Basic tips to help you prepare for your tour to Turkmenistan.
If you're contemplating a journey to the curious and very unique land of Turkmenistan, you're in the right place.
From ancient Silk Road cities to vast deserts, Turkmenistan is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. One that is particularly close in our hearts!
Known as the North Korea of Central Asia, there is more to it than this somewhat lazy comparison. As you will find out on a trip with Koryo Tours.
However, not everything is simple, and preparation is important.
As travellers to Turkmenistan for two decades, we've compiled a comprehensive guide of travel tips that will help you navigate this somewhat tricky Central Asian gem with confidence. And broken them down into just a few major points!
Hopefully, this will help to ensure your journey is as seamless and enriching as possible. Check out the chapters below and skip to the paragraph you need! 👇
Turkmenistan History & Culture
Before you set foot in Turkmenistan, make sure your visa arrangements are in order.
Turkmenistan requires visitors to obtain a visa, and the process can take some time. You need to make sure your passport has at least 6-month validity, and you will also need a Letter of Invitation.
The Letter of Invitation acts as a de facto confirmation of visa - so you can either use it to obtain a visa in advance from a Turkmenistan embassy or consulate overseas, or on arrival in the country at the airport, land border, or seaport.
Koryo Tours recommends just carrying a few copies of the LOI when flying into Ashgabat and getting the visa issued at the airport as the simplest process.
Apply well ahead of your planned travel dates to avoid any last-minute hiccups.
The official currency of Turkmenistan is the Turkmenistani Manat.
While major hotels and businesses in urban areas may accept credit cards, it's advisable to carry cash, especially if you plan to explore more remote regions. Make sure to bring enough USD with you as ATMs may not always be available and are unreliable at best when they can be located.
Familiarise yourself with the current exchange rates and exchange some currency upon arrival. However, there is also a less official exchange rate, which everyone else uses. This can be advised upon in advance and more beneficial ways to exchange money than the official channels can often be used.
So do not change money in advance. Instead, bring some low denomination USD to start with, and then local currency can be obtained at a current rate within the country.
Turkmen is the official language, but Russian is widely spoken, especially in urban areas and tourist-friendly establishments.
Learning a few basic Turkmen phrases can go a long way in building rapport with locals and enhancing your travel experience.
Start with greetings like "Salam" for hello and "Rahmet" for thank you.
Turkmenistan is a conservative country. It’s advisable to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites and rural areas.
While the dress code is more relaxed in urban centres, covering shoulders and knees is a sign of respect in many cultural contexts.
Getting around Turkmenistan requires a mix of transportation modes.
Travel with Koryo Tours and we will take care of all the longer-range travel - so you won’t need to worry about transport too much.
The country has a well-developed road network between major cities, and hiring a driver or using taxis around urban areas can be a convenient option. Alternatively, the train system connects major cities, offering a comfortable and scenic way to traverse the landscape.
Domestic flights are common but have to be booked ahead as they usually fill up.
Turkmenistan experiences extreme temperatures, with scorching summers and chilly winters.
Depending on the season of your visit, pack accordingly.
Summers can be particularly hot, so lightweight, breathable clothing and sunscreen are essential. In winter, layers and a good coat will keep you warm.
Speaking of summers and hot weather, staying hydrated is crucial.
Carry a reusable water bottle and ensure you have access to water, especially when venturing into the deserts.
Dehydration can sneak up on you, so make it a habit to drink water regularly!
While Turkmenistan's landscapes and historical sites are undoubtedly photogenic, it's essential to respect local photography rules.
Locals may not wish to be photographed.
Always ask for permission before taking photos, particularly in markets, rural areas, or when interacting with locals.
Some places may have restrictions for security or cultural reasons - mainly government ministries, police stations and sites, for anything official there are likely to be photographic rules in place.
Internet access in Turkmenistan is not as widespread as in some other countries. Frankly, it is unreliable, low quality and speed, and often functionally non-existent.
While major hotels and urban areas may offer Wi-Fi, it's wise to have a local SIM card for your phone to ensure some kind of connectivity. Especially if you plan to explore off the beaten path.
Turkmen cuisine is a delightful blend of flavours influenced by the country's nomadic history and Central Asian heritage.
Don't miss out on trying local dishes like plov, shashlik, and manti. Exploring the culinary scene is not just a treat for your taste buds but also a cultural experience in itself.
Whilst you're at the market shopping for some local food, remember that bargaining is a common practice in Turkmenistan, especially in markets.
While it's part of the cultural experience, approach it with a friendly attitude. Remember that haggling for a small discount is expected, but maintaining respect is key. As always!
Before your journey, familiarise yourself with Turkmenistan's history and cultural heritage.
Understanding the significance of landmarks and historical sites you'll encounter enriches your travel experience.
A good place to start is reading up on the Silk Road, the Parthian Empire, and Turkmen traditions to deepen your appreciation.
Turkmenistan also has a super rich culture. Respecting local customs and dress will help you to try to understand these and gain you respect from the locals, whilst engaging with local customs can deepen this understanding!
Turkmenistan, with its diverse landscapes and unique cultural nuances, may present unexpected challenges. Being flexible and open-minded allows you to embrace the adventure fully.
Whether it's a change in plans, a cultural difference, or a language barrier, maintaining a positive attitude adds to the joy of exploration.
We hope that during your preparation to visit Turkmenistan with us, the above helped outline some of the basics in terms of preparing for a trip to Turkmenistan.
If you need any more assistance in planning your Turkmenistan tour, don't hesitate to get in touch - we have been operating tours to Turkmenistan since 2005 and are well-placed to give you up-to-date, accurate, and useful tips!
From modern marble-clad Ashgabat, ancient Silk Road sites, and to the vast Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan really is a place that will leave you wanting more.