Along the Silk Road
Highlights of this 29-day tour travelling the Silk Road:
– Ashgabat and surroundings, the contrasts between modern megalomania, excavations and tribalism
– the important excavation sites Merv and Konye Urgench in Turkmenistan
– the Darwaza gas crater
– in Uzbekistan the classic and legendary Silk Road towns of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand
– the Fann Mountains in Tajikistan with excellent hiking options
– driving across beautiful Kyrgyzstan and experiencing nomadic life at Lake Son Kul
– the nature parks in Almaty Province in Kazakhstan; Altyn Emel, Charyn and Kolsai
– wonderful empty steppe in the border area of Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan with more horses than people
– the quiet south side of Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan with a yurt camp, a canyon and swimming opportunities
– during the whole tour, accommodation in cosy guesthouses, homestays and yurts
This program visits some of the absolute highlights of the five countries, and makes good sense logistically. The heart of the five countries is felt; the historical treasures in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the variety of landscapes and nomadic culture of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and the hospitality and rough nature of Tajikistan. We believe the variety of the program is what makes it stand out.
The number of kilometers, or the number of hours, spent in a car or minibus is thereby minimized. The pace is high, but there are several moments included when you take an easy day. Finally, of course adapting the program is possible. Just write to us and ask.
In 2020 having a visa is necessary (for most countries) only for Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. The latter is a quick and easy e-visa. While we arrange you the invitation letter for the Turkmen visa, that can be acquired upon arrival in the country.
Countries & Tour
A 29-day tour program in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Varied and intensive. The journey takes you along the historic highlights of particularly Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the overwhelming nature and nomadic people in Kyrgystan and Kazakhstan, plus the rough mountains and Persian hospitality of Tajikistan.
You travel by 4WD, car or minibus, on foot or possibly by horse, with twice a journey by train. Three times you will be staying two nights in the same place, the other days just one night.
The start is in Turkmenistan, with a special focus on the archaeological sites of Nisa, Merv and Konye Urgench, as well as the intriguing capital Ashgabat and some bizarre places in the Kopet Dag Mountains. You cross the Karalkum desert by car to Konye Urgench, but halfway stop for a night of camping atb the notorious, burning gas crater of Darzawa.
From Konye Urgench, the next day, and one night in the city of Dashoguz, you cross into nearby Uzbekistan on day 6. First destination is the ancient city of Khiva. Additionally you visit in Uzbekistan of course also include Bukhara (two nights) and Samarkand, legendary cities and pearls of the Silk Road. Samarkand is situated nearby the border and a short transfer will bring you there.
That is, we enter Tajikistan from Samarkand and move on to the also nearby and ancient Tajik city of Penjikent. After a short excursion follows a transfer to a homestay in the Fann Mountains where you’ll spend a day hiking in the wonderful Seven Lakes region. Onwards via another ancient settlement to the major town of Khojand, from where you’ll cross the border to the next country.
On day 16 you enter Kyrgyzstan, first of all visiting the city of Osh, with a.o. a thriving bazar. The next days you trip will get more adventurous and rougher, travelling in the mountains and staying with nomads on a journey through the heart of the country via the Son Kul Lake to the south side of the Issyk Kul Lake (please have a swim). The provincial town of Karakol will provide some much-needed comfort, before heading into Kazakhstan by a picturesque border crossing in the Karkara valley, populated in summer by nomads with their herds and living in their yurts. Since 2013 this border crossing is open again (if only in summer) and we thankfully make use of that possibility.
In Kazakhstan our first destination is the village of Saty, providing a good starting point for our hike – you may also ride a horse – to the second Kolsai Lake. We stay two nights in the friendly homestay in Saty.
Onwards we go, via Charyn Canyon and the Altyn Emel national reserve to the city of Almaty, finally staying once more in a real hotel! After an excursion in the city we join the nighttrain to Astana, the new and extravagant capital of Kazakhstan 1,300 more kms to the north, where our journey ends.
You can read more about travelling in Tin Central Asia here. Including much practical advise.
You fly to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Here you will start travelling the Silk Road!
Upon arrival, you will apply for your Turkmen visa at the airport with the invitation letter we have arranged for you.
Outside the airport you will be met by a driver with a name tag and taken to your hotel in the city. Ashgabat is 10 km from the airport.
Arrival at the airport of Ashgabat, usually at night or in the early morning. Transfer to your hotel (20 kms at most).
After some rest you will be offered a city tour in Ashgabat, including visits to the neutrality Arch, Independence Park, the National Museum, Nissa site (UNESCO), the Ahalteke and Lenin Monuments and Earthquake Memorial
You will be amazed by the many new, built entirely of white Italian marble, buildings in new parts of Ashgabat!
Transfer to the remarkable village of Nohur in the Kopetdag Mountains, the natural border with Iran. On the way visits to the Turkmenbashi Mosque and Mausoleum, the Geok Depe Mosque and the underground lake (hot springs) of Kowata (swimming is possible).
Arrival in Nohur, populated by a people once arriving from Mesopotamia. It is said here is polygamy is still being practiced here, even allowed secretly during Soviet times! In the afternoon the village is being explored, including a visit to a tribal cemetery and a silk weaving workshop.
Return to Ashgabat and accommodation in your hotel.
Today an early rise because we have to catch a flight to Mary T5-125 at 07:00 o’clock. (flight time and number may vary). Arrival in Mary at 07:40 o’clock. Transfer to Ancient Merv (27 km from Mary) and visits to: Erk Kala (VI century BC), Gyaur Kala (III century BC), Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar (XII century), Big and Small Kiz Kala (VI-VII century AD), Mausoleum of Muhammed ibn Zeid (XII century).
Followed by a visit of the History Museum in Mary, a beautiful new building with a stunning collection artefacts from nearby sites.
Back to the airport to catch the flight to Ashgabat T5-132 at 19:40 o’clock. Arrival in Ashgabat at 20:20 o’clock (flight time and number may vary). Transfer to the hotel and overnight.
In the morning excursions in Ashgabat (or leisure time if desired), after lunch a transfer to the infamous gas crater of Darwaza about halfway down the ‘highway’ from Ashgabat to the north, in the middle of the Karalkum desert.
The crater is burning since 1974, when unsuspected geologists believed to ‘just’ burn the gas, and it’s still on fire…
Nowadays, it is an extraordinary and surreal place to camp and that’s what we do today!
You travel about 300 kms through the desert further north, almost into Uzbekistan.
Here is the interesting historical site Urgench, a UNESCO protected area, with ruins of mosques, minarets and mausoleums from the time that Konye Urgench was the capital of Khorezm. The changing course of the river Amudarya (which happened frequently) was the reason that Konye Urgench eventually lost its importance.
At the end of the day transfer to Dashoguz (100 km) and accommodation in a hotel.
Nearby Dashoguz you will cross the border with Uzbekistan in the early morning. Border formalities should take in total about one hour.
In Uzbekistan, another driver will be awaiting you and transfer you to some 80 kms away Khiva. You will be checked into the hotel and after lunch will have plenty of time to explore the old town, accompanied by a guide.
Khiva is beautiful and impressive!
A long drive through the Kyzyl Kum desert takes you from Khiva to Bukhara. Along the way you make a photo stop at the Amu Darya, the lifeblood of the area, and have lunch in an oasis. In this part of Uzbekistan, especially near Khiva, the effects of the drying up of the Aral Sea cannot be ignored; the landscape is covered with a thin layer of salt blown away from the bottom of the lake.
In Bukhara you will be accommodated in a guesthouse in the old town and have free time to het acquainted with it.
While Khiva is basically a (marvellous) open air museum, the old city of Bukhara is bustling and will give you a flavour of what life during the Silk Road times must have looked like.
You have the whole day for exploring Bukhara. The program today includes visits to: Ismael Samani mausoleum (9th-10th century), Chor-Minor, Chashma-Ayub Mausoleums (14th century), Bukhara local bazar. Jewish synagogue. Poli-Kalon ensemble with a minaret (12th century), mosque (15th century), functioning Miri-Arab Madrassah (16th century), Amir-Alim-Khan Madrassah (14c), Taqi (trading houses) Kukeldash Madrassah (16c).
And after lunch: Lyab-i-Hauz (17th century), Nadir Divanbegi (17th century), Magoki Attari (16th century), Ulug Beg (15th century), Abdul Aziz (17th century) Madrassahs. And visits to: the Registan Ensemble, Ark Fortress (16th century) and Bolo-Hauz complex (18th century).
Accommodation once more in a cosy guesthouse in Bukhara.
In the morning transfer by car or minibus to Samarkand; you will notice less desert than the previous route, and more agriculture. Uzbekistan produces an enormous amount of cotton and if you are traveling in the right season, you can work witness people labouring in the fields, perhaps lend them a hand, as well as visiting a cotton factory. You will also visit en route the Summer Palace of the last Emir and an old Karavansarai, from Rabat Malik.
Arrival in Samarkand around 14:00, accommodation and time for lunch. Leisure time in the afternoon.
A day in Samarkand, with lots of blue after the brown of Bukhara. Samarkand is not only a legendary Silk Road city, is also a city with more Soviet influences, and much bigger than Bukhara. Also, unlike Bukhara’s relatively small old town, in Samarkand the distances between the great buildings are significant. You will visit today, if you keep up with it:
– Guri-Emir mausoleum where legendary Amir Temur and his family are buried.
– Registan Square-famous complex of three Madrasahs and the golden dome mosque.
– Bibi Khanum Mosque – the largest mosque ever building over in Central Asia, as a gift from Tamerlame’s wife to her husband!
– Siyab local bazaar – a unique chance to experience present life in Samarkand
– Shahi – Zinda necropolis, a sacred place and cemetery with the graves of Temured’s dynasty and the grave of a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad.
– The Observatory of Ulugbek – an incredible (really!) structure from the 15th century to study astronomy.
In the early evening transfer by a modern and fast train (3 hours) to the capital Tashkent. Transfer to a hotel and accommodation.
Transfer to the nearby Tajik border and border formalities, at the Jarteppa border. Meeting with the new, Tajik driver ans transfer to Penjikent city (20km). The ancient settlement, as well as a modern city, is called Penjikent, which in Tajik means “five villages”. From these villages originated the present city, which according to scientists is no less than 5500 years old!
We continue to the Sarazm ancient settlement and the museum of antiques of Penjikent. Lunch on the shore of the Zerafshan river.
Onwards we go – not too far – to the Seven Lakes area in the beautiful Fann Mountains. Homestay overnight.
After breakfast we start our hike in the Seven lakes region – seven colorful lakes in the Fann mountains. The planned hike takes some four hours and covers 15 kms.
Afterwards you return to the homestay, for accommodation and dinner.
option: stay longer in the Fann Mountains, Seven Lakes region for extra hiking
day travel distance: 160 kms
After breakfast we proceed in the direction of one of the oldest cities of Central Asia, namely Istaravshan. Ths city that was founded by the ancient Persian king Cyrus, and in Soviet times known as Kiropol. Istaravshan is famous for its artisans, tourist attractions, tradition and history!
You will visit Mugteppa and Kok Gumbaz, followed by a lunch. And after lunch continue to the second largest city of Tajikistan, Khujand. Accommodation in a hotel.
day travel distance: 10 kms
After breakfast you start sightseeing in Khujand city, the centre of northen Sugd region. It’s a unique opportunity to learn about Tajik culture and traditions!
Visiting the famous fortress of the city followed by the museum next to it. After lunch, a visit the National House of the19th century in the historic downtown. You will see the architecture and layout of the National House of Tajiks in the 19th century. You will have some time for yourself to explore the Panjshanbe bazar and taste the spirit of the East, one of the biggest indoor markets in Central Asia! We end with an excursion to the mausoleum of Shaikh Maslehatoddin from 14th century.
Accommodation in your hotel.
The Kyrgyz city of Osh, also the main city of southwestern Kyrgyzstan, is situated on the edge of the Fergana Valley. Stalin here randomly drew up the borders with the result that on both sides of the border many Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and also Tadjiks now live. In addition there are many enclaves with inhabitants that belong to another country… A patchwork of people, and it is not surprising that sometimes there hase been are unrest in the valley.
You start the day in Fergana, Uzbekistan, cross the nearby border to Kyrgyzstan and arrive not much later in Osh. There you can visit among others the famous and enormous bazaar.
Accommodation in a hotel or homestay in Osh.
The first day of a mini-tour of five days, right through the heart of Kyrgyzstan to the Issyk Kul lake. If you are travelling this route in the summer, between June and mid-September, you will also visit the Son Kul lake and the plateau with the same name, to witness the life of the summer nomads.
Today is the longest stage, and when you start at 9 am, including all stops en route, you’ll be arriving late afternoon in the town of Toktogul, located on a lake with the same name. A beautiful route through the canyon of the broad Naryn River.
Accommodation in a homestay in Toktugul.
Another day through the rugged mountain landscapes of central Kyrgyzstan, from Toktogul to Kyzyl Oy. The day is dedicated to enjoying the scenery, and to experience rural Kyrgyz life on the way. You cross a high pass, perhaps covered with snow, and at the end of the day you see red canyons.
Accommodation in the small town of Kyzyl Oy, after arrival in the afternoon, in a homestay.
Another day on the mountain landscapes of Kyrgyzstan, on the road to Son Kul lake (altitude 3,000 meters), where you arrive in the afternoon. Accommodation in a yurt. Dinner is included today.
Leisure time in the second part of the afternoon and in the evening.
Today no long transfers, but a relaxing day at the Son Kul lake plateau, experiencing life of the summer nomads at the lake and on the grasslands, at an altitude of 3,000 meters.
You can go for a walk, ride a horse, or simply relax.
Overnight stay in a yurt. Today, lunch and dinner are included.
From the Son Kul lake, we start with the last ‘real’ mountain stage, through the town of Kochkor to the south side of the Issyk Kul Lake. Here you can feel free to take a dive in the crystal clear and fresh water, at one of the many quiet beaches. This is a world apart from the busy and popular beach resorts on the north side of the lake, where Kyrgyz and Kazakh holidaymakers enjoy the local equivalent of a Southern Europe all-inclusive beach holiday!
We end the day in a small yurtcamp near the lake and just after the town of Bokonbaeva. Dinner and accommodation.
We continue along the south side of Issyk Kul, passing and enjoying the red rock formations in the Jeti Oguz canyon, down to the town of Karakol. After a few days of simple (but nice!) overnights in yurts and tents, this is finally a more comfortable accommodation, in a homestay in this quiet town!
Short visits to the attractions of Karakol if time permits, or possibly the next day. These are the beautiful Russian Orthodox church and a Dungan mosque that looks more like a Chinese temple. Near Karakol is a park containing the tomb, a monument and museum dedicated to the Russian explorer Przwalsky.
From Karakol we travel to the border crossing with Kazakhstan at Karkara, on a plateau where in summer the herds graze with nomads on their horses guarding them, living in yurts with their families. On on way you will see more horses than people!
Arrival in the village Saty, near the first Kolsai lake where you can walk and/or ride horse tomorrow.
Overnight in a friendly Kazakh homestay.
The three Kolsai lakes invite walking, horse riding, swimming and fishing. The first mountain lake is situated at 1800 meters and is the largest.
Lake two is 9 kms away, including an increase of 450 meters, a challenging hike (and back!) for a day. Unless you opt for a spectacular horseback ride – not for cautious types!
You end the day in the homestay in Saty at the local Kazakh family.
You will first visit Charyn Canyon, certainly the most spectacular attraction in this area. An ideal place for hiking and having a picnic. Then to the Altyn Emel nature reserve further north, driving through mostly empty Kazakh steppe.
Accommodation and dinner in a homestay in the village of Basshi.
The Altyn Emel nature park north of Almaty mainly consists of semi-desert. Possible you will notice the interesting wildlife – wild donkeys and gazelles – and climb (or view) the Singing Dune, a huge sand mountain in the middle of a landscape where it stands out completely and where nobody knows how it got there.
Take note that can hear the famous singing sound of the dune when sliding down!
A city tour is programmed after lunch, including visits to Panfilov Park and the Zenkov cathedral, the neighboring museum of traditional musical instruments, the Central Museum, and the mountains surrounding the Medeo sports complex.
Almaty is situated beautifully against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, which are visible throughout the year.
Return to the city, and, after dinner, transfer to the train station in order to catch the modern and fast nighttrain to Astana!
In the early morning early you will arrive in Astana, and be transfered to a hotel.
Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan – since 1997 – and it grows boisterous. It is the showcase of the new Kazakhstan and the new part of the city shows a a range of fantastic buildings. On the one hand, the city is similar to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan – your starting point- in the sense of its concept, on the other hand the architecture is completely different.
There is also attention to the old Astana but especially the new part is interesting. If time permits you will also visit the museum Alzhir, 35 kms from Astana, which was used as a prison for wives of (male) political prisoners detained in the nearby labouring camps…
Return to your hotel or the airport, depending on your plans.
Transfer to the airport, usually at night or in the early morning.
The cost of this 29-day program travelling the Silk Road at six persons is €3,295 p.p. at six persons, €3,725 p.p. at four persons and €4,695 p.p. at two persons. For other group sizes please write us for an offer.
Included in the price offer
– all accommodation in simple but good hotels and guesthouses, on the basis of bed & breakfast and in double rooms
– all transfers in by car/minibus and train
– services of English speaking guides during all excursions in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and in Almaty & Astana
– entrance tickets for all nature parks, museums and sites according to the program in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan & Kazakhstan
– 12 lunches and 15 dinners (all meals outside cities)
– transfers airport-hotel-airport at the start and finish of the program
– visa support for Turkmenistan
Optional: services of an English speaking guide in Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Kazakh countryside.
Extra cost per person is €670, €335 and €255 resp. at 2,4 and 6 people.
Not included in the offer are the international flight tickets, visa for Turkmenistan (cost approx. USD 120), e-visa for Tajikistan (small cost) the remaining lunches and dinners, English guidance in Turkmenistan, in Kyrgystan and in Kazakhstan outside Astana & Almaty (optional), and all not mentioned services.
Finally we withhold €15 per booking for the Dutch GGTO Travel Guarantee Fund.