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PHOTO TOUR: THE CASPIAN DEPRESSION (8 DAYS)
Tour duration
8 DAYS
Tour route
Mangystau Region (Kazakhstan)

A photo tour to unique sites of Mangystau Region. Western cliffs of the magnificent Ustyurt Plateau have a lot of secrets. Buttes, underground mosques, high cliffs of chalk mountains, and mirror-like saline lakes. All within one tour.

Route: Mangystau Region (Kazakhstan)

Season: April to November

Recommended period: April to May and September to November

TOUR SUMMARY

Day 1. Aktau—Ayrakty 

Gathering at 7:00 a.m. and starting for the Airakty-Shomanai. Several stops on the way. Arriving in the valley about 12:00, putting up a camp, lunch, then walking and photo shooting.

Local call a system of small buffes Airakty-Shomanai. The Airakty Mountains look very much like castles with spires, towers, columns, and tall walls from a fairy tale. The winding path that semi-wild horses have treaded on one of the mountains leads us to a small sightseeing platform offering a panoramic view of the far Aktau Mountains and all castles of the Airakty Range. In humid spring small but redolent Tulipa sogdiana flowers cover the valley. Chalk blocs that lie along the sides of Mount Airakty bear carvings that a scholar described as Steppe Symphonies. 

Returning to the camp for dinner. Free time. Optional night photo shoot. Overnight stay in a tent camp. Kilometers to be driven: about 200 km.

Day 2. Airakty—Tuzbayir Sor Bay 

Early rise to take photos of the sun rising above the canyon. Returning to the camp for breakfast. Packing and moving to Tuzbayir Sor Bay after breakfast.

Tuzbayir is a magnificent creature of forces of nature. Here a cliff of the Ustyurt Plateau ends in a cascade of steps of clay, limestone, and chalk resting on a large salt marsh, which locals call sor. The slopes of chalk cliffs are rugged with washouts and deep gutters forming rows of intricately shaped columns. At the very foot of the cliff there is a natural semi-arch that emerged due to soil blowing. Water fills the sor during snow melt and heavy rains, forming a giant saline mirror reflecting the sky and the chalk columns. 

We stop at a contemporary caravanserai for lunch on our way. You will also have an opportunity to take a shower and the like. Then we move to the panoramic view points of the Tuzbayir Sor Bay. Photo shooting at sunset. Then moving to the camping ground for dinner and an overnight stay. Optional night photo shoot on the bottom of the sor bay. Kilometers to be driven: about 80 km. Walking distance: 1 to 2 km.
 
Day 3. Tuzbayir Sor Bay
 
Early rise to photograph the sunrise. Returning to the camp for breakfast. After breakfast there is free time for rest, walks around the sor bay and the nearby cliffs. Lunch in the camp. Walking in the canyon until sunset. Returning to the camp for dinner. Preparing for the next day. Free time. Optional night sky photo shooting. Overnight stay in a tent camp. Walking distance: 10 km.
 
Day 3. Tuzbayir Sor Bay to Bozzhira

 Early rise to shoot the sunrise. Breakfast, then packing. Moving to the Bozzhira Canyon (the western cliff of the Ustyurt Plateau).

Bozzhira is the part of the cliff (edge) of the Ustyurt Plateau where Mother Nature displays its imagination by creating a truly otherwordly scenery in white. The small Bozzhira is surrounded by a amphitheater of Nature's creation on three sides. Everything is white here: canyons, peaks, tower-like mountains, castle-like mountains, yurt-like mountains... The buffes of Bozzhira are like chameleons that change their appearance as you walk among them. Intricately shaped residual hills are like silent guardians looking into the fog-covered distance. They secure the peace of the giant rock yurt as a colossal symbol of Mangystau. Its sole master is the lonely wind that chants songs of the steppe to the vast sky. 

We visit a number of panoramic viewing platform and ancient structures. Lunch on a panoramic viewing platform. They descending into the valley. Arriving in the valley, putting up a camp, and walking until sunset. Returning to the camp for dinner. Free time. Optional night photo shoot. Overnight stay in a tent camp. Kilometers to be driven: about 110 km. Walking distance: about 3 to 4 km.

Day 5. Bozzhira

 Early rise to photograph the sunrise. Returning to the camp for breakfast. After breakfast, a walk in the canyon and photo shooting. Lunch in the camp. Walking until sunset, then moving to the shooting point to take photos of the sun setting above the canyon. Returning to the camp for dinner. Free time. Overnight stay in a tent camp. Walking distance: about 10 to 12 km.

Day 6. Bozzhira—Karynzharyk Trench

Early rise to take photos of the sun rising in the valley. Returning to the camp for breakfast. Packing and moving to the Karynzharyk Trench after breakfast.

The Karynzharyk Trench stretches for over 70 km from north to south at the foot of the Ustyurt Cliff. The longest sor bay in Mangystau Region, Kenderli, covers its bottom. The Kenderli salt-marsh is especially attractive due to file buffes that rise in the quit of white salt. Three of them are so close to each other that locals call the hills Three Batyrs or Three Brothers. The bottom of the sor bay is always wet and covered with a salt crust boiling with endless cracks in the sun. A thin layer of water covers the salt marsh in wet seasons. Then the residual hills stand high above the glassy surface like unapproachable islands. 

We put up a camp upon arrival and have lunch. Then we have a walk and take photos. Dinner and an overnight stay in tents. Kilometers to be driven: about 90 km. Walking distance: 1 to 5 km.

Day 7. The Karynzharyk Trench

Early rise to take photos of the sunrise in the valley. Returning to the camp for breakfast. After breakfast, a walk in the canyon and photo shooting. Lunch in the camp. Walking until sunset, then moving to the shooting point to take photos of the sun setting above the canyon. Returning to the camp for dinner. Free time. Overnight stay in a tent camp. Walking distance: about 8 to 10 km.

Day 8. Karynzharyk—Tokmak—Karakiya—Aktau
 
Early rise to take sunrise photos. Returning to the camp for breakfast. After breakfast we pack and move to Zhanaozen city to have lunch at a local restaurant. We move towards Aktau. On our way we visit the mysterious Cape Tokmak and one of the deepest trenches across the CIS.

Cape Tokmak is poorly studies with little information available on it. However, what we know is truly impressive. Every new expedition makes another unique discovery that always puzzles the scientific community.
For instance, scientists have found two odd structures that resemble giant stone ships on the shore. This of course instills the astonishing thought in laymen: This must be the mysterious Atlantis! The stone find dates back to about the 1st millennium B.C.E. The ship looked as follows when it was found, "The ship faces the sea. It is outlined with upright unprocessed stone slabs up to 50 cm tall. The length of the ship is approximately 14 meter, and its maximum width is 4 meter. There is an entrance on the right side that is about 2 meter wide." Scientists believed that the structure was a slipway used to make ancient ships. "Back in the ancient times the Amu Darya mouthed in the Caspian Sea near Cape Tokmak. Ships carried goods from the Azov Sea along the Don River to the Volga and to the Caspian Sea. Then the loads were sent on carts to the Aral Sea and farther to the south along the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya. There probably was another option: ships could cross the Caspian Sea directly and reload the commodities to either direction of the Silk Road. The profit is quite obvious. The ships were probably made and repaired here on the Mangystay Peninsula."
Another archaeological expedition has recently discovered and studied an Eneolithic burial site on the barren ground of Cape Tokmak. People lived there thousands of years ago. Their settlement was found in the nearby, which remains to be studied. The tomb is about six thousand years old, i.e. it dates back to the late 4th millennium B.C.E, which is a very important period in the history of Kazakhstan and the nomadic civilization. To make the find even more precious, the tomb had been destroyed by forces of nature and not plundered. That is, most of it came down to us intact, enabling scientists to find out a lot about the burial rituals of the time. 

We arrive in Aktau towards the evening, then check in at a hotel/see our guests off to the airport. Kilometers to be driven: about 350 km. 

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