Karagiye Depression

Fifty-five kilometres southeast of Aktau is the Karagiye Depression. At -132 m below sea level, it’s the lowest point in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union.

Its southernmost point is several kilometres east of Eralievo town, which has a train station, and is near the E-121 and R-114 roads leading to Kuryk port. The northernmost point peters out near the A-33 road, which connects Aktau and Zhanaozen city.

Size estimates vary, but it’s over 20 km wide and at least 40 km in length. Its deepest point is the Batyr salt flat, in the southern half. Batyr means “hero” in Kazakh, and Karagiye is derived from the Turkic words kara (black) and kiya (steep slope).

Karagiye Depression panorama
© Matthew Traver

Despite the rugged and hostile-looking landscape, it’s home to a wide variety of animals, such as caracal, Pallas’ cat (aka manul), corsac and steppe fox, and mouflon. There’s also plenty of monitor lizards, tortoise, snakes, centipedes, and scorpions living around the depression’s cliffs and ravines. Its rich biodiversity also makes it a popular spot for hawks and vultures.

Together with Lake Karakol, 30+ km to the west, the depression is part of the 130,000+ hectare Karagiye-Karakol Nature Reserve. The reserve area also has some human activity, with oil derricks, camel farms, and watermelon and tomato plantations dotted around parts of the desert.

Less than 15 km west of Karagiye is the 15-kilometre wide, bowl-shaped Ashisor Depression, which is inland of Cape Sandy and Cape Sarzha. In 2018, there were discussions of developing a hotel and recreational area in Ashisor and turning part of it into a reservoir for leisure use. The plan involved cutting a channel, at a cost of US$130+ million, from the Caspian Sea to the depression to flood the area. For now, the project appears to be on hold as the local government and environmental groups assess how to minimise the development’s environmental impact.

Satellite view of Mangystau Region with Kargiye Depression in the centre.
Map Data: Google, © 2022 Landsat / Copernicus
Oblique satellite view of Karagiye Depression from the south.
Map Data: Google, © 2022 Maxar Technologies, CNES / Airbus, Landsat / Copernicus

How to get to the Karagiye Depression

To visit the Karagiye Depression, take the A-33 road out of Aktau, toward Zhanaozen and Zhetybay. Drive 30 km along the road, for approximately 40 minutes, to reach a turnoff with a southerly dirt road leading to the bottom of Karagiye. Another 12 km further east of the turnoff is a popular viewpoint overlooking the depression’s north side. A 4×4 is strongly recommended if you’re headed to the bottom of Karagiye or driving on any dirt roads surrounding its perimeter.

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  • Eralievo (KAZ/RUS—Ералиево): 43.2191, 51.8172
  • Kuryk (KAZ—Құрық): 43.1797, 51.6780
  • Zhetybay (KAZ—Жетібай): 43.5900, 52.0990
  • Karagiye Viewpoint: 43.5604, 51.7922
  • Road to bottom of Karagiye Depression: 43.5918, 51.6531
  • Ashisor Depression (RUS— Впадина Ашисор): 43.2631, 51.5141
  • Cape Sandy (RUS—Мыс Песчаный): 43.1543, 51.2747
  • Cape Sarzha (RUS—Мыс Саржа): 43.1616, 51.4907


  • 1:500k Soviet map of Karagiye Depression. Its southern end is in the small bowl slightly northwest of the vertically positioned red “52° 00’” mark.
  • 1:200k Soviet map of southern Karagiye Depression shown in the top-right quarter. Top-centre is the Ashisor Depression. Cape Sandy is the tip of the nose-shaped peninsula and Cape Sarzha is the tiny fang-shaped feature directly south of Ashisor.
  • 1:200k Soviet map of northern Karagiye Depression shown in the bottom-right quarter.