On the southern shores of Issyk-Kul Lake, in eastern Kyrgyzstan, lies a secret canyon full of bizarre and colourful rock formations. Skazka Canyon is an otherworldly place, sandwiched between the great lake and towering mountains.
Some call it the Fairy Tale Canyon; others the Fairy Tale Castle. People can’t seem to make up their mind which. Either way, there are many Kyrgyz folk stories about this place.
If local legends are to be believed, Skazka Canyon was formed by the petrified remains of an ancient dragon…
Kyrgyzstan is known for its stunning landscapes. However, here you’ll find scenery unlike anywhere else in the country. This is one of the most surreal and beautiful natural places I’ve visited in a long while.
** If you need a visa to visit Kyrgyzstan, I recommend using iVisa.com. Their online visa processing service is quick, secure, and easy to use. **
The History Of Skazka Canyon (Fairy Tale Castle)
Skazka means “Fairy Tale” in Russian. As well as looking like somewhere out of a fairy tale, legend has it that the canyon was formed by the remains of an ancient dragon.
According to local folklore, there used to be several great cities in the area that now contains Issyk-Kul Lake. (Fun fact: this part of the story is actually backed up by archaeological evidence.)
Apparently, a dragon fell in love with a woman who lived in one of these cities. When she rejected him (sad times), he cursed the valley, causing it to flood. Hence, the formation of Issyk-Kul Lake.
When the dragon saw the destruction that he had caused, he was so horrified that he turned himself to stone, along with various other animals and people who were there at the time. Their petrified remains can still be seen today inside the Fairy Tale Canyon, Kyrgyzstan.
For those of you who are more sceptical… Another theory is that the canyon was formed over millions of years by the forces of nature.
Rich mixtures of naturally-occurring chemicals have given the surrounding earth, clay, and rocks a range of vivid colours. This – combined with the erosion and weathering effects of wind, ice, and extreme temperature fluctuations – formed the bizarre shapes, patterns, and colours that we see today.
Exploring Skazka Canyon
Strangely, Skazka Canyon is not one of Kyrgyzstan’s better known attractions. (I say strangely, because it’s both stunning, and not particularly difficult to get to – see below).
Happily for you though, there’s a decent chance you’ll have the place entirely to yourself.
The canyon itself isn’t particularly big, and can be easily explored on foot in a couple of hours. Bring shoes with decent grip, as many of the best bits require some clambering to reach.
One of the most prominent features is the “Great Wall of China“. This large vertical ridge runs across most of the canyon’s length. It’s a good natural feature to use to orient yourself when exploring. If you scramble up to the top of the wall, you’ll also be rewarded with fantastic views out over Issyk-Kul Lake and the surrounding mountains.
From various angles, and at different times of day, you’ll be able to make out a range of different shapes and figures, including human faces, animals, dragons, and castles. Some are beautiful; others are downright spooky, especially at sunset.
Some parts look a bit like the South-Western United States; others more like an alien planet.
It’s definitely worth spending (at least) a couple of hours here, exploring the various sections of the canyon. With the right lighting conditions, you can take some awesome photos.
I also really like the fact that you can’t see all of the canyon in one shot, which forces you to scrabble around and explore on foot.
Best Time To Visit Skazka Canyon, Kyrgyzstan
If you can, I’d recommend coming a couple of hours before sunset. That way, you’ll have a decent amount of time to explore the canyon in the daylight. Be sure to stick around for sunset itself, when the golden light paints the rocks even more vividly.
The best time of year to visit Skazka Canyon is between May and September, when the weather is warmest. However, you can visit at any time during the year.
This part of Kyrgyzstan is fairly arid and receives very little rain. Even in the winter, snow is rare – although you should be prepared for sub-zero conditions. Between December and February, the temperature often plunges to -10°C (and lower still at night).
How To Get To Skazka Canyon
Skazka Canyon, Kyrgyzstan is located about halfway between Karakol and Balykchy, on the southern side of Issyk-Kul Lake. The nearest village of any significant size is Kaji-Say.
If you have your own car, take the A363 (the main road that runs around Issyk-Kul) south around the lake. Once you pass through Kaji-Say (if coming from the west) or Tosor (if coming from the east), keep an eye out for the brown sign marked “Skazka (ска́зка) / Fairy Tale Canyon“. From here, follow the dirt road for 2 kilometres until you reach the main parking area.
Alternatively, many marshrutkas, shared taxis, and busses ply the A363, which is one of Kyrgyzstan’s major east-west routes. (Double check that they are taking the southern route around the lake, not the northern one!).
If you’re coming from Karakol, take marshrutka #315 or #310 from the Southern Bus Station. Expect to pay around 120 Som ($1.50) per person, and for the journey to take about 2 hours. Ask the driver to stop at the turnoff for Skazka Canyon. You’ll need to walk the final 2 kilometres along the dirt road to the canyon, or hitch a lift if there’s anyone else around.
At the parking area, you might be asked to pay a 50 Som entry fee (I wasn’t).
The canyon also technically “closes” at 5pm, though I didn’t see any guard or ranger anywhere, so I’m not sure whether this is enforced. However, if you don’t have your own transport, you might find it hard to flag down a marshrutka/taxi to your next destination after 5pm.
Where To Stay Near Skazka Canyon, Kyrgyzstan
The best place to stay near Skazka Canyon, Kyrgyzstan is, without a doubt, the Legenda Health Resort.
Located in the village of Kaji-Say, about 16 kilometres west of the canyon, this quirky complex has a range of (simple but perfectly comfortable) bungalows on the shore of Issyk-Kul Lake.
It’s extremely good value, and has a decent set of facilities, including a little shop, secure parking, laundry facilities, tennis court, and a beautiful private stretch of beach (in my opinion, one of the best beaches in Kyrgyzstan).
Legenda is owned by a super friendly and awesome local guy who speaks good English. It was quiet when I stayed there, and he offered to drive us to the canyon in his own car. Afterwards, we shared a BBQ and several bottles of Kyrgyz vodka on the beach. Good times!
Have you ever been to the Fairytale Canyon in Kyrgyzstan? Let me know in the comments below.