The desert area around Aktau contains a plethora of fascinating landscapes and geological formations, but the necessity of having a four-wheel drive vehicle and the lack of good maps makes it almost essential to contract with a service to see them. I made arrangements with Caspian Tour for a day tour of the area, largely because it was the only agency to answer my English e-mail. The agency director speaks only limited English, but we were able to communicate by e-mail and in person. She is obviously very interested in increasing her revenue, and I had to negotiate hard for a price that was still rather high and make do without a translator, but the experience proved worth it. The driver with whom she subcontraced the job was pleasant and helpful, and we communicated easily through gestures and my Russian phrase book.
Particularly recommended are the chalk cliffs, the tombs carved into the cliffs, and the valley of the balls, full of almost perfectly round balls from bowling ball size to waist-high. Stay away from offers to vist various canyons with beautiful streams. Only carefully chosen camera angles can conceal the mounds of cans, wrappers, and plastic bags that previous visitors have left behind. Also depressing is the lack of any control of where vehicles can travel, which results in deserts crisscrossed with vehicle tracks. Still, the trip was overall worth the money and time.