Charyn Canyon is one of the most popular national parks in Kazakhstan. This is because its beauty and easy accessibility. In lies in middle of large, deserted steppe. Kazakh people like to call it "our Grand Canyon", and it is partially true - Charyn Canyon is smaller, but resembles its American counterpart. Even though Charyn Canyon is frequented by tourists (several buses and many cars everyday in summer), its tourist infrastructure is totally undeveloped, leaving only one smaller campsite to cater for all the tourists. Because of this, it is better to come here on carefully planned daytrip from Almaty, or with supplies and a tent.
The flat area has by shaped by the rivers for millions of years creating the canyon. As in similar nature sights, you can see different color tiers on the rocks, reminding the viewer different climactic stages of nature.
The canyon is shaped by Charyn river flowing from Tien Shan mountains and its several tributaries. While the river Charyn has a strong stream used for rafting, most of the tributaries are dry.
Flora and fauna
The area is dry, with almost no visible signs of life except tourists.
Charyn canyon lies in middle of Kazakh steppe, but in quite a high elevation - around 1300 meters above sea level. As such, the temperature can fall very low during the night even in the summer. Sometimes there is also strong wind, which makes you feel like it was middle of the winter. It is better to come with prepared same spare sweater because of this.
Car seems to be the only way to get here. A new road has been build between the main road and the park main gate. The main road from both Almaty and Kegen near Kyrgyz border is in good shape. From Almaty, go to Sayakhat bus station near Almaty-2 train station early in the morning and haggle with the taxi drivers. 10 000 tenge seems to be normal price for a whole car, while this is possible to haggle down to 8000 tenge if you go a little farther away from the bus platforms. There are rumors about marshurtka going to Kegen through Sharyn Canyon, and this marshrutka is even mentioned in Lonely Planet guide. However, as of 2018, there are no signs of it, even the bus station personnel does not know about it.
There are not so many cars going near Charyn Canyon, but it is still a good way to get there, as almost every car is willing to pick you up. From Almaty, a shared taxi is probably better because of the city size, but when going from Kyrgyz or Chinese border, hitchhiking might be a good option.
Fees and permits
You have to pay a fee and show your passport when going through the 1 park gate. The fee is 737 tenge, more if you want to go inside with your car or camp in the park. If you have your own car, it is better to leave it outside the gate if possible, as the road ends near the gate anyway.
The longest distance you might have to walk in the park is about 5 km (3.1 mi) one way. If you do now want to walk, there are some all terrain vehicles going through the park which drivers you might try to asks to take you to your destination.
If coming by hitchhiking, it is likely you will get stranded at the crossing of the main road and the branch road leading to the park gate. The branch is 10 km (6.2 mi) long so walking is not a viable option - in this case, you have to hitchhike these 10 kilometers.
The best possible map is a good map based on OpenStreetMaps, which have reliable map data for Kazakhstan. Mapy.cz app in offline mode with Kazakhstan maps downloaded proved to be useful, is it offer useful information about height profiles.
1 Valley of Castles. This is the only part of the canyon directly accessible from the park gate. There are huge rock formations resembling castles, thus the name. You can see it from below, or you can walk on the upper flat the see it from above.
2 Yellow canyon lookout. This is probably the best viewpoint in the whole area. You have the best view of the Valley of Castles below you, but you can also see deeper, otherwise inaccessible yellow canyon from a distance.
3 Viewpoint from the other side. The majority of people visits the left bank of Charyn river, as the Valley of Castles is located here. If you have an all-terrain vehicle, you can however cross the bridge on the main road, go to Aksay village and visit this lookout, which will give you a different impression of the canyon.
- Raft. It is possible to raft on Charyn river, you have to ask some reputable travel agency in Almaty.
There is no way to buy anything in Charyn Canyon, maybe except some meals in the Tourist Complex by the river. Better come with some supplies, especially water.
Eat and sleep
There is only one place in the park serving food or providing lodging. There are however small land mounds (up 15 m in height) between the park and the main road, in which it is very pratical to pitch your own tent or even cook something.
- 1 Eco-Park Charyn Canyon Tourist Complex. A large campsite which also provide bungalows and food, lying at the shore of the Charyn River, at the end of Valley of Castles. There is a very small where it is possible pitch a tent for free, although only about three tens can fit there. Seems to be rather expensive, but they have no website to check it
- 2 A good place to pitch a tent. If coming from the Charyn Canyon, behind the main road, there are small land mounds, between which you can easily pitch a tent so no one sees it.
There are very steep cliffs everywhere presenting a good place to take a photo, but also a good opportunity to fall off them and die.
- Kyrgyzstan. It is relatively easy to hitchhike to Kegen and from there to border with Kyrgystan in beautiful Karkara valley. 65 km (40 mi) km to Kegen, 92 km (57 mi) to the border
- Almaty. 205 km (127 mi) km
- Temerlik Canyon. Another nearby canyon. It is just a few kilometers directly, but due the steep canyon wall, you have to ride a car for 65 km (40 mi) kilometers via Aksay village, where are some shops.
- Kolsay lakes. Lakes of amazing beauty about 92 km (57 mi) from the canyon. You can visit them and the canyone in one trip from Almaty, as they are both in the same direction. The first lake can be reached by car. To see the other lakes you have to hire a horse for about 1,000 tenge. You can stay overnight in a small two storey houses for about 2,000–5,000 tenge per night. The lakes are very clean and you can even drink it. You can see the fish jumping out of it.