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Yangykala Canyon

With bands of pink, red and yellow rock searing across the sides of steep canyon walls, Yangykala Canyon is a breathtaking sight and one of the most spectacular natural attractions in Turkmenistan.

Just as alluring as the beautiful views is its solitary isolation in the desert; few Turkmen are aware of its existence. Canyons and cliffs slash for 25km towards the Garagogazgol basin and lie approximately 165km north of Balkanabat and about 160km east of Turkmenbashi, making it easy to slot the canyon between the two cities. It’s possible to camp on the plateau above the canyon, although it can get windy here. While most tour companies run trips here, not all include it on their standard itineraries, so make inquiries when planning your trip.

Around 40km from the Gozli Ata turning, the road climbs an escarpment. At the top, take the left hand of the tracks heading northwards from the road, the escarpment to your left. After 6km a stunning pink-floored canyon suddenly opens up on the right. The track passes along a narrow strip of high ground between escarpment and canyon, ending shortly beyond at a promontory. The view from here is one of the best in Turkmenistan. The ravine-dissected pink floor of Yangykala Canyon gives way to corrugated greenish-white walls, topped by a hard brown cap. The promontory on which you are standing ends at a rock resembling the jaws of a crocodile, snapping shut on air. For this, and all routes involving off-road driving in the desert, at least two 4x4 vehicles, experienced off-road drivers and plenty of spare petrol and water are important measures.

Taking the right hand of the two tracks heading north from the main road atop the escarpment will bring you to another local beauty spot, the Yangysuw Canyon, 25km away. An experienced guide is needed to navigate the right route, as there are many competing tracks here. The top of the canyon appears suddenly, its walls and floor sculpted out of bright white rock, rather than the pinks and greens predominating at Yangykala. The track descends steeply into the canyon, towards the eastern shores of Garabogazgol, a few kilometres away along dismal tracks.