Small Group Tour in Central Asia 2023-2024

Central Asia Tour by Road ItineraryKyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan

Central Asia Tour by Road

Explore the five Stans in depth with this 20-day tour. Travelling mostly by road, see even more of the scenery and way of life in these beautiful and fascinating countries as you drive across deserts and along winding mountain roads, passing through small communities. From Kyrgyzstan, with its Soviet architecture and nomadic culture, tour Kazakhstan’s cosmopolitan cultural capital, Almaty, before journeying to Tajikistan’s stunning mountain lakes. Following in the footsteps of Tamerlane, you’ll then visit Uzbekistan’s stunning turquoise mausoleums and other Silk Road monuments. This comprehensive 3-week Central Asia itinerary ends with Turkmenistan’s magnificent Darvaza Gas Crater and the gleaming marble capital of Ashgabat.

Tour itinerary:

Day 1: Bishkek – Arrival
Arrive in Bishkek and transfer to the hotel to leave your luggage and start a sightseeing tour of the city. Visit Oak Park, Ala-Too Square, the Philharmonic Hall, the Statue of Manas, Victory Square, and the National Museum of Fine Arts (closed on Mondays). During the tour you’ll see several excellent examples of Soviet architecture. Then drive to Burana Tower (85 km, 1 hour 30 min), which was part of the ancient city of Balasagun (11th to 13th centuries) and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Return to Bishkek, then enjoy some free time. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 6-7 hours
Meals: -/-/-
Day 2: Bishkek – Son-Kul
Drive to Son-Kul (380 km, 6 hours), a remote mountain lake that is one of the highest in Kyrgyzstan (3,016 m above sea level). The lake is situated on a treeless, high-mountain plateau to which shepherds bring their livestock in summer and establish yurt camps where they’ll live. In this magnificent place you can expect to see hundreds of herds of livestock and numerous yurts, as well as edelweiss flowers and camels. Accompanied by your guide, you’ll learn about the traditional life of Kyrgyz nomads, including watching local women make the Kyrgyz national drink, kymyz (mare’s milk). You’ll surely be invited to try kymyz, as well as traditional bread, dairy products, and home-made jam. You’ll also have the chance to ride a horse (optional, at extra cost). Dinner and overnight at a yurt camp.
Duration: 10-11 hours, including 2-3 hours of activities at Son Kul
Meals: Breakfast/Lunch/ Dinner
Note: Overnight in a shared yurt. Toilets and washing facilities are outside, in special cabins.
Day 3: Son-Kul – Kochkor – Kizil Too – Bokonbaevo
Transfer to Kochkor (140 km, 2 hours 30 min) and participate in a workshop to learn how traditional Kyrgyz felt carpets are made. You may even want to buy a carpet as a souvenir. After lunch at the home of a Kyrgyz family, continue to Kizil Too village (90 km, 1 hour 30 min), a centre of yurt production, to help build a yurt or watch how it is done. Then drive to Bokonbaevo (30 km, 30 min). Located between the Terskey Ala-Too Mountains and the shore of the famous Issyk-Kul Lake, this town attracts visitors with its combination of natural beauty and traditional Kyrgyz character. Free time to walk around the village and enjoy the scenery. Dinner and overnight at a local home stay.
Duration: 8-9 hours, including 3 hours of activities
Meals: Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
Day 4: Bokonbaevo – Jety Oguz – Karakol
Drive to Skazka (“Fairy Tale”) Canyon (150 km, 2 hours), which has many interesting geological features and unusual rock formations. After a short hike (up to 1 hour), continue to the picturesque Jeti-Oguz (“Seven Bulls”) Gorge (60 km, 1-hour drive). Explore the gorge on a 1.5-hour hike and then transfer to Karakol for a sightseeing tour. Highlights include the Russian-Orthodox Church and the intriguing Dungan mosque (designed by a Chinese architect). Have dinner with a local Dungan/Uighur family. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 8-9 hours, including 2,5 hours of hiking
Meals: Breakfast/-/Dinner
Day 5: Karakol – Charyn Canyon – Almaty
Transfer to the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border post at Kegen (116 km, 2 hours), via the museum of the Russian explorer, Nikolai Przhevalsky. Cross the border, then drive to Charyn Canyon (110 km, 2 hours). This 154m-long canyon within the Charyn National Park is sometimes called Kazakhstan’s “Grand Canyon”. In addition to unforgettable views of the enormous canyon with its multi-coloured tower formations (Castle Valley), the National Park offers the opportunity to see an ancient ash tree grove. After arriving at the canyon, take some time for a picnic lunch and a rest. After that, walk along the canyon for about 2 hours to enjoy the views and take photos. Then drive to Almaty (220 km, 3-4 hours). Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 12-13 hours (depending on border crossing), including about 3 hours of sightseeing
Meals: Breakfast/Lunch/-
Day 6: Almaty
Take a sightseeing tour of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s southern capital. Start at Panfilov Park, which was dedicated to and named after the 28 soldiers who died protecting the country’s freedom. Then visit Zenkov Cathedral and the World War II memorial complex. Zenkov Cathedral is the oldest building in the city and was built entirely out of wood, without any metal nails. Continue sightseeing at Green Bazaar (where you can also buy souvenirs), the Central Mosque, and Independence Square. After the city tour, drive to Medeo Gorge. Stop at the enormous Medeo Dam, which protects the city from destructive mudflows formed on the top of the western Tian Shan mountains. From the top of the dam, which is situated at an altitude of 1,733 m, enjoy the views of the largest high-mountain skating rink in the world – Medeo. Then drive to the top of Kok-Tobe Hill, where you can enjoy an unforgettable panorama of Almaty from the observation desk. At the foot of Kazakhstan’s tallest TV tower, take a walk along the park’s winding paths and see various sights – including a statue of The Beatles. Return to the city centre via the cable car, and then transfer to the hotel. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 6-7 hours
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
Day 7: Almaty – Big Almaty Lake – Almaty
Start the day by visiting the First President’s Park. Then drive to the Big Almaty Gorge (35 km, 1 hour), the location of one of the most picturesque lakes in the Trans-Ili Alatau: Big Almaty Lake. The lake is particularly stunning when its blue surface is absolutely calm, reflecting the sky and the surrounding mountains. Thanks to its high-mountain location at 2,510 m above sea level, the water in the lake is always cool. Even in July its temperature doesn’t reach above 10°C. Continue to the Sunkar Falcon Farm (closed on Mondays), where you’ll enjoy a spectacular show with specially trained hawks – hunting with these magnificent birds is one of the most distinguishing features of the traditional Kazakh way of life. The show is held outside and lasts 30-40 minutes. Afterwards, return to the city. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 6 hours
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
Day 8: Almaty – Dushanbe
Free time until your transfer to Almaty International Airport. Then fly to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel and then take a sightseeing tour of the city. Visit the Hissar Fortress, Madrassah Kuhna, Mosque of Hoji Yakub, National Museum of Tajikistan (closed on Mondays), Gurminj Musical Instruments Museum, Statue of Ismail Samani, and Rudaki Park. Free time. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 4-5 hours
Meals: Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
Day 9: Dushanbe – Iskanderkul – Seven Lakes
Leave the hotel by 8:00 to drive to Iskanderkul Lake (130 km, 3 hours) via the picturesque Anzob Pass (3,300 m above sea level). According to legend, this lake was named after Alexander the Great (who was known as “Iskander” in the East). People say that Alexander the Great travelled via this lake. On the way, stop to enjoy a packed lunch. Continue to the Seven Lakes, located in the western Fann Mountains (220 km, 4-5 hours). Overnight at a home stay near the Seven Lakes.
Duration: 10-11 hours
Meals: Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
Note: accommodation is arranged at the home of a local family. Hot water, while normally available, is not 100% reliable. The toilet and showers are outside and shared. You may need to share a room with others in your group (especially during high season), with separate bedrooms for men and women. In return, you'll have a unique opportunity to learn about the Tajik culture and the area from the locals' perspective as you share the family’s traditional meals and experience their day-to-day life.
Day 10: Seven Lakes – Penjikent – Samarkand
Explore the Seven Lakes of Marguzor (also called “Haf Kul”). These are seven different-coloured mountain lakes: Mijgon, Soya, Hushyor, Nophin (2,139 m above sea level), Khurdak, Marguzor, and Hazorchashma (2,400 m above sea level). After a picnic at Hazorchashma Lake, drive to Penjikent (80 km, 2 hours). Take a guided sightseeing tour of the city, including the Rudaki Museum (Penjikent is the birthplace of Abu Abdallah Rudaki, considered by many to be the father of Persian poetry). Visit ancient Penjikent, the ruins of a town founded by the Sogdians in the 5th century and abandoned by Arabs in the 8th century. The foundations of houses, a citadel with a couple of Zoroastrian fire temples, and the remains of the city bazaar are visible in the excavated ruins. Drive to Sarazm (20 km, 20 min), which is one of the oldest settlements in Central Asia and has 5,500 years of history. In 2010, Sarazm was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Then transfer to the Tajik-Uzbek border post at Jartepa (10 km, 10 min). After crossing the border, meet your Uzbek driver and drive to Samarkand (60 km, 1 hour). Free time to explore the city. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 12 hours, including 3 hours of hiking and 3 hours of sightseeing
Meals: Breakfast/Lunch/-
Day 11: Samarkand
Take a sightseeing tour of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Samarkand. Visit the spectacular Registan Square, the Gur Emir (Tamerlane’s mausoleum), the remains of Bibi-Khanum Mosque, the Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis, the Siyob Bazaar, and the Ulugbek Observatory. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 6-7 hours
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
Day 12: Samarkand
Continue sightseeing in Samarkand, with visits to the Afrasiab Museum and the Tomb of Saint Daniel. Then drive to Konigil village (12 km, 20 min) to learn about the traditional way of making Samarkand paper from the bark of the mulberry tree. For the rest of the day, enjoy free time with a car and driver at your disposal. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 3-4 hours
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
Day 13: Samarkand – Bukhara
Drive to Bukhara (280 km, 4 hours) and check in to the hotel. Then visit Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa, the summer residence of Bukhara’s last emir and a unique combination of Oriental and Russian architecture. Continue to the Memorial Complex of Bakhoutdin Naqshbandi and Chor-Bakr Necropolis. Free time. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 7-8 hours, including 3-4 hours of sightseeing
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
Day 14: Bukhara
Enjoy a guided walking sightseeing tour of Bukhara’s Old City, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the Lyabi-Khauz Ensemble, Magoki-Attori Mosque, trading domes, Kalyan Minaret, Kalyan Mosque and Miri-Arab Madrasah, Ulugbek, Chor-Minor, and Abdulazizkhan madrassahs, Ark Fortress, Bolo-Khauz Mosque, and Ismail Samani and Chashma-Ayub mausoleums. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 6-7 hours
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
Day 15: Bukhara – Khiva
Drive to Khiva (480 km, 7-8 hours), taking the route that traders once used when travelling along the Great Silk Road, across the Kyzylkum Desert between Bukhara and Khiva. The road is generally in good condition, except for some short stretches. On the way, stop to enjoy views of the desert and the Amudarya River. Arrive in Khiva in the late afternoon and check in to the hotel. Free time to rest. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 7-8 hours
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
As the cafés and restaurants on the way are basic and offer limited menus, you may wish to take a packed lunch on this trip (your hotel or guide can help you arrange this the day before).
Day 16: Khiva
Take a guided walking tour of this ancient city. Visit the Itchan-Kala Fortress (a UNESCO World Heritage site), Mukhammad Aminkhan Madrassah, Mukhammad Rahimkhan Madrassah, Kalta Minor, Juma Mosque, Tash-Khovli Palace, Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum, and the Minaret of Islam Khoja. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 5 hours
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
Day 17: Khiva – Kunya-Urgench – Darvaza
Drive to the Turkmenistan border crossing at Shavat-Dashoguz (60 km, 1 hour). Complete the border formalities on both sides, crossing the 1.5 km neutral zone (please note that transportation may not be available). Meet your Turkmen guide and transfer to Kunya-Urgench (100 km, 1 hour 30 min). Visit the mausoleums of Turabek Khanum, Sultan Tekesh, Sultan Il Arslan, Najmuddin-Kubra, Sultan Ali, followed by the Kutlug-Timur Minaret and Kyrk Molla hill. In the afternoon, drive to the Darvaza Gas Crater, located in the middle of the Karakum Desert (270 km, 4 hours). Free time to set up camp for the night, explore and photograph the area, and watch the sunset. Then enjoy a delicious fire-cooked dinner near the burning crater. Overnight in tents.
Duration: 10-11 hours, including 3 hours of sightseeing
Meals: Breakfast/-/Dinner
Note: At Darvaza camp you will be provided with sleeping bags, pillows, and 1- or 2-person tents. There is also an option to share a yurt with 3-5 other group members. In both cases, toilets and basic washing facilities are outside.
Day 18: Darvaza – Ashgabat
Leave the camp site and drive to Ashgabat (280 km, 4 hours). Check in to the hotel and enjoy free time for the rest of the day. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 4 hours
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
Day 19: Ashgabat
Take a sightseeing tour of the fascinating city of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital. Ashgabat holds the Guinness World Record as the city with the highest density of white marble buildings in the world. During the city tour, explore the archeological site of Old Nissa, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Spiritual Mosque, one of the biggest mosques in Central Asia. Visit the National Museum of History, the Monument of Neutrality, Ertugrul Gazi Mosque, and the recently-built Independence Park. The tour also includes a stop at the Akhalteke horses stables and the Lenin Monument. Free time in the late afternoon. Overnight at the hotel.
Duration: 6 hours
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
Day 20: Ashgabat – Departure
Hotel check-out (by 12:00), followed by free time until your transfer to Ashgabat International Airport. Departure. End of the tour.
Meals: Breakfast/-/-
  • All transfers: 1-2 pax by sedan type car, 3-8 pax by minivan/van;
  • Accommodation based on double/twin room sharing, breakfasts included;
  • Sightseeing tour programme with local, English-speaking guides;
  • Entrance fees to sights as per itinerary;
  • Economy class tickets for flight Almaty-Dushanbe;
  • Meals – full board on days 2, 3, 8, 9, lunches on days 5 and 10, dinners on days 4 and 17;
  • Felt carpet workshop in Kochkor;
  • Show at Sunkar-Falcon Farm;
  • Visa support for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan tourist visas (if required).
  • Tour leader to accompany the group for the whole period of the tour;
  • Full board (lunches and dinners, unless otherwise stated);
  • Hotel charges for additional services;
  • Optional activities such as horse-riding on Day 2;
  • Visa support for Turkmenistan (invitation letter, registration, travel pass)*;
  • Consular fees for tourist visas;
  • Visa support for Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan tourist visas
  • International flight tickets before and after the tour;
  • Tips/gratuities for drivers and guides (although they would be appreciated);
  • Personal travel insurance.

* Please note that the Turkmenistan tourist visa costs from US$55+4 per person (subject to change); the migration tax is US$10+4 per person, to be paid at any border (subject to change); and the tourist fee is US$2 per person per night.


Economy Option
Comfort Option
Bishkek - 1 night
Plaza, Park, Ambassador or similarOrion
Son-Kul - 1 night
Yurt (2 people in one yurt)Yurt (2 people in one yurt)
Bokonbaevo - 1 night
Home stay (B&B), family run accommodationHome stay (B&B), family run accommodation
Karakol - 1 night
Home stay (B&B)Green Yard or similar
Almaty - 3 nights
NovotelRixos Almaty
Dushanbe - 1 night
Atlas B&B or similarHilton Dushanbe or similar
Seven Lakes - 1 night
Home stay (B&B)Home stay (B&B)
Samarkand - 3 nights
Usman, Meros, Asia Samarkand or similarDilimah, Sultan, Grand Samarkand Superior, Grand Samarkand, Platan or similar
Bukhara - 2 nights
Minzifa, K.Komil, Bibikhanum, Amulet, As-Salom, Fatima, Kavsar or similarParadise Plaza, Omar Khayam, Minor, Asia Bukhara, Zargaron Plaza or similar
Khiva - 2 nights
Muso Tura, Polvon Qori, New Star, Orient Star or similarZarafshan Boutique, Asia Khiva, Erkin Palace, Bek Khiva or similar
Darvaza - 1 night
Tents (optional alternative: yurt shared with other group members)Tents (optional alternative: yurt shared with other group members)
Ashgabat - 2 nights
Sport, Ak-Altyn, Grand TurkmenOguzkent, Nusay

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