Charyn Canyon

June 16, 2017

In my previous post, I wrote about spending a weekend in Almaty, the former capital city of Kazakhstan. If you are not planning to go skiing, then two or three days is enough to explore the city. Almaty is surrounded by beautiful mountains and there are many national parks within 3-5 hours drive. Depending on the season you may choose to go hiking, explore the neverending steppes and azure lakes, rocky deserts or visit Charyn Canyon. And this is what I did. Charyn Canyon is often compared to the Grand Canyon in the USA

I contacted really amazing girls from Steppe Spirit and booked my trip with them. You could easily rent a car and drive and you would be safe. But I was traveling solo and I only had one day left before my flight to Morocco, so I chose the easiest way to explore the area around Almaty.

Kazakhstan is a very big country, its main roads are great. Charyn Canyon is located just 200 kilometers (120 miles) east of Almaty, close to the Chinese border. I left the hotel early in the morning and started the journey to a new destination.

Steppes and horses

Once we left the city the landscape has changed. We passed by small villages that are all very typical of any country that was a part of the USSR. Soon we left the villages behind and found ourselves surrounded by steppes covered with fresh green grass. The steppe looked like a green carpet that stretched till the beautiful Tyan Shan Mountains. And then suddenly I saw a herd of horses that were lazily grazing on the field.

A horse is a Kazakh nomad’s loyal friend, means of transportation and also food. This animal has always been a part of a nomadic lifestyle. Apart from that, horsemeat is a part of the traditional Kazakh cuisine. I tried and I really regret doing that. Never again.

The Road

As I mentioned earlier the main roads in Kazakhstan are good. Approximately on the half way through to the Charyn Canyon, you will turn from the main road and take secondary and dirt roads. You will not find shops or many gas stations on your way, so bring some bottled water and food with you. Neither you will see proper restrooms. There will be some booths with a whole in the floor or bushes near the road.

The landscape will be changing every half an hour, so prepare your cameras. Kazakhstan has so many breathtaking views.

Charyn Canyon

We kept going until we saw the edge of the canyon. I came up to the edge and saw the magnificent, colorful, rock formations and the view over the mountains that left me speechless.

You probably got used to visiting national parks that have rules, railings near the edges and many guides who would tell you what you can’t do. There at Charyn Canyon, I felt free. There is a number of regulations that are basically a common sense, like you can’t make fire at certain places, etc. But in overall, this place remained true, free and authentic. Yes, you can climb anywhere as long as you are confident, and you can sit at the edge. And yes, you can fly your drone. Charyn Canyon is over 12 million years old, it’s length is 200 km (124 mi) and it is height is 100-300 meters (300-900 feet) deep.

I came up to the edge of one of the rock formations and breathed in my full lungs. I just stood there feeling the wind in my hair, looking over the endless steppe and thinking about how beautiful this world is.

Charyn Canyon is often referred to as the Grand Canyon’s little brother. Do you also think they are alike?

I came close to the edge and started going down. There are stairs but there are also paths on the less steep slopes. As I reached the bottom of the Canyon I appeared in the beautiful Valley of Castles (Dolina Zamkov) and started walking towards the Charyn River, the place where the Canyon begins. You may also drive through by your own car, but it has to be 4×4 and the driver has to be experienced. Or you may take an eco taxi. But I believe that it is not worth it, if you can walk, then walk and feel the place.

There are many legends around the Canyon. Centuries ago, it was called the gate to the bowels of the Earth, it was the place where spirits lived that didn’t like to be disturbed by ordinary mortals. Back then people believed that these evil spirits drove animals to the cliffs and forced them to jump down. Now it is believed that the wolves did that and scared the people.

Another mysterious place in Charyn Canyon is called the Witch Canyon. The legends say that late at nights witches flew there luring the travelers on the rocks and then pushed them down into the abyss. Nowadays, even the most skeptical travelers who stay there for a night feel some tension. Sounds like a perfect place to spend a night, huh?


Kazakh Yurts

I reached the Charyn River and saw an eco-park with a restaurant, cabins and traditional yurts. The selection of meals is limited to what’s cooked on that day, so I had a delicious pilaf (rice and meat) and achuchuk salad (tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and spices). Kazakh cuisine mainly consists of meat.

Here you can also rent a traditional yurt to spend the night under millions of stars … the true 5-million stars hotel. The yurt is good for 8 people to sleep in. There are no beds, but you will be provided with mattresses and blankets. I really loved this concept, it is similar to glamping but more traditional or camping but much more comfortable.

Read more about the traditional Kazakh yurt.

You can also book a yurt with Steppe Spirit

Wild Onion

On the way to the Canyon, I saw young boys selling wild onion on the side of the road. They go to the mountains and collect it there.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Momma To Go June 17, 2017 at 2:25 am

    If I didn’t know better that canyon looks like Grand Canyon! Wild! These photos remind me so much of the SW US! What an amazing adventure I’d never considered kazechstan as a destination!

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    Reply 100cobbledroads June 17, 2017 at 8:52 am

    Wow! Those chasms between the rocks are so stunning. I think I could make out rock shapes resembling human figures. How interesting this canyon trip is..

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    Reply Aneesha Rai June 19, 2017 at 7:08 am

    Veronica, your pics always take my breath away! I would love to go to Kazakhstan; it really is so beautiful and unknown to most.

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    Reply monika June 19, 2017 at 8:06 am

    Omg, Veronica! THis looks so amazing, your photos are top like always:) I d love to go to Kazakhstan too .. and follow your footsteps 😀

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    Reply Maggie June 19, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Wow…your photos are stunning! Kazakhstan (and the rest of central Asia) has been on my list for a while now. I would argue that Charyn might even be better than the Grand Canyon if only due to the lack of crowds. It’s one of the few places in the world that you can get truly off the beaten path

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    Reply chrischu June 19, 2017 at 9:25 am

    That looks just like the Grand Canyon, so I think your comparison is spot on. It looks amazing. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t think Kazakhstan looked like this, but it’s really beautiful! Great write-up

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    Reply My Travelogue by Bhushavali June 19, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Almaty already took my breath away with your last post and this post is further enticing! The countryside looks so charming. The roads look as if it got frozen a century ago!!! The Kazakh yurt looks absolutely stunning!

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    Reply Kate June 19, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    So brave of you traveling solo. Kazakhstan is such an interesting place to visit. The long roads, the people and even the traditional yurt was so fabulous.

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    Reply Ami Bhat June 20, 2017 at 3:41 am

    I definitely want to head here before it becomes crowded and touristy. Looks so perfect and beautiful. Loved your clicks and that lore about the Witches’ canyon….makes me want to see a witch asap. Wonder if they look anything like the Harry Potter ones?

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    Reply gokulr27 June 20, 2017 at 5:32 am

    The place looks so rugged and untouched. Love visiting places like these where there are very less tourists.

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    Reply Christopher James Mitchell June 20, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Your pictures do an incredible job capturing your feelings, but also provoking emotion. I really enjoyed this one, and you also featured some places that are high up on my bucket-list!

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    Reply Ana Ojha June 20, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    I didn’t know that Charyn Canyon is known as the little brother of the Grand Canyons! The landscape looks absolutely incredibly for surreal photography and your pictures speak for itself how beautiful it is! The decor of the traditional yurt looks quite amazing!

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    Reply Ektala June 22, 2017 at 6:42 am

    Wow! the pics with the yurta that I desire so much having in my garden! And the red interior with carpets! Then I was comparing colours and shapes of rocks to my beloved Dades Valley. And you say you were living for Morocco..:) Now very curious to see Charin Canyon as well!

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    Reply James June 22, 2017 at 8:36 am

    I will visit Kazakhstan, hopefully at the start of next year. I knew nothing about the country before reading this, I don’t think I’ve even seen a picture of it. You’ve photographed the sparseness of the country very well and you’ve also give me a point of interest to visit, the Charin Canyon. I can see a similarity with the Grand Canyon but I’d imagine there are a lot fewer tourists here. Sleeping in a Yurt must be a very unique experience, it looks very royal inside, it reminds me of the Gers in Mongolia.

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    Reply travelscoutadventure June 24, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    The picture with the horses in the field is INCREDIBLE! I’d be in heaven. Charyn Canyon seems like it has some great legends attached to it!

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    Reply thesanetravel June 25, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    I have never heard about Charyn Canyon before. It looks like an awesome place to visit if in Kazakhstan. Your pictures give a good idea about the tour and Canyon. Thanks for sharing.

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    Reply Clare C June 26, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Wow, such a good article! Kazakhstan has long been on my list, but your pictures make me want to go so badly. Love the yurts and the canyon sounds amazing. Great trip and great article!

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    Reply quirkywanderer June 27, 2017 at 5:45 am

    I am a fan of your photos. I read and then give up because the photos are just tooo brilliant. Love your documentation of this offbeat country. You tempt me to visit it!

  • Reply In Morocco - Siniciliya July 4, 2017 at 6:43 am

    […] three weeks traveling around Morocco. I went there the next day after I came back from Almaty in Kazakhstan and I traveled over 10 000 kilometers to reach Marrakech within two days of traveling […]

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    Reply Paige Wunder July 6, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    This trip looks like an absolute dream come true for me! I have an obsession with canyons and red rock formations. Plus, that yurt! Sign me up!

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    Reply Candy & Crystal October 4, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    As always your photos are absolutely stunning. The canyons look so similar to the canyons I just recently saw in Utah. I took a deep breath just like you! So much beauty 🙂

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