Senek Sands

Golden-coloured sand dunes with Senek village in the background and chalk cliffs further beyond.

Senek Sands, also known as Tuyesu Sands, is an 11 x 30km area of dunes located halfway between Zhanaozen city and Boszhira. Barchan dunes cover the south and east corner, and the north and west quarters are desert shrubland. The southern section of the Senek sands, with Senek village in background.© Marina Khlybova Desertification in […]

Sor Tuzbair

Wide view of Sor Tuzbair from the plateau.

Eight kilometres south of Kyzyl Ravine is Sor Tuzbair*, a salt marsh stretching 15km along the edge of the Western Chink Ustyurt. Along with Boszhira, it’s one of Mangystau’s most recognisable and visited natural landscapes. The far western end of Sor Tuzbair.© Matthew Traver Map Data: Google, © 2021 Landsat / Copernicus The most defining […]

Buzachi Peninsula Deserts

If you’re interested in obscure, remotely situated deserts, the Buzachi Peninsula has five small, sandy ones*: the Kyzylkum, Uvahkum, Shulshagylkum, Zhilimshik and Egizlak. The Kyzylkum begins on the outskirts of Shebir village, extending 30km west to Kiyakty, where it merges with the similarly sized Uvahkum. Running close to the Caspian coastline’s edge, Uvahkum transforms into […]

Shopan Ata

Red sandstone sarcophagus, locally known as sandyktases, sit in steppe land near Shopan-Ata.

Twenty kilometres north of Senek village is Shopan Ata, a circa 10th-century underground mosque that is one of Mangystau’s oldest religious sites. It was first surveyed in the early 1950s by a research team led by Malbagar Mendikulov, a prominent Kazakh architect who incorporated traditional designs into his architectural work to preserve national character and […]


Rugged cliffs on top of Shalkar-Nura.

Shalkar-Nura is in the central section of the Irgiz-Turgay Nature Reserve and is a part of the Aktobe Region’s easternmost district: Irgiz. Although the district appears small on a map, it’s in fact slightly larger than Switzerland, but has a vastly smaller population by comparison: 15,000 vs. 8.5 million people. The Irgiz-Turgay Nature Reserve itself […]

Saura Canyon

Steep cliffs beside a small, green lake in Saura Canyon.

North of Golubaya Bay is a dirt road running along the edge of the plateau and coastline to Saura Canyon, which has an abandoned Soviet-era fishing village of the same name. Keep an eye out for the remains of old wheeled-cart tracks cut into the plateau’s soft limestone, which were created by centuries-old fishmongers travelling […]

Karynzharyk Depression

A mountain surrounded by pure white salt flats.

Karynzharyk is an 85km long and 15km wide depression in the Ustyurt Nature Reserve. The nearest village is Ak-Kuduk, which is situated 25km to the east, on the edge of the Karynzharyk Sands. Most of the depression is 40–50m below sea level. The Western Chink Ustyurt overlooks the eastside, reaching heights of 200–340m above sea […]


Rock spires rising above chalk slopes.

Boszhira is Central Asia’s rival to the USA’s Monument Valley National Park, with the bonus of no crowds. Packed into a 7km x 7km area are several distinct red sandstone rock formations set atop waterworn chalk slabs. The most striking are the Azu Tisteri rock spires, meaning ‘fang teeth’ in Kazakh. Without a doubt, these […]



Fifteen kilometres north-west of Shetpe town is Ayrakty-Shomanai, or as 19th-century Ukrainian artist-poet Taras Shevchenko preferred to call it during his stay in Mangystau, ‘The Valley of Castles’. The peaks are freestanding, sitting between the Karatau Range to the south and the North Aktau Ridge to the north. Given its otherworldly landscape comprising fin-like rock […]


Wide shot of grey clouds over the Ural River in Atyrau.

Atyrau, a bustling city less than 15km from the Caspian Sea’s north coast, sits amid the stark beauty of the Caspian Lowland. Surrounded by sandy deserts, arid scrubland, salt marshes, and rural villages, the riverside metropolis offers a wealth of sights that extend far beyond the city limits. The Founding of Atyrau The origins of […]