I was recently lucky enough to visit Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, two beautiful countries in the heart of Central Asia. Both are filled with endless photography opportunities, incredible culture and stories everywhere you look.
I could write for hours about mountains, lakes and beautiful horses running through golden fields. However, today, I will be talking about the canyons which are spread across these two counties. We will cover five in total, and many are entirely unknown to the world of social media. Yes, that’s right… there are still places which don’t have 50,000 images posted online from one location.
Ok, let’s get the action started.
Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan
This is probably the most well known of the five. Located just three hours away from Almaty. Potentially two, if you have the Kazakh Lewis Hamilton driving. It’s an easy day trip and quite a popular place for locals from Almaty to visit.
Sharyn River runs through the canyon, which is roughly 90 kilometres in length. It is part of the Charyn National Park and is located within the territory of the Uygur District.
Random fact: The whole area of the canyon makes it second-largest in the world after the Grand Canyon. Quite special!
I recently opened Instagram, and an advert popped up. I couldn’t believe my eyes… Land Rover was launching the new Defender from this location. See the video below (this is not paid to advertise).
Photography tip: Ensure you don’t arrive too close to sunset for this one. The light disappears very quickly. You’ll need to do a little scouting of the area to find your favourite spot.
Below are a few of my favourite images from Charyn Canyon.
Aktau Mountains, Kazakhstan
During summer 2018, I was invited to travel around some of Kazakhstan, one of the locations mentioned was the Aktau Mountains. I hadn’t heard anything about this area, and to be honest, my expectations were low.
I instantly fell in love with the area, unique rock formations and colours to die for. During the day, the landscape can look reasonably white. Once sunset arrives, the rock formations quickly change in tone.
"Aktau" is translated into Russian as "white mountains" because here there are mountains of various shades, but in most cases white. It is said that these unique mountains were formed millions of years ago, and their appearance was affected by the ocean. In this area, around 400 million years ago was the ocean of Tethys. The age of the deposits that make up the mountain range is estimated at 60-70 million years.
According to various sources, this was a dinosaur populated area. In more recent years, crocodiles, turtles, and rhinos are not uncommon. Not bad!
In the Aktau area you will need to hike for between 30 and 60 minutes to get to different viewpoints. It’s an area I would definitely recommend to visit for a few days. I’ve explored the area twice and would return in a flash. There are many canyons and different angles to shoot. Also, don’t forget your drone!
To get to the Aktau Mountains, it will take around five to seven hours. It’s not a smooth drive, but definitely worth it. This is my favourite location in Kazakhstan, by far!
Photography shooting tip: Ensure to bring your drone and telephoto lens. Hike the local areas during the day as this isn’t the most straightforward place to shoot. Also, use the app PhotoPills to plan golden hours.
Skazka/ Fairytale Canyon, Kyrgyzstan
The first of three canyons covered in the Karakol region of Kyrgyzstan. These three are all within an hour radius, making it a fantastic area to explore a number of places in a short time.
If you’ve visiting any of the three canyons it’ll probably be from either Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) or from Karakol town, the home of VisitKarakol. It’s around a 90 minute journey from Karakol and four hours from Bishkek. You can take a shared taxi from Bishkek to the beautiful area of Karakol for around seven dollars. More info can be found on this page.
Random fact: Legends have it that, at one time, the Issyk Kul basin wasn’t filled with a lake, but was home to a number of rich and powerful cities. There is probably some truth in this because under the lake archaeologists have discovered the ruins of several settlements.
Fairytale canyon is based on the south side of Lake Issyk-Kul, hidden in the hills and is a pretty magical place. You’ll pay an entrance fee of around a dollar, and I’d would recommend to drive right into the centre of the canyon rather than walk up. It can get scorching, and you’ll be tired before you’ve even explored the canyon! Save your energy and enjoy finding some unique angles.
You can also find some fantastic places to swim very close to the canyon. With crystal clear waters the perfect place to relax after a hike. For food, I’d recommend to take a packed lunch or visit a nearby town for some snacks.
Although this is the most famous canyon in Kyrgyzstan, I found it the hardest to shoot and least rewarding of the three options in the area. Fortunately, there’s information on Mars Canyon and Canyon of Forgotten Rivers coming up next!
Let’s move on to one of my favourite place in Kyrgyzstan, Mars Canyon. A small yurt camp surrounded by beautiful canyons and peaks.
Random fact: Karakol was the place which had the first library in Kyrgyzstan, way back in 1901.
During our evening at this canyon, we experienced incredible weather. From torrential rain and heavy winds to beautiful sunshine and double rainbows. We witnessed it all!
The canyon is based around two hours from Karakol town and can easily be accessed by car. No 4x4 is needed for this canyon. There is also a lovely yurt camp which is part of the canyon, the people in Kyrgyzstan are very thoughtful, and our experience in this area was no different.
Mars Canyon consists of crazy rock formations, eroded river valleys and sandstone walls to create a very unusual place. The red and orange rocks eroded by the power of water and wind, create narrow gorges and naturally shaped forms.
The area is known for its beautiful flowers and wild nature. With reptiles and eagles often know to pass by. Due to the warm climate of this area, the canyon can be visited all year round.
Photography shooting tip: Bring your drone and arrive early to scout the area. Get an idea of the shots you’d like to achieve as the light won’t last long.
Canyon of forgotten rivers,Kyrgyzstan
Where do I start with this place? Potentially my favourite place in Kyrgyzstan. Canyons with huge mountains behind?
This canyon is exceptionally new to tourism, with a good friend Albert Dros exploring this area first. During my three visits to this place, I haven’t seen one other person. It’s quite a secret!!
The area was not that simple to find. Fortunately, we were lucky to have a local driver with us who took us to this secret location. We threw the drone up and realised we had hit the jackpot! This area is mind-blowing, and I can’t wait to return again in 2020.
Travel tip: To drive to this canyon you will need a 4x4 or help from VisitKarakol to plan your trip. The road is sandy and can become quite messy! I would recommend being guided as the location is quite tricky, and your time in this country should be used wisely.