Visitors to Turkmenistan are constantly amazed at the seemingly endless opportunities for adventure, exploration and discovery that this little-known country has to offer. Roaming freely in expansive archaeological digs, venturing into the desert in a 4WD for overnight camping and exploring a gorgeous capital city nearly devoid of tourists are just the beginning of your extraordinary Turkmenistan trip.
The Turkmenistan Highlights Tour is a carefully crafted trip based on the favorite experiences and recommended routes of past travelers, with guided excursions to Ashgabat, Merv, Kunya-Urgench and Darwaza Gas Crater in the Karakum Desert. This tour also includes special stops at the Anau and Abiverd ruins, historically significant cities visited by very few tourists, and extra free time in the capital city for the rare opportunity to explore Turkmenistan independently.
Overnight in Ashgabat hotel.
- Old Nisa, a spectacular archaeological site just 15 km from the city. Nisa was the capital of the Parthian Empire, founded in the 3rd century BC and remaining in power for nearly 500 years. Today it’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, the largest mosque in Central Asia. Also referred to as the Spiritual Mosque and the Gypjak Mosque, it includes a mausoleum with 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 and priceless 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.
Return to hotel after sightseeing. Overnight in Ashgabat hotel.
Tour duration: 5-6 hours
Arrive at the crater in the evening to enjoy a spectacular sunset view before admiring the crater’s flames accentuated by a pitch-black sky. The fire crater is about 80m in diameter and 30m deep, and staring into this ‘Door to Hell’ with your own eyes is an experience like no other. Set up camp and enjoy a meal cooked over the fire as you lounge near the burning crater.
Overnight in tents or a yurt.
Depart for Kunya-Urgench, the ancient capital of the Khorezmshahs (270 km, 4 hrs). Your tour will include:
- Visit to the Tyurabek-Khanym Mausoleum (14th century), burial site of a Mongolian princess, and the Sayid Ahmed Mausoleum (14th century), tomb of a leader of the Golden Horde.
- Discovery of the Kutlug Timur Minaret (11th-13th centuries), which at 62 meters is the tallest minaret in Central Asia.
- Travel to the 12th-century Sultan Tekesh Mausoleum of Khorezmshakh.
- Exploration of Kyrk Molla Hill (Forty Mullahs Hill), a fortress covering three hectares that includes the famous Mamun Library (8th-9th centuries) and an ancient cemetery believed to hold present-day healing powers.
- Walk through Fakhreddin Razi Mausoleum (a.k.a. mausoleum of Arslan II, 13th century), one of the oldest, most unique structures in all of Central Asia.
- Drive to the Mausoleum of Najmaddin Kubra (12th century), the founder of the Sufi order Kubrawiya, and a favorite pilgrimage site for visiting Muslims.
- Walk through the Sultan Ali Mausoleum (16th century), a half-completed structure intended for a powerful Turkmen ruler but left unfinished due to ongoing war.
Overnight in Dashoguz hotel.
Tour duration: approximately 3 hours
- Anau Mosque (Sheikh Jemaliddin Mosque), a 15th century remnant known for the 9-meter-high dragon mosaic at its entrance, a drawing that has mystified historians. Also the burial site of Sheikh Jemaliddin, the mosque is a popular pilgrimage site for childless women.
- Remains of Abiverd, a Silk Road fortress city and prosperous commercial center which, during its heyday in the Middle Ages, surpassed even Nisa in prominence.
- Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum (12th century) – Considered by many to be the most majestic architectural monument of Merv, this mausoleum amazes with its thick walls, symmetrical proportions and domed top that displays amazing architectural craftsmanship for its day.
- Greater Kyz Kala and Lesser Kyz Kala (8th-9th centuries) - These unique fortified homes are built of mud brick, with no known archeological equivalents.
- Askhab Mausoleums (9th-12th centuries) - Built for two of the prophet Muhammad’s earliest disciples, the Askhab Mausoleums are one of Turkmenistan’s most important pilgrimage sites today.
- Erk Kala (6th century BC), the seat of ancient Merv and its oldest settlement, whose remaining walls are nearly 30 meters high. Climb the walls for a great view of the surrounding area.
- Gyaur Kala (3rd century BC) - Merv’s second oldest settlement, famous for its thick, 2-km long walls.
- Beni Makhan Mosque and cistern (7th- 9th centuries) - Also called the Juma Mosque, it’s located in the center of ancient Gyaur Kala, along with an intact cistern that still functions today.
- Muhammad Ibn Zeid Mausoleum (12th century) - A popular Sufi shrine and one of the city’s finest structures due to its symmetrical architecture and the Arabic inscriptions chiseled into its walls.
Transfer to the airport upon completion of the tour. Return to Ashgabat on the evening flight (370 km, 40 min).
Overnight in Ashgabat hotel.
Tour duration: approximately 5 hours