On this in-depth 15-day itinerary, discover the highlights that the reclusive Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan has to offer. Visit ancient archaeological sites such as Konye Urgench and Merv, head from the mountains of Nohur to Balkanabat and the Caspian Sea, and traverse the Karakum Desert from Dashoguz to the curious capital of Ashgabat.
Fly to Ashgabat.
Arrive into Ashgabat early in the morning and transfer to your hotel. Later, meet your guide for a sightseeing tour of the city. Visit the National Independence Park and spot the Independence Monument, eagle-headed fountains and statues. Press on to some of the other monuments peppered around the city, including the Arch of Neutrality and the Turkmenbashy Mosque. Towards the end of the tour head to the Gulustan Bazaar. (B)
This morning enjoy a visit to the National Museum and the Carpet Museum. In the afternoon, head out to Old Nisa. This Parthian site is situated on the outskirts of the city and has been partially rebuilt to demonstrate the scale of the fortress. However, much is still left in ruin, as it has been since it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1st century BC. (B)
Transfer to the airport and fly to Mary. On arrival drive to the UNESCO site of Merv and tour this former Silk Road site, once one of the most important oasis cities on the great trading route. From Merv drive back to Mary and visit the local history museum. (B)
Take a day trip from Mary to the remote ruins of Gonur Depe by 4WD. This archaeological bronze age site was only discovered in 1972 and excavations are ongoing. Tour this area with a local guide before returning to Mary, where you may like to visit the museum. (B)
Wend your way west to Ashgabat, a full day's drive. Stop along the way at three different historical sites, dating from the Bronze Age through to mediaeval times. Start with the fortress of Nadir Shah, then Abiverd and last of all the ruined mosque of Anau. Arrive in Ashgabat and check into your hotel. (B)
Depart from Ashgabat in a 4WD and head for the Caspian Sea. Along the way visit Geok Depe and the Geokdepe Mosque, and then stop at the underground lake at Kov Ata. Opt for a dip in the lake before heading into the Kopetdag Mountains. Drive into Nokhur, the main settlement in the region, where you will spend the night either in a homestay or in tents near the Khurkhury Waterfall. (B,D)
Drive down the Sumbar valley towards Balkanabat, stopping en-route to visit the shrine of Shibli-Baba before lunch in Paraw. Rejoin the main road and head to the city of Balkanabat where you will stay overnight. (B)
Depart Balkanabat for Turkmenbashy, an important port city on the Caspian Sea. On arrival, check into your hotel. In the afternoon enjoy a tour of Turkmenbashy with visits to the bazaar, the local museum, the Japanese POW cemetery and the Russian Orthodox Church. (B)
Transfer to the airport for your flight to Dashoguz, the main city in northern Turkmenistan, and head from there to Konye Urgench. Konye Urgench was once one of the largest and most important cities of the Khorezm Empire, and was an important oasis for thousands of years. Now it is home to a scattered collection of mausoleums and a minaret which - though incomplete - is one of the highest in Central Asia. After your visit return to Dashoguz and check into your hotel. (B)
In the morning visit the local market and the regional museum in Dashoguz. In the afternoon, leave the city and head south to Izmukshir before travelling deeper into the Karakum Desert. Your goal is the flaming Darvaza crater, the 'Doorway to Hell'. Impressive enough by day, at night it becomes truly spectacular. Camp overnight to ensure you can enjoy Darvaza at its most dramatic. (B,D)
Depart camp and make the short drive to two smaller craters near Darvaza before driving to the desert village of Bokurdak. The locals here live in a traditional homes of unfired brick or yurts. Visit a family home to gain an insight into traditional desert life, possibly witnessing various traditional activities such as weaving and baking. From Bokurdak drive to Ashgabat and return to the hotel for an overnight stay. (B)
Enjoy a day at leisure to relax or explore more of Ashgabat. (B)
Transfer to the airport for flight back to the UK. (B)