Exploring Charyn Canyon – the Grand Canyon’s little Kazakh brother

Nature Facts

Where: Charyn Canyon, Southern Kazakhstan, Central Asia
Best season: Summer or early autumn
Best sights: Towering, shadowy canyon walls with grey and red layers of volcanic lava
Activities: Category 6 rafting, hiking, and camping

Where it’s at

Charyn Canyon is an interesting natural phenomenon located in southern Kazakhstan. Its likeness to the famous Colorado landmark means it has been dubbed ‘the Grand Canyon‘s little brother.’ Nearly 50-miles long and extending 300 to 1,000 feet high, locals often refer to this unusual giant rock sculpture as Dolina Zamkov (‘Valley of the Castles’).

Charyn Canyon’s strange geology

The canyon’s fantastic rocky remains have been shaped through centuries of wind, sun, and water rushing past the carved rock. At the bottom of the dry gorges, the fast-moving river attracts weary travellers looking to cool down in the paradise of its green oases. Enjoy spotting the weird and wonderful shapes and figures adorning the steep canyon sides.

The different colours of the rocks in the canyon show the build up of different origins over time. The dark rocks at the bottom are volcanic lava and are the oldest in the area. The layers above this darker rock are much younger and consist of reddish gravel that has been deposited when the river raged through the higher levels of the canyon. Grey gravel covers the plains around the canyon, deposited by the rivers that once flowed through and dust blown in by ancient winds.

Activities in Charyn River and Canyon

Charyn River, which runs deep within the gorge, is one of the largest rivers of the Northern Tien Shan Mountains. Its multi-coloured gorges are perfect for rafting, however it can be very difficult and dangerous (up to category six), and should only be attempted with professional equipment and assistance. Trekking and hiking is superb and fairly easy directly around the canyon, however if you are attempting other routes it is best to seek professional guidance.

Visiting Charyn Canyon 

It is possible to visit Charyn Canyon in a day trip from Almaty, however, two days are recommended to take in a few different sights and activities. Due to its popularity with local and foreign tourists, camping at the bottom of Dolina Zamkov has become a crowded affair which is best avoided. Visit Charyn Canyon as part of an organised tour as the area is difficult to reach, with the final ten miles over stony desert.



Stan Tours
Tour site with information on the visiting the canyon and activities.

K2 Extreme 
Includes links to info on trekking and rafting activities in the area.


By Jenna Colbourne