Total Turkmenistan

One of the world’s more unusual countries, Turkmenistan is known for its eccentric former ruler Turkmenbashi, who instigated a cult of personality and named days of the week after himself. But few people realise it’s actually one of Asia’s most rewarding places to explore. And this is what we aim to show you on this fascinating Turkmenistan trip.

Starting in Ashgabat we visit its unusual monuments before heading into the wilds beyond the cities, which is really most of the country. We explore the striking landscapes of the east, with its mountains, coloured canyons and the Caspian Sea. We then cross the Kara Kum desert to spend the night beside a flaming gas crater that has been burning for more than forty years.

We uncover the remains of lost civilisations in Parthian fortresses and the remains of ancient Merv and Gonur Tepe, as well as the splendid Silk Road monuments of Konye-Urgench.

Turkmenistan is a land of surprises, with friendly people who will be delighted to see us, giving us great opportunities to learn about the intriguing customs that thrive here, in the space between the west and east. Unlock the secrets of a hidden land on an unusual and captivating journey.

Total Turkmenistan

Highlights

  • Camp at the burning Darwaza crater
  • The scoloured canyons at Yangikala
  • Visit the archaeological site of Merv
  • See the bizarre monuments of Ashgabat
  • Mingle with pilgrims at ancient shrines
  • Travel through the Kara Kum desert

Day 1 - Ashgabat

Arrive in Ashgabat and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Ak Altyn Hotel or similar.

Ashgabat

Ashgabat can’t claim to be one of the oldest Silk Road cities – prior to Russian involvement in the region it was little more than a village, but this changed following the Battle of Geok Tepe, when the Russians finally subdued the Turkmen tribes in 1881. Growing to become an important administrative centre first in the Tsarist Empire and then the Soviet Union, the city was devastated during an earthquake in 1948, which flattened most of the city.

Rebuilt with classic Soviet architecture it remained a fairly unremarkable city until independence arrived in 1991. The first president of independent Turkmenistan, the self-styled ‘Turkmenbashi’, embarked upon a massive programme of reconstruction as part of his nation-building efforts, setting in motion a process which led to Ashgabat becoming one of the most unusual and striking cities in Central Asia – albeit very different from anywhere else.

Today wide highways are flanked by tall apartment blocks, most covered with white marble tiles which almost glimmer in the sunlight, modern and brash and giving Ashgabat an air of the surreal – almost like a space-age city of the future. Monuments abound, linked to the common history of the Turkmen people and an effort to impress unity on a people that were once in constant conflict with each other.

The centre of the city is a showpiece, with enormous statues gracing squares and fountains, and while the golden statue of Turkmenbashi, rotating to face the sun, has disappeared with his demise, the new president builds an equal cult of personality with giant billboards of him in various poses. Ashgabat is sure to be one of the most unusual cities that you will visit, and it certainly has its critics, but is a truly fascinating and utterly bizarre place that won’t fail to leave an impression.

Day 2 - Ashgabat

Spend today exploring Ashgabat. We visit the Sunday bazaar as well as the unusual monuments of the city including the Neutrality Arch and Independence Park. We also visit the excellent National Museum and private stables that are home to the renowned Ahal Tekke breed of horses, and head out to the Parthian fortress of Nisa, recognised by UNESCO for its cultural and historical importance. Overnight Ak Altyn Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Nisa

The ancient site of Nisa lies not far from the capital, situated on a plain with mountains providing a scenic backdrop. An ancient Parthian settlement dating back to the 3rd century BC it consists of a number of excavated buildings with sturdy mud brick walls enclosing courtyards and hallways that were once adorned with elaborate sculptures, most now contained within the National Museum at Ashgabat. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting place to explore and imagine the ancient civilisation that once flourished in this corner of the world.

Day 3 - Nohur - Dehistan

Today we head to the underground lake of Kowata, located deep within a cave, then continue to the village of Nohur, home to the Nohurli people and a good introduction to the ancient ways of this part of the world. We then head to the remains of the ancient Silk Road settlement of Dehistan, where we camp for the night. (BLD)

Nohur

Situated in the Kopet Dag Mountains not far from the Iranian border, Nohur is home to the Nohurli tribe, who claim descent from the troops of Alexander the Great. Nohur is a very traditional place, at odds with the modern buildings of Turkmenistan, with uniquely constructed houses and great scenery in the surrounding area. Most interesting is the local cemetery, with its carved wooden tombs decorated with the horns of rams.

Day 4 - Dehistan - Turkmenbashi

Explore the ruins of Dehistan then continue to the city of Turkmenbashi, situated on the coast of the Caspian Sea. Overnight Seyrana Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Dehistan

The ancient Silk Road oasis of Dehistan was an important stop for caravans and merchants traversing this area, and dates back some three thousand years. Sacked by the Mongols, it managed to survive until the 15th century when it was finally abandoned. Today the remains of its capital Misrian hold a few surviving monuments including the mosque of the Khorezmshah Mohammed with its interesting columns and intricate brickwork, as well as the minaret of Abu Jafar Ahmed, a testament to the time when this was a much more important site than it is today.

Turkmenbashi

Named after the former ruler of the country, Turkmenbashi (formerly known as Krasnovodsk) is one of Turkmenistan’s most important cities, a port to the Caucasus and Russia. Established in the 19th century by Tsarist forces, the city was used as a base for further forays into the region as part of the ‘Great Game’, the strategic manoeuvrings of Imperial Russian and Britain. It is the terminus of the Trans-Caspian railway, and from here one can connect to Baku, across the sea in Azerbaijan.

Day 5 - Yangikala - Gozli-Ata

Drive to the stunning coloured canyons of Yangikala. It’s green, white and pink rocks make up some of Turkmenistan’s most stunning natural sites. From here we continue to the important pilgrimage site of Gozli-Ata, home to an important local shrine and mausoleum of the eponymous saint from the 14th century – we should see local pilgrims come to pay their respects and gain an insight into the spiritual traditions of the country. Overnight local pilgrim house. (BLD)


Day 6 - Balkanabat - Parau Bibi

Drive to the city of Balkanabat with its interesting bazaar which we can explore. From here head to the pilgrimage site of Parau Bibi, an 11th-century mausoleum. This is one of the most important shrines in the country and usually a great place to meet local people. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 7 - Ygdykala

We head off-road to the remains of the ancient Parthian fortress of Ygdykala, visiting the village of Melegoch along the way. Our route takes us through the Kara Kum desert, a foreboding and fascinating environment, where we spend the night. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Day 8 - Darwaza

Drive through small villages to one of Central Asia’s most remarkable places, the flaming gas crater at Darwaza. We camp near the crater to enjoy spectacular views of the subterranean fires once the sunsets. Overnight camping. (BLD)

Darwaza

The 60-metre crater of Darwaza is one of the most unusual sites in Central Asia, a vast opening in the earth where natural gas has been set alight and has been burning for more than forty years. This was originally a site where Soviet geologists drilled for gas – not knowing what to do when the drilling rig collapsed, they set it alight for fear that poisonous gas would seep into the atmosphere and contaminate a nearby settlement, expecting that it would burn itself out in a matter of days. Dozens of fires burn inside the crater, some of them with flames up to fifteen metres high. Its otherworldly appearance has led local people to name it the ‘Door to Hell’, and spending the night here will be a real highlight of your trip.

Day 9 - Konye-Urgench - Asghabat

Drive to Dashoguz. We visit the UNESCO listed site of Konye Urgench, once an important Silk Road settlement and today home to some of Turkmenistan’s most impressive ancient monuments. Later we fly back to Ashgabat for the night. Overnight Ak Altyn Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Konye-Urgench

The ancient capital of the kingdom of Khorezm and dating to the 10th century, Konye-Urgench has seen a number of different Silk Road civilisations lay claim to it, with Seljuks and the Khorezmshahs conquering the city and establishing it as the centre of Islam in Central Asia, building numerous stunning mosques and madrassahs.

It was attacked by the Mongols under Genghis Khan in the early 13th century, who besieged the city for six months before destroying it, leaving little but the charred remains of its monuments, and the corpses of its inhabitants. ‘Konye-Urgench became the abode of the jackal and the haunt of the owl and the kite’, wrote one local historian.

Having rebuilt itself it was then sacked by Timur (Tamerlane), adding to its woes. Fortunately, a few architectural monuments survived this tragedy, including the impressive mausoleums of former sultans as well as arched gates and fortresses which stand as testament to the former glories of this remote corner of Asia. Nearby is a local cemetery where people come to pray, pay homage to their ancestors and perform rites and rituals that bear more than an element of the pagan traditions that existed here before Islam.

Day 10 - Merv

Fly to Mary and visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Merv, a vast area with numerous ruins and remains that range from Buddhist to Zoroastrian to Seljuk. Upon returning to Mary we visit the museum. Overnight Mary Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Merv

The archaeological site of Merv sprawls over one hundred square kilometres, holding the history of centuries of civilisation, making it one of the most important sites in Central Asia. It was once an important oasis for those making the hard journey across the deserts of the Silk Road, and at various times has been under the rule of Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Seljuks and Achaemenians, then viciously sacked by the Mongols in the 13th century on their brutal path through the region.

The wonderful collection of monuments to explore here include the mausoleums of former sultans and Sufi scholars, Buddhist stupas, walled citadels and traditional ‘ice houses’ used for the storage of ice in the fierce climate. With so many different influences Merv is of immense importance in understanding the varied and complex history of the region.

Day 11 - Gonur Tepe

We visit the ancient Bronze Age site of Gonur Tepe, an important archaeological site which has helped researchers understand early human civilisation in Central Asia. Afterwards, we return to Mary. Overnight Mary Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 12 - Ashgabat

Return to Ashgabat, visiting the ruins of the 15th-century mosque at Anau on the way. Overnight Ak Altyn Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 13 - Ashgabat

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


Nomad house in the desert - Turkmenistan tour
Market scene in Ashgabat - Turkmenistan tour
Coloured canyons of Yangykala - Turkmenistan holidays and tours

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases, you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example, if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • Airport taxes

    If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Almost everyone will require visas to enter some of the Central Asian ‘stans’. The requirements for these vary according to each different country, but many will require an invitation letter, which we can provide for you.

Turkmenistan allows most travellers to obtain visas upon arrival, but should you wish to do this it is essential that you notify us at least one month beforehand in order that the necessary preparations can be made.

Visa regulations in Central Asia are particularly fluid and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy, or us, for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Arrival and departure taxes

There are no arrival or departure taxes applicable, but Turkmenistan will charge a $14 ‘immigration tax’, plus $2 bank fees, payable separately in US dollars when you enter.

In addition to this, Turkmenistan has recently introduced a ‘tourist tax’ of $2 per person per night. This must be paid directly to the hotel when you check out.

Money

The local currency in each country varies and is as follows:

Uzbekistan – som
Turkmenistan – manat
Tajikistan – somoni
Kyrgyzstan – som
Kazakhstan – tenge

It’s not difficult to change money in the region – usually, the most convenient place will be a hotel but your guide will be able to point you in the right direction.  There are also an increasing number of ATMs in larger towns. However, these are not always reliable and so it is best to think of them as a back up rather than a main means of obtaining money. The best currency to bring for exchange purposes is US dollars, and these should have issue dates of 2006 or later, otherwise they can be difficult to exchange.

Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and better restaurants (usually in major cities only) but are not commonly accepted elsewhere.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer, you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Please note that the Turkmen authorities have recently introduced a new regulation, banning smoking in all public places. It is also prohibited to bring more than 40 cigarettes into the country.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to any of the parts of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that we visit on our tours.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Nomad house in the desert - Turkmenistan tour
Market scene in Ashgabat - Turkmenistan tour
Coloured canyons of Yangykala - Turkmenistan holidays and tours
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
07 September 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,499
Single Supplement -
£280
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
06 September 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,599
Single Supplement -
£280
Trip Status -
Available