Join our Group Tour Holiday in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan-Navrus Bayram Festival

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 13 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


On the edge of the Silk Road and with a rich history stretching back millennia, Turkmenistan is a land that few have knowledge of. Dominated by forbidding desert and once the abode of fierce tribesmen renowned for their slave trading, the country today is characterised by sharp contrasts, from the futuristic building projects of the capital to remote communities living in tents among the sands. This thirteen day trip is a comprehensive journey through one of the most mysterious places in Asia. Starting in Ashgabat we combine both ancient and modern, visiting the monuments built by the previous ruler Turkmenbashi.In addition we will travel a short distance outside Ashgabat to join the local people in celebrating the Navrus Bayram Festival, the most important holiday in the entire region, before flying to Dashoguz and visiting the UNESCO listed site of Konye- Urgench, evidence of the former glories of this fascinating region. Perhaps the most exciting part of our trip is the excursion into the Karakum desert, camping at a flaming gas crater and stopping in isolated settlements to meet people who rarely see tourists. On returning to Ashgabat we visit the Parthian fortress of Nisa, before leaving the city for the mountains where we visit the town of Nohur, whose inhabitants are reputed to be descended from the armies of Alexander. We then travel through the remarkable canyon landscapes of Yangikala, to the pilgrimage site of Gozli Ata, where we spend the night in the company of local pilgrims. We will then continue to the town of Turkmenbashi from where we will fly back to Ashgabat. Turkmenistan is one of the most exciting countries in Central Asia and this pioneering trip takes you to all corners of the country, doing more than just scratching the surface but allowing you a detailed insight into its culture and history.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●●○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●● | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ○○○○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

  • Witness the splendid monuments of Ashgabat that bear testimony to the nation building ambitions of Niyazov
  • Watch the fires light up the night sky while camping at the Darwaza Gas Crater
  • Reflect on former glories at the ancient sites of Konye Urgench and Merv
  • Join the locals for the Navrus Bayram Festival celebrations

Tour Essentials
Accommodation: Mix of hotels, a pilgrim house, basic lodges and camping
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Ashgabat
End Point: Ashgabat
Transport: 4WD, minibus, domestic flights
Countries: Turkmenistan

Day 1 – Ashgabat

Arrive in Ashgabat and transfer to your hotel. Depending on your time of arrival, you may have the opportunity to explore the city. Overnight at Ak Altyn Hotel or similar.


Ashgabat was a fairly insignificant town before the arrival of the Russians, who chose it as an administrative centre and began to develop it in the late 19th century. In 1948 it was hit by a powerful earthquake which all but destroyed the city, causing it to be completely rebuilt. Although reconstruction occurred during the Soviet era, it is Ashgabat’s development since independence in 1991 which has given the city its very unusual character. A pet project of the then dictator Niyazov, Ashgabat was the focus of his ‘nation building’ efforts and as such is home to a bewildering array of monuments, most of them faced with white marble tiles that give the city an almost glittering effect. There are few cities in the world that are so linked to one man, and Ashgabat is a striking and unusual place, at odds with other Central Asian cities but fascinating in its own right.

Day 2 – Ashgabat

After a briefing with your tour guide spend the day exploring Ashgabat including  Independence Park and Neutrality Arch with time to enjoy a traditional Turkmen lunch. Ashgabat is a city of grandiose monuments, giving an insight into the nation building efforts that took place after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a good place to start getting to grips with Turkmenistan. Overnight at Ak Altyn Hotel or similar. (BL)

Day 3 – Mary (360 kms)

After breakfast we travel east stopping first at the Seyitdzhemaliddin Mosque at Anau; dating from the 15th century the mosque was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1948, but has since been restored. We will also visit the remains of the once important city of Abiverd, before arriving in Mary in time to visit the Regional Historical Museum. Overnight at Hotel Mary or similar. (B)

Day 4 – Merv - Ashgabat

Visit the ancient site of Merv, the most important in Turkmenistan dating back 2500 years, with an array of surviving mosques and citadels. Return to Mary for a visit to the bazaar before taking a late evening flight to Ashgabat. Overnight at Ak Altyn Hotel or similar. (B)


The site of Merv is spread over one hundred square kms and holds the remains of a number of ancient cities from across the centuries. At various times it has been home to Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Christians and Moslems and has been controlled by a number of dynasties including the Timurids. Merv’s attractions are wide and varied – mausoleums of former rulers and Sufi scholars, old Seleucid citadels, traditional ‘ice houses’ and the remains of ancient walls. Merv was comprehensively sacked by the Mongols in the 13th century but rose to prominence again under the Timurids two hundred years later. With so many influences, it is a microcosm of Central Asian history and a delight to explore.

Day 5 – Navrus Bayram Festival- Kow Ata Underground Lake

This morning we travel out of Ashgabat to join in the celebrations of the Navrus Festival; this is held to mark the most important holiday in the entire region. In the afternoon we visit the Kow Ata underground lake before returning to Ashgabat for a night time tour of the city. Overnight at Ak Altyn Hotel or similar. (B)

Navrus Bayram Festival

The Navrus Festival is a celebration of the spring equinox and is recognised as the most important holiday throughout the region. It is a joyful occasion where the local people gather dressed in costumes representing the different clans from around the country, to enjoy a variety of different foods and a range of time-honoured entertainments including horse riding and eagle flying demonstrations, with exhibitions of traditional dancing.

Day 6 – Konye- Urgench- Dashoguz

This morning we take a flight to Dashoguz and on arrival transfer by road to Konye- Urgench, an ancient capital of the land of Khorezm, with beautiful mausoleums. After visiting its key sites we return to Dashoguz to visit the lively bazaar. The rest of the day is at leisure with no organised activities. Overnight at Hotel Dashoguz or similar. (B)


Konye-Urgench was the capital of the ancient land of Khorezm in the 10th century, but has not had the easiest time since then. Falling first to the Seljuks and then to their successors the Khorezmshahs, it enjoyed a brief period as the centre of Islamic Central Asia, replete with numerous beautiful mosques and medressas. This was not to last long however. In 1221 it was attacked by the armies of Genghis Khan, who besieged the city for six months before destroying it, leaving little but ashes and bodies. ‘Konye-Urgench became the abode of the jackal and the haunt of the owl and the kite’, wrote one local historian. Having rebuilt itself it was then sacked by Timur (Tamerlane), adding to its woes. Fortunately, a few architectural monuments survived this tragedy, notably the impressive mausoleums of past sultans as well as arched gates and fortresses which stand as testament to the former glories of this remote corner of Asia.

Day 7 – Darwaza (280 kms, approx. 4 hrs)

After the morning at leisure we depart by jeep to travel along the highway through the Karakum Desert to Darwaza, a burning gas crater where flames literally leap from the ground. We set up camp here, and over a barbeque dinner watch the sun go down, the crater lighting up the night sky with its fires. Overnight camping. (BD)


While drilling in 1971 geologists discovered an underground cavern filled with natural gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a large hole with a diameter of about 50-100m. To avoid poisonous gas discharge, it was decided to burn the gas. Geologists had hoped the fire would go out in a few days but it has been burning ever since. Locals have named the cavern “The Door to Hell”, and the sight of the crater at night has a somewhat eerie feel. It now has a diameter of approximately 60m, and a depth of 20m. Hundreds of fires burn inside the crater, some of them with flames up to 10-15m high.

Day 8 – Ashgabat (310 kms)

After breakfast we set off for our return to Ashgabat, paying a visit to a desert village on the way. On arrival in the city we will visit the National Museum and continue on to the ruins of the ancient Parthian fortress at Nisa. Overnight at Ak Altyn Hotel or similar. (B)


Located on a natural high platform in the foothills of the Kopetdag Mountains, the fortress of Nisa was constructed by early Parthian rulers who took over control of the area from the Seleucids in the middle of the 3rd century BC. Under Parthian rule the fortified territory was protected by 43 defense towers, and was called Mitridatkert (literally: fortress of King Mitridat). Hellenistic influence is clearly visible in the architecture, sculptures and other interior decorations found at the site. A circular temple-hall where remains of a stone altar were found indicates the location for Zoroastrian rituals. The most magnificent artefacts found to date at what is believed to have been the treasury, are a large collection of ivory rhytons which can be seen at the National Museum in Ashgabat. Nisa has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007.

Day 9 – Nohur- Karakala (250 kms)

Today we leave Ashgabat and head to the west of the country. Our first stop will be at a stables housing some of the famous Akhal –Teke horses greatly prized by the people of Turkmenistan. We continue to the village of Nohur whose inhabitants believe that they descend from the armies of Alexander the Great.  Leave Nohur behind and drive through walnut and pomegranate groves to the “Moon Mountains”, a series of rather striking barren hills. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Nohur is home to a small community that lives in the high valleys of the Kopetdag Mountains. Nohur local culture has been preserved due to its isolation from the rest of Turkmenistan, and its distinctive features can be seen in the style of its architecture. Nohur is also a centre of keteni (Turkmen silk dress material) weaving, and this art is practiced by virtually every household even today. Next to its cultural interest, a visit to Nohur also offers opportunities to enjoy magnificent mountain landscapes, canyons, and highlands. The cemetery presents an unusual sight as each grave is protected by the horns of mountain goats. The inhabitants of Nohur believe they are descended from the armies of Alexander the Great.

Day 10 – Dekhistan- Balkanabat (200 kms)

An early start takes us alongside the Iranian border so we can expect to encounter several checkpoints along the way. We will stop to view the ruins of Dekhistan, once an important state in its own right, before continuing on to Balkanabat. Arrive early evening and check in to your hotel. Overnight at Nebitchi Hotel or similar. (BL) 

 Day 11- Yangikala- Gozli Ata (200 kms, approx 7hrs)

After a visit to the local bazaar to stock up on supplies, we drive to the Balkan Mountains and the canyons of Yangikala, home to some of the best scenery in Turkmenistan. We explore on foot and take a picnic lunch among the cliffs. When the sun sets we drive to the pilgrimage site of Gozli Ata. Overnight at a local pilgrim house (multi-share accommodation). (BLD)


Impressive limestone formations rise up from the desert sands at Yangikala, with views of the Karabogaz Gulf in the distance. These limestone cliffs are the remains of massive coral reefs from the pre-historic Parathetys Sea. Different soil layers are clearly visible: at the lower part, the hills are coloured orange-red, whereas towards the top they become bright white. This surreal landscape is impressive at any time of day but sunset and sunrise offer particularly spectacular views. The area is reachable only by 4WD vehicles, crossing a highland region where camels, sheep and horses graze, watched over by friendly shepherds with their Alabai shepherd dogs. 

Gozli Ata

The mausoleum of Gozli Ata is one of the holiest sites for pilgrims in Turkmenistan. The mausoleum, located on a low platform against the backdrop of stunning pink and red limestone rock formations, is now part of a larger Salor tribal graveyard. Gozli Ata (literally: All-seeing Father) was a famous 12th century Sufi teacher who was said to have the capacity to see inside the souls of people but who was nevertheless killed by the Mongolian armies.

Day 12 – Turkmenbashi- Ashgabat (150 kms)

We drive today to Turkmenbashi with time to visit the port and the fish market before taking a flight back to Ashgabat. Overnight at Ak Altyn Hotel or similar. (B)

Day 13 – Ashgabat

Transfer to the airport for your flight home.(B)

****Please note that as of 1st January 2018, a tourist tax of 2 US Dollars per person per night for accommodation will be introduced. This must be paid on checkout and in US Dollars cash.*****


Arrival and departure transfers
Transportation throughout
Domestic flights
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance


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