Yough Pioneer Tours

Turkmenistan Independent Tours

The ‘Stans’ make up some of the least visited and least known parts of the world. But naturally, YPT has you covered. Whether you like the mystery of Turkmenistan, ancient cities of Uzbekistan, a space launch in Kazakhstan or the mountain culture of Kyrgyzstan YPT has the trip for you.
Throw into that independent tours of Tajikistan and a group tour in Xinjiang, sometimes referred to as East Turkestan, and our reach in the region is pretty extensive.
And hey you might have heard we even go to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Turkmenistan Overview

One of the most closed countries in the world, with even fewer tourists every year than North Korea, Turkmenistan is a truly unique place. Far from the beaten track, you will spend the entirety of your time in Turkmenistan being in awe of something, whether it be the “Dictator’s Playground” as Ashgabat has come to be known, the giant flaming crater called the “Gates of Hell”, the futuristic, unfinished, ghost town of a beach resort, Avaza, the incessant statues and pictures of the President and the former President, or the spectacular and completely untouched natural phenomenons of the Karakum Desert.

If our dates don’t suit, the itinerary isn’t what you’re looking for, or if you’d simply prefer to travel alone, please contact us to arrange an Independent Tour. The types of tours that we can tailor for you are endless, including but not limited to 4WDing, hiking, natural sites, sporting, cultural, ancient cities and many more. If you have any suggestions of what type of tour you’d like to do tell us your idea and we’ll see what we can do for you.

Ashgabat

Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan, is a sea of sparkling white and gold. Every building is made of white marble, and every trim is gold. Gold statues and busts of the President and former President flank the corners of every wide boulevard, and greet you on the way into every building. Images of prize horses, Turkmen carpets and the Turkmen coat of arms flash up on giant gilded television screens. We will visit the largest indoor ferris wheel in the world called the Wheel of Enlightenment, the statue of the Ruhnama, the book that Turkmenbashy wrote, the Monument to the Constitution, the Arch of Neutrality, and the giant thermometer, just to name a few. We might even get a chance to visit one of the many book and carpet exhibitions devoted to the President.

ashgabat empty streets

Around Ashgabat

Kow Ata

After several days of dry, dusty, Turkmen desert, you’ll be relieved to descend 100m through a cave to Kow Ata, a natural underground lake. The vibrant blue, mineral soaked, thermal lake, is the perfect place to relax. We certainly won’t be the only people here though since it’s a very popular hang-out spot for locals of all ages. Then when your body is suitably refreshed and cleansed you can enjoy a freshly cooked kebab and a bottle of chilled Turkmen Cola from one of the stands in the car park.

kow ata

Nokhur Village and Cemetery

This almost-untouched village is a gem of traditional Turkmen culture, set in the Kopet Dag mountains on the border between Turkmenistan and Iran. Meet the people of the Nokhuri tribe, stay in a homestay overnight, and visit the unique cemetery in which the graves are adorned with the horns of mountain goats – one of the many relics of ancient tribal beliefs which has been incorporated into their modern Turkmen version of Islam.

Nisa

Nisa was once the capital of the Parthian Empire, one of the world’s major powerhouses for some 600 years. Now a UNESCO site, beautifully nestled into the base of the mountains and surrounded by desert, it is hard to believe the thousands of years of history that this place holds. Although destroyed, there are extensive remains that can be visited, and it’s still possible to make out the shape of the city.

nisa

Turkmenbashy Mosque and Mausoleum, Kipchak

Adorned with a magnificent gold cupola and flanked by four 91m tall minarets (to represent Turkmenistan gaining independence from the USSR in 1991), this resplendent mosque is the largest in Central Asia. Built in honour of Turkmenbashy’s mother, the space is said to be big enough for 10,000 worshippers, though it is usually empty. Words from the Ruhnama are carved into the magnificent marble walls, and the largest handwoven carpet in the shape of star lies in the centre. Next door is Turkmenbashy’s mausoleum, a smaller version of the shimmering white and gold mosque, where he is buried next to his beloved mother, father and two brothers.

Turkmenbashy Mosque

Geok Tepe

This is the site of the horrific massacre that lost Turkmenistan to Russia in 1881. General Skobelev was the general responsible and it is said that he commented on the massacre with the words “the harder you hit them, the longer they stay down”. Every year January 12th is devoted to mourning the loss of some 50,000 Turkmens (mostly civilians) and a mosque with spectacular turquoise domes has since been built on the site as a commemoration.

West

Turkmenbashy

One guess who this town is named after… you got it, the great Turkmenbashy. Sitting on the Caspian Sea, this is Turkmenistan’s port town. It doesn’t have the glitz and glam of Ashgabat, or the breathtaking awe of Darvaza, but there is something charming about the simplicity of this ex-Soviet seaside town and you might even get a chance to meet some locals.

Avaza

This partially built futuristic ghost town, intended to be Turkmenistan’s luxury beach resort, is almost entirely void of humans at all times. A selection of 5-star hotels, nightclubs, leisure centres and restaurants, all white and gold, and all extravagant and glamorous, line the coast, just sitting there waiting for the streams of tourists. All the facilities are there, it’s just somehow completely lifeless, and aside from an army of cleaners, we may well be the only people there.

Avaza

Yangykala Canyon

Think Uluru meets the Grand Canyon. With streaks of yellow, pink and red dissecting the steep canyon walls, this is a breathtaking natural attraction. The cliffs of the canyons are up to 100m high, and they stretch 25km through the Karakum Desert. If it was in most other countries this would surely be world famous, but since it’s in Turkmenistan noone has ever heard of it. Many Turkmens don’t even know that this place exists.

canyon

Mud Volcanoes on Cheleken Peninsula

An unbelievable natural phenomenon, these mud volcanoes are the result of intense pockets of natural gas bubbling below the surface of the earth, causing the mud to erupt in a collection of volcanoes. The pockmarked land with an array of large and small volcanoes creates an eerie moonscape like vision. You can either view from the edge of the mud plains, or if you don’t mind getting your feet dirty you can get up nice and close and watch the mud simmer and erupt.

mud volcanoes

Central

Darvaza (The Gates of Hell)

One of the world’s most awe-inspiring sights, this flaming gas crater really does look like it is the gates to hell. Far from civilisation and accessible only by 4WD, the glow from the fiery pit stretches for miles. The result of an explosion during a failed Soviet exploration in 1971, the 70m wide crater was set alight in an attempt to burn off the vast amounts of natural gas that was seeping into the atmosphere. Having never come across such extreme quantities of natural gas before though, they had no idea that there was in fact a big enough supply there to continue burning for hundreds of years, and has been on fire ever since. There is not a single signpost, warning sign or barrier, and noone has set up a shop or restaurant. Plans have been around for several years to shut it down because of environmental reasons, so if you don’t get in quick, you might miss out. We’ll camp nearby, literally in the middle of nowhere.

darvaza

Erbent

One of the few nomadic villages left in Central Asia, this is your opportunity to see the Traditional Turkmen way of life. The Erbent villagers hand-make their own felt, bake bread in a traditional fire-oven, and milk camels to turn into Chal, fermented camel milk. Depending on the season we may even get to see them set up their yurts.

North

Dashoguz

Turkmenistan’s third largest city, this is both a typical Soviet outpost and a mini-Ashgabat. There are even fewer tourists here than in the rest of the country, so be prepared to have some strange looks thrown your way. This is the border town backing onto Uzbekistan and the launching pad for Konye-Urgench.

Konye-Urgench

Once a thriving metropolis, this ancient city has been destroyed many times over the centuries, but is still home to some of the most interesting mausoleums and buildings in Turkmenistan. Sultan Tekesh Mausoleum is distinguished by its vibrant blue dome, the inside of which is covered in paintings of constellations, Il Arslan Mausoleum has an unusual shape, the pointed top of which sports a criss-cross pattern in the bricks, and Gutlug Timor Minaret, rising 63 metres towards the sky, was once used as a lighthouse to guide caravans through the desert.

East

Mary

Located in a large oasis in the Karakum Desert, Mary is Turkmenistan’s fourth largest city and the main centre for the gas industry which contributes the majority of the country’s economy. There is a fantastic museum of ancient artefacts that have been excavated from Merv, alongside displays of Turkmen carpets, national costumes, and precious stones. Only a stone’s throw from the ancient city of Merv, this is the ideal place to stay while you’re visiting the ancient city.

Merv

Merv is the oldest and best preserved ancient oasis city along the Silk Road. Now UNESCO listed, several areas of the city are able to be visited, each part showcasing a different aspect of the rich history of the area. There are towers, city walls, fortresses, temples and mausoleums, the most notable of which is that of Sultan Sandzhar Dar-al-Akhir which reaches forty metres into the sky, topped by an almost completely intact brick dome. Legend has it that he unknowingly married a fairy and when he discovered what she was, she left him and returned to heaven. He begged her to stay though and she compromised by promising that if he built her a special building, she would return as a pigeon for one night a year for the rest of eternity. This building became the Sultan’s mausoleum and locals believe that the small hole in the top of the dome, directly over Sanzhar’s grave, is for the fairy pigeon to come down to her husband.

Turkmenabat

The capital of the Lebap district, and a stone’s throw away from the Farap border crossing with Uzbekistan, Turkmenabat is a nice mixture of Ashgabat’s shiny modern architecture, and the more realistic suburbs of the regional cities. The markets in Turkmenabat, whilst not as extravagant or iconic as the Tolkuchka Bazaar, are a real delight, and this is your best bet to find local sporting clothes. But the highlight of your trip to Turkmenabat must be the Lebap Regional Museum. With everything covered in white marble and trimmed in gold, the museum fits perfectly with the glitzy ministry buildings of modern Turkmenistan. This impressive museum is filled with colourful displays of all things presidential, dioramas of ancient Turkmen life, a spectacular recreation of a traditional bazaar, and even a life-sized yurt. Then to top it all off there are models of whole caves, a depiction of the Dinosaur Plateau, but with dinosaurs on it, and an impressing range of taxidermy of local wildlife.

Kyrk Gyz Cave

In the remote corner of far eastern Turkmenistan lies a cave. As you leave the dirt trail and enter the cave it seems that there is something strange, but it’s only after a few moments that you realise that the thick layer of stalactites dangling from the ceiling are in fact cloth rags. 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.

Dinosaur Plateau

Walking up onto the Dinosaur Plateau, you’ll see the largest repository of dinosaur footprints in the world. Although it sounds crazy, this is the scientific explanation, and there are other places where similar footprints have been found. Nowhere else has this many though. 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. Regardless of what you want to believe the story to be, nobody can dispute that it’s a spectacular sight.

Sample Itinerary – Independent Tours

  
Day 1: airport – Ashgabat – Dashoguz

  • Meet at the airport during the day.
  • Fly to Dashoguz in the afternoon.
  • Overnight in Dashoguz.

Day 2: Visit 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 3:

  • Drive towards Ashgabat, stopping at Erbent on the way, one of the few nomadic villages still left in Central Asia.
  • 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 Tashkent.
  • Free time in the evening.

Day 4:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • And another stop at the Altyn Asyr Sowda Merkezi, a new shopping centre in Independence Park which is in the shape of a pyramid, and the outside of which is covered in fountains and colourful lights. We’ll enjoy dinner at the Minara restaurant on the fifth floor, from which you’ll get 360 degree views of the city lights, whilst enjoying a nice cold draught beer.

 Day 5  Ashgabat- Kov Ata- Darvaza, 200+257 km

  • If there are horse races on, visit the City Hippodrome.
  • 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.
  • And just past this mosque is another mosque, this one is more of a “real” mosque, built as a memorial on the site of the Battle of Geokdepe.
  • Continue on to 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 revitalising swim in the lake, you can enjoy lunch at one of the shashlik restaurants just outside the entrance to the cave. Approximately $3-6 pp.
  • In the afternoon, drive 250km to Darvaza (The Gates of Hell) in 4WD’s.
  • Your first stop will be at the Tolkuchka Bazaar on the outskirts of Ashgabat where you can buy supplies to take with you to the Gates of Hell.
  • Erbent will be our next stop, one of the few nomadic villages still left in Central Asia.
  • Visit two other craters – one full of mud, one full of water.
  • 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.

Day 6  Darvaza- Ashgabat- Mary/ drive 257 km & train

  • Wake up at about 6:00 if you’d like to catch the sunrise, otherwise leave in the morning to drive back to Ashgabat.
  • Board the train for Mary, leaving at 15:00 and arriving at 22:00.
  • Overnight in Mary.

Day 7  Mary- Merv- Turkmenabat, 230 km

  • Drive to Merv, which is just half an hour’s drive from the modern city of Mary and now a UNESCO world heritage listed site. Merv is the oldest and best preserved ancient oasis city along the Silk Road, and at one point during the 12th Century was possibly even the largest city in the world.
  • Spend the morning exploring the shrines, temples, towers, city walls, fortresses, castles and mausoleums, the most notable of which is that of Sultan Sandzhar Dar-al-Akhir which reaches forty metres into the sky, topped by an almost completely intact brick dome.
  • Leaving Merv, drive towards Turkmenabat, stopping along the way to admire and take photos of the Karakum Desert.
  • Arrive in Turkmenabat in the evening.
  • If you arrive in time, you might like to make a stop at Lebap Regional Museum as well. This museum is home to a fascinating array of taxidermy, dioramas, and huge models and murals of the surrounding area. Not to mention some very informative displays about the wheat production and oil production of Turkmenistan.
  • Overnight in Turkmenabat.

Day 8              Turkmenabat- Koytendag, 440 km

  • Drive into the Koytendag mountains.
  • Stop along the way at Astana Baba mausoleum, Alamberdar mausoleum.
  • Stop in the small town of Atamyrat, where we’ll have lunch at a local chaykhana.
  • Spend the night in a lodge in Koytendag.

Day 9            Koytendag- Kugitang

  • Walk up onto the Dinosaur Plateau, the 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.
  • Continue 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.
  • Cool down at Umbar Dere gorge where you can wade through the river-gorge until you get to a spectacular waterfall at the end. Although you won’t find any other western tourists, or even foreigners here, if it’s a nice day the place is likely to be full of locals enjoying the water and setting up for a day of shashliks and vodka just outside the gorge.
  • And finally stop by Kaynar Baba lake where you can take another swim – this time you don’t need to wade through a gorge to get there, but if you’re game you can do as the locals do and take a natural mud-bath first.
  • Return to the lodge in Koytendag.

 Day 10                        Kugitang- Turkmenabat

  • Full day drive back to Turkmenabat, making stops along the way.
  • Arrive in Turkmenabat in the late afternoon.
  • Overnight in Turkmenabat.

Day 11            Turkmenabat- Ashgabat/ FLY

  • In the morning fly back to Ashgabat.
  • Check into the hotel.
  • Free time for the rest of the day.

Day 12                        Ashgabat- airport

  • Free time in Ashgabat.
  • Airport transfer according to your flight time.

Sample Prices:

Group 1 person                       2295 USD

Group 2 persons                     1495 USD per person

Group 3 persons                     1325 USD per person

Group 4 persons                     1225 USD per person

Included:

  • Letter of invitation, registration
  • A/C car service as per itinerary (where it reads “free time”, there is no transport included)
  • Local flights tickets Turkmenbashy- Ashgabat, Turkmenabat- Ashgabat
  • Train ticket (kupe ticket- separate compartment for 4 passengers) Ashgabat- Turkmenbashy, Ashgabat- Mary
  • Accommodation in hotels/camping, as per below: 
Hotel Number of nights/City
AkAltin**** 3/ Ashgabat/ breakfast included
Seyrana **** or equal 1/Avaza/ breakfast included
Camping (tent& sleeping bag) 1/ Darvaza// breakfast included
Mary**** 1/Mary / breakfast included
Jeyhun*** 2/ Turkmenabat/ breakfast included
Koytendag Tourist lodge 2/Koytent/ breakfast NOT included

Excluded:

  • Visa (currently $85 for most nationalities on arrival at Ashgabat airport)
  • Immigration tax at the airport ($12)
  • Meals (allow up to $10 per meal, though in reality you will probably spend much less than this)
  • Entrance fees (there are only a couple of places with entrance fees, and other than the carpet museum, they’re not very much)
  • 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

Optional Extras:

  • Local English speaking guide in Ashgabat – 65 USD per day
  • Local English speaking guide in Merv -Turkmenabat- Kugitang- Turkmenabat – 305 USD for 4 days
  • Local English speaking escort guide for the whole tour – USD 855 per group
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