Small Group Tour in Central Asia 2020

Small Group Tour: Essentials of the Silk Road 202026 Days | Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia

A shorter itinerary doesn’t mean that this tour isn’t full of the most interesting and important sights of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan in Central Asia; Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia in South Caucasus. In just 26 days, you’ll go from medieval metropolises to vast desert, rich flavors to richer decorations. Uzbekistan is all about the great cities of the Silk Road: Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. The grandest monuments of these cities have been preserved, allowing you to walk through the same streets that traders and caravans would have crossed thousands of years ago. Turkmenistan is a land of desert, with oasis cities that flourished as refuges from the intense heat and helped those on long journeys. Kunya-Urgench and Mary, once powerful cities, have long since become ruins, while Ashgabat has risen to become the grand capital of Turkmenistan. Head to Baku next, to immerse yourself in the charm and character of the Caucasus. Enjoy the prehistoric petroglyphs and royal palaces of Azerbaijan, and the mountain churches and warm flavors of Georgia. Both countries are full of multicultural traditions and stunning landscapes, sure to leave you with vivid memories. The Essentials of the Silk Road Tour does more than just take you to these places - you’ll get to taste regional dishes, meet with locals, and share your experiences with like-minded travelers from around the world in your group.

Participants need to be in good health, be able to walk for 4-6 hours every day at moderate speed, climb stairs and hills, and be able to carry their own luggage for up to 1 km across borders.

Tour map

Tour itinerary:

Day 1, Th: Tashkent – arrival (Uzbekistan)
 
Arrive in Tashkent. You will be met by our driver and transferred to the hotel. Check in to the hotel at 14:00. Free time. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 2, Fr: Tashkent – Samarkand (Uzbekistan)
 
Breakfast. Start the Tashkent city tour at 10:00 by visiting the Old City of Tashkent. This area encompasses the Khast-Imam Complex (famous for displaying one of the earliest copies of the Qur’an, the Holy Book of Islam), and Chorsu Bazaar, where you can haggle for spices, dried fruit, and nuts. The tour will continue to the city center to see Amir Timur Square and Independence Square and to explore the Museum of Applied Art. The city tour will take 4-5 hours, after which you’ll have some free time. At 18:00, transfer to the railway station. The high-speed train, Afrosiyob, departs at 18:50 and arrives in Samarkand at 21:00 (300 km, 2h 10 min). Transfer to the hotel for overnight.
Day 3, Sa: Samarkand – Seven Lakes (Uzbekistan/Tajikistan)
 
Breakfast. At 09:00, transfer to the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan border station, Jartepa (50 km, 1 h). Go through customs and passport control on both sides, and meet your local Tajik guide and driver to drive to the Seven Lakes (80 km, ~2 h). These lakes are located in the western part of the Fann Mountains. Each lake has its own color, varying from calming turquoise to mesmerizing purple. Have lunch at the guest house next to the 4th lake, where you’ll also stay overnight.
Day 4, Su: Seven Lakes – Penjikent – Samarkand (Tajikistan/Uzbekistan)
 
Breakfast. Drive to ancient Penjikent (80 km, ~1 h 30 min), 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. In the newer part of Penjikent, visit a local bazaar, a mosque, and the Rudaki Museum (Penjikent is the birthplace of Abu Abdallah Rudaki, considered by many to be the father of Persian poetry). After a 3-hour sightseeing tour, drive to the Jartepa border crossing (30 km, 40 min) in the late-afternoon and complete the border formalities. On the Uzbek side, your driver will meet you and take you to the hotel in Samarkand. Free time in the evening. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 5, Mo: Samarkand – Bukhara (Uzbekistan)
 
Breakfast. At 09:00, the city tour will begin with a visit to the spectacular Registan Square, followed by the Gur Emir Mausoleum, the final resting place of the Turco-Mongol emperor, Timur. Explore the ruins of the Bibi Khanum Mosque and Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis, and then take a short drive to Konigil village to find out about the traditional techniques used to make the famous Samarkand paper from mulberry bark. Free time. At 20:00 transfer to the railway station. Take the high-speed Afrosiyob train departing at 21:00 and arriving in Bukhara at 22:35 (270 km, 1 h 35 min). Transfer to the hotel for overnight.
Day 6, Tu: Bukhara (Uzbekistan)
 
Breakfast. At 09:00, start exploring the Old City of Bukhara. Highlights of the walking tour will include: the Lyabi Hauz Ensemble, Magoki-Attori Mosque, Chor-Minor Madrasa, Kalyan Minaret, Kalyan Mosque, Miri-Arab Madrasa, Ulugbek and Abdulazizkhan Madrasas, Ark Fortress, Bolo-Khauz Mosque, Ismail Samani and Chashma-Ayub Mausoleums, and various trading domes. Free time from 15:00 until the National Show at Nadir Divan-begi Madrasa, which starts at 18:00. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 7, We: Bukhara – Mary – Merv – Ashgabat (Uzbekistan/Turkmenistan)
 
Early breakfast. Depart at 06:30 for the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan border point, Farap-Alat (100 km, 1 h 30 min). After completing the border formalities at both checkpoints, cross the 1.5 km neutral zone (transportation may not be available) to meet your Turkmen guide. Continue to Merv (300 km, 5 h 30 min), an ancient city that was a major center of international trade and crafts on the Silk Road. Merv is also home to a historical park for you to discover, with sights including: the Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum, Major and Minor Kyz-Kala, Erk-Kala, Gyaur-Kala, Keshk Fortress, and others. Lunch at a local restaurant. Transfer to Mary Airport (40 km, 30 min) to take the evening flight to Ashgabat at 18:10. Upon arrival in Ashgabat at 18:50, transfer to the hotel for overnight.
Day 8, Th: Ashgabat – Darvaza Gas Crater (Turkmenistan)
 
Breakfast, followed by a sightseeing tour of Ashgabat. Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, has recently been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as having more white marble buildings than any other city in the world. During the city tour, explore the archaeological 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, Presidential Square, Ertugrul Gazi Mosque and the recently-built Independence Park. The sightseeing tour will take about 6 hours and the afternoon will feature a drive through the Karakum Desert to the famous Darvaza Gas Crater (280 km, 4 h). After arriving at the crater, camp will be set up and you’ll enjoy a delicious, fire-cooked dinner near the “Gates of Hell”. Overnight in tents.
Day 9, Fr: Darvaza Gas Crater – Khiva (Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan)
 
Camp-style breakfast. Drive back through the Karakum Desert to the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border point, Dashoguz-Shavat (270 km, 4 h). Following border formalities at both checkpoints and crossing the 1.5 km neutral zone (transportation may not be available), your Uzbek driver will meet you to begin the trip to Khiva (60 km, 1 h). Upon arrival, check in to the hotel. Free time.
Day 10, Sa: Khiva – Urgench – Tashkent (Uzbekistan)
 
Breakfast and hotel check out (the hotel will store your luggage safely for the day). Spend the morning at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ichan-Kala Fortress. Highlights of the morning walking tour include the Mukhammad Amin Khan Madrasa, Mukhammad Rahimkhan Madrasa, Kalta Minor, Kunya-Ark, Juma Mosque, Tash-Khovli Palace, Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum, and Minaret of Islom Khodja. In the evening, there will be a masterclass on cooking tukhumbarak (egg dumplings, characteristic of Khivan cuisine) and dinner. Transfer to Urgench Airport at 20:30 (30 km, 35 min). Your flight to Tashkent departs at 22:35 and arrives at 23:55 (1,093 km, 1 h 20 min). Transfer to the hotel in Tashkent for overnight.
Day 11, Su: Tashkent – Baku (Uzbekistan/Azerbaijan)
 
Breakfast. Transfer to Tashkent International Airport to take Flight HY 755 to Baku, which departs at 07:35 and arrives at 09:30 (2 h 55 min). Private transfer to your hotel will be arranged. Check-in at 14:00.
At 18:00 meet your tour guide, the group members and welcome new members of the tour with a dinner at a national restaurant. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 12, Mo: Baku – Absheron Peninsula – Gobustan – Baku (Azerbaijan)
 
Today you will visit the area of the Greater Baku and Absheron peninsula.
The first stop is at Ateshgah, a temple for fire worshippers located in the village of Surakhany. Zoroastrians from India travel thousands of kilometers to Ateshgah to worship the fire coming out of the earth. After lunch, drive to Gobustan National Park. Pay a visit to the Petroglyphs Museum and explore petroglyphs dating back to 10,000 BC. Weather permitting, drive to mud volcanoes in Gobustan Reserve (change of vehicle). Gobustan is home to almost half of the world’s mud volcanoes. Return to Baku. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 13, Tu: Baku (Azerbaijan)
 
At 09:00, start sightseeing tour in Baku. Visit Martyrs Lane, known as ‘Shehidler Khiyabany’ among locals. When you walk through the Alley of the Martyrs, you will find a beautiful view overlooking Baku’s coastline. Move to Icheri Sheher, the old part of the city. Visit Shirvanshah's Palace, Caravanserai, Maiden Tower, and the main market square, which has numerous art studios and souvenir stalls. Continue touring new Baku by exploring Nizami Street and Fountain Square.
Free time in the afternoon (optional visit to Heydar Aliev Centre). Overnight at the hotel.
Day 14, We: Baku – Shamakhi – Lahich – Sheki (Azerbaijan)
 
Breakfast. Depart towards Sheki. On the way, stop at Diri Baba Mausoleum in the village of Maraza. Continue to Shamakhi and visit the historical Juma Mosque. Weather permitting, a scenic drive through Girdimanchay River Canyon to visit Lahich will follow. Lahich, an ancient village with charming cobbled sidewalks, is famous for its medieval water supply and sewage systems, as well as its traditional jewelry, copperware, carpets, pottery, daggers, and iron tools workshops. Continue driving to Sheki, the pleasant and easily walkable medieval town set in a lush mountainous area. Sheki is especially known for local style sweet baklava. Arrival in Sheki at about 19:00 for overnight at the hotel.
Day 15, Th: Sheki – Georgian border – Kvareli – Akhasheni (Azerbaijan/Georgia)
 
Breakfast. At 08:30, visit the colorful Sheki Bazaar. Here, you can find virtually everything you may want to eat: local fruits and berries, spices, freshly-baked bread, honey, cheeses, and Sheki sweets. Continue to the Palace of Sheki Khans, which is surrounded by medieval fortress walls, and then visit handicrafts workshops and caravanserai. Leave Sheki and head towards the border with Georgia (115 km, ~2 h). Cross the border and start exploring the Eastern part of Georgia, which is famous for its viticulture and winemaking traditions. Our first stop in Georgia will be the Khareba Winery. On the way there, enjoy the picturesque landscapes of vineyards and wine-producing villages. Khareba's unique wine cellar is located in a tunnel carved out of the rock. Originally built for military purposes, today the tunnel is used to store Kakheti’s finest wines. Enjoy a wine tour and a tasting session.
By 17:30-18:30, we will arrive at our overnight point, Akhasheni Wine Resort. This Resort is surrounded by beautiful vineyards and offers stunning views of the Caucasus Mountains – the perfect place to take a break before continuing our journey in Georgia. We will stay here for two nights.
Day 16, Fr: Akhasheni – Tsinandali – Akhasheni (Georgia)
 
Breakfast. At 09:30, take an optional visit to Tsinandali, residence of dukes of Georgia, with beautiful English garden, museum, and wine cellar which belonged to prince Chavchavadze, public figure and poet of 19th century. We will be back at Akhasheni Wine Resort by noon. The rest of the day is free to enjoy nature, vineyards, and outdoor swimming pool. The Resort also offers culinary masterclasses of Georgian traditional dishes and wine tasting room.
At 18:00, we will visit a local family to enjoy traditional fest and hear the best Georgian toasts.
Day 17, Sa: Akhasheni – Sighnaghi – Bodbe – Tbilisi (Georgia)
 
At 10:00, continue exploring Kakheti by visiting Sighnaghi Royal Town, which is surrounded by defensive walls with 23 towers and was an important trading center on the Great Silk Road. Continue to Bodbe Convent - according to legend, this is the burial place of St. Nino, who converted Georgia to Christianity in the 4th century. We will arrive in the capital of Georgia at about 16:00–17:00.
After a couple of hours at your leisure, join the group to proceed to welcome dinner (departing from the hotel by bus at 19:00). Overnight at the hotel.
Day 18, Su: Tbilisi (Georgia)
 
After breakfast, we will embark on Tbilisi sightseeing tour. Start at Metekhi Church and the monument to Vakhtang Gorgasali, the legendary founder of Tbilisi. Visit Narikala Fortress to enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. Walk down to the district of sulphur bath houses and pass by the only mosque in Tbilisi. Stroll through the Sharden area, full of narrow streets with cozy cafés, wine tasting bars, and souvenir shops, and breathe in the history of Old Tbilisi. Also visit Sioni Cathedral, Anchiskhati Basilica, and the famous Rezo Gabriadze Theatre’s clock tower, before crossing the Bridge of Peace to Rike Park. Free afternoon. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 19, Mo: Tbilisi – Jvari – Ananuri – Kazbegi – Gudauri (Georgia)
 
Breakfast. Today you’ll explore the North of Georgia. The first stop will be at Jvari Monastery, a true architectural masterpiece of the Early Middle Ages, which is picturesquely perched above the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers. Continue to the Ananuri Complex, a former residence of Argveti Dukes, which features churches and towers dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries and beautifully overlooks Jinvali Reservoir. Next, drive over the Cross Pass and make a short stop at the Soviet-era “People’s Friendship” mountain view point, which overlooks a deep gorge of the Caucasus Mountains. In Kazbegi, switch to a four-wheel drive vehicle to reach Gergeti Holy Trinity Church (located at an altitude of 2,170 m) and enjoy breathtaking views of Mount Kazbegi. Reach Gudauri at about 19:00 for overnight at the hotel.
Day 20, Tu: Gudauri – Gori – Uplistsikhe – Mtskheta – Tbilisi (Georgia)
 
Breakfast. Drive to Stalin’s home town of Gori. Visit the Stalin Museum, which includes more than 60,000 artifacts, the tiny house where Stalin was born, and an impressive bulletproof train that Stalin used to travel to Yalta and Potsdam. Explore the cave town of Uplistsikhe, which dates back to the Hellenistic Period and is notable for its unique combination of various styles of rock-cut architecture, including both pagan and Christian. Continue to Mtskheta, one of the oldest towns in Georgia and the country’s cultural and religious center. Mtskheta was the capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC. Visit Svetitskhoveli, the main cathedral of Mtskheta and a sacred place where the robe of Christ is kept. Reach Tbilisi in the evening. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 21, We: Tbilisi – free day (Georgia)
 
Breakfast. Free day in Tbilisi (guide and transportation are not provided).
Advantour offers an optional culinary masterclass on traditional Georgian food. The masterclass includes 3-4 dishes and snacks and takes 4-5 hours. It should be booked in advance. The price is 60 USD per person.
We suggest the following activities and places to visit in Tbilisi:
  • Georgian National Museum on Rustaveli Avenue – to visit the “Archaeological Treasury” exhibition;
  • National Gallery on Rustaveli Avenue – to see the works of the famous Georgian artists Niko Pirosmani, David Kakabadze, and Lado Gudiashvili;
  • Tbilisi flea market at Dry Bridge – where you can find antiquities (many of which are from the Soviet era), paintings by local artists, and handmade Georgian souvenirs;
  • David Agmashenebeli Avenue – a recently-renovated pedestrian street full of historical buildings that have beautiful facades in the art nouveau, pseudo gothic, and classicist styles with a mix of typical Georgian ornamentation and balconies. All along the street there are plenty of cozy art cafés, galleries, shops, and wine bars;
  • Dezertirebi Bazaar – which sells local, natural products including Georgian sweets (such as churchkhela); various types of dried fruits, nuts, and spices; and Georgian cheeses;
  • Funicular railway to Mtatsminda Mountain – which offers a beautiful view of Tbilisi;
  • Wander in Sololaki – a neighborhood full of art nouveau houses;
  • For nature lovers, we offer a day hike to Birtvisi Canyon and Fortress. Contact us to find out more.
In the evening, you can visit the famous Tbilisi sulphur bath houses to relax in the hot, naturally sulphur-enriched water after a long day of exploring (both public and private rooms are available, but private ones should be booked in advance).
For those who are interested in culture, we suggest visiting the State Opera House of Georgia to enjoy a ballet or opera performance (opera.ge). You can find out what other cultural events are on in Tbilisi, and book tickets, at tkt.ge.
Day 22, Th: Tbilisi – Armenian border – Haghpat – Lake Sevan – Sevanavank – Yerevan (Georgia/Armenia)
 
Breakfast. Meet your driver at the hotel after breakfast to transfer to the Georgian-Armenian border point, Sadakhlo-Bagratashen. Cross the border and meet your Armenian guide and driver to start the journey to the land of ancient traditions and the ancient churches. Drive to the Lori region and visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Haghpat Monastery. This stunning example of traditional Armenian architecture was erected between the 10th and 13th centuries. Standing on a hillside, Haghpat beautifully overlooks the Debed River Canyon. The monastery’s location was chosen to protect the peace and seclusion of the monks. Drive through Dilijan to Lake Sevan, one of the largest high-mountain freshwater lakes in the world. The lake’s coastline is rich with dense woods, white cliff faces, mountain steppes, and Alpine meadows. Visit Sevanavank Monastery, which is situated at the lake and is surrounded by mountains. Reach Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, in the evening. Overnight at DoubleTree by Hilton hotel.
Day 23, Fr: Yerevan – Etchmiadzin – Yerevan (Armenia)
 
Breakfast. In the morning, drive out of the city to Etchmiadzin, the Holy See of Armenia and the residence of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church – the Catholicos of All Armenians. Return to explore Yerevan, the oldest capital city in the South Caucasus. Yerevan is known as the Pink City and attracts visitors with its humble yet splendid landscapes. Our first stop in Yerevan will be at the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex on Tsitsernakaberd Hill. Next, visit the Cascade Monument, which was the main symbol of the city’s 2,780th anniversary and has the equivalent number of stairs – this enormous staircase is 500 meters high and 50 meters wide. From the top of the monument, enjoy a breathtaking city view that includes the Opera House, Mount Ararat, Swan Lake, Republic Square, and Abovyan Avenue, all of which we’ll see as we walk the streets of Yerevan. The sightseeing tour will finish in the afternoon, after which you’ll have some free time. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 24, Sa: Yerevan – Khor Virap – Areni cave – Noravank – Yerevan (Armenia)
 
At 08:00, we check out from the hotel and head to Khor Virap Monastery. According to the legend, St. Gregory the Illuminator, the Baptist of Armenia, had been kept in the basement here for 13 years for disseminating of Christianity until King Tradt decided to adopt the new religion. The monastery’s location allows you to enjoy the best views of Mount Ararat. Drive to Noravank Complex situated on a ledge of a deep winding gorge. Noravank stands amidst the bizarrely shaped, precipitous red cliffs. Continue to Areni Cave complex, where in 2010, the earliest shoe in the world was found. Depart back to Yerevan. Arrive in Yerevan at around 18:00. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 25, Su: Yerevan – Garni – Geghard – Yerevan (Armenia)
 
Depart Yerevan and drive to Garni, the only pagan temple in Armenia that survived the introduction of Christianity in the 4th century. Next stop is the monastery complex called Geghard (“spear”). The beautiful landscape of Geghard is framed by towering cliffs. Decorative art cut into the rocks reflect and explain Medieval development in this part of the world. The complex appeared in the 4th century around the sacred spring inside of the cave.
You will have a free afternoon to explore more of Yerevan. Here are our suggestions:
We meet in the evening for a farewell dinner at one of local traditional restaurants. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 26, Mo: Yerevan – Departure (Armenia)
 
Check-out from the hotel till noon. Free time till transfer to Yerevan International Airport. End of the tour.
  • All transfers;
  • Accommodation based on double/twin room sharing, breakfasts included;
  • Sightseeing tour program in each country with local English-speaking guides;
  • Entrance tickets to sights as per itinerary;
  • Economy class tickets for flights: Mary-Ashgabat, Urgench-Tashkent, Tashkent-Baku;
  • Economy-class tickets for trains: Tashkent-Samarkand-Bukhara (on rare occasions when the high-speed train is unavailable, we will replace this with the most-comfortable class of regular train);
  • Visa support letter for Uzbekistan triple entry visa;
  • Visa support for Turkmenistan tourist visa;
  • E-visas to Tajikistan and Azerbaijan;
  • National folklore show in Bukhara on Day 6;
  • Meals: lunch in Penjikent on Day 4, lunch in Mary on Day 7, camp style dinner at Darvaza on Day 8, dinner in Baku on Day 11, dinner in Tbilisi on Day 17, farewell dinner in Yerevan on Day 25;
  • Two wine tastings in Kakheti region, Georgia.
  • Full board (lunches and dinners not specified above);
  • Hotel charges for additional services;
  • A tax of 2 USD per night in Turkmenistan, paid to the hotel upon check out;
  • Personal travel insurance;
  • Consular fees for tourist visas and Turkmenistan migration tax (14 USD);
  • Visa support for Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan tourist visas (if necessary);
  • E-visas to Georgia and Armenia (if necessary);
  • Outbound and inbound flight tickets.

 

Accommodation:

Tashkent - 2 nights
Ichan Qala, Sharq, Bek or similar
Samarkand - 2 nights
City, Sultan, Platan or similar
Seven Lakes - 1 night
Homestay
Bukhara - 2 nights
As-Salom, K.Komil, Volida or similar
Ashgabat - 1 night
Ak Altyn, Grand Turkmen
Darvaza - 1 night
Camping
Khiva - 1 night
Malika Kheivak, Orient Star or similar
Baku - 3 nights
Park Inn, Intourist
Sheki - 1 night
Sheki Saray, Sheki Palace, Marxal
Akhasheni - 2 nights
Akhasheni Wine Resort
Tbilisi - 4 nights
River Side, Ibis, Citrus, New Tiflis
Gudauri - 1 night
Marco Polo
Yerevan - 4 nights
DoubleTree by Hilton

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