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Destinations

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is one of the final frontiers for intrepid travellers – your chance to explore a spiritual and secretive land before anyone else. 

There is more to this mysterious nation than the bygone dictatorship of self-proclaimed ‘Turkmenbashi’ (leader of the Turkmen). Bordered by 3 ‘Stans, Iran and the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan has been at the centre of civilisations for centuries. Explore the immaculate white marble capital, then discover ancient ruins from its Silk Road heyday, welcoming people and outstanding natural phenomenon beyond Ashgabat's gleaming centre.

Rising from the vast Karakum Desert, this modern metropolis shimmers in marble and gold - mimicking the opulence of Dubai. Visit grandiose monuments then wander to the old quarter where the city comes to life. This secretive fantasyland has its quirks, but you’ll find warm hospitality among its restaurants, bars, cafes and bazaars when you’re not too busy exploring the Parthian Fortress of Nisa or heading out to witness the fiery Darvaza Crater.


Regional Highlights

  • City tour - See the cities most interesting sights including the National Museum, Independence Park, Fountain Monument featuring ten Akhal-tekke horses, the Arch of Neutrality that is topped with a 12 metre high gold statue of Niyazov, Constitution Monument, Lenin Square and the monument to the book of Rukhnama.
  • If you are into carpets Turkmenistan is the country to visit and Ashgabat's Tolkuchka Sunday Market is the place to buy them. This wonderful market stretches for hundreds of acres into the desert and is teeming with people form every walk of life in Turkmenistan. You can get anything from carpets, camels, clothes, pigs, jewellery & goats, but be prepared to haggle!
  • Visit the fortress of Old Nissa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the earliest of Parthian Empire capitals.
  • A worthy side trip from Ashgabat is about 107km's from the city to the Kow Ata Underground Lake (Father of Caves). The warm, crystal clear thermal pools are said to have healing qualities.
  • Explore the cities museums; the Earthquake Museum is perhaps Ashgabat's most touching museum. The Carpet Museum is home to the largest hand woven carpet in the world, it covers three hundred square metres and was woven by forty carpet makers.
  • Create your own Tailor Made journey and travel overnight from Ashgabat to Dashoguz via Darvaza with its flaming crater that appears like the front door to hell glowing in the dark of night.
  • Experience the ancient way of life uniquely preserved and rarely seen at Nokhur Village, with an overnight stay in the house of a local family.

In the 12th century, this UNESCO World Heritage site was the biggest city in the world and a major stop on the Silk Road. Today, there’s plenty of mystery to unfurl as you explore the collection of ruins, from Bronze and Iron age settlements, city walls and moats, to mausoleums and mosques.


Inspiration and stories

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When to travel in Central Asia

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How to prepare for overland border crossings

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How to travel responsibly

FAQs

Capital city: Ashgabat

Population:  5.1 million

Language: Turkmen, Russian

Currency:  Manat (TMT)

Time zones: GMT+05:00

Electricity: Type C (European 2-pin) Type F (German 2-pin, side clip)

Dialing code: +993

All visitors to Turkmenistan require a visa. A Letter of Invitation (LOI) is also required before you can apply for your visa. Sundowners Overland will provide the necessary documentation including your Letter of Invitation that is required to support your visa application in order to obtain your visa on your arrival into Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan Tourist Visas are valid for stays up to 10 days. Your Letter of Invitation as well as your visa will only be valid for the number of days you have prebooked accommodation and services through Sundowners Overland.

Please check the appropriate consulate website for specific information on the cost and method of payment. The actual application process will vary depending on your nationality and the consulate/embassy at which you will be applying. Please check the appropriate consulate website for specific information.

Travel Insurance is mandatory for all group journeys and Sundowners Overland strongly recommends travel insurance for all other journeys. You must ensure that your insurance policy covers you for the entire duration of your journey, for all activities you will be participating in and that you have purchased the highest level of cover available to you for medical emergencies (including repatriation/evacuation cover) which are relevant to ALL the destinations that you will be visiting. Contact us for further information and quotes.

Please note ANY medications containing tramadol, morphine, codeine, opiates or any other similar constituent component may be considered as narcotic drugs, which are widely used as painkillers in a number of countries, and have been prohibited from export to Turkmenistan or transfer across the territory of the country. If you are unsure about any regular medications you take, please contact a consulate and your doctor.

Please ensure you bring written authorisation from your doctor for all special medications carried on your journey and declare the items on your customs declaration form upon entry.

Since some medications can also be affected by changes in temperature or require special care, we recommend you discuss this with your doctor before departure.

The Karakum Desert covers more than 80% of Turkmenistan, therefore the country has a dry desert climate with extremely high temperatures in summer and cold winters. If you are comfortable in a hot dry heat, summer is a great time to visit, there are fewer tourists and the sun is always shining. In April and May the deserts and mountains begin to blossom and temperatures are comfortable. While in September and October, along with mild days and cooler nights, the crops are harvested and you can reap the rewards with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The local currency is the Manat. ATM’s are hard to find in Turkmenistan and credit cards are rarely accepted, usually only available for use in large hotels and restaurants in Ashgabat. Turkmenistan remains very much a cash-based society; therefore it is best to ensure you have enough US dollars in cash to see you through. The USD is the most recognised and accepted of all foreign currencies. It is vital that you obtain USD notes in good condition (not torn or too worn, with no stamps, ink or other marks) and issued after 1996 as older or damaged USD notes are not accepted. Smaller denominations are less frequently needed now, and we would recommend you carry a mixture of $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills.

Ashgabat:

Soft drink USD $1.50

Bottle of imported beer USD$2-$3

A simple lunch USD $5-$7

Dinner at an inexpensive restaurant USD $10-$15

*Prices are approximate average costs based on prices at 11/03/17 and are based on the equivalent amount of local currency.

Land border crossings are often fascinating especially when the crossing is into one of the world’s most isolated and unique countries. Border crossings can take time with numerous security checks, immigration procedures and custom formalities – remember to pack your patience.

You will usually need to walk between no-man’s land when entering and exiting Turkmenistan, we suggest keeping your luggage as minimal as possible. Here is the test: after you have packed your bags, try carrying them up and down a flight of stairs. If you are comfortable with that, then all is well. Otherwise, start culling!

  • Respect and manners go a long way in any culture.  Learning a little of the language, reading as much about the history and culture of the region and observing local gatherings is a great way to start.
  • Smoking is banned in all public places, including anywhere outside!
  • Handshaking is the usual greeting between men.
  • Remove shoes, but not socks when entering someone’s house or religious sites.
  • Dress modestly. Shorts are rarely worn by women and can attracted unwanted attention. Ladies always carry a headscarf with you, as they are required when entering places of worship.
  • Avoid discussing politics or criticising the President.
  • Despite the repressed regulations of the country, Turkmen are renowned for their hospitality towards travellers. They are proud of their history, rich traditions and customs.
  • Ashgabat has an 11pm curfew.
  • Avoid public displays of affection, this can offend and attract unwanted attention by police.
  • It is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Ask before taking pictures of anything of possible military or security interest, including government buildings and food markets.
  • Did you know that Niyazov banished dogs from the streets in Ashgabat due to their unappealing odour?

Mobile phone coverage is mostly limited to the capital as are global roaming services. It is possible to purchase a local SIM card; you will need to make sure your device is unlocked to accept a foreign SIM card.

Internet access is limited and unreliable outside large hotels. Many social medial and websites are blocked such as Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. Be prepared for a Facebook detox and perhaps tell your friends and family that communication may be tricky during your stay in Turkmenistan.