Not only is Turkmenistan itself largely unheard of, but it’s also in a part of the world that a lot of people aren’t very familiar with the geography of. No, it’s nothing to do with Turkey, it’s not a made-up country something like Kazakhstan, and although they do share a border, it’s nothing like Afghanistan. It’s not in the Middle East, it’s not part of Russia, and it doesn’t border China.
Where is Turkmenistan?
Where even is this Turkmenistan place? Short answer – Central Asia. “Ok, so where’s Central Asia then?” you might be asking. Central Asia’s that bit of land between China, the Middle East and the Sub-Continent. Right in the middle of that huge land mass that stretches from Norway to Vietnam, or Vladivostok to South Africa. Turkmenistan is the southern-most country of Central Asia, with Iran and Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the north and north-east, Kazakhstan to the north, and the Caspian Sea to the west.
With an area of 488,100 km², it’s the 53 rd largest country in the world by area, and is roughly the size of Spain.
Regions of Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is made up of five similarly sized regions, each with one main city. Ashgabat, the capital city, is in the Ahal region, which borders Iran in the south of the country.
In the west of the country there is Balkan on the Caspian coast, with Kazakhstan (and a tiny bit of Uzbekistan) to the north and Iran to the south. Balkanabat is the capital, although the city you’re most likely to visit is Turkmenbashy. The main points of interest for us in Balkan are Avaza and Yangykala Canyon.
North of Ashgabat you’ll find Dashoguz, bordering Uzbekistan, of which Dashoguz is the capital. Darvaza, very close to the border with Ahal, is by far the most common reason to visit Dashoguz region.
Lebap is in the north east, bordering Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, and Turkmenabat is the capital. This is by far the least visited region, though some of our favourite sites are there including the Dinosaur Plateau.
And in the south east is Mary, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, of which Mary is the capital. The most common reason to visit Mary is to use it as a launching pad for Merv and some other ancient city ruins nearby.
Ashgabat Airport is the most common way in and out of Turkmenistan, so you’ll almost certainly visit the city. Although the population is only around 700,000, the city is incredibly spread out so it’s not very walking-friendly. There are public buses, but the best way to see the city is definitely by car.
Border crossings in Turkmenistan
It is possible to cross by land into and out of Turkmenistan, so long as of course you have the required permission attached to your visa. There are several border crossings with Iran and Uzbekistan, though unfortunately the land borders with Afghanistan and Kazakhstan are closed.
Uzbek land borders
- Konye Urgench (TM), Khojeili (UZ) – between Nukus in Uzbekistan and Konye Urgench in Turkmenistan. Even though technically this border is no different from the other Uzbek land borders, the guards there tend to be a lot more stringent in checking everything and usually ask a lot more questions. If you're getting your visa on arrival at the land border, it's best not to do it here.
- Dashoguz (TM), Shavat (UZ) – between Dashoguz in Turkmenistan and Khiva or Urgench in Uzbekistan. This is the most commonly used border crossing between these two countries.
- Farap (TM), Alat (UZ) – between Turkmenabat in Turkmenistan and Bukhara in Uzbekistan.
- Talimardzhan Border Crossing - This border can only be used by Turkmen or Uzbek nationals and not by foreigners.
Iranian land borders
- Serakhs (TM), Sarakhs (IR) – between Mary in Turkmenistan and Masshad in Iran.
- Howdan (TM), Bajgiran (IR) – between Ashgabat in Turkmenistan and Masshad in Iran. Just on the outskirts of Ashgabat, this is the most common border crossing between Iran and Turkmenistan.
Afghan land border
- Serhetabat (TM), Torghundi (AF) The border isn't technically closed, and there aren't any issues with going there on the Afghan side, however the Turkmen State Migration Service currently isn't approving any LOI's for that region, so for all intents and purposes, it is closed.
Ferry from Azerbaijan
- Catching the ferry across the Caspian Sea between Baku and Turkmenbashy is theoretically possible and easily done, however it is extremely unreliable and really unpredictable and can cause all sorts of issues. There's one Turkmen company and one Azeri company, neither of them run on a schedule and both periodically decide they won't take passengers, so it makes planning basically impossible. Given the Turkmen visa is date specific, whether on a transit or tourist visa, this can obviously cause some problems, and if you're on a tourist visa you have to have your tour arranged as well. People have done it before, but more often than not it causes much more trouble than it's worth. You could get lucky and get a boat on the right day, but there's also a possibility that you'll be waiting either in Turkmenbashy for several days, possibly overstaying your Turkmen visa, or be stuck in Baku and miss your Turkmen visa. There are direct flights between Baku and Ashgabat, so in general we would recommend that as a much more reliable option.
- There are several airlines that fly into Ashgabat airport. The most common routes are from Istanbul, Dubai and Moscow, though there are plenty more.
- There are also flights run by Turkmenistan Airlines from several destinations including Istanbul, Dubai, Moscow, Almaty, Beijing, Frankfurt, London, Paris and some others. However, the Turkmenistan Airlines website doesn't work and their flights can only be booked by paying cash directly in an office. If you'd like more information on the schedule and prices, or if you need help booking a flight, send us an email .
- The airport is in itself is one of the sights to see in Ashgabat. Opened in October 2016, the gigantic and overstated building is in the shape of a falcon, wings stretched as if in flight. The building itself is futuristic and is fitted out with all the most modern equipment, but everything's just so oversized that much of the airport is never used. Considering the country only hosts about 6,000 tourists every year, the estimates of being able to accommodate 14 million passengers annually, put the overstated nature of the airport in context. You've really got to see it to believe it.
It was a long wait, and they ended up being closed for 3 years for COVID, but the borders have finally re-opened. Read more about it here .