Located in Central Asia, Turkmenistan is a country with a rich history, diverse culture, and breathtaking landscapes. From its ancient ruins to its modern architecture, Turkmenistan offers a unique blend of old-world charm and contemporary marvels. If you’re planning a trip to this lesser-explored destination, here’s everything you need to know when travelling to Turkmenistan.
Check out Turkmenistan Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know When Travelling to Turkmenistan
Visa Requirements and Entry Formalities
Before you embark on your journey to Turkmenistan, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the country’s visa requirements and entry formalities. Tourist visas are required for most visitors, and they must be obtained in advance from Turkmenistan’s embassies or consulates abroad. The process can be time-consuming, so it’s advisable to apply well in advance to ensure a smooth travel experience.
Is it hard to visit Turkmenistan?
Visiting Turkmenistan can be challenging due to the country’s strict visa requirements and limited tourism infrastructure. Turkmenistan has a complex visa process that requires travelers to obtain a Letter of Invitation (LOI) from a tour operator or sponsor in Turkmenistan, and the visa must be obtained in advance from a Turkmen embassy or consulate abroad. There are also limited flights and transportation options within the country, and English is not widely spoken, which can make communication challenging.
Additionally, Turkmenistan has a highly controlled and restricted environment, with strict regulations on photography, internet access, and freedom of speech. The government exercises strict control over media and information, and foreign visitors are expected to adhere to local customs and regulations, including strict rules on dress code and behavior in public places.
Despite these challenges, Turkmenistan can be a rewarding destination for travelers who are willing to navigate the visa process and embrace the unique cultural experiences the country has to offer. It’s important to plan ahead, work with reputable tour operators or sponsors, and be prepared to follow local laws and customs during your visit. As with any international travel, it’s advisable to research and understand the destination’s requirements and regulations before embarking on a trip to Turkmenistan.
Currency and Exchange Rates
The official currency of Turkmenistan is the Turkmenistan Manat (TMT). Cash is the primary mode of payment in most places, and credit cards are not widely accepted. It’s essential to carry sufficient cash in smaller denominations, as obtaining change for larger bills can be challenging. Exchange rates in Turkmenistan can fluctuate, so it’s advisable to check the current rates before exchanging currency.
Is Turkmenistan cheap or expensive?
Turkmenistan can be considered relatively expensive for tourists compared to other destinations in Central Asia. The cost of travel in Turkmenistan is influenced by several factors, including the limited tourism infrastructure, strict regulations, and the country’s closed economy.
Accommodation in Turkmenistan can be expensive, with limited options available for tourists. International hotels and guesthouses tend to be pricier compared to other countries in the region, and there are few budget accommodation options. Meals at restaurants can also be relatively expensive, especially in tourist areas.
Transportation within Turkmenistan can also add to the overall cost of travel. While public transportation options such as buses and trains are available, they may not be as convenient or reliable for tourists. Private transportation, such as hiring a driver or using a tour operator, can be costly.
Additionally, Turkmenistan has a closed currency system, and exchanging currency can be challenging. The official exchange rate is fixed and not reflective of the market rate, which can result in higher costs for tourists when converting foreign currency to the local Turkmen manat.
Despite the relatively higher costs, Turkmenistan does offer unique cultural experiences and attractions that may be worth the investment for adventurous travelers. It’s important to budget accordingly, plan ahead, and be prepared for the expenses associated with visiting a less touristy and more regulated destination like Turkmenistan.
Transportation and Getting Around
Turkmenistan has a well-developed transportation system, with options ranging from domestic flights to trains and buses. Ashgabat, the capital city, is well-connected by air to major cities within Turkmenistan and international destinations. Domestic flights are relatively affordable, but it’s advisable to book tickets in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.
Trains are another popular mode of transportation in Turkmenistan, offering an affordable and scenic way to explore the country. The trains are comfortable, and the routes pass through picturesque landscapes, including the famous Karakum Desert. Buses and shared taxis are also available for shorter distances, but they may not be as reliable or comfortable as other options.
Language and Communication
The official language of Turkmenistan is Turkmen, and Russian is also widely spoken. English is not widely spoken, so it’s helpful to learn some basic Turkmen or Russian phrases to communicate with locals. Having a translation app or a pocket dictionary can also be handy for communication.
Accommodation options in Turkmenistan are limited, with most hotels being government-owned. Ashgabat has a few international chain hotels, offering modern amenities and comfort. However, in other parts of the country, accommodation options may be more basic and limited in terms of facilities. It’s advisable to book accommodation in advance, especially if you’re planning to visit during the peak travel season.
Culture and Customs
Turkmenistan has a rich cultural heritage, and respecting local customs and traditions is essential. The Turkmen people are known for their hospitality and friendliness towards foreigners. However, it’s important to be mindful of the local customs and traditions, such as dress codes and social etiquette. For example, it’s customary to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites, and to seek permission before taking photographs of locals or their belongings.
Turkmenistan has several must-visit destinations that offer a unique travel experience. Here are some of the top places to explore:
- Ashgabat – The capital city of Turkmenistan is a treasure trove of modern architecture, with numerous marble-clad buildings and grandiose monuments. Highlights include the Independence Monument, the Arch of Neutrality, and the Turkmenistan Tower, offering panoramic views of the city.
- Darvaza Gas Crater – Also known as the “Door to Hell”, the Darvaza Gas Crater is a mesmerizing natural wonder that should not be missed. This large crater, filled with burning natural gas, has been burning for decades and creates a surreal and otherworldly sight, especially at night.
- Merv – This ancient city on the Silk Road is a UNESCO World Heritage site and boasts well-preserved ruins of several civilizations, including the Parthians, Sassanians, and Seljuks. The ancient city of Merv offers a fascinating glimpse into Turkmenistan’s rich history and is a must-visit for history buffs.
- Yangykala Canyons – These stunning and colorful canyons located in the western part of Turkmenistan are often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of Central Asia”. The unique geological formations, with their vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow, create a surreal and breathtaking landscape that is perfect for hiking and photography.
- Nisa – Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Nisa is an ancient Parthian city with well-preserved ruins of fortresses, palaces, and temples. The archaeological site offers insights into the ancient civilization that once flourished in the region and is a must-visit for history and archaeology enthusiasts.
- Kunya-Urgench – Located in the northern part of Turkmenistan, Kunya-Urgench is another UNESCO World Heritage site and was once an important Silk Road trading center. The site boasts impressive mausoleums, mosques, and other architectural marvels that showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage.
- Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque – Located in the coastal city of Turkmenbashi, this grand mosque is one of the largest mosques in Central Asia and is known for its exquisite architecture and design. The mosque is a significant religious and cultural landmark in Turkmenistan and offers a glimpse into the country’s Islamic heritage.
Food and Drink
Turkmen cuisine is heavily influenced by its nomadic heritage and offers a unique blend of flavors and ingredients. Traditional Turkmen dishes include hearty meat stews, grilled meats, flatbreads, and dairy products. Some popular dishes to try include palaw (rice pilaf with meat and vegetables), manti (steamed dumplings), and shashlyk (grilled meat skewers). Ayran (a salty yogurt drink) and chal (a fermented camel milk beverage) are popular local drinks to quench your thirst.
Safety and Security
Turkmenistan is generally considered a safe country for tourists, with a low crime rate. However, it’s always advisable to take standard safety precautions, such as avoiding isolated areas at night, using reputable transportation, and keeping your belongings secure. It’s also important to adhere to local laws and customs to ensure a smooth and hassle-free travel experience.
Turkmenistan may be a lesser-known destination, but it’s a country that offers unique cultural experiences, stunning landscapes, and a rich history waiting to be explored. With its ancient ruins, modern architecture, and warm hospitality of its people, Turkmenistan has much to offer to adventurous travelers. By being mindful of the visa requirements, local customs, and safety precautions, you can embark on a memorable journey through this fascinating country. So pack your bags, immerse yourself in Turkmen culture, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in Turkmenistan!