Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are two of our favourite destinations. In this Grand 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 visit a still-working Soviet-built solar furnace and ride roller coasters at Tashkentland. We’ll explore Yangiabad, a formerly closed Soviet town inhabited by exiled miners, and will peer into one of earth’s most infamous man-made natural disasters, the elusive Aral Sea.
Continuing on to Turkmenistan, you’ll get to see the famous “White City” of Ashgabat, aptly name for its white marble facades, gold monuments and buildings with titles such as the “Wheel of Enlightenment” and the “Arch of Neutrality”. From Ashgabat we’ll take a drive through the Karakum Desert to the eternally burning fire crater known as the “Gates of Hell”, before visiting the futuristic ghost-town beach resort of Avaza and a canyon grander than the Grand Canyon, that even many Turkmens don’t know exist.
After heading back to Ashgabat where Group A concludes, the tour will head east to Merv – the Silk Road city that was once the largest city in the world. Heading even further east into the remotest corner of Turkmenistan we’ll climb onto the largest repository of dinosaur footprints in the world, see a cave covered in cloth stalactites, take a natural mud bath and bend over for a goat massage.
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.
Leaving Tashkent we’ll drive to Parkent district where we’ve been granted permission to visit the a spectacular example of Soviet technology and architecture – a solar furnace. Still functioning, though never really having managed to fulfil its purpose, it’s not open to the public.
Return to Tashkent just in time for lunch. You’ll have plenty more opportunities to try plov, but there’s no better place to have it than 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.
Next we’ll visit 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.
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.
Day 2 – Monday June 15th
Our first stop today will be the famous Chorsu Bazaar, with it’s iconic blue dome that’s now home to meat, dairy and dried fruits. Exploring the stalls you’ll learn about traditional bread-making methods, local remedies for everything including of course virility issues, and how Uzbek babies are taught to go to the toilet.
Leaving Tashkent again, we’ll drive into the mountains to visit the town of Yangiabad. A closed town during the Soviet Union, not even appearing on maps, it was built as a mining town where exiles were sent. Once home to about 10,000 people, the population is now a little over 300, and noone pays them much attention. We’ll spend the afternoon wandering the streets, peeking into abandoned buildings and listening to stories from locals.
We’ll spend the night at a nearby Soviet “resort”. If it’s hot you can go for a swim in the river, or if you just want to relax, we might be able to find the massage lady.
Day 3 – Tuesday June 16th
Leave early in the morning to 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.
Optional wine tasting at the Khovrenko Winery, a small local wine factory with adjoining museum (admission not included).
Dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 4 – Wednesday June 17th
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 Samarqand’s centre piece and a pride of the Silk Road.
Having died in September 2016, Islom Karimov, the First President of Uzbekistan, now has his mausoleum on the newly renamed Islom Karimov Street in the centre of the city, which of course we will visit.
Winding through the narrow streets of the old city, we’ll stop at a particularly unique synagogue. Totally unrecognisable from the outside, it looks like any of the typical houses on either side, but inside is a bizarre and unique mixture of Uzbek and Jewish décor.
We’ll also pay visits to Biki Khanum Mosque, Siyab Bazaar and Shah-e-Zinda.
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.
Overnight train to Nukus leaving at around 7pm.
Day 5 – Thursday June 18th
Arrive in Nukus at around 11am. Check in and have lunch.
In the afternoon we’ll visit the Museum of Savitskiy. The Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art hosts the world’s second largest collection of Russian avant garde art (after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). Savitskiy himself went to great lengths to save prohibited pieces of art during the Soviet Union, and amazingly you can see some of them now in this museum.
Overnight in Nukus.
Day 6 – Friday June 19th
Departure from Nukus first thing in the morning to drive towards the Aral Sea.
Stopping at some Silk Road ruins and a canyon on the way, we’ll drive up on to the Usturt Plateau.
We’ll stop for a picnic lunch at a ruined Soviet Gulag, near the edge of one of the small parts of the remaining sea.
Arriving at the main part of the sea, if you’re game, you can go for a swim. There used to be 10mg of salt per litre in the sea, but now with 160g (yes, grams, not miligrams) it’s not far off the Dead Sea (180g/l), and now you can easily float on top of the water.
Overnight in a yurt camp near the shore (dinner included).
Day 7 – Saturday June 20th
If you want to wake up early to see the sun rise over the water, you can. Otherwise you can sleep til breakfast time.
Drive to Moynak village, which used to be a thriving coastal town, but is now a disheveled and quiet desert town, most famous now for the ship cemetery.
Ships lay abandoned on the old seabed as the sea receded. A lot of them were removed and destroyed, supposedly so the metal could be recycled, but a dozen or so of them were saved and are now in Moynak.
Arrive back in Nukus in the early evening.
Overnight in Nukus.
Day 8 – Sunday June 21st
Cross the border into Turkmenistan.
Visit the ruins of Konye Urgench.
Drive to Dashoguz, for lunch and some free time before heading to the airport to fly to Ashgabat.
Overnight in Ashgabat.
Day 9 – Monday June 22nd
Meet those starting the tour in Turkmenistan.
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.
Return to Ashgabat.
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. From the restaurant and viewing deck you’ll get 360 degree views of the city lights, whilst enjoying a nice cold draught beer.
Dinner and drinks at a local pub in Old Ashgabat which serves shashlicks, kebabs and local draught beer. Approximately $8 pp.
Spend the night at the Ak Altyn Hotel.
Day 10 – Tuesday June 23rd
Drive to the outskirts of Ashgabat to Nisa, a UNESCO site which was once the capital of the Parthian Empire.
Next you’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 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 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 11 – Wednesday June 24th
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 12 – Thursday June 25th
Yangykala Canyon. Many 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 organize a cooked lunch for $10 pp.
Return to Turkmenbashy.
Dinner at the hotel. Approximately $8-10 pp.
Day 13 – Friday June 26th
Return to Ashgabat on Turkmenistan Airlines.
Lunch at the Russian bazaar, where you can also buy some snacks, drinks and dinner for camping.
Drive 250km to Darvaza (The Gates of Hell) in 4WD’s.
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 14 – Saturday June 27th
Drive back towards Ashgabat, stopping at Tolkuchka Bazaar on the way, where you’ll be able to buy lunch, with some time to explore the largest bazaar in Central Asia (by floor size).
Arrive in Ashgabat.
Free time in the afternoon.
Group A spend the night at the Ak Altyn Hotel
Group B Continue on catching the train to Mary, Arriving around 10pm
Day 15 – Sunday June 28th
Group A – Airport transfers according to flight times
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.
Day 16 – Monday June 29th
Drive into the Koytendag mountains.
Stop along the way at Astana Baba mausoleum, Alamberdar mausoleum.
Stop inthe small town of Atamyrat, where we’ll have lunch at a local chaykhana. More than likely you’ll be spotted by some locals who’ve never seen a tourist before and end up with some good company over lunch.
Spend the night at a lodge in Kugitang.
Day 17 – Tuesday June 30th
Continue exploring the Koytendag mountains, climbing through gorges, swimming in waterfalls and most excitingly – get a goat massage.
Cross Amudarya river and drive along Kugitang mountains.
Return to the lodge in Kugitang.
Day 18 – Monday July 1st
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.
Return to the lodge in Kugitang.
Day 19 – Thursday July 2nd
Drive back to Turkmenabat.
Fly back to Ashgabat and spend the night at the Ak Altyn Hotel.
• 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
• 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 (Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan Group A $390, Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan Group
We have expert guides ready to help answer any questions you may have.