ITINERARY & MAP
Welcome to Central Asia! Most of the flights arrive early in the morning, so you can have a rest after the long flight, take a shower and have breakfast. Meet your fellow travelers and your guide at 9:30 AM in the hotel lobby to start the city tour.
Astana is Central Asia’s youngest capital and a showpiece for the 21st century Kazakhstan. We will visit is the National Museum of Kazakhstan, walk to Independence Square and in the afternoon, we enjoy the nice city view from the top of the Baiterek Tower. We will have a walk along the Nurzhol Boulevard, designed by Kisho Kurokawa, with Khan Shatyr at the end, giant tent-like shopping center designed by architect Norman Foster. Finally, you will get to see the Expo 2017 area with the impressive Kazakh pavilion in a unique spherical shape.
Overnight in hotel Hilton Garden Inn 4* or similar
This morning we need to get up early to catch our flight to Bishkek departing 08:00 with Air Astana. Upon arrival at 09:45 in the Kyrgyz capital, your Kyrgyz guide will meet you and transfer to the hotel, where you can leave your luggage. You will have lunch and we will do some light touring in the charming capital of Kyrgyzstan, the greenest city in Central Asia. Our sightseeing program in Bishkek includes stops at the Oak Park, Central Square Ala-Too the Philharmonic Hall, and the Victory Square.
Overnight in hotel Plaza Hotel or similar
We depart from Bishkek at 8 AM and the first stop after 80 km is at Burana Tower. The minaret was built in the 11th century in the medieval town of Balasagun, capital of the mighty Karakhanid empire. You can climb up the winding staircase to enjoy a nice view of the Chuy Valley. There is also an open-air museum featuring a collection of ancient balbals, carved stone figures used as monuments.
In June, July, August & September: Song-Kul
We then continue driving to the village of Kochkor, where we stop for lunch. From Kochkor it’s another 4-5 hours mostly on dirt road driving up to lake Song Kul and driving along its southern shore to the yurt camp. The lake is situated on around 3000m altitude and only accessible in summer.
Overnight in traditional Kyrgyz Yurt (one yurt for 2 of you, shared bathroom facilities)
In May & October: Chon Kemin
After visiting the Burana tower, we continue driving further into the mountains to a guesthouse in the beautiful Chon-Kemin Valley. Upon arrival, we have lunch at the guesthouse. In the afternoon you can have a walk in the village, observe the life of the local people, or optionally go for a short horse riding tour into the surrounding hills. Dinner and overnight in the guesthouse.
Ashu Guesthouse (single/ twin room with private bathroom)
After breakfast, it is time to leave Song Kul and drive to Issyk Kul – the “Pearl of Kyrgyzstan”. On the way, we stop in Kochkor to see a presentation of how traditional felt carpets are made and you can even try to make your own. Shortly after Kochkor we arrive at Issyk Kul and drive along the southern shore to the “Skazka” or “Fairytale” canyon. The canyon derived its name from its bizarre landscape with fabulous formations from rocks. From there it is just a few more minutes’ drive to our overnight stay – a nice yurt camp about 200 meters from the beach of lake Issyk Kul. Usually, in summer the hot weather is inviting to take a swim.
Lake Issyk Kul is the second-largest mountain lake in the world, after Titicaca. Located at an altitude of 1600m, it is a slightly saline lake with no outlet, surrounded completely by the Tien Shan Mountains.
Overnight in yurt – 2 people in a yurt, shared bathroom facilities
After breakfast, we drive further eastwards along the southern shore of Issyk Kul towards the town of Karakol. On the way to Karakol, we drive into the side valley of Jety Oguz, famous for its two red rock formations called “Seven Bulls” and “The Broken Heart”. You will see these rocks and your guide will tell you the legend behind their interesting names.
In Karakol, we will have lunch and have a short sightseeing tour of the town’s most interesting sights. The tour includes the Dungan Mosque, built in 1904 with no metal nails and the wooden Russian Orthodox Church which has been standing since 1869. We will also visit the small historical Museum of Karakol. We will have lunch in Karakol in an Uighur family. From Karakol, it is another 30km driving north to the village of Tepke where we will spend the night in a nice guesthouse of farmers who breed Kyrgyz horses. You can see their horses and learn how “Boorsok” (deep fried bread, typical for Kyrgyzstan) is made.
Overnight & dinner in guesthouse “Reina Kench” – Twin/ Single rooms with shower and toilet in the room
Today we cross the mountains into Kazakhstan and drive to Almaty, former capital and biggest city of Kazakhstan. It is a very long ride and partly on a bad road. About half-way between Karakol and Almaty, we will stop for lunch (picnic) at one of the most famous natural sights of Kazakhstan – Charyn Canyon. The canyon is often compared to the Grand Canyon, although it is much smaller in size with a total length of 80-90 kilometers. The part of the canyon you will visit is known as “Valley of Castles” for its unusual rock formations. It is 3 kilometers long and 100 meters deep. We will walk these 3 kilometers down to the river, where we will have a picnic. In the evening, we arrive in Almaty on time for dinner. The hotel in Almaty is located in the city center right next to Panfilov Park and Green Bazaar.
Overnight in Worldhotel Saltanat 4* or similar
Almaty is the largest city of Central Asia’s richest country, Kazakhstan. Until 1997 it was the country’s capital and it remains today the country’s business and educational center. Roads are wide and tree-lined and there are good views of the Zailisky Ala-Too mountains that form a backdrop to the city. The name Almaty means “the place with apples” and it is believed that this is where apples originated from.
We will visit Panfilov Park to see the most famous sight of Almaty, Zenkov Cathedral. It was built in 1904 without a single metal nail and is one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings. In the same Park is the impressive Soviet Glory Memorial, a tribute to 28 men who, as the narrative goes, repulsed 50 German tanks from the outskirts of Moscow during World War II. Adjacent to the park is the Museum of Musical Instruments. On display are many traditional instruments from the region. At the Green Bazaar, you get a chance to explore local Kazakh culture as you shop for fresh fruits and vegetables. In the afternoon, we drive half an hour up to Medeo ice skating rink and take a cable car to enjoy a nice view at the top of Shymbulak skiing area. It will be quite chilly and windy on top at 3200m altitude, so make sure to bring a sweatshirt or light jacket.
Overnight in Worldhotel Saltanat 4* or similar
After breakfast transfer to Almaty Airport to catch Air Astana flight to Dushanbe, departing at 11:10. At 12:00 arrive in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Originally, Dushanbe was a small village around a market that took place every Monday. The word Dushanbe translated from Persian means Monday. It was during the Soviet Union that it became the industrial center of Tajikistan.
Meet your Tajik guide, transfer to hotel for check in and have lunch in the city. In the afternoon, we will have a walk in the shade of the trees in the Botanical Garden. We will then visit Ismail Samani statue. The large monument commemorates the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid State, the heyday of the Tajik nation when science and arts flourished. From there we walk up to Rudaki park, dedicated to great Persian poet Rudaki, who also lived during Samanid time in the 9th century. You will also climb the highest building of Dushanbe – Dushanbe Plaza to enjoy a nice 360” city view.
Overnight in hotel Hilton 4*
Today after an early breakfast we drive to Iskanderkul Lake, named after Alexander the Great. Triangular in shape, it is considered one of the most exquisite lakes in all of the former Soviet Union nations, nestled in the Fan Mountains on 2,200m altitude. The route is a delightful one, past rugged mountains scenery. At the shore of the lake we will have lunch and you can go for a swim if you like. We then take a short hike to a nearby waterfall, also called the Niagara Falls of the Fan Mountains.
We then continue driving for another 4 hours to reach the town of Penjikent, where we arrive just in time for dinner and will stay for overnight in a hotel.
Overnight in hotel Umaryon 2* (simple hotel, but a private bathroom in each room)
Today we take a bumpy ride into the mountains, to explore the area of the “Seven Lakes”. The mountain valley is not far from Penjikent, but due to the terrible road condition this trip takes a full day. Near the fourth lake, there is a guesthouse. Those who like can stay there after lunch and relax and who wants can drive further up the valley until the sixth lake. From there it’s a short and easy hike of about 2 hours (both ways) to the seventh and highest lake Hazorchashma. Enjoy the scenery and go on a short hike along the lake’s shore if you like, before hiking back down to the 6th lake and driving back down to Penjikent.
Overnight in hotel Umariyon 2* (simple hotel, but a private bathroom in each room)
From Penjikent we drive up North to Istarafshan first and finally to Khujand. The road to Istaravshan is very scenic, crossing Shahriston Pass. Istarafshan was founded by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC and recently celebrated its 2500th anniversary. The Timurids of the 14th century then called Istaravshan Ura-Tube and the city’s artisans were highly regarded in Central Asia. Today, Istarafshan is well known in Tajikistan for its blacksmiths, hand-crafting knives of high quality. We will visit the workshops of the blacksmiths near the entrance of the market.
From Istarafshan it is another one and a half hours driving to Khujand. Check in at the hotel and have dinner in the second largest city of Tajikistan. Have a walk in the evening in the park named after Kamoli Khujandi.
Overnight in Grand Hotel 3*
Khujand is situated in the Fergana Valley on the Syr Darya river. It is another ancient city with history dating back to Cyrus the Great of Persia and Alexander the Great. Today it is the second largest city in Tajikistan with Tajikistan’s biggest market – Panjshanbe Bazaar. City tour of Khujand includes the bazaar and the adjacent Maslihaddin Mosque, the historical Museum of Khujand, and Arbob palace
Overnight in Khujand Grand Hotel 3*
Depart from Khujand around 8:30 AM and cross Oybek border point on foot between Khujand and Tashkent at 9:30 AM. Meet your Uzbek driver and bus on the other side and drive ca. 2 hours to reach Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan and largest city in Central Asia. Check in at hotel Wyndham and have lunch in the city center. Then it’s time to start the city tour. Visit the Old City area of Tashkent where you will find the Khast Imom Complex which contains ancient holy Quran of Caliph Osman. Experience the bustling crowds of traders at Chor-Su Bazaar before taking a ride on the city’s famous Soviet-era metro system which like Moscow’s features some of the most ornately decorated stations in the world. Exit at Amir Temur Square Station to view the statue of the great conqueror and next to it, the grand Independence Square. We complete the city tour of Tashkent with a visit to the Applied Arts Museum.
Overnight in hotel Wyndham 4* or similar
After early breakfast at 7:00 AM transfer to the railway station to take high-speed Afrosiyob train to Samarkand. Departure 8:00 AM and arrival in Samarkand 10:08 AM. Transfer to hotel and check-in. At 12:00 transfer to city center for lunch. In the afternoon we begin our exploration of this fascinating city and former capital of Timurid Empire. We start the city tour with a visit of Siyob Bazaar and the impressive Bibi Khanum Mosque right next to it. Then, finally, you get to see Samarkand’s and arguably Uzbekistan’s most famous landmark, spectacular Registan Square. The focal point of ancient Samarkand is framed by three beautiful madrassas – Ulugbek, Sherdor and Tillya Kori. We finish the sightseeing today with a visit of Gur-Emir mausoleum, where Timur is buried. Dinner in the city center.
Overnight in hotel L’Argamak 3* or similar
We begin the city tour on our second day in Samarkand just outside the city in the village Koni Ghil to explore the traditional way of making Samarkand paper from mulberry. Back in the city we then visit Ulugbek’s observatory, once the biggest research center of Central Asia. Ulugbek was decades ahead of the West with his observations of the solar system and the earth and we will learn more about his story in this prestigious setting. Our next stop is Shah-i-Zinda, the necropolis where family members of Timur are buried. In the afternoon visit of Afrasiyab Museum, where you can learn more about the ancient city of Samarkand – then known as Afrasiyab – that was destroyed by the Mongols in the early 13th century. Free time. Dinner in the city center. After dinner transfer to the train station to catch Afrosiyob high-speed train to Bukhara, departing 9 PM and arriving 10:40 PM in Bukhara. Transfer to the hotel and check-in.
Overnight in hotel Asia 3* or similar
After breakfast at 8:00 AM, when it’s not too hot, start walking tour of Bukhara. Even the very name Bukhara conjures up images of the exotic Orient. For centuries, it was an important trading post and academic center. The Old Town has been well preserved and is crammed full of minarets, mosques, and madrassas. Its once notorious canals and pools, the source of many an epidemic, have now been drained but the most famous, Lyabi-Hauz, is still there, an oasis shaded by mulberry trees at the heart of the city. Your guide will show you the city’s unmissable sights and you can soak up the atmosphere wandering through Bukhara’s labyrinthine alleyways. Sights that you will see on today’s walking tour in the Old Town of Bukhara: Kalon Complex, Ark Fortress, Bolo Hauz Mosque, Chiobs Mausoleum with the spring, local market, Museum of the Samanids and in the evening the Synagogue and the puppet workshop. Dinner in the city center.
Overnight in hotel Asia 3* or similar
After breakfast check out from hotel and depart around 9:00 AM to Khiva. It is a long ride through the Kyzylkum desert. On the way we stop for lunch in a small restaurant. In the evening arrival in Khiva. It is a long day on shaky roads, so prepare yourself with plenty of snacks and charge up your devices so the music does not run out. At the end of this arduous drive, the reward will be Khiva, where we will arrive in the evening, just in time for dinner. Check-in at the hotel and dinner in the Old Town.
Overnight in hotel Asia 3* or similar
After breakfast start walking tour of the city. Khiva is bursting with historical sites – and today you will get a chance to see them all. We will visit the walled inner-city section of Khiva called Ichan Kala. This old section of town preserves more than fifty historic monuments and hundreds of old houses dating back hundreds of years. The entire citadel is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you walk through the enormous city gates, you are confronted by the glistening Islamic beacon, the Kalta-minor Minaret. Delve deep into the town on a guided tour that embraces all of the city sites, and includes an ascent of the Islam Khodja Minaret, the highest minaret in Khiva. Enjoy broad views of Old Khiva atop the Kunya-Ark Citadel. During dinner there
will be a small performance of local dancers and singers.
Overnight in hotel Asia 3* or similar
In the morning drive to Turkmenistan border point Shavat-Dashoguz (60 km, 1 h.). Be at the border at 9:00 AM when it opens and go through formalities on both checkpoints. Cross 1.5 km neutral zone (minibus available for ca. 1 USD). With your invitation letter you will be able to get your Turkmenistan visas at the border. You will need to pay around 100 USD per person in cash (banknotes should be in nice condition, not wrinkled or torn, to be accepted).
Please note: Depending on the number of people waiting to cross the border you will need to wait up to one or two hours, also be prepared to be thoroughly searched. On the Turkmenistan side of the border, meet your Turkmen guide and driver and transfer to Kunya Urgench (100 km, 2 h.). Visit mausoleums of Turebek Khanym, Sultan Tekesh, Sultan Il Arslan, Najmad-din-Kubra, Sultan Ali. Discover the Kutlug Timur
Minaret and Kyrk Molla hill. In the afternoon drive to Darwaza gas crater located in the middle of Karakym desert (270 km, 4-5 h.). Set up the camp. Enjoy a delicious fire-cooked meal for dinner near the burning gas crater.
Overnight in tents (wild camping)
After camp style breakfast drive to Ashgabat via water crater and Erbent desert community. Arrival in Ashgabat around noon. Check in at the hotel (after 12:00 hrs) and have some rest during the midday heat and after the long and shaky ride of the past couple of days. Have lunch at the hotel.
In the afternoon, between 2:30-3:00 PM have a short sightseeing tour (3-4 hrs) in Ashgabat – the capital of Turkmenistan which has experienced a boom of “Marble Architecture” for the past 25 years. The tour includes a visit of the National Museum of History, the Arch of Neutrality, and the newly built Independence Park. End the tour at Terrace restaurant (7th floor) with dinner and a nice view of the Independence Park and buildings around. After dinner, drive back to Ashgabat through New City area of Ashgabat enjoying the view with all its night illuminations.
Overnight in Hotel Yldyz 5*
Day 21: Ashgabat – Geokdepe – Ashgabat
Today we have another busy day. After breakfast, we drive to Old Nisa fortress (UNESCO World Heritage site) – the earliest of Parthian Empire capitals. Located in an atmospheric area on an irregular pentagon hill, at the foot of the Kopet-Dag Mountains, Old Nisa is a beautiful landmark. 14 hectares in size, the fort accommodates two semi-excavated complexes of Parthian period (III c. BC – III c. AD) structures, designated as royal residence and temple complex. From Nisa fortress, we continue to the Spiritual Mosque, one of the biggest mosques in Central Asia. Then drive back to Ashgabat, stopping en-route at National Memorial Complex “Halk Hakydasy” with WWII and Earthquake memorials. Lunch at a local restaurant “Merdem”.
After lunch drive to a farm in Geokdepe, about 50 km west of Ashgabat, where you can see the famous Turkmen horses called Akhal Teke. Then we drive back to Ashgabat. Farewell dinner at the hotel.
Overnight in Hotel Yldyz 5*
Transfer to Airport for departure flight back home. We hope you enjoyed your trip to Central Asia and will return soon to discover more places in this beautiful part of the world!