Six Reasons to Visit Mangistau
Ever wanted to visit Mangistau? If you haven’t, you will by the end of this blog post.
Many centuries ago, an ancient ocean swallowed the arid canyons and plains of Mangistau. Today, the fossilised remains of sharks and sea urchins are imprinted in this region’s cliff faces, plateaus and low-lying salt pans.
Today, Kazakhstan’s Wild West is sparsely populated by sheep, goats, camels and yurt-dwellers. It’s free from tourists, who are yet to venture north from neighbouring Uzbekistan and its Silk Road citadels. This makes it perfect for wilderness-seeking travellers who want to experience what nomadic life is like in Central Asia.
Without further ado, here are our six reasons why you should visit Mangistau:
1) Salt-scuffed Mountains
The Ustyurt Plateau
From Bokty to Sherkala, Mangistau’s tallest peaks rival Table Mountain for beauty. Sculpted by the hand of mother nature, these rugged mountains are the feature pieces of Mangistau – one of them (Mount Bokty) is depicted on Kazakhstan’s currency.
Near the remote town of Shetpe, yurt-shaped Mount Sherkala is a potent symbol for the nomadic communities of Mangistau. In English, Sherkala translates as ‘Lion’s city’ – a name earnt because of how it resembles a lion’s head. The weathered remains of a medieval caravanserai also stand on its summit.
Bokty is built on layer-upon-layer of pink, yellow and white chalk, and is a fantastic place to visit by 4WD on a Kazakhstan tour. Given the dry climate, the sunsets are particularly special here – and there’s no better place to watch one than at Bokty, where the mountain’s pastel shades run like watercolours into the red and orange sky.
2) Mystical underground monasteries
In the cracks and crevices of these mountains, adventurers can discover underground monasteries that have been visited by worshippers for generations.
One of these – Beket Ata – is the final resting place of a revered Sufi mystic. Burrowed into a canyon, this sub-terranean sanctuary is visited by Muslim pilgrims from near and far. A two-day drive across the desert from the nearest city, Aktau, travelling here is no mean feat.
For those who don’t fancy making the journey, there is a closer cave monastery north of Aktau. Carved into the coast of the Caspian Sea, Shakpak-Ata has an interesting history – spanning from its Christian past to today, when it welcomes Muslim pilgrims. There is also an accompanying Necropolis which, alongside the caves, stands alone in the Tupkargan peninsula.
3) It’s close to Aktau
The desert wilderness of Mangistau is easily accessed from Aktau, an industrial city on the shores of the Caspian. After Soviet prospectors discovered uranium deposits in the area in the 1950s, a Nuclear Power Plant was built in Aktau – making it one of the USSR’s most important outposts. Plenty of Soviet relics remain in the city, including socialist frescoes and a WW2 memorial. In the evenings, the bright lights of the city reflect on the ripples of the riviera, making it a delightful spot for an after-dinner stroll. Aktau is a short flight from Baku and easily accessible from Almaty, Nur-Sultan, Shymkent and Tbilisi – so can easily slot into the middle of a longer Silk Road Adventure.
4) You can visit the peculiarly-named Valley of Balls
The Valley of Balls
Close to the remote town of Shetpe, a series of spherical stones stand out in the rugged landscape of Mangistau. The Valley of Balls is known in Kazakh as Torysh, and you can explore this natural phenomenon by foot. Local legend has it that a giant called Ersary fired these balls at enemies of the land, and that they’ve been left in this very spot for millions of years.
The more scientific explanation is that these rocks are the result of concretion, a process where sediment accumulates around a harder core. Whichever story you prefer, the Valley of Balls is one of Kazakhstan’s most unique natural monuments.
5) Nomad Yurt Camps
In Mangistau, nomadic communities sleep in cosy yurts underneath star-spangled skies. We know some of them personally, and love taking guests to their eco-yurt villages on our Kazakhstan tours. If you do, you will awake to spine-tingling views of sprawling desert, and eat hearty, locally-produced food that will prepare you for a day on the road.
6) It’s one of Central Asia’s secret hiking destinations
The view from the Dreadnough across the Ustyurt Plateau
With beckoning mountains and salt pans that stretch as far as the eye can see, Mangistau is a fantastic place to embark on a trekking tour. Those that do often have the trails all to themselves, and take time to reflect while gazing across the whistling desert. Our tip is to trek up the Dreadnought Cliff in the Boszhira Valley – from its peak, you have a spectacular view of three white peaks which rise out of the desert like stretching fingers.
Should I visit Mangistau?
Yes! Tourism is only just beginning here and the tour buses are yet to arrive, so this region is an adventurous traveller’s paradise. Aktau is also easily accessible by plane from many other Central Asian destinations – including Baku – and cities in Kazakhstan, such as Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Shymkent.
Our Mangistau Tours
If you want to visit Mangistau for yourself, why not embark on a tailor-made Kazakhstan tour?