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Trip report: mountains, lakes and canyons by 4x4
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This page features travel report and photos of our adventurous vacation in Kazakhstan, while here you will find information on how and when to organize your itinerary in this country of Central Asia.


Our trip to Kazakhstan started from Kyrgyzstan, where we rented a 4x4. We entered Kazakhstan from the customs of the Karkara valley, a border crossing open only in summer, little used and really bucolic, especially on the Kyrgyz side, where a dirt road crosses valleys and prairies and is crossed by horses and cows.
At the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in the Karkara Valley
At the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in the Karkara Valley
The grouchy Kazakh guards controlled the car and our suitcases with Soviet severity, but they let us enter the country without problems or bribes. After the Kyrgyz mountains, we found ourselves crossing barren highlands surrounded by barren hills. Finally we turned towards Saty, with the aim of visiting the lakes of Kolsay and Kaindy.
Saty is the only village close to these tourist destinations, but it isn't a very organized village for travelers. The yurt camp at the entrance to the village was the only place where we could have lunch; they were very kind and they changed us euros for tenges at the correct price, so we decided we would spend the night there.
Saty, near Kolsay and Kaindy lakes, Kazakhstan
Saty is a village close to Kolsay and Kaindy lakes
After lunch we drove for 12 kms, on a terrible dirt road surrounded by beautiful landscapes, towards the lake of Kaindy.
The dirt road to Kaindy lake, Kazakhstan
The dirt road to Kaindy lake
You pay a small entrance ticket and you enter the national park; from the parking area, an easy path goes towards the lake. Lake Kaindy was created in 1911 by an earthquake that filled with water a beautiful valley in the mountains. The peculiar thing that makes this small body of water unique and beautiful is that the trunks of the trees that were flooded still rise from the lake.
Kaindy lake
The surreal landscape of Kaindy lake
You can walk for a couple of hours along and above the lake, looking for sights and beaches where you can put your feet in the icy water.
Leaving Lake Kaindy, we returned to Saty and from there we continued towards the Kolsay lakes. These three alpine lakes are less strange but still very suggestive thanks to the turquoise waters surrounded by woods and mountains. We stopped at the first lake because it was late afternoon; to get to the second Kolsay lake you need to hike for almost 3 hours.
The first lake of Kolsay, Kazakhstan
The first lake of Kolsay
We went back to sleep at Saty and the next day we headed for the Charyn Canyon. While we were getting al lower altitudes, the air became hotter and a bit oppressive. We arrived at the so-called Valley of the Castles of the Charyn Canyon around 10 am, we parked and we began to walk in this beautiful valley.
The Valley of Castles at Charyn Canyon, in Kazakhstan
The Valley of Castles at Charyn Canyon
The Charyn Canyon is a gorge crossed by a rather impetuous river and several secondary canyons depart from the main canyon. The Valley of the Castles is one of these. We walked through red walls and curious rock formations to the main gorge where the Charyn river flowed.
Charyn river in the omonimous Canyon, in Kazakhstan
Charyn river in the omonimous Canyon
There were other valleys where it was recommended to go. We then left in the direction of Almaty. The road, long, straight and rather boring, skirted the Kazakh mountains.
A sheep traffic jam in Kazakhstan
A sheep traffic jam
When we arrived in Almaty, the city surprised us by the chaotic traffic, so different from the places we had visited so far along our travel itinerary in both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We decided to test the Almaty thermal baths that are known as the most beautiful in Central Asia. The entrance for tourists, with private suites where men and women can go together, is as expensive as in Europe, but the public spa, separate for men and women, costs only 3 or 4 euros per person, and they were huge! An experience that must be lived during a trop to Almaty, in my opinion.
Almaty's top view does not give the right idea of the smog it produces.

View over Almaty from the mountains of Kazakhstan
View over Almaty from the mountains
We spent our last day of vacation going to see the Big Almaty Lake, at 2500 meters above sea level. The beautiful mountain landscapes were not so original, but always fascinating with the glaciers around.
The Big Almaty Lake in Kazakhstan
The Big Almaty Lake is not that big!
Continuing along the road, we arrived at a roadblock where a military man armed with a machine gun welcomed us and began to check our passports. We only hoped to get to some panoramic point a little more up, but now we had to obey. Finally we passed and drove for a few miles. We then continued on foot and found ourselves in a ghost town surrounded by mountains.
Ghost town over the Big Almaty Lake
Ghost town over the Big Almaty Lake
After a short walk that also took us to admire Almaty, it was time to close our travel itinerary in Kazakhstan: so we drove towards the border with Kyrgyzstan, which we crossed this time at the busiest customs that connects Almaty and Bishkek.
To read about the Kyrgyz part of this travel itinerary, go to the page dedicated to the Kyrgyzstan trip report!
For many more photos of Kazakhstan, click on the images of the photogallery:
Photos Kazakhstan
All photos of our trip to Kazakhstan

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