Best Places to Visit in Turkmenistan

Arerial view of Asgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan

Ashgabat

Capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat has gained a reputation as one of the strangest cities in the world. Built with the profits made from the country’s oil and gas reserves, the city boasts a bizarre collection of claims. According to Guinness World Records, Ashgabat has the highest density of white marble-clad buildings in the world. It’s also home to the world’s largest indoor ferris wheel, the largest architectural star and has the most fountain pools in a public place. With curious sights such as these, this city is certainly a must-visit when exploring Turkmenistan.

Archaeological site of Gonor Tepe in Turkmenistan

Gonur Tepe

Discovered by Viktor Sarianidi in 1972, Gonur Tepe is a fascinating site. This Bronze Age settlement has wowed archaeologists with its vast size and complex layout, with highlights being the necropolis and Royal Palace. Current excavations date back to 3,000 BC and the settlement was home to one of the oldest fire-worshipping civilizations. It’s thought that Gonur Tepe was abandoned after the Murgab River changed course, consequently cutting the population’s water supply.

Kyz-Kala fortress in Merv, Turkmenistan

Merv

Merv is the oldest and best-preserved of the oasis-cities along the Silk Road in Central Asia. Once home to over half a million people, it was the largest city in the world in the 12th century. However, in 1221, Merv was all but destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan and never fully recovered. Today, visitors to Turkmenistan can still tour its ancient ruins and imagine the glory days of this once-great settlement. Of its UNESCO-listed remains, the fortress of Erk Kala is the largest and most impressive, with its walls standing 20 metres tall.

Marble building in Mary, Turkmenistan

Mary

The third largest city in Turkmenistan, Mary is located in the centre of the Karakum Desert just 30 kilometres from ancient Merv. In fact, the city was originally called Merv and was occupied by Russia until Turkmenistan gained independence. Mary’s highlight is its History Museum, which contains a rich collection of exhibits revealing much about the country’s history and culture. Expect to see Turkmen carpets, jewellery and national costumes. There’s also a fully-decorated yurt and archaeological finds from nearby Merv.

Darvaza Gas Craters at night, Turkmenistan

Darvaza Gas Craters

Also known as ‘the Gates to Hell’, the Darvaza Gas Craters are one of the most unusual attractions in Turkmenistan. The three, artificial craters were created in the 1970s as a result of Soviet-era gas exploration. Two contained water and bubbling mud, while the third was set alight as it contained potentially poisonous gas. Scientists predicted the fire to burn out within days, yet its flames continue to blaze to this day. Surrounded by desert, the 20-meter crater and its fire can be seen from many kilometres away. Time your visit after sunset for the best photographs of this bewitching sight.

Small Mausoleum at Konye Urgench, Turkmenistan

Kunya-Urgench

Located in northwest Turkmenistan, Kunya-Urgench was once the capital of the Khorezm region. Today, its ruins and monuments reveal much about the development of Islamic architecture in Central Asia. Dating back as early as the 11th century, it features fortresses, mausoleums, a mosque, the gates of a caravanserai and a 60-metre high minaret. Regarded as the ‘heart of Islam’ in the 13th century, the city rebelled against Genghis Khan and was destroyed by the Mongols. It was destroyed once again in the 14th century by the army of Tamerlane. Yet, despite these defeats, many of Kunya-Urgench’s monuments have remained intact. The most beautiful is the Sultan Tekesh Mausoleum, with its instantly recognizable turquoise dome.

View of Yangykala Canyon from above, Turkmenistan - courtesy of John Pavelka
Image courtesy of John Pavelka

Yangykala Canyon

One of Turkmenistan’s most incredible natural attractions, Yangykala is referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of Central Asia’. Its landscape features bands of red, yellow and pink rock rising from a vast expanse of barren desert. A true natural wonder, the canyon was formed over 5.5 million years ago when its walls were under the waters of the ancient Parathetys Sea. Few have heard of this spectacular sight, but those who do travel here can enjoy stunning sunset and sunrise views by camping on the plateau above.

See Also

For more information on visiting Turkmenistan, take a look at our other travel resources:

Best time to visit – seasons and weather in Turkmenistan
Top travel tips – info on currency, food and much more
Tourist visas - what you need to know to enter Turkmenistan