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Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan make up the five ‘stans’ of central Asia.
Sapphire lakes, sheer peaks capped with snow, wild nomadic frontiers, cobalt architecture and a tangle of fascinating history, these almost untouched nations provide travellers with some of the most incredible and fresh travel experiences on our planet.
A true exploration into a bygone era as you uncover time frozen cultures, a jumble of soviet and Persian history, Silk Road trade routes and jaw dropping beauty unlike anywhere else and that transitions into the modern world. From barren deserts, crystal rivers and glistening glaciers juxtaposed with grand white marble cities and urbane metropolises. An immersive and rewarding journey for those privy to embrace a region only just peering out of the mystery that has surrounded these countries for so long.
Welcome to Turkmenistan! On arrival in Ashgabat, you will be met by your driver and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan is known for its white marble buildings and grand natural monuments.
Overnight at Nusay Hotel or similar
Begin your day exploring Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan that has recently been noted by the Guinness Book of World Records as having more white marble buildings than any other city in the world. During your city tour, you will explore the archaeological site of Old Nisa (a UNESCO World Heritage listed site) and the Spiritual Mosque, one of the biggest mosques in Central Asia. You will visit the National Museum of History, the Monument of Neutrality, Presidential Square, Ertugrul Gazi Mosque and the newly built Independence Park. You will also stopover at the Akhalteke horse stables and then Lenin Monument.
In the late afternoon, your guide and driver will meet you in your hotel lobby where you will depart for Darvaza gas crater located in the middle of Karakum desert. Known as the ‘Door to Hell’, expect 280 km of desert sands with the journey taking about 4 hours. Arrive just before dusk, the best time to see the unique gas crater flame away into the remoteness of the Karakum desert.
Upon arrival have a delicious BBQ dinner near the burning crater. At night, in an empty desert with only the stars for company, red light emanates from the ground in the distance, and a distant rumble presages the crater. Shooting flames and fireballs cross its crater, like a volcano – the crater must be viewed at night for full effect. In the morning, wake up to a desert sunrise. (B,D)
Overnight camping – tents & sleeping bags provided
After enjoying your camp-style breakfast, drive back to Ashgabat (280 km, 4h). The remainder if your day is at leisure. (B)
2 nights at Nusay Hotel or similar
This morning, depart for Nohur mountain village tucked into the Kopet Dag Mountains. Visit Turkmenbashi Mosque-Mausoleum, Gokdepe Mosque and Kow-Ata underground lake on the way. Time permitting, you may be able to swim in the underground lake. Continue on to explore a tribal cemetery and participate in a silk weaving workshop. In the afternoon, drive back to Ashgabat. (B, PL)
An early start this morning as you transfer to the airport for your flight to Almaty at 08:50am. Upon arrival in Almaty at 12:35pm, you will set off to explore Almaty.
Your tour starts with sightseeing in the central part of Almaty. You learn about the history and development of the Southern capital of Kazakhstan and see its major attractions. Your tour will continue in one of the oldest Almaty parks – Panfilov Park, where one of the most beautiful wooden buildings in the world – Zenkov Cathedral is located. You will also visit the Memorial of Glory and Eternal Flame, dedicated to the memory of the fighters who died for freedom and independence of the country.
Discover the Central State Museum and Republic Square. Your next destination is the Kok-Tobe hill where the tallest TV tower in the world is located (from sea level) and where you will travel via the picturesque winding mountain road. In Kok-Tobe Park, you can stroll along the winding paths of the park, admire the magnificent panorama of the city from the special observation deck and visit the shop of national souvenirs.
From here, visit Medeo Gorge, well known for being home to the highest mountain skating rink in the world and the dam, protecting the city from dangerous mud-flow. Take a brief walk around with a chance to take your mountain-view pictures and breath the fresh pine-tree air. Check into your hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure. (B)
2 nights Donatello Boutique Hotel or similar
Drive to the Big Almaty Gorge, where located at an altitude of 2,510m above sea level, you will find the Big Almaty Lake – one of the most picturesque lakes in Trans-Ili Alatau. The lake is beautiful, especially when its blue surface is absolutely calm, and it reflects the sky and surrounding mountains. The Big Almaty Lake was formed as a result of the movement of an ancient glacier. Thanks to its high-mountain location, the water in the lake is always cool – even in July, the water temperature does not exceed 10 degrees.
On the way back to the town, you will visit a Falcon Farm, where you will enjoy a spectacular show with specially trained falcons – hunting with them is one of the most unique features of the Kazakh way of life and an age old tradition still practiced today and also in the west of Mongolia. (B,L)
Depart early from Almaty at 07:00am. Upon arrival into Saty, you will check-in at your guest house, where you will spend next two nights. After lunch, you will change vehicles to an AWD local cars, such as “UAZ” or “PAZ” (Russian car models), as they are fully capable to cover uneven mountain road (12 km) to the beautiful Kaindy Lake.
Kaindy Lake (birch lake) is situated among magnificent pine forest at an altitude of 2000m above sea level and is famous for its origin. It was formed in 1911 due to a powerful earthquake which triggered a landslide and blocked the valley causing a natural dam, and the water flooded the valley. The water in the lake is very cold – the chilling temperatures preserve the pine needles of the flooded trees which are clearly visible through the crystal clear surface of the water. Dry stems of fir trees overlook the water surface, like the masts of a submarine squadron. It is impossible to describe in words the mystical splendour of the lake.
After walking around the lake, return to Saty settlement to freshen up and enjoy dinner. (B,L,D)
2 nights in a local guesthouse or similar
The Kolsai Lakes, known as the ‘Pearls of the Northern Tien-Shan’, represent a cascade of three lakes. The largest lake is accessible for all travellers. It is the most beautiful lake, with a lack of civilization and an abundance of wild mushrooms. For those who are horse lovers, there is the option to explore on horseback. The highest lake is small. It is located on the border of fir-wood and the alpine meadows and amazes with its harsh alpine beauty, as well as the rich flora and fauna. The vertical drop between the three lakes is about 700m. The lowest lake can be reached by car. Walk a few kilometres along mountain trails to see the second and the third lakes. This will be one of your highlights. This area is rich in berries, mushrooms and fishing. The water in the lakes is cold and clean and is home to the rainbow trout – a fish that lives only in running or spring water. In the surrounding mountains, you can see Marals, mountain goats, wolves and even bears. Having arrived to Kolsay-1 Lake and after brief instructions, you will start trekking. The route lies on the bank of the lake and continues with the path through the pine forest, alpine meadows along pure mountain river flowing all the way down from Kolsai-2 Lake.
The total walking distance between two lakes is about 7 km and usually takes 3-3,5 hours one way. The altitude rises up more than 400m, from 1818m above sea level at the first lake to 2250 m at the second lake. There is no category of difficulty and route is accessible for healthy, average-trained people. Enjoying your lunch in front of the cold and pure-clean lake in the surroundings of magnificent mountain peaks.
Enjoy an afternoon walk back to Kolsai-1 Lake and drive back to your guesthouse. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, farewell your guesthouse host family and depart to Charyn Canyon (115 km) at 08:00am. It will take about 2 hours to reach the canyon. Upon arrival, admire the grand panorama and go down to the bottom of the canyon to walk around 2 km through the maze of the Valley of the Castles.
Charyn Canyon is a natural complex, unique in its kind not only in Kazakhstan but also worldwide. It was formed during Paleogene and reminds you of the Grand Canyon in North America, although inferior to it in size. The height of the steep slopes of the canyon is up to 150-300m. The extraordinary dissection of the terrain is striking: the numerous ravines form a dense, chaotic network. Wind and water have created the beautiful ‘Valley of Castles’, where you are always surrounded by the fancy towers composed of sedimentary rocks. The length of the valley is more than 2km and its width 20-80m. For millions of years, nature has been creating a unique architecture, erecting magnificent castles carefully and slowly. You can spend hours walking amongst the strange towers and columns, being absorbed in the wild imagination of nature.
The bottom of the canyon has a slight descent to the end of the walk, where you will reach the fresh oasis on the banks of the icy cold Charyn River. Here there is a small eco-park with several yurts (traditional dwellings) and a small open air café, operating in the summer months. Relax and take in the surrounding beauty before walking back and driving to one of the observation points for another breathtaking panoramic view. After 3-4 hours spent in the canyon, you will depart to Almaty (230 km). Your lunch today, will be served in a local café in a small village approx. an hour after leaving the canyon.
Following lunch, transfer to the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border Kegen (116 km). After completing border formalities, you will meet with your Kyrgyz driver and guide at the border and transfer to Karakol via Karkara Valley (110 km). Dinner this evening is with a Kyrgyz family in Uigar where you will witness a folkloric show, national music and traditional songs. (B,PL,D)
Overnight Karagat Hotel or similar
This morning, you will visit a traditional wooden Orthodox Church and Dungan mosque which is built in Chinese style. From here, continue to Jety-Oguz gorge. Enjoy a short hike in the gorge and then transfer along the southern shore of Issyk-Kul Lake. On the way stop, in Bokonbaevo, where you will see an eagle hunting show. Continue driving to Kochkor where one of the best views on the Issyk-Kul Lake is guaranteed. (B,L,D)
Overnight Nomad Lodge or similar
After breakfast transfer to Son-Kul (120km). Son-Kul is one of the highest lakes in Kyrgyzstan (2030m above sea level). It’s a place where you can experience true nomadic life. You will have a chance to ride a horse, see edelweiss flowers, camels, yaks, golden eagles, and to see how local women make the Kyrgyz national drink – Kymyz (mare’s milk). This is a remote mountain lake situated on a treeless, high mountain plateau (3016m) where shepherds bring their livestock in the summertime and establish a camp where they will live for season and set up their yurts. In this area of beauty, you will see hundreds of herds of animals and their shepherds as well as many different yurts. (B,L,D)
Overnight in a yurt camp or similar
This morning, you will transfer to Bishkek (400km). On the way visit a felt carpet workshop in Kochkor, where you can see the traditional process of making Kyrgyz felt carpets. After lunch, continue driving to Bishkek. On the way, you will stop to see Burana tower, which is left from the ancient city Balasagyn (XI – XIII). (B,L)
2 nights Plaza Hotel or similar
In the morning, depart for Ala-Archa National Park (40km). The stunning alpine gorge is pushed through with the fast flowing Ala-Archa River runs. The gorge is flanked by tall, snow-covered peaks with steep-sided, forested, mountain slopes. Enjoy a gentle hike in the gorge. Return to Bishkek where the remainder of the day is free at leisure. (B)
This morning you will transfer to the airport for your flight to Tashkent. Welcome to Uzbekistan! Upon arrival in Tashkent airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure. Uzbekistan is the proud home to a spellbinding infusion of architecture and ancient cities, all deeply intertwined with the bloody, fascinating history of the Silk Road.
2 nights Inspira Hotel or similar
This morning, you will start exploring Tashkent, the biggest city in Central Asia. Start in the old City part of Tashkent with the Khast-Imam Complex where the world famous holy book Quran of Caliph Uthman has been preserved. In Khast-Imam visit Madrasah of Barak-Khan, Tillya Sheykh Mosque, Mausoleum of the Saint Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi and the Islamic Institute of Imam al-Bukhari. Explore Choru Bazaar. This bazaar is one of the largest and most popular in the capital. Covered by seven domes tiled with coloured ceramic designs, mingle amongst the longest as they bargain and barter amongst themselves. Local farmers come from far and wide to sell products of their own production. Let your senses take over as you inhale the aromas of different eastern spices, vegetables and fruits. Continuing on, you will also visit Kukeldash madrasah, the largest madrasah and one of the most famous historical monuments of Tashkent.
Then take a ride on Tashkent Metro to the city centre to explore Amir Timur Square, Independence Square and the Applied Arts Museum. (B)
Following an early morning breakfast, transfer to the domestic airport for your flight to Urgench. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel.
Today you will visit Ichan-Kala Fortress which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will also visit Mukhammad Amin Khan Madrasah, Mukhammad Rahimkhan Madrasah, Kalta Minor, Juma Mosque, Toshkhovli Palace, Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum. If you are feeling energetic, you may take the time to climb Islom Khodja Minaret, the highest minaret in Uzbekistan. Enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of Old Khiva in Kunya-Ark. (B)
Overnight Orient Star Khiva or similar
Enjoy breakfast in your hotel. Transfer to the railway station to meet your train departing for Bukhara (480 km). The Great Silk Road once routed through Bukhara and Khiva and ran through the Kyzylkum Desert, as the present road does nowadays. Upon arrival at 17:50, transfer to your hotel.
2 nights Paradise Plaza or similar
Bukhara was a prominent stop on the Silk Road trade route between the East and the West, and a major medieval centre for Islamic theology and culture. It still contains hundreds of well-preserved mosques, madrassas bazaars and caravanserais, dating largely from the 9th to the 17th centuries. Spend your day in fascinating Old Bukhara which is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Explore Kalyan Minaret, Kalyan Mosque and Miri-Arab Madrasah, Magoki-Attori Mosque, madrasahs of Ulugbek and Abdulazizkhan, trade domes, Lyabi Hauz Ensemble, Chor-Minor Madrasah and others. (B)
This morning, you will depart Bukhara and drive to a village located in the Nurata Mountains. On arrival in Ashraf or Yangi Hayot village, you will spend the evening in a local guesthouse. Both villages are located far from roads and cities and sit in a picturesque mountain area with crisp fresh air, lush green orchards, singing birds, sky blanketed in stars and friendly people. (B,L,D)
2 nights in a local guesthouse
People have been living in the Nurata Mountains since the times of Alexander the Great. Villagers houses and farms are as they were done centuries ago. Women cook on the open fire, weave, spin yarn, bake their own bread, milk the cows. The men farm, shepherd, built houses of stone, rocks and clay.
Enjoy exploring the village, watching birds, hiking in the surrounds and participating in cooking traditional food with the locals. (B,D)
Depart the village and farewell your local friends and drive to Samarkand (220 km, 4 hrs). Upon arrival in Samarkand, check in to your hotel. (B)
2 nights Arka Boutique Hotel or similar
Today you will explore the main attractions in Samarkand including the Registan, which is a plaza bordered by 3 ornate, majolica-covered madrassas dating to the 15th and 17th centuries. You also have the chance to explore Gur Emir, the towering tomb of Timur (Tamerlane), founder of the Timurid Empire.
You will also visit the Shakhizinda, which is a necropolis in the north-eastern part of Samarkand and the remains Bibi Khanum Mosque which is one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. Siyob Bazaar and Ulugbek Observatory will also be visited. (B)
Today you will transfer to the Jartepa border crossing to cross over into Tajikistan. Once you have completed customs and passport control, you will meet your driver in the Tajikistan. Visit Sarazm ruins – Sarazm is one of the ancient settlements in Central Asia with over 5500 years of civilization. In 2010, Sarazm was added to the list of the Human heritage by UNESCO. Visit ancient Penjikent which is located a 5-minute drive away from modern Penjikent.
Drive to the Seven Lakes which are located in the west of the beautiful Fann Mountains; each of them has its own colour which varies from a calming turquoise to mesmerizing purple. At the last lake of Khoazorchashma, you will enjoy a picnic lunch. Enjoy some light hiking in this stunning region. The Fann Mountains are part of the western Pamir-Alay mountain system and are primarily located in Tajikistan’s Sughd Province between the Zarafshan Range to the north and the Gissary Range to the south. Enjoy a picnic at the lakes before you drive back to Penjikent. (B,L,D)
Overnight Penjikent Plaza Hotel or similar
Following breakfast, enjoy sightseeing in Penjikent where you will visit the Museum of Rudaki – Penjikent is the birthplace of Abu Abdallah Rudaki, and is considered by many to be the father of Persian Poetry. Explore ancient Penjikent with its ruins of old Sogdian town founded in 5th century and abandoned in the 8th century by Arabs. Foundations of houses, a citadel with a couple of Zoroastrian fire temples and city bazaar are visible in the excavated ruins. Drive to Dushanbe. (B,L,D)
2 nights in Atlas Hotel or similar
After breakfast, start guided city tour with the visit to the Tajikistan National Museum of Antiquities with exhibits primarily from Tajikistan’s pre-Islamic civilizations: the Greek, Bactrian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Zoroastrian periods. The most notable piece in the museum is the largest, fifteen-hundred-year-old reclining Buddha statue. Continue to Gurminj Musical Instruments Museum, Statue of Ismail Somoni – the forefather of the Tajik nation, founded in the Main Square and Rudaki Park in the centre of the city as well. Try the taste of Tajik tea and hot bread in public teahouses – called Choikhona – most of which are decorated in traditional, colourful Tajik style. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure. (B,L,D)
Today is yours at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward departure. (B)
Download this tour’s PDF brochure and start your planning offline!
**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of 30% per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.