What's it all about?
This takes in Turkmenistan’s constantly shifting Independence day!
By far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asia’s ‘stans, Turkmenistan is a country slowly opening up its borders to tourism so now is the chance to experience all it has to offer while it still remains firmly off the beaten track.
The tour kicks off in the ultra-modern capital city of Ashgabat, sometimes called the “White City” because of the abundance of glistening white marble statues and buildings adorned with gold trim. Although statues and pictures of the President for Life, Saparmurat Niyazov (more famously known as “Turkmenbashy”) are still seen on almost every street, all the parks, and at the front of ministry buildings, his successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has begun making his own mark. Here you will join the small group of foreigners who have had the opportunity to take part in the colourful Independence Day celebrations. If you thought an Olympic Opening Ceremony was spectacular, think again.
Leaving Ashgabat after the Independence Day events, we’ll drive through the Karakum Desert, visiting Ancient UNESCO world heritage archaeological sites on the Silk Road. We’ll take in ancient fortresses, underground thermal springs, unfinished beach resorts, flaming gas craters and sweeping natural canyons. Turkmenistan is a place oozing in both history and quirkiness. This is a tour designed for the intrepid traveller so join fast – it’s going to be a popular one!
The LOI application process is quite complicated and time-consuming. Independence Day is a special time of the year with extra restrictions. For the best chance of approval, please get in at least 3 months in advance. Late applications are accepted but the approval rate goes down. In most cases you will get a full refund if the application is rejected.
Day 1 – Thursday September 26th
- Meet your local and western guides at Ashgabat airport.
- Driving tour of Ashgabat’s main sites including Independence Park, Monument to the Constitution, the Arch of Neutrality, Lenin Park, Ertogrul Ghazi Mosque and the Alem Centre which is the complex that is home to the Wheel of Enlightenment, the largest indoor ferris wheel in the world.
- If the food court at the Alem Centre’s open we’ll have lunch there, however, it is often closed in which case we’ll go to the Russian Bazaar.
- Visit the university bookshop where you can find books written by and about the president. They also have postcards, posters and if you’re lucky they might even have a copy of the Ruhnama, the book written by Turkmenbashy himself.
- Return to Ashgabat
- Dinner and drinks at a pub in the city centre which serves kebabs and local draught beer.
Day 2 – Friday September 27th
- Visit Nisa, a UNESCO world heritage site.
- Visit Anau on the eastern outskirts of Ashgabat and see the remains of its Fortress and Sheikh Jemaladdin Mosque which was destroyed in the 1948 earthquake.
- Drive to Kipchak to see the Turkmenbashy Mosque, where the man himself is buried beside his mother, father and two brothers.
- Dinner at Ak Altyn Hotel’s open air restaurant.
- Independence Day concert at Kopetdag Stadium. There will be performances of local popular artists and also traditional folk music and dance. A concert that tourists aren’t usually given access to!
Day 3 – Saturday September 28th
- Visit the Akhalteke Horse Complex and see the end of the horse racing season festivities. Horse racing is one of the President’s favorite hobbies and it has become a very important part of Turkmen life.
- Drive 250km to Darvaza (The Door to Hell) in 4WD’s.
- Stop in Bakhordok to have lunch.
- Stop at Erbent en-route, one of the few nomadic villages still left in Central Asia.
- Pass through the ruins of Darvaza village.
- Visit two other craters on the way – one full of mud, one full of water.
- Traverse the sand dunes of the Karakum Desert to get to Darvaza, the flaming gas crater.
- Watch the sunset over the fiery crater and experience dusk turn to dark at this breathtaking site.
- Camp in tents near the Gates of Hell.
Day 4 – Sunday September 29th
- Drive back to the outskirts of Ashgabat to Kow Ata. This natural underground thermal spring is said to have many medical attributes but is also used by locals as a swimming hole.
- After a revitalising swim in the cave lake, we’ll enjoy lunch at one of the shashlik restaurants just outside the entrance to the cave.
- Drive 175km north-west into the Kopetdag mountains to Nokhur, a traditional tribal village.
- Visit Nokhur Cemetery where each grave is adorned with the horns of a mountain goat.
- Dinner (included) and overnight in a home-stay.
Day 5 – Monday September 30th
- Drive 450 km west to Avaza.
- We’ll stop for lunch along the way.
- Arrive in Avaza and have a driving tour of the beach resort. Although the facilities are extravagant and the buildings futuristic, the town is still best described as a ghost town.
- Dinner in one of the glamorous hotels of Avaza.
- After dinner, we’ll take a walk along the Caspian Sea coast.
- Overnight in Turkmenbashy, a ten-minute drive from Avaza.
Day 6 – Tuesday October 1st
- Yangykala Canyon. In 4×4’s, we’ll drive over the canyon walls, through the canyon itself, and up the other side.
- We will take a packed lunch with us so we can enjoy it at the canyon.
- Return to Turkmenbashy and check into the hotel.
- Explore the city at your leisure.
- Dinner at the hotel.
Day 7 – Wednesday October 2nd
- Fly on Turkmenistan Airlines back to Ashgabat.
- Arrive in Ashgabat in the afternoon.
- Free time for the rest of the afternoon.
- Dinner and drinks at the British Pub.
Day 8 – Thursday October 3rd
- End of tour, airport transfers provided according to your flight time.
- Possible activities for those with later flights, or who wish to extend their time in Ashgabat, include visiting the Fine Arts Museum, History Museum, Ethnography Museum or Carpet Museum.
•Letter of Invitation and registration
•A/C bus, 4×4’s, train tickets and domestic flight Turkmenbashy-Ashgabat
•Local & western English speaking guide
•Entrance fees to Nisa and Kow Ata
•Accommodation according to itinerary in twin/double share (except in the homestay)
•Bottled water each day
•Flights to and from Ashgabat
•Visa (roughly $90 for most nationalities on arrival at Ashgabat airport)
•Immigration tax at the airport ($12)
•Meals other than those stipulated (allow up to $10 per meal)
•Single supplement for accommodation ($155)
•Photo/video fees at sites