Five Stans Central Asia Budget Tour

12
Days
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan collectively form the Central Asian Stans, a region still cloaked in mystery and ambiguity to much of the world. Among the few world travelers who actually reach Central Asia, even fewer have the privilege of visiting all five countries at once, an experience which puts the whole region into clearer focus while emphasizing their similarities and differences.
The Five Stans Central Asia Budget Tour allows you to cut back on travel costs without sacrificing the quality of your multi-country expedition to regional highlights - the tiled palaces of Samarkand and Bukhara, the city streets of Bishkek and Ashgabat and the mountains of Almaty and Seven Lakes, to name a few. The trip includes comprehensive tours of numerous key cities along the way, with built-in free time and personal days for independent exploration or optional activities.

Upon arrival in Bishkek, your driver will meet you at the airport to take you to your hotel, where check-in begins at noon. Begin your sightseeing tour of Bishkek, which will take you to the following:
  • Ala Too Square, Bishkek’s large central square that maintains a distinctly Soviet feel. Watch the hourly changing of the guards, take a selfie under the large Kyrgyzstan flag and pay your respects to a Kyrgyz legend at Manas Monument.
  • Old Square with Parliament House, a regal piece of 20th century architecture, and Lenin Statue, relegated to its current place after being supplanted by Manas in Ala Too Square.
  • Philharmonic Hall, a stately Bishkek landmark whose courtyard is a popular meeting place for local students and youth.
  • Oak Park, where the beautiful tree lined Erkindik Boulevard will take you to a statue of Kurmanjan Datka, a prominent 19th century Kyrgyz leader known as the “Queen of the Mountains”.
  • Opera and Ballet House, a stylish hall serving as a key center for the arts in the capital.
  • Victory Square, which honors those who lost their lives in World War II with an Eternal Flame that burns under a sizable granite half-yurt.
Drive back to the hotel. Overnight in Bishkek.
Free day to choose independent exploration or to book an optional tour (below). Overnight in Bishkek.
Optional Ala-Archa Canyon Day Trek:
  • In the morning a driver and guide will pick you up from your Bishkek hotel and drive to Ala-Archa National Park (40km, 1hr). Surrounded by snow-covered peaks and the banks of the Ala-Archa River, enjoy a hike through Ala-Archa Canyon.
  • Beginning at Alpine camp (2200m), you’ll hike through Broken Heart Boulder (2380m) and Tepshi Plateau (2460m) before continuing the climb to Ak Sai Waterfall (2665m). This hike includes crossing a large mountain stream and continuing a steeper ascent through pine forests before reaching another valley, where you can see the 35-meter-high waterfall up close. Relax before the waterfall and enjoy a picnic lunch before you begin the return trek. Return to Bishkek in the afternoon.
Total Duration: 6-8 hours
Difficulty Level: Medium
Distance: 3.2 kilometers one way
Trek Duration: 5-6 hours
Transfer in the morning to the airport for a flight to Almaty (235km, 1hr). Upon arrival, a driver will be waiting to bring you to the hotel. Check in to the hotel at noon.
Your guide and driver will meet you in the lobby of your hotel to begin the Almaty city tour:
  • Walk the pleasant pathways of Panfilov Park. Within the park is a World War II Memorial Complex, whose focal point is a gigantic monument of soldiers bravely in advance, with an eternal flame blazing nearby.
  • Visit Zenkov Cathedral (a.k.a Ascension Cathedral), also situated in Panfilov Park. Constructed entirely of wood without a single metal nail, this colorful five-domed wonder is one of the oldest buildings in Almaty.
  • Plunge into the atmosphere of Green Bazaar, a lively eastern market with festive colors, mouth-watering smells and lively crowds. It’s the perfect spot to purchase dried fruits and famous Kazakhstan chocolates...but don’t forget to bargain!
  • Admire Almaty Central Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Central Asia. Its gold domes and striking white marble exterior give this post-independence building a regal quality, while the interior impresses with artistic simplicity.
  • Stop by Republic Square, where the Mayor’s Office, Central State Museum and former Presidential Palace encircle the Monument of Independence, a towering statue of the Golden Man and bronze bas-reliefs depicting the country’s history.
  • Tour the Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, containing nearly a quarter million exhibits including its most well-known display, a replica of the Golden Man. Exhibits cover the full gamut of Kazakhstan ethnography and history, from prehistoric times to the 21st century.
  • Ride the Almaty Metro, whose tunnels give the impression that you’re in a palace instead of a public subway system. Each station has been beautifully designed to portray a specific theme, and you’ll stop at 2-3 stations to admire the colorful, intricate murals.
Drive back to the hotel. Overnight in Almaty.
Tour Duration: 3-4 hours
*Recommended flight: KC108 on Mondays and Wednesdays
Free day to choose independent exploration or to book an optional tour (below). Overnight in Almaty.
Optional Charyn Canyon Day Tour:
You will be met by your guide and driver at the lobby of your Almaty hotel to start the Charyn Canyon Tour.
Depart Almaty and drive to Charyn Canyon (220km, 3-4hrs), enjoying the view of the passing Altai Mountains and villages on the way. Upon arrival, hike to the bottom of the gorge to see the roaring Charyn River. Have a rest and a picnic lunch while your guide shares information about the nature surrounding you. Hike through Charyn Canyon, where steep mountain slopes reach up to 300 meters and the stunning Castles Valley runs more than 2 kilometers in length. Spend the afternoon wandering about this fairytale land of ridges and bypaths.
After the hike, return to your Almaty hotel.
Tour Duration: approximately 10 hours
Check out from the hotel in the morning and transfer to Almaty International Airport for a flight to Dushanbe (860km, 1.5hrs).
Arrive in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Transfer to the hotel, where check-in begins at noon. Your guide and driver will meet you at hotel reception for a city tour of Dushanbe, beginning with a drive to the sites at Hissar Historical and Cultural Reserve (30km, 50min):
  • Hissar Fortress (17th-19th centuries), where the impressive gates of a castle, once the home of a Bukharin emir, still amaze with their stateliness.
  • Kukhna Madrasah (17th century), a spacious religious school that functioned until the early 20th century, it now contains a small history museum.
  • Khistin Caravanserai (19th century), an unusual caravanserai constructed of burnt brick.
Drive back to Dushanbe to continue your tour to the following:
  • National Museum of Tajikistan, holding more than 40,000 expositions on Tajikistan’s history, nature and art, including a 12-meter statue of Buddha discovered on Tajikistan territory.
  • Haji Yaqub Mosque (19th century), Dushanbe’s landmark mosque that can hold up to 3,000 people.
  • Rudaki Park, a beautifully manicured park filled with fountains and flowers, with a tasteful monument of Rudaki in the center.
  • Gurminj Musical Instruments Museum, dedicated to celebrating the musical heritage of the Tajiks and Pamiris through a collection of national instruments, music lessons and periodic concerts.
  • Ayni Opera and Ballet Theatre (1940s), whose gorgeous outer décor is accentuated by the pristine lawns that surround it.
  • Statue of Ismail Somoni, a classy tribute to the founder of the Tajik people which towers 25 meters high in the city center.
  • Mehrgon Market, Dushanbe’s newest bazaar housed in an ornately designed atrium.
Overnight in Dushanbe.
Tour Duration: approximately 5 hours
*Recommended flight: KC131 on Wednesdays and Fridays
In the morning, meet your driver at your Dushanbe hotel to drive to Seven Lakes in the Fann Mountains (280km, 5-6hrs). Travel along the M34 Highway via the Anzob Pass, which at 3400 meters above sea level is considered the best viewing point for the Fann Mountains.
Arrive at Seven Lakes (Haft Kul), where each lake has a distinct color accentuated by the beauty of the cliffs encircling them. Stop at each lake, about a 10-15 minutes’ drive apart from one another, to take photos and learn about each lake’s unique characteristics. Stretch your legs with a 30-40-minute hike along a mountain stream between the sixth and seventh lakes, the latter of which is situated 2300 meters above sea level. Go for a stroll around a nearby village, taking photos along the way.
Check in to the guesthouse. Overnight at Seven Lakes.
After breakfast at the guesthouse, a driver will pick you up for transfer to Penjikent (70km, 2hrs). Arrive in Penjikent for a tour of ancient Penjikent and Sarazm:
  • Republican Museum of History (Rudaki Museum), which has eight exhibition halls on archaeology, nature, history, culture, lifestyle, Tajik customs and the life of Rudaki, the founder of Tajik-Persian classical literature.
  • Republican Museum of History (Rudaki Museum), which has eight exhibition halls on archaeology, nature, history, culture, lifestyle, Tajik customs and the life of Rudaki, the founder of Tajik-Persian classical literature.
  • Penjikent Bazaar – a bustling bazaar at the junction of the city’s main roads, complete with all the standard goods and Tajik souvenirs.
  • Ancient Penjikent (5th century BC), a labyrinth of walls and passages decorated with amazing murals, the site includes foundations of houses, Zoroastrian fire temples, a cemetery and reconstructed living spaces.
Drive to the settlement of Sarazm (15km, 15min). A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010, this archaeological site bears testimony to the development of human settlements in Central Asia. The sprawling ancient city is divided into three sections and still holds intact structures of palaces, temples, altars, homes, city walls and paved roads.
Transfer to the Tajikistan – Uzbekistan land border. Go through border formalities at both checkpoints. Meet your driver and transfer to Samarkand (45km, 1hr). Arrive in Samarkand, capital of Tamerlane's Empire. Transfer to the hotel. Overnight in Samarkand.
Tour Duration: approximately 4 hours
Breakfast at the hotel before beginning your private tour of Samarkand to the following sites:
  • Gur Emir, the imposing burial site of Tamerlane and Mirzo Ulugbek.
  • Registan Square, the commercial center of Samarkand for centuries and Samarkand’s most famous site today. The square includes three madrasahs: Ulugbek Madrasah (15th century), Sher-Dor Madrasah (17th century) and Tilla-Kori Madrasah (17th century).
  • Walk along a boulevard lined with workshops and souvenir stores.
  • Bibi Khanum Mosque, built by Tamerlane for his favorite wife.
  • Siab Bazaar, a multi-level complex where you can shop for souvenirs and sample Samarkand’s famous bread.
  • Shakhi-Zinda, a burial complex built between the 9th-14th centuries. Climb the blue-domed path and explore more than 20 small mausoleums that line the broad alleyway.
  • Ulugbek Observatory, where you can see the remains of a 14th-15th century sextant and tour the Ulugbek Museum.
Overnight in Samarkand.
Tour Duration: 6 hours
Breakfast at the hotel before taking the morning train to Bukhara (280km, 1.5hrs). Arrive in Bukhara and transfer to your hotel in the Old City, an area resembling a scene from Arabian Nights. With your private local guide, enjoy a walking tour of the most impressive sights of Bukhara’s Old City:
  • Lyabi-Hauz Ensemble, holding the largest artificial reservoir of medieval Bukhara (14th-17th centuries). This ensemble includes some of the largest madrassahs in the city: the Khanaka Madrassah, Kukeldash Madrassah and Nadir Divan Beghi Madrassah (all 16th century).
  • Magoki-Attori Mosque, the oldest mosque in Bukhara (12th century).
  • Four Trade Domes (15th-16th centuries), which still house local handicrafts for sale.
  • Poi Kalyan Ensemble (12th-16th centuries), consisting of the Kalyan Minaret, Kalyan Mosque, Amir-Alimkhan Madrasah and Miri-Arab Madrasah.
  • Ulugbek (15th century) and Abdulazizkhan Madrasah (17th century), relatively untouched yet impressive religious schools.
  • Ark Fortress (4th century), the ancient center of Bukharan statehood and currently home to a small museum.
  • Bolo-Khauz Complex, consisting of an artfully decorated 18th century mosque, a minaret and reservoirs that once provided water for the entire city.
  • Mausoleum of the Samanids (9th-10th centuries), believed to be the most ancient brick building in Central Asia.
Overnight in Bukhara.
Tour Duration: approximately 6 hours
Enjoy free time after breakfast before an afternoon departure for the Alat-Farap border crossing from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan (100km, 1.5hrs). Your Turkmen guide will meet you at the border after you’ve passed through customs and drive you to Turkmenabat (30km, 1hr). Check in to the hotel and enjoy free time in the evening. Overnight in Turkmenabat.
In the morning, transfer to the airport for a flight from Turkmenabat to Ashgabat (470km, 50min). Arrive in Ashgabat, capital of Turkmenistan. A driver will meet you at the airport to bring you to your hotel. Meet your guide and driver at the hotel for a half-day of sightseeing in the capital:
  • Old Nisa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former capital of the Parthian Empire, founded in the 3rd century BC and remaining in power for nearly 500 years.
  • Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, the largest mosque in Central Asia. Also referred to as the Spiritual Mosque and the Gypjak Mosque, it includes the tombs of former president Turkmenbashy and his immediate family members.
  • Arch of Neutrality, a 95-meter-high tower topped with a gold statue of former president Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenbashy) that rotates to face the sun. Ride to the top in a funicular to tour a small museum and enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
  • Independence Park, including the yurt-shaped Independence Monument housing the Museum of National Values. The museum is surrounded by lavish fountains, 27 statues of Turkmenistan’s key historical figures and a golden sculpture of Niyazov himself.
  • Statue of Lenin, unique in that it stands on a large base ornately decorated in traditional Turkmen ornamentation.
  • National Museum of History, displaying over half a million items from every region of the country, including rare artifacts from ancient times through the Middle Ages.
  • Gulistan Bazaar (also known as the Russian Bazaar), one of the oldest markets in the city, a clean yet lively place to buy snacks and mingle with local shoppers.
Transfer to the hotel after your tour. Overnight in Ashgabat.
Tour Duration: approximately 5 hours
Check out by noon and transfer to the airport for departure to your next destination*. End of the Five Stans Central Asia Budget Tour.
*Note: most international flights depart from Ashgabat in the early morning. For example, there are flights almost daily to Istanbul and Dubai at 04:20am.

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