If you want to experience the wonders of Central Asia, this is the perfect itinerary.
From the golden domes of Ashgabat to ancient Merv and spectacular Sarmakand, this tour will take you through history and over deserts, into buzzing markets and fascinating museums and massive, crumbling forts.
The architecture of many of these storied cities is without compare, and sure to dazzle whether you're gazing at beautiful mosques in Tashkent, the great fortress at Khojand, or the many other incredible sights found along the route.
Depart the UK on your flight to Ashgabat via Istanbul
Arrive in Ashgabat early this morning, where you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Enjoy a rest before heading out in the afternoon for a city tour with your guide.
Take in the Independence Park with its monuments and statues of prominent Turkmen, along with the Arch of Neutrality and the busy Gulustan Bazaar (B)
This morning transfer to the airport for your short flight to Mary. Upon arrival you will visit ancient Merv, a major site on the Silk Road. This was at one stage the largest city in the world, and has seen many cities rise and fall over its history.
After exploring the ruins head in to the desert to Gonor Depe, a bronze age archaeological site where low mud-brick walls mark the remains of the citadel. (B)
Take an early flight back to Ashgabat and head to the National Museum there. The museum leads you through the history of the country, and has an entire room dedicated to the president and his achievements. Before you leave Ashgabat, visit the Turkmenbashy Mosque, which is the largest mosque in the country.
After lunch in the city you will drive out in to the desert to Darvaza, the famous 'Door to Hell'. This fiery pit has been burning since 1971, when Soviet geologists stumbled across a pocket of natural gas and decided to burn it off before continuing. More than 45 years later, it's still burning, and when you visit you will understand how it got its name.
Tonight sleep in tents. (B,D)
Wake up beneath endless desert skies, then strike camp and drive on to the town of Dashogus. The nearby Silk Road site of Konye Urgench was once an important trading post, breaking up journeys through the desert. Head to Konye Urgench to explore the remaining minarets and mausoleums, then press on to the Uzbek border and the city of Khiva. (B)
The ancient city of Khiva has been renovated to preserve its history. With your guide, delve into its beautiful network of alleyways, threading between mediaeval palaces, mosques and madrassahs, all surrounded by thick city walls of mud brick. As you walk, learn about this astonishing city's history, which dates back thousands of years. (B)
Today, you will drive through the desert to the city of Bukhara. Your route will take you along the banks of the Amu Darya and last about seven hours in total, which means plenty of time to drink in your beautiful surroundings. (B,L)
The old city of Bukhara is littered with mediaeval monuments, and today is your chance to see them in person. Visit the madrassahs, mosques and minarets of the old city along with the Ark Fortress and the trading domes, now home to handicraft sellers. (B)
Head out of the city to the former Emir’s Summer Palace. The palace features a blend of architectural styles, including Oriental and traditional Russian. After lunch, transfer to the railway station and take the train to renowned Samarkand, Tamerlane’s greatest work and the most famous of the Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan. (B)
A full day in this epic city takes you to the tomb of Tamerlane himself, lying beneath a fluted turquoise dome. From here, press on to the Registan Square. Fronted on three sides by large, intricately-decorated madrassahs, this square will take our breath away.
Move on to the Shah I Zinda Necropolis, a long series of tombs that vary in size and stature and provide a real treat for the eyes. Near to the necropolis lies the Bibi Khanum Mosque, built for Tamerlane’s favourite wife. Take time to view its crumbling majesty - earthquakes have taken their toll, and the Mosque today is in a state of disrepair. (B)
This morning, visit Ulugh Beg’s observatory and see the array of instruments used by the scholars who worked here in the 15th century. At the observatory, scholars plotted the positions of stars and learnt to predict eclipses, the hour of sunrise and the altitude of celestial bodies. Perhaps most amazingly of all, they hypothesised the length of a stellar year - and their result was only one minute longer than modern calculations.
From the Observatory, move on to Afrosiab, the ancient ruins of Samarkand, before you board the fast train to Tashkent in the afternoon. (B)
Uzbekistan’s capital is a captivating blend of ancient and modern. Glass offices are appearing amongst the Soviet structures, and in the old city you mosques and madrassahs still stand, now home to historic religious artefacts and handicraft stalls.
Enjoy a tour of the city, with time to visit the Museum of Applied Arts and Amir Timur Square. (B)
Drive south from Tashkent to the border with Tajikistan, where you will cross over and drive on to Khojand, Tajikistan’s second largest city. On arrival, explore the city. Visit the main squares, the awe-inspiring fortress and the vibrant bazaar. (B)
Head for Penjikent, a bustling mountain town close to the ruins of an ancient Sogdian city.
En-route through the mountains, stop at Istarafshan with its beautiful fortress, mosques and mausoleums.
Upon arrival into Penjikent, visit the nearby ruins and then explore the town. (B)
Leave Penjikent and drive on through the Fan Mountains. Stop at Iskanderkul Lake, a mountain lake of turquoise water surrounded by soaring peaks.
Continue on through this breathtaking countryside to T ajikistan's capital, Dushanbe. (B)
Spend the morning exploring this beautiful green city with its leafy boulevards and sprawling parks. Stroll through Rudaki Park and admire the statues of the famous Persian poet, who was born in what is now Tajikistan and who is considered the first great literary genius of the modern Persian language.
Move on to the antiquities museum, home to the largest sleeping Buddha in Central Asia, and later take a walk through the busy bazaar. (B)
In the morning, transfer to the airport for your Air Astana flight to Almaty.
Upon arrival into Kazakhstan's former capital, transfer to your hotel. During the afternoon perhaps take a walk around this fascinating city, the largest in Kazakhstan. (B)
Enjoy a tour of the city sights, including Panfiloy Park and the Zenkov Cathedral. This extraordinary building was constructed from wood without the use of a single nail to hold it together. Press on to the Central Historical Museum, which walks you through Kazakh history. Later, visit Kok Tobe Hill to drink in a panoramic view of the city and to see the Beatles statue.
Head on to Medeo Gorge, a picturesque valley where you can ride a cable car up the mountains to a ski resort. (B,L)
After breakfast, depart for Kyrgyzstan.
Following your crossing of the border, drive to the beautiful Chon Kemin valley. Along the way, stop at the Burana Tower. This minaret, which you can climb, is one of the remnants of the ancient city of Balasagun, established in the 9th century by the Kharakanids and now almost entirely lost.
On arrival in the Chon Kemin Valley, head to your guesthouse where you will have lunch. Later, head out on a hike or perhaps a horse ride to explore the beautiful gorge. This unique natural environment is home to a national park and reaches heights of 2800m. (B,L,D)
Drive south to Son Kul Lake. The lake sits at 3,016m above sea level, ringed by dramatic mountains and surrounded by lush pastures that provide summer grazing for the area's nomads.
Arrive at your yurt camp and enjoy a free afternoon to relax, go for a walk or perhaps a horse ride. (The yurt camp accommodation is basic with shared outside facilities). (B,L,D)
Today is free for you to explore the area, either on foot or on horseback with local nomads based on your preference. (B,L,D)
Leave your yurt camp this morning and drive to Kochkor, a village with a wealth of traditional handicrafts on offer. Have lunch with a local family before driving on to Bishkek. (B,L,D)
Explore the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, including the colourful Osh Bazaar where you will find anything and everything on sale! Press on to Victory Square and Ala-Too Square, and the open air art gallery in Dubovy Park.
In the afternoon head out to Ala Archa National Park, a stunning region of alpine meadows and flowing brooks where you can take a walk before returning to the capital. (B,L,D)
Transfer to the airport for your return flight. (B)