5 Stans Autumn Original Tour

Start
Sep 6, 2025
Almaty
End
Oct 3, 2025
Ashgabat
Duration
28 days
Price
US$4325.00



TOUR OVERVIEW



We'll begin this tour in Central Asia's most cosmpolitan and developed city - Almaty. We'll take in the famous Charyn Canyon, and Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes, before crossing the border into Kyrgyzstan in the beautiful Karakara Valley.

Venturing through the famously spectacular countryside of Kyrgyzstan, we'll sleep in yurts, ride in a Soviet 4x4 up a dry riverbed, wind through spectacular canyons and valleys, and explore some abandoned Soviet gems, before arriving in Kyrgyzstan's capital city of Bishkek.

We'll hop on a flight to Tashkent, from where we'll do a few SAIGA favourites, including the world's second largest solar furnace and a Soviet mountain resort town.

Winding our way through the Fann Mountains in Tajikistan through Khujand, Iskanderkul Lake, and Dushanbe, we'll re-enter Uzbekistan to visit the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.

Crossing the land border into Turkmenistan, we'll fly on Turkmenistan Airlines to join up with the Original Turkmenistan Independence Day Tour , taking in the magical Independence Day events in Ashgabat, followed by the mind-blowing Gates of Hell, and a trip to the west of the country.


View the full itinerary


Khiva, Uzbekistan
Reflection Lake, Kyrgyzstan



If you like the look of this tour but the dates don't work for you, or you'd like to do part of the tour, please get in touch and let us know. All our tours are able to be split into smaller sections, we're always scheduling new tours and your dates might work for one of them, or we can always organise an independent tour.

This tour can be done as a 4 Stans Tour or a 5 Stans Tour. For those doing all 5, you can choose from the Whirlwind , Original or Mega Tours .



Group

Start End Days Price Single Sup.

4 Stans Tour

Sep 6

Almaty

Sep 24
Bukhara

19 $2830 $900

5 Stans Whirlwind

Sep 6
Almaty

Sep 29
Ashgabat

24 $3825 $1150

5 Stans Original

Sep 6
Almaty

Oct 3
​​​​Ashgabat

28 $4325 $1350

5 Stans Mega

Sep 6
Almaty

Oct 7
Ashgabat

32 $4945 $1600



INCLUSIONS:

Letter of Invitation for Turkmenistan

Accommodation in twin share at roughly 3 star hotels, breakfast included, except when other accommodation is mentioned in itinerary

Where itinerary mentions yurt or homestay accomodation, single supplement and twin share may be affected

Transport as per itinerary

Entrance fees to most sites (as per itinerary)

SAIGA guide and local guides


SINGLE SUPPLEMENT: $1350


EXCLUSIONS:

Visa fees if necessary

Visa support if necessary, other than Turkmenistan

Some activities, eg. treatments at sanatorium (as per itinerary)

Meals other than breakfast

Transport to and from the start and end of tour

Personal expenses such as souvenirs or any optional activities

Any COVID related expenses


Arch of Neutrality, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Yangykala Canyon, Turkmenistan


TOUR HIGHLIGHTS


Explore some little-known Soviet relics in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan

Navigate the moutains, valleys and lakes of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan

Go back in time in the Silk Road gems of Samarkand and Bukhara

Experience the unique and epic Turkmenistan Independence Day events.




Itinerary
Day 1Sat Sep 6
Almaty
  • Zenkov Cathedral, Almaty We'll spend today exploring Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, and until 1997, its capital. As is becoming increasingly common in Kazakhstan, Almaty was formerly known as Alma-Ata and before that Verny.
  • We'll start with a walking tour of such famous sites as the Green Bazaar, the Arbat and Panfilov Park, named after the 28 Panfilov Guardsmen from Almaty, who died during the Battle of Moscow in 1941, which i s also home to Zenkov Cathedral. A Russian Othodox Church, its claim to fame is being the largest wooden structure in the world constructed with only joins, and no nails. 28 Guardsmen WWII Memorial, Panfilov Park, Almaty
  • In the afternoon we'll catch the metro to a few of the destinations not within walking distance. One of only two metros in Central Asia (the other being in Tashkent), it has just nine stations, so is largely useless to most people. However, like many metros in the former Soviet world, the stations themselves are ornately decorated, sparkling clean, and well worth a look at.
  • Lenin statue, Almaty We'll pass Old Square and Republic Square, the two places where the Kazakh Parliament used to take place before moving to Astana in 1997. These are also where we recently saw fatal riots in January 2022, along with the images of the destroyed city hall and presidential residence.
  • Heading into the suburbs of Almaty, we'll make a stop that isn't on other tour itineraries, and in fact most people in Almaty aren't even aware of this gem of Soviet history. Hidden in amongst medium density housing, there's a park which is now home to all the unwanted Soviet statues that were moved from their original places throughout the city and dumped unceremoniously here. Our favourite is the giant Lenin which used to be in Old Square, removed from his plinth and just standing flat on the ground with no sign or plaque to be seen.
  • If you like to have a night out of any type, whether it’s fine dining, a cosy bar, a noisy pub or even the ballet, Almaty is the city you’re going to want to do it in.
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Day 2Sun Sep 7
Almaty, Charyn Canyon, Saty
  • Bidding farewell to the amazingly chic and cosmopolitan city of Almaty, we’ll make our first stop at one of the Soviet Union's main radio posts. Radio Centre Number 7 is located near the village of Shelek and was only decommissioned in the 90s. These huge radio towers were designed to block incoming radio signals from China and south from India and Afghanistan, while also sending Soviet radio across the globe.
  • After lunch, we’ll head to Charyn Canyon. Created by the Charyn River, this impressive natural monument has gained colorful formations of Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan varying shapes and sizes. The Valley of Castles is probably the most famous sight in Charyn Canyon, with rock deposits resembling towers thought to be created by giants. The Valley of Castles is over 2 km in length, and its width reaches from 20 to 80 m in some places.
  • After a long day of sightseeing we’ll head to Saty Village, where we’ll stay at a local homestay. Saty is the main town in the area that accommodates local tourists who come here to enjoy the region's pristine nature and awesome adventure tourism options.
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Day 3Mon Sep 8
Saty, Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes, Jetty Ögüz
  • The Kolsai Lake National Park is famous for its immense beauty Kaindy Lake, Kazakhstan and of course its lakes. The main sight is Kaindy Lake. Kaindy Lake, despite looking prehistoric, was only created by an earthquake in 1911, thus why there are still hundreds of tree trunks sticking out of the water, where it once was a forest.
  • We'll cross the border into Kyrgyzstan at the Karakara border, which is only open from May until October due to it being located on a mountain pass. Unlike the main crossings this is a little more off the beaten track. It's literally just in the middle of a mountain pass.
  • After dealing with border formalities, we’ll make our way to Jeti Ögüz, where we'll stay be spending the night.
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Day 4Tue Sep 9
Jeti Ögüz Gorge, Valley of the Flowers, Kyzyl Suu Meteorology Station
  • After breakfast we'll head along the south shore of Issyk Kol, and you'll start realising how huge the lake is. To the north the land is much flatter and more like farmland, the mountains very close to the shore. In the south though, it's all canyons, gorges and waterfalls. It's much more rugged, yet the mountains are much further away.
  • Today you’ll get to see some of Kyrgyzstan’s natural beauty, with stops at Kök-Zhaik, which means “Valley of Flowers”, and Jeti Ögüz, which translates directly into English as “Seven Bulls” Gorge.
  • After lunch we’ll switch vehicles from our minibus into a huge Soviet 4x4 bus to take us up the river to our overnight destination – a mountain hut at Kyzyl Suu. The drive in this vehicle is another SAIGA favourite, bouncing around in the huge all-terrain vehicle, winding our way up a rocky dried riverbed, and the hair-raising moment when we cross a fast-flowing river. Then we’ll arrive at our home for the night, which has literally made people cry because of the untouched beauty.
  • We'll be staying in the mountain hut of the family who lives here and looks after the nearby Soviet Meteorology Station and the Institute of Glaciers Foundation. Once we’ve settled in they’ll take us for a little tour around the two setups. It’s fascinating seeing the old Soviet ways of measuring everything, compared to the high-tech modern ways of measuring the same things.
  • After dinner we’ll no doubt have a bonfire and just relax, taking it all in.
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Day 5Wed Sep 10
Kyzyl Suu, Barskoon, Issyk Kol Yurt Camp
  • Yuri Gagarin statue, Barskoon Gorge, Kyrgyzstan Beginning our descent back down the mountains, stop and have a dip at a small natural hot spring, right on the edge of the glacial river, before leaving the mountains and getting back to to Issyk Kol. Kyzyl Suu Meteorology Station, Kyrgyzstan
  • We're going to drive up into another gorge today, this time to see two statues of Yuri Gagarin - one, a very impressive face carved into a huge rock, and the other a much more under-stated bust atop a large plinth.
  • Arriving at our yurt camp right on the shores of Lake Issyk Kol, we’ll get our yurts and make ourselves at home, taking in our surrounds at the edge of Issyk Kol, the second largest saline lake in the world (based on volume, actually it’s only fifth biggest based on surface area!). Abandoned Pioneer Camp, Issyk Kol, Kyrgyzstan
  • Heard of glamping? Well this is glurting, with each yurt decked out like a hotel room, with power outlets, lights, and real mattresses.
  • Take a walk to the nearby abandoned Soviet campground. We’ve made friends with the local security guard, so we’ll be able to explore the dorms, industrial kitchens, shower block, theatre, and whatever else you can find. A keen urban explorer can easily spend hours here.
  • We’ll have a home-cooked meal inside a huge yurt, and spend the rest of the evening relaxing.
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Day 6Thu Sep 11
Issyk Kol, Kochkor, Song Kol
  • Just 100m from our yurt camp, we'll have the opportunity to visit a fascinating old Soviet heavy water factory. Opened in 1955, needless to say, the experiment was a disaster from the beginning. Enduring almost 30 years of issues and failures though, Manufacturing Workshop Number 7 wasn't closed until 1982. Now it lies abandoned as a relic of one of the USSR's many failed projects. Kochkor, Kyrgyzstan
  • Begin the four-hour drive to Song Kol, stopping in the town of Kochkor where we'll visit the market, take a short walk through the streets, and have lunch in a local family’s home.
  • After the epic drive, we’ll arrive at Song Kol. Set high in the mountains, the lake itself is in the middle of a fertile plateau, dotted with horses, sheep and yurts. Tonight's yurt is a bit more authentic than at Beltam, but still very Song Kol yurts and horses, Kyrgyzstan comfortable. Even though it’s summer and we’ll have been hot down in Bishkek and Issyk Kol, we’ll now be very glad to have stoves on in each yurt for warmth.
  • Depending on how early we arrive, you'll have the opportunity to go horse riding, or just take a walk around the area or if you’re really brave, a dip in the lake. Either way it’ll be a relaxing and peaceful evening under the stars.
  • Dinner will be in the main yurt at our camp, cooked by the family we’re staying with.
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Day 7Fri Sep 12
Song Kol, Burana Tower, Bishkek
  • Leaving Song Kol, our first stop will be at Burana Tower, which was once Kok boru, Kyrgyzstan the minaret of a mosque in Balassagyn city, and you can climb to the top of it for some great views over the nearby landscape.
  • Next up is a real local treat – a game of Kok Boru, which is played on horseback, and the aim is to get a newly decapitated goat into the other team's goal. They'll also demonstrate other horseback sports such as shirtless wrestling. Tokmok Mig, Kyrgyzstan
  • If you're game you can even have a go yourself, whether it's just seeing if you can pick up the dead goat (not as easy as they make it look!), or getting on a horse and actually trying to play.
  • After lunch we'll stop in the town of Tokmok, a stereotypical Soviet town and home of the former air force training base. To honour the town’s past, there’s a MiG-23 mounted as a memorial.
  • Arriving in Bishkek in the evening, you'll probably be pretty happy to have some non-Central Asian food, and make the most of the night-life. We could have Japanese, Korean, burgers, pub food, Chinese, pizza, whatever we like.
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Day 8Sat Sep 13
Bishkek
  • We'll start the day by doing a walking tour of Bishkek, a quintessential Soviet city with an amazing mix of Stalinist and Brezhnev era architecture. The wide boulevards and Brutalist apartment blocks, in stark contrast to the snow-capped mountain backdrop.

  • We’ll start with the Frunze Museum, dedicated to Mikhail Frunze, whom the city of Bishkek used to be named after (and why the airport code is still FRU!).

  • Making our way past Victory Square, the circus and Tsum, we'll visit the Lenin Statue and Ala Too Square, home to the National Museum of Kyrgyzstan and a large Kyrgyz flag. Although this flag isn't quite as famous as their world-record holding neighbours, Tajikistan and Turkmenista n, it is still impressive and every hour, on the hour, there's a changing of the guards.

  • We'll continue on to Osh Bazaar, passing the White House on the way, and we’ll finish off the day learning about some of the weird and wonderful produce and delicacies you’ll find in the market.

  • In the afternoon there will be some free time so you can do some exploring yourself.

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Day 9Sun Sep 14
Bishkek, Tashkent
  • Today we'll fly to Tashkent (gaining an hour!), the capital of our third Stan - Uzbekistan.
  • Arriving in the afternoon, we'll check into the hotel and have a chance to relax a bit before heading out for a late afternoon/evening wander and explore.
  • We'll take a walk from Independence Square, formerly Lenin Square, through the park and past the statue of Amir Timur. We'll continue on through the Broadway, taking in the atmostphere that is modern Tashkent around dusk. We can stop and browse in the small market full of old Soviet trinkets, sit under a shady pagoda for a cold drink or ice cream, check out the miriads of food trucks and market stalls, and find somewhere nice to have dinner.
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Day 10Mon Sep 15
Tashkent
  • Today we'll spend the day exploring this hustling and bustling city.
  • Our first stop in Tashkent will be the famous Chorsu Bazaar, with its iconic blue dome that's now home to meat, dairy and dried fruits. Exploring the stalls you'll learn about traditional bread-making methods, local remedies for everything including of course virility issues, and how Uzbek babies are taught to go to the toilet.
  • In the afternoon we'll visit Tashkent Land, Central Asia's answer to Disneyland. With its faded welcome sign, crumbling gift shop and creaky rides, this is definitely a step back in time. Most tourists don't make it to this gem of Soviet infrastructure, but we just can't resist it. If you're really game you can try out the “Boomerang” rollercoaster, or if you'd like something a bit more relaxing you can take a ride on the “African tour”, a boat trip through the jungle land.
  • You'll most likely have tried plov by now, but nothing will prepare you for the Plov Centre. This gigantic hall, decorated as if for a wedding in the 1980's, is set up for large numbers of people to eat plov in. Mixed and cooked just outside by an army of Uzbek women, it is some pretty good plov, but more than that, it is an exceptionally unique experience.
  • Visit the Tashkent TV Tower for fabulous views of the city, and if it’s open, a coffee or a beer in a Soviet-built revolving restaurant.
  • We'll take several rides on the Tashkent Metro while we're there, one of only two metro systems in Central Asia (the other one being in Almaty). As with most Soviet built metros, the stations are unnecessarily lavish, but Tashkent's are particularly ornately decorated. Until June 2018 it was illegal to take photos inside them, but fortunately now pictures of these incredibly photogenic stations are allowed.
  • Next we'll visit the Museum of Railway Techniques’. This outdoor museum is full of all sorts of old locomotives, and they don't mind us climbing all over them. We can even take a little train ride around the train museum. You don't have to be a train lover to enjoy this charming muse
  • Overnight in Tashkent.
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Day 11Tue Sep 16
Parkent, Yangiabad

Parkent Solar Furnace, Uzbekistan

  • Heading out of Tashkent, we'll drive to Parkent, where we've been granted permission to visit a spectacular example of Soviet technology and architecture – the solar furnace. Still functioning, though never really having managed to fulfil its purpose, it's not open to the public.
  • From here we'll continue into the mountains to visit the town of Yangiabad. A closed town during the Soviet Union, not even appearing on maps, it was built as a mining town where exiles were s Yangiabad, Uzbekistan ent. Once home to about 10,000 people, the population got down to just over 300, and it felt like a crumbling little Russian enclave within Uzbekistan. However, in the past couple of years the mountain air and scenic views have grabbed the attention of Tashkentians, and the area has become a popular local tourism spot.
  • We'll spend the afternoon wandering the streets of the town, exploring the Soviet architecture, and soaking in the atmposphere - a difficult-to-describe mix of lively and summery, and decrepit and derelict.
  • We'll spend the night at a nearby Soviet “resort”. If it's hot you can go for a swim in the river, or if you just want to relax, we might be able to find the massage lady.
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Day 12Wed Sep 17
Yangiabad, Cross the border to Tajikistan, Khujand
  • This morning we'll head to Tajikistan and cross the border into our third Stan.
  • Arriving in Khujand around lunchtime, we'll have a sightseeing tour in that afternoon, including the Orient bazaar Panjshanbe – the famous Panjshanbe city market and one of the most interesting sights of Khujand, Sheikh Muslihiddin Mosque and the Mausoleum of Khujand.
  • A highlight of Khujand will be the massive Lenin statue, standing majestically on the side of a hill overlooking the city, this is now the largest statue of Lenin still standing.
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Day 13Thu Sep 18
Khujand, Fann Mountains, Khoja Obi Garm
  • Today we will be doing a full day drive south through the famous Fann Mountains towards Dushanbe.
  • We'll be driving via Istiklol Tunnel, sometimes known as the “Death Tunnel”, 2,630m above sea level.
  • There will be plenty of stops on the way though for photos, toilets and of course lunch.
  • The best stop though will be at Iskanderkul Lake (2,255m above the sea level), where there will be an opportunity to go for a 40 minute hike to the local waterfall after arriving at the lake, or if you’d prefer, you can just relax by the lake or go on a shorter walk around it.
  • Arriving at today's destination, we’re going to spend the afternoon and evening at an amazing building which really encapsulates what we're all about. Khoja Obi Garm is a Brutalist behemoth Soviet-era sanatorium that is still in operation. The drive there is like the opening scene from the film The Shining. It's run by the Tajikistan Trade Union organisation to provide workers with rest and relaxation. The treatments are a little unorthodox as they include radon baths, electric shock therapy, pulsating circulation treatment as well as mud baths and acupuncture (treatments not included in tour price). It’s an absolute dream for any lovers of weird Soviet stuff.
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Day 14Fri Sep 19
Khoja Obi Garm, Dushanbe
  • This morning you'll have a chance to get some more treatments, take some photos in different light, or just explore the buidlings and grounds some more, before we head off towards Dushanbe.
  • Arriving around lunchtime, we’ll take a tour of Dushanbe's city centre, including Rudaki Street, the Somoni Monument and Central Park, where you can gawk at the huge flagpole which was the largest in the world from 2011 to 2014.
  • We’ll visit the largest teahouse in the world, where you can either just enjoy a locally made tea, or have something to eat in this iconic building.
  • Then we'll visit the Museum of National  Antiquities with the reclining Buddha in Nirvana, before c ontinuing on to the Botanical Gardens, the Somoni Monument, and the Building of National Spirit (unfortunately it’s not possible to go inside, but it’s still impressive from the outside).
  • Overnight in Dushanbe.
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Day 15Sat Sep 20
Dushanbe, Cross the border to Uzbekistan, Samarkand
  • Leave Dushanbe first thing in the morning, we'll cross the border back into Uzbekistan, and head to Samarkand.
  • Once known as the “Pearl of the Muslim World”, Samarkand is a city synonymous with the Silk Road, full of towering minarets, shimmering domes and home to a splendid technicolour bazaar, which you will have time to wander around and discover for yourself.
  • We’ll start our time in Samarkand with a visit to the famous and spectacular Registan Square which is flanked by three beautifully decorated, sparkling blue mosaic madrassas. Once the city's commercial centre, Registan Square is modern Samarkand's centre piece and a pride of the Silk Road. We’ll have our tour and then you’ll have a chance to continue exploring the Registan by yourself.
  • Optional wine tasting at the Khovrenko Winery, a small local wine factory with adjoining museum.
  • Dinner at a local restaurant.
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Day 16Sun Sep 21
Samarkand
  • Islom Karimov Mausoleum, Samarkand, Uzbekistan Once known as the “Pearl of the Muslim World”, Samarkand is a city synonymous with the Silk Road, full of towering minarets, shimmering domes and home to a splendid technicolour bazaar, which you will have time to wander around and discover for yourself.
  • And so as not to keep you waiting any longer, what everybody’s waiting for when they go to Samarkand –  the famous and spectacular Registan Square which is flanked by three beautifully decorated, sparkling blue mosaic madrassas. Registan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan Once the city’s commercial centre, Registan Square is modern Samarkand’s centre piece and a pride of the Silk Road.
  • Having died in September 2016, Islam Karimov, the First President of Uzbekistan, now has his mausoleum on the newly renamed Islam Karimov Street. Romanenko Fashion House, Samarkand, Uzbekistan
  • Winding through the narrow streets of the old city, we'll stop at a particularly unique synagogue. Totally unrecognisable from the outside, it looks like any of the typical houses on either side, but inside is a bizarre and unique mixture of Uzbek and Jewish décor.
  • We'll also pay visits to Bibi Khanum Mosque, Amir Timur's Mausoleum, Siyab Bazaar, and the grave of St. Daniel which is said to grow a foot in length every ten years.
  • Visit Romanenko House, a place that is difficult to describe. Registan sound and light show, Samarkand, Uzbekistan This small suburban house has been transformed into a completely unique textile workshop where thirty men and women redesign ancient Central Asian clothing into colourful, modern designs.
  • Optional wine tasting at the Khovrenko Winery, a small local wine factory with adjoining museum, and a SAIGA favourite.
  • After dinner we'll stop at the front of the Registan for the epic sound and light show that is put on every evening after dark. Some say it's tacky, others find it spectacular - whichever camp you find yourself in, it is definitely something!
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Day 17Mon Sep 22
Samarkand, Bukhara
  • Lyabi Hauz, Bukhara, Uzbekistan This morning you'll have some free time to explore Samarkand yourself, before we head to Bukhara in the afternoon.
  • Arriving after lunch, you'll have some free time to start exploring the old town before we have dinner next to the lake in Lyabi Hauz square, a beautiful setting right in the centre of the old town.
  • In the evening we'll sit by the lake, chilling out and taking it all in over a cold drink and a chat.
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Day 18Tue Sep 23
Bukhara
  • Today we will have a full day to explore this astounding ancient city.
  • We'll take a walking tour of the old town in the morningincluding Lyabi Hauz Square, Bolo-Hauz Mosque, and the elegant blue-tiled Ulughbek Madrassa.
  • On your way in and out of town you won't be able to miss a huge structure that looks like a giant ark. Known as the Ancient Ark Fortress, this was the Palace of Bukhara's Emirs, and parts of it are still open for us to visit.
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Day 19Wed Sep 24
Bukhara, Cross the border to Turkmenistan, Turkmenabat
  • Those doing the 4 Stans can return to Tashkent today or the previous day for your departure flight.
  • Today we will cross the land border at Farap, into Turkmenistan, our fifth and final Stan.
  • Arriving in Turkmenabat in the afternoon, we’ll visit the Lebap Regional Museum. You wouldn’t expect much, but it’s actually a pretty cool little museum, with a fascinating array of taxidermy, multiple dioramas, and huge models and murals of the surrounding area, including depictions of dinosaurs making the footprints in the plateau we will have just seen. Not to mention some very informative displays about the wheat production and oil production of Turkmenistan of course.
  • Dinner will be at our favourite Fitchi House - a local hotspot. And you'd never believe it, but it's not the only one. They also have a branch in Seattle!
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Day 20Thu Sep 25
Turkmenabat, Ashgabat
  • Today we'll fly on Turkmenistan Airlines to Ashgabat.
  • We will start exploring Ashgabat, and taking in the atmosphere of the upcoming Independence Day celebrations.
  • This will be an opportunity to have some free time in Ashgabat, to do your own exploring before everything kicks off for Independence Day. We will of course have plenty of suggestions of activities though, if you want them.
  • You might want to simply walk around the area where we're staying, or catch a public bus into the new part of the city. We can arrange a trip to the Akhal Teke horse stables, or you can visit one of Ashgabat's wacky shopping centres. Tashkent Park or First Park are also favourites, and of course this is a great opportunity to buy a tracksuit, or any other novelty clothing items, so you can be wearing them for Independence Day!
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Day 21Fri Sep 26
Independence Day Ashgabat
  • We are here for Indepedence Day, and each year the specific events that we are invited to change slightly. Over time we've gotten a pretty good idea of what will happen, but depending on exactly how things transpire, the order of the itinerary during this first couple of days in Ashgabat might change a bit.
  • You’re going to be in awe of everything that the capital has to offer. We’ll spend the day taking in all the main sites of Ashgabat, including all those crazy monuments you’ve probably seen pictures of, as we begin explaining all the weird and wonderful aspects of Turkmenistan that make it such a special place.
  • We’ll start with a driving tour of Ashgabat's main sites, including Independence Park and Independence Monument, the Monument to the Constitution, the Arch of Neutrality, Lenin Park, and a drive-by of the Olympic Complex which was built for the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. The complex is home to the famous Horse Stadium (the largest structure in the shape of a horse in the world – you’ll hear plenty more of these records!), but unfortunately is closed to the public.
  • A highlight of the day will likely be the Alem Centre, which is the complex in which the Wheel of Enlightenment is, the largest indoor ferris wheel (yes, there’s another one). And YES, for just $1, you can even take a ride!
  • Stop for lunch at Berkarar Shopping Centre, where you can go ice-skating, play in the games centre, ride a miniature double-decker bus, and even have a cappuccino in a hipster café – bet you weren’t expecting that!
  • In the afternoon we’ll visit the university bookshop, a great chance to pick up some very cool, unique Turkmenistan swag, including where you can find amazing coffee table books written by and about the president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, as well as ones about Ashgabat and Turkmenistan. You can even get them in English! They also have postcards and posters, and if you're lucky they might even have a copy of the Ruhnama, the book written by Turkmenbashy.
  • In the evening, we’ll take a night tour of Ashgabat. With the white marble buildings lit up by brightly coloured neon lights, Ashgabat is a truly spectacular place after dark.
  • Spend the night at the Ak Altyn Hotel.
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Day 22Sat Sep 27
Independence Day, Nisa, Kipchak, Ashgabat
  • Happy Independence Day!
  • Today we’ll start off by leaving the city, to visit Nisa, a UNESCO site which was once the capital of the Parthian Empire.
  • We’ll then continue on to Kipchak to see the resplendent Turkmenbashy Mosque and Mausoleum, where Turkmenbashy is buried beside his mother, father and two brothers in their white marble mausoleum. There aren’t too many Turkmenbashy related sites still around, but this one is truly spectacular.
  • Return to Ashgabat in the afternoon and depending on the specific timing of the concert we'll attend, you'll have some free time to enjoy a beer by the pool at the hotel or take a walk around the old part of the city where the hotel is located.
  • In the evening we'll be guests at the Independence Day concert - think North Korean Mass Games, crossed with an Olympics Opening Ceremony, with a bit of Turkmen charm added to it. A delightful and unique combination of gross disorganisation, along with rigid rules. The synchronised dancing on the stadium floor, along with the matching costumes and choregraphed claps and cheers from the "spectators", we will be the only people there who don't have to be. This isn't an event you can buy tickets too - we will be taking the place of a particular work group. And if the President is in attendance, we will be sitting very close to him. We know this for sure because they'd never put a group of raggedy mis-matching foreigners in the midst of the carefully laid out stands in a place where he'd have a view of it!
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Day 23Sun Sep 28
Horse racing, Gates of Hell
  • This morning will be another exciting and incredibly unique experience, at the Akhalteke Horse Sport Complex. This is actually the President's favourite event, so he will most likely be here. It will be a very early morning, as there are a lot of restrictions in place around our arrival, especially if the President is there. We have to go in special buses, in a particular order, and everyone needs to be seated before the President starts his journey. There will be students lining the roads waving flowers and flags, and again we will be the only people not dressed in the matching outfits.
  • We will see some races (guess whose horses win!), there will be prize ceremonies and musical items, but most interesting will just be taking it all in, in all its bizarreness.
  • Afterwards we'll head back into Ashgabat to have lunch at Berkarar Shopping Centre, where you can go ice-skating, play in the games centre, ride a miniature double-decker bus, and even have a cappuccino in a hipster café – bet you weren’t expecting that!
  • Here we will go to the supermarket to pick up supplies for the rest of the day and dinner that night.
  • After lunch we’ll drive 250km north to Darvaza, The Gates of Hell.
  • One the way we’ll make a few stops – including to see a salt lake, two other craters (one full of mud, one full of water), and of course maybe for a toilet (not a luxurious one!).
  • Crossing the sand dunes to get to Darvaza, we’ll arrive in time to watch the sunset over the fiery crater and experience dusk turn to dark at this breathtaking site.
  • Set up tents near the Gates of Hell and camp near the fiery crater.
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Day 24Mon Sep 29
Ashgabat, Kow Ata, Nokhur, Serdar
  • Drive back towards Ashgabat, and those finishing the tour here will have some free time and be driven to the Kow Ata, Turkmenistan airport.
  • The rest of the group head west to Kow Ata, an underground thermal cave lake which is said to have many medical attributes, but is also used by locals as a swimming hole and makes for a very fun and relaxing swim.
  • After a refreshing swim in the cave lake, we'll sit down and chill for a while with some shashlik from one of the restaurants just outside the entrance to the cave.
  • Nokhur cemetery, Turkmenistan We’ll continue driving west, away from Ashgabat, to the village of Nokhur, situated in the Kopet Dag mountains. Unlike the rest of Turkmenistan, even during the Soviet Union and the era of Turkmenbashy, this village were largely left to their own devices and as such live a much more traditional lifestyle than most Turkmens.
  • Here we’ll visit Nokhur Cemetery, where each grave is adorned with the horns of a mountain goat and a small market next to a wishing tree where you can buy all sorts of natural teas and potions.
  • Keep driving to the town of Serdar where we’ll spend the night in a local hotel.
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Day 25Tue Sep 30
Balkanabat, Avaza, Turkmenbashy
  • Today we’ll complete the drive towards the Caspian Sea, arriving in Turkmenbashy in the late afternoon.
  • We’ll stop in Balkanabat on the way for some lunch and a quick look at a monument to the caravans of the Silk Road.
  • Arriving in Avaza in the afternoon, this is the epitome of bizarre modern day Turkmenistan. Although the facilities are extravagant and the buildings futuristic, the town is somehow best described as a ghost town.
  • We’ll have dinner at the one café that will be open, and from there you can explore the amusement parks, beaches, and hotels of Avaza, and if you’re game, take a swim in the notoriously cold Caspian Sea.
  • Overnight in Turkmenbashy.
  • Avaza is currently closed to foreigners, as of April 2023. We are working on the assumption that it will open before the time of this tour, however there is a chance that it won't. If it is unavailable we will change around the itinerary accordingly and as always we will work with the situation on the ground at the time to ensure that the tour is as well-rounded as possible.
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Day 26Wed Oct 1
Yangykala Canyon, Turkmenbashy
  • Today we’ll visit Yangykala Canyon. Until recently most Turkmens didn’t even know that this place existed, and still not many have been there. Wide and vast, the area was once a seabed, and scattered with all sorts of fossils, it stretches as far as the eye can see. In 4x4s, we’ll drive over the canyon walls, through the canyon itself, and up the other side, stopping at a couple of different viewpoints along the way.
  • We will take a packed lunch with us so we can enjoy it whilst taking in all the shapes and colours of this spectacular natural phenomenon.
  • Returning to Turkmenbashy in the afternoon you'll have some free time before we head out for dinner.
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Day 27Thu Oct 2
Turkmenbashy, Ashgabat
  • We'll fly on Turkmenistan Airlines (an experience in itself!) back to Ashgabat in the morning.
  • We'll spend the rest of the day doing a couple of our favourite quirky things in Ashgabat, starting with a ride up the Kopetdag mountains in a cable car. It reaches almost all the way to the Iranian border and at the top you’ll get spectacular views over the city, the health path and the tv tower.
  • We’ll then do a bit of a drive around this mountainous area on the outskirts of the city. We’ll visit the outside of the TV tower, the largest building in the shape of a star in the world. The building itself is off limits, but you can drive almost right up to the entrance for a great view of the tower and spectacular perspective over the city.
  • Serdar Yoly, the “health path”. Stretching 28km along the Kopetdag mountain range, this fitness project was instigated by Turkmenbashy, but being a keen health fanatic himself, Gurbanguly continued to encourage people to make the trek. You won’t have time to walk much of the path, but we can just soak in the atmosphere in the park at the bottom. If you would like to arrange to walk all or some of Serdar Yoly, let us know and it can be planned for before the tour.
  • For dinner this evening we’ll go to the Yyldiz Hotel – the newest and most expensive hotel in Turkmenistan, where you can have a real 5 Star restaurant experience for 1 Star prices, complete with 360 degree views of the city.
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Day 28Fri Oct 3
Ashgabat, End of Tour
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