Days
10
Price from
CHF 2,935
Map of Turkmenistan Discoverer  including Turkmenistan

Uncover the Great Silk Road less travelled

Discover the ancient ruins, endless sands and mythical haunts of isolated Turkmenistan, a country that is largely ignored by travellers. Journey through the prehistoric towns that dot the Silk Road and encounter humble and hospitable people along the way. From the marbled metropolis of Ashgabat to the tiny desert community of Yerbent, this ten-day adventure is a fantastic introduction to this mysterious country.


Start
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Finish
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Destination
Turkmenistan
Style
Peregrine
Code
PCTK
Physical rating
Traveller’s rating
1 review
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why you'll love this trip

  • Enjoy the full experience of surprising Ashgabat, exploring this marbled city that was largely rebuilt following a destructive earthquake in earthquake in 1948.

  • Traverse across the country on an overnight train journey in twin share cabins from Ashgabat to Dashoguz.

  • Explore sprawling Silk Road ruins of Mary, Merv and others with a local guide - testaments to the once grand empires that ruled these lands.

  • Watch the sun set over the surreal flames of the Darvaza Crater with a night camping in the desert.

  • Stop by Yerbent, a settlement in central Karakum Desert, and learn about survival in this harsh and arid environment.

Is this trip right for you?

  • There are few places like Turkmenistan on earth - isolated geographically and secluded politically. It's probably unlike anywhere you have ever been, so be prepared to be surprised and for things to run a little differently to home.

  • Tourism is strictly controlled in Turkmenistan, with Letters of Invitation needed in advance in order to apply for your visa (which you can then get on arrival) and guides tending to be protective of what tourists see and fiercely proud of their nation and its leaders. Those used to more freedom of exploration and tour guides with a more global perspective may find their experience here different from in other destinations.

  • There are some long days of driving over rough terrain and far from the capital, including an overnight sleeper train.

  • You will need to have an excellent general level of health and fitness as we'll be exploring many of the vast archaeological ruins on foot.

  • There is one night of basic camping included on this trip in the Karakum Desert - a huge contrast to our 5-star hotel in Ashgabat! Sleeping bags, mattresses and tents are all provided, but there are no bathing or permanent toilet facilities at the campsite.

Itinerary

Welcome to grandiose, monument-rich Ashgabat! On arrival you will be transferred to your hotel. You may check in anytime after 2 pm, but you journey truly begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Here you will meet your leaders, fellow travellers and hand over the details of your insurance and next of kin. Join your group for an optional dinner tonight.
Accommodation
  • Yyldyz Hotel or similar (feature stay) (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Begin your day with a tour of this unique city. Extensively rebuilt since the country gained independence 25 years ago, little is left of the original Russian Imperial city, as most of it was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1948. Today the centre is a mix of futuristic and outrageous public buildings that are an extraordinary sight. You will take a short tour of some of the main sights, including the Independence Monument and Neutrality Square, with its three-legged arch (locally known as 'The Tripod'). This is the foremost monument dedicated to the long-serving former leader Niyazov. You will also see the Ertugrul Gazi Mosque constructed as a present to the Turkmen nation from the republic of Turkey. This unique complex consists of the mosque itself, a madressa, a cultural centre with library and assembly hall for 250 seats, and a park. Enjoy dinner before transferring to the station and boarding an overnight train bound for Dashoguz (approx 15 hours).
Accommodation
  • Overnight train (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Ashgabat - Independence Monument
  • Ashgabat - Neutrality Arch
  • Ashgabat - Ertugrul Gazi Mosque
  • Ashgabat - Russian Bazaar
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Special Information
We travel in comfortable 4 berth compartments which we will book out so that you can travel twin share. Sheets, pillows and a blanket are provided. Some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Safe, hot drinking water is always available. It is a good idea to bring a mug, spoon, knife and fork if you will be preparing your own hot drinks or food on the train (as these are not provided in cabins). Basic bathroom facilities with toilets and washbasins are situated at the end of each carriage. As toilet paper isn't always available, it's best to bring an emergency supply.
Eat breakfast on board before arriving in the city of Dashoguz around 10 am and transferring to your hotel. Rest up and then enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before a long afternoon of sightseeing. The conical-dome topped History Museum will be your first stop. Home to archaeological finds, clothing and other artefacts, the museum offers fantastic insight into the history of the region. This overview will help put into context the next stop of todays tour – the ruins of the ancient city of Zamahshar (Izmukshir). Located 25 kilometres southwest of Dashoguz, this fortress city is thought to date from the 3rd century. Once covered with sand, several buildings from this once grand city remain and you will explore them with your knowledgeable guide.
Accommodation
  • Dashoguz Hotel or similar (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
World Heritage site Konye-Urgench awaits after a 2-hour drive. Once a centre of the Islamic world, it was destroyed by Genghis Kham and the Timurids and fell into decay until the 20th century. Despite this, it still boasts monuments that span from the 11th to the 16th century, many of which are considered outstanding architectural achievements for the time. The mausoleum of famed Muslim theologian and philosopher Fakhr al-Din al-Razi is one of the earliest, with most scholars dating it to the 13th century. Marvel at this remarkably well-preserved structure, with its conical dome and glittering blue tiling. Next, see the mausoleum of a more controversial figure, the famously ruthless Sultan Tekesh. At nearly 100 feet tall, the building is another prime example of pre-Mongolian architecture. You’ll also stop by the more complex Turabek Khanum Mausoleum, a 14th-century monument that is richly-decorated and steeped in legend. Continue to one of the most sacred buildings in the city – the resting place of religious teacher Najmuddin Kubra. Stroll through the walled compound, which features a peaceful courtyard. Finally, wonder at the intricately carved Kutlug Timur Minaret – a slender 200-foot tower built over three centuries, the oldest of its kind in the world. Jump into a 4WD and make tracks for the Darvaza Crater also known by the more dramatic title 'Door to Hell'. The drive takes 4 hours, but the payoff is the permanently flaming crater that burns in the middle of the arid Karakum Desert. Accidentally created by geologists who tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas in the 70s, the 70-metre-wide hole has been ablaze ever since. Watch the sun set over the surreal glow of the crater with a drink in hand, while the fragrance of Turkmenistan-style barbecue – your dinner for the evening – lingers in the air. Tonight you will sleep in a basic camp set up in the vicinity of the crater.
Accommodation
  • Camping (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Darvaza - "Door to Hell" Crater
  • Konye-Urgench - Turebek Khanum Mausoleum
  • Konye-Urgench - Mausoleum of Najmitdin Kubra & Sultan Ali
  • Konye-Urgench - Kutlug Timur Minaret
  • Konye-Urgench - Mausoleum of Fakhr At-Din
  • Konye-Urgench - Sultan Tekesh Mausoleum
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Special Information
Depending on the group size, the group may be split into more than 1 vehicle for our journey into the desert today.

Tents, sleeping bags, mattresses are provided. Please note this is simple camping, with no bathroom or toilet facilities available.
Eat breakfast at our camp, then jump back in the 4WD and make the 4-hour return journey to Ashgabat. Stop in at the small settlement of Yerbent, a desert town made up of yurts that lie in the creases of rippling sand dunes. Learn about how people survive in this barren environment and see a monument that pays tribute to a group of socialists that died in the Basmachi Revolt in 1931. Continue to Ashgabat, looking out for the road signs that alert drivers to watch for camels. Check back into our hotel where we can enjoy a bit of luxury again after our night of camping.
Accommodation
  • Yyldyz Hotel or similar (feature stay) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Yerbent - Village visit
  • Geok-Depe - Ahalteke Horse Stables
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Begin your day with a visit to the National Museum, a small building filled with half a million artefacts from the Bronze and Middle Ages. Other sections of the museum include displays of local nature, ethnography, military, and jewellery. Later, drive just beyond the city bounds to the pentagon fortress of Old Nissa, built no later than BC300. That so many of the columns and towers remain is a testament to the ingenuity of their design and execution. Return to the city and stop by the white and gold Turkmenbashy Ruhi Mosque and family Mausoleum, characterised by now familiar domes and thin towers. Later, bargain ad barter in the Russian Bazaar, an open-air bazaar where locals shop for groceries and household items. Next, travel 12 kilometres to the crumbling medieval city of Anau, including the beautifully restored mosque. In the evening, make a toast over panoramic views of the city from the observation platform in the glowing Wedding Palace.
Accommodation
  • Yyldyz Hotel or similar (feature stay) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Ashgabat - National Museum of Turkmenistan
  • Ashgabat - Wedding Palace
  • Ashgabat - Anau ruins
  • Ashgabat - Nisa ruins
  • Ashgabat - Turkmenbashy Ruhi Mosque & Family Mausoleum of the First President of Turkmenistan
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Set off for Mary, the capital of Mary Province, located 5-hours drive from Ashgabat. Stop for lunch en route, and then stretch your legs with a wander through the remnants of ancient Abiverd. This fascinating archaeological site was once an important trading town and a key link on the Silk Road. Arrive in Mary in the afternoon for an overnight stay. Small mounds and the remains of walls spring from the flat landscape, and shards of brightly coloured pottery can still be seen in the sand. Continue to Mary, arriving in the afternoon. The relative affluence of this desert oasis is the result of the local cotton industry and recently discovered natural gas reserves.
Accommodation
  • Hotel Mary or similar (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Take a drive to Merv, located about 40 minutes from Mary, and explore the vast, UNESCO-protected site. The walled towns that spread across 1200 hectares are from various periods and some date back further than two millennia. Spend some time exploring the various fortresses and structures here. Take in the worn columns of Big Kizkala and Small Kizkala, climb the remarkably steep walls of Erk Kala and walk through Gayur Kala and the restored cube mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar. Return to Mary in the afternoon and visit the Regional Museum. Housed in a palace of white marble, the museum features archaeological displays and exhibits on traditional Turkmen life and culture. Later, enjoy dinner and a relaxing evening.
Accommodation
  • Hotel Mary or similar (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Merv - Big & Small Kizkala
  • Mary - Regional Museum
  • Merv - Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum
  • Merv - Erk Kala & Gayur Kala
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Return to Ashgabat, breaking up the 5-hour drive with a picnic lunch along the way. On arrival enjoy some free time to further explore this Persian 'city of love'. The 1948 earthquake affected every family in Ashgabat and resulted in the death of over 100000 people. The disaster is ingrained in the psyche of the local people and the Halk Hakydasy Memorial Complex, which features giant sculptures in memory of the tragedy and other national events, is well worth a visit. Those with an interest in textiles may wish to visit the Carpet Museum. In the afternoon, take a cable car into the foothills of the Kopet Dag Mountains for views of the city from above. On clear days, the white city set among the seemingly endless beige is a sight to behold. In the evening, bid farewell to your leader and fellow travellers over a final group dinner.
Accommodation
  • Yyldyz Hotel or similar (feature stay) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Ashgabat - Kopet Dag Mountains Cable Car
Optional Activities
  • Carpet Museum - USD5
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
There are no activities planned for the final day and you may depart the hotel at after check out.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

9 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners

Transport

Private vehicle, Overnight train, 4x4 vehicle, Taxi

Accommodation

Ashgabat Feature Stay Hotel (4 nights), Hotel (4 nights), Camping (1 night)

Included Activities

  • Ashgabat - Independence Monument
  • Ashgabat - Neutrality Arch
  • Ashgabat - Ertugrul Gazi Mosque
  • Ashgabat - Russian Bazaar
  • Darvaza - "Door to Hell" Crater
  • Konye-Urgench - Turebek Khanum Mausoleum
  • Konye-Urgench - Mausoleum of Najmitdin Kubra & Sultan Ali
  • Konye-Urgench - Kutlug Timur Minaret
  • Konye-Urgench - Mausoleum of Fakhr At-Din
  • Konye-Urgench - Sultan Tekesh Mausoleum
  • Yerbent - Village visit
  • Geok-Depe - Ahalteke Horse Stables
  • Ashgabat - National Museum of Turkmenistan
  • Ashgabat - Wedding Palace
  • Ashgabat - Anau ruins
  • Ashgabat - Nisa ruins
  • Ashgabat - Turkmenbashy Ruhi Mosque & Family Mausoleum of the First President of Turkmenistan
  • Merv - Big & Small Kizkala
  • Mary - Regional Museum
  • Merv - Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum
  • Merv - Erk Kala & Gayur Kala
  • Ashgabat - Kopet Dag Mountains Cable Car

Reviews

Our Turkmenistan Discoverer trips score an average of 5 out of 5 based on 1 review in the last year.

Turkmenistan Discoverer, May 2015

Nicholas Ledger

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Important notes

1. A complimentary arrival transfer is included. Please advise your flight details no later than 2 weeks before departure.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.