Avaza, the National Tourist Zone that’s located on the coast of the Caspian Sea 20 minutes north of Turkmenbashy, is one of the most bizarre places you’ll ever visit. Construction on this gargantuan project began in the early 2000s under the first President, Saparmurat Niazov “Turkmenbashy”. However, it really has gone into overdrive under the current President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. The first hotel is still there, picture of Turkmenbashy and all, but there are now loads of new hotels and every year there are new projects being constructed.
The resort boasts dozens of massive white marble hotels, two yacht clubs, sporting centres, amusement parks, aqua parks, swimming pools, cinemas, bowling alleys, mini golf courses and an inland canal. There’s even a dinosaur park. The resort is a personal favourite of the president, and he recently made a rap video alongside his grandson about the splendours of the glamorous resort. He also, of course, has his own holiday house there, and although you can see it from a distance (across the sea from Turkmenbashy), you unfortunately can’t get up close to it.
Getting to Avaza
As of 2017 only transport with a special permit is allowed to enter the National Tourist Zone. These include selected taxis and minibuses owned by the hotels in Avaza. You know, because of all the masses of traffic that were congesting the four-lane highways before. So now to visit the resort you’ll need to first make your way to Turkmenbashy – the port city formerly known as Krasnovodsk. To get there you can drive or catch a train from Ashgabat (or theoretically you can catch a ferry from Baku or fly into Turkmenbashy International Airport, but they’re a separate topic). Then you can either have one of the permitted vehicles collect you from Turkmenbashy, or you can get yourself to one of the enormous car parks that have been built at the edge of Avaza and catch an Avaza taxi from there. Even if you get Avaza transport all the way from Turkmenbashy, make sure you notice the gigantic car parks on your way past and the severe lack of cars filling them!
What to do at Avaza
Aquapark – there’s an indoor one and an outdoor one, all brand new and state of the art of course. Entry costs 150 Manat for each one, which is around $10.
Amusement park – there are a couple of amusement parks along the beach, most of the time of course there’s no one else there, but someone might appear out of nowhere and offer to switch on some of the rides for 1 or 2 Manat each (10c). Or if you’re game there are a couple you might even be able to operate on your own!
Swim in the famously cold Caspian Sea – it might not be Arctic, but considering its location, the Caspian Sea is cold all year round, and although parts are quite polluted, the Turkmen coastline is surprisingly clean. You might even like to take some caviar or beer down with you to enjoy while you swim.
Ten Pin Bowling – several of the hotels have bowling alleys, as well as a couple of the shopping centres. However our favourite is in the basement of the Shamekan Hotel where it costs only 15 Manat ($1) per person. They also have cold beers and soft drinks, and as with everywhere in this eerie resort, you’ll have the place to yourself. Bowling might seem like a pretty normal sort of activity, but in Avaza everything is just weird.
Walk along the beach – A very unique beach-walking experience as you’ll be passing some of the most ridiculous buildings you’ve ever seen. Each hotel has at least one swimming pool on the beach side, most also have playgrounds, maybe even their own mini amusement park, luxurious seating areas – and all of it totally empty.
Mini golf – there are several mini golf courses in Avaza, but our personal favourite is at the front of the Berkarar Hotel, a hotel that’s built (abstractly) in the shape of the Turkmen flag – it stands out because the others are all white but this one’s green and the motif of the five carpets on the flag runs down the front of the building.
Cruise on the canal – A great way to get a glimpse of all the hotels and amusement facilities, but it does need to be organised in advance, so you can speak to us about that in advance or discuss it with your guide when you’re there.
Getting around Avaza
If you get dropped off in Avaza and then have free time there, you might like the idea of walking around. However, like in Ashgabat, the buildings are all incredibly spread out and just to pass a couple of hotels you can easily be walking for half an hour. You can also use local transport while you’re there:
Public bus – 1.5 Manat per person (10c)
Taxi – 5 Manat per person (30c)
Marshrutka – 3 Manat per person (20c)
See Turkmenistan for yourself on our next tour there!