Join the Ustyurt Plateau Explorers Group Tour 2023

An extraordinary tour along the edge of the magnificent Ustyurt Plateau that looks like a planet that has never been explored by humans. Wind and rain transformed the picturesque ledges/crevasses into fantastic sculptures. The multi-colored walls and towering cliffs of the canyons carved by erosion look as if they were man-made. You will see the ruins of ancient cities, mounds, mysterious burial sites and arrow-shaped structures built many centuries ago… You will visit the ruins of the secret Soviet military testing grounds hidden among the mountains (abandoned and safe now). At the gigantic Barsa-Kelmes salt marsh you will have a chance to walk over the smooth salt-covered area that was part of the ancient Tethys Ocean, spend the night in a Karakalpak yurt, and touch the water of the Aral Sea that is said to have disappeared from the face of our planet.

Highlights of the Tour:

  • Fantastic ledges/crevasses along the Ustyurt Plateau
  • The Disappearing Aral Sea 
  • Gigantic Ustyurt Plateau
  • Abandoned Soviet military testing grounds hidden under the Ustyurt Plateau
  • Vast salt deposit located at the dry bed of Barsa-Kelmes Lake
  • Unique Sudochie Natural Reserve, the nesting grounds of flamingos, swans, and dozens of rare bird species


NOTE! The max size of the group is 14 people.
UPDATE (Aug 12, 2023): Presently, we are in search of adventurous individuals interested in joining this exclusive expedition. This remarkable journey is set to materialize with a limited group size, ideally ranging from 6 to 10 participants.


Brief description

  • Duration: 4 days, 3 nights
  • Total distance: 1500 km
  • Transportation: 4WD vehicles
  • Meals: 9 meals during the tour
  • Dates: September-October, 2023

Day 1


The tour begins at the hotel with a delicious breakfast cooked by the best chefs. Next, you will board the comfortable off-road vehicles to take a tour of Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan.


Mizdakhan is a necropolis and Gyaur-Kala is an ancient city. A scenic road will take you to Khodjeili, one of the ancient cities. There you will visit two famous sites. The first one is the large intricately built necropolis Mizdakhan that has the mysterious time clock, underground tomb and a mystic Djumart-kassab mound. The second one is a medieval city-fortress Gyaur-Kala built in the 13th century. You will be able to visit the epic ruins of the city corrugated walls and the inner rooms of the clay palace.


Kungrad, the city at the retreated sea. As we drive to another ancient city, Kungrad, you will see how the local people live both in the agricultural and industrial regions of Karakalpakstan. In Kungrad, we will stop at a shop to buy soft drinks, travel accessories or toiletries.


Lunch. After Kungrad you will ascend the Ustyurt Plateau and stop for lunch in one of the local cafés in Elabad village.


Mysterious Barsa-Kelmes. After lunch, you will continue the tour and ascend the Ustyurt Plateau. Travelling along the rocky desert, you will arrive at one of the most unusual sites - Barsa-Kelmes salt marsh. Translated from Uzbek, the name means ‘a place of no return’. When you arrive, you will walk down from the Ustyurt Plateau to the ancient salt marsh basin. The air at Barsa-Kelmes is unique and the sunset is absolutely magnificent. Upon return to the Plateau, you will have dinner and enjoy the view of Barsa-Kelmes at night.


From Barsa-Kelmes, you will travel through the desert to the ancient lighthouse at the Sudochie Lake. Here in the tent camp you will stay for the night and enjoy the songs of the local birds.

Day 2


Sunrise at Sudochie Lake. Early in the morning you will enjoy the view of the sun rising from behind the small green islets of bulrush. Using binoculars, you will be able to see the birds sitting on the lake. After sunrise, you will have breakfast at the edge of the Ustyurt Plateau with the view of the lake. Then we will break camp and drive to meet fishermen on the Sudochie Lake.


Abandoned fishing village Urga is located on shore of the Sudochie Lake. Here you’ll meet with the fishermen, visit the ruins of the Russian city once inhabited by exiled Cossacks, see the Russian Orthodox cemetery on the hill, decrepit factory, salt-covered lake shores, wooden fishing boats, and vast areas overgrown with bulrush. We will make a quick stop at the fishing outpost.


Kubla-Ustyurt: 300 people living in a desert. Travelling along the vast bleak Ustyurt you will see a small village of Kubla-Ustyurt and an abandoned airstrip next to it. You will learn the remarkable history of this place and find out why people still live in the middle of the desert where the nearest inhabited village is hundred miles away. If you wish, you can visit the house of the camel herder and try camel milk. Lunch will be served in the village guest house.


A site for a Spielberg movie. We are going to descend from the plateau to the sea, to the areas that are not visible from the edge of the Ustyurt Plateau because of several mountain ridges with canyons obstructing the view. The huge UFO-shaped multi-colored rocks as large as five-storied buildings present an excellent place to take photos and make videos. You will see various strangely shaped and bright-colored ridges. When we first came here, we thought that this would be a perfect location for a Spielberg movie.


First sight of the Aral Sea. On one side of the road covered by the sea sand is the mountain ridge and the sea is on the other. We will drive up to the Aral Sea shore, and you will have an opportunity to walk along the shore. Here you can sit down, relax and breathe in the salty air. If you bring your swimming gear, you can take a swim or try the therapeutic black mud (consult your physician first). A walk along the seashore will be followed by a delicious outdoor dinner. You will spend the night in comfortable national yurts.

Day 3


Fantastic sunrise. Get up early to see a unique sight – the crimson sun rising from the peaceful blue sea. This breathtaking spectacle will be followed by a delicious breakfast at the edge of the Ustyurt Plateau overlooking the Aral Sea.


Admiring the rock crevasses. Now is the time for the main attraction of our journey. You will see the sites rarely visited by people. Your tour will start on the vast section of the Ustyurt edge along the Aral Sea. During this tour, you will see many stunningly beautiful areas where the rock crevasses (ledges of the Ustyurt Plateau) look like fairy tale cities and fantastic creatures. You will stop at the most picturesque sites to enjoy the view and take pictures.


Duana Cape is an ancient sanctuary with mysterious arrow-shaped structures. You will see a naturally formed amphitheater surrounded by the ruins of the ancient settlements. This is the site where sacrifices were made to ancient gods and strange burials took place. These archeological sites are more than 2,500 years old. Here you can also see the fragments of the gigantic arrow-shaped structures constructed by ancient people. These structures are so big that they could only be seen in their entirety from space.


Mysterious Testing Grounds. Following an abandoned road, our off-road vehicles will take you down to a secret location, where you will see the ruins of a Soviet military testing grounds, a town and pier that were abandoned after the breakup of the USSR. This area bogles the mind. The secret facilities of the Russian military coexist with the amazingly beautiful nature and seashore where you can go for swim.


Swimming in the Aral Sea. Swimming in the Aral Sea is like swimming in the Dead Sea in Israel. The water is so salty and dense that you cannot drown but only float on the surface rocking in the waves. The shore is argillaceous and soft (our guides will provide instructions about walking on the beach and show you convenient access to the sea). We will have brief but pleasant lunch at this exotic location on the seashore.


Admiring the rock crevasses - Continued. After resting, swimming and having lunch, we will continue our tour along the edge of the Ustyurt. There are many magnificent rock crevasses in the area. Since the sun will move from one side of the Ustyurt to the other while we travel, the fanciful play of sunlight will make every crevass look different.


Evening on the Aral See Shore. We will return from the Ustyurt Plateau to our yurt camp to enjoy the starry sky, outdoor dinner and comfortable national yurts.

Day 4


Another Sunrise over the Aral Sea. You will have another chance to see the sunrise over the edge of the Aral Sea. The crimson sun, the blue sky, the cool breeze – these memories will last forever... After the sunrise, you will be served a delicious breakfast outdoors and then we will continue our tour.


Walk in the ancient city Davletgirey (Kurgancha-Kala). You will visit the ruins of a large market that that was built in this deserted area to facilitate trade between the population of the Khorezm Kingdom and nomads. Nowadays Davletgirey complex looks mysterious in this desolate area.


Walking on the dead sea bottom. From the top, you will see the canyons and faults of the Ustyurt cravesses. To get to Muinak, our next destination point, we will travel over the seemingly endless bottom of the retreated Aral Sea that is now covered with cracked salt crust, shells and saksaul shrubs.


Muinak is the city famous for its ship graveyard. The ships that became useless after the sea retreated seem to be frozen in time. You can walk down the high slope to the ships and listen to the story of a disappearing sea, while standing at the very site of the Aral Sea tragedy.


Visit the Locals. In Muinak you are invited to lunch by a hospitable local resident. Everyone will be impressed by her traditional homecooked meals. After lunch, you will visit the air-conditioned halls of the Muinak Museum of the Aral Sea, where you can see the amazing artefacts of the past.


On the way to Nukus. A busy road stretching along the patches of desert, green fields and lakes will take us back. We will make a stop on the way for an interesting ethnographic experience (depending on the season, it could be tasting local cuisine, training of fighting rams, taking pictures of camels, folklore concert or making flatbread in clay ovens). Then you'll return to the hospitable Nukus.

Tour Map
Number of visitors Price per person. Price includes
1 400

The total price includes:

  • Transportation cost
  • Night in the yurt camp and tents
  • Meals
  • Guide service*

The price DOES NOT include:

  • Additional food/drinks
  • Tips
2 --
3 --
4* --