Charyn Canyon Valley of the Castles


Charyn Canyon215km east of Almaty towards the border with China is the Charyn Canyon National Park. Although it is nowhere near the size of America’s Grand Canyon, the Charyn Canyon is also a spectacular place to visit. Stretching almost 150km in length and dropping to 300m in places, there is one area of the canyon that is of particular interest.

The Valley of the Castles (known locally as Dolina Zamkov), this is the most commonly visited section of Charyn Canyon. A group of us arrange a day trip to Charyn Canyon using a local tour operator in Almaty who picked us up from our hotel and we headed out on a 3 hour trip to the Canyon.

Open Spaces, Kazakhstan

Open Spaces, Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan was one of the largest former Soviet states and as we made our way east towards the Charyn Canyon, we really got a feel for the wide open spaces that go on for mile after mile. At one point we stopped at a little village and took the opportunity to buy some fresh fruit. Buying local produce in places like this always tastes better than what is available back home in the supermarkets and was all part of the day out. Eventually we reached our destination, the part of the Charyn Canyon known as the Valley of the Castles. The plan was to walk down into the bottom of the canyon to a point on the river where we would stop for lunch. We parked up and headed down the first set of steps into the bottom of the canyon to begin our walk down to the river.

Valley Of The Castles, Charyn Canyon

Valley Of The Castles, Charyn Canyon

The landscapes in this part of the canyon were simply stunning with jagged rocks and contours that had taken thousands of years to erode away into the shapes we see today. We didn’t notice it at the time but as we made our way towards the river, we were heading down a gentle slope. Its fair to say our group wasn’t a typical collection of hardened hikers so we made a gentle pace stopping to take pictures at various places. Eventually, we reached our destination next to the wide, fast flowing river. There were some tables where lunch would be served and while it was being prepared, our guide offered me and a friend the opportunity to climb to some other parts of the canyon. Apparently, we looked fitter and more able than the rest of the group…at this point we started to seriously question the guides judgement. Approaching my 40th, its fair to say I’m not in as good shape as I was in my early 20s.

Charyn River

Charyn River

Nonetheless, we took up the little challenge but I should point out that our footwear wasn’t ideally suited to hard core hiking but for some reason, we trusted our guide. He proceeded to lead us up and down all sorts of precarious and narrow little tracks and on more than one occasion, I would have been quite happy to see an RAF Mountain Rescue Sea King appear but unfortunately, the Charyn Canyon was outside the range of operation. After what seemed like an age of nervous progress, we eventually appeared on the ridge overlooking the river and our colleagues below and we made our way down to join them for lunch. Despite a few moments of concern, it was worth the effort as we managed to see the canyon from different aspects from the rest of the group.

Looking Down Into The Canyon

Looking Down Into The Canyon

After our lunch we took time to relax and soak up a bit of the Kazakhstan sun before heading back to the mini bus. It was now that we started to realise there had been a gentle downward slope towards the river. It was only a gentle rise but the walk back to the car park was energy sapping in the hot sun. Finally we reached the last set of steps to climb out of the canyon.

The one thing we hadn’t see a great deal of was wildlife. Perhaps it was a case of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” going out in the midday sun but we did find a couple of little creatures.

CharyLizard CharynSnake

After hours in the sun, it was a relief to get into the air conditioned mini-bus for the journey back to Almaty.

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  1. Great post and photos…a place I knew pretty much nothing about.

  2. Deb says:

    Kazakhstan is a beautiful country isn’t it? I wish we took a detour to see this when we were driving through for the Mongol Rally. It’s high on our list to go back though, so we’ll be sure to see it next time!

    • Rob says:

      Hi Deb
      I didn’t see as much of Kazakhstan as you did but I agree, the bits I saw were beautiful. As well as the Charyn Canyon, I think there were a couple of other places worth seeing as a day trip from Almaty. I’m not sure I’d want to drive all the way there in one of those little cars you take on the Mongol Rally though. I saw some of them in 2011 when I was in Volgograd.

  3. Andrea says:

    This is really cool! I love the little snake

  4. The Guy says:

    Such a diverse mix of colours, brown, red and green it looks great. Also I love the animal shots.

    Thanks for introducing us to somewhere I’d never thought of to explore before.

    • Rob says:

      I saw the lizard down in the canyon under a little shrub but the snake was really cool. He just sat up like that for quite a time watching us. I was expecting him to have tried to escape but he seemed quite happy to stay be be photographed.

  5. ciki says:

    Valley of the Castles looks amazing.. I have not been.. but its on my list.. great shots!

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