By far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asia’s ‘stans, Turkmenistan became famous for the truly bizarre dictatorship of Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled as ‘Turkmenbashi’ (‘leader of the Turkmen’) until his death in 2006.
Niyazov covered this little-known desert republic with grandiose monuments and golden statues of himself. Although many of these statues have since been dismantled, plenty of visitors still think of Turkmenistan as a sort of totalitarian theme park. But the least-visited of Central Asia’s countries is far more than this – it’s an ancient land of great spirituality, tradition and natural beauty.
The ancient cities of Merv and Konye-Urgench inspire visions of caravans plodding along the ancient Silk Road, while the haunting beauty of the Karakum desert and other quirky natural phenomena are equally mesmerising. The full Turkmen experience is ultimately about mingling with the warm and fascinating people themselves, whose hospitality is the stuff of legend.
Welcome to Turkmenistan! On arrival in Ashgabat, you will be met by your driver and transferred to your hotel. Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan is known for its white marble buildings and grand natural monuments. Set off to explore 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 Nissa (a UNESCO World Heritage listed site) Nissa is described as one of the first capitals of the Parthians. It was founded by Arsaces I (reigned c. 250 BC – 211BC), and reputedly the royal necropolis of the Parthian Kings, although it has neither been established that the fortress at Nissa was a royal residence or a mausoleum.
Later this afternoon, enjoy an Ashgabat city tour. In 2013 the Guinness Book of Records named Ashgabat the “white marbled city” – here you can see the biggest number of structures in the world made out of white marble. You will see the Presidential Palace, Ruhyyet Palace, Wedding Palace,
modern “Yildyz” Hotel, the ferries wheel, Constitution Monument, Arch of Neutrality, Monument and park of Independence, Ertogrul Gazy Mosque, Ashgabat Sports and Housing facilities, the Earthquake and victims of WWII Monuments.
Overnight Sport Hotel or similar
This morning, drive to Altyn Asyr, the Oriental Bazar, located 20km to the north of Ashgabat. It is one of the largest open bazaars in the world filled with colourful rugs, jewellery, carpets, silk and national Turkmen costumes as well as livestock.
In the late afternoon, 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. The Darvaza area is rich in natural gas. 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 70 metres. To avoid poisonous gas discharge, it was decided the best solution was 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. En-route we cross Karakum desert, will make a stop in the small desert village of Bokhurdag. In the evening, watch the spectacular and fascinating view of the gas crater flame away into the remoteness of the Karakum desert.
Enjoy 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, before driving to Dashoguz. Known for its rich history and cultural heritage, Dashoguz offers a glimpse into Turkmenistan’s ancient past. Your afternoon here is at leisure. Why not head out and explore? One of the prominent sites in the city is the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, a medieval Seljuk ruler. This architectural marvel showcases intricate tile work and stands as a testament to the region’s historical significance. The Dashoguz Regional Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the area’s heritage, displaying artifacts and exhibits that highlight the cultural and archaeological treasures of Turkmenistan. (B)
2 nights local hotel
Following breakfast, visit the local bazaar before continuing on to Kunya Urgench. This was one of the strongest medieval empires in Central Asia. From 995 when Gurgandzh was the capital of Horezmshakh state and the second-largest and important after Bukhara – a diamond crown of Samanid, this city has preserved its magnificent architectural monuments – il Arslan and khorezmshakh Tekesh mausoleums dated the 12th century. Enjoy a sightseeing tour of the city. Especially significant are the 14th century monuments of Keneurgench are Tyurabek-khanym with a mosaic panel on the inner side of the dome which is considered a masterpiece of Oriental art which has no analogues in entire medieval architecture and the grandiose 60-metre Kutlug-Timur the highest in the Central Asia. (B)
Following breakfast, transfer to the local airport for your flight back to Ashgabat. On arrival, drive to Kowata Underground Lake which is located 107 km from Ashgabat. The Turkmen name Kow-Ata means “father of caves”. This underground area seems like a magnificent auditorium: the overall length of the cave is 230 m, its height reaches 20 m, and its width is at some points 57 m. The bottom of the cave is covered with lumps of dissolved limestone (stalagmites), and its warm and gushing water is clear and emerald in colour. The water has a constant temperature of 33-37°C. For those feeling game, you can swim in the lake!
Continuing on, drive to Gokdepe fortress which was attacked in December 1880 by the Russian Empire Army. The siege of Gokdepe lasted 23 days, after which the city was taken by storm. Visit Geokdepe Mosque (Saparmyrat Hajy) which was built in 1995 to commemorate the defeat and is noted for its mint-turquoise blue coloured roof and white marble structure.
From here, your next stop is a visit to a horse farm where you will see the national pride of the Turkmen people – Akhalteke horses, the most impressive horses in the world (according to the locals). 5000 years ago, Turkmens began to breed Akhalteke horses. The world’s most unique breed was never mixed with other breeds. Such illustrious Emperors like Alexander the Great and Darius I desired to own Ahalteke horses. There are over 35 beautiful horses in the farm. Per superstition, every sick person who touches an Ahalteke horse will get well soon.
Drive to visit Turkmenbashy Ruhy Mosque in Kipchak, the largest mosque in Central Asia. (B)
Overnight Sport Hotel or similar
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before transferring to the airport for your flight to Mary. On arrival, drive to Gonurdepe. Gonurdepe was the capital of Margush (Margiana) country that occupied an area of more than 3000 sq. km and consisted of 78 oasis and more than 150 compact settlements. The American newspaper “Boston Globe,” wrote that “we had known about the four oldest centres of the world’s civilization: Egypt, India, China and Mesopotamia, and now due to the fantastic results of the Margiana expedition, it is quite possible to think that there was another, the fifth centre”. Return to Mary. (B,L)
Overnight Mary Hotel or similar
This morning you will drive to Merv to explore the ancient city. “Queen of the world”, was one of the most important capitals of Islam along with Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus.
Merv is a mesmerising archaeological site that holds immense historical significance. Once a thriving oasis city along the Silk Road, Merv was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the world during its prime. Its ruins, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stand as a testament to its glorious past.
Exploring Merv, step back in time and witness the remnants of ancient civilisations. The site showcases impressive architectural wonders, including well-preserved city walls, majestic palaces, and stunning mosques. The Great Kyz Kala, a fortress-like structure, and the strikingly beautiful Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum are among the highlights of Merv.
As you wander through the ancient streets, you can imagine the bustling markets and vibrant cultural exchanges that once took place here. The historical significance of Merv extends beyond its architectural marvels, as the city played a pivotal role in the development of trade, art, and culture along the Silk Road.
Merv stands as a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of past civilizations, offering a captivating glimpse into Turkmenistan’s rich heritage and captivating history. Drive to Mary city and transfer to the airport for your flight back to Ashgabat. (B)
Overnight Sport Hotel or similar
This morning is yours at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (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 $1000 AUD 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.
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.