Are you looking for a new and extraordinary experience? Do you want to see a different and interesting part of the world that is still not so well-known among tourists? A place that receives only a limited number of visitors every year? If the answer is yes, we have a suggestion for you – the country of Turkmenistan. It is certainly one of the most unique and bizarre places in the world. If you want to learn more, keep reading for our comprehensive guide to visiting Turkmenistan.
Background Information about Turkmenistan
Situated in the heart of Central Asia, Turkmenistan is one of the most neglected countries in the world. The country has been trying to encourage tourism during the past few years, though, so travelling to Turkmenistan is now a bit easier than before. Being in a crossroad, the country’s history is extremely rich and vibrant.
Its capital city is home to the largest collection of marble buildings in the world, while the countryside is mainly covered by desert. Somewhere in the middle of the dry landscape, however, visitors will also find interesting hidden oases.
Located on the Caspian Sea lies one of the most luxurious seaside resorts, while a few kilometers away one can find the massive plateau home to dinosaur footprints from millions of years ago. There is so much to be explored and learned about this fascinating country.
The Turkmenistan Flag is very easily distinguished with its green color and red vertical stripe. A white crescent moon with five stars is also a major feature of the flag, representing the country’s five regions. It is believed that the red and green colors have been widely used and respected throughout the history of Turkmenistan.
The stripe consists of white, yellow, red, and green and represents the popular carpet industry, which is a large portion of the country’s heritage. As a replacement of the old Soviet Union flag, the current one was introduced in 1992.
Capital of Turkmenistan and other big cities
As the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat is also the largest city in the country with a population of around 730,000 people. Other big cities include Turkmenabat, Dasoguz, Mary, Balkanabat, Bayramaly, Turkmensbasy, Tejen, Abadan, and others.
In 2021, the country’s population is estimated to be more than 6 million people. With a density of around 13 per square km, Turkmenistan is the second least densely populated country in Central Asia. Additionally, approximately half of the Turkmenistan people live in rural villages. The main religion in Turkmenistan is Islam, practiced by 93% of the population, followed by Christianity at 6%, respectively.
Where is Turkmenistan?
Bordered by the countries of Uzbekistan to the East and North, Kazakhstan to the Northwest, Afghanistan to the Southeast, and Iran to the Southwest and South, Turkmenistan is located in Central Asia. The country is not completely surrounded by land, though, as it borders the Caspian Sea to the West. Refer to the map of Turkmenistan below to better familiarize yourself with the country’s location.
How to get to Turkmenistan
Tourists looking to visit Turkmenistan might find the journey there a bit challenging. First of all, the country does not have direct connections with neighboring regions by train or bus. Booking airfare is the fastest and most convenient way.
The biggest airport is situated in the capital city, Ashgabat. While Turkmenistan is home to another 6 smaller airports, Ashgabat Airport is the only one that serves international flights. Keep in mind that only a handful of airlines operate flights to Turkmenistan, though, the largest ones of which are Turkish Airlines, FlyDubai, S7 Airlines, and Turkmenistan Airlines. If you are travelling from Azerbaijan, you can also hop on the 12-hour-ferry journey from Baku to Turkmenbashi. This service, however, is not the most reliable as there is no exact schedule and ferries leave only once they are fully booked.
Part of your preparation to visit the country should be obtaining a Turkmenistan visa. The application cost is between $50 to $150 depending on the duration of your stay and takes around 3 weeks to be reviewed. Once you have gathered all the needed documents, you should apply at the nearest Embassy of Turkmenistan or consulate. If your tourist visa is approved, you will be able to collect it once you land at Ashgabat Airport. You should also expect to receive an immigration card as you are entering the country. This document will have to be filled in by every hotel or accommodation you stay at. Foreign nationals travelling around Turkmenistan are also expected to register at the Tourism and Sports Department within 3 working days of arrival.
As there are various things to keep in mind when travelling to Turkmenistan, it is always a good idea to consider contacting a travel agency, who will be able to assist you with the visa application as well as organize and plan your visit to the country.
How to get around Turkmenistan
Getting around Turkmenistan might be as difficult as getting to the country. Again, the most convenient and efficient way to travel from one city to another is by plane, especially if you have limited time to explore the country. Turkmenistan Airlines operates numerous domestic flights, however, and they are widely used by the locals as well. The demand is extremely high; something to have in mind is to book flights well in advance!
Travelling by car is not advisable because some of the main roads in Turkmenistan cross the desert and can be dangerous. In addition to that, you will need an International Driving Permit to be allowed to legally drive in the country.
The last option to get around Turkmenistan is by train or minibuses. This way of travel is very cheap, though it does involve long journeys. With some services, confirmed schedules are uncommon, as they will wait for the entire vehicle to be full before it departs. If you are looking to fully immerse into the culture and experience the local way of life, though, trains and buses can be an interesting way to travel. You will meet many different people and be able to admire the countryside.
Once again, Turkmenistan travel might be challenging and difficult for foreigners, so it is a good idea to contact a travel agency or at least book a private tour guide. They normally use their own vehicles, which will significantly ease your travels.
One of the main questions that a lot of visitors ask is, “Do they speak English in Turkmenistan?” The answer is that some of the locals might speak English, but you should not count on it. As part of the Oghuz Turkic linguistic group, Turkmen is the official country’s language. With approximately 15% of the population speaking Russian as a primary language, it can be considered the second most widely spoken Turkmenistan language. If you know a bit of Russian, it will significantly help you as you travel across the country.
Time in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan belongs to the UTC +05:00-time zone. It is important to mention that the country no longer changes the clock and observes the Turkmenistan Time all year.
Currency used in Turkmenistan
Since 1993, Turkmenistan’s currently has been manat – TMT. When translated, the word means “coin.” A while back, the currency was introduced to replace the Russian ruble at 1 manat=500 Russian rubles. Now the exchange rate is: 1 manat=20.23 Russian rubles. One manat also equals around 0.25 Euro and 0.29 USD.
Something to keep in mind is that ATM services are fairly limited in the country and sometimes do not accept international cards. It is a good idea to prepare all the money you need well in advance. Your hotel will probably accept payment in dollars or via MasterCard or Visa. Some of the large tourist sites may also accept dollars. In restaurants and shops, however, you will be expected to pay in cash in the local currency.
Is Turkmenistan safe?
Another major question you might be asking yourself: “Is Turkmenistan safe?” The answer is yes. The crime rate in the country is extremely low. Tourism in Turkmenistan is a relatively new and currently growing business, hence, scammers are not very popular. You should be careful when getting a taxi, though, as unlicensed taxis exist and will try to charge you a much higher rate. As with any other country, always be cautious and keep your personal belongings safe and secure.
What part of Turkmenistan to stay in
The best part to stay in Turkmenistan is probably the capital city, Ashgabat. There are numerous monuments and tourist sites within the city or just a few kilometers away that are worth the visit!
If you would like to go for a swim in the Caspian Sea, though, you should head to Avaza which is the most luxurious seaside resort in the country.
Top 20 things to do in Turkmenistan with Your Family
Are you ready to explore the country of Turkmenistan? Are you looking for things to do in the country? Are you planning on a family trip to a new and unusual place? Do you want to know the top 20 things to do in Turkmenistan with your family? Keep reading to learn more!
Most Popular Tourist Sights:
You might have limited time to travel through the country, so we are starting with the most popular attractions worth visiting.
1. Visit the Turkmenistan Door to Hell
Darvaza Gas Crater is by far the most popular tourist site in Turkmenistan. Located in the middle of the desert there is a 230-foot-wide crater, created during an explosion in the 1970s. Unbelievably, flaming gas has been shooting out of the crater for 40 years.
The crater can be easily seen from afar, with its burning flames in yellow, red, and orange contrasting the brown, dry surrounding. The crater is often referred to as the Turkmenistan Portal to Hell.
2. Step back in time in the Ancient City Merv
The ancient city of Merv is located in close proximity to one of the biggest cities in Turkmenistan – Mary. While Mary is not so popular among tourists, a tour to Merv is one of the must-do things while in the country. Once known as the “Queen of Cities,” Merv has a rich, 4,000-year-old history because it served as the capital to various kingdoms and empires.
It is believed that during the 12th and 13th Century, the city had a population of more than 500,000 people and was one of the top three world’s largest cities. Unfortunately, Merv was destroyed by the Mongol horde, so today visitors can only admire the ruins of this ancient city. As one of the most impressive archaeological complexes, Merv has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. Admire the architecture at Gypjak Mosque
The white marble Gypjak Mosque is located just outside of the capital city. The building was opened in 2004 by Separmurat Niyazov, who was the first Turkmenistan president. Constructed as a mosque but serving as a mausoleum, this is the largest building of this type in Central Asia. After Niyazov’s death, he was buried in Gypjak Mosque, and it is now rarely open to the general public. There has been a lot of debate over the building and its rich, ornate exterior. Even still, it is a good example of the bizarre structures around the country, which will allow you to better experience Turkmenistan.
4. Take the Walk of Health
If you are an outdoor lover, one of the top things to do in Turkmenistan is to take the well-known Walk of Health. The entire path meanders for approximately 37 km around the Kopet Dag Mountain Range, not too far from the capital city.
There is an easier way, which is just an 8 km route and a bit more popular among tourists. The Walk of Health was constructed during President Niyazov, as he wanted to encourage individuals to go out more often and improve their health.
5. Visit Dashgouz
Besides the capital of Turkmenistan, another top city to visit is Dashgouz. Located on the northern side of the country, it is one of the biggest towns you should include in your travel itinerary.
Visitors will find the ancient city of Kunya-Urgench Air, a 14th-century fortress, a few interesting mausoleums, and Asia’s highest minaret just a few kilometers away from Dashgouz. The ruins of Kunya-Urgench Air are extremely significant as a symbol of great achievement even thousands of years ago.
Despite the fact that Karakum Desert occupies 80% of the country’s territory, it is not all heat and dry landscapes. Home to interesting wildlife, a trip across the desert should be part of your travel itinerary if you are looking for some unique adventures. Either way, the country has some beautiful oases and natural landmarks, which are part of the top 20 things to do in Turkmenistan.
6. See the Yangykala Canyon
The stunning Yangykala Canyon is one of the most beautiful natural landmarks in Turkmenistan. Located on the western side of the country, the canyon is slightly off-the-beaten-path, but it is certainly worth the trip.
The interesting rock formations in red and white were created around 5.5 million years ago when this area was part of the Parathetys Sea. Nowadays, visitors can admire the tall rock wall that rises up to 100 meters above what is otherwise a flat desert landscape.
7. Stop by Kyrk Gyz Cave
Another interesting and bizarre place to visit is the Kyrk Gyz Cave. As you take the first look, you will be impressed by the cave stalactites. Soon after, however, you will realize that these are not cave formations but pieces of cloth hanging from the ceiling and walls. There are various different legends and stories about Kyrk Gyz Cave and the cloth pieces soaked in mud that have now become part of the cave.
8. Swim in Kow Ata Underground Lake
Kow Ata Underground Lake is proof that Turkmenistan is not just a desert country. Located 52 meters underground, the lake is part of the karst Bakharden Cave, which is the largest in the Kopetdag mountain range.
With a total length of 230 meters, the cave is also known as home to the largest colony of bats in Asia. What is even more interesting is the lake, which has thermal waters located on the bottom. With a constant temperature between 33-37 degrees C, Kow Ata Lake has become an excellent place to go for a swim. It is a certainly an unusual and unique experience!
If you are a history buff, you will certainly enjoy our next list of places to visit while in Turkmenistan, which will allow you to take a step back in time.
9. See the Dinosaur Footprints
Situated on the east side of Turkmenistan lies one of the most interesting and well-known tourist attractions in the world. The Dinosaur Plateau, also referred to as “Jurassic Park,” is home to the largest repository of dinosaur footprints in the world.
This region is extremely different compared to the popular Turkmenistan countryside, as the area is covered with grass, trees, and various plant species. The limestone plateau is home to approximately 150 dinosaur footprints, which span between 20 – 70 cm in size. The Dinosaur Plateau is extremely unique, and visitors can walk for a few kilometers following the dinosaur footprints.
10. Go back in time while visiting Old Nisa
Approximately 20 km away from the capital, tourists will find the first Parthians settlement. Covering a total area of around 0.300 square miles, this was once the main trading hub of the empire. Even though unclear, it is believed that an ancient civilization used to live in Nisa starting from the 3rd century BC.
These days, visitors can learn more about the history of the location, while exploring the ruins of ancient buildings, which once served domestic, commercial, and religious purposes. Due to its significant importance, Nisa has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Go for an Adventure and Have Fun:
A bit of adventure or a place or two to relax and have some fun is always a good idea. Check out our suggestions below.
11. Ride a horse through the countryside
The country of Turkmenistan is extremely proud to be the home of the special Akhalteke horse breed. They are well-known for their intelligence and speed and are thought to be war horses.
As a result, they were a central point of the country’s export and trading. Now, you can book a tour through the countryside and ride one of these fascinating, majestic horses. Your tour guide will normally take you to the nearby Firuza River and its gorges and hidden oases. If you are looking for a small adventure while in Turkmenistan, this is a must-do!
12. Ride the tallest indoor Ferris wheel in the world
Turkmenistan is home to various landmarks and monuments that are the world’s biggest. One of the most interesting, however, is the tallest indoor Ferris wheel on Earth. Located in the Alem Cultural and Entertainment Center, the Ferris wheel is at the heart of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The entire structure has six floors and rises at 95 meters above the ground. Being 47.6 meters tall, the Ferris wheel has been recognized as the world’s highest indoor Ferris wheel by Guinness World Records. Visitors can not only enjoy the ride and the beautiful view, but they can also explore the entertainment center, which has a food court, gaming area, etc.
Visit the Capital Ashgabat:
The outstanding capital of Turkmenistan – Ashgabat is certainly worth the visit. The city was completely destroyed after an earthquake in 1948. Slowly but surely, the capital has been rebuilt to become widely known for its marble buildings and massive national monuments. Despite being surrounded by the Karakum Desert, the city has a lot to offer in the way of tourist attractions. Keep reading and learn more about each one of them.
13. Ashgabat by Night
An interesting way to explore the capital city is by night. From the streets of the city to every building, the entire city is lit up.
Visitors can take a bus ride or just stroll through the city at night in order to fully experience this magical light show. One of the most beautiful places to stop by and admire at night is the Wedding Palace, which glows in four different colors.
14. Learn more about Turkmenistan’s traditions at The Carpet Museum
Turkmenistan is extremely well-known for producing some of the world’s best carpets. The rich colors and high quality make them so unique and extraordinary. The carpet industry has been an inseparable part of the Turkmens’ traditions, and a visit to The Carpet Museum in Ashgabat is an excellent way to learn more. You will be able to admire the biggest collection of Turkmen carpets, some of which date back to medieval times.
15. See the Wedding Palace
Another extremely unique and interesting building in Ashgabat is the Wedding Palace. Built in 2011, the construction covers a total territory of 410,000 square ft. and consists of eleven floors. On top, there is a ball that is 32 meters in diameter that symbolizes the planet Earth.
The Wedding Palace features wedding halls, wedding shops, restaurants, and special services to legalize your marriage. Even if you are not planning on getting married in Turkmenistan, stopping by the Wedding Palace to admire the extraordinary architectural style is worth it!
16. Dive into the country’s history at the Ashgabat National Museum
Another way to learn more about the country is to visit the Ashgabat National Museum, which will take you on a tour through the years. Opened in 1998, the museum has three different sections – science, natural history, and surprisingly, the President of Turkmenistan. While the origin of some of the relics and artifacts might be questionable, a visit to the museum is certainly a good way to learn more about the country’s history.
17. Visit Turkmenistan’s Most Popular Seaside Resort
Despite being mainly covered by desert, Turkmenistan also has easy access to the world’s biggest lake – the Caspian Sea. Attempting to attract more tourists to the country, the people have developed a luxurious, world-class seaside resort – Avaza.
Located close to the port city of Turkmenbashi, Avaza is the perfect spot if you want to find a hidden, top-notch seaside paradise. As the resort has been recently developed, you will find amazing 5-star hotels, which are, surprisingly, not so crowded. It is believed that Avaza has been trying to follow an example from Dubai, which you will certainly notice by the modern, futuristic-looking buildings.
18. Stroll down the Independence Square
Situated in the heart of the capital, your tour around Ashgabat should start at Independence Square. This is the place where you can fully admire the city’s architecture, as white marble has been used to construct all buildings. The vast majority of the buildings around the square are government facilities, so be careful when taking photos. In Turkmenistan, it is forbidden to take pictures of government buildings, and normally police officers are stationed around Independence Square. Within the massive square, you will also see lots of fountains, parks, and statues.
19. Go shopping at Tolkuhcka Bazaar
Tolkuhcka or Altyn Asyr Bazaar is the biggest market in Turkmenistan. It is one of the top attractions you should add to your travel itinerary. The colors and the vibe of the bazaar make it extremely authentic and unique.
You can find everything and anything in the market, from unique Turkman carpets to traditional food. If you do not have space in your luggage for an entire rug, you might want to get a small, hand-made souvenir to remind you of your trip to Turkmenistan.
20. Enjoy the views from the Monument of Neutrality
The Monument of Neutrality was once located at the very heart of Ashgabat. It was built in 1998 as a memory of the country’s neutrality. Rising at 75 meters, the monument looks like a tripod and is topped with a golden statue of the first Turkmenistan president – Niyazov.
Nowadays, visitors can still see the monument, though it is located in the capital’s suburbs. The main reason why you would want to visit is the fact that there is an elevator that takes you to the very top of the tower, which has an observation platform. From there, visitors can enjoy the beautiful view of the white marble buildings in the distance.
Frequently asked questions:
Can you drink alcohol in Turkmenistan?
Drinking alcohol in Turkmenistan, even if not too popular, is legal. You might find that there are some limitations in terms of buying alcoholic drinks at particular locations, but you would still be able to try the traditional Turkmenbashi-labelled vodka in your hotel or in a restaurant.
Is Turkmenistan a rich or poor country?
Turkmenistan is known for its large gas and oil resources. Hence, the country’s economy is one of the most developing and fastest growing in the world. At the same time, however, due to the massive desert covering the territory, the agricultural conditions are extremely poor. Statics show that 10% of the population lives on the poverty line.
Is Turkmenistan worth visiting?
Turkmenistan is certainly one of the most interesting and unique countries to travel to. It is home to bizarre architectural monuments, but it also has beautiful culture and traditions that are worth exploring. Keep in mind, though, that the country is the most expensive compared to the others in Central Asia. You need to be ready for a lot of expenses, so if you are looking for a budget trip, Turkmenistan is not a good idea.