The diversity and natural beauty of the vast Altyn Emel National Park in southern Kazakhstan is nearly impossible to express by just using words, and even photographs don't give it justice. You just have to be there yourself! After visiting golden, desert like "singing" sand dunes with spectacular views over mountainous peaks (I'll describe it soon), we set off on another journey through the rugged and deserted yet surprisingly colorful Katutau and Aktau Mountains. Our final destination was the latter, we had stopped at Katutau first in the morning. Although we went to both places in one day, I decided to split the trip into two posts because of the variety of rock formations and scenic landscapes we had encountered. I hope you'll enjoy it as, I think, you can hardly find any other blogger who would write about it.
Katutau Mountains in Kazakhstan - Getting there
If you are a visitor, it's virtually impossible to get to Katutau Mountains (and travel through the Altyn-Emel national park) on your own. There is no public transport, there are no paved roads, tiny villages are scattered sparsely and the maps are not reliable at all.
Because Kazakhstan is such an unpopular destination (which is ironic considering the unique culture and natural wonders it offers), you have no choice but to take a tour. I know, we also hate organised tours, but in places like Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan, it was absolutely amazing - it felt authentic, with a lot of freedom and with no "compulsory shopping" stops.
Usually the tours are private and if you are traveling
If you're willing to travel to such a place as Kazakhstan, drop me a message here, I'll try to help you organize a trip.
Soon, I will also prepare a separate article about the national parks in southern Kazakhstan that can be visited within one short tour - I'll describe the amazing places you can see and give some tips on how to cut costs, what to expect, etc.
Local guesthouse - the family, food and hospitality
Before the trip, we'd stayed in a local guest house somewhere near the village of Kapchagay, in the middle of nowhere (you can also book a high standard hotel, but we didn't want to stay in a western style B&B in Kazakshatan - we prefer to absorb the culture of the people). The guest house was run by a friendly Kazakh
For dinner, we had a cabbage soup with tomatoes and lamb stew with some rice and vegetables. It was simple but tasty - made from local, fresh ingredients. Horse meat is also very popular in Kazakhstan as is horse milk, so we could have opted for horse stew if we had wanted.
We were offered a weird local delicacy - hot, fermented horse milk with a bit of alcohol (!) added. The smell itself was revolting, and as much as I love trying different foods, I wasn't brave enough to taste this original beverage. Other friends who were with us did decide to take a sip and... I could see in their faces, quickly started regretting it.
After dinner, we went out around to a local shop, got a few beers and relaxed outside with the nature. The silence and fresh, crisp air was extremely pleasant - only when you go to the real countryside, far away from any major city is when you realize how silent it can get!
Katutau Mountains - rock formations, wildlife and Martian scenery
Katutau Mountais were around 1.5 hours drive from the guesthouse, on the way we stopped at the gas station (note the prices in Kazakstan - 140 KAZ - 0.40 EUR/0.50 USD per liter!) and drove into the more desert-like roads. We stayed for a while at a nice lake where a sort of a holiday house was located.
Then, the scenery started to change dramatically - all the trees were gone and the barren, brown hills changed their color into deep, intense red and crimson. The whole area of Katutau mountains looked like a science-fiction film set.
The rock formations were completely out of this world with various shapes and sizes (resembling a human face, for example; there is also a famous one - shaped like... male reproductive organs :P). We spent around one hour roaming around. It was a surprising and amazing experience to see something so fantastic there - as we know, Kazakhstan is hardly ever shown in the media, and when it is shown, it's mostly in a negative way.
Altyn Emel is also filled with an enormous range of wildlife - if we'd had more time, we could have witnessed an amazing variety of animals. In Katutau, we were a bit lucky - and noticed little, cute animals that looked like ground squirrels or prairie dogs but I have no idea what exactly they were.
Katutau Mountains were simply amazing, but as it turned out later, they were only a starter of what proved to be one of the most unique and magnificent places we'd ever seen - the colorful Aktau mountains, where we drove next. I'll describe them soon.
Author: Tom @ adventurous-travels.com
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