Cross Western China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on this 56-day overland group tour which travels from Xi'an to Ashgabat. Admire the Terracotta Warriors, cross the Taklamakan Desert and see the most westerly point of the Great Wall of China at Jiayuguan Fort. Visit Tash Rabat and stay in yurts beside Song Kol Lake in Kyrgyzstan, explore Uzbekistan's Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, then discover the Darvaza Crater in Turkmenistan.
Welcome to Xi'an
Welcome to China! On arrival in Xi'an, make your way to our joining hotel. There will be a group Welcome Meeting at 18:00 during which you will meet your group and tour leader. The rest of the day is free to explore the city.
The Terracotta Warriors
Today we climb aboard our overland truck for the first time and enjoy an excursion out of Xi'an to see the incredible Terracotta Warriors. This sculpted army, 7-000 strong, was built to protect Emperor Qin Shihuang in the afterlife in around 210BC. There's a guided tour of the army before we return to Xi'an for a free afternoon.
Overnight: Xi'an | Breakfast
Pingliang & Mt Kongtong
Xian - Pingliang. On day 3 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 on day 4. The rest of our stay in Pingliang is free to relax or explore.
Please note: If the group wishes to split the long drive between Turpan and Dunhuang later in the trip over two days, there will only be one night in Pingliang and a half-day exploration of Mount Kongtong.
Pingliang - Xiahe. We continue to the town of Xiahe on day 5, our base for the next three 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.
Bingling Si Caves & Liujiaxia
Xiahe - Liujiaxia. This morning 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.
After our visit we drive to the small city of Liujiaxia, and the evening is free to head out onto the bustling city streets and explore.
Overland to Zhangye
Liujiaxia - Zhangye. Today is a travel day as we head towards the beautiful Zhangye Rainbow Mountains. We find a suitable spot to camp along the route.
Overnight: Zhangye | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Zhangye Rainbow Mountains
Zhangye - Jiayuguan. 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.
After spending some time admiring the scenery of the mountains, we continue to Jiayuguan, where we camp near an adobe (mudbrick) section of the legendary Great Wall of China.
Overnight: Jiayuguan | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Jiayuguan Fort & Dunhuang
Jiayuguan - Dunhuang. On day 11 we visit 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 drive to the city of Dunhuang and there’s an included visit to the incredible Mogao Buddha Caves on day 12. 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.
Turpan & the Jiaohe ruins
Dunhuang - Turpan. On day 13 we have a long drive to 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.
Please note: If preferred by the group, we may split the long drive (10 - 13 hours) on day 13 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 beginning of our trip.
Urumqi & Heavenly Lake
Turpan - Urumqi. On day 15 we leave Turpan and drive to Urumqi, the capital of the province of Xinjiang. We’ll spend two nights here and on day 16 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 possibly boating on the lake.
Crossing the Taklamakan Desert
Urumqi - Korle - Aksu. On day 17 we say goodbye to Urumqi and begin 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 Korle and Aksu.
Overnight: Korle (1), Aksu (1) | Breakfast x 2
Aksu - Kashgar. On day 19 we journey to Kashgar, once an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. During our three days in the city there's an included visit to the animal market and the sprawling Sunday Bazaar. 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.
You may also use your free time in the city 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.
Today we have a short meeting to explain the next few days in Kyrgyzstan. We then enjoy an included hike to the impressive Shipton's Arch, the largest natural archway in the world. After our hike, we return to Kashgar for a final evening.
Kashgar - Tash Rabat (Kyrgyzstan). On day 23 we have a full day's drive over the scenic Torugart Pass into Kyrgyzstan. We'll camp near the famous Tash Rabat caravanserai, which is one of the most well preserved caravanserais on the Silk Road. There's plenty of time to explore the surrounding area and we may possibly be able to stay in yurts. Yurts are comfortable felt tents that are the traditional form of accommodation for Central Asian nomads.
Please note: If we are unable to stay in yurts at Tash Rabat then don't worry, we will definitely be experiencing a few nights in yurts later in the trip.
Overnight: Tash Rabat | Breakfast x 2
Kochkor OR Naryn
Tash Rabat - Kochkor or Naryn. Today we drive to the small village of Kochkor. We check in to our small, family-run guesthouses - this is a great experience and you'll get to meet the local people. We also visit the village museum and a women’s felt making cooperative which produces shyrdaks - the felt carpets that Kyrgyzstan is known for. There’s also an optional outdoor folk concert and you can learn how to erect a yurt.
Please note: If no one is leaving the trip in Bishkek, we may stay in the small town of Naryn instead, as we are revisiting Kochkor on day 33 and do not want to unnecessarily repeat the itinerary. If this is the case, then we'll spend the morning further exploring Tash Rabat before taking a short drive to Naryn.
Overnight: Kochkor OR Naryn | Breakfast, Dinner
Kochkor or Naryn - Bishkek. On day 26 we arrive in the friendly Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. The rest of today and tomorrow is free to explore the city. Perhaps browse the vibrant Osh bazaar or head to the central Ala-Too Square. We may be joined by new travellers for the next leg of our journey.
Please note: The following itinerary in Kyrgyzstan is subject to change due to the unpredictable conditions in the country. We have tried and tested alternatives in place to ensure your trip runs smoothly, please see the trip notes for details.
Overnight: Bishkek | Breakfast x 2
Chong Kemin Valley
Bishkek - Chong Kemin. We head out of Bishkek on day 28 - we may need to return to organise Uzbekistan visas for some of the group, so the next couple of days need to be fairly flexible.
We will most likely spend the next two nights camping in the Ala Archa National Park and Chong Kemin Valley. There will be plenty of time for hiking in the stunning scenery and an optional white water rafting excursion will be offered.
Overnight: Chong Kemin Valley | Breakfast x 2, Lunch x 2, Dinner x 2
Cholpon Ata & Karakol
Chong Kemin - Karakol. We drive to the northern shore of Lake Issyk Kol this morning, where we can admire the ancient petroglyphs at Cholpon Ata. After our visit here, we continue 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
Karakol - Jeti Oguz. On day 31 we have a scenic drive up into the mountains of the Jeti Oguz region, dominated by towering red sandstone cliffs. 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 (weather permitting).
Overnight: Jeti Oguz | Breakfast x 2, Lunch x 2, Dinner x 2
Jeti Oguz - Kochkor. Today we drive to the small village of Kochkor, stopping 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.
On arrival in Kochkor, we check in to our small, family-run guesthouses - this is a great experience and you'll get to know the local people. We also visit the village museum and a women’s felt making cooperative which produces shyrdaks - the felt carpets that Kyrgyzstan is known for. There’s also an optional outdoor folk concert and you can learn how to erect a yurt.
Overnight: Kochkor | Breakfast, Dinner
Song Kol Lake
Kochkor - Song Kol Lake. On day 34 we drive to shimmering Song Kol Lake, where we base ourselves for the next two nights. Song Kol is a remote and peaceful lake set in stunning scenery - Kyrgyzstan in all of its glory. We’ll stay in traditional felt yurts and experience the life of rural Kyrgyz people. There’s optional hiking and horse-riding in the area surrounding the lake.
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.
Overnight: Song Kol Lake | Breakfast x 2, Dinner x 2
Kyrgyz Fergana Valley
Song Kol Lake - Kyrgyz Fergana Valley. We spend the next three days overlanding through the Kyrgyz Fergana Valley towards Arslanbob. We’ll make frequent stops to hike in the stunning mountain region and will camp in suitable spots on the route.
Please note: If the group prefers, we will spend an extra day in Arslanbob and depart for two days of overlanding in the valley on day 36. In cold weather we will be unable to camp and will stay in guesthouses along the route.
Overnight: Kyrgyz Fergana Valley | Breakfast x 3, Lunch x 3, Dinner x 3
Kyrgyz Fergana Valley - Arslanbob. Today we finally arrive in the picturesque village of Arslanbob. There's free time to relax after a long few days of overlanding. Perhaps take a stroll in the famous walnut forest, the largest walnut grove in the world - the walnut was Kyrgyzstan's first known export to Europe.
Overnight: Arslanbob | Breakfast
Arslanbob - Fergana (Uzbekistan). We say goodbye to the mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan today, crossing the border into neighbouring Uzbekistan. Our drive takes us to the city of Fergana, where the evening is at leisure.
Overnight: Fergana | Breakfast
Kokand & Tashkent
Fergana - Kokand - Tashkent. Day 41 sees us journey to Kokand, where we’ll visit the Khudayar Khan’s Palace and the Margilan Silk Factory. Traditional methods are still used here in the production of this famous textile.
After exploring Kokand, we cross over the mountainous Kamchik Pass to Tashkent, the Soviet-style capital of Uzbekistan. We must pass over the Kamchik Pass in local transport, as our truck must cross without passengers. We'll be reunited later, in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. The evening is free to explore the clean and modern city independently.
Day 42 is free to explore Tashkent as you please. You may wish to head to the religious centre of the city at Hast Imam Square, where you'll find the world's oldest surviving copy of the Koran. We may be joined by new travellers today for the next leg of our journey.
Overnight: Tashkent | Breakfast x 2
Tashkent - Samarkand. On day 43 we head towards the jewel in Uzbekistan's crown - the incredible Silk Road city of Samarkand. On arrival, the evening is free to head out and explore.
We enjoy a guided tour of Samarkand on day 44, taking in highlights including the central Registan Square. The Registan is dominated by three towering madrasahs which rise up against the skyline - madrasah is Arabic for 'school'. We also take in the Ulug Beg Observatory, Shah-I-Zinda necropolis and the ruins of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque. The mosque was once the jewel in the empire of the warlord Timur, who was born here.
The following day is free to explore Samarkand further or join optional activities including an excursion to the ancient city of Shakhrisabz.
Overnight: Samarkand | Breakfast x 3
The Kyzylkhum Desert
Samarkand - Nurata. Today we say goodbye to Samarkand and head into the striking Nurata Hills. Opt for a refreshing dip in Lake Ajdar Kul before we drive into the Kyzylkhum Desert. There’s an optional camel ride over the rolling dunes of the desert and we spend the night in yurts near the town of Nurata.
Overnight: Kyzylkhum Desert | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Nurata - Bukhara. We head out of the desert on day 47, reaching the beautiful and historic Silk Road city of Bukhara, where we'll be staying for the next three nights. We make a quick stop in Nurata en route.
On day 48 we enjoy a guided tour of Bukhara, taking in highlights including the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, Kalon Mosque and Ark Fortress. You’ll also get to see the Kalyan Minaret. This beautiful tower hides a sinister past - it’s nickname of “Death Tower” has been earned due to its former use as a place of execution.
Day 49 is free to explore or join some of the optional excursions available. Perhaps visit the gruesome Zindon Prison, home to the infamous Bug Pit. Prisoners would be thrown into the pit and rats, lice, scorpions and other creatures would be dropped on their heads.
Bukhara - Khiva. On day 50 we say goodbye to Bukhara and embark on a long drive to the welcoming city of Khiva. The next day there’s a guided tour of the city, taking in highlights including the incredible city walls, the turquoise Kalta Minor Minaret and the blue palace of Tash Khovli. There are also included visits to the Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrassa museum, the 12th century Kukhna Ark fortress and 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 - Kunye Urgench (Turkmenistan). Today we leave Uzbekistan behind and cross the border into the closed off country of Turkmenistan. Browse the markets in the border town of Dashoguz before we explore the Kunye Urgench ruins towards the end of the day.
Once an important Silk Road city due to its location in the remote Karakum Desert, Kunye Urgench was spared by Genghis Khan during his invasion and the ruins remain well-preserved today. Admire highlights including the Kutlug-Timur Minaret, which is the highest minaret in Central Asia. Tonight, we camp in the desert close to the city.
Overnight: Kunye Urgench | Breakfast, Lunch
Darvaza Gas Crater
Kunye Urgench - Darvaza Gas Crater. We continue our journey through the desert today, reaching the incredible Darvaza Gas Crater, known locally as the 'Door to Hell'.
The crater was created by accident in 1971 when Soviet oil drillers released gas into the atmosphere, causing the ground to collapse. The Soviets then set fire to the gas to try and burn it all off. However, there was much more gas present than they realised and the crater has been burning away ever since. After we’ve admired the site, we find a suitable spot to camp for the night.
Overnight: Darvaza | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Darvaza Gas Crater - Ashgabat. On day 54 we complete our drive to Turkmenistan's bizarre capital city of Ashgabat. The city holds the world record for the highest concentration of marble clad buildings anywhere in the world.
On day 55 we embark on a minibus tour of this off the beaten track and bonkers capital city. Look out for the bizarre marble architecture and some of the golden statues of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. The president has a fascination with collecting world records and some of the more unusual architecture you may spot includes the worlds largest indoor Ferris wheel.
Overnight: Ashgabat | Breakfast x 2
Our tour comes to an end today and you are free to depart for your onward journey. If you wish, speak to our sales team about booking a few additional days accommodation in Ashgabat.
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 nights roughing it in the wilderness enjoying spectacular scenery, 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.
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 - $1940pp, paid in USD
Please note that this is payable locally on day 1 of your trip in the currency specified.