a SUrreal adventure into central asia’s most secretive country
Konya-Urgench – Gates of Hell – Ashgabat – Nokhur – Turkmenbashi – Balkanabat
Regular monthly departures: this tour is offered regularly once a month. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the ask-us button below and we will match your preferences with the relevant scheduled group departure. If you are unsure about the month you wish to travel in, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours!
Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with friends and there are 5 or more of you, you can set your own dates and we will organise a tour just for you without charging any additional fee. If you are travelling solo or with less than 4 companions we will organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
The following itinerary refers to our most popular route in Turkmenistan. This diverse and fascinating land, a very Soviet version of North Korea, greets its curious guests with a cornucopia of natural, historical and cultural wonders. In case you are interested in a particularly remote area, secretive ethnicity, unusual activity and/or off-the-beaten-path attraction within Turkmenistan or if you are just looking for an hit-and-run visit to Ashgabat and its surroundings, we will easily meet your needs with a unique tour individually designed according to your preferences. Thanks to our deep knowledge of the territory and longstanding collaboration with independent local guides we are able to offer you a wide range of tailored routes and bespoke itineraries across and beyond the scorching sands and the brave-new-world cities of mystic Turkmenistan. We also regularly cater for biologists, conservationists, ethnologists, historians and documentarists alike interested in conducting field research in the region. Get in touch for more info on our private tours to Turkmenistan!
DAY 1 - Ashgabat
Our guide will meet you at Ashgabat International Airport and drive you to our hotel of choice (exact hotel name and address will be communicated well in advance per email); currently the best flight connections to Ashgabat are offered by Turkmenistan Airlines and Turkish Airlines: we will gladly assist you in the booking process.
Introductory briefing about the region, the route and the set of rules to observe while travelling in Turkmenistan.
We'll spend the day touring Ashgabat, the surreal capital of the country, a brave new world made of marble skyscrapers and totalitarian monuments.
Among the towering shapes, imposing statues and futuristic atmospheres of the city we'll also be able to find good old Soviet charm, dusty narrow alleys, crumbling XIX-century Russian houses and lively bazaars, reminding us that even under the shadow of a post-modernist totalitarianism we still are in Soviet Central Asia.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Ashgabat.
DAY 2 - Mary and Merv
In the morning we'll leave the steel-glass-and-concrete cityscapes of Ashgabat and fly to Mary, an oasis town located in the Karakum Desert along the road to Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
After a quick visit to the sleepy and archetypically Soviet downtown of Mary we'll tour the stunningly preserved ruins of ancient Merv, formerly known as Alexandria Margiana.
Merv was once known as the Queen of the World and it has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1999.
We'll spend the entire day touring the legendary sights and historical landmarks of Merv and its surrounding areas such as the towering medieval kalas (fortresses), the splendidly preserved Islamic mausoleums, the rickety minarets of some of the earliest mosques of the region and the odd Sufi shrines scattered all around the site.
While touring Merv you'll also have the chance to meet with both curious and extremely friendly local tourists and silver-bearded holy men living enlivening the Sufi shrines with magic of their prayers.
In the late afternoon / early evening we'll board the return flight to Ashgabat to continue our tour to the Wild West of the country.
Dinner and overnight in Ashgabat.
DAY 3 - Kow Ata, Geokdepe, Nokhur and Serdar
In the morning we'll leave the steel-glass-and-concrete cityscapes of Ashgabat and head toward the remote Nokhur region, famous for its remote and picturesque villages and the unique culture and language of its inhabitants.
We'll travel through the desolate mountains of Geokdepe and visit the geothermic lake of Kow Ata.
In Geokdepe we’ll stop at Saparmurat Haji Mosque, built within the former Teke stronghold, which is known for the greatest battle between Russians and Turkmens in 1881.
From the mosque we’ll proceed to a private stud farm, where you’ll have a chance to see fabled Akhalteke horses.
We'll then continue to Kow Ata, a natural underground thermal lake and a popular weekend escapade among the busy citizens of Ashgabat, who flock here to enjoy the therapeutic attributes of the holy waters.
We'll spend the rest of the afternoon swimming in the lake and afterwards we’ll have lucullian shashlik dinner at one of the many traditional restaurants dotting the dusty badlands around the entrance to the cave.
We'll then finally arrive in the secretive village of Nokhur where we'll meet the hospitable dwellers and stay at a local family for dinner and and overnight.
DAY 4 - Karakala Mountains, Kizilbai, Dekhistan and Balkanabat
Early in the morning we'll enjoy a quick tour around the village and then continue to Serdar, a rather anonymous and yet surprisingly pleasant Turkmen backcountry town, and the starting point to visit the otherworldly Karakala Mountains.
While in the area we will also pay a visit to the extremely isolated traditional villages of Kizilbair and Madau and admire the sand dunes at Bugdayili and the ruins of Dekhistan, a once thriving commercial hub along the ancient Silk Road.
We'll then continue our journey further west and tour the ancient mausoleum of Mashhat Ata and the medieval mosque of Shir Kabir, both of which actually still belong to the broader Dekhistan archeological complex.
In the afternoon we'll eventually arrive in Balkanabat, a quintessentially Soviet melancholic town lost in the barren badlands of western Turkmenistan.
Dinner and overnight in Balkanabat.
DAY 5 - Yangykala, Gözli Ata and Turkmenbashi
We'll depart from Balkanabat early in the morning and head to the Yangykala Canyon, a stunningly wide geological landscape that has nothing to envy to its more famous counterpart in Colorado: with bands of pink, red and yellow rock searing across the sides of steep walls, Yangykala is a breathtaking sight and one of the most spectacular natural attractions in Central Asia.
With the postcard views of the canyon still sparkling in our eyes we'll continue our trip to the shores of the Caspian Sea, stopping at the awe-inspiring pilgrimage site of Gözli Ata along the way.
In the afternoon we'll finally reach the major seaside town of Turkmenbashi, the country's own answer to Cancun.
In Turkmenbashi we'll enjoy a lazy afternoon on the beach, observe the local fishermen, visit the seafood market and have dinner at the Pyongyang-meets-Las-Vegas Awaza resort area.
Overnight in Turkmenbashi.
DAY 6 - Dashoguz and Konye-Urgench
In the morning we'll board our domestic flight to Dashoguz, a sleepy frontier town with a colourful mixed demography of Turkmens, Uzbeks, Koreans and Tatars.
Dashoguz is the main gateway to access the ancient city of Konye-Urgench, known as Khorezm in medieval times.
We'll devote the whole day to the exploration of this epic Silk Road town, visiting its many architectural and historic wonders and some truly offbeat sights from the Tsarist and Soviet periods.
In the late afternoon we'll get back to Dashoguz for some well-deserved rest at our hotel and/or tea-and-candies pleasures at a local teahouse.
Dinner and overnight in Dashoguz.
DAY 7 - Karakum Desert and Gates of Hell
After a quick drive around Dashoguz downtown we'll stock for food at the lively central bazaar and start our adventure across the mythical sands of the Karakum Desert and head to the most famous natural sight in the country: the Darwaza Gas Crater.
En-route we stop at Izmukshir and Shassenem medieval fortresses, which used to be some of the largest outposts of Southern Khoresm along the caravan road from Khiva to Nissa.
We'll reach Darwaza in the early afternoon: the burning crater is also known as "The Gates to Hell", being indeed quite reminiscent of the entrance to Dante's inferno.
While drilling in 1971, Soviet geologists tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a large hole with a diameter of 60 m and 20 m deep: to avoid poisonous gas discharge, it was decided to burn it off; geologists had hoped the fire would use all the fuel in a matter of days, but the gas is still burning today.
In the evening we'll admire the spectacular and fascinating view of the glowing gas crater and enjoy a shashlik dinner on its edge.
Overnight in top-quality tents (provide by us) at Darwaza Camping Site.
DAY 8 - Ashgabat and Kipchak
After a picnic-style breakfast at the camp we'll slowly head back to Ashgabat travelling through a classic desert landscapes of moving dunes, camel caravans, nomadic settlements and semi-abandoned Soviet outposts.
After a reinvigorating rest at the hotel pool in Ashgabat, we'll drive to Kipchak to visit the shining Turkmenbashi Mosque, where the first president of Turkmenistan (the notorious Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov) rests beside his family.
We'll then head back to Ashgabat for a conclusive great Turkmen dinner.
Overnight in Ashgabat.
DAY 9 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations
After enjoying a last lavish Turkmen-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to Ashgabat International Airport for your flight back home or your connection toward yet another unique destination in the region.
End of the tour.
4 to 9 participants: 1800 €
The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 20 euro/night), private transport in the region (jeep and minivan), return flight from Ashgabat to Mary (Merv), one-way flight from Turkmenbashi to Dashoguz, entrance fees to the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.
The price does not include: international flights, meals, drinks and tips, visas if required, entrance fee to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.
Garabogazköl extension: an extended version of this itinerary (11 days and 10 nights in the country) is available upon request; the extended tour includes an excursion to the dystopian badlands surrounding the Garabogazköl depression and one full hiking day in the Nokhur Mountains. For more information just get in touch with us.
WHERE THE HECK AM I TRAVELLING TO?
BELOW YOU CAN SEE THE DIFFERENT TOUR STAGES MARKED ON A MAP OF THE REGION YOU ARE GOING TO EXPLORE WITH US
POSSIBLE TOUR COMBINATIONS FOR THIS ITINERARY INCLUDE
Sovietistan and/or Pamir Highway