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Roadtrip to Charyn Canyon

Kazakhstan is a land full of diversity and wilderness. Though, it is actually not really known for its rich natural facets. You can find there forests, mountains, deserts, lakes, canyons alternating from one idyllic spot to another. There are at least as many activities you can experience, starting with winter sports in the cold season and ending up with rafting, hiking, climbing or (wild)camping in summer.

Being born in Kazakhstan I haven’t been to this kind of places until I moved to Germany. In 2018 I travelled to my homeland again and reconnected with all the beauty I didn’t see for so many years. One of those experiences was a road trip to Charyn Canyon, which is located about 215 km east of Almaty – the city I was born. Many people also call it “the Grand Canyon’s little brother” because of the similarity to its Colorado sibling.

The Charyn Canyon is part of the Charyn Canyon National Park stretching 154 km along the Charyn River, one of the deepest and largest rivers of the Tian Shan mountains. In various places, the river attains a depth of 150 to 300 m and has a total length of 427 km.

3 million years ago the river started to form the Canyon and still runs deep within the gorge and invites the hikers for a cool-down in the green oases. There you can do rafting as well, however it can be very dangerous and difficult (up to category 6), and should only be attempted with professional assistance and equipment.

In total there are 5 different canyons in this national park. Most popular of them is the valley of castles, where we also went for our hike. But there are 4 more: the Temirlik Canyon (iron canyon), the Uzunbulak Canyon (yellow canyon or moon canyon), the Bestamak Canyon (red canyon) and the valley of the witches, because of the dark rock color in this area.

The valley of the castles is the most famous one partly because of its stunning landscape – as it has its name from the rocks, standing high at the horizon, reminding of tower shapes – partly because of the location itself, as this area makes also the entrance to the national park. Its warm colors, deep shades and contrasts between the navy blue sky and the reddish rocks are something out of this world. A hike here is very easy to make, as the route is not very long, ending up in the Charyn river for a refreshment.

Length in km


Depth in m


Amount of canyons


We travelled with our own car by four wheel drive, which is very important as there will be many rocky tracks on the approximately 3h drive duration from Almaty. As there are also not so many facilities in this area, it’s essential to be well prepared. Sufficient provisions, first aid kid, sun protection are a must. And of course a good pair of shoes.

Depending on the duration of your stay it is also important to have a flashlight and warm clothes with you as the temperature will drop sharply during the night. If you are planning to camp – there is also an eco-park in the base of the canyon which provides yurts, bungalows or camping accomodation.

We were there only for one day trip, but I would love to come back here someday in order to see the canyon by night and of course to experience the light spectacle at sundown and sunrise. Fingers crossed 😊

All images were made with an iPhone and edited with Photoshop.