This nine-day tour takes you on an epic adventure around one of Central Asia’s most mysterious and least-visited of countries: Turkmenistan. Starting off in the tiny border town of Shavat, you’ll make your way across the spectacular Karakum Desert, visiting the stunning UNESCO World Heritage city of Kunya Urgench, before heading to one of the region’s architectural jewels of Mary (via the capital), which boasts ruins dating back as far as the 12th century. Along the way, you’ll stay at hotels, as well as sleep under the stars, and even stay at a local’s home in the quaint untouched village of Damla. The trip will wind down in Ashgabat, not before a trip to an atmospheric fortress situated in the foothills of the Kopet-Dag Mountains, as well as several stop-offs in and around the capital.
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This nine-day adventure commences at the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan border town of Shavat, where you’ll become acquainted with your group and guide. A short 19-mile drive to Dashoguz awaits, the capital of the northern region of Turkmenistan, and a city at the very heart of a now artificially-irrigated Khorezmian oasis. Private transportation will take you to your hotel in Dashoguz, where you’ll spend your first night.
The first of many excursions on this tour of Turkmenistan will be to the ancient Islamic stronghold of Kunya-Urgench, once the capital of the medieval Khorezmshah Empire and now a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. Countless mausoleums and monuments await, many of which date all the way back to the 12th century. After a full tour of all the main sites, it’s time to hit the road again, this time through the desolate Karakum Desert, passing flaming craters and spectacular caves before bedding down for the night under the stars in a tent.
After breakfast, pack your camp up and head east (three hours) towards the quaint local village of Damla in the very heart of the Karakum Desert, passing the “naked” bed of the prehistoric Tethys sea, the Uzboy River, and over stunning yellow dunes. The destination of Damla is an incredibly isolated settlement, yet the village people here are accommodating and happy to showcase their traditional ways of life still thriving today. No hotels here: you’ll be spending in a homestay for a particularly memorable local experience.
Say goodbye to your friendly hosts in the village of Damla and head south across the desert to the capital of Turkmenistan (a 5-6 hour drive), Ashgabat. On the way, there’s time for a quick stop-off at another isolated settlement, Yerbent, a fascinating desert metropolis with a mixture of traditional households and farms alongside modern technology such as satellite dishes and ATMs. Hit the newly-constructed highway again in the afternoon and arrive in the capital in good time, before checking in to your modern hotel for the night.
This fifth day will be dedicated to travelling east, along an ancient Silk Road route to the ancient and beautiful city of Mary, situated around 220 miles/4-5 hours from the capital. There’s a chance to see modern towns as well as ancient mosque ruins, all whilst observing the incredible beauty of the desert along the way. You’ll arrive in Mary, the capital of the present-day Mary region and the center of the Murghab oasis, all in good time for dinner before you check in to your hotel ready to explore this ancient region the following day.
A short morning drive will take you to Gonur Depe, an important archaeological site and the center of a remarkable Bronze Age civilisation, only recently discovered in 1972 by Prof. Victor Sarianidi. This is comprised of a ruined palace complex spread over some 10 hectares, and you’ll have around two hours to explore the area before heading back to Mary. In the afternoon, take a look round Mary’s local museum, housing archaeological finds dating back to 3,000 BC. Spend one last night in the hotel in Mary and prepare for a trip back to the capital the following day.
The morning of day seven is dedicated to the must-see site at Merv, an enormous historical park covering some 1200 hectares just outside of Mary. The archaeological site is considered to be one of the most important of its type in Central Asia and has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. After exploring the mausoleums, fortress ruins and fascinating monuments, hit the road again and make your way back to the capital Ashgabat, which is located approximately 220 miles away from Mary.
On this final full day of your Turkmenistan adventure, there’s an exciting sightseeing trip to the fortress of Old Nisa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the earliest of Parthian Empire capitals. The large site is located at the foothills of the atmospheric Kopet-Dag Mountains, and there’ll be plenty of time to explore this historic monument in all its glory. Next, it’s onwards to Kipchak village to visit of the biggest mosque complex in Turkmenistan, which is also the family mausoleum of the first President of the country. A return to Ashgabat will offer the chance to do some final sightseeing, with trips to the Arch of Neutrality, the Earthquake Memorial (a composition of a pre-historic bull carrying the Earth and Monument) and Park of Independence. Head back to your modern hotel for your last night’s sleep in Turkmenistan.
After a buffet breakfast at your hotel, it’s time to check out and bid adieu to wonderful Turkmenistan, after nine days of exploration. You’ll be transferred to the city’s international hotel via private transportation before catching your onwards flight to your next exciting destination.
Renovated in 2009, the two-star Uzboy Hotel is a basic yet convenient stop-off for tourists travelling through the Dashoguz region of Turkmenistan. Some of the most important historical monuments in the country are located nearby, such as the architecturally-impressive Kunya-Urgench, Butentau and scattered ruins of ancient settlements. Uzboy hotel offers a range of comfortable guestrooms, with basic amenities included such as en-suite bathrooms, furniture and air conditioning/heating. Elsewhere, guests can enjoy Uzboy’s on-site bar and restaurant and shop that sells local souvenirs and crafts. There is also an indoor swimming pool and a beauty salon open for all guests. There is Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel at a small extra cost.
With only 350 inhabitants and not a hotel in sight, the only way to stay in the tiny Turkmen village of Darvaza is to camp, spending the night under the stars in a tent and sleeping bag. Located in the middle of the Karakum Desert, this tiny settlement is famous for its ‘Door to Hell’, a natural field of gas that has burnt bright ever since it was lit by Soviet petroleum engineers in 1971. The crater is situated close to the village of Darvaza where you’ll be staying and has a diameter of 230 feet and drops about 70 feet into the earth below. Due to the incredible isolation of this attraction, as well as the nearby village, the best and only way to spend the night here is in tents. You will be supplied your own and helped to set up the campsite, as well as given a soft mattress and sleeping bag to ensure a comfortable - as well as memorable - stay.
Damla is a tiny, isolated village located deep into Turkmenistan’s vast Karakum Desert. With only around 60 houses and sparse amenities available, the only way of staying in this remote region is by pitching up your own roof for the night – in the form of a traditional yurt. These portable, tipi-like structures can be put up in a matter of hours, and are comprised of a metal or wooden frame covered in fabric to keep the weather out, such as leather, sheep’s wool or felt. Yurts have been a prominent feature of Central Asian life for thousands of years, and this is your chance to experience in night’s sleep in one yourself. Your Damla village stay will be made all the more memorable as you watch the stunning sun set over the desert, then wake up the next morning as it creeps over the eastern horizon to start a new day.
Ak Altyn Hotel is a modern four-star hotel located just outside Ashgabat city center in some more tranquil, leafy surroundings, whilst all the main tourist attractions of the Turkmenistan capital can be reached in just a few minutes. This 10-storey hotel was recently refurbished, and the 100 well-appointed guestrooms here all include air conditioning, satellite TV, international telephones, a mini-bar, in-room safes and elegant en-suite bathrooms. Ak Altyn Hotel also has its own large restaurant which serves up a buffet breakfast spread every morning, as well as an on-site swimming pool, bar, conference room, sauna and salon. Popular attractions nearby include the Independence Monument and the National Museum, both of which can be reached on foot or via a cheap taxi ride.
The five-star Grand Turkmen Hotel is one of the most luxurious and famous hotels in Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, and is located right in the heart of this bustling city. Rooms here come with all the facilities you’d expect with any five-star hotel, and guests can also enjoy the added convenience of having on-site cooking facilities, various dining options, an elegant swimming pool and a fitness suite, massage and sauna room. From the comfort of the hotel, some of the city’s standout attractions, including Independence Monument and the National Museum, are just a short walk or drive away, and the immediate area is full of lively restaurants, bars and cafes. The Grand Turkmen Hotel also caters for a wide range of tastes at its large all-day restaurant which serves up Asian, European and international flavours. There’s also an on-site casino and disco for some entertainment after the sun goes down over Ashgabat.
Recently opened in 2011, the comfortable and modern Dayanch Hotel is easily accessed by car from the airport in Mary, Turkmenistan. The rooms sleep two, four, and eight people and all come with private bathrooms and the usual mod-cons. If guests have time to kill, there are enough activities at the Dayanch Hotel to keep everyone occupied for the day, with a sauna, bar, restaurant, and a cute little cafe with tables set inside colorful yurts (traditional tents). The hotel is located in the rural area of Sakarchaga and guests can find plenty of amenities such as local cafes and bars in the nearby area. There’s also several nearby households willing to open their doors for visitors to take a peek into their live craft workshops.
This three-star hotel is one of the most popular places to stay in the oasis city of Mary, which is situated in the Karakum Desert, on the Murghab River. Close to the ancient and famous ‘Murgab’ site, Margush Hotel offers 28 spacious guestrooms, all of which are relatively modern with this hotel only having opened in 2004. What really makes this hotel special is its interior design, such as the impressive white marble at the entrance and pastel tones featured throughout the rooms giving reference to the surrounding desert terrain of Turkmenistan. The hotel also boasts an excellent swimming pool, an all day restaurant serving local and international food, as well as a bar and fitness center.