Why you need to visit Koytendag

Eilidh Crowley
May 6, 2024


Picnic with locals, Koytendag The Koytendag region of Turkmenistan is nothing like anywhere else in Turkmenistan you can visit. It is rural, rustic, raw and untouched by tourists. In fact, less than 100 foreign tourists go here in any given year, and that includes expats living in Ashgabat. It makes the rest of Turkmenistan feel cosmopolitan and connected to the world!

Getting to Koytendag is by no means an easy feat. In order to get there, you could drive non-stop for 2 days from Ashgabat, or you could fly. In order to fly you have two options – fly to Turkmenabat, or fly to Kerki. The first has flights every day but then entails an 8+ hour drive (including stopping for lunch, a stretch or two for your legs, and of course police checks). Flying to Kerki then means you have just 4 hours to drive, but there are only 2-3 flights per week from Ashgabat to Kerki and return.

While the rest of Turkmenistan can sometimes seem monotonous, with the same food, white marble buildings and perfectly clean footpaths, this part of Turkmenistan is made up of dirt roads, old cottages, subsistence farmers and nature. A lot of nature. While the rest of Turkmenistan is mainly flat desert, the Koytendag region is mountainous, green with flowing streams and spectacular valleys.

Most importantly, there is a lot of see in this remote corner of Turkmenistan, easily filling two days of itinerary, and making you want more. If you weren’t already convinced, here are the main reasons you should visit Koytendag: Dinosaur Plateau, Koytendag, Turkmenistan


Dinosaur Plateau

The Dinosaur Plateau in Turkmenistan should be on the list of the greatest sights of the modern world. Instead, barely anyone has heard of it. Not only is it the largest repository of dinosaur footprints in the world, but it is also considered the world’s best preserved.

Due to the unique location and climate, the footprints have been perfectly preserved on a large limestone slab located on the side of a mountain near the village of Hojapil. Hojapil translates to ‘Holy Elephant’ – a reference to the local legend that the footprints are, in fact, not those of dinosaurs, but rather elephants from Alexander the Great’s army.

Goat massage, Koytendag, Turkmenistan The plateau itself is 400 metres by 300 metres and contains more than 3000 footprints across 31 trails. This number of footprints has yet to be found anywhere else on the planet. The footprints are estimated to be roughly 145 million years old, belonging to Megalosaurus from the Jurassic period.


Goat Massage

This one is a Saiga Tours favourite and always has guests with a smile from ear to ear. As it says on the packaging, it’s a massage performed by a goat. Also located in the village of Hojapil, the local Goat Massage scene is one that has been nurtured for years, as the goats are trained specifically for the purpose of providing massages.

You can read more about how to receive a goat massage here . Locals in Turkmenistan


Koyten

This small village is like nothing else in Turkmenistan. Full of friendly people with warm smiles, this is real village life. It is very rough around the edges, but that’s what makes this small hamlet so special.

There are two lodges that foreigners can legally stay at in Koyten, two restaurants you can choose to dine at, and a hand full of local stores, selling odds and ends, fabrics, chocolate bars, beers and children’s toys.


Kyrk Gyz – Virgins Cave

Kyrk Gyz, Virgins Cave, Koytendag, Turkmenistan This bizarre attraction will leave you awe-inspired at its mystical beauty. Nestled away in the Koytendag mountains, a winding track leads up to a large opening in the side of one of the cliff faces.

The entire ceiling of this cavernous cavity is covered in hanging pieces of cloth of every colour and design.

The pieces of cloth have been purposely ripped into long pieces, wrapped in a ball of mud and thrown at the roof to stick. The local legend is that if the cloth sticks to the roof that your wishes will come true.

The cave itself has become a local pilgrimage site owing to the legend that the cave provided protection to 40 local virgins to avoid invading forces. Due to the safety the cave provided, at some point someone has thought that throwing balls of mud with pieces of cloth attached was a good idea.


Natural beauty

Koytendag, Turkmenistan Although the desert is beautiful and deserving of our admiration, when you’ve been travelling through Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, it can become a bit too much.

Only in this part of Turkmenistan can you venture along untouched canyons, walking alongside crystal clear streams while staring up at the highest mountain in Turkmenistan, known locally as Ayrybaba, but officially it’s Mount Saparmurat Turkmenbashy the Great.

The winding roads and rolling hills, the dramatic changes in colours from the greys of the limestone, the reds of the soil and the greens of the meadows, all mix together to create a palate of colour.


Gaynar Baba swimming hole

A favourite for locals to come and relax, have a picnic and cool off, this local swimming hole also doubles as a local pilgrimage site.

The location itself is quite odd as it is right next to a cement factory and a potassium factory and has a very industrial feel to it.

Gaynar Baba also has classic Soviet vibes with the very artificial creation of ‘nature’, the white painted trees lining the carpark, the fake animal statues and the concrete, so much concrete.

Try to coincide your visit with a weekend or holidays to get the best experience. Fishing in Koytendag, Turkmenistan


Unash

You can find unash all over Turkmenistan, however in this little pocket of the country, it is very different. Normally in Turkmenistan, unash is a spicy noodle soup with a meaty broth base. Not so in the Koytendag region.

Here unash is still a noodle soup, but instead of a clear meaty broth, in this part of Turkmenistan they cook the noodle in a fermented yoghurt. If you know the drink kefir, similar to ayran, you’ll understand the flavour of the soup. The vegetables, noodles and meat are all cooked in the salty fermented yoghurt and served hot. It’s definitely not a dish for everyone.



Eilidh Crowley

Eilidh Crowley

Co-founder of SAIGAtours, Eilidh has been running tours since she was 23. When not on the road, Eilidh’s a pianist, drummer and percussionist, and loves playing jazz especially. She’s also been known to collect the worst postcards she can find from some of the most interesting places that exist.

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