Turkmenistan is by far the most mysterious and unexplored of “the Stans” in Central Asia. Over the years Turkmenistan has slowly opened its borders to tourism and now is the best chance for you to explore all that the nation has to offer whilst remaining firmly off the beaten track.
The tour begins in the ultra-modern capital city of Ashgabat, also known as the “White City” from the abundance of glistening white marble statues and buildings adorned with gold trims. Although statues and pictures of the President for Life, Saparmurat Niyazov – more famously known as “Turkmenbashy” – are still seen on almost every street, park, and at the front of ministry buildings, his successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has made his own mark on the city.
Here not only will you become one of the small group of foreigners to visit Ashgabat, but you will join the even smaller group of foreigners who have ever had the opportunity to take part in the colourful Independence Day celebrations, getting a truly unique insight into how the Turkmen celebrate their proud day. If you thought an Olympic opening ceremony or the North Korean Mass Games were spectacular, think again.
Once the celebrations in the capital quiet down, we’ll then embark on a drive through the Karakum Desert. Here you’ll explore the Ancient UNESCO world heritage archaeological sites along the Silk Road such as the ancient fortresses, underground thermal springs, an incomplete beach resort, and the very famous Gates of Hell. Turkmenistan is a place oozing in both history and quirkiness. This is a tour well and truly designed for the intrepid traveller so join before spots sell out.
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.
Overnight in Ashgabat.
Tuesday September 27th – Ashgabat – Nisa – Ashgabat
Leaving the city, we’ll visit Nisa, a UNESCO site which was once the capital of the Parthian Empire.
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.
Continue to Kipchak to see the resplendent Turkmenbashy Mosque, where Turkmenbashy is buried beside his mother, father and two brothers in their white marble mausoleum.
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.
Tour highlight – Spectate the Turkmenistan Independence Day performance at Kopetdag Stadium – there will be multiple performances involving local popular artists, traditional folk songs and dances. This concert is one usually tourists aren’t given access to, with YPT you won’t miss out on this.
Overnight in Ashgabat.
Wednesday September 28th – Ashgabat – Darvaza / The Gates of Hell
Visit the Akhalteke Horse Sport Complex and see the end of the horse racing season festivities. Horse racing is one of the President’s favourite hobbies and it has become a very important part of Turkmen life. An Akhalteke horse included on the national emblem. We will spectate some races, then the presentations of prize winners in each race category, interspersed with performances of local dancers and singers. If we’re lucky we might even be at the same event as the President himself.
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.
Depart Ashgabat and 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.
Thursday September 29th – Darvaza / The Gates of Hell – Kow Ata – Nokhur
Drive back towards the outskirts of Ashgabat to Kow Ata. The locals say the natural underground thermal spring holds many medical attributes which is why it’s quite popular for locals to swim and bathe. We’ll take up this opportunity to join them in the cave lake.
We’ll have lunch at one of the Shashlik restaurants located outside of the entrance to the cave.
Continue driving 175km northwest towards the Kopetdag Mountains to Nokhur – a traditional tribal village.
Visit the 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 at the homestay.
Friday September 30th – Nokhur – Avaza – Turkmenbashy
Today it’s back to the bizarreness of modern day Turkmenistan, with a visit to Avaza (450km). Although the facilities are extravagant and the buildings futuristic, the town is somehow best described as a ghost town.
We’ll have lunch on the way at a local Chaykhana.
Once arriving in Avaza you may treat yourself to a well earned coffee at a local café, and from there you may explore the amusement parks, beaches, and hotels of Avaza, and if you’re game, take a swim in the notoriously cold Caspian Sea.
Dinner in one of the glamorous hotels of Avaza
Overnight in Turkmenbashy, a ten-minute drive from Avaza.
Saturday October 1st – 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.
Dinner and evening city stroll of Turkmenbasy
Overnight in Turkmenbashy.
Sunday October 2nd – Ashgabat
Board a flight from Turkmenbashy back to Ashgabat on Turkmenistan Airlines.
Arrive in Ashgabat in the afternoon and check into the Paytagt Guesthouse.
Free time in the afternoon 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.
Dinner and drinks at the British Pub for farewell drinks
Monday October 3rd – Ashgabat
Transfers to the airport according to your flight times. Tour concludes.
Possible activities for those with later flights, or who wish to extend their time in Ashgabat, include visiting the Fine Arts Museum, History Museum, Ethnography Museum, Carpet Museum. Tickets usually cost around $10 per person.
• 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.