Central Asia is a region comprising Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries have striking similarities, but each has distinct differences in terms of tourist sights. What to include on your Central Asia travel bucket list?
Kazakhstan is characterized by modern cities and vast steppe. You’ll encounter international hotels and global fast food and clothing brands such as Ritz-Carlton, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Zara and many others.
If you are longing for untouched nature, trekking and outdoor active tours then Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would be a better fit. In these two countries, you can spend the night at local homestays or yurts and get to know more about the area’s traditional way of life. If you are primarily interested in the cultural heritage of the region and want to know more about the Silk Road, then Uzbekistan is the best choice. The jewels in the Silk Road crown, Samarkand, Khiva, and Bukhara, are found there.
The region’s variety of tourist attractions and pristine natural landscapes will delight, but where do you start?
Here is a list of quintessential Central Asian experiences:
Trace the ancient Silk Road in Central Asia
Central Asia played an important role in the great Silk Road for centuries. In all five countries, you can find evidence of this ancient trading route. In Kyrgyzstan for example, you’ll encounter the Caravansarai of Tash Rabat, be able to explore what remains of the Burana Tower and visit Osh city, more than 3000 years old. In Tajikistan, you can visit Penjikent, known as the Pompeii of Central Asia, as well as learn more about Persian culture. In Kazakhstan, we’d recommend you visit Turkestan with its magnificent Mausoleum dating from the time of the Timurid Empire. In Turkmenistan, Merv is a unique place for discovering the ancient history of Central Asia. However, the best place by far to discover the Silk Road heritage in Central Asia is Uzbekistan. The marvelous cities of Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand will just take you back in time to the golden age of the Silk Road.
Visit the capitals of Central Asia
The Central Asian countries pay a lot of attention to their capital cities. These capitals reflect the aspirations and ambitions of five newly-independent countries. As you stroll along their streets, you’ll pass myriad statues of national heroes and those who have made an outstanding contribution to their nation’s development. In addition, the Soviet legacy in city planning is still evident and there are numerous museums reflecting the interesting modern history of the region.
Explore exquisite natural landscapes & sleep in yurts
When it comes to nature, Central Asia is all about variety. The vast steppe of Kazakhstan extends for miles and miles. You can drive for several days without seeing a tree or village. The Pamir Highway winds through lofty mountain passes as it cuts across Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. To travel its entire length requires a commitment of at least two weeks. From the deserts of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the vivid turquoise lakes of Tajikistan via Kyrgyzstan’s breathtaking Alpine peaks, nature has pretty much got it covered. Much of the area is protected as national parks ensuring that its beauty will be preserved for generations to come, moreover you can enjoy nature by sleeping in yurts.
Go hiking, horse riding or biking
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are a paradise for nature lovers. They offer several world-class hiking and trekking routes which are as yet relatively undiscovered by tourists. In Kyrgyzstan, you’ll encounter gorgeous summer pastures like Son Kul and Altyn Arashan dotted by traditional yurts and local families. In Tajikistan, hiking in the Fann mountains or in the Jisew or Bartang valleys will bring you within touching distance of the region‘s wild and rugged beauty.
Shop in the markets and bazaars of Central Asia & Meet Locals
Markets in Central Asia are an integral part of the region’s way of life, from the largest bazaar Dordoi in Bishkek, lined by shipment containers with Chinese goods stretching for several kilometers, to the handicraft markets of Bukhara that distil centuries of history. You can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, try local delicacies or buy silk scarves and traditionally woven carpets as at the time of the Silk Road.
Traveling within these countries, you will meet people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. You’ll find they have one thing in common: hospitality. The warm and sincere welcome you’ll receive will ensure that the region makes a lasting impression.
If you are overwhelmed by too many places and too little time to travel the world, you can consider Best of Central Asia Tour that takes you through highlights of five countries in 22 days or have a look at top 10 places to see in Central Asia.