Charyn Canyon National Park

Posted: 12/05/20 | May 12th, 2020

Last modified on: June 23rd, 2020 at 11:43

Charyn Canyon National Park. Visit the grand canyon of Kazakhstan as a day trip from Almaty. How to get there? should you join a tour? and our impression!

The Charyn Canyon was one of our highlights in Kazakhstan, and definitely one of the things you should do in Central Asia! We would recommend anyone going here, since it is really exciting and extremely beautiful. It is a very easy and exciting day trip from Almaty that everyone can do. The best thing is, it is cheap to get there. There is no need to book any expensive tours going there. Read all of our information below!

About the Charyn Canyon National Park

The Charyn Canyon national park is located in Kazakhstan about 200km east of Almaty, close to the Chinese border. It is often compared with the Grand Canyon in the US because of the red sedimentary rock. However, it is much smaller than the Grand Canyon but probably as beautiful. It is more like a little sister to the Grand Canyon. Less touristy and unknown to most people. The Charyn Canyon is almost 90km long and almost 300 meters deep in some places.

How to get there:

The Charyn Canyon is located about 200km away from Almaty and it will take 3 to 4 hours of driving to get there.  There are several ways of getting there. Read them below 🙂

Tour

We don’t like going on tours but this was the easiest option since we couldn’t find any other travelers to share a taxi or a rental car with at the time.

So we booked a tour through our hostel. Not a fancy or expensive tour but a tour with the local tourist office. Which is aimed at local tourists, but it is more just a bus ride from Almaty to the canyon.  There was a tour guide on board who was explaining some but all of it was in Russian. So as a foreign tourist I wouldn’t call this a tour bus more of an organized transport back and forth.  The bus was comfortable and we had plenty of time (4 hours) the explore the canyon on our own.

This is the main tour all hostels offer in Almaty! At the time we were there (September 2019) they only ran during the weekends.

If you google tours to Charyn Canyon you can find extremely expensive tours. We have no idea what they offer, perhaps they speak English but some of them charge up to €150. Which is way too much in our opinion.

Costs:

Bus tour for 1 person: 6500 KZT:  €15,- (depending on the exchange rate). 

This includes the entrance fee to the National Park which is about 700 KZT or €1,54.  We have made a complete overview of our Central Asia backpacking budget

Own transport

Some people we met had teamed up with other travelers and rented a car or taxi to get there. When we were in Almaty we found very few travelers so this option was out of our budget. The road condition towards the Charyn Canyon is good, so driving yourself is doable.

Tip: check Couchsurfing to see if anyone has the same idea of going there.

Hitchhiking – Taxi

Another option is hitchhiking which is very popular in Kazakhstan. A lot of locals do this and it is a way of transport throughout the whole country. Therefore it is normal to pay a small amount to the driver. Make sure to ask before getting into the car.

Shared taxi’s will be going into the direction of Charyn Canyon towards towns like Kegen. They can drop you off on the road towards the Canyon. From there you can try to hitchhike a ride towards the entrance of the canyon.

Note: From the main road it is about 14km to the canyon. There is little traffic from the main road towards the canyon itself so you might be waiting for a while. Make sure you have enough water with you, especially in the summer.

Charyn Canyon day trip from Almaty.
Charyn Canyon day trip from Almaty.

Where to stay:

We recommend doing this as a day trip from Almaty. Then there is no need to stay at the Charyn Canyon. However, if you are planning to continue towards Kyrgyzstan – Karakol it is easier to spend the night there. We have heard that the nights there are magical, with the night sky illuminated with stars. There is an eco-park in the Canyon itself where you can camp or book a room. Check it out here.

What to bring?

There are no facilities or stores in the canyon, so it is best to bring enough food for the day. Lunch and lots of water, especially in the summer when it can get up to 40 degrees celsius. Therefore also bring sunblock!

Also, bring a pair of sturdy shoes since there will be some walking up and down the canyon.

  • Sturdy shoes.
  • Sunblock.
  • Lunch and lots of water.

When to go?

The canyon is open all year long, but it will get very cold during the winter in October-April. During the summer it might get very hot! We visited at the beginning of September and hit a sweet spot: perfect temperature and very little tourists.

Our story:
Charyn Canyon National Park day trip.

We booked a tour to the canyon through the hostel we were staying in as a day trip from Almaty. The bus departed at 08:00 from the pick-up location and it would take about 3-4 hours driving to get there. When we got to the pick-up location we were the only foreigners and the whole bus was filled with local tourists.

There was a local guide on board but unfortunately, she did not speak any English only Russian. She was speaking for the whole 4 hours (I wish I was exaggerating) and we did not understand a single word! But she came by to make sure we were OK and wrote down the time of departure for us. To make sure we would not miss the ride back to Almaty.

Entrance to Charyn Canyon National Park
Entrance to Charyn Canyon National Park

Inside the Charyn Canyon.

After the long bus ride, it was nice to get out and stretch our legs. From the parking, we followed the signs into the Canyon. It took us 5-10 min to get down into the Canyon and wow what a sight! All of a sudden we found ourselves in a beautiful, vast canyon. It sure does look like the Grand Canyon. It is extremely beautiful and almost feels like being on set for a western movie.

Inside the Charyn Canyon National Park
Inside the Charyn Canyon National Park

Since the tour guide took her time explaining all the different rocks we walked down quickly and found ourselves almost alone.

Charyn Canyon day trip from Almaty.
Charyn Canyon day trip from Almaty.

Beautiful and grand rock formations everywhere. Weird shaped red rocks and a road that kept going down further into the canyon. We had no information about this trail or what to expect, but since we had plenty of time we decided to keep going and find where the trail would lead us.

Charyn river.

We soon found out the trail (about 3.5km) leads towards the Charyn River. This is also were the ECO park is located. The blue river flows through the red rocks make up for a beautiful contrast in the desert environment and is a perfect spot to relax and have some lunch.

So that’s what we did, we found a tiny spot in the shade next to the river and did nothing for the next 1,5 hours. Listing to the river, eating some snacks, and snoozing off.

River at the end of the Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan.
River at the end of the Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan.
River at the end of the Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan.
River at the end of the Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan.

Going back

After we finished our lunch and relaxed next to the river we decided to walk back towards the bus. Most people were waiting for the local UAZ Bukhanka shuttle service back. But we figured it would be nice to walk back and see all of the beauty again. We would have plenty of time sleeping on the bus back to Almaty.

Local UAZ Bukhanka inside the Charyn Canyon.
Local UAZ Bukhanka inside the Charyn Canyon.
Charyn Canyon day trip from Almaty.
Charyn Canyon day trip from Almaty.

The canyon was almost more empty than it was when we came down. But luckily we found some people that were willing to take a picture of us.

Two dusty backpacks inside the canyon.
Two dusty backpacks inside the canyon.

Viewpoint of the Charyn Canyon National Park.

On the way back don’t forget to go up to the many viewpoints along the edge of the canyon. The views are stunning. This way you get a real feeling of the size of the canyon.

Viewpoint of the canyon.
Viewpoint of the canyon.
Viewpoint of the canyon.
Viewpoint of the canyon.

We got back at the viewpoint about half an hour before the bus left. So we had plenty of time to look at the beautiful surroundings before hopping on the bus back towards Almaty.

More about Central Asia:

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