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Discover the rich culture and tumultuous history of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on this exploration through ancient trading cities and along the fabled Silk Road.
Explore Tour Leader
9 nights comfortable hotel
2 nights simple hotel
1 nights simple overnight train
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Ashgabat, a once prosperous frontier town along the Trans-Caspian railway, which was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1948, only to rise from its ashes and rubble to become the capital of an independent Turkmenistan in 1991. The city then became the personal project of President Niyazov, who set about forming it in his own unique image, renaming the streets and changing the face of the city on an almost daily basis as he approved the destruction of its suburbs to make way for a number of controversial planning projects.
For those arriving on time today our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 12pm for the welcome meeting and to take us on the afternoon city tour. We have the opportunity to explore the city on a tour that will take in some of the highlights of both the Soviet and Niyazov reigns. We visit Independence Park where we will see the Independence Monument, a large structure designed to resemble traditional Turkmen hats. We will also pay a visit to the Turkmenistan National Museum of History, a rich cache of some 150,000 objects and artefacts that date back to Neolithic times and the Bronze Age era of the Margiana civilisation.
If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Ashgabat International Airport (ASB), which is 20 minutes from the hotel. For those arriving on flights in the early hours of this morning, we'll arrange for your hotel room to be available immediately upon your arrival. For anyone arriving before today please contact us to book additional nights accommodation.
Please note that if you wish to join the afternoon city tour today, you must arrive at the hotel by 12pm. If you are booking your own flights, we recommend giving yourself at least one to two hours to clear the airport. From the airport to the hotel is around 15 minutes' drive, so therefore the latest your flight can arrive is 9am. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information at 6pm.
Sport Hotel (or similar)
This morning we aim to visit the city's lively Sunday morning market before driving out to the outskirts of the city to the once mighty fortress of Nissa. Founded in the 3rd century BC as the capital of the 1st Parthian Empire, its walls and towers (43 in total) protected the royal palace, Zoroastrian temples and the power and prestige of successive ruling dynasties until its eventual destruction at the hands of the Mongols in the 13th century.
Our destination today is the town of Mary, our gateway to the ruins of ancient Merv. We travel via the Kaka Oasis and will also stop to view the fortress of Abiverd, the remains of a now long vanished medieval city that once enjoyed a reputation for its superb handicrafts, some samples of which can still be seen littered across the site in the form of broken shards of exquisite pottery
Hotel Mary (or similar)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered to have once been one of the great cities of Central Asia, the remains of ancient Merv lie scattered across some 100sq km. Lying along the great trading routes of the Silk Road the city prospered under the Sassanians and the Seljuq Turks, becoming a cultural mecca for Christian, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and finally Muslim cultures. At its height, during the 11th and 12th centuries the city was known as Marv-i-shah-jahan (Merv, Queen of the World) and, after Baghdad, was considered the finest city in all Islam. In 1221 its greatness came crashing to earth with the arrival of the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan when, after refusing to pay tribute to the great Mongol warlord, the city and its entire population of nearly 1 million people was put to the sword (it was believed that the Mongol soldiers were ordered to personally behead between 300- 400 people each). Returning to Mary for lunch we will then spend the afternoon exploring the Mary Museum of History, a rich repository of some of the finest relics rescued from Merv itself, along with an excellent collection of Turkmen carpets and household objects that span a period of some 5000 years.
This morning we drive to the Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan border at Farab and, after completing the immigration formalities, cross into Uzbekistan. Please be advised that this process could take anything up to 2 hours and you will be required to walk the 1.5 km between the two border posts to meet our Uzbek vehicle (porters are usually available to help with luggage, although they will require payment for their services). We drive on to the fabled city of Bokhara, the city that was home to the famed poets Firdausa and Rudaki and is still considered by many to be the 'Bastion of Islam'. For generations Bokhara lay at the centre of the great trade routes, its scholarship and architecture revered far and wide as one of the central bastions of Central Asian art and culture, a factor that saw its ancient heart accredited by UNESCO as an important World Heritage Site in 1993. Over 2,000 years old, its historic centre is one of the most complete examples of a medieval city anywhere in Central Asia, filled with majestic architecture, beautiful madrassas and fabulous tombs. Time allowing this afternoon, we'll start our sightseeing with a visit to the bath houses, arcades and the caravanserai of the Taqi Telpak Furushon area, as well as the Lyab-I Hauz, a magnificent architectural centrepiece that dates from the 16th and 17th centuries and contains the largest madrassa in the city (the Kukeldash).
Hotel Caravan Plaza (or similar)
In the morning we take a drive out of the city to visit the Emir's Palace, the Royal Ark and the photogenic Char Minar Mosque. Also known as the 'Palace of Moon-like Stars', the Palace contains the famous White Hall, a structure that took the Emir's 30 architects two years to construct. We also visit the Ismael Samani Mausoleum, dating from the 9th century and considered to be one of the most revered architectural sights in the whole of Central Asia. Built as the final resting place of Ismael Samani, the founder of the last Persian dynasty to rule in the region, the Samanids, it harks back to the city's golden age, when it was the intellectual centre of the Islamic world. Returning to the city for lunch we will then take a tour of its ancient centre on foot, maybe stopping off at a 'chaikhana', a local tea house.. The old town has been fortunate to retain much of its Uzbek character, with more than 140 unique monuments littered amongst its streets and alleyways, and this afternoon we will visit the beautiful blue tiled Abdul Khan Madrasah and Mghoki Arrar Mosque, as well as the tallest monument in town, the Kalyan minaret, or the 'Tower of Death', from which prisoners were once hurled to their death on market days.
Today is free to explore Bokhara in your own time.
Today we drive on to the remarkable ancient city of Khiva. The early history of the area is still sketchy, but by the time the Arabs arrived in the 8th century there were three important cities in the region, of which Khiva was one, largely on account of its strategic location along the Volga branch of the Silk Route. Conquered by the Persians, it then became a pawn in the great game between the Russian and British Empires, finally succumbing to Russian forces in 1873 (following the fate of both Samarkand and Bokhara before it). Its ancient heart has remained largely intact behind towering brick walls, some 40 bastions enclosing an incredible collection of historic monuments and 18th and 19th century houses and exploring the old citadel is like stepping back in time into a scene straight out of the stories of the Arabian nights. Originally the 12th century fortress dominated the city, but later additions of palaces, harems, barracks and mosques encroached on the old fortress, compelling the Khan to build a second outer wall to make his citadel even more secure. Please note that today's drive to Khiva is a long drive of approximately 9hrs due to the bad road conditions in this area. We will attempt to break up the journey as much as possible with stops along the way.
Hotel Musa Tura (or similar)
This morning we will begin our exploration of this ancient city. We'll take in some of its rich wonders including the Kunya Ark and the Tah-Khauli Palace, whilst a walk up the steps of the Dzhuma Minaret presents a captivating panoramic view of the maze of streets below. In the afternoon we drive on to Urgench to catch the overnight train to Samarkand.
Overnight Train from Urgench to Samarkand
Simple Overnight Train
Stormed by Alexander the Great and reduced to ashes by Genghis Khan, Samarkand was nevertheless transformed into one of the world's most glittering cities in the 14th century by Tamerlane, who made it his capital. Today it is still generously endowed with some glorious monuments to its golden era, their blue domes towering above the city skyline. Our overnight train arrives in the city early morning and after transferring to our hotel for breakfast, we plan to set out and explore some of its wealth of treasures. Most of the city's more lavish monuments date to the time of Tamerlane and his direct descendants, including the exceptional Registan, the focal point of the city and one of Central Asia's most magnificent settings; a majestic square formed on 3 sides by huge blue tiled madrasahs (ancient centres of religious learning). We will also visit the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, constructed by Tamerlane's Chinese wife and once one of the grandest mosques in the entire Islamic world, with a gateway that measured an impressive 35m in height. The third visit of the morning will be to the Gur Emir Mausoleum, a somewhat modest structure that nonetheless contains the graves of not only Tamerlane himself, but also two of his sons and two grandsons. The afternoon is left free to relax or explore more by yourself.
Kamilla Boutique Hotel (or similar)
Another half-day city tour this morning introduces us to the Ulug-Beg Observatory and the Shah-i-Zinda, one of the city's oldest and most sacred buildings, with a double row of jewel-like mausoleums that are said to contain the grave of Qusam ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed. It was in Samarkand that Ulug-Beg, the great medieval astronomer, built the gigantic sextant that enabled him to calculate the length of a year to within just 10 seconds and the remnants of his 15th century astrolabe, which measured an impressive 30m, still remain on the outskirts of the old city. The rest of the day has then been left free to explore more of this exquisite city at your leisure, perhaps re visiting Registan Square, or enjoying an excursion to the site of Afrosiab and Marakanda, where you will find the excavations of early Samarkand. The bazaar presents us with one of Samarkand's liveliest settings, an eclectic mix of sound and colour that harks back to the days of the great caravans that plied these ancient trading routes, whilst the old town itself still holds considerable medieval charm and along its sun baked, winding, narrow alleys traditionally dressed locals perform their daily rituals or relax in the shade drinking 'kokchai' (traditional green tea).
This morning we drive to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital and one of Central Asia's most vibrant cities. Occupying a prime spot on the central Eurasian trading routes, Tashkent grew to be one of the most important stops on the caravan routes across Central Asia. It grew under the auspices of the Mongols, Tamerlane and the Shaybanids, before finally falling to the Russians during the 19th century. A massive earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1966, affording its Russian overlords the chance to resurrect a 'perfect' soviet city from the ruins. Parts of the old city do remain though and we explore in afternoon. A visit to Chor-Su affords us the opportunity to take a look at the handicraft bazaar, before moving on to some of the city's more modern monuments, including the Mustakillik Square (Independence Square), the Navoi Theatre (named after the renowned Uzbek poet) and the Earthquake Monument. We also take a ride for 2-3 stops on the Tashkent Metro, which boasts some flamboyantly decorated stations.
Hotel Uzbekistan (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Tashkent.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Tashkent at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Islam Karimov Tashkent International Airport (TAS), which is 20 minutes' drive from the hotel.
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit, when the temperatures are mild and there is the chance of occasional rains. April can bring colourful blooms to the normally barren desert landscapes, whilst summer days in the cities and desert can be very hot, when the temperatures can reach as high as 50°.
2 Pin Round
Islam, Eastern Orthodox
Turkmen, Russian, Uzbek
Islam, predominantly Sunni, Eastern Orthodox
Uzbek, Russian, Tajik
Lightweight raingear may be needed, with some warmer clothes for the cooler evenings, when temperatures can drop considerably. It gets very hot in the summer so long sleeves and a hat may be useful to help keep cool. Casual clothes are the most practical: tight fitting garments, brief shorts and skirts should be avoided, since they attract unwelcome attention and these regions follow the strict tenets of the Muslim faith.
Light walking boots/comfortable walking shoes, trainers and sandals.
One main piece and a daysac. Remember, you are expected to carry your own luggage - so don't overload yourself. We recommend either a suitcase or holdall on wheels, or else a backpack, as you may be expected to carry your own luggage up to 1.5km across the border.
Torch, water bottle, insect repellent, high factor sun cream, good quality sunglasses and a lip salve with sun protection.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Turkmenistan: A single entry visa is required for Turkmenistan. Invitation letters issued by the Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs are required by all nationalities and Explore will apply for this on your behalf. We will therefore require details of the passport you'll be travelling on at least 10 weeks prior to departure. This invitation letter will then need to be used to apply for your visa. As of 25th May 2023, a Visa can only be obtained upon arrival in Turkmenistan. You will need to have a printed (paper) copy of the letter of invitation (LOI) as a proof of admittance to Turkmenistan (airlines and services the other side of the border ask for it when there is no visa sticker in the passport). You will also need to pay the relevant fee is US$, this is $55 to $85 USD for the visa depending on the country of origin and $14 USD (immigration duty + administrative fee). Payment can only be made in cash and only in USD, clean bills issued after 2008. It is not possible to obtain the Turkmenistan Invitation any earlier than 8 weeks prior to the tour departure date and it takes 3 weeks to process. Given these time constraints we do not recommend prior travel during this time before the tour starts. On arrival in Turkmenistan, you must complete a migration card and pay a US$14 migration fee, this is in addition to any visa fees. The authorities will retain the card. At the time of writing (21 April 2023), everyone entering Turkmenistan (either via land or air) will be tested for Covid19 on arrival at the border. The fee for the PCR test is US$43 which will need to be paid in cash locally. Please make sure you have the right amount in the correct currency before travelling to Turkmenistan. We are also required by the authorities to have a representative meet you at the airport upon arrival, Land Only customers should ensure they have submitted their flight details to Explore at least 1 month before departure. Uzbekistan: Australian, Irish, Canadian and 'British citizen' passport holders can enter Uzbekistan as a visitor for stays of up to 30 days without a visa. Other nationalities including US nationals require a e-visa which can be obtained from www.e-visa.gov.uz All visa related information should be confirmed with the relevant Embassy prior to departure
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, we recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on the need for and different prophylaxis available against malaria. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling. Turkmenistan has banned the sale of all tobacco products and prohibited smoking in ALL public places including streets, parks, airports etc. Smoking is only permitted in public in designated areas in hotels and restaurants. New regulations only permit the import of a MAXIMUM of 2 packets of 20 cigarettes per person.
Nothing compulsory, we recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on the need for and different prophylaxis available against malaria. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.