To say that Asia is such a massive region of the world, most of the centre of it gets forgotten in terms of travel – this is a huge mistake! Central Asia is becoming more and more accessible, and offers one of the best off the beaten track travel experiences on the planet. Friendly locals, a true nomadic experience, stunning scenery, unspoilt landscapes, and differing cultures as you pass through countries, Central Asia is certainly a region to put on your must visit list.
Despite that, Central Asia is shrouded in a little mystery, and you probably don’t know many people who have been. If this region shouts out to your inspiration, here’s a few pointers on where you should go, what you should do, and how you should do it.
When to go
Most of Central Asia is mountainous, which obviously means snow and very cold temperatures in winter. Despite that, most of Central Asia is also quite desert-like, which means boiling hot temperatures in summer! You might think you can’t win, so it’s generally a case of personal preference in terms of temperature; despite that, the general advice is to avoid the depths of winter. Bear in mind that July and August are the hottest months.
Perhaps the reason not that many people have been to Central Asia is because of the paperwork and red tape. Thankfully this is easing somewhat, and Kyrgyzstan is visa free nowadays, which is a true blessing. Basically it’s a case of checking your individual requirements online with your embassy before you go. If you’re heading into Tajikistan and the Pamir mountains, you will also need to obtain a permit on top of your visa.
Where to go
Basically, Central Asia is made up of The Stans – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. All of these particular countries have highlights, and some are easier to navigate than others. Let’s look at each briefly in turn.
Turkmenistan – This is probably one of the hardest to get around, but worth it if you put some effort into it. One of the most jaw-dropping sights you will see if the Darvaza Gas Crater, which is constantly on fire. On top of this, the capital city of Ashgabat is great fun, and the Tolkuchka market is the largest open air market in the region.
Uzbekistan – One of the easier Stans to get around, thanks to the former Silk Road. The markets in Bukhara still feel like they probably did years ago, with a very authentic vibe, again all part of the historic trading route of years gone by.
Kazakhstan – if you want hiking opportunities then head to the Tian Shan Mountains in Kazakhstan. If you love stars, head to Kosmostancia and join the astronomers. Big Almaty Lake is jaw-dropping, and basically you’re looking at scenery that will blow your mind when you head here.
Kyrgyzstan – We mentioned that you don’t need a visa to get into Kyrgyzstan, and it’s also very easy to get around. The country is 90% mountainous, which lends itself to amazing scenery, with plenty of hiking trails, nomadic villages, and extremely welcoming and friendly people. Song Kul Lake is a definite highlight. If you want to connect with locals and learn about tradition then this is probably the best Stan to head to.
Tajikistan – Finally, we have Tajikistan, which is a little stricter in terms of dress code and etiquette, due to its Persian origin. This means you get to experience a totally different type of culture and many different traditions to the neighbouring Stans. The Pamir Highway Road is probably one of the most epic journeys you will ever take, passing sights such as the 12th century Yamchun Fort.
If Central Asia is calling to you, perhaps it’s time you listened.
Photo Credit: Dave Proffer