Koytendag Nature Reserve

Köýtendag Nature Reserve

Kugitang Nature Reserve is a protected area located in the Kugitang Mountains of Turkmenistan. Natural Reserve lies on the very east part of Turkmenistan in Kugitang ridge of the Pamir-Alai mountain range presents one of the most attractive natural environments in the country next to the Uzbek border. The Kugitang  reserve covers an area of approximately 134,000 hectares and was established in 1979 to protect the unique natural features and biodiversity of the region. The name of the reserve comes from the name of the rare markhor mountain goat who inhabits there and whose name comes from Persian (Kugitang means “Difficult-to-Cross Mountains”.

Koytendag Nature Reserve is known for its unique geological features, including rock formations, canyons, and caves that date back millions of years. These geological formations have attracted scientists and researchers interested in studying the history of the region and the evolution of life on earth.

The Kugitang Mountains are part of the larger Tian Shan mountain range and are known for their rugged terrain and high peaks such as Turkmenistan’s highest peak, Airybaba (3137m) above sea level. It is located in the Köýtendag Range of the Pamir-Alay chain in the southeast of Turkmenistan on the Uzbekistan border. Airybaba summit was known under this name until September 2004, when the Turkmen parliament approved a declaration renaming it “Mount of the Great Saparmyrat Turkmenbashi”. 


The Kugitang Nature Reserve is an important area for scientific research and conservation efforts, and it has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is managed by the State Committee for Nature Protection of Turkmenistan, and visitors are welcome to explore the area and learn about its unique natural features and wildlife. 

Most of the population (up to 50 000 people) lives in the Koytendarya valley while the main villages are Garlyk, Koyten, Khodzhapil, Gorshun. The area of Köýtendag Nature Reserve is also known for its numerous mineral springs, waterfalls, and caves as well as home for variety of animals and plants.

Koytendag Mountains, Turkmenistan

Koytendag Flora

The flora of Koytendag is composed of 982 species. Juniperus (or archa) forests with Tragacanth communities are widespread (1700-2800 m), in which Astracanta and steppe grasses as well. Seasonal grazing and cattle rearing are carried out here, as well as arable farming to a lesser degree. 

Köýtendag Fauna

The reserve is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, including rare and endangered species such as the goitered gazelle, Turkestan lynx, and Marco Polo sheep. The reserve is also home to a variety of bird species, including the Eurasian griffon vulture, saker falcon, and golden eagle.

Koytendag Flora
Koytendag Flora

Hojapil Zakaznik natural reserve

The Kugitang Nature Reserve’s base are located south of Hojapil.  The landscape of Hojapil Zakaznik is characterised by steep mountains, rocky cliffs, and deep canyons. The area has several water features, including the Kattakul and Khurdzhumkul karst lakes, which are home to unique aquatic species. Hojapil Zakaznik one of the most exciting places to visit it lies in the northern part of the range.

The natural reserve is open to visitors and offers a range of activities such as hiking, camping, and wildlife watching. The reserve is also involved in various conservation efforts to protect the local flora and fauna, including reforestation projects and the monitoring of endangered species populations. Ammonites found in the rocks here were once believed by local people to be the marks left by a stamp used by the Emir of Bukhara to mark his territory. Next to the lower edge of the village of Hojapil, a path up the hillside to the south takes you after a stiff but not difficult 20-minute climb to the Dinasaur Plateu. 

Köýtendag Сaves

One of the most attractive features of the Kugitang Nature Reserve is its extensive network of caves, which stretch for 50km beneath the limestone hills. The area was not thoroughly explored until the second half of the 20th century, and one of the unique features of these caves is the presence of a rare species of sightless fish called the blind cave loach.  

Ninety million years ago, while the current desert territory of Central Asia was covered by plentiful rains and a large ocean reached the foothills of the young mountains, the water started to dissolve the rock and to seek shelter in new caves. Later, the caves were packed with clay and stayed that way for a long time, from the Neogenic to the Middle Quaternary. The mountains rose, along with the caves full of clay, whereupon the clay was washed away and the karst cave system was born.

Koytendag Nature Reserve cave
Koytendag cave, Turkmnenistan

Kyrk Gyz Pilgrim Cave

One of the most popular caves in the Kugitang Nature Reserve is the Kyrk-Gyz Cave, which is also known as the “Forty Girls” Cave. Kyrk Gyz (Forty Girl) Cave lies near the plateau, outside the village of Hojapil. The cave, located in a striking canyon, contains an unmarked tomb. 

There are some local legends about the place. The Legend says that 40 girls were warlike Amazons, defeating those who tried to take their land. In others, the girls have a less military role. Facing capture by bandits, the innocent girls prayed for protection and it was granted by the mountain itself, into which the girls found they could miraculously walk. The cave is famous for its stunning underground lake and unique formations, such as the “Crystal Throne” and the “Wedding Arch.”

On the roof of the cave, you can see bits of mud from which dangle strips of cloth. According to local tradition, a wish come true if the pilgrim can fling the mud pie and cloth to the ceiling and make it stick. Numerous rare species inhabit here including the spiral-horned markhor goat, and the Bukhara urial, a mountain sheep.

Dinosaur Print, Kugitang National Park, Tuekmenistan
Dinosaur Print, Kugitang National Park, Tuekmenistan

Most of the population (up to 50 000 people) lives in the Koytendarya valley while the main villages are Garlyk, Koyten, Khodzhapil, Gorshun. The area of Köýtendag Nature Reserve is also known for its numerous mineral springs, waterfalls, and caves as well as home for variety of animals and plants.

Karlyk Caves

Although the potential of this area for speleological tourism has not yet been fully realised, non-specialist visitors can explore the Karlyuk Caves with experienced guides from the nature reserve.  Karlyuk Caves or Garlyk Caves are the limestone caves that are considered the most extensive network of caves in Central Asia. They have been known since ancient times, they have been mentioned in Greek texts, however, the Soviets were the first to fully explore and utilise the caves. It was during their rule that onyx was harvested from the caves. The caves are also home to the blind cave loach, a sightless fish. 

Kapkytan Cave

Kapkytan Cave is one of the accessible caves for visitors since other caves have not been prepared for the tourist crowds. Trekking deep into the caves with one of the park rangers could be both scary and exciting, with some astonishing stalactites and stalagmites. Some of these natural miracles have been named by locals according to their form, including Medusa, a maiden and others of a more phallic nature. 

The entrance to the Kapkytan Cave is sealed by a large metal door and opens to a 300m-long horizontal shaft that was cut in Soviet times for the extraction of onyx. At the end of the shaft is the cave network, which includes passages, galleries, and smaller caves with stalactites and stalagmites that resemble mythological characters, animals, and even human reproductive organs. 

Dinasaur Cave

Another popular cave in the Kugitang Nature Reserve is the Dinosaur Cave, which is known for its ancient fossils and unique rock formations. The cave is believed to have been formed over 300 million years ago and contains a variety of unique geological features, such as the “Dinosaur Footprint” and the “Organ Pipes.” The caves may be difficult to access and may require a guide to explore safely.

Kugitang Waterfall

The Kugitang Nature Reserve is a beautiful waterfall that cascades down a rocky cliff into a pool of crystal clear water below. The surrounding landscape is rugged and mountainous, with deep valleys and gorges carved by rivers and streams. The waterfall is located in a remote area of the reserve therefore visitors are advised to hire a guide who is familiar with the area and can help you navigate the mountain trails safely if you wish to visit waterfall.

Koytendag Nature Reserve waterfall
Koytendag natural reserve in Turkmenistan

Dinosaur Plateau

Dinosaur footprints have been discovered at other locations in the Kugitang Mountains more than 2,500 trails in total, dating from the Jurassic period. Turkmen scientists claim that the footprint evidence is suggestive of at least three previously unknown dinosaur species, and have suggested the names Gissarosaurus, Hojapilosaurus and Turkmenosaurus. Furthermore, the residence of the villagers believed in legends that the tracks at Hojapil were created either by the elephants of Alexander the Great’s army or elephants brought back from India by a local holy man returning from a religious pilgrimage. 

Koyten Dag is also well-known for its “Dinosaur Plateau” with 438 fully preserved fossilized dinosaur tracks, and its caves are rated the most impressive and intriguing caves in the former Soviet Union. If you wish to discover the mountain can be discovered you should follow climbing and trekking paths placed along the entire ridge. Dinosaur Plato lies in the northeast part of Reserve, in Kugitangtau mountains, at the height of 1,500 meters. It is a large limestone slab lying on a hillside, the extent to which, from the small village of Khodjapil, takes half an hour.  The spot was first investigated in 1980, which soon gained a great as at “Repository“of dinosaur tracks. Alike dinosaur footprints were also found in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and even in the United States, yet none of them is equal in number to Turkmenistan. There was discovered about 150 paw prints of different sizes and conditions. 

Getting to Köýtendag Nature Reserve

Kugitang a considerably difficult place to reach due to the road condition and remote location. The drive from Turkmenabat, through Atamurat, should take around six hours. Since you are still in Turkmenistan you need a permit for these spots therefore plan accordingly and get a permit beforehand from the travel agencies.

Visitors can reach the reserve by following the road along the Kugitang River valley, passing through Koyten village and the old lead-mining settlement of Svintsovy Rudmk, and continuing on to the hamlet of Hojakarawul. There is a small museum in Hojakarawul that visitors may miss, which contains exhibits such as a stuffed markhor, a gypsum model of a dinosaur footprint, and displays of minerals and fossils in glass cases. There is also a mock-up cave with stalactites and stalagmites. 


Sights near Koytendag Natural Reserve

Page updated 24.4.2023

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