By far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asia’s ‘stans, Turkmenistan is a country slowly opening up its borders to tourism so now is the chance to experience all it has to offer while it still remains firmly off the beaten track.
The tour kicks off in the ultra modern capital city of Ashgabat, sometimes called the “White City” because of the abundance of glistening white marble statues and buildings adorned with gold trim. Although statues and pictures of the President for Life, Saparmurat Niyazov (more famously known as “Turkmenbashy”) are still seen on almost every street, all the parks, and at the front of ministry buildings, his successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has begun making his own mark. Here not only will you become one of the small group of foreigners to visit Ashgabat, but you will join the even smaller group of foreigners who have ever had the opportunity to take part in the colourful Independence Day celebrations, getting a truly unique insight into how the Turkmen celebrate. If you thought an Olympic Opening Ceremony was spectacular, or Korean Mass Games was impressive, think again – this will make these look like primary school plays.
Leaving Ashgabat after the Independence Day events, we’ll drive through the Karakum Desert, visiting Ancient UNESCO world heritage archaeological sites on the Silk Road, ancient fortresses, underground thermal springs, unfinished beach resorts, flaming gas craters and sweeping natural canyons. Turkmenistan is a place oozing in both history and quirkiness. This is a tour well and truly designed for the intrepid traveller so join fast – it’s going to be a popular one!
The LOI application process is quite complicated and time-consuming, and Independence Day is a special time of the year with extra restrictions. For the best chance of approval, please get in at least 3 months in advance. Late applications are accepted but the approval rate goes down, in most cases you will get a full refund if the application is rejected.
Meet your local and YPT guides at Ashgabat International Airport.
Driving tour of Ashgabat’s main sites including Independence Park and Independence Monument, the Monument to the Constitution, the Arch of Neutrality, Lenin Park, Ertogrul Ghazi Mosque and the Alem Centre which is the complex that is home to the Wheel of Enlightenment, the largest indoor ferris wheel. And yes, for just $1 you can even take a ride!
If the food court at the Alem Centre’s open we’ll have lunch there, however it is often closed in which case we’ll go to the Russian Bazaar. Either way, lunch will cost around $1-3.
Visit the university bookshop where you can find books written by and about the president, Ashgabat and Turkmenistan 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 himself.
Return to Ashgabat
Dinner and drinks at a pub in the city centre which serves shashlicks, kebabs and local draught beer. Approximately $8 pp + drinks.
Day 2 – Thursday September 27th
Visit Nisa, a UNESCO site which was once the capital of the Parthian Empire, a half an hour drive north west of Ashgabat. Admission included.
Visit Anau on the eastern outskirts of Ashgabat and see the remains of Anau Fortress and Sheikh Jemaladdin Mosque which was destroyed in the 1948 earthquake.
Drive to Kipchak to see the resplendent Turkmenbashy Mosque, where Turkmenbashy is buried beside his mother, father and two brothers in their white marble mausoleum.
Dinner at Ak Altyn Hotel’s inside or open air restaurant. Approximately $12 pp.
Independence Day concert at Kopetdag Stadium. There will be performances of local popular artists and also traditional folk music and dance. A concert that tourists aren’t usually given access to, this will be a highlight of your trip.
Day 3 – Friday September 28th
Visit the Akhalteke Horse Sport Complex and see the end of the horse racing season festivities. Horse racing is one of the President’s favourite hobbies and it has become a very important part of Turkmen life. An Akhalteke horse is even on the national emblem. We will see some races, then the presentations of prize winners in each race category, interspersed with performances of local dancers and singers. And if we’re lucky we might even be at the same event as the President himself.
Drive 250km to Darvaza (The Gates of Hell) in 4WD’s.
Stop in Bakhordok to have lunch in a chaykhana. Approximately $6 pp.
Stop at Erbent en-route, one of the few nomadic villages still left in Central Asia.
Pass through the ruins of Darvaza village.
Visit two other craters – one full of mud, one full of water.
Traverse the sand dunes of the Karakum Desert to get to Darvaza, the flaming gas crater.
Watch the sunset over the fiery crater and experience dusk turn to dark at this breathtaking site.
You can either buy things at the bazaar the day before to cook over a camp fire or we can arrange a dinner box for you (approximately $7 pp).
Camp in tents near the Gates of Hell.
Day 4 – Saturday September 29th
Drive back to the outskirts of Ashgabat to Kow Ata. This natural underground thermal spring 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. Admission included.
After a revitalising swim in the cave lake, we’ll enjoy lunch at one of the shashlik restaurants just outside the entrance to the cave. Approximately $3-6 pp.
Drive 175km north west into the Kopetdag mountains to Nokhur, a traditional tribal village.
Visit Nokhur Cemetery where each grave is adorned with the horns of a mountain goat.
Relax in the mountains and learn about the culture of the Nokhuris.
Dinner (included) and overnight in a homestay.
Day 5 – Sunday September 30th
Drive 450 km west to Avaza.
We’ll stop for lunch along the way at a local chaykhana. Approximately $2-5 pp.
Arrive in Avaza and have a driving tour of the beach resort. Although the facilities are extravagant and the buildings futuristic, the town is somehow best described as a ghost town.
Dinner in one of the glamorous hotels of Avaza. Approximately $10-12 pp.
After dinner, we’ll take a walk along the coast of the Caspian Sea.
Overnight in Turkmenbashy, a ten minute drive from Avaza.
Day 6 – Monday October 1st
Yangykala Canyon. Most Turkmens don’t even know that this place exists, but once you’ve been there you’ll start calling the Grand Canyon the “Pretty Good Canyon”. In 4×4’s, we’ll drive over the canyon walls, through the canyon itself, and up the other side, to an excellent vantage point from where you will be able to see all the shapes and colours of this spectacular natural phenomenon.
We will take a packed lunch with us so we can enjoy it at the canyons. You can either buy yourself something at the bazaar on the way, or we can organise you a lunch box for approximately $7 pp.
Return to Turkmenbashy and check into the hotel.
Explore the city at your leisure.
Dinner at the hotel. Approximately $8-10 pp.
Day 7 – Tuesday October 2nd
Fly on Turkmenistan Airlines back to Ashgabat.
Arrive in Ashgabat in the afternoon.
Check in at Paytagt Guesthouse.
Free time for the rest of the afternoon.
Dinner and drinks at the British Pub. Approximately $10-15 pp + drinks.
Day 8 – Wednesday October 3rd
End of your, airport transfers according to your flight times.
Possible activities for those with later flights, or who wish to extend their time in Ashgabat, include visiting the Fine Arts Museum, History Museum, Ethnography Museum, Carpet Museum. Tickets usually cost around $10 per person.
Price inclusive of:
Letter of Invitation and registration
A/C bus, 4×4’s, train tickets and domestic flight Turkmenbashy-Ashgabat
Local English speaking guide
Western YPT guide
Entrance fees to Nisa and Kow Ata
Accommodation according to itinerary in twin/double share (except in the homestay)
Bottled water each day
Breakfast every day
Dinner at the homestay in Nokhur
Price exclusive of:
Flights to and from Ashgabat
Visa (roughly $90 for most nationalities on arrival at Ashgabat airport)
Immigration tax at the airport ($12)
Meals other than those stipulated (allow up to $10 per meal)
Single supplement for accommodation ($125)
Photo/video fees at sites (not at all sites, but usually around $2-10 depending on the site)
Tips for guides (not obligatory, and up to your personal discretion)
Any other personal expenses such as souvenirs and drinks
•Letter of Invitation and registration
•A/C bus, 4×4’s, train tickets and domestic flight Turkmenbashy-Ashgabat
•Local English speaking guide
•Western YPT guide
•Entrance fees to Nisa and Kow Ata
•Accommodation according to itinerary in twin/double share (except in the homestay)
•Bottled water each day
•Breakfast every day
•Dinner at the homestay in Nokhur
•Flights to and from Ashgabat
•Visa (roughly $90 for most nationalities on arrival at Ashgabat airport)
•Immigration tax at the airport ($12)
•Meals other than those stipulated (allow up to $10 per meal)
•Single supplement for accommodation ($155)
•Photo/video fees at sites (not at all sites, but usually around $2-10 depending on the site)
•Tips for guides (not obligatory, and up to your personal discretion)
•Any other personal expenses such as souvenirs and drinks