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PHOTO TOUR: ALTYN EMEL PARK (9 DAYS)
Tour duration
9 DAYS
Tour route
Almaty Region (Kazakhstan)

A photo tour to Altyn Emel National Park for breathtaking photos of natural landmarks such as the Singing Barkhan, the Aktau chalk mountains, and the Katutau volcanic mountains.

Route: Almaty Region (Kazakhstan)

Season: January to December

Recommended period: March to May and September to November 

The route includes a desert area. Most of it lies within the public Altyn Emel National Park in the Ili Trench. The part offers a lot of fascinating historical and natural landmarks. The Aktau and Katutau mountains and the Singing Barkhan are the most popular of them.

TOUR SUMMARY

Day 1. Almaty—Altyn Emel Park, the Singing Barkhan.

Group gathering at 07:00 a.m. Departure from Almaty. Lunch (picnic) at Myn Bulak Cordon in Altyn Emel National Park. Driving to the Singing Barkhan. Walking and photo shooting. Driving to the overnight place on the bank of the Ili River. Putting up a camp, dinner, and a small briefing on the programme for the next day. Free time. An overnight stay in a tent camp by the Ili River. 

Kilometers to be driven: about 350

Day 2. The Singing Barkhan

Early rise at 05:30 to take sunrise photos on a barkhan. Returning to the camp for breakfast. Free time. Lunch in the camp. Walking in the nearby until sunset. Returning to the camp for dinner and a short briefing on the programme for the next day. Free time. Overnight stay in a tent camp.

The Singing Barkhan was formed of sand that wind brought from the sand banks of the Ili River. A strong wing named Shilik blows in the valley, carrying clouds of sand dust from the river's sand banks. The Ulken Kalkana and Kysty Kalkan Ridges, which stand at a small angle to each other, are an obstacle that weakens the wind so it drops the sand. A 150 m sand mountain has grown over thousands of years. The barkhan has been still for thousands of years despite the instability of sand and strong winds. When strong wind blows, it raises flags of sand that slide off the ridge of the barkhan, causing it to sing. You can also generate the sound by running or rolling down from the top of the barkhan when the weather is dry.

Day 3. Singing Barkhan—Katutau Mountains

Early rise at 05:30 to take sunrise photos on a barkhan. Returning to the camp for breakfast. Packing and moving to the Katutau Mountains. Arriving at the overnight site, lunch, putting up a camp. A walk in the nearby. Sunset photo shooting. Returning to the camp for dinner and a short briefing on the programme for the next day. Free time. Overnight stay in a tent camp. 

Kilometers to be driven: about 80. Walking distance: 2 to 10 km

Day 4. The Katutau Mountains

Early rise at 05:30 to take sunrise photos in the mountains. Returning to the camp, breakfast, and free time. Lunch in the camp. Walking in the nearby until sunset. Returning to the camp. Dinner and a short briefing on the programme for the next day. Free time. Overnight stay in a tent camp.

The name Katutau is Mongolian and means Harsh Mountains. The mountains are, indeed harsh. To prove it, geological research has shown them to be fully volcanic. In ancient times there were volcanoes as large as Vesuvius and Etna in Europe and Avachinsky on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Remnants of mud volcanoes were found near the mountains, which suggests there used to be some volcanic activity. There was a huge prehistoric water-body at the feet of the volcanoes. Any signs of volcanic activity, which has stopped by now, were gradually covered with bottom sediment from rock washed off the mountains. The craters were also buried under the sediment. As millions of years passed, the water-body ceased to exist, and its bottom decayed gradually due to wind and water. The previously hidden craters, streams of lava, volcanic ashes and bombs became exposed. Nature worked on them to create sophisticated surrealistic compositions and shapes. 

Day 5. Katutau Mountains—Aktau Mountains

Early rise at 05:30 to take photos of the sun rising above Lake Kaindy. Returning to the camp for breakfast. Packing and moving to the Aktau Mountains. Arriving at the overnight place, putting up a camp, and lunch. A walk in the nearby until sunset. Returning to the camp. Dinner, a short briefing on the programme for the next day. Free time. An overnight stay in the tent camp.  

Kilometers to be driven: about 30. Walking distance: 2 to 10 km

Days 6 to 8. The Aktau Mountains

Early rise at 05:30 to take photos of the sun rising above Lake Kaindy. Returning to the camp, breakfast, and free time. Lunch in the camp. Walking in the nearby until sunset. Returning to the camp. Dinner and a short briefing on the programme for the next day. Overnight stay in a tent camp.  

The Aktau chalk mountains are a world-famous paleontological deposit. Layers of Paleogenic lacustrine deposits have preserved remnants of ancient animals, which are about 25 to 30 million years old. The finds include remnants of giant rhinos, crocodiles, turtles, and more. Besides, the place displays 56 early Miocenic plant species: spruce, alder, walnut, lime, pistachio, pine, birch, oak, chestnut, hackberry, ailanto, etc. The Aktau Mountains are a fantastic picture of diversity in shape and color: red clay, bluish gray limestone sandstone, shingle and gypsiferous tertiary deposits. Rock galleries stretch for kilometers. Stone textures vary with each new turn of the winding gorges. Mountains rise like Gothic towers and columns, then form narrow labyrinths with hardly enough room for two.

Day 9. Aktau Mountains—Almaty

Early rise at 05:30 to take photos of the sun rising above Lake Kaindy. Returning to the camp for breakfast. Packing and setting off for Almaty. Arriving in Almaty about 6 p.m.  

Kilometers to be driven: about 250

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