The 5 Stans

31 Days – Dates or Various Dates

 

from $20,995.00 per person based on 2 sharing

Trip Style: Group, Independent, Touring, Nature

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Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan make up the five ‘stans’ of central Asia.

Sapphire lakes, sheer peaks capped with snow, wild nomadic frontiers, cobalt architecture and a tangle of fascinating history, these almost untouched nations provide travellers with some of the most incredible and fresh travel experiences on our planet. 

A true exploration into a bygone era as you uncover time frozen cultures, a jumble of soviet and Persian history, Silk Road trade routes and jaw dropping beauty unlike anywhere else and that transitions into the modern world. From barren deserts, crystal rivers and glistening glaciers juxtaposed with grand white marble cities and urbane metropolises. An immersive and rewarding journey for those privy to embrace a region only just peering out of the mystery that has surrounded these countries for so long.

Day 1

Overnight Flight

Overnight flight with Emirates to Dubai and then onto Istanbul. You have the option of extending your trip with a stopover in Dubai as well.

Day 2-5

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is the main place for us to enter Ashgabat from. Due to the difficulty of getting to the end destination and the fact that the flights are not smooth connections, we have added on a 3 night stay in this brilliant city. It gives you the chance to recover from any jetlag, enjoy some amazing cuisine and arrive in time for your tour, refreshed and ready to explore this off the beaten track destination.

Day 6

Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)

Welcome to Turkmenistan! On arrival in Ashgabat, you will be met by your driver and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan is known for its white marble buildings and grand natural monuments.

Day 7

Ashgabat - Darwaza

Begin your day exploring Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan that has recently been noted by the Guinness Book of World Records as having more white marble buildings than any other city in the world. During your city tour, you will visit the Monument of Neutrality, Presidential Square, Ertugrul Gazi Mosque, the newly built Independence Park, and the Lenin Monument.

In the late afternoon, your guide and driver will meet you in your hotel lobby where you will depart for Darvaza gas crater located in the middle of the Karakum desert (257km, 4 hours drive). Arrive just before dusk, the best time to see the unique gas crater flame away into the remoteness of the Karakum desert.

Upon arrival, have a delicious BBQ dinner near the burning crater. At night, in an empty desert with only the stars for company, red light emanates from the ground in the distance, and a distant rumble presages the crater. Shooting flames and fireballs cross its crater, like a volcano – the crater must be viewed at night for full effect. In the morning, wake up to a desert sunrise. 

Day 8

Darwaza - Ashgabat

After enjoying your camp-style breakfast, drive back to Ashgabat and check in to your hotel.

Later that day you will explore the archaeological site of Old Nisa (a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site) and the Turkmenbashy Spiritual Mosque, one of the biggest mosques in Central Asia. Drive to visit the Carpet Museum, one of the best in Central Asia featuring designs from the Tekke, Yamud, Sarik and Chodor tribes. The Turkmen carpet museum is one of the cultural centres of Turkmenistan, where about 2000 carpet exhibits, including rare ones, are exhibited. The museum has the world’s largest hand carpet with a total area of 301 m², which was woven in 2001, and in 2003 it was added to the Guinness Book of Records. (B)

Complimentary night drive in Ashgabat to see the town in lights.

Day 9

Nohur

This morning, depart for Nohur mountain village tucked into the Kopet Dag Mountains. Visit Turkmenbashi Mosque-Mausoleum, Gokdepe Mosque and Kow-Ata underground lake on the way.

Time permitting, you may be able to swim in the underground lake. Continue on to explore a tribal cemetery and participate in a silk weaving workshop. In the afternoon, drive back to Ashgabat. 

Day 10

Ashgabat - Almaty (Kazakhstan)

Begin your day early by transferring to the airport for your 08:50 am flight to Almaty (please note that flight times are subject to change).

Upon your arrival in Almaty at 12:35 pm, your exploration of the city commences. Start with a sightseeing tour in the central part of Almaty, where you’ll learn about the city’s history and development as the Southern capital of Kazakhstan, and visit its major attractions.

Your tour begins at Panfilov Park, home to Zenkov Cathedral, one of the world’s most beautiful wooden buildings. You’ll also visit the Memorial of Glory and Eternal Flame, dedicated to those who fought for the country’s freedom and independence. Explore the Central State Museum and Republic Square.

Next, head to Kok-Tobe hill, home to the world’s tallest TV tower when measured from sea level. Reach it via a scenic, winding mountain road, and take some time to stroll through Kok-Tobe Park, where you can enjoy city views from a special observation deck and shop for national souvenirs.

From here, you will continue to Medeo Gorge, known for being the highest mountain ice skating rink in the world and the dam, which protects the city from dangerous mudflows. Take a short walk to capture mountain-view photos and breathe in the fresh pine-scented air.

Lastly, check-in at your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at your own pace.

Day 11

Big Almaty Lake

Drive to the Big Almaty gorge, where located at an altitude of 2,510m above sea level, you will find the Big Almaty Lake – one of the most picturesque lakes in Trans-Ili Alatau. The lake is beautiful, especially when its blue surface is absolutely calm, and it reflects the sky and surrounding mountains. The Big Almaty lake was formed as a result of the movement of an ancient glacier. Thanks to its high-mountain location, the water in the lake is always cool – even in July, the water temperature does not exceed 10 degrees.

On the way back to the town, you will visit a Falcon Farm, where you will enjoy a spectacular show with specially trained falcons – hunting with them is one of the most unique features of the Kazakh way of life and an age-old tradition still practised today and also in the west of Mongolia.

Day 12

Kaindy Lake

Depart early from Almaty at 07:00 am, with your destination being the quaint village of Saty, located approximately 280 kilometres away (4-5 hours drive).

Upon arriving in Saty, you’ll check in at your guesthouse, where you’ll spend the next two nights. After lunch, you’ll switch to all-wheel-drive (AWD) local vehicles, typically “UAZ” or “PAZ” (Russian car models), chosen for their ability to navigate the rugged mountain roads. This portion of the trip covers about 12 kilometres and takes around 1 hour, leading you to Kaindy Lake.

Kaindy Lake, often referred to as “birch lake,” is nestled amidst a magnificent pine forest at an altitude of 2,000 meters above sea level. The lake’s fame stems from its unique origin—it was formed in 1911 following a powerful earthquake that triggered a landslide, creating a natural dam that flooded the valley. As a result, the water in the lake remains remarkably cold, preserving the pine needles of the submerged trees, which are clearly visible through its crystal-clear surface. Dry fir tree trunks rise above the water, resembling the masts of a submarine squadron. The lake’s mystical beauty is truly indescribable. After exploring the area around the lake, return to Saty village to freshen up and have dinner. 

Day 13

Kolsai Lake

The Kolsai Lakes, known as the ‘Pearls of the Northern Tien-Shan’, represent a cascade of three lakes. The largest lake is accessible to all travellers. It is the most beautiful lake, with a lack of civilization and an abundance of wild mushrooms. For those who are horse lovers, there is the option to explore on horseback. The highest lake is small. It is located on the border of firwood and the alpine meadows and amazes with its harsh alpine beauty, as well as the rich flora and fauna. The vertical drop between the three lakes is about 700m. The lowest lake can be reached by car. Walk a few kilometres along mountain trails to see the second and third lakes. This will be one of your highlights. This area is rich in berries, mushrooms and fishing. The water in the lakes is cold and clean and is home to the rainbow trout – a fish that lives only in running or spring water. In the surrounding mountains, you can see Marals, mountain goats, wolves and even bears. Having arrived at Kolsay-1 Lake and after brief instructions, you will start trekking. The route lies on the bank of the lake and continues with the path through the pine forest, and alpine meadows along a pure mountain river flowing all the way down from Kolsai-2 Lake.

The total walking distance between two lakes is about 7 km and usually takes 3-3,5 hours one way. The altitude rises up more than 400m, from 1818m above sea level at the first lake to 2250 m at the second lake. There is no category of difficulty and the route is accessible for healthy, average-trained people. Enjoying your lunch in front of the cold and pure-clean lake in the surroundings of magnificent mountain peaks.

Enjoy an afternoon walk back to Kolsai-1 Lake and drive back to your guesthouse.

Day 14

Almaty - Charyn Canyon - Karakol (Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan)

After breakfast, farewell to your guesthouse host family and depart to Charyn Canyon at 08:00 am. It will take about 2 hours to reach the canyon. Upon arrival, admire the grand panorama and go down to the bottom of the canyon to walk around 2 km through the maze of the Valley of the Castles.

Charyn Canyon is a natural complex, unique in its kind not only in Kazakhstan but also worldwide. It was formed during the Paleogene and reminds you of the Grand Canyon in North America, although inferior to it in size. The height of the steep slopes of the canyon is up to 150-300m. The extraordinary dissection of the terrain is striking: the numerous ravines form a dense, chaotic network. Wind and water have created the beautiful ‘Valley of Castles’, where you are always surrounded by fancy towers composed of sedimentary rocks. The length of the valley is more than 2km and its width is 20-80m. For millions of years, nature has been creating a unique architecture, erecting magnificent castles carefully and slowly. You can spend hours walking amongst the strange towers and columns, being absorbed in the wild imagination of nature.

The bottom of the canyon has a slight descent to the end of the walk, where you will reach the fresh oasis on the banks of the icy cold Charyn River. Here there is a small eco-park with several yurts (traditional dwellings) and a small open-air café, operating in the summer months. Relax and take in the surrounding beauty before walking back and driving to one of the observation points for another breathtaking panoramic view. After 3-4 hours spent in the canyon, you will depart to Almaty. Your lunch today, will be served in a local café in a small village approx. an hour after leaving the canyon.

Following lunch, transfer to the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border Kegen. After completing border formalities, you will meet with your Kyrgyz driver and guide at the border and transfer to Karakol via Karkara Valley.  Dinner this evening is with a Kyrgyz family in Uigar where you will witness a folkloric show, national music and traditional songs.

Day 15

Karakol - Jety Oguz - Kochkor

This morning, you will visit a traditional wooden Orthodox Church and Dungan mosque which is built in Chinese style. From here, continue to Jety-Oguz Gorge. Enjoy a short hike in the gorge and then transfer along the southern shore of Issyk-Kul Lake.  On the way stop, in Bokonbaevo, where you will see an eagle hunting show. Continue driving to Kochkor where one of the best views on the Issyk-Kul Lake is guaranteed. This evening, you will have Kyrgyz cuisine for dinner.

Day 16

Kochkor - Son-Kul

After breakfast transfer to Son-Kul (120km). Son-Kul is one of the highest lakes in Kyrgyzstan (3016m above sea level). It’s a place where you can experience true nomadic life. You will have a chance to ride a horse, see edelweiss flowers, camels, yaks, golden eagles, and to see how local women make the Kyrgyz national drink – Kymyz (mare’s milk). This is a remote mountain lake situated on a treeless, high mountain plateau where shepherds bring their livestock in the summertime and establish a camp where they will live for season and set up their yurts. In this area of beauty, you will see hundreds of herds of animals and their shepherds as well as many different yurts

Day 17

Son-Kul - Bishkek

This morning, you will transfer to Bishkek (approx. 330km). On the way visit a felt carpet workshop in Kochkor, where you can see the traditional process of making Kyrgyz felt carpets. After lunch, continue driving to Bishkek. On the way, you will stop to see Burana Tower, which is left from the ancient city Balasagyn (XI – XIII).

Day 18

Ala-Archa National Park

In the morning, depart for Ala-Archa National Park (40km). The stunning alpine gorge is pushed through with the fast-flowing Ala-Archa River runs. The gorge is flanked by tall, snow-covered peaks with steep-sided, forested, mountain slopes. Enjoy a gentle hike in the gorge. Return to Bishkek where the remainder of the day is free at leisure.

Day 19

Bishkek - Tashkent (Uzbekistan)

This morning you will transfer to the airport for your flight to Tashkent.

Welcome to Uzbekistan! Upon arrival at Tashkent airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure. Uzbekistan is the proud home to a spellbinding infusion of architecture and ancient cities, all deeply intertwined with the bloody, fascinating history of the Silk Road.

Day 20

Tashkent

This morning, you will start exploring Tashkent, the biggest city in Central Asia. Start in the old City part of Tashkent with the Khast-Imam Complex where the world-famous holy book Quran of Caliph Uthman has been preserved. In Khast-Imam visit Madrasah of Barak-Khan, Tillya Sheykh Mosque, the Mausoleum of the Saint Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi and the Islamic Institute of Imam al-Bukhari. Explore Choru Bazaar. This bazaar is one of the largest and most popular in the capital. Covered by seven domes tiled with coloured ceramic designs, mingle amongst the longest as they bargain and barter amongst themselves. Local farmers come from far and wide to sell products of their own production. Let your senses take over as you inhale the aromas of different Eastern spices, vegetables and fruits. Continuing on, you will also visit Kukeldash madrasah, the largest madrasah and one of the most famous historical monuments of Tashkent.

Then take a ride on Tashkent Metro to the city centre to explore Amir Timur Square, Independence Square and the Applied Arts Museum. 

Day 21

Tashkent - Khiva

Following an early morning breakfast, transfer to the domestic airport for your flight to Urgench. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel.

Today you will visit Ichan-Kala Fortress which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will also visit Mukhammad Amin Khan Madrasah, Mukhammad Rahimkhan Madrasah, Kalta Minor, Juma Mosque, Toshkhovli Palace, Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum. If you are feeling energetic, you may take the time to climb Islom Khodja Minaret, the highest minaret in Uzbekistan. Enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of Old Khiva in Kunya-Ark.

Day 22

Khiva - Bukhara

Enjoy breakfast in your hotel. Transfer to the railway station to meet your train departing for Bukhara at 9:12 am (480km). The Great Silk Road was once routed through Bukhara and Khiva and ran through the Kyzylkum Desert, as the present road does nowadays. Upon arrival at 16:17, transfer to your hotel.

Day 23

Bukhara

Bukhara was a prominent stop on the Silk Road trade route between the East and the West and a major medieval centre for Islamic theology and culture. It still contains hundreds of well-preserved mosques, madrassas bazaars and caravanserais, dating largely from the 9th to the 17th centuries. Spend your day in fascinating Old Bukhara which is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Explore Kalyan Minaret, Kalyan Mosque and Miri-Arab Madrasah, Magoki-Attori Mosque, madrasahs of Ulugbek and Abdulazizkhan, trade domes, Lyabi Hauz Ensemble, Chor-Minor Madrasah and others.

Day 24

Bukhara - Nurata

This morning, you will depart Bukhara and drive to a village located in the Nurata Mountains. On arrival in Ashraf or Yangi Hayot village, you will spend the evening in a local guesthouse. Both villages are located far from roads and cities and sit in a picturesque mountain area with crisp fresh air, lush green orchards, singing birds, sky blanketed in stars and friendly people. 

Day 25

Village in Nurata Mountains

People have been living in the Nurata Mountains since the times of Alexander the Great. Villagers’ houses and farms are as they were done centuries ago. Women cook on the open fire, weave, spin yarn, bake their own bread, and milk the cows. The men farm, shepherd, and built houses of stone, rocks and clay.

Enjoy exploring the village, watching birds, hiking the surroundings and participating in cooking traditional food with the locals.

Day 26

Nurata - Samarkand

Depart the village and farewell your local friends and drive to Samarkand. Upon arrival in Samarkand, check in to your hotel.

Day 27

Samarkand

Today you will explore the main attractions in Samarkand including the Registan, which is a plaza bordered by 3 ornate, majolica-covered madrassas dating to the 15th and 17th centuries. You also have the chance to explore Gur Emir, the towering tomb of Timur (Tamerlane), founder of the Timurid Empire.

You will also visit the Shakhizinda, which is a necropolis in the north-eastern part of Samarkand and the remains of Bibi Khanum Mosque which is one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. Siyob Bazaar and Ulugbek Observatory will also be visited. 

Day 28

Samarkand - Penjikent - 7 Lakes - Penjikent (Tajikistan)

Today you will transfer to the Jartepa border crossing to cross over into Tajikistan. Once you have completed customs and passport control, you will meet your driver in Tajikistan. Visit Sarazm ruins – Sarazm is one of the ancient settlements in Central Asia with over 5500 years of civilization. In 2010, Sarazm was added to the list of the Human heritage by UNESCO.  Visit ancient Penjikent which is located a 5-minute drive away from modern Penjikent.

Drive to the Seven Lakes which are located in the west of the beautiful Fann Mountains: Mijgon, Soya, Hushyor, Nophin lakes (2139m), Khurdak, Marguzor and Hazorchashma lakes (2400m); each of them has its own colour which varies from a calming turquoise to mesmerizing purple. At the last lake of Khoazorchashma, you will enjoy a picnic lunch. Enjoy some light hiking in this stunning region. The Fann Mountains are part of the western Pamir-Alay mountain system and are primarily located in Tajikistan’s Sughd Province between the Zarafshan Range to the north and the Gissary Range to the south. Enjoy a picnic at the lakes before you drive back to Penjikent and your hotel for dinner. 

Day 29

Penjikent - Dushanbe

Following breakfast, enjoy sightseeing in Penjikent where you will visit the  Museum of Rudaki – Penjikent is the birthplace of Abu Abdallah Rudaki, and is considered by many to be the father of Persian Poetry. Explore ancient Penjikent with its ruins of old Sogdian town founded in the 5th century and abandoned in the 8th century by Arabs. Foundations of houses, a citadel with a couple of Zoroastrian fire temples and a city bazaar are visible in the excavated ruins. Drive to Dushanbe. 

Day 30

Dushanbe

After breakfast, start a guided city tour with a visit to the Tajikistan National Museum of Antiquities with exhibits primarily from Tajikistan’s pre-Islamic civilizations: the Greek, Bactrian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Zoroastrian periods. The most notable piece in the museum is the largest, fifteen-hundred-year-old reclining Buddha statue.

Next on the itinerary is a stop at the Ismail Samani monument, honouring the first king of Tajiks and the founder of the Samanid State, whose influence extended across Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran during the 9th and 10th centuries. Stroll through Central Park, later named Rudaki Park, commemorating the founder of modern Persian poetry during the 9th and 10th centuries.

Your city tour includes Independence Square, the Palace of the Nation and the National Library and then onto the Botanical Garden. As you venture into the vibrant heart of the city, immerse yourself in the bustling ambience of the Bazaar, an emblematic oriental market that epitomizes the lively spirit of Dushanbe.

Lastly, you will visit Hissar Fortress, a historic site dating back to the 18th century and occupied until 1924. Nearby, you’ll discover two plain Madrassahs—one from the 18th century and the other from the 19th century. Further, a 16th-century mausoleum graces the landscape.

In the evening, indulge in a delightful dinner at a local restaurant, complete with an engaging show program to cap off your day of exploration.

Day 31

Departure

Today is yours at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward departure.

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