Best of Central Asia and the Silk Road
Bishkek (1 night) - Lake Issyk Kul (1 night) - Karakol (2 nights) - Almaty (2 nights) - Tashkent (1 night) - Nukus (1 night) - Bukhara (2 nights) - Samarkand (1 night) - Ayni (1 night) - Dushanbe (1 night)
Available tour dates: September 20 - October 3, 2020 (free 10 spots) | September 19 - October 2, 2021 (free 10 spots)
Day 1, Sunday
Arrive in Bishkek in the morning. Transfer from airport to Hyatt hotel in central Bishkek. Some time to rest. In the afternoon we will meet for a walk in central Bishkek, having a look at the Fine Arts museum, and further stopping at nearby Oak Park, Parliament, the Lenin statue, the White House (Presidential Palace), the central Ala Too square, and then have a welcome dinner in town, in a fine Kyrgyz restaurant. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!
Overnight in Bishkek, Navat hotel, one night. Dinner.
Day 2, Monday
After an early breakfast we are off east, driving through the fertile Chuy valley. Our first stop will be the Burana tower, the sole remain of a once large tenth century trading town along the Silk Road. Burana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will also have a look at some of the road’s curious bus shelter designs - these are among the Soviet Union’s most interesting (abandoned) bus stops! We will stop to watch a game of kok boru, Central Asia’s most popular sport. Lunch in a village inn. Then we continue to Issyk Kul, the world’s second largest high altitude lake (after Titikaka in South America). We will stop at Balykchy, a desolate, windswept place, where it never (almost) rains. We will spend the night at the lake’s scenic southern shore, in a comfortable new lodge.
Overnight in Tamga, Royal Apricot, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 3, Tuesday
After breakfast we will have a look at some of the area’s stunning canyons, and visit the workshop of a local yurt maker. At lunch we will arrive in Karakol, and grab a meal in a lovely local cafe. In the afternoon we will have a look at the wooden Dungan mosque and wooden Russian church, before going to our hotel, checking in, and taking some rest. We will have a home-cooked dinner, hosted by a Dungan (Chinese Muslim) family.
Overnight in Karakol, Green Yard, two nights. Breakfast, dinner.
Day 4, Wednesday
We get up early, have breakfast, and we hop in a convoy of modern 4WDs that will take us close to the border with China. In fact we get so close that we need special border permits to visit. We drive across a 3800m-high pass, which will be covered in snow. For the pass we will switch in vintage 1960s and 70s heavy Soviet army trucks. Then we switch back to our 4WDs and head down to the abandoned town of Inylchek. Inylchek was once a community of 15,000, but the collapse of the USSR put an end to the ambitious plans to open mines and factories here. Inylchek is one of the most spectacular, eery places you can come across on this planet. It truly feels like the end of the world, or the end of the Soviet Union at least. A short drive beyond the town, where the road ends, brings us to a lovely open air hot mineral pool - you are welcome to take a dip if you feel like it. We will take our picnic lunch there. The entire valley may look barren, but there is actually a lot of history and heritage in those mountains. Let’s explore them together. This is the place where the Soviet Union literally ended. A bit downstream and you end up in China. In the afternoon we will head back across the mountains to Karakol. Dinner at our hotel.
Overnight in Karakol, Green Yard, second night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 5, Thursday
After breakfast we start towards the summer-only border checkpoing with Kazakhstan at the remote Karkara valley. We will cross and then drive through the foothills of the Alatau mountains, stopping at the big and impressive Charin canyon - where we will eat our picnic lunch. In the afternoon we continue to Almaty along the newly built highway (which leads to China), part of the new Silk Road. Arrival in Almaty, check in at our hotel, and dinner in a lovely Russian restaurant, inside one of the oldest buildings in Almaty.
Overnight in Almaty, Novotel hotel, two nights. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 6, Friday
We will spend the full day in Almaty: exploring the city’s oldest neighbourhood and church in the morning, and taking the cable car to the top of the nearby mountains for a fantastic lunch with a view. An afternoon to wander Almaty on your own. Dinner in a local Georgian restaurant.
Overnight in Almaty, Novotel hotel, two nights. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 7, Saturday
After breakfast we head to Almaty’s small airport, and catch a short (1 hour) flight to Tashkent. Transfer to our comfortable central hotel in Tashkent, and at noon we will have a traditional plov lunch in the city’s most popular restaurant - where they cook more than three tons of plov, or rice, every day! In the afternoon we will go for a ride on Tashkent’s metro, stopping at the three most interesting metro stations in town, then go to see the oldest Russian building in Central Asia (the tiny St George chapel), and the legendary Chorsu Bazaar, with its amazing architecture, bread makers, open food court, and abundance of colours and faces. Dinner in the best restaurant in town.
Overnight in Tashkent, Ichan Kala, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 8, Sunday
An early breakfast at the hotel. We will take a domestic flight to Nukus, the capital of the Autonomous Karakalpakstan Republic. We will drive north, to the workshop of the last yurt maker in Karakalpakstan. We will have a look at the ruins of an old Silk Road town, and have a home-cooked Karakalpak lunch. In the afternoon we will head back to Nukus, check in at our comfortable hotel, and go to see the Savitsky museum of Avant-garde art (with the second largest collection of Soviet avant-garde art in the world). Free time in the later afternoon to rest or take a stroll along the town’s dusty streets. Dinner at our hotel.
Overnight in Nukus, Tashkent hotel, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 9, Monday
After breakfast we head south. We will stop at the ruins of an ancient Zoroastrian citadel and fire temple, and then cross the Amu Darya (the Oxus) at an old pontoon bridge, which still holds a ship cemetery with boats that used to go along the Oxus - perhaps the last ship cemetery in Uzbekistan. We will stop for lunch and a walk in the old town of Khiva. In the afternoon, instead of driving on more bumpy roads, we we will take a train to Bukhara. We will have our own sleeper compartments, and although we are not taking the train for a night ride, you can still take a nap. It will be a long and slow ride, around 6 hours, but an interesting one - we will watch the sunset over the Kyzyl Kum desert. The train is the proper way of experiencing the vastness and emptiness of this land - rather than rushing on a potholed, busy, drab highway. We will enjoy a packed dinner onboard the train. At around 22 hours we will arrive in Bukhara, transfer to our hotel, inside an old Jewish merchant’s home, with the town’s best restaurant - which will be open to grab a drink and a dessert.
Overnight in Bukhara, Amelia, two nights. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 10, Tuesday
Breakfast in our exquisitely decorated dining hall, and then we head out to explore the narrow winding streets of the oldest surviving neighbourhood of Bukhara - the Jewish quarter. We will have a look at an abandoned Jewish home, the small but interesting Jewish market, and then the oldest synagogue in town. We will then make our way to the Muslim part of town, stopping to see a functioning medrasah. Lunch and afternoon on your own, exploring the winding streets of Bukhara.
Overnight in Bukhara, Amelia, second night. Breakfast.
Day 11, Wednesday
In the morning we will head to nearby Kagan, the railhead for Bukhara. We will have a look at the local Lyuli gypsy and Persian community, the very interesting old Russian, German and Japanese cemeteries in Kagan, and the crumbling old palace of the Emir. In the afternoon we will hop on a short train ride (1.30 hours) to Samarkand. In Samarkand we will go straight to the spectacular Registan, at the time of sunset, to take some photos when the Registan is at the most beautiful. Then check in at our comfortable L’Argamak hotel, and go out for dinner in the city’s best restaurant.
Overnight in Samarkand, L’Argamak, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 12, Thursday
After breakfast, we will go to see the stunning Shah-i-Zinda cemetery with the most ornate tile decorations in Central Asia. Then we head to the recently re-opened border with Tajikistan at Panjikent (roughly 45 minute ride from downtown Samarkand). We expect crossing to be smooth. On the Tajik side we will visit the archaeological site of Sarazm, and then continue on the beautiful Zarafshan valley. We will spend the night in the quiet little village of Ayni.
Overnight in Ayni, comfortable guesthouse, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 13, Friday
After breakfast we will continue for around twenty miles down the Zarafshan valley. Villages will get smaller and older. We will see several old mosques and minarets. The highlight of Tajikistan will be the village of Veshab, with stunning terraced houses. In Veshab we will drink tea with a local family and have a walk along the steep streets of town. Then we head back west, and then south, towards Dushanbe. We will stop to have a look at the gargantuan Hodja Obigarm sanatorium. A late afternoon stroll in green, leafy Dushanbe, and farewell dinner in the city.
Overnight in Dushanbe, Serena hotel, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 14, Saturday
Breakfast, and transfer to Dushanbe airport for your flights back or where the heart takes you next.
* Accommodation in Central Asia best lodgings.
* Transport with a new, comfortable minibus and a number of trains: the fast Afrosiyob from Bukhara to Samarkand, and the slow train from Urgench to Bukhara.
* Drivers and guides lodging and food.
* Flights from Almaty to Tashkent and from Tashkent to Nukus.
* All meals according to programme. Tips for waiters included, drinks mostly not included.
* All taxes and fees.
* Bottled water, refreshments and sweet treats while on the bus and while exploring sights.
* A comprehensive information pack with maps, literature, useful knowledge and gifts.
* Tips for pretty much everyone but guide and driver.
* All activities according to the program.
* Entry tickets to all sights that are ticketed.
* And much, much more.
Price does not include:
* International air fares.
* Medical and travel insurance.
* Personal expenses such as phone calls, laundry, internet, drinks apart from those included.
€3870 per person, €640 single supplement. The cost is per person sharing double or twin room.