Take in the best of the Stans' and Western China on this 56-day overland group tour which travels from Ashgabat in Turkmenistan to Xi'an. See the flaming Darvaza Gas Crater, explore Uzbekistan's Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand and stay in traditional yurts at the shore of Song Kol Lake in Kyrgyzstan. Overland through the unspoiled scenery of the Kyrgyz Fergana Valley and discover the highlights of China including the most westerly part of the Great Wall at Jiayuguan Fort and the famous Terracotta Warriors.
Welcome to Ashgabat
Welcome to Central Asia and the start of your overland adventure. On arrival in Ashgabat, an included transfer will take you to our joining hotel where there will be a pre-departure Welcome Meeting at 10:00am.
After you’ve met your tour group, there’s an included minibus tour to see some the city’s bizarre architecture. Turkmenistan’s eccentric president has a fascination with world records and as well as the highest concentration of marble-clad buildings, the city is home to the world’s largest indoor Ferris Wheel and holds the record for the highest number of fountains in a public place.
Darvaza Gas Crater
Ashgabat - Darvaza. Boarding our overland truck for the first time, we leave Ashgabat and head north into the Karakum Desert. We stop at the incredible Darvaza Gas Crater, which is known locally as the “Door to Hell”.
The crater was formed in 1971 when Soviet oil drillers accidentally caused the ground to collapse and gas to begin escaping from the newly-formed crater. The Soviets tried to burn the gas off and the crater has been continuously burning away ever since. After we’ve visited this unusual site, we find somewhere suitable for our first night of wild camping.
Overnight: Darvaza | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Darvaza - Kunye Urgench. We continue overlanding through the desert and enjoy a visit to the incredible ruined city of Kunye Urgench this afternoon. This ancient Silk Road settlement survived the invasion of Genghis Khan and highlights include the 60m high Kutlug-Timur Minaret, which is the highest minaret in the whole of Central Asia. We wild camp near the ruins tonight.
Overnight: Kunye Urgench | Breakfast, Lunch
Kunye Urgench - Khiva (Uzbekistan). On the morning of day 4 we leave the desert behind and stop at the border town of Dashoguz to browse the vibrant markets here. We then say goodbye to Turkmenistan and cross into neighbouring Uzbekistan. Our overland journey continues as we arrive in the beautiful Silk Road city of Khiva, where the original city walls still stand imposingly around the buildings.
Day 5 sees us enjoying a guided tour of the ancient city where we can get a good look at the city walls and see other highlights including the turquoise Kalta Minor Minaret, the blue palace of Tash Khovli and the incredible Juma Mosque. The ceiling of the mosque is held up by 213 columns of ancient elm, some dating back to the 10th century.
Overnight: Khiva | Breakfast x 2
Khiva - Bukhara. Departing Khiva on day 6, we have a long drive to our next stop on the ancient Silk Road, Bukhara. We spend three nights in the city and there’s a guided tour on day 7 which takes in highlights including the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, Kalon Mosque and Ark Fortress. Bukhara has a historically gruesome reputation and you’ll get an insight into this as you marvel at the Kalyan Minaret, nicknamed “Death Tower” due to its historic use as a place of execution.
Day 8 is at leisure or you may wish to delve deeper into Bukhara’s uncomfortable history with a visit to the disused Zindon Prison, home to the infamous Bug Pit. Prisoners would be thrown into the pit and rats, lice, scorpions and other creatures would be emptied onto their heads.
The Kyzylkhum Desert
Bukhara - Nurata (Kyzylkhum Desert). Leaving Bukhara, we head into the Kyzylkhum Desert this morning and arrive at our yurt camp near the town of Nurata. Yurts are the traditional accommodation of nomadic people in Central Asia and you get to spend the night in one of the comfortable felt tents. There’s also an optional camel ride across the rolling sand dunes.
Overnight: Kyzylkhum Desert | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Nurata (Kyzylkhum Desert) - Samarkand. On day 10 there’s time to explore the Nurata Hills and if you wish, you can take a refreshing dip in Lake Ajdar Kul. After lunch we make our way to Samarkand, one of the most beautiful cities on the Silk Road and the jewel in Uzbekistan's crown.
On day 11 there’s a guided tour of Samarkand, taking in highlights including the central Registan plaza. You’ll also see the Ulug Beg Observatory, Shah-I-Zinda necropolis and the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, once the centre of the empire of the famous warlord Timur, who conquered much of Central Asia in the 14th century. Timur’s tomb can also be found in Samarkand. Day 12 is free to explore this beautiful and charismatic city at leisure or you can opt to visit the nearby city of Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Timur.
Overnight: Samarkand | Breakfast x 3
Samarkand - Tashkent. The morning of day 13 is free to relax in the hotel or further explore Samarkand. We then drive to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. The clean and modern Soviet-style city contrasts with the Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, making it a fascinating place to explore.
There are two free days in the city and optional activities include an excursion to Hast Imam Square where you can see the oldest surviving copy of the Koran. You could also independently visit the vibrant Chorsu bazaar or the Tashkent TV Tower - the highest building in Central Asia. We may be joined by new travellers in Tashkent for the next leg of our journey.
Please note: Our itinerary in Kyrgyzstan is subject to change dependent on the weather conditions. We have tried and tested alternatives in place to ensure your trip continues to run smoothly. Please refer to the trip notes for more details.
Overnight: Tashkent | Breakfast x 3
Kokand & Fergana
Tashkent - Kokand - Fergana. This morning we cross the mountainous Kamchik Pass in local transport, as our overland truck must cross without passengers. We stop in Kokand and have time to visit the sprawling Khudayar Khan’s Palace and the traditional Margilan Silk Factory. Traditional methods are still used here in the production of this famous textile. We then complete our drive to Fergana, where we’ll be reunited with our overland truck this evening.
Overnight: Fergana | Breakfast
Fergana - Arslanbob (Kyrgyzstan). We say goodbye to Uzbekistan this morning and cross into the mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan, where the scenery is certain to leave you impressed. Once we’ve crossed the border, we drive to Arslanbob in the Fergana Valley, where we spend the night in a local family-run guesthouse. During our stay here, there will be free time to wander into the walnut forest. The walnut was Kyrgyzstan's first known export to Europe and Arslanbob's walnut grove is the largest in the world.
Overnight: Arslanbob | Breakfast
Kyrgyz Fergana Valley
Arslanbob - Kyrgyz Fergana Valley. The next three days will be spent overlanding through the Kyrgyz Fergana Valley, home to some of the finest scenery in the world. We’ll make frequent stops to hike amongst the rolling hills and mountains. Along the route we plan to wild camp but we may stay in local guesthouses instead, if temperatures are too low.
Please note: If preferred by the group then we can spend an extra night in Arslanbob and spend just two days overlanding in the Kyrgyz Valley.
Overnight: Kyrgyz Fergana Valley | Breakfast x 3, Lunch x 3, Dinner x 3
Song Kol Lake
Kyrgyz Fergana Valley - Song Kol Lake. Day 21 sees us journey to stunning Song Kol Lake. Located in remote and pristine scenery, the lake is considered quite inaccessible and we’ll get to enjoy the absolute tranquility of the area. We camp in comfortable felt yurts near the shore of the lake and over the next two days there’s plenty of time for optional hiking and horse-riding in the region.
Please note: In the low season we will be unable to stay at Song Kol Lake due to the adverse weather. Instead we will likely stay in yurts on the southern shore of Lake Issyk Kol. Please see the trip notes for details.
Overnight: Song Kol Lake | Breakfast x 2, Dinner x 2
Song Kol Lake - Kochkor. We drive to the small village of Kochkor today, where we’ll be staying in small family-run guesthouses. Enjoy some traditional Kyrgyz hospitality here and there’s also time to explore the village. We visit the local museum and a women’s felt making cooperative. Here you can find the traditional 'shyrdak' carpets that Kyrgyzstan is famous for. There’s also an optional folk music demonstration and you can learn how to erect a yurt.
Overnight: Kochkor | Breakfast, Dinner
Kochkor - Jeti Oguz. Leaving Kochkor behind on day 24, we head up into the mountains to the stunning region of Jeti Oguz. We stop en route to watch a demonstration from a local eagle hunter, who uses his well-trained birds of prey to catch smaller animals for food and for their pelts.
Day 25 is free to hike in the incredible scenery, taking in the red sandstone cliffs and wonderful views. There’s also optional horse-riding in the valley. In Jeti Oguz we camp without facilities.
Overnight: Jeti Oguz | Breakfast x 2, Lunch x 2, Dinner x 2
Jeti Oguz - Karakol. Today we head to the quaint Russian-style town of Karakol where the afternoon is at leisure to explore or relax in the hotel. Perhaps visit the beautiful Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Overnight: Karakol | Breakfast
Cholpon Ata & Chong Kemin
Karakol - Chong Kemin. On day 27 we drive to Cholpon Ata where we can marvel at the impressive ancient petroglyphs which have been carved into the rock. We then continue into the stunning Chong Kemin Valley, where we’ll be spending the next two nights.
On day 28 there’s free time to hike in the lush scenery of the valley or you may wish to join an exhilarating optional white water rafting excursion. In the Chong Kemin Valley, we wild camp (weather permitting).
Overnight: Chong Kemin | Breakfast x 2, Lunch x 2, Dinner x 2
Chong Kemin - Bishkek. On day 29 we drive to the relaxed capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. We’ll stop at the Burana Tower en route and there’s plenty of free time to explore. Perhaps head out to Ala-Too Square - the central point of the city or relax in a cafe on the tree-lined Freedom Avenue. There’s an optional excursion to the State Historical Museum during our stay.
Overnight: Bishkek | Breakfast x 2
Return to Kochkor
Bishkek - Kochkor or Naryn. The itinerary for today is interchangeable. If a number of new travellers join our tour in Bishkek then we’ll return to the village of Kochkor, where there will be time to relax and join any optional activities you may have missed first time round. If our group remains the same then we’ll drive beyond the village to the town of Naryn, so that we avoid unnecessarily repeating our itinerary.
Overnight: Kochkor OR Naryn | Breakfast, Dinner
Kochkor or Naryn - Tash Rabat. Today we drive to Tash Rabat, an extremely well-preserved caravanserai, which was once a crucial stopover for merchants on the Silk Road. Lying close to the border with China, its position near the Torugart Pass means it also benefits from wonderful mountain views. We’ll visit the caravanserai and camp tonight in traditional yurts.
Overnight: Tash Rabat | Breakfast
Tash Rabat - Kashgar (China). On day 33 we leave Kyrgyzstan and cross into China to begin the final stretch of our adventure. We arrive in Kashgar and there's plenty of free time over the next few days to explore this remote western outpost. Wander through the ethnically diverse old town to see blacksmiths, cobblers and other ancient crafts still being practiced using traditional methods.
On day 36 we visit the animal market and the sprawling Sunday Bazaar. There’s also an included visit to Shipton’s Arch, which is the largest natural arch on the globe. Optional activities in Kashgar include a visit to the Id Kah Mosque and the Silk Road Museum where you can learn more about the diverse history of this part of the world.
The Taklamakan Desert
Kashgar - Aksu - Korle. On day 38 we leave Kashgar, beginning our drive through the 250,000 square kilometre Taklamakan Desert. Some Uyghur sources claim that the name “Taklamakan” translates to “once you get in, you'll never get out” due to the size and remoteness of this vast wilderness. It is roughly the size of the entire country of Germany and was once a major obstacle for ancient travellers on the Silk Road.
However, thanks to a modern Chinese highway through the desert, the route will be less hazardous for us. During our crossing of the desert, we’ll stay in local hotels en route, most likely in the towns of Aksu and Korle.
Overnight: Aksu (1), Korle (1) | Breakfast x 2
Urumqi & Heavenly Lake
Korle - Urumqi. On day 40 we complete our drive through the Taklamakan Desert and arrive in Urumqi, the capital of the province of Xinjiang. We’ll spend two nights here and on day 41 we visit nearby Heavenly Lake. This dazzling lake is surrounded by mountains and is one of the most beautiful spots in the region. There will be opportunities for walking in the area and boating on the lake.
Urumqi - Turpan. On day 42 we arrive in the Turpan Basin, the hottest place in China. Average temperatures in summer can easily reach over 30° Celsius but the lack of humidity makes the heat bearable. The oasis town of Turpan was a crucial stop for traders on the Silk Road to rest and resupply their caravans.
During our stay in Turpan we visit the ruins of Jiaohe - a 2nd century fortress and city. We also discover the ingenious irrigation system that allowed Turpan to flourish as a trading town despite the hostile climate. Optional activities in the area include an excursion to see the Emin Minaret, which is the tallest minaret in China. You can also opt to visit the ancient Silk Road trading city of Gaochang.
Turpan - Dunhuang. On day 44 we have a long drive to the city of Dunhuang. The next day there’s an included visit to the incredible Mogao Buddha Caves. This gigantic complex of caves contains thousands of examples of Buddhist art, spanning a 1,000-year period from the 4th to the 14th centuries AD. During our stay in Dunhuang you can opt for a camel ride to the nearby Crescent Moon Lake.
Please note: If preferred by the group, we may split the long drive (10 - 13 hours) on day 44 into two, wild camping or staying in a local hotel in-between. This will mean reducing the number of days we spend in Pingliang towards the end of our trip.
Jiayuguan Fort & The Great Wall
Dunhuang - Jiayuguan. Today we drive to Jiayuguan for an included visit to Jiayuguan Fort. This impressive fortress marks the western starting point for the legendary Great Wall of China. Construction on this mudbrick section of the wall began in 1372 CE and took around 170 years to complete. The fort is well preserved with watchtowers and imposing defensive walls. After our visit we camp near a section of the wall.
Overnight: Jiayuguan | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Zhangye Rainbow Mountains
Jiayuguan - Zhangye. Today we drive to the breathtaking Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountains. This incredible mountain range has earned its name because of the colours of the rocks in the area. Tectonic movement has led to the deposits of sandstone and minerals over the last 24 million years and the layer cake of rocks has been sculpted beautifully by erosion. Marvel at hills and ravines of red, yellow, blue and green. Tonight, we’ll camp nearby.
Overnight: Zhangye | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Zhangye - Liujiaxia. Today we have a long drive onto the lower slopes of the remote Tibetan plateau before we reach our hotel for the night in the small city of Liujiaxia.
Bingling Si Caves & Xiahe
Liujiaxia - Xiahe. On day 49 we visit the famous Bingling Si Caves, located along the Yellow River. The main attraction of the site is the centrepiece Maitreya Buddha statue. This 27m-tall statue is dug into the cliff. However, there are over 180 caves and more than 700 statues at the site in total.
We continue to the town of Xiahe, our base for the next two days. Xiahe is a very rural town and is populated largely by native Tibetans. There’s plenty of time to explore the town - take a guided visit to the Labrang Monastery, a popular pilgrimage destination for many Tibetans. You can also opt for a day trip into the Sangke or Ganjia grasslands on the lower Tibetan plateau.
Xiahe - Lanzhou. Leaving Xiahe, we head to the bustling city of Lanzhou. There’s free time this evening to discover the city independently.
Pingliang & Mt Kongtong
Lanzhou - Pingliang. On day 53 we drive to Pingliang, at the base of Mt Kongtong. The mountain is one of the holiest in Chinese Taoism and we have plenty of time to explore the temples and pilgrimage routes with a full day included excursion. The rest of our stay in Pingliang is free to relax or explore.
Please note: If the drive between Turpan and Dunhuang was split over two days, there will only be one night in Pingliang and a half-day exploration of Mount Kongtong.
Pingliang - Xi’an. Today we travel to Xi’an, our final destination and the end of the Silk Road. On arrival, the rest of the day is free to explore the city independently. Perhaps visit the Muslim Quarter or admire the imposing city walls, which are the largest city walls in the world.
Overnight: Xi'an | Breakfast
The Terracotta Warriors
Today our tour comes to an end, but not before we climb aboard our truck one final time. We enjoy an included visit to the incredible Terracotta Warriors just outside Xi'an. This sculpted army, 7-000 strong, was built to protect Emperor Qin Shihuang in the afterlife in around 210BC. After our visit, you say goodbye to your crew and overland truck.
If you wish, book a few extra nights accommodation in Xi’an to explore this fascinating city and join some of our optional activities including a cycle ride on the City Walls or a tour of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
Is Overlanding Right For Me?
Overlanding is not a style of travel that will suit everyone so please carefully read the Trip Notes before selecting this tour and be realistic about your ability and desire to join such a trip. If you’re the adventurous type who’d rather spend a night wild camping in the wilderness than luxuriating in a boutique hotel, then overlanding is for you. You just need the right attitude, an open mind, and a desire to participate fully in the trip.
Overland travelling can be demanding and physically challenging. On your trip you’ll travel in a purpose-built expedition vehicle on an off-the-beaten-track adventure along rugged roads, sometimes across vast distances and at high altitude. You will find the drive times noted on the Trip Notes.
On an overland journey you are more than just a passenger, these are full participation trips and everyone gets involved and pitches in! You will also be expected to erect your own tent and help with camp chores including cooking meals for the group on a rota basis. Like all great adventures, the more you put in the more you'll get out!
The type, variety and standard of accommodation can vary greatly from very basic rooms without electricity or running water to comfortable hotels with good facilities. Generally in hotels most rooms will be twin-share, but some may be triple/quad-share. Hostels and yurts are nearly always multi-share and may be mixed sex.
The campsites we use range from basic to those with excellent facilities, including swimming pools, restaurants and a bar. On occasions we wild camp with no facilities, which means there are no toilets - just the vast expanse of the great outdoors and a shovel!
Our overland journeys are designed to offer freedom, and many of our routes have a large degree of flexibility rather than a strict hour-by-hour or even day-by-day itinerary. We intend to follow the planned route but exact night stops and inclusions cannot be guaranteed and it sometimes happens that we decide to make a change to our planned itinerary.
Prices & Dates
Departure dates noted with a 'G' are guaranteed to operate. All other departure dates are guaranteed with a minimum of 4 persons. Prices shown are per person travelling.Read More
Local payment - $1890pp, paid in USD
Please note that this is payable locally on day 1 of your trip in the currency specified.