The Whimsical Turkmen Trail

The Whimsical Turkmen Trail

8 Days From



The Whimsical Turkmen Trail

8 Days Starting and ending in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Visiting: Ashgabat, Darvaza Gas Crater - "Door to Hell", Dashoguz, Köneürgench, Mary, Gonur Tepe, Merv

Tour operator:

Crooked Compass

Tour code:


Guide Type:

Fully Guided

Group size:

2 - 12

Physical rating:


Special diets catered:


Tour operated in:


Trip Styles:

Small Group



Private Available:

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From: $2828 $2739 Mid-Year Mayhem Discount: -$89

NB: Prices correct on 16-Jul-2024 but subject to change.

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Tour Overview

Camp next to the 'Doorway to Hell'Explore ancient bazaars brimming with handicrafts and livestockHead underground to Kowata Underground LakeLearn about the mythology associated with Akhalteke horsesVisit one of the worlds oldest settlements, MargianaDiscover the ancient city of MervBy far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asia’s 'stans, Turkmenistan became famous for the truly bizarre dictatorship of Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled as ‘Turkmenbashi’ (‘leader of the Turkmen’) until his death in 2006.

Niyazov covered this little-known desert republic with grandiose monuments and golden statues of himself. Although many of these statues have since been dismantled, plenty of visitors still think of Turkmenistan as a sort of totalitarian theme park. But the least-visited of Central Asia’s countries is far more than this – it's an ancient land of great spirituality, tradition and natural beauty.

The ancient cities of Merv and Konye-Urgench inspire visions of caravans plodding along the ancient Silk Road, while the haunting beauty of the Karakum desert and other quirky natural phenomena are equally mesmerising. The full Turkmen experience is ultimately about mingling with the warm and fascinating people themselves, whose hospitality is the stuff of legend.


  • Camp next to the ‘Doorway to Hell’

  • Explore ancient bazaars brimming with handicrafts and livestock

  • Head underground to Kowata Underground Lake

  • Learn about the mythology associated with Akhalteke horses

  • Visit one of the worlds oldest settlements, Margiana

  • Discover the ancient city of Merv


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Day 1 : Arrival In Ashgabat

Location: Ashgabat

Accommodation: Hotel

Accommodation Name: Sport Hotel or similar

Welcome to Turkmenistan! On arrival in Ashgabat, you will be met by your driver and transferred to your hotel. Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan is known for its white marble buildings and grand natural monuments. Set off to explore Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan that has recently been noted by the Guinness Book of World Records as having more white marble buildings than any other city in the world. During your city tour, you will explore the archaeological site of Old Nissa (a UNESCO World Heritage listed site) Nissa is described as one of the first capitals of the Parthians. It was founded by Arsaces I (reigned c. 250 BC – 211BC), and reputedly the royal necropolis of the Parthian Kings, although it has neither been established that the fortress at Nissa was a royal residence or a mausoleum.

Later this afternoon, enjoy an Ashgabat city tour. In 2013 the Guinness Book of Records named Ashgabat the “white marbled city” – here you can see the biggest number of structures in the world made out of white marble. You will see the Presidential Palace, Ruhyyet Palace, Wedding Palace,

modern “Yildyz” Hotel, the ferries wheel, Constitution Monument, Arch of Neutrality, Monument and park of Independence, Ertogrul Gazy Mosque, Ashgabat Sports and Housing facilities, the Earthquake and victims of WWII Monuments.

Day 2 : Ashgabat To Darvaza

Location: Ashgabat, Darvaza Gas Crater - "Door to Hell"

Accommodation: Camp

Accommodation Name: Camping

Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner

This morning, drive to Altyn Asyr, the Oriental Bazar, located 20km to the north of Ashgabat. It is one of the largest open bazaars in the world filled with colourful rugs, jewellery, carpets, silk and national Turkmen costumes as well as livestock.

In the late afternoon, depart for Darvaza gas crater located in the middle of Karakum desert. Known as the ‘Door to Hell’, expect 280 km of desert sands with the journey taking about 4 hours. The Darvaza area is rich in natural gas. While drilling in 1971, Soviet geologists tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a large hole with a diameter of 70 metres. To avoid poisonous gas discharge, it was decided the best solution was to burn it off. Geologists had hoped the fire would use all the fuel in a matter of days, but the gas is still burning today. En-route we cross Karakum desert, will make a stop in the small desert village of Bokhurdag. In the evening, watch the spectacular and fascinating view of the gas crater flame away into the remoteness of the Karakum desert.

Enjoy a delicious BBQ dinner near the burning crater. At night, in an empty desert with only the stars for company, red light emanates from the ground in the distance, and a distant rumble presages the crater. Shooting flames and fireballs cross its crater, like a volcano – the crater must be viewed at night for full effect. In the morning, wake up to a desert sunrise.

Day 3 : Darvaza To Dashoguz

Location: Darvaza Gas Crater - "Door to Hell", Dashoguz

Accommodation: Hotel

Accommodation Name: Local hotel

Meals Included: Breakfast

After enjoying your camp-style breakfast, before driving to Dashoguz. Known for its rich history and cultural heritage, Dashoguz offers a glimpse into Turkmenistan’s ancient past. Your afternoon here is at leisure. Why not head out and explore? One of the prominent sites in the city is the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, a medieval Seljuk ruler. This architectural marvel showcases intricate tile work and stands as a testament to the region’s historical significance. The Dashoguz Regional Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the area’s heritage, displaying artifacts and exhibits that highlight the cultural and archaeological treasures of Turkmenistan.

Day 4 : Dashoguz – Kunya Urgench

Location: Dashoguz, Köneürgench

Accommodation: Hotel

Accommodation Name: Local hotel

Meals Included: Breakfast

Following breakfast, visit the local bazaar before continuing on to Kunya Urgench. This was one of the strongest medieval empires in Central Asia. From 995 when Gurgandzh was the capital of Horezmshakh state and the second-largest and important after Bukhara – a diamond crown of Samanid, this city has preserved its magnificent architectural monuments – il Arslan and khorezmshakh Tekesh mausoleums dated the 12th century. Enjoy a sightseeing tour of the city. Especially significant are the 14th century monuments of Keneurgench are Tyurabek-khanym with a mosaic panel on the inner side of the dome which is considered a masterpiece of Oriental art which has no analogues in entire medieval architecture and the grandiose 60-metre Kutlug-Timur the highest in the Central Asia.

Day 5 : Dashoguz – Ashgabat

Location: Dashoguz, Ashgabat

Accommodation: Hotel

Accommodation Name: Sport Hotel or similar

Meals Included: Breakfast

Following breakfast, transfer to the local airport for your flight back to Ashgabat. On arrival, drive to Kowata Underground Lake which is located 107 km from Ashgabat. The Turkmen name Kow-Ata means “father of caves”. This underground area seems like a magnificent auditorium: the overall length of the cave is 230 m, its height reaches 20 m, and its width is at some points 57 m. The bottom of the cave is covered with lumps of dissolved limestone (stalagmites), and its warm and gushing water is clear and emerald in colour. The water has a constant temperature of 33-37°C. For those feeling game, you can swim in the lake!

Continuing on, drive to Gokdepe fortress which was attacked in December 1880 by the Russian Empire Army. The siege of Gokdepe lasted 23 days, after which the city was taken by storm. Visit Geokdepe Mosque (Saparmyrat Hajy) which was built in 1995 to commemorate the defeat and is noted for its mint-turquoise blue coloured roof and white marble structure.

From here, your next stop is a visit to a horse farm where you will see the national pride of the Turkmen people – Akhalteke horses, the most impressive horses in the world (according to the locals). 5000 years ago, Turkmens began to breed Akhalteke horses. The world’s most unique breed was never mixed with other breeds. Such illustrious Emperors like Alexander the Great and Darius I desired to own Ahalteke horses. There are over 35 beautiful horses in the farm. Per superstition, every sick person who touches an Ahalteke horse will get well soon.

Drive to visit Turkmenbashy Ruhy Mosque in Kipchak, the largest mosque in Central Asia.

Day 6 : Ashgabat – Mary – Gonurdepe – Mary

Location: Ashgabat, Mary, Gonur Tepe, Mary

Accommodation: Hotel

Accommodation Name: Mary Hotel or similar

Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before transferring to the airport for your flight to Mary. On arrival, drive to Gonurdepe. Gonurdepe was the capital of Margush (Margiana) country that occupied an area of more than 3000 sq. km and consisted of 78 oasis and more than 150 compact settlements. The American newspaper “Boston Globe,” wrote that “we had known about the four oldest centres of the world’s civilization: Egypt, India, China and Mesopotamia, and now due to the fantastic results of the Margiana expedition, it is quite possible to think that there was another, the fifth centre”. Return to Mary.

Day 7 : Mary – Merv – Ashgabat

Location: Mary, Merv, Ashgabat

Accommodation: Hotel

Accommodation Name: Sport Hotel or similar

Meals Included: Breakfast

This morning you will drive to Merv to explore the ancient city. “Queen of the world”, was one of the most important capitals of Islam along with Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus.

Merv is a mesmerising archaeological site that holds immense historical significance. Once a thriving oasis city along the Silk Road, Merv was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the world during its prime. Its ruins, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stand as a testament to its glorious past.

Exploring Merv, step back in time and witness the remnants of ancient civilisations. The site showcases impressive architectural wonders, including well-preserved city walls, majestic palaces, and stunning mosques. The Great Kyz Kala, a fortress-like structure, and the strikingly beautiful Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum are among the highlights of Merv.

As you wander through the ancient streets, you can imagine the bustling markets and vibrant cultural exchanges that once took place here. The historical significance of Merv extends beyond its architectural marvels, as the city played a pivotal role in the development of trade, art, and culture along the Silk Road.

Merv stands as a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of past civilizations, offering a captivating glimpse into Turkmenistan’s rich heritage and captivating history. Drive to Mary city and transfer to the airport for your flight back to Ashgabat.

Day 8 : Departure

Location: Ashgabat

Meals Included: Breakfast

This morning is yours at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward flight.

What's Included

  • Letter of Invitation

  • Registration in Ashgabat city

  • 7 nights accommodation

  • Services of an English speaking guide

  • Private transportation

  • Entrance fees as per the program

  • Domestic flights Dashoguz-Ashgabat, Ashgabat – Mary-Ashgabat – economy class

  • Breakfast daily

  • Dinner at Darwaza Crater

  • Bottle of water per person per day

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What's Not Included

  • International and domestic air tickets not mentioned above

  • Early check-in and late check out charges from the hotel

  • Meals and beverages not mentioned above

  • Visas

  • Personal travel insurance

  • Expenditure of a personal nature such as drinks, souvenirs, laundry, tipping etc

Check out our Q&As

  • Are flights included in this tour?

    Domestic flights Dashoguz-Ashgabat, Ashgabat – Mary-Ashgabat – economy class are included.

  • Is there any free time to explore places during the tour?

    As detailed in itinerary.

  • Are the local guides on the tour English speaking?

    Yes, Services of English-speaking local guide on this tour.

  • What is the fitness level required to do this tour?

    This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.

    Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.

  • Are all entrance fees included in the price?

    Yes, Entrance fees as per the program are included.

  • What is the minimum group size?

    The min group size is 2 people.

  • Will the accommodation included meet local health and safety regulations?

    Yes. Focusing on providing authentic experiences where ever you are in the world, Crooked Compass has access to a vast array of accommodation styles. From boutique properties in larger cities to local guest houses and home stays within small villages. Crooked Compass ensures that local authenticity flows through your accommodation throughout your tour without compromising standard.

  • What sort of transportation is used for your tours?

    Transportation utilised on a Crooked Compass escorted small group tour is a combination of a private air conditioned vehicle and local transport where appropriate. This may include a local bus ride, use of the cities metro system, a domestic flight to another city or overnight train ride.

  • What Ethical Travel credentials does the tour company have?

    Crooked Compass strives to be a leader in sustainable tourism. Crooked Compass is firmly committed to the principles of ethical travel. Our comprehensive Sustainable Tourism Practices policy summarises our commitments and actions. Although the very basis of our ground operations lends itself to the ethos of sustainable tourism, this policy re-iterates our commitment to: Use locally owned hotels Use locally owned ground agents Use local guides and drivers Promote community tourism projects from homestays to craft shops Support charities that work within the destinations that we travel to Carbon offset our travels

  • Who runs your tours and are they experts in their fields?

    Crooked Compass works with the worlds best operators who are specialists in their country, region and cities providing you with in depth local knowledge. We use local guides who live and breathe the areas they work in, making sure you experience their region, their way. We believe it is far better to have a local guide who knows a lot about a little than a text book trained Western tour guide who knows a little about a lot. Using local guides also ensures that money stays within local communities and supports the regions we visit.

  • What can I expect from a Crooked Compass tour that I wouldn't get from travelling with an alternative company?

    Crooked Compass provides a sensory way to understand the world – we help you live like a local, eat like a local, do what the locals do and seek the faces behind the places whilst discovering untouched lands and natural beauty. Crooked Compass tours delve deep into the heart and soul of a destination ensuring you get out of your journey all you intended and much, much more. Our intriguing itineraries have been created by travellers for travellers. Steering travellers to follow a different path, Crooked Compass’ itineraries allow you to experience the world’s most fascinating destinations in ways you never dreamed possible. It brings to life those ‘bucket list’ experiences you have yearned to do and separates the travellers from the tourists. Crooked Compass tours are culturally rich, reward travellers with unexpected encounters and uncommon rendezvous, creating truly unique, authentic travel experiences.

  • Who do your tours cater for?

    Crooked Compass escorted small group tours cater for those who are well travelled seeking the what’s next and what’s new. Our travellers are curious minded soft adventurers who want to uncover something more than the mainstream tourist trail. Crooked Compass tours draw travellers with an interest in sustainable tourism and conservation for the areas they visit. A Crooked Compass traveller is someone who is seeking something fresh and unique, who has a yearning for authenticity and discovery, with an appreciation for cultures, tradition and the natural world. We call them Cultural Purists.

  • I am concerned about my impact on travelling through untouched regions. Can I offset?

    Yes. All travellers on Crooked Compass tours have the option to offset their part of their tour’s carbon footprint by donating $4AUD (tax-deductible) at time of booking. 100% of these funds are donated to Greenfleet, an environmental non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting our climate by restoring our forests. By partnering with Greenfleet, we are confident that our carbon offset program provides genuine and lasting environmental benefits. Your offset donation funds plant trees and restore permanent native forests in Australia and New Zealand. As they grow, these forests provide many community and environmental benefits by absorbing carbon emissions, protecting our unique biodiversity, restoring habitat for native wildlife, preventing soil salinity and erosion, improving water quality and much more. If you’d like to find out more and offset the rest of your carbon emissions, visit

Reviews of this operator

Jeff Rehn  

A wonderful trip to Saudi Arabia organised by Crooked Compass


A wonderful trip to Saudi Arabia organised by Crooked Compass. Considering the country is just opening up to tourism everything went very well - flights, trips, transfers, guides and accommodation - thank you CC - highly recommended

Pauline Mavis Rusby  

We were kept safe at all times.


We were kept safe at all times. When unexpected hurdles appeared they were handled without fuss. Our tour was informative, picturesque and comfortable.

Tina Watts-Seale  

Family holiday to Vietnam


We booked a family holiday to Vietnam with Crooked Compass and it was perfect. The booking process was easy and Lisa took all of our requests on board so that the trip was exactly what we wanted. All flights, transfers, accommodations, guides and activities were fantastic, with great communication throughout the whole trip. Would highly recommend, we will be booking again soon!


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    Crooked Compass requires a minimum deposit of 20% or the full booking value, whichever is less, with the final balance not due until 60 days before departure.

  • Cancellation Policy

    We don't charge a cancellation fee, here is a summary of crooked compass charges.

    Up to 61 days before tour starts: Forfeit 100% of deposit.

    At 60 days before tour starts: Forfeit 100% of booking price.

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