Altyn Emel National Park

Altyn Emel National Park

Altyn Emel National Park is the largest park in Kazakhstan covering an area of 520 thousand ha. This vast desert type location is located Northeast of the Kapchagai reservoir between the Ili River and the mountains of the Dzhungarskiy Alatau in the Almaty region. The name of the Altyn-Emel park is linked with a Mongolian legend and means “golden saddle”. According to the legend, at the beginning of the XIII century, Genghis Khan with his army crossed the valley. During the sunset, the legendary commander saw mountains on the horizon, which were covered with yellowed grass and exclaimed: “Golden saddle!” The Altyn-Emel pass looks really like a saddle.

The park has been nominated as a candidate for the UNESCO world heritage list from 2012. The park was established in 1996 to focal for eco-tourism and for the protection of rare and endangered species together with several notable archeological and cultural sites. Among them are the Przewalski’s horse, one of the last truly wild horse populations living in its native habitat. There are three main attractions of the park: the Singing Dune, the colored Chalk Mountains of Aktau and the remains of lava in the Katutau mountains. 

Singing Dune of Altyn Emel

The Singing Dune is a 150 m high and 3 km long sandhill within the Altyn Emel National Park. The dune has been formed by the wind blowing light sand from the banks of the Ili River to the Greater and Lesser Kalkans mountain chains when part of settles to continuously form this famous site. The dune is called the “singing dune” due to the amazing, organ-like sound that ranges from a squawk to a roar and is produced by the shifting and friction of sand grains rubbing against each other. 

One of the interesting facts of this dune is that it does not move within the valley but has stayed for millenias in the same place and holding the same form. From the southwest the slope is invariably smooth and from the Northeast it has several ridges with gentle slopes. According to legend, the dune is a sleeping devil who lies in rest, and the sound is his angry groaning from when someone tries to raise him from his slumber

Aktau white and colorful mountains in Altyn Emil park in Kazakhstan

Cretaceous Mountains Aktau

The Aktau Mountains are one of the most famous ones in Altyn Emel National Park. The colors of the mountains are mainly whitish but in some sections they expose a wide range of shades and colors. They are an about 400 million years old unique geological formation explored by only a small bowl of paleontologists from around the world. Within the dull hills of the Aktau mountains, you can find old remains of plants and animals, displaying the richness of the history of the planet. Researchers believe that these mountains were formed by the currents of changing layers on top of each other under the Tethys Sea during the Mesozoic era. Ak means white in Kazakh and Kyrgyz and Tau translates as the mountain.

Brownish lava stone formations in Katutau, Kazakhstan

Volcanic Mountains of Katutau with remains of lava

In the Eastern part of the National Park you can observe Katutau mountain (translation from the Turkic means Severe mountains). They were formed from the solidified lava of two large volcanoes that were once active in these parts. Katutau mountains are very ancient ruined mountains where the active volcanoes used to create chaos long ago. The leftovers of lava flow ruled by the sun, frost, rains and wind appear as wonderful images carved on the rock. The highest point of Katutau reaches a height of 1720 m.

Travel to Altyn Emel

The most optimal way to get to Alty Emel is from Almaty. There are many weekend tours offered from Almaty to Altyn-Emel, you can easily find them google the parameters you need. Usually, those tour price includes two days’ accommodation, meals, guides and bus transfers. One way trip will take about 6 hours. On average such a tour may cost about 16,000 tenge. You can also get there in your own car or rent a minibus if you are a group. Make sure to get a permit before your trip, the office is located at the corner of Makatayev and Ablai Khan streets in Zhetesu hotel at 2nd floor. You can check the latest prices on their website And don’t forget to book accommodation in one of the hotels. The hotels can cost can be ranged from 2500 tenge to 7000 tenge per person. 

You can enter to the park only through the village of Basshi. In the administration building, you can get permission is to visit the park. There is also a museum where you can take a tour and learn more about flora and fauna and the history of the formation of geological objects. The best time to visit Altyn-Emel is March-May and September-November, in dry weather. Make sure to a bottle of water, a hat, sunscreen and good shoes.

Sights near Altyn Emel

Page updated 24.6.2022

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