Barsa Kelmes and Aral Sea tour

An extraordinary tour along the edge of the magnificent Ustyurt Plateau, this site is like a distant planet untouched and unexplored by the human eye. Wind and rain have transformed the picturesque ledges and chinks into fascinating sculptures. Peppering the landscape are multi-colored walls and towering cliffs that shape the canyons, all carved out by mother nature's eroding hand. You will bear witness to the ruins of ancient cities, mounds, mysterious burial sites and arrow-shaped structures built many centuries ago. You will visit the last whispers of 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 remains of the ancient Tethys Ocean and spend the night in a Karakalpak yurt, touching the ever-disappearing water of one of the last great lakes on Earth, the Aral Sea.

All About the Incredible

Most importantly, the sights and mysteries you will encounter and have the once-in-a-lifetime pleasure to experience are ones very few have set eyes upon.

  1. Nukus – Mizdakhan - Gyaur Kala Muynak – Plateau Ustyurt – Aral Sea – Yurt Camp
  2. Ustyurt Chinks – Kassarma – Zhideli Bulak – Aktumsik Cape
  3. Kurgrancha – Kubla Ustyurt – Sudochie Lake – Barsa Kelmes – Nukus
Highlights of the Tour:
  • Fantastic chinks (ledges) along the Ustyurt Plateau
  • The Aral Sea that is said to have disappeared from the face of our planet
  • 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 flamingoes, swans and dozens of rare bird species

Tour details

  • Duration: 3 days, 2 nights.
  • Total distance:  About 1000 - 1100 km.
  • Transport: Off-road vehicle Toyota Land Cruiser / Toyota Prado with an experienced and fully licensed driver.
  • Type of tour: 4WD Eco-tour, extreme tour. Please be ready for any road circumstances that might occur due to the weather conditions and etc. 
  • Equipment: Tents, sleeping bags, kitchen items and etc. included in the tour price and yurt stay at the yurt camp.
  • Recommendations what to bring:  Safe and protective hiking or sports shoes, trousers, long sleeve shirts, a hat/cap, warm jacket, sunblock, sunglasses, repellents. Warm clothes are needed for the autumn, winter, and spring seasons.
  • Meals: 7 meals during the trip, including some snacks and water/tea. Meals can be coordinated according to the wishes of the guests, including vegetarian or halal dishes. Alcoholic beverages and cigarettes are not included. Travelers can purchase beverages and cigarettes before the tour or when the driver will stop at the shop in Kungrad.
  • Notes: You can bring swimming suits to swim in during mid/late spring, summer, and early autumn. The water in the sea is very salty and the bottom is very muddy. There is a portable shower at the yurt camp to wash off salt and mud.

This route was designed and been updated taking into account the recommendations of local scientists/tour guides and some tourists, however, we are always ready to make some changes to the tour program according to the wishes of our guests.

This tour is long, full of wonderful sights and scenery.

* The route order may change according to climate conditions. 

Day 1


The tour begins at the hotel with a delicious breakfast cooked by top-rate chefs. Next, you will board comfortable off-road vehicles and take a tour of Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan. A scenic road will take you to Khodjeili, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia. There you will visit two famous sites. The first is the large intricately built necropolis Mizdakhan that has the mysterious time clock, an underground tomb and a mystic Djumart-kassab mound. The second is a medieval city-fortress Gyaur-Kala built in the 13th century. You will be able to visit the epic ruins of the city's corrugated walls and the inner rooms of the clay palace.


Muinak is the city famous for its graveyard of ships that became useless after the sea retreated, seeming to be frozen in time. You can walk down the high slope to these rusting beasts 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 and enjoy her trademark, traditional homecooked meals. After lunch, you will visit the air-conditioned halls of the Muinak Museum of the Aral Sea, where the amazing artefacts of the past are preserved and presented to one and all.


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


Ustyurt Plateau. From the plateau's heights, you will have open to you a little universe full of weaving canyon and Ustyurtian chinks.


First Sight of the Aral Sea. On one side of the road and covered by sea sand is the mountain ridge, while the sea rests on the other. We will drive up to the Aral Sea shore, whose stretch you will have an opportunity to explore. 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 2


Unforgettable Sunrise. Get up early to see a unique sight – a crimson sun rising from the bowels of a 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 chinks. Now is the time for the main attraction of our journey, a site 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 stunning areas where the ledges of the Ustyurt Plateau take on a fairytale quality and whose landscape tells of an ancient, anthemic story.


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 boggles the mind. The secret facilities of the Russian military coexist with the majesty of surrounding nature and seashore.


Yurt Camp. Lunch can take place as a picnic along the road or at the yurt camp (ultimately depends on weather conditions).


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 thanks to several mountain ridges and canyons obstructing the view. The huge UFO-shaped multi-colored rocks and ridges as large as five-storied buildings present an excellent place to take photos and make videos, or as we first thought when we first came here, a perfect location for a Spielberg film!


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.


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 the ever-comfortable national yurts.

Day 3


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 are sure to last forever. After the sunrise, you will be served a delicious breakfast outdoors before continuing on the tour.


Walk in the ancient city Davletgirey (Kurgancha-Kala). You will visit the mysterious 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.


Kubla-Ustyurt: Travelling along the vast bleak Ustyurt you will visit 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 out in the middle of the desert where the nearest inhabited town 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.


The 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, an old, decrepit factory, salt-covered lake shores dotted in wooden fishing boats, and vast areas overgrown with bulrush. We will also make a quick stop at the fishing outpost.


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 - the 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.


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

Route map
Number of tourists Cost per person Cost Description:
1 $810


  • Transport fees (the price includes an emergency rescue car in case the first car gets stuck)
  • Yurt or tent stay
  • Meals - 7 times, including snacks and non-alcoholic drinks

                                           Cost breakdown per person:

  • Transport - $700 (with a professional driver)
  • Meals - $70 per person (7 times)
  • Yurt stay (or tent) - $40 ($20 per night)

                                           Does not include:

  • Additional meals, alcoholic beverages
  • Professional guide’s service fees ($200)
  • Entry fees for visiting Mizdakhan and Muynak museum
  • Tips to the driver (optional)
2 $460
3 $343
4 $285