The Original Turkmenistan Independence Day Tour

Start
Sep 26, 2023
Ashgabat
End
Oct 3, 2023
Ashgabat
Duration
8 days
Price
US$1495.00



Is Turkmenistan Open for Tourism?

YES!

Read more about it here!



TOUR OVERVIEW


Heard of the North Korean Mass Games? Ever seen an Olympics Opening Ceremony? Well the Independence Day concert in Ashgabat is bit like if both of those had a love child. But add in some of Turkmenistan's special brand of weirdness. It really is something totally unique, and what makes it even cooler is how many people do you know that have even heard of it? We were the first to ever take a group of tourists to this special event, and since 2015 have continued to be the only people to manage it.

The first couple of days will be spent in Ashgabat, taking in the city which in itself is really something special, interspersed with the concert, a day of horse racing at the hippodrome, and any other Independence Day events that we have the opportunity to experience. There's a good chance the President and his father, the former President, will be at one or both of these events, but just depends what they feel like on the day!

Once all the Independence Day fun is wrapped up, we'll head out of the city and spend a night at the Gates of Hell, before heading west, with stops at the underground lake of Kow Ata, the mountain village of Nokhur, and the ancient ruins of Nisa.

Reaching the Caspian Sea coast you'll have a chance to explore the resort town of Avaza, and we'll venture into the desert to Yangykala Canyon, before flying back to Ashgabat on Turkmenistan Airlines.

View the full itinerary


If you'd like to see all of this, plus more, have a look at our Turkmenistan Independence Day Mega Tour .



Turkmenistan Independence Day
Turkmenistan Independence Day



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

Accommodation in twin share at roughly 3 star hotels (breakfast included), camping at Gates of Hell

Transport as per itinerary, beginning and ending in Ashgabat

Entrance fees to all sites mentioned in the itinerary, including Independence Day events

SAIGA guide and local guides


SINGLE SUPPLEMENT: $350



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 and from Ashgabat 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


Experience the amazing Independence Day Events , something very few foreigners ever get the privilege of seeing

Stand on the edge of the vast and vibrant Yangykala Canyon

Explore the glimmering white and gold cities of Ashgabat and Avaza




Itinerary
Day 1Tue Sep 26
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 2Wed 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 3Thu 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 4Fri Sep 29
Gates of Hell, Kow Ata, Nokhur, Serdar
  • Drive back towards Ashgabat, and those finishing the tour here will have some free time and be driven to the 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.
  • 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 5Sat 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 6Sun 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 7Mon 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 8Tue Oct 3
Ashgabat, End of Tour
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