Travel across the heart of Central Asia from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan on this 47-day overland group adventure. Tour the bizarre city of Ashgabat, marvel at the flaming Darvaza Gas Crater and take in the Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. Explore wonderful scenery in Kyrgyzstan's Fergana Valley and Jeti Oguz, camp in traditional felt yurts and trek in the rugged Fann Mountains before ending your trip in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe.
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 Gas Crater. 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 Gas Crater - Kunye Urgench. We continue our overland journey across the Karakum Desert today. There's an included stop at the ruins of Kunye Urgench, once a major city on the Silk Road. The site was first settled in the 5th century due to its location on the shores of the Amu Daria River and even survived the 1221 invasion of Genghis Khan - it was finally abandoned in 1378. Surviving ruins include the towering 60m high Kutlug-Timur Minaret, the highest in Central Asia. We’ll wild camp in the desert near to the city tonight.
Overnight: Kunye Urgench | Breakfast, Lunch
Kunye Urgench - Khiva (Uzbekistan). On day 4 we browse the markets in the border town of Dashoguz before crossing into Uzbekistan. Continuing overland, we reach Khiva later in the day.
There’s a guided tour of the ancient Silk Road city the next day during which you can see highlights including the turquoise Kalta Minor Minaret, the blue palace of Tash Khovli and the Juma Mosque. There’s also plenty of time to explore the city independently in the afternoon.
Overnight: Khiva | Breakfast x 2
Khiva - Bukhara. Day 6 is a travel day as we journey to Bukhara. There’s a guided tour of the city on day 7, taking in highlights including the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, Ark Fortress and Kalon Mosque. You’ll also get to see the giant Kalyan Minaret, which earned its nickname of “Death Tower” due to its historic use as a place of execution, where prisoners were thrown from the top.
There’s free time on day 8 and you may wish to join an optional visit to the gruesome Zindon Prison. A barbaric method of internment used here historically was the Bug Pit. Prisoners would be thrown into the pit and all manner of creatures including rats and scorpions would be emptied onto their heads.
Nurata & 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: Nurata | 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.
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 and the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, once the jewel in 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. On day 13 we drive to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. The city is a fascinating contrast to many other Silk Road cities. Whilst Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and others have retained much of their ancient architecture and atmosphere, Tashkent is very much a Soviet city. Clean and modern, it’s a very interesting place to visit. We have two full free days to explore the city and may be joined by new travellers to explore Kyrgyzstan on the next part of our trip.
Please note: The next leg of our journey is subject to change, dependent on the weather conditions in Kyrgyzstan. Refer to the trip notes for more details.
Overnight: Tashkent | Breakfast x 3
Tashkent - Kokand - Fergana. Today we cross over the scenic and mountainous Kamchik Pass in local transport to Kokand. Here we can visit the Khudayar Khan’s Palace and the Margilan Silk Factory. We then continue through striking mountain scenery to Fergana where we'll be joined by our overland truck, which must cross the pass without passengers.
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 world’s largest walnut grove.
Overnight: Arslanbob | Breakfast
Kyrgyz Fergana Valley
Arslanbob - Kyrgyz Fergana Valley. The next three days will be spent overlanding through the incredible scenery of the Kyrgyz Fergana Valley. We stop often to hike and enjoy the amazing views. We plan to wild camp en route but if the weather is too cold then we’ll stay in local guesthouses instead.
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 Fergana 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. You may also get to meet some of the local nomadic farmers.
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 will be staying in small family-run guesthouses and experiencing some traditional Kyrgyz hospitality. There’s an included visit to the local museum and we stop at a traditional women’s felt making cooperative. The cooperative produces ‘shyrdaks’, the traditional felt carpets for which Kyrgyzstan is known. Optional activities in Kochkor include a folk demonstration and you can learn how to erect a yurt.
Overnight: Kochkor | Breakfast, Dinner
Stunning Jeti Oguz
Kochkor - Jeti Oguz. On day 24 we have a scenic drive along the southern shore of Lake Issyk Kol and up into the mountains of the Jeti Oguz region. We’ll make a stop en route to watch a demonstration from a local eagle hunter, whose well-trained birds are used to catch wild animals for their skins and meat.
The next day is free to explore this picturesque corner of Kyrgyzstan. Hike in the hills and mountains or opt for a horse-riding excursion with some local nomads. We’ll camp in the area for these two nights.
Overnight: Jeti Oguz | Breakfast x 2, Lunch x 2, Dinner x 2
Jeti Oguz - Karakol. Today we drive to the Russian-style town of Karakol, where the afternoon is free to explore. Perhaps pay a visit to the beautiful Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Overnight: Karakol | Breakfast
Cholpon Ata & Chong Kemin
Karakol - Chong Kemin. Leaving Karakol behind on day 27, we drive to the northern shore of Lake Issyk Kol to admire the ancient petroglyphs at Cholpon Ata. We then continue to the Chong Kemin Valley, our base for the next two nights.
Day 28 is free to hike in the region or join an optional white water rafting excursion. There is also horse-riding available in the area. We plan to camp in Chong Kemin but if it's too cold or preferred by the group then we may be able to camp in the grounds of a guesthouse instead, or possibly upgrade to rooms.
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. We may be joined by new travellers for the next leg of our journey into Tajikistan.
Overnight: Bishkek | Breakfast x 1
Bishkek - Toktogul Lake. This morning we depart Bishkek, heading south towards Toktogul Lake, a shimmering reservoir which is surrounded by mountains. The off-the-beaten track nature of this location enhances its unspoilt beauty. We’ll wild camp in the area near the lake tonight.
Overnight: Toktugal Lake | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Osh & Sulaiman-Too Mountain
Toktogul Lake - Osh. Day 32 sees us embark on a long drive through mountainous, windswept terrain to Osh, one of the oldest cities in Kyrgyzstan.
On day 33 we climb to the summit of the sacred Sulaiman-Too Mountain, which is one of only three UNESCO-listed sites in the whole of Kyrgyzstan. It was once an important Muslim pilgrimage site and the panoramic views from the summit are enchanting. There's also a small mosque here which is still in use. We visit the National Historical and Archaeological Museum Complex, which is built inside the mountain, then return to Osh where there’s free time to explore the ancient city.
Tulpar Kol Lake
Osh - Tulpar Kol Lake. Today we say goodbye to Osh and set off over the mountainous Taldyk Pass (3,615m). We arrive in the scenic mountain village of Say Mogul and then leave our overland truck behind for an excursion up to the beautiful Tulpar Kol Lake. Here we either wild camp or stay in yurts, surrounded by incredible scenery.
Overnight: Tulpar Kol Lake | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Karakul Lake & Murghab
Tulpar Kol Lake - Karakul Lake (Tajikistan) - Murghab. Today we enter the mountainous Republic of Tajikistan. The border is located at more than 4,300m above sea level in the mountains so there are spectacular views from the border point.
Once we’ve crossed into Tajikistan, we drive to the shore of Karakul Lake, which is at a slightly higher elevation than Lake Titicaca in Peru. The surrounding marshes and peat bogs are also an important stopover for bird species including Himalayan vultures and Caucasian great rosefinches.
Enjoy lunch lakeside before we continue our drive over the Ak-Baital mountain pass, the highest pass on the famous Pamir Highway. This famous road, also known as the M41, connects Tajikistan with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. We arrive in the small town of Murghab, which was once the highest town in the Soviet Union.
Overnight: Murghab | Breakfast
Murghab - Langar. There’s an early start this morning as we embark on a full day’s drive through the rocky scenery of the Pamir Mountains. Get your first glimpse of the Panj River, which we'll be following for the next few days alongside the border with Afghanistan. We stay in a traditional Pamiri guesthouse in the village of Langar tonight.
Overnight: Langar | Breakfast
Vrang & Ishkashim
Langar - Vrang - Ishkashim. This morning we can take a challenging but rewarding hike up to the ancient petroglyphs which were carved onto the rocks above Langar. Admire these ancient carvings and the spectacular views of the Wakhan Valley.
Later we also visit the tiny village of Vrang where we can admire the incredible and mysterious 4th century Vrang Stupa. There is fierce debate about the use of this amazing ancient structure, some believe it was a Buddhist stupa whilst others say it was once a Zoroastrian Fire Temple, similar to those found elsewhere in the Middle East. We also have time to visit the Village House Museum of Mubarak-i-Wakhani before arriving in Ishkashim, not to be confused with the town of the exact same name just over the border in Afghanistan.
Overnight: Ishkashim | Breakfast
Ishkashim - Khorog. On day 38 we drive to the riverside city of Khorog, the capital of the off the beaten track autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan. On the way we stop at the Garm Chasma hot springs, where you can enjoy a relaxing dip. There’s free time on day 39 to explore the riverside city. Perhaps browse the local bazaar or simply relax in one of the many parks. You may also wish to join an optional excursion to the second highest botanical garden in the world.
Overnight: Khorog | Breakfast x 2
Khorog - Khalaykum. Today we have a long drive through yet more incredible scenery along the border with Afghanistan. Late afternoon sees us arrive at the town of Khalaykum where the evening is free to explore. Khalaykum is one of the prettiest towns in the Pamirs. Beautiful mosques and houses lean over the river which charges through the town centre and mountains rise up on all sides.
Overnight: Khalaykum | Breakfast
Khalaykum - Kulob. We have an early start this morning in order to reach Kulob, our next destination. We peel away from the border with Afghanistan and head back into Tajikistan, arriving at our hotel towards the end of the afternoon. Kulob is one of the biggest cities in Tajikistan and celebrated its 2700th birthday in 2006.
Overnight: Kulob | Breakfast
Kulob - Iskanderkul Lake. We have a scenic drive today past the Nurek Reservoir on the rushing Vakhsh River. We then arrive at the shore of Iskanderkul Lake.
The triangular lake is fed by glaciers and the rugged mountains on all sides of the lake are a beautiful site to see. Iskander is the Persian pronunciation of Alexander, and the lake is named after Alexander the Great. A large swathe of the surrounding area is an important nature reserve and you’re sure to spot some birdlife as we set up our wild camp close by.
Overnight: Iskanderkul Lake | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Trekking in the Fann Mountains
Iskanderkul Lake - Artuch. Today we begin our three-day trek in the rugged Fann Mountains. We’ll leave our overland truck behind and take jeeps up to the small village of Artuch, the starting point for our trek. There’s time to explore the village and meet the local villagers. You can also enjoy a two hour hike to the beautiful Chukurak Lake.
Please note: If you do not wish to trek, an alternative option can be arranged in advance through your sales agent. Due to availability and restrictions this must be arranged at least 30 days prior to your trip departing.
Overnight: Artuch | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Artuch - Bibijanat Lake. Our donkeys arrive this morning to carry our luggage as we trek. There’s a briefing with our mountain guide before we begin trekking towards Bibijanat Lake. The scenery we walk through is simply breathtaking, with tall mountains and lush green forests littered with turquoise lakes. Tonight, we camp on the shore of Bibijanat Lake. (Trekking distance: 14 km).
Overnight: Bibijanat Lake | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Bibijanat Lake - Alaudin Lake. This morning we ascend to 3,860m above sea level to the Alaudin Pass. From the top of the mountain pass we enjoy tremendous panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and shimmering lakes before descending to Alaudin Lake where we camp for the night. (Trekking distance: 10 km).
Overnight: Alaudin Lake | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Alaudin Lake - Dushanbe. Our trek comes to an end today and there’s some free time after we’ve packed up camp. Soak up the last of the incredible scenery before we reunite with our overland truck and embark on the last leg of our journey to Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan. The city began as a small village and has now grown to have a population of more than 800,000. Your last night in Tajikistan is free to explore the city.
Overnight: Dushanbe | Breakfast
Today your overland adventure comes to an end. Contact the sales team if you wish to book extra accommodation in Dushanbe to further explore the city.
Is This Trip 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 roughing it 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 challenging. The pace of the trip can be tiring at times and facilities can be basic. 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 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. On the Trip Notes you will find more information about the accommodation each night.
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.
Sublime Stans is a very challenging trip for people with a real sense of adventure. There will be long drive days and wild camps. The terrain can be very rough and facilities may be very basic or non existent. The itinerary will also need to be flexible.
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 - $1480pp, paid in USD
Please note that this is payable locally on day 1 of your trip in the currency specified.