from Almaty to
Kazakhstan’s Grand Canyon.
The Charyn Canyon is a fascinating alien landscape, and without a doubt on the; “One-of-hundred” must-see destinations in the world. Charyn Canyon is composed of sedimentary iron-rich rocks. Smaller than its brother “Grand Canyon” in America, but equally impressive. Charyn Canyon is Kazakhstan’s most popular tourist attraction (not that it’s many tourists here). For foreigners it’s often an unknown treasure, for the locals it’s a landmark. And something you definitely should experience ones in your life!
Charyn Canyon, go for a tour-return day trip from Almaty or better; stay here over the night! The sunset and sunrise are fantastic!
How to get to Charyn Canyon from Almata city is quite uncomplicated. I guess you will find tourist brochures in any hotel lobby in Almaty for a start. Find your group tour or ask the hotel to help you rent a driver with a car. The low prizes here makes it affordable even if it’s a full day trip. You can rent a driver with a 4WD for the day, its surly nice on this bumpy road. The trip can also be made with a 2WD budget car, but the driver won’t be able to drive you all the way down in the valley (not every driver does even with a 4WD has to be mention).
The fact is this isn’t a complicated trip demanding specialized tour operator, our driver did it for the first time with his 4WD BMW. The roads to the Sharyn Canyon are quite ok, not much traffic, and navigation is quite easy since there are not tons of roads to choose between. Rent a car (with GPS) (fill up the tank and buy food and water!). It’s a 3-4 hour drive from the Almaty one way, I guess you can do it in 3 if you don’t take any long stop on your way. Start driving early in the morning is a good idea if you go from Almaty, for example, 9 pm, then you are there around 12 – 13, then the day is at it’s best! Surely also it’s hottest. For photography the sunlight at this time is flat and not ideal, if you are in for photography stay the night over and catch the time right before sunset or right after sunrise.
The Charyn Canyon is close to the China border and was established as a National park in 2004. The canyon is connected to the Charyn river and is located 200 kilometers east of Almaty city. There are different valleys, Castle Valley is the most interesting one for tourists.
As a fun fact Google names it; “The Charyn Canyon”, while Wikipedia names it with S, “The Sharyn Canyon”.
The drive itself if interesting, this long monotony scenery with its dry never changing landscape gives an idea why dairy products and meat is so important for the Kazakhstan people: Horses and sheep’s is the only thing this wasteland can produce. Fruit or vegetables are just not possible to grow here. I did see some kids standing along the way selling something that looks like carrots, I can’t believe they are farming something here. Maybe some sort wild growing vegetables?
Are you shy? The toilets have a bad standard when you leave the city, and if you have to you have to; you won’t be able to find a tree to hide behind. Yiu want find a tree for many miles I am afraid.
Buy some water before you pass this point, it’s a good advice!
Lunch is coming right up! On the 3-hour drive from Almaty, it’s worth taking a lunch before entering the Charyn Canyon. “Shaslik” – meat on a spear and a cup of tea is an authentic experience, and in this simple street-kitchen they really know how to make good shaslik.
Simple and perfect! The best Shaslik ever!
It cost a couple of dollars to enter the Sharyn Canyon with a car. The last part of the Charyn Canyon road is under construction and makes it more bumpy and dustier.
Now you are here! When you finally arrive you will find a spectacular scenery! You will also find this huge map that’s close meaningless if you don’t read Russian. Walk from the parking place to the bottom and back is a nice 1 – 1,5 hour walk in total, The walk down is simple and for anyone that’s normal fit without knee-problems or other special conditions. Normal shoes do fine, for example jogging shoes, I guess you could even do this walk with slippers, while it’s not my recommendation. The walkway is sandy, dry and flat all the way down, thanks to some mega rocks in the pathway there is not possible to drive the car all the way down. I would recommend taking the walk from the parking place. It can be hot in the summer sun!
Some last advice:
- Remember to bring some water before you start, in the summertime, it’s possible to buy food and something to drink by the settlement, but bring a bottle with water, it can’t hurt.
- Don’t fill up your camera-memory card before you are down at the river.
- On your way back even if you are exhausted; take the few extra minutes to walk the viewpoint on top of the valley, you get nice photos here, I regret I didn’t.
- Think twice before swimming in this fast flowing river.
How is Charyn Canyon in winter? Before I went here I had a hard time find an answer to that question. I was visiting in early spring, would it be snow here or not? I feared the white snow would make the mountains plain white, just like any other white snow-full mountain. It would completely ruin the view. For comparison, the Ile-Alatau National Park had 40 cm snow and full winter when I visit it the day before. Charyn Canyon, on the other hand, was mild and snow-free. The canyon has a much lower elevation, makes it more snow-safe.
Picture carousel from the Charyn Canyon:
Map from Almaty to Charyn Canyon:
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