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Central Asia... The Silk Road Odyssey

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan

April 24 to May 18, 2020

Central Asia presents a colorful melting pot of people and cultures. Since the end of the 2nd millennium nomads from the north have periodically occupied these regions, settling and mingling with the local population to create new cultures and civilizations. From the middle of the 1st millennium BC until the 10th century AD the territories of modern Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan were part of the Persian Empire. You will explore shimmering desert towns, UNESCO-listed palaces, stark soviet towers, bizarre oil-boom buildings and the history of the ancient trading routes between east and west. Stretching all the way from China to the Mediterranean, the Silk Road is a historic and cultural marvel. Caravans laden with, amongst many other things, gold, ivory, spices, furs, jade, exotic animals and of course, silk, trundled along the vast network of trade routes that made up the road for nearly two millennia. Not only were goods transported on the route but it also acted as a bridge that brought cultures and ideas together; Islam and Buddhism reached China thanks to the Silk Road while it facilitated the spread of Persian, Greek, Roman, Indian, Arabian and Chinese influences around the world. Central Asia was a major center for three great religions: Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Islam. Mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and traditional souks offer a glimpse of times past.

Tour cost (land only):

6-7 persons: $8,550.00 per person sharing in double occupancy

8-10 persons: $7,650.00 per person sharing in double occupancy

Single Supplement: $900.00    

Price based on a group size of 6 to 10 participants

Led by STS Tour Manager

Your tour does not include:

  • Round trip International airfare

  • Fuel surcharges, border departure taxes, airport taxes and security charges (approximately $480.00 at time of printing).

  • Consular visa fees to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (approximately $330.00 at time of printing).

  • Photography and video making fees.

  • Dayrooms or extra hotel overnights if necessary.

  • Expenses of a personal nature such as: beverages with meals, telephone, email, laundry bills, camera fees, etc.

  • Activities and sites not described in the itinerary.

  • Travel Insurance (highly recommended).

Your tour includes:

  • Air ticket TAS (UZB) - FRU (KRG), air ticket FRU (KRG)-ALA (KAZ) and domestic flights: ASB – MARY – ASB, Shymkent-Almaty

  • Airport transfers and travel by modern, air-conditioned motor coach.

  • 5* hotels in capital cities, Superior 4* and 3* hotels in smaller cities

  • Meals on full board basis.

  • English-speaking private guides in each country

  • All activities described in the tour and entrance fees to all sites mentioned unless listed as optional.

  • Invitation visa letters for all countries.

  • Bottled water on the bus daily.

  • Camping gear for Darwaza (Tent, Sleeping bag and camping matress)

  • Standard coupe for Almaty-Turkestan train (KAZ)

  • Folk Show in Bukhara & Boat ride in Cholpon Ata (KRG)

  • Gratuities to guides, drivers, porters, restaurant and hotel staff

Trip Grade:

II Active – Some hikes, slightly more demanding walks at or to sites, few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some long rides.

III Challenging - Parts of the trip are physically challenging, involve hiking on rough terrain or in sand or at high altitudes. There may be long drives on rough roads; weather conditions with high heat or humidity. You may have simple picnic lunches, primitive bathroom facilities along the road and remoteness from modern cities.


*** Superior - Lodges and hotels with additional amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (3 or 4 stars)

**** Luxury - Regular style- usually large- hotels, typical western standard with ample venues, and full amenities. (4 or 5 stars)

The Fine Print:

We reserve the right to change the order of activities or places visited due to unforeseen schedule conflicts or in order to make the itinerary run smoothly. Some of the hotels can be rather Spartan and plain especially in small towns. You must be in good health to participate as there are days with long walks, some on uneven ground. Elevations can reach up to 3,000 ft. above sea level in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Some drive days are very long and can be exhausting in nature but we will be making frequent rest stops. Bathroom facilities along the way may be rather primitive and at times that will mean “in the wilderness”.

Camping at Darwaza:

You will have basic camping night in the tents at Darwaza and bathroom facilities will be rather primitive, and in wilderness. It is going to be the only camping night throughout the itinerary but it is worth to see one of the most fascinating and mysterious Gas Crater in the World.

Note on visas:

The process of obtaining all visas is simple. Tajikistan visa is obtained online at https://www.evisa.tj and Uzbekistan visa also can be obtained online at https://e-visa.gov.uz and no visa support letter is required. No visa required for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Only Turkmenistan requires letter of invitation or visa support letter to claim your visa. For all travelers we will assist with arrangements of letter of invitation. We need to start applying for the letter of invitation 3 months prior to the start date of the trip, WITHOUT need for actual passport, just a scanned copy of it. In very rare occasions letter of invitation may not be secured by issuing authorities with no given reason. On basis of approved letter of invitation you are eligible to claim tourist visa at the Turkmenistan Embassy in Washington, DC or upon arrival to international airport in Ashgabat. Please use the visa company recommended by us.

View Tour Itinerary

Fri-Sun, April 24-26
US to Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)

Depart JFK Apr 24 for Istanbul arriving the next day. connect to your flight to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan arriving in the middle of the night Apr 26 (First hours of Apr 26). on arrival, transfer to the hotel where you can rest, relax and refresh after your journey. Late in the morning, visit the fabled Sunday Bazaar of Tolkuchka (Open: Thu, Sat, and Sun). Attracting colorfully dressed people from all over the country to buy or sell camels, cattle and poultry, amulets, carpets, jewelry, and other things. From the market, we head back to the hotel to rest. Later on, we will enjoy our dinner in the city. Overnight at 5* hotel. (B,D)

Hotel check in is available from 14:00 pm on April 25Th.

Monday, April 27

In the morning we visit the fortress of Old Nisa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the earliest of Parthian Empire capitals. En-route visits the Spirituality Mosque, biggest in Turkmenistan, and the family mausoleum of the first President. Within the city we visit the Park of independence with its independence monument, and Neutrality Square, famous for its Arch of Neutrality topped by a rotating gold-plated statue of the first President of Turkmenistan, and Wedding Palace-“Bagt Koshgi” and National Memorial Complex “Halk Hakydasy” with WWII memorial and the Earthquake Memorial dedicated to the victims of the 1948 earthquake. In the afternoon we visit the National Museum of History and Ethnography (displaying more than 327.000 exhibits) to see exclusive ancient artifacts from numerous historical & archeological sites of the country. Overnight at your hotel. (B,L,D))

Tuesday, April 28
Ashgabat - Mary

After breakfast we will drive to the underground lake known as Kov-Ata cave, accommodating a unique hot-water (+ 35-37C all year round) Sulphur lake. After enjoying swim in the lake, we return to Ashgabat. On the way to Ashgabat, we will make a stop at stud farm near Geok Depe. This town is a former Tekke stronghold and was the site of the biggest battle for the Russian domination in Central Asia in the late 19 c. After arrival at the farm, you will be familiarized with the stud-farm and enjoy a show of Turkmen horses- Akhal-Teke. Drive back to Ashgabat and take an afternoon flight to Mary city. Upon arrival to Mary, you will be transferred to 4* hotel and free evening at (B,L,D)

Wednesday, April 29
Mary - Gonurdepe

Today we head to northeast from Mary to Margush/Gonur Depe (40 km Off Road). Here first agricultural settlements appeared in the delta of Murgab River as back as 3 millennium BC. Fertile silt coming from mountains, abundance of water and moderate climate had created favorable conditions for good crops and the progress of the ancient economy was continuing for several centuries. The American newspaper "Boston Globe" wrote that before we knew the four oldest centers of the world's civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China, and due to the fantastic results of the Margiana expedition it is quite possible to think that there was another, the fifth center. We will enjoy our picnic lunch at the archeological site. Drive back to Mary city. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Thursday, April 30
Mary – Ancient Merv - Ashgabat

After breakfast we will head 25 km to the east of Mary, towards Bayram-Ali, the contemporary re-incarnation of and humble suburb of the glorious Ancient Merv (UNESCO World Heritage Site). One of the major archaeological sites of Central Asia, Merv played an important part in the development of the Silk Road for more than 2 000 years. Within the limits of the archaeological park, which is 1200 ha, we will have a chance to observe all constituent parts of the “wandering city”. Besides remnants of the cities of Merv, we will visit the VI-IX cc. AD forts of Big and Little Kyz-Kalas, excellent examples of the so-called corrugated Koshks; the splendid XII c. mausoleums of Sultan Sanjar and Muhammed ibn-Zeyd, demonstrating exquisite Seljuk period brickwork and architectural décor. After sightseeing, we head back to Mary. On arrival we will visit local History Museum, presenting a wide array of archaeological finds. Transfer to the Mary airport to take afternoon flight back to Ashgabat. Overnight at your hotel. (B,L.D)

Friday, May 01

Late in the morning depart to the village of Bokurdak, located about 100 km from Ashgabat. People here live either in village houses made of unfired brick or in yurts. Visit a local family house and see traditional activities: embroidery, pichme (traditional bakery), baking bread and cooking ishlekli (meat pies). See making felt if in season and milking camels. Later we set off north to former Darvaza, along the newly-built north-south highway. On the way, we will make a short stop at a desert settlement, Yerbent, which can give us an idea of what desert life looks like. The drive over, we find ourselves a couple of hundred metres away from the flaming crater. Having unpacked our vehicles, we go for a walk around the crater, while our drivers occupy themselves with gathering wood, arranging cosy accommodations of tents and sleeping bags, and spreading a “table” on the ground. Dinner and overnight next to the flaming crater in tents. (B,L,D)

Saturday, May 02
Darvaza – Kone Urgench -Dashoguz - Khiva (Turkmenistan - Uzbekistan

After having breakfast in the Karakum desert we will continue our drive to Kone-Urgench, to see outstanding monuments of the Turkmen Khorezm. Another World Heritage site, Kone-Urgench welcomes you with the mausoleum of Turabeg Khanum (15 c.), one of the best architectural examples of its time; the minaret of Kutlug Temur (11-14 cc.), the highest medieval minaret in Central Asia; the mausoleum of Sultan Tekesh (late 12 c.), with a turquoise cone as its dome; and the mausoleum of Il-Arslan (the mid 12 c.), the founder of the pre-Mongol Khorezmshah empire. After sightseeing we will drive to Dashoguz and cross Shavat border to Uzbekistan. Meet your guide on Uzbek side and transfer to hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, May 03

Today we will start to explore the UNESCO World Heritage site of Khiva which is described as one of the best-preserved cities along the Silk Road and the most homogenous agglomeration of medieval Islamic architecture in the Islamic world. This compact, walled city was once rather isolated and a haven for slave traders. The fortunes and importance of Khiva rose when Amu-Darya changed its course leaving the capital town of Kone- Urgench in almost oblivion when all the attention was drawn towards Khiva. Explore Ichan Kala, a forest of tall minarets and domed roofs surrounded by dwellings and public buildings reflecting rich traditions of popular oriental architecture. Overnight in Khiva. (B,L,D)

Monday, May 04
Khiva - Bukhara

After breakfast, continue sightseeing of Khiva by visiting the madrassas of Amin Khan and Mukhammad Rakhim Khan. Tour Kunya Ark a massive, fortified citadel at the center of the city that was once the residence of the rulers of Khiva. Built in the 12th century by Ak Sheikh Bobo and later expanded by the khans of the 17th century, it is comprised of living quarters, a mosque, the palace of the khan, the residence of his harem, the mint, the arsenal, the stables and the jail. Continue to the Mausoleum of Pahlavan Mahmud, the Shir Gazi Khan Madrassa, the Islam Khodja Madrassa and Minaret, the Djuma Mosque, and Tash Khauli. PM transfer from Khiva to Bukhara by road across Kyzul Kum, or Red Sand Desert, the same route taken by loaded Silk Road camel caravans. Arrive in Bukhara late evening and accommodate in the hotel. Overnight at hotel. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, May 05

After breakfast, you will explore Bukhara, the “pearl of the east” – the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as one of Central Asia’s most ancient living cities. The ancient town of Bukhara goes back in history more than 2500 years. It was one of the important towns along the caravan route and the richest of the Transoxiana countries. Some of the sights you will see include the Ark Citadel, home of the rulers of Bukhara for over a millennium; the Mausoleum of the Samanid Dynasty, the rulers of Iran in the 9th and 10th centuries; the Kalon Complex with the oldest Minaret in city; Ulugbek Madrassa, one of three built by Tamerlane’s grandson Ulugbek; Abdul Aziz Khan Madrassa; Magoki Attor where archaeologists found remains of a 5th century Zoroastrian temple destroyed by Arabs and an earlier Buddhist temple underneath. Wander through the covered bazaars, the specialized markets in the town that were built at the junction of caravan routes. Explore the Lyabi Khauz in the heart of the city, the Jewish Quarter and the synagogue. Enjoy a walk in the old city and attend a folkloric performance this evening. Overnight at Sasha & Son boutique hotel. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, May 06

After breakfast head to Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane also known as Amir Timur. Upon arrival start your tour by visiting the magnificent architectural monuments of the Timurids. See the remains of the Ak-Saray palace of Tamerlane, the Mausoleum of Djehangir; the Khazrat Imam Mosque; the Mausoleum of Sheik Shamsiddin Kulal; the Gumbazi Saidon Mausoleum; the Kok Gumbaz Mosque and the Chorsu trade dome. Depart for Samarkand and after checking into the hotel, enjoy some free time to explore your surroundings. Have dinner and overnight at Malika Prime Boutique hotel. (B,L,D)

Thursday, May 07

After breakfast, explore Samarkand which was coveted by invaders who wished to make it part of their empire. The “Jewel City of the Silk Road”, Samarkand has always been admired for its beautiful gardens and riches. Tamerlane made Samarkand his capital and called it the “capital of the world”. Visit Gur Emir, the 15th century mausoleum of the family of Amir Timur and Registan Square, the site of a 14th century bazaar. See three madrassas: Ulugbek a monumental madrassa built by a grandson of Tamerlane that was the greatest University of Central Asia in the 15th century, Sherdor Madrassa and Tillya-Kari Madrassa, both built in the 17th century. Tour Bibi-Khanum, once the biggest mosque in Central Asia, it was erected by Tamerlane after his victorious Indian campaign in 1399. Continue to Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis, a complex of 20 mausoleums located near the grave of Kusam Ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. Visit the Observatory of Ulugbek, the Afrosiyab Archaeological Museum with murals from the 7th century. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Friday, May 08
Samarkand – Penjikent (Uzbekistan – Tajikistan)

Early morning transfer to Uzbekistan-Tajikistan border crossing at Jartepa in Samarkand. Customs and passport control on both sides, cross the border, meet Tajik local guide and driver and drive to Penjikent. Sightseeing in Penjikent: Rudaki Museum– Penjikent is a birthplace of Abu Abdallah Rudaki, considered by many to be the father of Persian Poetry. Visit ancient Penjikent - ruins of old Sogdian town, founded in the 5th century and abandoned in the 8th century by Arabs. Foundations of houses, a citadel with a couple of Zoroastrian fire temples and city bazaar are visible in the excavated ruins. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Saturday, May 09
Penjikent- Istaravshan-Khujand

In the morning depart Penjikent and drive to Khujand via Istaravshan (260 km, 5-6 h). In Istaravshan visit a local bazaar, Hazrat Shah architectural complex, which consists of Hazrat Shah Mausoleum, the grave of brother of Kusam ibn Abbas, Khudayar Valami Mausoleum, and Namazgah Mosque dating back to the 19th century. Continue to Mug Teppe, one of the ancient settlements located in Istaravshan. The city is believed to be founded by King Cyrus in the North-East boundary of his empire. Arrival in Khujand. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Sunday, May 10
Khujand – Oybek BP- Tashkent(Tajikistan- Uzbekistan)

In the morning, continue sightseeing in Khujand. Visit the Museum of Archeology and Fortification, Shaikh Muslihiddin Mosque, and the Pyashanba Bazaar, the biggest bazaar in Tajikistan, Arbob Palace named after S. Urunhodlaev (20th century), “Tajik Sea” Hydro Power Station - the symbol of People’s Friendship, built in 1968.Transfer to Oybek cross border point (70 km, 1 h). As you cross the border, our driver will meet you on meet on Uzbekistan side. Transfer to the hotel (65 mi, 1 h 30 min). Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Monday, May 11

Begin your day exploring the metropolis and capital of modern Uzbekistan, the city along the Silk Road known as the “City of Friendship and Peace”. The background of the low-lying Tien-Shan range gives Tashkent a pleasant climatic condition. It became a place to show the power of the Communist Party in 1966, Tour the old city complex of Khazrat Imam to see the mosque, Kaffal Shashi Mausoleum, Tillya Sheikh Mosque, Barak Khan Madrassa and the Museum of Islamic Books. Continue to the State History Museum housing archaeological finds from ancient to modern times in Central Asia, Independence Square with its Arch of Independence and the Memorial to the Victims of World War II. Wander through the Chorsu Bazaar before returning to Ichan Qala 5* hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, May 12
Tashkent - Bishkek (Uzbekistan – Kyrgyzstan)

Enjoy your free day at leisure in Tashkent. Take evening flight to Bishkek. Check in to the 5 *hotel for overnight. (B,D)

Wednesday, May 13
Bishkek-Burana Tower-Yssyk Kul-Bishkek

One day-tour to Issyk-Kul Lake and Burana Tower will open up beautiful landscapes and historical places of Kyrgyzstan. You will visit the Burana Tower, a large minaret built in the ancient city of Balasagun, during the Karakhanids rule and enjoy the time near the alpine lake – Issyk-Kul. Early morning start the trip to Issyk-Kul Lake from Bishkek. First stop is at Burana tower, historical complex, which marks the original site of the Karakhanid town, Balasagun. Continue driving to Issyk-Kul Lake. On arrival you will visit an open air museum of petroglyphs in Cholpon-Ata. Transfer back to Bishkek and head to the 5* hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, May 14
Bishkek – Ala Archa- Bishkek-Almaty (Kyrgyzstan – Kazakhstan)

After breakfast start sightseeing tour of Bishkek by visiting Ala-Too Square, Statue of Manas. See Philharmonic Hall and Victory Monument–bright examples of Soviet architecture. In the afternoon drive to Ala Archa national park (40 km, 50 min.) which attracts visitors with its beautiful mountain scenery and hiking trails. Fast flowing Ala-Archa River runs through the alpine gorge surrounded by snowy peaks with steep forested slopes. Transfer to airport to take evening flight to Almaty. Upon arrival transfer to the 5 *hotel for overnight and dinner. (B,L,D)

Friday, May 15
Almaty- Turkestan

Start your morning with a tour of Almaty, known locally as the ‘father of apples’ because of the delicious, juicy apples grown in the region. The town is set in the Tien Shan range giving it a very subtle climate. Explore Panfilov Park where the Holy Ascension Cathedral, the Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments, the State Museum of History, the Grand Mosque and Republic Square are located. Transfer to railway station. Take evening train to Turkestan at 19:02 pm. Overnight in train. (B,L,D)

Saturday, May 16
Turkestan – Shymkent

Arrival to Turkistan around 08-00 am. The guide and driver will meet you at the train station in the morning. Start sightseeing Turkestan. Visit Azret-Sultan historical - architectural complex, the fabled Khoja Ahmed Yasawi mausoleum, Turkestan town necropolis, oriental baths and underground mosque. Transfer to Shymkent and overnight at hotel. (B,L,D)

Sunday, May 17
Shymkent-Almaty – Tamgaly Rock Carvings- Almaty

Transfer to airport for take morning flight to Almaty. Upon arrival to Almaty we will drive to Tamgaly (170km, 2-3h) - a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. En route enjoy the amazing scenery of beautiful natural landscapes. Arrive in Tamgaly. Walk around the valley to see petroglyphs. In the late afternoon return to Almaty. Transfer to the hotel (B,L,D)

Monday, May 18
Almaty to the US

Transfer to the airport for your flight back to the US. (B)

We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed