This tour is a great way see all the must-sees of Turkmenistan, along with some of the more unusual places that you might not have heard of before. Starting in the “White City” of Ashgabat, you’ll be blinded by the white and gold monuments and buildings of the new city, including the world’s largest indoor Ferris Wheel (Wheel of Enlightenment), the largest structure in the shape of a horse (Olympic Horse Stadium) and a whole monument dedicated to the proud fact that Turkmenistan is the only (yes Switzerland, the ONLY) completely neutral country according to the UN Arch of Neutrality.
Leaving the capital you’ll see the weird and wonderful Nokhur Cemetery, where all the tombs are topped with goat antlers, see what life is like in some of the smaller cities, and experience the bizarrely futuristic, but also mostly deserted, ghost town beach resort of Avaza. From there you’ll spend a day seeing nature at its best when you visit Yangykala Canyon, before making the final stop of the tour at what will most likely be the highlight – the Gates of Hell.
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.
Arrive early in the morning and meet your guides at Ashgabat International Airport.
Today you’ll start getting a good feel of the country as we take a driving tour of Ashgabat’s main sites and we begin explaining all the weird and wonderful aspects of Turkmenistan that make it such a special place.
This will include stops at Independence Park and Independence Monument, the Monument to the Constitution, the Arch of Neutrality, Lenin Park, and a drive-by of the Olympic Complex which was built for the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. The complex is home to the famous Horse Stadium (the largest structure in the shape of a horse in the world – you’ll hear plenty more of these records!), but unfortunately is closed to the public.
A highlight of the day will likely be the Alem Centre, which is the complex in which the Wheel of Enlightenment is, the largest indoor Ferris Wheel (yes, there’s another one). And YES, for just $1, you can ride it !
For lunch today we’ll stop at one of our favourite restaurants, where you can order local food and sit in air-conditioned yurts.
In the afternoon we’ll visit the university bookshop where you can find a multitude of books written by and about the president of Ashgabat and Turkmenistan. They also have postcards, posters of the President doing things like holding dogs and riding horses, and if you’re lucky, they might even have a copy of the Ruhnama, the book written by Turkmenbashy.
Dinner and drinks at a local pub, just like a local, where you can have good shashlicks and cheap local draught beer.
Leaving the city, we’ll visit Nisa, a UNESCO site which was once the capital of the Parthian Empire.
Continue on to Kipchak to see the resplendent Turkmenbashy Mosque and Mausoleum. There aren’t too many Turkmenbashy related sites still around, but this one is truly spectacular.
Return to Ashgabat in the afternoon and have some free time to enjoy a beer by the pool at the hotel or take a walk around the old part of the city where the hotel is located.
For dinner this evening we’ll go to the Yyldiz Hotel – the newest and most expensive hotel in Turkmenistan, where you can have a real 5 Star restaurant experience for 1 Star prices, complete with 360 degree views of the city.
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.
Overnight in Ashgabat.
Monday 18th April – Ashgabat – Kow Ata – Serdar
This morning we’ll check out and leave Ashgabat, driving to Kow Ata, an underground thermal cave lake which 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, we’ll enjoy a relaxing lunch at one of the shashlik restaurants just outside the entrance to the cave.
We’ll continue driving west, away from Ashgabat, to the village of Nokhur, situated in the Kopet Dag mountains. Unlike the rest of Turkmenistan, even during the Soviet Union and the era of Turkmenbashy, this village were largely left to their own devices and as such live a much more traditional lifestyle than most Turkmens.
Here we’ll visit Nokhur Cemetery, where each grave is adorned with the horns of a mountain goat and a small market next to a wishing tree where you can buy all sorts of natural teas and potions.
Keep driving to the town of Serdar.
Overnight in Serdar Hotel.
Tuesday 19th April – Serdar – Turkmenbashy
Today we’ll complete the drive towards the Caspian Sea, arriving in Turkmenbashy in the late afternoon.
We’ll stop in Balkanabat on the way for some lunch and a quick look at a monument to the caravans of the Silk Road.
Free time in the evening.
Overnight in Turkmenbashy.
Wednesday 20th April – Turkmenbashy – Yangykala Canyon – Turkmenbashy
Today we’ll visit Yangykala Canyon. Until recently most Turkmens didn’t even know that this place existed, and still not many have been there. Wide and vast, the area was once a seabed, and scattered with all sorts of fossils, it stretches as far as the eye can see. In 4x4s, we’ll drive over the canyon walls, through the canyon itself, and up the other side, stopping at a couple of different viewpoints along the way.
We will take a packed lunch with us so we can enjoy it whilst taking in all the shapes and colours of this spectacular natural phenomenon.
Return to Turkmenbashy in the afternoon.
Overnight in Turkmenbashy.
Thursday 21st April – Turkmenbashy – Avaza – Ashgabat
Today it’s back to the bizarreness of modern day Turkmenistan, with a visit to Avaza. Although the facilities are extravagant and the buildings futuristic, the town is somehow best described as a ghost town.
We’ll have lunch at the one café that will be open, and from there you can explore the amusement parks, beaches, and hotels of Avaza, and if you’re game, take a swim in the notoriously cold Caspian Sea.
We’ll take the afternoon flight from Turkmenbashy back to Ashgabat on Turkmenistan Airlines.
Overnight in Ashgabat.
Friday 22nd April – Ashgabat – The Gates of Hell
Free time in the morning to relax at the hotel, go for a casual walk, or do some of your own exploring of the city.
A couple of activities you might want us to organise for you include:
Serdar Yoly, the “health path”. Stretching 28km along the Kopetdag mountain range, this fitness project was instigated by Turkmenbashy, but being a keen health fanatic himself, Gurbanguly has continued to encourage people to make the trek. You’ll have time to either walk some of the path if you like, or you can just soak in the atmosphere in the park at the bottom.
The cable car. It reaches almost all the way to the Iranian border and at the top you’ll get spectacular views over the city, the health path and the tv tower.
The TV tower, the largest building in the shape of a star in the world. The building itself is off limits, but you can drive almost right up to the entrance for a great view of the tower and spectacular perspective over the city.
For lunch we’ll visit Berkarar Shopping Centre, which is Ashgabat’s super fancy shopping centre near all the monuments. Here you can go ice-skating, play in the games centre, ride a miniature double-decker bus, and even have a cappuccino in a proper hipster café! This will also be your opportunity to buy any supplies you want for our night camping at the Gates of Hell.
Leaving Ashgabat again we’ll drive 250km north to Darvaza (The Gates of Hell) in 4x4s.
On the way we’ll stop at two other craters – one full of mud, one full of water, and both formed in the same way as the Gates of Hell.
Driving the last few kilometres off-road through the desert, we’ll arrive at the fiery crater just before sunset, just in time to experience dusk turn to dark at this breathtaking site.
Overnight camping near the crater.
Saturday 23rd April – Gates of Hell – Ashgabat
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 in the afternoon and free time for the rest of the day.
For our farewell dinner we might return to the Yyldiz Hotel (often a favourite!), or try out another more local restaurant.
Overnight in Ashgabat.
Sunday 24th April
Transfers to the airport according to your flight times. Tour concludes.
• Letter of Invitation
• Transport according to the itinerary
• Local English speaking guide
• Western YPT guide
• Entrance fees to Kow Ata and Nisa
• Accommodation according to itinerary in twin/double share
• Breakfast every day
• Visa for Turkmenistan (currently $85 at the airport for most nationalities)
• Immigration tax at the airport ($14)
• Transport to and from Ashgabat at the beginning and end of the tour
• Meals other than those stipulated (allow up to $10 per meal)
• Single supplement for accommodation ($295 per room)
• 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 and drinks
We have expert guides ready to help answer any questions you may have.