Turkmenistan travel guide

Explore the captivating landscapes, ancient cities, and unique culture of Turkmenistan. This comprehensive guide offers essential information for planning a remarkable journey through this Central Asian gem.

Planning Your Trip

Embarking on a journey to Turkmenistan requires meticulous planning due to the country’s unique tourism regulations. Here are key aspects to consider:

Best Time to Visit:

Turkmenistan experiences extreme temperatures. Spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) offer pleasant weather ideal for exploring historical sites and deserts.

Tour Requirement:

Independent travel is generally restricted in Turkmenistan. Tourists are required to obtain a visa through an authorized travel agency and travel with a guide for the duration of their stay.


Collaborate with your chosen travel agency to design a comprehensive itinerary encompassing your interests, whether it’s delving into ancient history, venturing into the Karakum Desert, or experiencing local culture.

Booking Flights and Accommodation:

Your travel agency will typically handle flight bookings and accommodation arrangements as part of the tour package. Ensure they are aware of your preferences and any special requirements.

Health and Safety:

Consult your healthcare provider regarding necessary vaccinations and health precautions. It’s advisable to pack a basic medical kit and any personal medications. Familiarize yourself with safety guidelines provided by your travel agency.

Cultural Sensitivity:

Turkmenistan has a rich cultural heritage. Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. Photography restrictions may apply in certain areas, so it’s crucial to inquire beforehand. Demonstrate respect for local customs and traditions.


Obtaining a visa is a prerequisite for entering Turkmenistan, and the process is intricately linked to tourism regulations. Here’s a breakdown of the visa types and application procedures:

Tourist Visa:

The most common visa for travelers, the tourist visa necessitates booking a tour with a licensed Turkmen travel agency. The agency acts as your sponsor and handles the visa application process on your behalf. You’ll need to provide them with your passport details, itinerary, and other required documents.

Transit Visa:

If Turkmenistan is a transit point on your journey to another country, you can apply for a transit visa. This visa typically allows for a stay of up to five days and requires proof of onward travel arrangements. It’s essential to note that even with a transit visa, independent travel is restricted, and you must have a confirmed departure flight.

Letter of Invitation (LOI):

Regardless of the visa type, obtaining a Letter of Invitation (LOI) from a Turkmen travel agency is mandatory. The LOI confirms your tour booking and serves as proof of sponsorship for your visa application. Your chosen travel agency will guide you through the LOI acquisition process.

Visa Processing Time:

Visa processing times can vary, so it’s advisable to apply well in advance of your intended travel dates. Check with your travel agency for the most up-to-date processing time estimates.

Visa Validity:

Tourist visas typically grant a stay of up to 30 days, while transit visas have a shorter validity period. Ensure your visa remains valid for the entirety of your stay in Turkmenistan.

Getting There

Reaching Turkmenistan typically involves international air travel, often with connecting flights. Here’s an overview of the primary entry point and flight options:

Ashgabat International Airport (ASB):

Located near the capital city of Ashgabat, Ashgabat International Airport serves as the main gateway to Turkmenistan. Several international airlines operate flights to and from ASB, connecting to major hubs in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Connecting Flights:

Direct flights to Turkmenistan from many parts of the world can be limited. Travelers often find it necessary to book connecting flights through Istanbul, Dubai, Moscow, or other major aviation hubs. Your chosen travel agency can assist in finding the most convenient and cost-effective flight options.

Flight Booking:

When planning your journey, it’s advisable to book flights well in advance, especially during peak travel seasons. Your travel agency will typically handle flight reservations as part of the tour package. Be sure to confirm your itinerary and any connecting flight details with them.

Visa Requirements:

Before boarding your flight to Turkmenistan, ensure you have obtained the necessary visa. As outlined in the previous section, tourist visas require sponsorship from a licensed Turkmen travel agency. Present your visa and passport at check-in and immigration upon arrival.

Getting Around

Navigating Turkmenistan’s diverse landscapes involves a combination of transportation methods. Here’s a guide to getting around during your trip:

Domestic Flights:

Turkmenistan Airlines, the national carrier, offers domestic flights connecting major cities like Ashgabat, Turkmenabat, Mary, and Dashoguz. Domestic flights can be a time-efficient option for traversing longer distances, especially considering the vastness of the country.


Turkmenistan has a developing railway network that connects major cities and towns. Train travel offers a scenic way to experience the countryside. However, train schedules may not always be as frequent or flexible as other modes of transport.

Private Vehicles with Drivers:

As part of the mandatory tour arrangements, your travel agency will typically provide private vehicles with experienced drivers. This is the most common and convenient way to explore Turkmenistan, allowing for flexibility in your itinerary and access to remote locations.

Public Transportation:

Within cities and towns, you’ll find public transportation options like buses and taxis. However, it’s essential to note that using public transport independently might not be feasible due to tour restrictions and the potential language barrier. Consult your guide or travel agency for guidance.


Turkmenistan offers a range of accommodation options, from luxurious hotels to more modest lodgings. Your travel agency will typically handle accommodation bookings as part of the tour package. Here’s an overview of what to expect:


Major cities like Ashgabat boast an array of international-standard hotels, often characterized by opulent architecture and modern amenities. These hotels cater to discerning travelers seeking comfort and convenience during their stay.


In smaller towns and more remote areas, guesthouses provide a cozy and authentic alternative. While facilities may be more basic compared to larger hotels, guesthouses offer a glimpse into local life and hospitality.


For a unique and immersive cultural experience, consider spending a night in a traditional yurt. These circular, felt-covered dwellings are found in desert regions and provide a glimpse into the nomadic heritage of Turkmenistan.

Booking and Reservations:

It’s essential to note that booking accommodation independently can be challenging due to tourism regulations. Your travel agency will handle reservations based on your itinerary and preferences. If you have specific requirements or requests, be sure to communicate them clearly during the planning stage.

Money and Costs

Understanding the currency, payment methods, and typical expenses is crucial for a smooth travel experience in Turkmenistan. Here’s a financial guide:


The official currency of Turkmenistan is the Turkmenistan Manat (TMT). It’s advisable to exchange currency upon arrival at banks or authorized exchange offices. Credit cards are not widely accepted outside major hotels and restaurants.

Cash Transactions:

Carry sufficient local currency for daily expenses, especially when traveling outside major cities. Markets, smaller shops, and transportation services often operate primarily on a cash basis.

Tour Costs:

Tour packages typically include major expenses like accommodation, transportation, guide fees, and some meals. However, it’s essential to clarify inclusions and exclusions with your travel agency beforehand. Be prepared for additional costs such as souvenirs, personal expenses, and optional activities.


Turkmenistan can be a moderately expensive destination, particularly when considering the mandatory tour requirement. Factor in visa fees, flight costs, and potential currency exchange fluctuations. Consult your travel agency for detailed cost breakdowns and budget accordingly.


While not mandatory, tipping is appreciated for good service. A small tip for drivers, guides, and hotel staff is customary. In restaurants, a 10% service charge may be added to the bill, but it’s still customary to leave a small additional tip.

Food and Drink

Turkmenistan’s cuisine reflects its nomadic heritage and Central Asian influences, offering a delightful array of flavors to savor. Here’s a culinary guide:

Traditional Dishes:

Indulge in hearty meat dishes like plov (pilaf), manti (steamed dumplings), and shashlyk (grilled kebabs). Sample dograma, a flavorful soup made with lamb, vegetables, and noodles. Don’t miss the opportunity to try chorba, a yogurt-based soup.

Local Specialties:

Discover regional specialties such as bishme, a type of pasta served with a meat sauce, and gutap, savory pastries filled with meat or vegetables. Savor the unique taste of camel milk, a traditional beverage.

Fruits and Vegetables:

Turkmenistan’s fertile land yields an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Enjoy juicy melons, grapes, pomegranates, and apricots in season. Sample local varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions.

Dining Options:

Your tour package will likely include meals at designated restaurants, often featuring traditional Turkmen cuisine. In larger cities, you’ll find international dining options. For a more local experience, venture into smaller eateries and teahouses.

Things to Do

Turkmenistan offers a captivating blend of ancient history, natural wonders, and cultural experiences. Here are some highlights to include in your itinerary:

Explore Ancient Merv:

Journey back in time at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ancient Merv, once a major Silk Road city. Explore the ruins of fortresses, palaces, and mosques, marveling at the architectural prowess of a bygone era.

Witness the Gates of Hell:

Venture into the Karakum Desert to witness the Darvaza Gas Crater, known as the “Gates of Hell.” This fiery crater, a result of a natural gas field collapse, offers a surreal and unforgettable spectacle.

Discover Ashgabat’s Marble Marvels:

Explore the gleaming white marble architecture of Ashgabat, the capital city. Visit the Independence Monument, the Neutrality Arch, and the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, architectural marvels that showcase the country’s unique aesthetic.

Experience Local Culture:

Immerse yourself in Turkmen culture by attending a traditional performance of music and dance. Visit local markets to browse carpets, textiles, and handicrafts, interacting with artisans and experiencing the vibrant atmosphere.

Discover Natural Beauty:

Explore the diverse landscapes of Turkmenistan, from the Kopet Dag Mountains to the Caspian Sea coast. Hike through canyons, visit waterfalls, and marvel at the stark beauty of the Karakum Desert.

Culture and Customs

Turkmenistan possesses a rich cultural heritage shaped by its nomadic traditions, Silk Road history, and Soviet past. Respecting local customs and etiquette is essential for a harmonious travel experience. Here’s a guide to cultural sensitivity:

Greetings and Courtesy:

A handshake, often accompanied by a slight bow, is the customary greeting. Address people using formal titles, such as “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” followed by their last name, until invited to use first names. Demonstrate respect for elders and authority figures.

Dress Code:

Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites or rural areas. Avoid revealing clothing. Cover shoulders and knees as a sign of respect. Carry a scarf or shawl to drape over your head if entering a mosque or holy place.


Photography restrictions may apply in certain areas, particularly government buildings and military installations. It’s always best to ask permission before taking photos of people, especially women. Be mindful of your surroundings and avoid photographing anything deemed sensitive.

Gift Giving:

If invited to someone’s home, it’s customary to bring a small gift, such as sweets, pastries, or flowers. Present and receive gifts with both hands as a gesture of respect. Don’t be surprised if your gift isn’t opened immediately, as it’s considered polite to wait.

Health and Safety

Prioritizing health and safety is paramount when traveling to Turkmenistan. Taking necessary precautions ensures a smooth and enjoyable journey. Here’s a comprehensive guide:

Vaccinations and Health Precautions:

Consult your healthcare provider regarding recommended vaccinations for Turkmenistan. Ensure your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Discuss any necessary prophylactic medications, such as those for malaria or traveler’s diarrhea. Carry a basic medical kit with essential medications, insect repellent, and sunscreen.

Food and Water Safety:

Consume bottled water and avoid drinking tap water. Opt for well-cooked food from reputable establishments. Be cautious with street food, especially raw fruits and vegetables that may have been washed with contaminated water. Carry hand sanitizer and practice good hygiene.

Sun Protection:

Turkmenistan experiences intense sunlight, especially in desert regions. Wear sunscreen with a high SPF, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, especially during outdoor activities.

Travel Insurance:

Obtaining comprehensive travel insurance is strongly advised. Ensure your policy covers medical emergencies, evacuation, trip cancellation, and lost or stolen belongings. Carry a copy of your insurance policy and emergency contact information.

Useful Tips

Navigating the unique aspects of travel in Turkmenistan is made easier with a few practical tips. Here are some insights to enhance your journey:

Learn Basic Russian:

While Turkmen is the official language, Russian is widely spoken, especially in urban areas. Learning a few basic Russian phrases can prove helpful for communication in various situations.

Carry Local Currency:

Credit cards are not extensively accepted outside major hotels and restaurants. Exchange currency upon arrival and carry sufficient local cash, especially when traveling outside Ashgabat.

Respect Photography Restrictions:

Be mindful of photography restrictions, particularly around government buildings and military installations. Always ask permission before taking photos of people, especially women.

Stay Connected:

Internet access can be limited and subject to censorship in Turkmenistan. Consider purchasing a local SIM card for mobile data or using internet cafes if connectivity is crucial during your trip.

Pack Appropriately:

Pack modest clothing that covers shoulders and knees, especially when visiting religious sites. Bring comfortable shoes for walking and exploring historical sites.

Like this post? Please share to your friends:
Leave a Reply