Charyn Canyon: Central Asia’s Grand Canyon

Between the Ketmen and Ulken-Bogut mountain ridges tucked away in the southeast corner of Kazakhstan lies the Charyn Canyon. Also known as the “Grand Canyon of Central Asia,” this 154 km (about 100 miles) canyon is nothing short of amazing and captivating. The Charyn river flows right through the canyon and rising above it are the slopes of the Ketmen and Kegen ridges. Since being opened as  State Natural Park in 2004, it has become a very popular attraction in Kazakhstan.

Since the Paleogene Era, with the forming and melting of glaciers, moving and forming of earth, and the Charyn river it has taken 30 million years for the Charyn Canyon to become what it is today. Also its known as “The Valley of Castles” since the river has carved the rocks to look like old ruins of ancient fortresses. Not only has the rock created some of these “castles” but some of these features have created a museum of formations such as “Donald Duck,” “Climbing Bear,” earth sculptures, and even some that look like flying saucers! There is no end to the amount of interesting formations that have been created.

Not only are the formations amazing but the canyon is a window into the history of our planet. Once at the bottom, visitors can see the hardened volcanic rock that created the bedrock of our planet. Plus, visitors can see the layers of rock that mark the height of the Charyn river over the ages. 12 and a half miles away visitors can look at the Charyn ash grove; a 5 million year old forest with Sogdian Ash trees dating back to the Ice Age. These giant trees can grow around 100 feet tall, have a 9 foot diameter, and live for 300-500 years. Walking in this forest is like wandering into a fairy tale that will leave you in awe. Charyn Canyon is an amazing living museum of mother nature’s hard work and displays the wonderful natural beauty of Kazakhstan.

So how do you get there? For travelers, the closest major city to the canyon is Almaty and it takes 3-3.5 hours to get to the canyon. Many companies offer packages and guided tours of the canyon. There are numerous options to see the canyon for every kind of budget from helicopter tours to hiking on foot. The most common options are taking a bus tour to the canyon, hiring a driver in an ordinary car to take you, driving your own car, or hiking on your own or with a guide. Most people prefer to hike or drive but for drivers be cautious because you are better off with a 4WD/Off-road car than a 2WD car if you plan on going deep into the canyon. The canyon is not only just for hiking and admiring the scenery; thrill-seekers can challenge the Charyn river in white-water rafting in the canyon but most people will tell you it’s not for beginners.

Charyn Canyon is not only one the most amazing ladforms in Kazakhstan, let alone the world, but is a great way to spend the day gazing at the picturesque scenery of the area, getting some exercise, and breathing in the fresh air. The Grand Canyon of Central Asia is a once in a lifetime opportunity to admire one of Kazakhstan’s greatest natural landforms.

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