The Valley of the Castles in Charyn Canyon is a spectacular giant golden crevasse which stretches for 80 km along the Charyn River, the deepest river in the Northern Tien Mountains. After leaving the lush, green and spectacular sunken forest of Lake Kaindy, the drive to the Canyon is a monotonous rolling steppe landscape until the amber hues and crazy shapes of the monolithic rock formations come into view amidst the dust.
Valley of the Witches
The first stop to view the Charyn Canyon was the observation point over the Sharyn River where the rock is dark enough to be called the Valley of the Witches. As we peered over the edges into the depths and at the river churning far below I could well imagine that there were witches waiting in the shadows to maliciously tip us all over the edge into the abyss.
Most visitors will begin and end their exploration at the entrance to The Valley of the Castles, a scaled down version of the Grand Canyon carved deep into the Kazakh desert. The canyon is long but only 2km is truly accessible to tourists.
Valley of the Castles
Warm colours, blinding light, deep shade and vast rocks shaped by eons of time and natural forces. Let your imagination run wild again as the red sandstone before you becomes a canvas for bizarre fairy tales and an ark of animals. Over time these sculptures will erode and change into something different, the canyon is constantly evolving under the influence of wind, rain and heat. The Valley of the Castles is stunning.
Look closer at the texture of the surface of the rock and you might find fossils from ancient plants, animals and shells. 12 million years ago Charyn Canyon was under water and the remnants of that era can still be found. If there was ever a place to make you realise just how old the earth is and how short our lives are in comparison then this is it.
The walk takes around 1 hour to reach Sharyn River where you’ll find shade from the glare and heat of the sun amidst the lush trees and vegetation. The locals love this part of the canyon and you’ll find families enjoying a day out. It’s a relief to take off the trekking shoes and paddle your feet in the river but don’t be fooled, it’s pretty darn cold!
There are taxi shuttles to that can bring you from the bottom near the river to the the starting point where you need to walk up the steps to get out the gorge – great idea if the heat is too much to bear!
CHARYN CANYON: THE ESSENTIALS
Getting to Almaty
We flew to Almaty with Fly Dubai from Dubai but many other airlines fly to this airport such as KLM, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.
Getting to Charyn Canyon
Kazakhstan is not the easiest country to navigate. Charyn Canyon is around 4 hours from Almaty and you’ll hear rumours of public buses heading to the area in the city but no-one ever seems to know when or where from.
A shared taxi or rented car are the best option for travel. The main road is a hot 10k walk away from the entrance to The Valley of the Castles. A shared taxi will leave you there so be prepared for that. If you share a taxi make sure they are coming back or staying in the area so you are able to get back. Kokpek and Kegan are the nearest villages to the canyon and if you end up hitch hiking it’s a good place to head to then continue on to Almaty.
Getting from Saty to Charyn Canyon should take around 2 hours and you can negotiate a local taxi or car from the village.
Entrance free to Charyn Canyon
Entrance to the Valley of the Castles is 727 tenge and if you wanted to camp in the canyon that will cost 350 tenge extra.
Where to stay in Charyn Canyon
There’s an eco-park by the River Charyn in the base of the canyon which provides yurt, bungalow or camping accommodation.
The yurts have a mattress on the floor and cost 40,000T ($120) for the whole yurt which sleeps at least 8 people.
The bungalows are basic wooden cabins beside the river with beds, a light and a small balcony area and cost 14,000T ($42) for a two-person bungalow or 20,000T ($60) to sleep three.
Camping is the cheapest option – it’s free providing you have your own gear! You’ll find a cleared, open space by the river which is the designated spot.
There’s a Summer Cafe which served simple food and beverages . You can also chill by the river in the pergolas shading you from the desert heat.
Our accommodation was in a guest house in Saty as part of a trip with Trekkup Dubai where we visited Lake Kaindy and the Kolsai Lakes.
Insurance for Kazakhstan
Always make travel insurance a priority for any adventure! World Nomads is my go-to guys, I’ve learnt this from experience. You can buy and claim online even when you’ve left home. I love that they give a little back too and support community development projects in various countries.
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