Turkmenistan - A Country of Contrasts
One of the least-visited countries on earth based on Turkmenistan tourism statistics, Turkmenistan tourism is in a league of its own. Its appeal lies in its mystery and seclusion from the outside world as much as in its history and rich tribal culture. Once you’ve experienced this desert nation of barely five million people, the sights, sounds and experiences are simply unforgettable.
Turkmenistan is known almost exclusively for its oil and gas reserves and totalitarian government, yet these do not even begin to scratch the surface of all that this astounding country has to offer. Diverse natural landscapes of scorched desert sands, emerald-green Kopetdag Mountains and turquoise-blue waves of the Caspian Sea; distinctive architecture and immaculate city streets; unrivaled historical treasures to be climbed, explored and photographed; and a traditional, nomadic culture of hospitality, bravery and pride.
Our Turkmenistan guided tours will take you to a fairy-tale land unlike any you’ve visited before. Consider these Turkmenistan tourist destinations that await you:
Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat is reason enough to embark on a Turkmenistan tour. This sparkling clean city holds the world record for having the highest density of white marble buildings anywhere in the world, and the combination of its marbled, post-modern architecture, and half deserted, eerily quiet streets leave you with the impression that you’ve walked into the scene of a sci-fi film.
There is plenty to see and do in Ashgabat. The city is replete with monuments, museums and exhibition halls, plus a string of comfortable 4 and 5-star hotels. The 3-story National Museum of Turkmenistan holds over half a million local artefacts in seven separate galleries. The National Independence Park is a must-see with its plethora of fountains, gold-plated statues, two-story replica of Turkmenistan’s national book Rukhana and, of course, plenty of marble.
At the Arch of Neutrality you can ride to the top of the rocket-shaped tower to enjoy an amazing view of the city, and see a golden monument of the first Turkmenistan president Niyazov, constantly rotating to face the sun. Elsewhere, view the world’s largest indoor Ferris wheel and the building housing the Ministry of Carpets, built in the very shape of a carpet itself.
Just outside the Turkmenistan capital is the towering Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, a site of controversy as verses from both the Quran and the Rukhana are inscribed on its walls. This is also the burial site of Turkmenbashi and his immediate family.
Unusual Tourist Attractions
There’s no shortage of out-of-the-ordinary tourist destinations in unique Turkmenistan!
Camp out in the desert near the Darvaza Gas Craters (otherwise known as the Gates of Hell), a natural gas reserve that’s been burning continuously since 1971. Standing near its cavernous opening in the pitch-black stillness of the desert is an experience like no other, particularly as no one knows just how long it will continue to burn.
Climb 60 meters (200 feet) below the earth to swim in the warm, sulfuric waters of the Kow Ata Underground Lake. Formerly a favorite regional holiday spot during Soviet times, this waters are famous for their healing properties.
Dinosaurs’ Plateau in the Koytentag (Koughitang) Mountains may be surrounded by legend and theory, but you can personally touch thousands of massive three-toed footprints fossilized in the limestone, and see the human footprints embedded alongside them.
Nokhur Cemetery, tucked away in a village in Turkmenistan’s mountainous Nokhur region, reflects the area’s pre-Islamic influence, with nearly every tombstone topped with the horns of a mountain goat, presumably to ensure a safe passage into the next life.
The Darvaza Gas Craters are not the only desert attraction in the Turkmen wilderness. Camp out on a cliff in Yangykala Canyon (Fortresses of Fire), arguably the country’s most gorgeous natural attraction with its rainbow-tinted bluffs and untouched beauty. Follow in the footsteps of ancient wanderers when you camp out at the remains of the long-abandoned, 11th century oasis town Dekhistan. Step inside one of the oldest mosques in all of Central Asia in a nearby desert encampment. Marvel at the mustard-orange dunes of the great Karakum Desert on your 4WD out west, and stop for a selfie with the herds of camels who may be your sole traveling companions on the desert highways.
Just as your eyes begin to weary of endless sands, your travels will lead you to Avaza, a modern-day oasis on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Turkmenbashi. Soak in the bright sun, coral-blue waters, fresh air and modern comforts of this resort town.
Avaza is a small corner of paradise, nestled amid amazing coastal landscapes and near-endless beach. With tourism in Turkmenistan slowly on the rise, this quirky, ambitious town is developing rapidly and already offers an array of services and entertainment. Spend your day on the beach or at one of the resort’s mini water-parks. Enjoy fresh sturgeon, mullet or beluga in an upscale restaurant, or snack on the fresh fish and chips from the wandering beach vendors. Enjoy evening entertainment at Alemgosar Park, mingling with tourists from all over the country and world.
At the same time, efforts are being made to protect the district’s rare natural habitation, and the Hazar State Reserve, located near Avaza, is well worth seeing.
Turkmenistan Cultural Tours
Turkmen culture is as vibrant and varied as their world-famous carpet tapestries. Tall, graceful and independent, with an air of royalty about them, the traditionally nomadic Turkmen people have remained resilient in the face of countless hardships. Just as the rugged atmosphere of Turkmenistan provides the perfect backdrop to a vacation of adventure, the culture of the Turkmenistan people will add a colorful richness to your trip.
While in the cities of Ashgabat, Mary and Balkanabat, enjoy interacting with the Turkmen people in bazaars, parks and cafés, where you can practice your Turkmen and get a feel for everyday life in Turkmenistan: watch as hundreds of camels, horses and sheep are traded between savvy local herders and businessmen in the market and observe women passing by in high-topped headscarves and colorful, flowing dresses. Enjoy Turkmen cuisine, including their tasty kebabs, soups, chorek (bread), dograma (chopped bread, meat and onions served with broth) and meat pies.
When you tire of city taxis and desert 4WD, take an excursion on camel or horseback. Turkmenistan’s Akhal-Teke horses are the country’s pride and glory! This breed is one of the oldest, fastest and stateliest in the world. Riding them independently is not for the faint of heart, but certainly an unforgettable experience.
Many Turkmen people have a belief system influenced by both Islam and Zoroastrianism. You’ll find pilgrims’ shrines dotted all around the country, with locals stopping to worship, leave items for good luck, and carry out small rituals - walking around a minaret in circles, rolling down the hill of a cemetery to cure infertility or tying pieces of cloth at the burial sites of saints to obtain favor.
A cultural tour of Turkmenistan wouldn’t be complete without time and money spent at the Turkmen bazaars. Spend hours wandering the sprawling Altyn Asyr Bazaar (formerly known as Tolkuchka Bazaar), situated on the outskirts of Ashgabat, or the smaller but centrally located Russian Bazaar of Ashgabat. Shop for carpets, jewelry, tradition Turkmen clothing and hats, and wander the rows of fresh melons, dried fruits, oriental sweets and breads.
Along with the Akhal-Teke horse, Turkmenistan is renowned for their handwoven carpets. Turkmen carpets go beyond mere household items into an object of art. Carpet weaving dates back centuries in Turkmenistan, and Turkmen rugs are distinguishable by their characteristic drawings, distinct coloring and superb quality.
Turkmen carpetbags are a more affordable souvenir option. These handwoven items, made with eco-friendly materials in avant-garde styles, will rival the products of the most popular international brands and are guaranteed to be one-of-a-kind.
Silver gilded Turkmen jewelry, traditionally deeply symbolic, come in the form of massive Turkmen bracelets, pendants, earrings, necklaces and ornaments, distinguishable by their unique style and historical significance.
Turkmenistan Tourism: Historical Tours
Once you’ve left Ashgabat you may sense that you’ve been plunged into a different era altogether, with the 21st century a distant memory. A trip to Turkmenistan would be far from complete without fully appreciating its ancient contributions to today’s world:
Temple-city Gonur-Tepe, the largest ancient settlement in the region and site of various Zoroastrian rituals and sacrifices. Archeological work is ongoing at Gonur-Tepe, with over 150 settlements unearthed so far, but countless mysteries remain to be solved.
Kunya-Urgench is an open-air museum to past empires and sits in stark contrast to Ashgabat’s futuristic architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage site features the 13th century Kutlug Timur Minaret, Fakhreddin Razi Mausoleum and Kyrk Molla Hill, plus countless Turkmen on pilgrimage to its revered sites.
Merv can leave you speechless as you climb to the top of its impressive walls and view the surrounding landscape, in awe of this grand city now infused with the stillness of abandoned ruins. Once the capital of Margiana, Merv outshone even Samarkand and Bukhara in its significance as a major stop along the Great Silk Road.
A trek to the lonely Dayahatyn Caravanserai will leave you with the impression that you’re one of the merchants of old, having arrived at this oasis after a long desert journey.
Wracked in ancient times by an earthquake and rulers bent on its destruction, the remains of the settlement of Nisa are a priceless heritage from the B.C. era.
For more ‘recent’ history, visit the medieval city of Abiverd near the Iranian border.
With the exception of 5-day transit visas, it’s currently impossible to get a visa to Turkmenistan apart from booking a tour with a reputable travel agency. We also know that tourism to Turkmenistan can get pricey, and that’s why we’re committed to providing the best possible Turkmenistan tourism packages at the most affordable possible price. With OrexCA you’ll be guaranteed a quality tour with an expert local guide to make this once-in-a-lifetime trip a truly extraordinary adventure!