Aktau Mountains


The Aktau cretaceous mountains are the main attraction of the Altyn-Emel National Park after the Singing Dune.

The Aktau mountains ("white mountains" in Kazakh) are a unique geological formation, the bottom of a dried-up ancient ocean, which got its name from the main white color of the constituent rocks.


The Aktau mountains are located in the southeast of the Altyn-Emel National Park, south of the Dzhungarian Alatau ridge, 72 km from the Basshi village.

The length of the Aktau mountains from east to west is 30 km, from north to south - up to 2 km. The total area is about 50 sq.km.

Natural Open-Air Geological Museum

The cretaceous massif of Aktau was formed by volcanic activity about 400 million years ago.

The Aktau mountains are massive sedimentary deposits of a huge ancient lake (according to one version, of the ancient Tethys Ocean), which once filled the Ili basin. The height of the deposits reaches 1000 m.

As a result of the tectonic and erosional activity, beautiful gorges and canyons have emerged over time, composed of belt sedimentary rocks of various colors: green, red, blue and white.

With its rich geological formations, the Altyn-Emel National Park beats many of the world's reserves that have the status of a geopark.

The Aktau mountains make it possible to visually reconstruct the geological and paleontological chronicle of this unique territory, to trace the entire long history from the moment the first dryland appeared to the formation of desert mountains, with their inherent flora and fauna.

Altyn-Emel: Aktau Mountains
Altyn-Emel: White Mountains of Aktau
Aktau Mountains in the Altyn-Emel Park
Aktau Mountains
Aktau Mountains

Aktautitan and Other Paleontological Finds

The remains of ancient plants and animals have been found in the Aktau mountains.

There are several large findspots of the Cenozoic fauna remains in the Aktau mountains. As a result of the excavations, numerous fragments of the skeletons of ancient animals that lived in different eras of the Cenozoic (about 50 million years ago) were discovered: rhinoceroses, crocodiles, mollusks, turtles, deer, mastodons.

Excavations in the Aktau Mountains

The fully preserved skeleton of Brontoterium, the ancestor of the modern hippopotamus, was discovered during joint Kazakh-American expeditions in 1995-1997. The remains found did not belong to any known species.

So a new species was discovered in Kazakhstan, aktautitan, named after the Aktau mountains. (The exhibits are kept in the "Gylym Ordasy" Museum of Nature of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences in Almaty, as well as in the visit center of the national park).

In addition to the remains of fauna in the Aktau mountains, there are findspots of Miocene flora - poplar, willow, elm, barberry, ailanto and other plants (56 species in total), as well as the progenitors of modern tugai trees growing in this region. This flora reflects the gradual aridization (drying out) of the local climate.

Aktau Mountains: Ancient Flora

Tourist Attraction

Unearthly, alien landscapes, similar to a fantastic film scenery, can be seen from afar. The Aktau mountains attract lovers of unusual picturesque views, hiking and cycling, and photography. The gorges and colorful canyons of this mountain range are a long labyrinth that is interesting to explore.

There is no better place for lovers of geology and paleontology - this is a real open-air museum. Here you can find dozens of different rocks, scattered along the gorges or laid out in the form of a layer cake.

The Aktau mountains are ideal for photo tours and drone filming due to the variety of landscapes and beautiful views. Tourists often come here overnight to see these landscapes at sunset and sunrise.

Aktau Mountains Tour
Aktau Mountains in Altyn-Emel
Aktau Mountains, Altyn-Emel Park
Aktau Mountains Photo Tours
Aktau Mountains Photo Tours


At the foot of the Aktau mountains, you can stay overnight in tents or campers, but you need to have a supply of water with you, since there are no water sources here. The camping site is equipped with modern eco-friendly tent sites, gazebos and toilets.

Tourists often come here with bicycles to ride through the long labyrinths of mountain gorges. You can also come here on motorcycles, but it is forbidden to ride them inside the canyon, due to the fragility of the rocks (the Aktau mountains are subject to intense erosion).

The cretaceous mountains of Aktau are the farthest route in Altyn-Emel. On the way to them, you can visit the Kosbastau oasis with a 700-year-old willow and a warm radon spring, as well as the Katutau volcanic mountains.

Campsite near Aktau Mountains
Aktau Mountains Camping Ground
Altyn-Emel Infrastructure
Aktau Mountains Motorcycle Tours
Camping Tour in Aktau Mountains

Aktau Mountains: Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Aktau mountains in the Altyn-Emel National Park is spring and autumn.

Summer in Altyn-Emel can be extremely hot for unprepared tourists. The scorching sun and the complete absence of shade in the desert make it difficult to walk through the Aktau mountains.

The winter season is suitable for trips to Altyn-Emel, provided that the weather is clear, calm, without precipitation and snow cover. The Aktau mountains are practically devoid of vegetation and are beautiful at any time of the year. Please check the road conditions with the park office and look up the weather on the Internet (check the Basshi village).

See also:

Weather and Climate in Altyn-Emel >>>

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Your Guide to Altyn-Emel National Park

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