Established in 1996, covering around 460 000 hectares of land, the Altyn Emel National Park is one of the largest in Kazakhstan. To the south, it is bordered by the Ile river and Kapchagai water reservoir. To the north, by the Dzhungar Alatau range. It is said that the name “Altyn Emel”, which means “golden saddle” in English, is given by the very Genghis Khan when his army passed this way in the early 1200s. Mainly the park comprises dry plain.
This is one of the best places in Kazakhstan and Central Asia to see herds of gazelles, known as jeirans. In XX century a small population of Central Asian wild ass, or kulan, was brought to the park from the Barsakelmes Nature Reserve (which was located on the dried up Aral sea), because of the ecological catastrophe of the Aral sea. Besides them there are arkhars that are hard to spot because they prefer remote upland environments.
The main attractions of the park are Aktau and Katutau hills. These are volcanic strata with combination of colours. A few kilometers from them there is the so called Singing Sand Dune - two barchan dunes, reaching a height of 120 m and a total length of more than 2 km. It is named so because when the wind blows in a certain direction and the right speed, the barchans emit a loud humming noise, often likened to that of an aircraft engine. The generation of the noise is related to the movement of the sand. As per latest research, the air and the friction of the grains is the primary cause of the sound. Local legends say that God put evil Shaitan beneath the sand.