You don’t have Central Asia on your bucket list yet? You’d better change that quickly! The “5 Stan countries” Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan form an incredibly diverse and exciting region between Russia, China and Arabia.
For centuries, as part of the Silk Road, they have been an important centre of world trade, whose magnificent traces can still be seen today. What are the sights and highlights, what is a suitable route for your Central Asia tour? You can find out all that here.
What do you learn in this article?
Route for 3 weeks Central Asia round trip – Nomads & Silk Road
Central Asia in 21 days: The route at a glance
Day 1 – Bishkek
Day 2 – Burana / Tschong Kemin
Day 3 – Songköl Lake
Day 3 – Songköl Lake
Day 5 – Kotschkor
Day 6 – Yssikköl Lake, Skazka & Jeti-Oguz-Canyon
Day 7 – Karakol & Charyn Canyon
Day 8 – Almaty
Day 9 – Almaty / Duschanbe
Day 10 – Iskanderkŭl
Day 10 – Iskanderkŭl
Day 12 – Khujand
Day 12 – Khujand – Tashkent
Day 14 – Tashkent
Day 15 – Samarkand
Day 16 – Samarkand
Day 17 – Bukhara
Day 18 – Bukhara
Day 19 – Bukhara / Khiva
Day 20 – Khiva
Day 21 – Khiva
Of course you can also take the route in reverse order.
Before you start: Check here if you need a visa for the states of Central Asia with your passport.
What are the BIG5 highlights of this Central Asia route?
- The imposing mountain landscape of Tajikistan
- Travel back in time – in many regions time seems to have stood still
- Highlights off the beaten tourist tracks like Charyn Canyon
- Enjoy the beautiful landscape and vast steppe of Kyrgyzstan
- The magnificent mosques and madrasahs in Uzbekistan along the old Silk Road
How does the 3 weeks Central Asia round trip work in detail?
Central Asia Day 1 – Bishkek
On to Central Asia!
A good starting point is the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Stroll through the streets, wide parks and past brutal Soviet architecture.
The metropolis offers the right thing for all wishes and needs, be it accommodation, shopping, sightseeing or going out in the evening.
Central Asia Day 2 – Burana / Tschong Kemin
On the way to the gorges of Tschong-Kemin, you can visit the Burana Tower. The tower was probably a minaret in a much larger complex from the 10th or 11th century – and is therefore one of the oldest sights in the whole region.
Afterwards you can admire the deep gorges of the Tschong-Kemin river and the picturesque landscapes with steep green meadows and fir forests.
The place where the rivers Tschong-Kemin and Tschüi flow together is particularly impressive.
As places for overnight stays in the region, the village of Shabdan (Шабдан) or the somewhat more distant Kotschkor are suitable. If you have a little more time, Shabdan is a good starting point for further discovery tours in Chong-Kemin National Park.
You have to zoom in quite close on Google Maps to find the village.
Especially recommendable is the Ashuu Guest House.
Central Asia day 3 – Lake Songköl
Along the river we head towards the Kalmak Ashuu Pass, the gateway to Lake Songköl.
From Kotchkor the journey goes over even smaller and even bumpier tracks into the mountains. The landscape is picturesque, everything here seems so quiet and peaceful.
A special recommendation, if possible: drop off a few kilometers from the lake and hike down to the lake on foot. Cross-country over a wide meadow, a few yurts with families I have visited. Otherwise, peace and infinite vastness.
At the mountain lake at an altitude of about 3,000 metres you can experience the nomadic culture of Central Asia up close:
Together with 6-8 other travellers you will stay overnight in a real yurt, the spacious nomad tents.
There is no running water here, no real toilets, no or hardly any mobile phone reception and Wifi – well, “niet” (no).
There are also always many Kyrgyz guests, the lake is a popular destination. So if possible, you should book your accommodation early!
Central Asia Day 4 – Lake Songköl
Spend another day at the lake to enjoy the picturesque landscape and the peace and quiet.
Lake Songköl is a great place to relax. Be sure to take a good book to think about, such reading is just right for here.
A special activity in the land of horses is of course a horseback ride across the steppe – if not here, where?
The tough ones don’t come here to the garden, but to the lake: go for a refreshing swim, the lake is ice-cold even in summer due to the inflowing glacier melt water.
From my own experience I can say that strenuous activities such as football are possible, but you can feel the altitude already very clearly and the air is quickly running out.
But whatever works: relaxing at the lake. Watch large herds of horses coming to drink, isolated riders in the vastness of the country.
Central Asia day 5 – Kotschkor
Back from the high mountains we first go to Kotschkor, a small town west of Lake Yssykköl.
The town is the starting point for many trekking tours and therefore the tourist infrastructure regarding restaurants, tour operators and accommodation is quite well developed.
World famous sights? Many would say “rivet”, not really. I enjoy the authenticity of this place, there is nothing set up or specially prepared for tourists. Old Ladas, simple shops, traditional bakeries, where the bread is stuck to the wall in the wood ovens for baking. Wonderful! Go on a discovery tour yourself.
For culture lovers there is a course in making traditional felt carpets, including a meal together in a yurt afterwards.
For the overnight stay you can choose Kotschkor, or villages along the Yssikköl lake like Tamga or Tosor.
Central Asia Day 6 – Yssikköl Lake, Skazka & Jeti Oguz Gorge
The road along the Yssiköl Lake leads through a picturesque landscape: thelake on the left, the mountains on the right. And on the way there is a lot to discover:
Walk through the unique landscape of the “fairy tale gorge” Skazka, go in search of the legendary stone “Tamga Tash” with Tibetan inscription or ride from Barskoon up the picturesque Jeti Oguz gorge on the river of the same name at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters. From here you can hike to a great waterfall. Keep an eye out for the “broken heart” and the 7 bulls!
You can spend the night in the Jeti-Oguz gorge in yurts, in Barskoon or you can continue your journey to Karakol.
Especially for the various hiking destinations it is worth staying a little longer in the region.
Central Asia Day 7 – Karakol & Charyn Canyon
Karakol is a Kyrgyz city with about 70,000 inhabitants at the eastern end of the huge Yssikköl Lake
In the morning you can see snow-covered mountains from the higher houses.
As a tourist off the beaten track you will experience a special atmosphere here: Ladas and other old Soviet vehicles dominate the street scene, Cyrillic characters everywhere, typical small houses with tin roofs.
Be sure to visit the Dungan Mosque, the most famous sight of Karakol. It is a mosque, but looks like a Chinese Buddhist temple. The building was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century by Chinese religious refugees only from wood and without any connecting aids such as nails or iron.
Also worth seeing is the wooden Russian Orthodox church nearby. In Karakol you will experience an example of how different religions can live together peacefully.
If you have a little more time, you can visit the museum of the important Central Asia researcher Nikolai Przewalski, who died here in Karakol on his last research trip.
The tour continues into Charyn Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of Central Asia“. The journey over bumpy gravel roads is worth it, marvel at the bizarre rock formations in the National Park!
If you have a little more time in the region, a hike through the Kolsai Lakes National Park with its sunken forest is definitely worthwhile.
Almaty is a good place to spend the night.
Central Asia round trip day 8 – Almaty
Almaty is the former capital of Kazakhstan. Take a ride up the Kök-Töbemountain and enjoy the panoramic view over the city.
Go on a discovery tour through the wide and green streets. Worth seeing are the Ascension Cathedral, Panfilov, Independence Square, and the big market! My recommendation: stock up on cheap nuts as a snack for the next days.
If you have a little more time in Almaty it is worth a trip to the turquoise blue Almaty Lake or a visit to a falconry with a typical bird of prey show.
Central Asia Day 9 – Almaty / Dushanbe
Depending on the flight schedule and availability, the transfer between Almaty and Dushanbe will be by flight.
Tip: Depending on availability and prices of flight connections you can also travel the first part from Bishkek to Almaty in the opposite order (-> Travel to Almaty and flight transfer to Dushanbe / Tajikistan from Bishkek).
Arrived in the Tajik capital Dushanbe you can have a look at the local market or look around your district. Again, nothing is set or staged in any way for travelers, tourism in Tajikistan is still in its infancy.
Stroll through the magnificent city centre with the monument in honour of the national hero Ismail Somoni, the Rudaki Park, the Independence Monument and the huge flagpole. The Haji-Yakub Mosque is also worth seeing – a foretaste of Uzbekistan.
Recommendation for dinner: Café Galaba (Кафе галаба) with a magnificent view of the sunset and the city!
Central Asia round trip day 10 – Iskanderkŭl
The adventurous journey through the Tajik mountains begins. Through deep gorges, old tunnels and high passes, the journey takes you off the main road into a wide gorge and on to the picturesque mountain lake – named after Alexander the Great.
Are you looking for adventure off the beaten tourist track? Here you are absolutely right!
Marvel at the breathtaking landscape from numerous viewpoints. Do you dare to go over the waterfall on the Vodopad?
Central Asia Route Day 11 – Iskanderkŭl
Take exciting hikes in the lonely landscape of the Fan Mountains. See how the people here live in simple houses, far away from any big city.
In the village of Sarytag there are small shops and the many farms give you an impression of the everyday life of the locals in this remote region of Tajikistan.
Depending on your preferences you can also spend additional days here for extended hikes.
Central Asia day 12 – Khujand
Back down through the picturesque gorge and onto the main road towards Khujand. Along the road you will find many rest houses, locally called Chaikhana (tea house). Here you will surely find a cheap lunch. On the way we recommend a visit to the mosque of Istaravshan and the fortress Kal’ai Mug.
Khujand is the second largest city in Tajikistan and a magnificent station of the old Silk Road.
Not only the famous Samarkand has a majestic Registan Square – also Khujand. So, let’s go! The fortress of Khujand with its high walls and wide towers is also worth a visit.
“A market is the shop window of a country” writes travel philosopher Klaus Kufeld. In Khujand you experience Panjshanbe, the biggest market in Tajikistan. The labyrinthine alleys of the markets. Be sure to try the local delicacies fresh from the grill, oven or pot.
A short drive from Khujand is the Kairakkum Reservoir, also called the “Tajik Sea” – a sea in the middle of the desert.
Central Asia Day 13 – Khujand – Tashkent
There is really a lot to discover in Khujand, take your time for the sights you did not manage to see at the lecture. Afterwards the journey to Tashkent starts. Plan enough time for the border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, depending on the volume of traffic the controls can take longer.
Immerse yourself in the exciting capital of Uzbekistan with many sights and a great mixture of cultural heritage of the old Silk Road and modern buildings.
Central Asia Route Day 14 – Tashkent
Get an overview and enjoy the view from the television tower – the highest in Central Asia.
Visit the historic old city of Tashkent, especially the Khast-Imam complex, which is the centre of the Uzbek Muslims. Here you will get a foretaste of the days to come with the magnificent mosques and madrasahs of the old Silk Road with their magnificent decorations and bright turquoise blue domes. Here you will find the world’s oldest (!) Koran on display.
Under a big dome you will find the Chorsu Bazaar, the biggest market of Tashkent. Take your time to look around, even in the side streets.
Tashkent also offers many interesting museums, such as the Amir Timur Museum for the Mongolian warlord, or the Museum of Modern Arts with countless exhibits of Uzbek craftsmanship.
What makes travelling in Tashkent very pleasant is the easy way of getting around by metro – which is a sight in itself with its stations.
A good place for an evening drink is the bar on the top floor of the Hotel Uzbekistan.
Central Asia Day 15 – Samarkand
You can travel from Tashkent to Samarkand comfortably by express train.
In this ancient and venerable city, world-famous sights await you, especially Registan Square, THE postcard motif of Uzbekistan.
Take your time to visit the Ulug Begs Observatory, the Gur-Emir mausoleum, the bazaar and the Bibi-Chanum mosque
Afterwards relax with a cup of tea in one of the countless tea houses – a dream!
Central Asia Day 16 – Samarkand
It is best to plan another day in the wonderful Samarkand. Especially impressive is the Muslim necropolis Shohizinda.
Stroll through the city and enjoy the splendour of Registan Square again.
Central Asia day 17 – Bukhara
We continue on to Bukhara. The city was an important station of the old Silk Road and is in no way inferior to Samarkand! Especially in the Middle Ages Bukhara was the cultural and religious center of the whole region.
In the historical old town you will find countless very well preserved buildings, magnificent mosques and madrasahs, caravanserais and bazaars.
Marvel at the Bolo Hovuz Mosque, the Abdulaziz Khan Medressen, the Ark of Bukhara, the Poi Kalon with the famous minaret and many other sights in the old town of Bukhara.
The gate building Chor Minor is even on the cover of the Lonely Planet for Central Asia.
Central Asia route Day 18 – Bukhara
It’s best to plan another day, you probably haven’t seen everything yet! Enjoy a cup of tea and relax from sightseeing in the Central Asian sun.
Especially the Devonbegi basin in the city centre is a great place to do this.
Central Asia Day 19 – Bukhara / Khiva
The drive from Bukhara to Khiva takes a long time through the desert, but worth it!
Central Asia route day 20 – Khiva
One highlight chases the next: Khiva, an old oasis town on the Silk Road.
Stroll through Itchan Kala, the old town surrounded by the city wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. Everywhere in the old streets you will find the special atmosphere of the old times with caravans and traders.
Especially impressive is the madrassa Muhammad Amin Khan, the unfinished turquoise blue minaret Kalta Minor, the magnificent Tash Hauli Palace or the Pahlawan Mahmud Mausoleum.
You can imagine the old town of Khiva like a big open-air museum, everywhere there are exciting things to discover.
Central Asia Route Day 21 – Khiva
Take more time in Khiva’s picturesque Itchan Kala.
In the evening board the night train back to Tashkent, from where you will start your journey home with a lot of great memories.
Conclusion for the Central Asia round trip in 21 days
21 days is a very sporty program for Central Asia, but with a little planning in advance, the big trip through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan can be successful even without a generous holiday and time budget.
Let yourself be enchanted by a super exciting region between the old Silk Road and the wide steppe. In many places you are definitely still off the beaten tourist track – look forward to it!
What does a 21-day trip to Central Asia cost?
In general, Central Asia with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and, depending on the route, Turkmenistan, is considered to be an inexpensive travel region where you can do and experience a lot even on a small budget. Especially the further you move away from the bigger cities and tourist hotspots.
With this route suggestion you will spend about 2 days in Kazakhstan, 7 in Kyrgyzstan, 4 in Tajikistan and 8 in Uzbekistan.
Here you will find a summary of the cost estimate for your Central Asia trip:
The inner city public transport is very cheap, for example, a one-way trip with the metro in Tashkent costs only about 0.20 euros, the bus in Almaty even a little less.
For bus connections between the cities, you should plan on about 10 euros per trip, a little more for more comfortable travel.
Hitchhiking is not uncommon in Central Asia, but here too you should expect to pay 5-10 euros.
If you want to rent an all-terrain vehicle for excursions, you should calculate around 50 euros per day for a decent four-wheel drive model.
Here it depends on whether you prefer to stay in dormitories or single/double rooms. Furthermore, the location of the hotel is often decisive.
There are beds in dormitories in many places for less than 10 Euro, sometimes even less than 5 Euro. Good rooms in nice accommodations are available for 10 – 30 Euro per night, only for really very high class hotelsprices over 100 Euro are due.
For an overnight stay in a Kyrgyz yurt camp you have to calculate with 5-15 Euro, with very comfortable equipment 30-35 Euro.
The best accommodation for your needs and travel budget can be found at Booking.com or Airbnb* (get 14€ discount on your first booking).
Food & Drinks
You should plan on around 15-25 euros per day for food and drink.
A good meal in a restaurant costs no more than 10-15 euros. Snacks and takeaway meals usually cost less than 5 Euros, local fruits and vegetables less than 3.
Entrances / Excursions / Day Tours
For extensive day tours such as big trekking excursions with transfers you can count on 90-100 Euros.
Entrance fees are very reasonable for most sights such as museums or historical buildings, rarely more than 5 Euros are charged.
about 20 Euro for a SIM card and data volume
Shopping & Souvenirs
… are, of course, entirely in your hands.
Conclusion: Total costs for 21 days in Central Asia
All in all, you have to reckon with travel costs of 1,200 Euro upwards for 21 days for Central Asia on average. On top of that there are travel and visa fees. Depending on the comfort of accommodation, transport and your preference for activities, the price can rise as much as you like.
The prices for transportation, internet etc. change quickly, so I can only give a rough indication here, but the effort is too great to keep every price up to date on a daily basis. Be lenient with me 🙂
Alternative routes for a Central Asia round trip
You want to suggest your own route here? Feel free to write me at [email protected] or in the comments.
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