Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, is a stunning 154-km long canyon that’s giving Arizona’s Grand Canyon in the United States a run for its money. It is no mystery that Kazakhstan’s own canyon is compared to the very popular American canyon, but Charyn is refutably the second largest canyon in the world, next to China’s spectacular Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon that is 496 kilometers in length. Charyn Canyon is near Kazakhstan’s border with China on the Charyn River about 200 km to the east of Almaty City. It stretches all the way to Torajgir Mountain, which is part of the famous Tien Shen mountain range. Some portions of the canyon are 300 meters deep. Charyn Canyon is a leading tourist destination in Kazakhstan for three clear reasons.
One, even non-lovers of nature will be awe-stricken with the mysteriously beautiful rock formations along the canyon. The most popular part of the canyon is the Valley of Castles (or Dolina Zamkov to locals), which is clearly the central focus of all canyon tour packages. The bizarre rock formations resemble ancient castles and towers as though they were etched by a giant hand on top of steep rocky walls. The valley is 2 kilometers long, with width ranging from 20 to 80 meters. The valley walls reveal layers and layers of rock with different ages and origins. In the lower parts of the valley are found the oldest volcanic lava rocks in the canyon. Some cliffs and portions of the castlewalls are red in color because they are made of solid gravel. The surrounding plains are covered with grey gravel, which are prehistoric river deposits. While mostly red to orange-red, some areas of the valley reveal shades of yellow, pink, beige and black.
The western side of the Dolina Zamkov consists of eerie-looking and multi-colored volcanic rocks, which contain ashes and stones from the nearby volcanoes. Seen as a whole, the Valley of Castles looks like ancient fortresses set up by the gods. Climbing up the steep walls on very narrow mountain goat paths is only for experienced climbers and definitely not for the faint of heart. Tourists typically spend hours and hours in the valley taking photos and breathing in the eerie magnificence of the area. As the sun moves across the sky, the walls reveal new shadows, colors and shapes that will truly mesmerize photographers.
Two, check out the more than 100-km long Charyn River for the best white water rafting experience in the country. The canyon is best visited for two days to include a half day for rafting. The ride could be too dangerous, though, for inexperienced and amateur rafters. The waves are strong and the water is cold. Three, the canyon also promises the best hiking, trekking and picnic experience in the Kazakhstan.
When visiting Charyn Canyon, bring plenty of water because the hike is hot, especially in summer when it gets extremely hot. Tourists are reminded not to leave pieces of trash after picnicking, not to cut plants, not to make fire, and to completely respect the beauty of Mother Nature.