Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan Comprehensive Tour

Start
Apr 8, 2023
Ashgabat
End
Apr 27, 2023
Tashkent
Duration
20 days
Price
US$2650.00



Is Turkmenistan Open for Tourism?

YES!

Read more about it here!


TOUR OVERVIEW


We love all our tours, but this is the one that’s the most anticipated and we’ve been looking forward to for three years!

While the rest of the world shut down to varying degrees from some time in 2020 until some time in 2021, Turkmenistan closed in February 2020 and still remains firmly closed. On the assumption that they will open in time and this tour will be going ahead though, we’ve gone for a really extensive itinerary, for all those who have been waiting for this for three years, just like we have! Whether you’ve been to Turkmenistan before or not, you’re going to love this.

We'll begin in Ashgabat, the white and gold capital city. One big difference since last time we were there of course will be the change in power, and there will now be images of the new President on buildings and billboards.

A highlight for everyone is always the Gates of Hell, but we're also going to do some less famous things outside of Ashgabat. Not only will we spend a night at the Ashgabat-esque glitzy-yet-abandoned resort town of Avaza, and drive out to the desert to see Yangykala Canyon, but we'll also venture into the far east of the country to the Koytendag area where we'll swim in hot springs, climb through a gorge, stand under a freezing cold waterfall, throw cloth onto the walls of the bizarre Kyrk Gyz Cave, get goat massages, and best of all - hike up onto the Dinosaur Plateau.

Next we'll cross the land border into Uzbekistan where we'll explore the ancient city of Khiva before really leaving civilisation again to drive out to what remains of the ever-receding Aral Sea. Next we'll spend a couple of nights in the surprisingly exciting and cosmpolitan city of Tashkent and then a couple of SAIGA favourites - a night at a sanatorium next to a former closed Soviet mining town, and a private tour of the world's second largest Solar Furnace. From here we'll catch trains to Samarkand and Bukhara, before finally ending our epic adventure in Tashkent.

View the full itinerary


If you'd like to do either country on this tour but don't have time to do the whole thing at once, check out our Turkmenistan Comprehensive Tour and our Uzbekistan Comprehensive Tour .

It can also be done in conjunction with our Kazakhstan Polygon Tour .















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.





INCLUSIONS:

Letter of Invitation for Turkmenistan

Accommodation in twin share at roughly 3 star hotels (breakfast included), camping at Gates of Hell, yurt camp at the Aral Sea

Transport as per itinerary, beginning in Ashgabat and ending in Tashkent

Entrance fees to all sites mentioned in the itinerary

SAIGA guide and local guides


SINGLE SUPPLEMENT: $950



EXCLUSIONS:

Visa fee (can be paid on arrival at the airport or land border, or at an embassy beforehand)

Meals other than breakfast at hotels

Transport to Ashgabat and from Tashkent at the beginning and end of the tour

Accommodation and any other services before or after the tour

Personal expenses such as souvenirs or any optional activities

Any COVID related expenses



TOUR HIGHLIGHTS


Spend the night mesmerised by the horrendous but exhilirating Gates of Hell

Climb onto the Dinosaur Plateau , in one of the least visited spots in Turkmenistan

Explore the Aral Sea and learn about the atrocities that have led to the disaster

Wonder at the magic of the ancient Silk Road cities of Khiva, Samarkand and Bukhara




Itinerary
Day 1Sat Apr 8
Ashgabat
  • Our first day in Ashgabat, 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 2Sun Apr 9
Nisa, Ashgabat, Night Tour
  • Nisa 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 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, before we set off in the evening.
  • Night tour of Ashgabat. With the white marble buildings lit up by brightly coloured neon lights, Ashgabat is a truly spectacular place after dark. We'll make a stop at the Palace of Happiness in the foothills of the Kopetdag Mountains, from where you can get a fantastic panorama of the whole city.
  • 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 3Mon Apr 10
Kow Ata, Nokhur, Serdar
  • Checking out of our hotel in Ashgabat, we'll begin heading west, with our first stop at 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.
  • 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 4Tue Apr 11
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 5Wed Apr 12
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 6Thu Apr 13
Turkmenbashy, Ashgabat, Gates of Hell
  • Gates of Hell, Darvaza, Turkmenbashy We'll fly on Turkmenistan Airlines (an experience in itself!) back to Ashgabat in the morning, where we'll have a chance to have a little rest or just get yourself organised for the night ahead!
  • We'll stop at a 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 7Fri Apr 14
Gates of Hell, Ashgabat
  • Drive back to Ashgabat in the morning, arriving around lunch time.
  • 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 8Sat Apr 15
Ashgabat, Kerki, Koytendag
  • In the morning we'll go to the airport and fly to the tiny town in the very north east of the country, called Kerki.
  • From here we will drive into the Koytendag mountains.
  • Straight away you'll be struck by how different this part of the country feels to anywhere you've been so far. If you thought Ashgabat was off the beaten track - try Koytendag! You will likely come across people who have literally never seen a western tourist before.
  • We'll be able to wander around the village a little bit and get a feel for the place, and we'll have dinner in a local restaurant.
  • Spend the night at a lodge in Kugitang.
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Day 9Sun Apr 16
Koytendag, Goat Massage, Kugitang
  • We'll spend today exploring the Koytendag mountains. We'll visit one gorge which becomes a river when it rains, but assuming it's possible we'll climb through it, and at the end is a massive waterfall of snow melt. Locals will be running under the waterfall, screaming from the cold and laughing as they jump straight back out again. If you're game you can join them! And at the end of the gorge familes will be set up in the shade with mangals (barbeques), picnic tables and rugs, and food and drink for the day.
  • There are a number of other swimming or climbing opportunities, so we can play it by ear and do as much or as little as people feel like.
  • Probably a highlight of the tour will be getting a goat massage. An old guy who lives in the area and owns some land and some animals has devised this unique and fun activity, that he calls goat massages. In reality though it's having a goat (of the weight of your choice) walk and stand on your back and shoulders. Some people love it, some people would rather just watch others loving it, but whichever camp you fall in it's certainly a unique and hilarious experience!
  • We'll return to the lodge in Kugitang in the evening and have some dinner and settle in for the evening.
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Day 10Mon Apr 17
Dinosaur Plateau, Kyrk Gyz Cave, Kugitang
  • Another highlight! We'll start the day with walking up onto the Dinosaur Plateau, t he largest repository of dinosaur footprints in the world. Discovered in 1980, the limestone slab that sits at a 20 degree angle on the side of the mountain, is covered in pre-historic footprints ranging from 20-70cm in size. Although scientifically explained as this, one local legend tells us that the plateau was a place where white elephants gathered to perform sacred dances, and another tells us that the footprints are those of battle elephants brought by Alexander the Great.
  • It's quite a walk to get up there, and the hillside itself is quite steep, but once we get there you can explore as much as you like, or simply sit next to some footprints and take in the spectacular view.
  • Once we've had our dinosaur footprint fix, we'll c ontinue on to Kyrk Gyz Cave. This cave is covered in a peculiar layer of stalactites, which are in fact cloth rags dangling from the ceiling. Legend has it that anyone who can fling a mud pie with a cloth attached to it, and make it stick, will have a wish come true. So obviously we'll all give it a go!
  • Return to Kugitang for our last night in the lodge.
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Day 11Tue Apr 18
Kugitang, Turkmenabat
  • Today we'll make the picturesque drive to Turkmenabat, with loads of stop along the way in odd little towns, beautiful scenery, and Astana Baba Mausoleum and Alamberdar Mausoleum.
  • We'll have a wander through the bazaar and have lunch in the small town of Atamyrat, where we'll more than likely be spotted by some locals who've never seen a tourist before and end up with some good company over lunch.
  • 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 12Wed Apr 19
Turkmenabat, Bukhara
  • Today we will cross the land border into Uzbekistan, another great item to add to your list of quitessential Central Asian experiences.
  • Arriving in Bukhara in the afternoon, 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.
  • 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 13Thu Apr 20
Bukhara, Nukus
  • You might like to get up for a sunrise view over Bukhara. With minarets a-plenty, there are loads of great viewing points, and the sunrise can be quite spectacular over the old city.
  • We’ll leave early in the morning for the long drive to Nukus, with plenty of road side stops along the way.
  • In the afternoon we'll visit the Museum of Savitskiy. The Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art hosts the world's second largest collection of Russian avant garde art (after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). Savitskiy himself went to great lengths to save prohibited pieces of art during the Soviet Union, and amazingly you can see some of them now in this museum.
  • Overnight in Nukus.
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Day 14Fri Apr 21
Nukus, Aral Sea
  • Departure from Nukus first thing in the morning to drive towards the Aral Sea. Stopping at some Silk Road ruins and a canyon on the way, we'll drive up on to the Usturt Plateau.
  • Picnic lunch at a ruined Soviet gulag, near the edge of one of the small parts of the remaining sea.
  • Arriving at the main part of the sea, if you're game, you can go for a swim. There used to be 10mg of salt per litre in the sea, but now with 160g (yes, grams, not miligrams, so 16,000 times more!) it's not far off the Dead Sea (180g/l), and now you can easily float on top of the water. That’s if you can bring yourself to get to the water, past all the oil and grime that’s collected at the side of the sea.
  • We’ll spend the night in a yurt camp near the shore, from where you can watch the sun set over the rapidly disappearing sea.
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Day 15Sat Apr 22
Aral Sea, Nukus, Tashkent
  • You can wake up early to see the sun rise over the water, otherwise it's breakfast then on to Moynak village, which used to be a thriving coastal town, but is now a disheveled and quiet desert town, most famous now for the ship cemetery.
  • Ships lay abandoned on the old seabed as the sea receded. A lot of them were removed and destroyed, supposedly so the metal could be recycled, but a dozen or so of them were saved and are now in Moynak.
  • Back in Nukus in the early evening to fly to Tashkent.
  • There will have been various points during the trip where you’ve felt like you’ve returned to civilsation to different extents – arriving in Osh after Song Kol and Jalalabad, then Dushanbe after the Pamirs, Samarqand after Khoja Obigarm, but Tashkent really is the big smoke, and it will be quite exciting to get there.
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Day 16Sun Apr 23
Tashkent

  • 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 breadmaking methods, local remedies for everything including of course virility issues, and how Uzbek babies are taught to go to the toilet.
  • Take a walk from Independence Square, formerly Lenin Square, through the park and past the statue of Amir Timur. Stop and browse in a small market in the park, full of old Soviet trinkets and sit under a shady pagoda for a cold drink or ice cream.
  • You'll probably have tried plov by now, but there's no better place to have it than at the Plov Centre. This gigantic hall, decorated as if for a wedding in the 1980s, is set up for large numbers of people to eat plov in. Prepared just outside by an army of Uzbeks, it is some pretty good plov, but more than that, it is an exceptionally unique experience.
  • Go to Tashkent TV Tower for fabulous views of the city.
  • Visit Tashkent Land, Central Asia's answer to Disneyland. With it's faded welcome sign, crumbling gift shop and creaky rides, this is another 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 jungleand.
  • 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 museum.
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Day 17Mon Apr 24
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 18Tue Apr 25
Yangiabad, Samarkand
  • Leave early in the morning to drive 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 this afternoon.
  • Registan sound and light show, Samarkand 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 19Wed Apr 26
Samarkand
  • Today we will explore the main sites of Samarkand. Having already visited the Registan the day before, we’ll start today’s tour with a walk through the centre of town.
  • Having died in September 2016, Islam Karimov, the First President of Uzbekistan, now has his mausoleum on the newly renamed Islam Karimov Street.
  • 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, 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. 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.
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Day 20Thu Apr 27
Samarkand, Tashkent, End of Tour
  • In the morning we'll catch the high speed train back to Tashkent from Samarkand.
  • Airport transfers according to your flight times. If you'd like to spend some extra time in Tashkent, or are thinking about traveling some more in Central Asia, please let us know if there's anything we can help with.
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