You’ve booked a tour to Turkmenistan and you’ve got an extra day before or after the tour in Ashgabat, so you’re wondering what you can do by yourself outside of the main itinerary. “I thought I had to be accompanied the whole time I’m in Turkmenistan,” you’re thinking to yourself. Well, the rule is actually that outside of Ashgabat you must be escorted by someone approved by the government who’s responsible for you, but inside of Ashgabat the rule doesn’t apply and you’re allowed to go around by yourself within the city.
So how do you get yourself around Ashgabat?
There are four main ways to get around Ashgabat – walking, public bus, taxi, private car.
Walking can be extremely enjoyable in the very centre, and is a great way to see a few things that are very close together, but in general, Ashgabat is not a very walking-friendly city. The new part of the city where all the monuments and famous white buildings are is incredibly spread out and even buildings that are “next to each other” are 500m-1km away from each other. Especially if you’re there in summer when it’s 45+ degrees, and all the white buildings are reflecting the sun, it’s unbearably hot to be walking too far.
Buses are by far the most unique and fun way to get around as you’ll be travelling with regular locals and it’s one of the few opportunities you’ll get to strike up a natural conversation. However, it’s very difficult to know where a bus is going as no one in Ashgabat seems to know where any of the buses go except for the individual one that they themselves catch every day. Some of the bus stops have route maps on them, but many don’t, and even when there’s a route map it’s not 100% correct. The bus costs 50 Tenne (0.50 Manat) which is about 4c. There’s no ticket or inspector, you just throw your money in a bucket next to the driver, either when you get on, or when you get off, or at any point during your trip. If you don’t have small money you just throw in your money and take out whatever change you need yourself. It’s completely the honour system – no one will call you out if you don’t pay or if you pay the wrong amount, and yet everyone still just pays.
There are two ways to catch a taxi. The first is to call one which the hotel can help you with, or a restaurant, or anything like that, and the second way is “gypsy taxi”, which is basically just hailing any car off the street. If you want to call one, taxis range from about $1 to $5, depending on where you’re going in the city.
The “gypsy taxi” system is a remnant of Soviet culture, still used in many of the former Soviet cities. The idea is basically that any person with a car can give any person without a car a lift. They’re not official taxis – they’re just people with cars. This means that they might not want to take your fare if they’re going a different way, but it also means they’re very affordable (not that official taxis are expensive in Ashgabat). You just need to stand at the side of the road with your hand out (you’ll see locals doing it – just copy them), then when someone stops tell them where you want to go and if they’re happy to go that way pre-negotiate a price.
We can, of course, organise a private car for you for anything from a couple of hours up to a full day. This is obviously the most expensive option, but is also by far the most convenient way to get around, especially if you’re trying to go to the new part of the city which is incredibly spread out and even crossing the road to switch bus stops can involve walking 500m or more, and there are very few cars so catching a taxi is almost impossible.
They’re trained professionals with large, clean, new cars and the driver most likely will speak at least a little bit of English. We can of course also pre-arrange with them which places you’d like to visit to avoid any miscommunications during the day. Prices vary so get in touch if you’re interested in doing this, but for a car, for the full day it will be around $60, and we can also organise an English speaking guide to join you if you like.
Get in contact with us to secure your spot on a tour to Turkmenistan!