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Raiymbek District, Kazakhstan

Charyn Canyon

Nicknamed Kazakhstan's Grand Canyon, this natural wonder lies east of Almaty near the Chinese border.  

Charyn Canyon (also spelled Sharyn) is a great place for a little afternoon adventure. 

Nicknamed Kazakhstan’s Grand Canyon, the destination is part of a national park and the Charyn River valley, fed by the local Tianshan Mountains. There’s a gravel road running along the canyon bottom, and smaller footpaths wind up and around the many formations and columns. The sedimentary red sandstone varies in shade from deep orange to light brown, shaped by millions of years of erosion. The multicolored rock layers are the product of different stages of sediment deposits, and are often crumbly to the touch

The Valley of Castles is the canyon’s most well-known spot, with particularly eye-catching structures of a bright red hue. It’s about one or two kilometers long and 100 meters in depth, and can really scorch in the summer. If you need to cool off, it’s possible to swim in the river—or even kayak, raft, or fish; the local fish is called the osman. The entire canyon is a total of about 80 kilometers (50 miles) long.

Charyn Canyon sits within the Uygur DistrictRaiymbek District and Enbekshikazakh District of the Almaty Province. It’s about a two-hour drive from Almaty; you can take a tour bus, hire a taxi, or rent a car. It’s become more of a destination over recent years, which means weekend crowds and scattered trash. Still, you’ll need to pack your own lunch and bring a bottle or two of water, since you’ll find no food stands or convenience stores. If you find yourself hungry or thirsty, kind Kazakh tourists will likely offer to share their food with you—an interaction that might just turn out to be the best part of your visit to Charyn.