charge.
The eco part at Charyn Canyon offers other accommodation options such as yurts that can sleep up to eight people, and small bungalows that you can rent for about S$50 for two. There is also a restaurant serving Kazakh cuisine, though most people prefer to pack their own picnics. Do remember to pack lots of drinking water too, as facilities provided at the canyon are very basic and you might have trouble finding running water!
The canyon, which looks impressive in the day with its geological formations, evokes a completely different feeling at night. Looking up, one sees only a blanket of glittering stars — a surreal scene that calms the mind and soul.