Turkmenistan - the most mysterious country in Central Asia
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By far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asia’s countries, Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. In medieval times, Merv was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road, a caravan route used for trade with China until the mid-15th century. Turkmenistan is an ancient land of great spirituality, tradition and natural beauty. The ancient cities inspire visions of caravans plodding along the ancient Silk Road, while the haunting beauty of the Karakum Desert and other quirky natural phenomena are less expected but equally mesmerising. The full Turkmen experience is ultimately about mingling with the warm and fascinating Turkmen people themselves, whose hospitality is the stuff of legend.
Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, in 1924 Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR); it became independent upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Independent Turkmenistan became famous for the leadership style of Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled as ‘Turkmenbashi’ (‘leader of the Turkmen’) until his death in 2006. Niyazov developed the personality cult manifested in golden statues of himself and grandiose monuments to the achievements of his ‘golden age’. In 2013 the Guinness Book of Records named Ashgabat as “white marbled city” for the biggest number of buildings in the world made out of the white marble.
Why visit Turkmenistan?
Turkmenistan has a long and proud history with famous archaeological sites and beautiful mountain scenery. It is seen as the hermit nation of the 'Stans. Turkmenistan is one of the least visited countries in the world due to difficulties in the past to obtain visas and the country's isolationist policy. Today it has become much easier to get the visa for most nationalities. Turkmenistan is a prime destination for travelers with a taste for originality and unusual attractions. If you enjoy this type of travel experience and if you want to avoid a mass-tourism destination you've certainly brought your thoughts to the right place. Travel with Korea Konsult and visit the White Marble City Ashgabat, the “Door to Hell” (the burning gas crater Darwaza), Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque (the largest in Central Asia), the ancient city - Merv, the breathtaking sight canyons of Yangy Kala etc. We will do our best to make your trip unforgettable.
Korea Konsult will run 4 group tours every year, 2 in March during Nowruz holiday and 2 in September during Independence Day. You can choose between booking a Turkmenistan tour only or extend your journey with a week in Uzbekistan.
We will plan your itinerary in order to offer you the best possible experience in Turkmenistan. You can choose your own travel dates and we will provide you a customized tour according to your needs and preferences. A private tour offers more flexibility on time schedule and you can add more stops to the itinerary if you visit something you wish to explore more intensively. Below are some examples of private tours but we are always happy to organise a tailor-made tour according to your interestes and requests.
Tukmenistan Travel tips
- Head of State: Serdar Berdimuhamedow (since 2022).
Capital: Ashgabat, (population 837,000). An impressive architectural re-styling effort led by the government of Turkmenistan resulted in Guiness Book Record for world's highest density of white marble-clad buildings. The Turkmen capital boasts 543 new buildings clad with 4,513,584 m² of white marble. Ashgabat holds also the record for the 'tallest unsupported flagpole', the 'most fountain pools in a public place' and the largest architectural star in the world (Turkmenistan Broadcasting Centre tower).
Total Population: 5,810,921 in 2018.
Political system: Republic.
Official Language: Turkmen language. Russian is a second non-official language.
Number of foreign tourists visiting the country: official statistics not available. Unofficial estimations: 6000-8000 foreign tourists a year
HOW TO GET TO TURKMENISTAN
- BY FLIGHT: Most travellers arrive in Turkmenistan by international flight. The national carreer is Turkmenistan Airlines. It offers non-stop flights to Ashgabat from Birmingham, London, Frankfurt, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Beijing, Abu Dhabi, Dubai etc. Another option is getting in to Turkmenistan by Turkish Airlines flight with stop in Istanbul.
BY SEA: The only way to get to Turkmenistan by sea is taking ferry operating the line between the Azerbaijan capital Baku and the Turkmen port Turkmenbashi located on the opposite side of the Caspian Sea. The ferry operates almost every day and the journey takes 17 hours, however, delays of 1 up to 3 days might occur.
BY TRAIN: Despite the fact that Turkmenistan is connected by railroad with all its neghbours such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Afghanistan, at the moment it is not possible to reach the country by train from abroad.
BY LAND: you can enter Turkmenistan via land border from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Afghanistan.
CLIMATE, WHEN TO GO
- The best period to visit Turkmenistan is from middle of March to end of May and from middle of September to
the end of October.
The climate in Turkmenistan is desert and semi-tropical, with great temperature fluctuations, low precipitation and high evaporation. The summer is usually hot and dry, with an average temperature of 28-32°C in July. The winter is mild and with little snow. However, in some years short but strong snowfalls were registered. The average temperature of January ranges from -5°С in the northeast of the country to +4°C in the south. Continuous winds bringing cold masses of air from the steppe regions of Kazakhstan in winter time and hot masses from the mountain slopes causing sandstorms in summer time are the most characteristic feature of the Turkmen climate.
- To visit Turkmenistan most nationals need to apply for a visa. Please note that you cannot apply for Turkmen visa on your own and without booking a tour, all visas are issued based on pre-approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invitation letter aquired for you by the accredited tour operator. KoreaKonsult will apply for such invitation letter for your tour in advance.
- In order to obtain the Turkmen visa you will need to submit this invitation letter to the nearest Embassy of Turkmenistan and get the visa stamped to your passport. If there is no any Turkmenistan Embassy in your country then you will be able to get the visa when you physically arrive in Turkmenistan. Additionally, even if there is a Turkmenistan Embassy in your country, you still have the option to get the visa upon arrival in Turkmenistan (this option is the most convenient!). The immigration of the border crossing point will issue your Turkmen visa based on the invitation letter which will be sent to you by us before your trip start. You will need to pay the visa fee in cash to immigration officer (the fee depends on citizenship but count to spend at least 100 USD).
IMPORTANT NOTE ! Please never book any tickets to Turkmenistan before the invitation letter is issued by the Foreign Ministry. About 15% of the total number visa applications are declined and you will never get any explanation why. Note as well that the invitation obtention process might take up to 5 weeks, so please plan your trip well in advance.
Once the invitation letter is issued you can finally relax - this document gives you 100% guarantee of the Turkmen visa obtention at any of Turkmenistan border crossing points. But note that you need to indicate the border crossing point to us in advance.
- The mandatory declaration must be completed by an adult (minimum age of 18). Items and goods belonging to individuals of less than 18 years of age must be declared by their parent, foster parent, tutor or legal guardian on their behalf. The importation of foreign currency in cash to Turkmenistan is allowed without limitation if declared to customs. Individuals may export foreign currency in an amount not exceeding $10,000 or an equivalent currency amount. Individuals may import prescription medicines providing they have a copy of the prescription with the medicine. It is not needed to declare this importation.
One person is allowed to import the following items for personal use without payment of excise duty:
- alcoholic beverages to the limit of 1 liters
- tobacco products to the amount of 2 packs
- Travelers who wish to take carpets out of Turkmenistan must obtain a certificate from the Carpet Museum in Ashgabat indicating that the carpet does not have historical value. In addition, buyers may have to pay a tax calculated according to the size of the carpet.
- Taking fish and sturgeon caviar out of the country is strictly forbidden. The following items may not be taken out of Turkmenistan either: jewellery having no hallmarks, precious and semi-precious stones and half finished articles made of them, apitoxin (bee venom), snake venom, amberat and propolis; meat of any kind and food made of it, plants and animals included in the Red Book of Turkmenistan.
SAFETY, FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
- Turkmenistan is a very safe country to visit. The effective work of the police keeps the criminality at the lowest level in Central Asia. However there is always a risk to become a victim of a pickpocket, but this risk is definitely no bigger than in any Western country. Avoid to have on you large amounts of money or precious things when you leave the hotel.
- All foreigners have to register in the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan within three working days from arrival date. You don't need to worry about it if you stay at the hotel - the hotel staff will arrange the registration for you.
- Freedom of movement is not officially restricted like for example in North Korea, however, independent travel in Turkmenistan is not permitted. Your visa will only be valid for as long as tour services (including accommodation, guides, transport etc) are provided.
But unlike North Korea, in Ashgabat and other big cities you can enjoy some freedom of walking streets, visiting shopping malls, markets or restaurants. Doing this in the countryside without a local Turkmen guide is highly unrecommended.
MONEY, CREDIT CARDS
- The local currency in Turkmenistan is called manat (TMM), which is made up of 100 tenge. To get manats you will need to exchange USD. Bring new or clean notes in low denominations as damaged or marked notes are often refused even by official travel exchange offices. Other currencies are difficult to exchange. For 1 week trip the recommended amount is 200-300 USD per person. As manats can’t be re-converted into hard currency, convert only as much as you need.
- Almost all payments in Turkmenistan are done in cash. Credit cards are accepted only at bigger hotels or restaurants. There are very few ATMs in Ashgabat, and none outside big capital cities.
TAKING PICTURES AND VIDEOS
- Upon your arrival in Turkmenistan your local guide will explain the photo and video policy. You are not advised to take pictures of government institutions, such as for example Presidential Palace, Ministry of Interior etc. There is also a restriction of taking photos and videos at Ashgabat markets. This restriction doesn't apply outside Ashgabat.
MOBILE PHONES, INTERNET
- Turkmenistan has only one mobile operator - TM CELL. Roaming agreements are in place with just some few international companies so be prepared that your phone might not work in Turkmenistan at all. All local prepaid sim cards must be purchased from TM CELL. To buy a local sim card you’ll have to visit a TM CELL office and become a subscriber. This involves showing your passport and visa and confirming an address where you’ll be staying at in Turkmenistan. Only one SIM card can be bought per customer.
- Internet in Turkmenistan is filtered and horrendously slow. Most social networks are blocked, including Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram (local Turkmens use Imo messenger). Gmail and Google work, VPNs are illegal. Free wifi is available at top hotels in Ashgabat and other main cities but the Internet speed is really frustrating except for the luxury 5*Sofitel Ashgabat Oguzkent Hotel and the 5*Yyldyz Hotel. Free wifi is now also available in all big towns through state-run Internet cafés.
- There are no official restrictions on the colour, length or type of clothes. In the street you can see a lot of people dressed in national clothes, especially women. However, locals do not mind at all wearing Western style trousers, dresses etc. The only thing you should avoid is wearing open clothes when visiting holy and religious places. The country's hot climate requires that you wear light clothes made of cotton and other natural fabrics. While in the countryside, you should not use open T-shirts, as there is a high risk of sunburn. Headdress is also a must to protect your head from the strong sunshine. In urban areas you can freely wear light sandals or similar footwear but in the countryside and particularly in desert areas it is recommended to wear trainers and sport shoes as the region abounds with poisonous insects.
- The Turkmen law prohibits smoking in all indoor public places, indoor workplaces, and public transport. Smoking is also prohibited in certain outdoor areas, such as parks, gardens, playgrounds, beaches, as well as cultural, educational, medical, and sports facilities. However, in practice these regulations are not always respected.
- Since 2019, alcohol is forbidden on trains, airplanes, and ferry boats as well as at sports facilities. It is also prohibited to sell alcohol on national holidays except at bars and restaurants. Anyhow, you can easily buy any kind of alcohol in most shops and markets throughout the country.
- Turkmen food is very tasty and similar to food found in Turkey and Middle East.The most popular dish in Turkmenistan is pilaf, cooked from lamb, carrots, rice and onions. Shurpa is another common dish. It is a soup made with mutton broth with potatoes and tomatoes. Traditional Turkmen bread is called chorek. Cooking chorek is considered an art. The clay oven where chorek is baked is considered the most sacred place in a house. Turkmenistan melons are known for their honey-like taste. For a meal in the restaurant you should count to spend about 15-25 dollars per person (medium level restaurant).
- Drinking the tap water is not recommended in Turkmenistan.
- Get comprehensive travel insurance before you leave. Your policy needs to cover all overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.