Turkmenistan is by far one of the most mysterious and difficult countries I have ever set foot in. Due to its isolation from the outside world and its political obscurity, it is one of the least travelled of all the Stans, and one of the most interesting by far.
The country is run by a regime that has absolute control over everything in the country. Officially, they encourage tourism, but the requirement of traveling with an expensive guided tour and policemen watching your every move may discourage regular travelers to visit Turkmenistan.
Since you and I are no regular travelers, within this article, you will find all the information you need to travel through Turkmenistan the right way.
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Turkmenistan Travel Video
This place is leaning a little towards the expensive side of things where I can see myself spending around 40 - 60 USD per day per person. Still quite affordable though.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Turkmenistan, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
7 Days in Turkmenistan
Day 1: Crossed the border from Khiva and get picked up by Stantours at the border. Stop by at Köneürgench for lunch and go to Darvaza crater. Sleep in a tent there for one night.
Day 2: Drive to Ashgabat. Stay in Ashgabat for a night
Day 3: Another full day in Ashgabat
Day 4: Fly to Turkmenbashi, get picked up by the Stantours at the airport and drive to Yangykala Canyon. Camp there for a night.
Day 5: Drive back to Ashgabat. Stay in Ashgabat for a night.
Day 6: One last full day in Ashgabat or make your way to the border you want to cross out.
Day 7: Either fly out from Ashgabat or cross the border out to Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan.
When to go
The best time to go to Turkmenistan is during March - May or September - November where the temperature is more manageable at around 23 - 35°C. Temperature can be extreme during summer and winter so I wouldn't recommend going during those times.
How to Get into Turkmenistan
Through Guided Tours (Expensive)
This is the option I chose as it allowed me more freedom to see the country as it should be seen and went to remote places with ease. It is also the most expensive option.
If you choose to go with this option, I would recommend you reaching out to Stantours and asked for David as he was the one that recommended me the itinerary. Stantours has proven to be one of the cheapest option out there and most reliable. If you decided to go with Stantours, asked for a driver named Vova. They said the driver wouldn’t be able to speak English but Vova was more than capable of explaining the story behind the places you are visiting, plus he made a delicious grilled chicken for dinner in the desert.
For the 7 days itinerary recommended in this post, I paid 1,200 USD with Stantours including everything such as accommodation, food, jeep, domestic flights, and the 2 visa applications. I could probably get it cheaper if I booked it earlier since the domestic flight was almost 200 USD more than it should be.
Note: Even with a guided tour, there is still a 50% chance of your visa getting rejected so contact your tour agency way in advance before arriving in Central Asia. Mine got rejected once but thankfully I had 3 weeks in advance so I was able to apply for another one and got approved in time for my trip.
Transit visa (Cheapest)
This is the most economical option but you will need to be flexible in your time. First, you must go to a city where there is a Turkmenistan embassy. Bishkek, Tashkent or Dushanbe are good places to base yourself in while you wait for the visa. It may take 2 - 4 weeks so apply as soon as you can.
There are a few caveats in going with this option. First, the transit visa maximum stay is only 5 days including your arrival and departure days so you barely have time to see much. Also, the country you came from must be different from the one you departed to as you are supposed to be transiting.
The cost for the transit visa is around 55 USD or 155 USD for Russians.
For more updated information on getting the transit visa, please see this page.
How to Get to Turkmenistan
You can fly to Ashgabat or you can cross the border from Uzbekistan if you are already traveling there. Be sure to browse through Skyscanner or Momondo before to compare prices so you will get the cheapest flight possible.
How to Get Around Turkmenistan
If you go with a guided tour, they should provide you with a jeep when traveling to anyway outside of Ashgabat. If you got a transit visa, there will be one or two taxi waiting at the border where you can pay them to get to places like Ashgabat or Darvaza crater at a ridiculous price (50 USD+) but that is your only option. Public transportation is non existent outside of Ashgabat.
Within Ashgabat, buses are well-connected and easy to navigate. Just go up to one of the bus stops, look at the color-coded bus lines, and take the one that passes the place you wanted to see.
Things to Prepare
- Print Documents: With the approved letter invitation provided from your tour agency or embassy, you can get your visa stamp at your designated entry point but be sure to print the letter of invitation before arriving at the border.
- Prepare enough USD: It is impossible to get USD in the country so if you have to pay your tour company in Ashgabat with USD, prepare it before you arrive in Turkmenistan. If you carry a VISA ATM, you can get Turkmen Manats out from an ATM at the Oguzkent Hotel in Ashgabat.
- Be prepared for the internet censorship and limited wifi access: Free wifi is only available in big hotels like Hotel Oguzkent and Grand Turkmen Hotel in Ashgabat and the internet is heavily censored for obvious reasons so have a VPN service installed on your phone. If you are using Android, I'd recommend Orbot as it has never fail me anywhere I went.
Darvaza Crater (1 night)
The Darvaza crater (the gateway to hell) is probably one of the reasons why you are in Turkmenistan in the first place. This unstoppable burning crater is out of this world.
The crater is best seen at night while you camp nearby in the desert.
It is less impressive during the day but still pretty amazing!
Ashgabat (3 nights)
At first you will hate Ashgabat, but give it a few days. As you learn the ropes and get used to its weird no-photo policy and the lack of locals walking around the city during the day, you will start to enjoy this white marble city as it is.
Ashgabat is an architectural wonder with many alien-looking white marble structures scattered all around the city. It is like Las Vegas but without the people.
Places like the Wedding Palace (Bagt köşgi), Sculpture Of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Alem Center (Älem), Constitution Monument (Konstitusiýa binasy), Bitaraplyk Binasy, and Independence Monument (Garaşsyzlyk binasy) are quite a sight to behold and photo taking is allowed here.
Here are all the places you should see if you like the over-the-top style of architecture that are plenty in Ashgabat. Personally, I love them!
Oguzhan Palace (Oguzhan Köşgi) and the Russian bazaar are also interesting to see but photo-taking is not allowed as it is near a military barracks. They actually came up to me, look at my photos on my camera and deleted them!
Yangykala Canyon (1 night)
Turkmenistan is at its best when you go outside of the city and in a remote area and camp there. Yangykala canyon is one of the most spectacular natural sight in Turkmenistan. With its unique red, pink and orange bands that stretched acrossed the canyon walls, it is definitely worth visiting all the way out here.
The best spot to camp is on the windy plateau above the canyon where you can enjoy a 180 degree view of Yangykala from above.
The sunrise and sunset are the best time to experience the canyon.
And there you have it, a suggested itinerary for one of the weirdest country I have ever set foot in. Did I miss anything from the list? If so, feel free to let me know in the comments below.
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