Turkmenistan Odyssey

Turkmenistan

Culture | Silk Road

Discover the most mysterious of the Central Asia's Stans

Dates & Prices

Intro

One of the most eccentric Central Asian countries, Turkmenistan has a unique and colourful reputation. Journey across this enigmatic country and discover its rich culture and heritage, and learn about its bizarre laws and flamboyant founder. Explore glittering Ashgabat, the “city of love”, and the nearby UNESCO-listed Old Nisa fortress. Delve deep into history in Ancient Merv, and admire the beautiful architecture of Kunya-Urgench. Swim in the Caspian Sea at Turkmenbashi, cross the vast sands of the Kara Kum Desert to the impressive flaming Darvaza Gas Crater, discover the 2,300 dinosaur footprints of Dinosaur Plateau and admire the beautiful Yangi Kala canyons.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • The old fortress of Nisa
  • The sparkling white marble eeriness of Ashgabat
  • The ruins of the ancient city of Merv
  • Striking Yangy Kala Canyons
  • Historic monuments in Kunya-Urgench
  • Swim in the Caspian
  • The Flaming Crater of Darvaza

Places Visited

Ashgabat - Nisa - Mary - Gonur Depe - Ancient Merv - Yangy Kala canyons - Turkmenbashi - Kunya-Urgench - Dashoguz - Darvaza Gas Crater

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Domestic flights where mentioned
Accommodation
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guide(s)
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary
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Day 1 : Arrival into Ashgabat

Arrive into Ashgabat. Transfer to your hotel. Rest of the day free to relax. Overnight in Ashgabat.

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Nisa - Ashgabat

Visit the Old Nisa fortress near Ashgabat. Later return to Ashgabat to visit the National Museum of History and Ethnography (closed Tues), Independence Square, the Arch of Neutrality and the Earthquake Memorial. Overnight in Ashgabat. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Ashgabat translates to "the city of love" in Arabic. This city is relatively young, being founded and developed by the Russians at the end of the 19th century. A massive earthquake in 1948 completely destroyed the city and killed two thirds of its population. It was rebuilt by the Soviets in their inimitable style, but the grand white marble palaces, domes and manicured parks seen today have mostly been built in the last 15 years to showcase the country’s oil and gas wealth.

The National Museum of History and Ethnography is a great place to get a feel for Turkmenistan’s long and complex history. It houses over 500,000 artifacts and relics from the country's main archaeological sites, as well as examples of national dress, traditional household equipment, a couple of enormous carpets and some traditional musical instruments

The UNESCO-listed ruins of Nisa can be found near to Ashgabat. The settlement was originally founded under the rule of the Parthian king Arsaces I in the 3rd century BC. Excavations of the site have uncovered mausoleums, shrines, ornate ivory rhytons (drinking cups) and Hellenistic works of art, indicating that the site was one of the earliest and most important cities of the Parthian empire. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1st century BC.

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Day 3 : Ashgabat - Gonur Depe - Mary

Transfer to the airport for a flight to Mary. Pick up from airport and drive to Gonur Depe. After visiting the site return to Mary for overnight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The city of Mary is located on the Murghab River in the Kara Kum Desert. Formerly known as "Merv", the oasis city was an important stop on the Silk Road. The modern settlement of Mary was founded in 1884, when it became a Russian military administrative centre. It remains a centre for the production and trading of cotton and gas. 

The archaeological site of Gonur Depe is believed to have been inhabited by Indo-Iranian people until the 2nd millennium BC (2500 BC). Excavations at the site have unearthed a palace, a fortified mud-brick enclosure and several temples. The ruins of over 150 Bronze Age settlements have been found along the Murghab River, with Gonur Depe being one of the largest.

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Day 4 : Ancient Merv - Mary - Ashgabat

Visit Ancient Merv including some adjacent cities. Return to Mary to visit its history museum. Evening flight to Ashgabat. Transfer to hotel in Ashgabat for overnight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Ancient Merv was once a major oasis city on the Silk Road, where evidence of civilisation dates back to the 3rd millennium BC. The ancient site held significant cultural and political importance and is believed to have been the largest city in the world in the 12th century. The walled ruins of Merv have since been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is believed that Genghis Khan slaughtered a million people here when conquering the city.

The History Museum in Mary was founded in 1968. It contains over 40,000 exhibits that document the culture, history and heritage of the region. These include traditional clothing, tapestries, manuscripts and historic weapons.

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Day 5 : Yangy Kala canyons

Early flight to Turkmenbashi. Continue to Yangy kala canyons, stopping en route at the Gozli Ata holy shrine. Return to Turkmenbashi for overnight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The Yangy Kala Canyons stand out in the great arid expanse of the Balkanabad desert. "Yangy Kala" means "fire fortresses"  in Turkmen, and was named after the striking red and yellow coloured cliffs. The base of the canyons was once beneath an ancient sea that compressed, eroded and formed these steep canyons.

The holy shrine of Gozli Ata, a Sufi teacher in the early 14th century, has become an important place of pilgrimage. Gozli's wife was later buried in a neighbouring mausoleum. According to custom, visitors must first pray at the tomb of Gozli Ata's wife before visiting his holy shrine. 

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Day 6 : Turkmenbashi - Kunya Urgench - Dashoguz

Free time in Turkmenbashi to swim in the Caspian, visit the city market or the Local Lore museum. Transfer to the airport for flight to Dashoguz. Drive to visit the UNESCO site of Kunya Urgench. Return to Dashoguz for overnight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Kunya-Urgench is a UNESCO-listed town in northern Turkmenistan, located on the banks of the Amu Darya (Oxus) river. Once the heart of the Islamic world under the Khorezmshah dynasty, it was extensively destroyed by Genghis Khan, who even diverted the Oxus to flood the city. It was later ruled by the Golden Horde and became the capital of Khorezm until Timur saw it as a rival to Samarkand and destroyed it again, though he may have taken some ideas first. Today there are buildings from 12th to 19th century, some very beautiful. Though banned, locals continue to bury their dead here.

Turkmenbashi is a city on the Krasnovodsk Gulf of the Caspian Sea. A secret fort was originally constructed here in the early 1700s, before the colonisation of the Russian Empire in 1869. The city became known as "Krasnovodsk" during Russian occupation and became an important terminal stop on the Trans-Caspian railway. 

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Day 7 : Kara Kum Desert - Darvaza Gas Crater

Morning flight to Ashgabat. Free time to explore. After lunch drive through the Kara Kum desert to the flaming crater of Darvaza along a bumpy road. On arrival, you will explore the site and learn of the history behind the remarkable flaming crater, which will get all the more impressive in the evening light. Enjoy dinner in the unique setting of Darvaza, where you will camp overnight.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The Darvaza Gas Crater in the Kara Kum desert is known locally as “the Door to Hell”. It is a crater 69m in diameter and about 30m deep that was dug by Soviet engineers in the 1970s looking for oil. It was set aflame over 50 years ago to prevent methane spreading, with the expectation it would burn out after a few days. It has been burning ever since.

The Kara Kum desert occupies almost 70% of the area of Turkmenistan. "Kara Kum" translates to "Black Sand" after the dark soil that lies beneath the sand of the desert. As Central Asia's hottest desert, the arid land is home to very few oasis settlements.

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Day 8 : Darvaza - Ashgabat

After breakfast in the desert we drive back to Ashgabat. Afternoon free to explore Ashgabat at leisure. Overnight in Ashgabat.

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 9 : Departure from Ashgabat

Transfer to the airport in Ashgabat, for your onward flight. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

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