Introduction

Sculpted by the wind, water and sun over millions of years, and some 300m deep in places, Charyn Canyon is Kazakhstan's answer to the Grand Canyon, with some truly spectacular and varied landscapes. There are the red rock formations of the Valley of Castles (Dolina Zamkov; the canyon's most popular destination), the canyon's most popular destination – reminiscent of Utah or Arizona, with a dirt road snaking down to the fast-flowing, glacial Charyn River. Other parts of the canyon are less explored; the intrepid roam there in 4WDs, armed with GPS. It's well worth seeking out the arid moonscape of the Yellow Canyon, or try to spot the nimble-footed mountain goats through binoculars above a particularly precipitous river bend. While many visitors dash to and from the Valley of Castles on day trips from Almaty, it really pays to stay for two or three days, camping under the stars and exploring off the beaten track.