Not many travellers have places like Bishkek on their list – their loss! To crack the ancient Silk Road, you’ve got to leave the tourist trail in the rear-view mirror.. See the curious residue of severe Soviet-era architecture in Tashkent, where even the metro stations are fitted out with chandeliers and marble arches.. Grab a beer with the locals in the restaurant car of the overnight train to Almaty, watching the vast steppe glide past from the window.. Get a taste of nomadic life when you spend the evening in a yurt camp on the edge of the world’s second-largest alpine lake in the world, Issyk-Kul.
Imagine snow-capped mountains, cities that rise gleaming from the desert, epic canyons and massive blue-tiled mosques that match the colour of deep alpine lakes. Then imagine the once legendary stories of silk road all come to life here. On this journey through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan you’ll discover the beauty, history and overwhelming hospitality of Central Asia. From lakeside yurt to homestay, this tour immerses you in local life and reveals the best and brightest of the ancient Silk Road.
Breakfast Included: 6 Lunches Included: 2 Dinner Included: 5
Salemetsiz be! Welcome to Almaty, Kazakhstan! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm at your accommodation. With the formalities out of the way, head out with your new travel buddies and your leader for a welcome dinner and get your first taste of this once nomadic country.
Hit the road and head east on the 4-hour drive to Charyn Canyon. The incredible formations of this canyon are total photo fodder, and you’ll arrive with time to explore. Lace up your hiking boots and head out in search of the perfect rock to sit on and soak it all up. There should be enough time to walk into the valley below, a four-kilometre trek that takes about an hour or two. Ask you leader for advice on which trail to follow and make sure you’re back in time to watch the sunset over the red canyon. Your accommodation this evening will be a simple yurt or bungalow and the sky is made for stargazing.
KAZ/KGZ Border Crossing - Karakol - Issyk-Köl
Continue south and cross the border into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Stop en route in Karakol (3.5 hours) to grab a bite and visit a few local highlights. Visit the Holy Trinity Cathedral, built in 1872 without a single nail, and Dungan Mosque, built in a shape of pagoda. Continue south to a yurt camp on the shore of Issyk-Köl – the second-largest alpine lake in the word. The views along the way are incredible, and watching the massive lake surrounded by mountains come into view is a heartstopper. Settle into your yurt camp and get a feel for classic nomad life, enjoying the peace of the water and taking in expansive views of the night sky.
Your morning is as clear as the mountain air! Maybe do some sunbathing by the lake or take a dip (weather depending, of course). In the afternoon, jump in your private vehicle for a 5-hour drive to Bishkek. The capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek is an evergreen city. Parks and boulevards filled with century-old oaks line the streets. You’ll have time to explore tomorrow, so this evening you might want to kick back in your accommodation, or ask your leader for some restaurant recommendations.
Take a guided tour of this lush, laidback city. Walking around Bishkek is kind of like going back in time, with the architecture showcasing the country's fascinating history. For example, the centre of the city is Ala-too Square, which was known as Lenin Square in the Soviet era. Lenin used to stand in in the middle, proudly gesturing towards the mountains. After your tour, a great place to explore on your own is Dubovy (Oak) Park, where you'll find a few open-air cafes perfect for people watching. If you’re feeling brave Osh Market is noisy, crowded, and a perfect peek into a different side of local life.
Get set for a full day of driving though big, beautiful landscapes. As the roads in Kyrgyzstan see little regular maintenance even short distances on a map can take hours. We think it’s all part of the adventure, but it can be tiring. The road crosses the Suusamyr Valley – a high steppe plateau where the mountainous, lush surroundings are often photogenically dotted with yurts. Follow the Chychkan river that cuts through the Tien Shan range to your accommodation on the shore of Toktogul Reservoir at Kök-Bel. On arrival put your feet up or take a swim in the water, and don't be surprised if you are asked by the hospitable locals to join them in their picnic by the water.
Prepare for another day on the road to Osh, which is 350 kilometres from the reservoir. The drive is the perfect occasion to break out the massive book you packed (just in case) or the podcasts you’ve been saving. Your private vehicle should roll into Osh in the afternoon, after which you’re free to explore the second-largest city in Kyrgyzstan. Osh is often referred to as the 'Capital of the South' and has a history that dates to the BC 500. Despite being independent since 1991, remnants of the Soviet era still decorate the city.
Osh - KGZ/UZB Border Crossing - Tashkent
Rise and shine, there’s a lot to pack in before we leave Osh. First up is a visit to the only World Heritage site in Kyrgyzstan – Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain, also known as Solomon’s Throne. For centuries Silk Road travellers have sought out the mountain’s caves and their petroglyphs in the belief that they would be blessed with longevity. Return to Osh and visit the Jayma Bazaar, where you can pick up snack or a souvenir. Take a guided tour of the city’s Soviet past with a walk to the massive Lenin statue that still stands opposite Osh’s city hall. Hop back in your private vehicle and begin the border crossing into Uzbekistan at around midday. After passing through the border (approximately 1—2 hours), transfer to the station and board a local train bound for Tashkent (approx. 5.5 hrs). You’ll arrive in Tashkent in the evening, where you’ll probably be ready to rest after a huge day.
Transfer to the station for the high-speed train to Samarkand (approximately 2 hours). Located at the very centre of the ancient Silk Road, Samarkand is steeped in Central Asian history. Visit the blue-tiled buildings of the Registan on arrival. Hundreds of years ago this was the trading center on the silk road and the center of social life in the city. Afterwards, enjoy some free time in Samarkand with some guidance on where to go from your leader. Perhaps check out the impressive Shah-i-Zinda necropolis. This elaborate cemetery has monuments from the 14th and 15th centuries that reflect how art and architecture developed under the Timurid dynasty. Photo opportunities lie around every corner and on every pillar. In the evening you have the opportunity to visit a local family to watch them whip up some plov – the Central Asian rice dish you might have already fallen in love with.
Use your morning in Samarkand to explore further and then return to Tashkent by high-speed train in the afternoon (approximately 2 hours). The rest of your day is free for you to explore Tashkent at your own pace. If yesterday’s trip to the Registan sparked your interest in the major players of the Timurid dynasty, you might want to check out the State History Museum of the Timurids. If you’re into artefacts, you can gaze on the world’s oldest (allegedly) Qur’an in the Moyie Mubarek Library Museum. The best museum for an overview of the country’s history is the unsurprisingly named History Museum of the People of Uzbekistan, where you can find information on ancient settlements, learn about the development of Zoroastrianism and learn about Russia’s conquest and subsequent overthrowing.
Tashkent - UZB/KAZ Border Crossing - Shymkent
A tour of the metro might not sound like much, but you haven’t seen the absurdly beautiful underground stations of Tashkent yet. With design that flits between ballrooms and what can only be described as a futuristic city of Atlantis, the metro system is a photographer’s dream. How lucky for you then that the ban on photography here was lifted in 2018, meaning you can snap and pose to your heart’s content. Next up is the Chorsu Bazaar, where the epic domed roof houses Uzbek market classics – bags of spices, great snacks, and little trinkets characteristic of the area . Maybe stock up for the train later. Speaking of the train, you’re boarding in the afternoon and travelling back to Kazakhstan. Arrive in Shymkent in the late afternoon.
Sayram-Ugam National Park - Overnight Train
Leave the urban behind for the spoils of nature on a day trip to Sayram-Ugam National Park (approximately 1.5 hours). You’ve seen the mountains of Kazakhstan from afar. Now it’s time to tackle them yourself. Enjoy trail walking through pristine wilderness along the Sayrum Su River, walking upstream to the ice-blue waters of Kol-Suu Lake. Keep an eye out along the way for wildlife like foxes, wolves and wild boar – all present in the park, though rare. Refuel with a picnic near the glacial Kol-Suu and then return to Shymkent. In the evening hop on the overnight train to Almaty. Enjoy beers in restaurant car and watch the world go by with the locals.