With its beautiful scenery, incredible architecture, fascinating history and epic journeys along ancient silk routes, Central Asia has something for everyone. The hardest thing can be choosing which of the diverse countries to visit. Below we help you decide the best places to visit in Central Asia, based on your preferences. Wild Frontiers have years of experience at arranging group tours and tailor made holidays throughout the region.
Best for breathtaking scenery
Kyrgyzstan is hard to beat in terms of breathtaking scenery. The lush Mountains of Heaven stretch across its breadth, and the landscapes of grassy steppe, primal forests and turquoise lakes make it a favourite with our travellers. Lake Son Kul, in the centre of the country, is a classic blue glacial lake, where semi nomadic people camp along the banks in the summer.
Kyrgyzstan has several mountains over 7000 metres, as well as glaciers, deserts, alpine forests, and a third of the country is permanently covered in snow. For our money this is the most beautiful of the Central Asian countries.
The warm and hospitable locals are a real highlight, and Wild Frontiers has built up strong relationships with local people in over ten years of running holidays to Kyrgyzstan. Stay in a mixture of homestays and traditional yurts, and meet with semi nomadic people and eagle hunters on our group tour or book a tailor made holiday.The natural beauty of Kyrgyzstan can also be combined with the cultural cities of Uzbekistan on our Wild Mountains, Fabled Towns tour.
Best for culture vultures
Uzbekistan is home to the region's finest Silk Road cities - Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva offer stunning Islamic architecture and a rich history. Conquerors from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan, from Huns to Turks and Arabs have held sway here over Uzbekistan's long and fascinating history and this is reflected in the wide range of influences in the region. The people here have always been more settled than nomadic, marking it out as different from its surrounding neighbours.
A key point on the ancient silk route connecting China with Western Europe, Uzbekistan's cities are home to some splendid architecture, featuring elaborately tiled mosques and minarets, fortresses and palaces. The country's golden age was under Tamerlane, who made Samarkand his capital in the 14th century and you can see his legacy in the city's impressive monuments, in particular in Registan Square. If you are a lover of culture, history and architecture, Uzbekistan is the Central Asian country for you.
Best for epic journeys:
The Chinese were the first civilisation to master the production of silk and when it became one of the world’s most valuable commodities the first “silk routes” sprang up.
From as early as 200 BC merchants from the west travelled on a hazardous journey from Kashgar across the Taklamakan Desert to Xian to trade their goods for silk, which they would bring back to the bustling markets of Kashgar, which can still be witnessed today every Sunday. Incidentally, the monopoly of China’s silk production was finally broken by monks smuggling silkworm eggs out of the country in the 6th century.
Over the years the silk road facilitated the exchange of not only goods, but also ideas, politics, religion and architecture. On our Chinese Silk Road tour explore the origins of the silk road, travelling from Xian, home to the Terracotta Warriors, to the Westernmost point of the Great Wall in Jiayaguan, where traitors were once pushed off the edge to fend for themselves in the badlands beyond the Chinese empire, through the Taklamakan Desert, visiting oasis towns, Tibetan monasteries and ancient ruins before finishing at the great trading point of Kashgar, where east meets west. This is an epic and romantic journey steeped in history and adventure.
Best for escaping the modern world
For the adventurous traveller, the Persian-speaking country of Tajikistan offers a true chance to escape the modern world; landlocked in the heart of the ‘stans’, this remote country was pretty much closed to the West for 100 years after Francis Younghusband was expelled during the Great Game in 1891.
With very little traditional tourist infrastructure, accommodation is largely with local families in guesthouses and homestays, and you can forget any thoughts of wifi or mobile phone coverage. Throw in the epic scenery of the Pamir Mountain range, the Wakhan Valley and verdant valleys and you have the perfect destination to escape the modern world.
Wild Frontiers’ Lucy travelled to Tajikistan recently: “In one village I stayed they just had one telephone, which had been broken for a month, and in another of my homestays I had to unplug the light from a car battery when I went to bed. But homestays are a brilliant way to get to know the local culture and understand the people. The mountain scenery is harsh, but then you get the contrasting splashes of bright green of the farmers’ fields in the fertile valleys.” For a true adventure amongst stunning scenery and away from the stresses of the modern world, it’s hard to beat Tajikistan.
Best for lovers of the bizarre:
Gas-rich Turkmenistan has one of the world's most bizarre capitals, Ashgabat being awash with marble-clad buildings and ostentatious monuments to its leader. Outside the capital there is a chance to see a more traditional semi-nomadic way of life in the smaller villages and close to the Iran border. The scenery ranges from desert to mountains, and there are some stunning canyons and unusual rock formations to the west.
The country is also home to the fascinating ancient silk road city of Merv, once one of the world's grandest cities until it was razed to the ground by Genghis Khan. Here you can see the remains of caravanserai and ruins dating back to the 11th century. The Darvaza Gas Crater is also one of the world's most unusual tourist destinations.
Best for challenging perceptions
Afghanistan is arguably the most important country on the Silk Road, sitting at a pivotal geographical position through which all routes had to travel. As such Afghanistan was home to some of the most impressive and important silk road cities such as Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, and over time developed as a melting pot for a myriad of cultures and creeds.
Modern Afghanistan has of course formed the basis of many a front page headline but behind those stories lies a fascinating country emerging slowly from three decades of war and instability, representing one of the most diverse and fascinating countries in the region.
Wild Frontiers offers tours to the far north east of the country, accessing through Tajikistan and into the Wakhan Corridor, as well as tours taking in the cultural side of the country, including Herat, Mazar, the Panchi Valley and Bamiyan. As the divide between the Hindu Kush and the Pamir Mountains the Wakhan Corridor is an exceptionally beautiful and peaceful region that has never been affected by the recent troubles.
This place represents a blank page as far as adventure tourism is concerned. Typically our groups will stay in small guesthouses, interacting with friendly and welcoming locals, with whom you will sit and have tea, share in picnics and observe village life on a series of guided walks.
No visit to a place like this is without risk and anyone thinking of going there should discuss with us and others the particulars of the security situation surrounding their trip. However, for those with a true sense of adventure who want to get behind the headlines of one of the most important locations in geo politics today, Afghanistan is a must.