Route: Almaty Region (Kazakhstan)
DAY BY DAY ITINERARY
Day 1. Almaty - Tamgaly Tas - Altyn Emel National Park
Departure from Almaty at 08:00. While driving over an hour on a highway (120 km), you will pass by artificial Kapshagai water reservoir, the biggest in Almaty region, with the casinos of "Kazakh Las-Vegas" on its bank. Then you will arrive to Tamgaly Tas, the first sightseeing destination on the bank of Ili river.
Tamgaly Tas – the unique monument of distant past, where you will see images of Buddha’s and texts in Tibetan, Kalmyk and other languages which have basically a prayer meaning that are carved on the old rocks. It is unknown – when and how these drawings appeared and who was the author: scientists trying to unravel this mystery for over 150 years. Upon arrival in Tamgaly Tas, your guide will tell you a lot of interesting things about this amazing place, then you will be able to walk around and enjoy the beautiful views. Also on the opposite side of the river, you will see the set in the style of medieval Kazakhstan that were built for the filming “The Nomad” film.
After sightseeing at Tamgaly Tas you will have another couple of driving hours to Basshi village (185 km), which is located at the territory of Altyn Emel National Park. Lunch in the village and excursion to the Singing Dune (80 km).
Singing Dune, reaching a height of 150 meters and a length of about 3 km, located in one of the corners of the Altyn-Emel National Park, a few kilometers from the Ili river between the mountains of Big and Small Kalkan. This sandy hill consists of very fine pure sand, which starts to "sing" in windy weather and its sound reminds the organ music. Before a sandy storm the dune sounds like a drum. From the top of the Dune you can observe the grand panorama of the surroundings. In the south - thin strip of the Ili River is visible as well as purple mountains of Sogety and Boguty, looking out from the white peaks of the Ketmen ridge. On the west the horizon is obstructed by the steep slope of the Big Kalkan, and the Small Kalkan from the east. In the north, violet-blue ridge of Djungarian Alatau mountains, Chulak mountain, Matai and Altyn-Emel are visible. If the weather is dry and windy, the sand-dune will "sing" you its song, which could be heard as far as several kilometers...
After hiking up to the 150-meter dune, you will return to Basshi village for dinner and overnight in one of the villagers' guest houses or cozy local hotel.
Day 2. Altyn Emel National Park - Zharkent - Chundja - Hot Springs
After breakfast at 06:30, you will depart at 07:30 to the Aktau mountains (83 km).
Aktau Mountains (White Mountains) are world-renowned paleontological field. In the layers of Paleogene lacustrine deposits well-preserved remains of ancient animals whose age is estimated at 25-30 million years have been found. Among the finds there are the remains the giant rhinos, crocodiles, turtles. Huge conical mountains remind the Egyptian pyramids and are a magical scene of the variety of shapes and colors.
A walk on Martian landscape requires nothing special from you, except being attentive on a soft sandy surface and adding some fantasy listening to the guide's stories about inhabitants of an ancient ocean.
Return to Basshi village for lunch. Then, transfer to Zharkent town (97 km). Visit to mosque-museum.
A wooden mosque-pagoda, built without a single nail, delights with its architecture! The bright patterned roofs and towers designed by Chinese architect Hon Pik, the walls inside the unique structure, artfully decorated with national ornaments of different nations cultures, openwork carvings and flowers drawings evoke particular interest in history and invite you to lose yourself in time for a moment.
Transfer to Chundja village (98 km).
Chundja (Shonzhy) is a village where the hot radon springs are in the vicinity area. Here, after a long road, you can swim in a pool with hot water heated by active volcanic processes. The consistency of the water, which the temperature reaches 37-50 °C and above, includes radon, which in small doses has a healing effect.
Dinner and transfer to the hot springs (52 km). Accommodation, rest and overnight in a hotel.
Day 3. Hot Springs - Moon Valley - Saty Settlement - Kaindy Lake - Saty Settlement
After breakfast, departure at 08:00 to the Moon Valley of Charyn Canyon (140 km). Sightseeing at the Moon Valley.
Moon Valley is a canyon made of yellow clay. It is distinguished by the unique roundness of the landscape and the absence of even one sharp corner, which makes it incredibly similar to the surface of the Moon. As a result of usual spring snow melting, the bottom of the valley is white and flat, and the edges are formed by a diffuse clay massif of white color. When you walk along the bottom of the "lunar" crater, you feel yourself to be the first astronaut to step on the surface of the Moon and feel your insignificance compared to this large space object. Only saxaul points to the earthly origin of this place.
Transfer to Saty settlement (96 km), where you will have a lunch and change the vehicle to one of AWD local cars, such as "UAZ" or "PAZ" (Russian car models), as they are fully capable to cover uneven mountain road (12 km) to Kaindy Lake.
Kaindy Lake (birch lake) is situated among magnificent pine forest at an altitude of 2000 meters above sea level and is famous for its origin. It was formed in 1911 due to the powerful earthquake that triggered the landslide blocked the valley by the natural dam, and the water has flooded the valley. The water of the lake is very cold, that is why the needles of the flooded trees are well preserved and clearly visible through the transparent surface of the water, and dry stems of fir trees overlook the water surface, like the masts of the submarine squadron. It is impossible to describe in words all this mystical splendor of the lake – it is necessary to go there and see everything with own eyes.
After walking around the lake you will return to Saty settlement to take a shower, have dinner and rest. Overnight in the guest house.
Day 4. Saty Settlement - Kolsai Lakes - Saty Settlement
This day starts with breakfast and departure to Kolsai Lakes at 08:00. For the day you will be provided with bottled water and lunch-boxes. Please take care of your own backpack to carry the lunch.
Kolsai Lakes - "Pearls of the Northern Tien-Shan" - represent a cascade of three lakes. The largest lake is accessible for all visitors. It is the most beautiful lake, having a lack of civilization and the abundance of mushrooms. Horse lovers can order horseback tour to this place. The highest lake is small. It is located on the border of fir-wood and the alpine meadows and amazes by its harsh alpine beauty, as well as the rich flora and fauna. Vertical drop between the three lakes is about 700 meters. The lowest lake can be reached by car. But you should walk few kilometers along mountain trails to see the second and the third lake. Without doubts the tourists are expected to have a wonderful vacation in these places - berries, mushrooms and fishing. The water in the lakes is cold and clean and is home for the rainbow trout - a fish that lives only in the running or spring water. In the around mountains you can see Marals, mountain goats, wolves and even bears.
Having arrived to Kolsay-3 Lake and got a brief instruction, you will start the trekking. The route lies on the bank of the lake and continues with the path through the pine forest, alpine meadows along pure mountain river flowing all the way down from Kolsai-2 Lake. The total walking distance between two lakes is about 7 km and usually takes 3-3,5 hours one way. An altitude rises up more than 400 m, from 1818 m a.s.l. at the first lake to 2250 m a.s.l. at the second lake. There is no category of difficulty and route is accessible for healthy, average-trained people.
Enjoying your lunch in front of the cold and pure-clean lake in surroundings of magnificent mountain peaks is priceless after active trekking. Afternoon walk back to Kolsai-3 Lake and driving back to Saty settlement. Arrival to the settlement. Dinner and overnight in the guest house.
Day 5. Saty Settlement - Charyn Canyon - Almaty
After breakfast you will leave a hospitable family and depart to Charyn Canyon (115 km) at 08:00. It will take about 2 hours to reach the canyon. Upon arrival, you will admire the grand panorama and go down to the bottom of the canyon to walk around 2 km through the maze of the Castles Valley.
Charyn Canyon is a natural complex, unique in its kind not only in Kazakhstan but also worldwide. It was formed during Paleogene and reminds the Grand Canyon of Colorado River in North America, although inferior to it in size. The height of the steep slopes of the canyon is up to 150-300 meters. Extraordinary dissection of the terrain is striking: the numerous ravines form a dense, chaotic network. Wind and water have created the beautiful "Valley of Castles", where you are always surrounded by the fancy towers composed of sedimentary rocks. The length of the valley - more than 2 km, width - 20-80 meters. For millions of years the nature has been creating a unique architecture, erecting magnificent castles carefully and slowly. You can spend hours walking among the strange towers and columns, being surprised by the wild imagination of the nature.
The bottom of the Canyon has slight descend to the end of the walk, where you will get to the fresh oasis on the bank of icy cold Charyn River, where also located eco-park with several yurts (traditional dwellings) and a small open air café, working in the summer time. After some rest walking back and driving to one of the observation points for another breathtaking panoramic view. After 3-4 hours spent in the canyon you will depart to Almaty (230 km). The lunch will be served in a local café in a village in 1-hour driving distance after the canyon. Having mentally and spiritually recharged by 5-day outdoor trip you will arrive to your hotel in Almaty at approx. 19:00.