Hiking through the Charyn Canyon and staying overnight in yurts

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
9
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
2
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
6
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
7
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
3
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
75 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
Kazakhstan
Length of time
1-2 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 125
Time of year visited
May
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
76th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 30% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

I’m surprised the Charyn Canyon doesn’t get more attention – it is a 300m / 1000ft deep, 155km / 100mile long gash straight through the almost perfectly flat plain floor, with snow capped mountains in the distance and spectacular rock formations all the way along the 3km / 2mile easily accessible walk along the canyon floor.  Its not even listed as a highlight of Kazakhstan, let alone Central Asia, which I think it certainly should be

 

A few high level tips:

  • I don’t think its really worth visiting as a day trip from Almaty – it takes around 4 hours to get there, 4 hours back and you’re really rushing it for time to walk along the canyon floor.  Instead, stay the night in one of the yurts at the end of the immediate canyon floor and enjoy the changes in colours all around the canyon for the sunsets and sunrises
  • Stay longer?  I even think it would be worth staying a bit longer to be able to head off on one of the jeep tours of the surrounding area.  Seemed beautiful country and a fantastic way to explore it
  • As with most spots in Kazakhstan, be aware of the weather – freezing in winter and boiling in summer
  • Where to stay? – the only place to stay in the canyon itself is the Eco-Park Charyn Canyon Tourist Complex, which has rooms and yurts, plus a restaurant.  So book ahead
  • If tired in the heat or coldthere are a series of small trucks that pass along the road in the canyon and, if you ask nicely, they seem more than happy to give you a life
  • Heading from here to Kyrgyzstan – as an extra tip, if you want to head to the beautiful hiking area around Karakol just over the border in Kyrgyzstan, you don’t have to go the super long way round via Almaty and Bishkek.  Instead, you can travel directly over the border when it is open in May – October and head through the actually quite beautiful Karkara Valley.  I did it myself and it was surprised how straightforward it was with a little basic planning and using a couple of taxis – do not try and do it with public transport.  Rather than listing out all the info I vaguely remember about it, I found the website Away with the Steiners Kegan border crossing pretty accurate

highlights

#1 Walking along the 3km / 2mile stretch of the valley floor and seeing the combination of the surrounding roadrunner-style rocks and surrounding mountain views

#2 Spending the evening in the yurts at the end of the valley, and being able to look up to the stars in the evening

#3 Climbing up some of the precariously leaning rocks and being rewarded with views from the lookout points at the top

#4 The great contrast when you see the fast flowing river at the end of one part of the canyon, after walking through the desert setting

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone