Airakty Valley of Castles, Mangystau

Airakty Valley of Castles, Mangystau

Airakty, also known as Zhairakty or Shomanai, is one of the most picturesque places in Mangystau. This group of mountains boasts steep walls covered with mesmerizing crevices that look like they were crafted by human hands. Ukrainian poet and writer Taras Shevchenko once visited this place and poetically named it the “Valley of Castles”.

The history of Airakty began 40 million years ago when the bottom of the ancient Tethys Ocean rose, exposing limestone deposits. Over millions of years, rainwater and strong winds carved unusual lines and depressions into the soft rock. This natural process continues, meaning Airakty will look different in another million years.

The human history of Airakty is largely undocumented. Travelers and traders of the Great Silk Road once visited the area, and amateur archaeologists occasionally find ancient coins. Several hundred years ago, local hunters and shepherds carved petroglyphs. In 1851, Taras Shevchenko visited and made the first sketches of the local scenery, sharing this unique place with the world.

Today, Airakty is a popular attraction included in big Mangystau tours. During the peak tourist season, several camps are set up along the valley. The area is especially picturesque in spring when the surroundings are covered with a green carpet. Some mountains are impregnable, while others can be conquered with a short hike of a couple of hours.

Airakty Valley of Castles is located 100 km northeast of Aktau, with a highway distance of 180 km. Another popular Mangystau attraction, Mount Sherkala, is located 10 km to the west.