Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are two of our favourite destinations. In the ‘Essentials tour’, we will explore some of the sites that are even more off the beaten track. We’ll see a truly amazing mix of Silk Road and Soviet histories as we explore both the main attractions and some of the more unique sites in these two fascinating Central Asian republics.
In Uzbekistan, we will explore the biggest working solar furnace in the world and ride some roller coasters at Tashkentland. We’ll explore Yangiabad, a formerly closed Soviet town inhabited by German miners, and will peer into one of earth’s most infamous man-made natural disasters, the elusive Aral Sea.
In Turkmenistan, we’ll be the only tourists exploring Konye Urgench, a UNESCO world heritage site, and the former capital Khwarezm, a part of the Achaemenid Empire. We will, of course, visit the amazing and truly spectacular ‘Gates of Hell’, camping there overnight, before arriving in Turkmenistan’s spectacular capital city of Ashgabat. And finally we’ll finish with a canyon, and a yet-to-be-finished, but already abandoned beach resort.
This tour is great for those who want to explore these amazing countries a little bit more in depth or for returners.
The LOI application process for Turkmenistan is quite complicated and time-consuming. 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.
Away from the grand avenues, we’ll explore the narrow lanes and mud brick houses and madrassahs of Tashkent old town, before visiting the huge Chorsu Bazaar, an incredible open-air complex which attracts people from all over Uzbekistan where we’ll stop for lunch.
Catch the metro to the plov centre.
You’ll have plenty more opportunities to try plov, but there’s no better welcome to Uzbekistan than lunch at 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.
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 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 jungleand.
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.
Visit the art museum shop. Cool Soviet stuff.
Day 2 – Tuesday June 12th
Our first stop will be 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.
Leaving Tashkent we’ll drive to Parkent district where we’ve been granted permission to visit the largest solar furnace in the world.
Overnight in Yangiabad.
Day 3 – Wednesday June 13th
Drive to Samarqand, arriving in the early afternoon.
Once known as the “Pearl of the Muslim World”, Samarqand 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.
Free time in the afternoon.
Wine tasting at the Khovrenko Winery, a small local wine factory with adjoining museum (admission not included).
Dinner at a local restaurant (included in the tour cost).
Day 4 – Thursday June 14th
The highlight of your tour around Samarqand is likely to be 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 also pay visits to Biki Khanum Mosque, Siyab Bazaar, and the Afrasiyab Museum – a museum dedicated to the history of Samarqand, especially since the time of Alexander the Great’s Conquest.
Visit Romanenko Fashion Show 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.
Brewery “Pulsar”- Former Pivzavod Samarkand-1 was established in 1885. Taken over and renamed Pulsar in 1990s. It produces beer on Czech technology under brands Pulsar and Bochka and non-alcoholic drinks.
Overnight train to Nukus leaving at 22:10.
Day 5 – Friday June 15th
Arrive in Nukus at 12:15, just in time for lunch.
Visiting of the most popular Museum in Uzbekistan is museum of Savitskiy. The Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art named after I.V. Savitsky – also known, simply, as the Nukus Museum – hosts the world’s second largest collection of Russian avant garde art (after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). It is also home to one of the largest collections of archeological objects and folk, applied and contemporary art originating from Central Asia.
Overnight in Nukus.
Day 6 – Saturday June 16th
Departure from Nukus at 8 o’clock in the morning, to discover the Usturt Plateau and Aral sea life. Pass via Kungrad district – which used to be one of the trading centers on the Silk Road. Continue to the Usturt Plateau. Stop at the Lake Sudochie, have picnicor have lunch at the café in Kungrad. Visit the fishermen’s house. Old fish factoryUrga. On the way visit the former Light House, see the settlement of the gas plant. Visit airport on Usturt Plateau. Stop to take pictures of beautiful Canyons and the collapsed land. Arrive to Aral Sea around 5 p.m. Set up the tent. Dinner.
Overnight in the tent.
Day 7 – Sunday June 17th
Early wake up to take pictures of sun rise. Have breakfast. Transfer to Moynak village, which is known as “cemetery of ships” nowadays. Drive on the dried bottom of the sea, pass the gas towers, arrive to Uchsai –Gas Plant. Lunchat the Guest house in Moinak. Visit the Ships’ Graveyard, local museum, watch the short video about Moinak life at the museum. Drive to visit Mizdak-khan architectural complex of the XIV c and Gaur kala ruin that was destroyed by Shingiz-khan. Arrive in Nukus around 5 p.m.
Overnight in Nukus.
Day 8 – Monday June 18th
Cross the border into Turkmenistan.
Visit the ruins of Konye Urgench.
Traverse the sand dunes of the Karakum Desert to get to Darvaza.
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.
Campfire dinner (included in the tour cost).
Day 9 – Tuesday June 19th
Drive towards Ashgabat.
Visit two other craters – one full of mud, one full of water.
Passing Ashgabat, we’ll visit Kipchak to see the resplendent Turkmenbashy Mosque, where Turkmenbashy is buried beside his mother, father and two brothers in their white marble mausoleum.
Continue on to Nisa, a UNESCO site which was once the capital of the Parthian Empire.
Our final stop for the day will be Kow Ata, in the outskirts of Ashgabat. 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. After a dusty night in the desert, there will be nothing more refreshing.
After a revitalising swim in the lake, we’ll enjoy lunch at one of the shashlik restaurants just outside the entrance to the cave.
Refreshed and revitalised, we’ll continue to Ashgabat.
Dinner at the Yyldiz Hotel. Based on the Burj Al Arab and by far the most luxurious hotel in Ashgabat, the restaurant on the 18th floor is the perfect place to look over the city as the sun sets.
After dinner 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.
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.
Day 10 – Wednesday June 20th
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!
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 face (don’t get your hopes up too much about the cappuccino, it is still from a machine which has a “cappuccino” button).
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.
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.
Overnight train to Turkmenbashy.
Day 11 – Thursday June 21st
Arrive early in the morning at Turkmenbashy train station.
Head straight into the desert to 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 a lunch box for approximately $7 pp.
Return to Turkmenbashy and take a driving tour of the beach resort of Avaza. Although the facilities are extravagant and the buildings futuristic, the town is somehow best described as a ghost town.
Fly back to Ashgabat.
Spend the night at the Paytgat Hotel.
Day 12 – Friday June 22nd
Transfers to the airport according to your flight times.
LOI and registration in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
All transport according to the itinerary
Local English speaking guide
Western YPT guide
Accommodation according to itinerary in twin/double share
Entrance fees to all sites outlined on the itinerary
Breakfast every day
Dinner on Day 5 and Day 8
Travel arrangements to Tashkent at the start of the tour, and from Ashgabat at the end of the tour
Visas for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
Meals other than those stipulated (allow up to $10 per meal)
Drinks at meals
Single supplement for accommodation ($245)
Photo/video fees at sites (not at all sites, but usually $2-10 depending on the site)
Tips for guides (not obligatory, and up to your personal discretion)
– LOI and registration in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
– All transport according to the itinerary
– Local English speaking guide and Western YPT guide
– Accommodation according to itinerary in twin/double share
– Entrance fees to all sites outlined on the itinerary
– Breakfast every day and dinner on Day 5 and Day 8
– Travel arrangements to Tashkent at the start of the tour, and from Ashgabat at the end of the tour
– Visas for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
– Meals other than those stipulated (allow up to $10 per meal) and drinks
– Single supplement for accommodation ($245)
– Photo/video fees at sites (not at all sites, but usually $2-10 depending on the site)
– Tips for guides (not obligatory, and up to your personal discretion)
– Any other personal expenses such as souvenirs