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Istanbul to Bishkek

Asia is the continent where overlanding all started, and Dragoman has been the leading operator there since our first trucks went through in the 1980s - take advantage of our years of experience and come with us as we include all the must-see attractions as well as heading into the wilds, well away from the usual tourist trail. Starting in the magnificent historic city of Istanbul, we overland to the magical land of Cappadocia and to the breathtaking ancient monastery of Sumela. We then head to the wonderful country of Georgia and discover the ancient city of Kutaisi and Stalin's birthplace of Gori before arriving in the delightful capital, Tbilisi. From Tbilisi we journey to the Georgian wine regions of Telavi, before crossing into Azerbaijan and discovering its charming towns and ancient petroglyphs. After an adventurous ferry crossing over the Caspian Sea, we arrive in the reclusive desert land of Turkmenistan, visiting the Kow-Ata underground lake en route to the bizarre capital city of Ashgabat. From Ashgabat we cross the deserts of Turkmenistan via the Darvaza gas crater to reach the phenomenal land of Uzbekistan. We visit the astonishing ancient cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, and enjoy a yurt stay in the incredible Kyzylkhum Desert before arriving at the pleasant capital city, Tashkent. From Tashkent we will venture into the truly breathtaking lands of the fertile Fergana Valley, and head into the mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan. We will fully explore the breathtaking scenery, stay in local homestays and yurt camps, and take advantage of the phenomenal trekking opportunities in this incredible country on a flexible itinerary, before heading for the beautiful city of Bishkek. Join us on this unforgettable epic overlanding experience on the Silk Road!

  • Duration: 54 Days
  • Guaranteed Departure: Yes
  • For lovers of:
  • Physical rating: Demanding
  • Accommodation standard:   Budget%
  • Traveller Tour Rating: 0%  
  • Your Guide: English speaking
  • Tour code: 158026
  • Starts: Istanbul, Turkey
  • Finishes: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
You will Visit
  • Istanbul
  • Göreme
  • Sumela
  • Batumi
  • Kutaisi
  • Gori
  • Mtskheta
  • Stepantsminda
  • Tbilisi
  • Telavi
  • Lagodekhi
  • Sheki
  • Gobustan
  • Baku
  • Caspian Sea
  • Turkmenbashi
  • Geok Tepe
  • Ashgabat
  • Darvaza
  • Kunye Urgench
  • Khiva
  • Bukhara
  • Nurata
  • Samarkand
  • Tashkent
  • Fergana Mountains
  • Fergana City
  • Fergana Valley
  • Arslanbob
  • Kyrgyz Fergana Valley
  • Song Köl Lake
  • Kochkor
  • Jeti Oguz Valley
  • Karakol
  • Chong Kemin Valley
  • Cholpon Ata
  • Bishkek

Itinerary

01

Day 1: Istanbul

Border Information: if joining in Istanbul, you will most likely enter Turkey at Istanbul Atat rkAirport.

There will be a pre-departure meeting at 10:00am - on arrival please look out for a note from your leader with more information about this important meeting. If you are travelling beyond Tbilisi, your tour leader will need to carefully check your visa situation for your entire trip.

The afternoon will be free to explore the many sights of the incredible exotic city of Istanbul, including the Brand Bazaar, the Bosphorous River and the phenomenal Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia!

In Istanbul we will stay in dorm accommodation in a fantastic hostel with good facilities, which is a 5 minute walk from the Blue Mosque.

Please note that some of the optional activities listed below will only be possible if you have extra time in Istanbul before the start of the trip.

*Important note - do not bring any medicines containing tramadol, codeine, temazepam, morphine or opiates to Central Asia. These are illegal in all circumstances in most of Central Asia and you will risk arrest. If in doubt about a particular medicine, please do not bring it. See the notes at the bottom for more details.*

02

Day 2: Göreme

Today we start our journey with a full day's drive east to Göreme, a small enchanting town in the heart of the Cappadocia mountains.

In Göreme, we will stay in a well-equipped hostel - please note that dorm beds are sometimes used here.

Estimated Drive Time - 11-12 hours (please note that all drive times given here are the approximate number of hours that the truck will be in motion only, and does not include any time taken for coffee or lunch stops, border crossings, photo stops, activities en route, comfort breaks, shopping stops, toilet stops, etc. The times given are approximate estimates only and whilst given with the best of intentions, the drive times are heavily dependent on traffic, road conditions, weather, police roadblocks, and many other factors - flexibility is essential on any overland trip!).

03

Day 3-4: Göreme

We now have a 2 full days to explore Göreme, including a guided tour of the enchanted valley of Cappadocia. There will be an opportunity for a magical optional balloon ride over the valley during our time here.

04

Day 5:

Today we continue our journey east with a full day's drive towards the Sumela monastery.

We will break the journey with a wild camp near Zara or the village of Alucra.

Estimated Drive Time - 9 hours.

05

Day 6: Sumela

Today we will reach the awe-inpsiring Sumela Monastery near the town of Macka, which we will visit in the afternoon.

We will camp overnight in a campsite near Sumela if conditions allow. In cold weather we may opt to stay in a local hotel in Macka or Trabzon.

Estimated Drive Time - 5 hours.

06

Day 7: Batumi

Border Information: Exit Turkey at Sarp, enter Georgia at Sarpi.

This morning we will continue to the border and cross into Georgia, reaching the port town of Batumi.

In Batumi we will stay in a comfortable hotel.

Estimated Drive Time - 7 hours.

07

Day 8: Kutaisi

After a relaxing morning, we leave the port town of Batumi behind us and make our way to the ancient town of Kutaisi. This afternoon we will visit the medieval Bragrati cathedral and the Gelati monastery.

In Kutaisi we will stay in a local hotel or a family-run guesthouse.

Estimated Drive Time - 6 hours.

08

Day 9: Gori

This morning is free to explore the charming town of Kutaisi. This afternoon we make our way to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin - here we will have a guided tour of the city and the Stalin Museum.

We will then continue on to the ancient UNESCO world heritage site of Mtskheta where we will stay overnight in a local guesthouse.

Estimated Drive Time - 5 hours.

09

Day 10: Stepantsminda

This morning we will explore the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

This afternoon we have a beautiful drive to the spectacularly located town of Kazbegi.

Either this afternoon or tomorrow morning, we will take a trek up to the Tsminda Sameba Church (the Church of the Holy Trinity), a beautiful small church nestled in the mountains.

In Kazbegi we will stay in a local hotel or family-run guesthouse.

Estimated Drive Time - 5 hours.

10

Day 11: Tbilisi

We spend this morning in and around Kazbegi, where we can trek to the Tsminda Sameba Church if we haven't done so already.

This afternoon we will drive to Georgia's capital Tbilisi.

Estimated Drive Time - 4 hours.

11

Day 12: Tbilisi

Today will be a free day in Tbilisi to relax and freely explore the city, or take an optional city tour where we can visit the old town, the National Museum, Sioni Cathedral and the Metekhi Temple.

12

Day 13: Tbilisi

Border Information: if joining in Tbilisi, you will most likely enter Georgia at Tbilisi International Airport (IATA code: TBS).

There will be a pre-departure meeting at 6:00pm - please meet at the joining hotel reception at this time. Please do not be alarmed if there is no note from you leader on arrival, as this is often a travelling day for the crew and they will not arrive until about 4:00pm. Your leader will need to carefully check your visas at this initial meeting.

Please note that many of the options listed below will only be possible for those with extra time in Tbilisi before the start of your trip with us - please contact the Sales team if you would like to book pre-tour accommodation with us to have extra time exploring Tbilisi.

In Tbilisi we will stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.

*Important note - any tobacco products are practically illegal in Turkmenistan, so please do not bring them or use them in Turkmenistan. Also please do not bring any medicines containing tramadol, codeine, temazepam, morphine or opiates to Central Asia. These are illegal in all circumstances in most of Central Asia and you will risk arrest. If in doubt about a particular medicine, please do not bring it. See the notes at the bottom for more details.*

13

Day 14: Tbilisi

Today we will visit the old town of Tbilisi and visit sites including the National Museum, Sioni Cathedral and the Metekhi Temple.

We will have a second night in our comfortable local hotel in Tbilisi.

14

Day 15: Telavi

This morning we will drive to the Alazani valley and on to Telavi, where we will base ourselves for 2 days to explore this fascinating region. We will have a free afternoon to explore the area on arrival.

In Telavi we will stay in a local family-run guesthouse.

Estimated Drive Time - 2-4 hours (please note that all drive times given here are the approximate number of hours that the truck will be in motion only, and does not include any time taken for coffee or lunch stops, border crossings, photo stops, activities en route, comfort breaks, shopping stops, toilet stops, etc. The times given are approximate estimates only and whilst given with the best of intentions, the drive times are heavily dependent on traffic, road conditions, weather, police roadblocks, and many other factors - flexibility is essential on any overland trip!).

15

Day 16: Telavi

The area of Telavi is well known for its vineyards and wineries - there are hundreds of different grapes grown here, and every village has its own particular variety. We will visit some of the local vineyards today, where we can hopefully see some of the local traditions including grape harvesting and wine making, and enjoy some famous Georgian hospitality.

16

Day 17: Lagodekhi

Today we leave the wine region behind us as we make our way towards the Azerbaijan border. We will visit the Gremi citadel en route.

We will wild camp tonight, most likely in the Lagodehki National Park close to the Azeri border.

Estimated Drive Time - 2-3 hours.

17

Day 18: Sheki

Border information: Exit Georgia at Ladodekhi, enter Azerbaijan at Balakan.

Today we cross the border to Azerbaijan and continue to the old town of Sheki, where we can visit the exquisite Khan's Palace.

In Sheki we will stay in a comfortable hotel built inside an old caravanserai.

Estimated Drive Time - 3-4 hours.

18

Day 19: Gobustan

Today we will continue our journey to Gobustan, near the coast of the Caspian Sea. Whilst here we will visit the ancient petroglyphs and the mud volcanoes that this area is famous for.

In Gobustan we will wild camp near the mud volcanoes.

Estimated Drive Time - 5-6 hours.

19

Day 20-22: Baku

This morning we have a short drive to the Azeri capital, Baku. During our time in Baku we will have free time to explore all the sights of the city and the surroundings.

Estimated Drive Time - 2-3 hours.

Our itinerary in Baku and over the Caspian Sea must remain very flexible and is very much determined by sailing times of the local ferries. Please note that there is no regular schedule for the ferries, they are notoriously unpredictable, and information from the ferry operators regarding the sailing times constantly changes (or is non-existant) up until the point of departure. Maximum flexibility, open-mindedness and co-operation with your tour leaders are absolutely essential here! 

In Baku we will stay in a local hotel for as many nights as is needed until we finally depart on the ferry over the Caspian Sea.

20

Day 23: Caspian Sea

From Baku, we will take the ferry across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan. The boat docks at the city of Turkmenbashi.

The ferry is a fantastic local experience, but please do not expect any luxury whatsoever! These ferries are budget vessels for the locals and cargo hauliers, and are not designed with tourists in mind. We must be prepared for very basic conditions and limited provisions on board.

Please also note that the time that the ferry takes to cross is also very unpredictable, as it is often forced to wait outside of the port in Turkmenbashi while they arrange the unloading of the cargo on the boat.

There will be basic cabins on the ferry overnight.

21

Day 24: Turkmenbashi

Border information: Exit Azerbaijan at Baku, enter Turkmenistan at Turkmenbashi.

Today we plan to disembark the Caspian ferry and enter Turkmenistan.

We will be either staying at a local hotel in Turkmenbashi or we will start our journey towards Ashgabat and wild camp en route.

Turkemenistan Visa Note - as the timing of the Caspian ferry crossing can be very unpredictable, please get your Turkmenistan visa issued with at least 2 'flexible' days before the entry date listed on these notes. If you arrange the visa through The Visa Machine they will be aware of all the correct dates for your visa according to the date of your trip. Please see the detailed visa notes below.

22

Day 25: Geok Tepe

Today, if we are off the ferry in good time by this stage, we will continue our drive to the spectacular Kow Ata Underground Lake. We will have some time either this afternoon or tomorrow morning to explore this superb lake of naturally-heated clear water.

Tonight we will wild camp in the area of Kow Ata or Geok Tepe.

Estimated Drive Time - 6-7 hours.

23

Day 26: Ashgabat

This morning we have a short drive to Turkmenistan's bizarre modern capital, Ashgabat. This afternoon we will have some free time to explore.

In Ashgabat we will stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.

Estimated Drive Time - 3-4 hours.

24

Day 27: Ashgabat

Today we will have an included tour of the city of Ashgabat using local minibuses. In the afternoon we have the option of visiting the famous Ashgabat Sunday Market.

25

Day 28: Ashgabat

Border Information: If finishing in Ashgabat, you will most likely exit Turkmenistan at Ashgabat International Airport (IATA code: ASB).

Today is the end day for passengers finishing their trip in Ashgabat. Please note there is no accommodation included on the trip tonight - please contact the Dragoman Sales team if you are interested in booking extra nights of accommodation in order to fully explore and take part in some of the optional activities listed below.

26

Day 29: Ashgabat

Border Information: if joining in Ashgabat, you will most likely enter Turkmenistan at Ashgabat International Airport.

There will be a pre-departure meeting at 10:00am - please look out for a note from your leader at the reception of the joining hotel upon arrival with more details about this important meeting. Your leader will need to carefully check your visas at this initial meeting.

After the meeting we will have an included tour of the city of Ashgabat using local minibuses. In the afternoon we have the option of visiting the famous Ashgabat Sunday Market.

In Ashgabat we will stay in a decent quality local hotel.

*Important note - do not bring any medicines containing tramadol, codeine, temazepam, morphine or opiates to Central Asia. These are illegal in all circumstances in most of Central Asia and you will risk arrest. If in doubt about a particular medicine, please do not bring it. See the notes at the bottom for more details.*

27

Day 30: Darvaza

Today we set off north from Ashgabat and head into the Karakum Desert. We will have an included side trip to the amazing flaming Darvaza Gas Crater (also known as the 'Door to Hell'!).

We will wild camp in the deserts near Darvaza Crater tonight.

Estimated Drive Time - 6 hours (please note that all drive times given here are the approximate number of hours that the truck will be in motion only, and does not include any time taken for coffee or lunch stops, border crossings, photo stops, activities en route, comfort breaks, shopping stops, toilet stops, etc. The times given are approximate estimates only and whilst given with the best of intentions, the drive times are heavily dependent on traffic, road conditions, weather, police roadblocks, and many other factors - flexibility is essential on any overland trip!).

28

Day 31: Kunye Urgench

Today we will continue our overland journey north across the Karakum. We will visit the Kunye Urgench ruins towards the end of the day.

We will wild camp in the deserts near Kunye Urgench tonight.

Estimated Drive Time - 7-8 hours.

29

Day 32-33: Khiva

Border Information: Exit Turkmenistan at Shovot, enter Uzbekistan at Nijazov.

This morning we will visit the markets in the border town of Dashoguz, before driving across the border into Uzbekistan and continue to the beautiful historic town of Khiva.

Estimated Drive Time - 5-6 hours (heavily dependent on the time taken to cross the border).

The following day we have a guided tour of the ancient city of Khiva during the morning. In the afternoon we will have plenty of free time to further explore this wonderfully preserved Khanate town.

In Khiva we will stay in a comfortable hotel.

30

Day 34: Bukhara

Today we will have a full day's drive to the fascinating city of Bukhara, where will spend the next 3 nights.

In Bukhara we will stay in a comfortable local hotel.

Estimated Drive Time - 10-11 hours.

31

Day 35-36: Bukhara

Today we will have a guided tour of Bukhara and the surrounding area, including the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, Kalon Mosque, Zindon Prison and the Ark Fortress.

On our second day here, we will have a free day to further explore this incredible historic city and its surroundings.

32

Day 37: Nurata

Today we will drive into the Kyzylkhum Desert near the town of Nurata. In the afternoon we will have the opportunity to head out on an optional camel ride into the desert!

Tonight we will stay in a desert yurt camp.

Estimated Drive Time - 7-8 hours.

33

Day 38: Samarkand

This morning we will spend some time exploring the Nurata Hills with the option of taking a dip in Lake Ajdar Kul. After lunch we will drive to Samarkand where we will stay for the next 3 nights.

In Samarkand we will stay in a good hotel on the outskirts of town.

Estimated Drive Time - 4-5 hours.

34

Day 39-40: Samarkand

Today we will have a guided tour of the incredible historic city of Samarkand and the surrounding area, including the Registan, Ulug Beg Observatory, Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Shah-I-Zinda.

On our second day here, we will have a free day to further explore the beautiful city and its surroundings.

35

Day 41: Tashkent

This morning we will have a little more free time to explore more of Samarkand. After lunch we will drive to the Soviet city of Tashkent.

In Tashkent we will stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.

Estimated Drive Time - 5-6 hours.

36

Day 42: Tashkent

Today we will have a free day to explore Tashkent.

37

Day 43: Tashkent

Border Information: if finishing in Tashkent, you will most likely exit Uzbekistan at Tashkent International Airport.

Today we will have more free time to explore Tashkent. Please note that if you are leaving in Tashkent, today is the last day of the trip and there is no accommodation included tonight.

38

Day 44: Tashkent

Border Information: if joining in Tashkent, you will most likely enter Uzbekistan at Tashkent International Airport.

There will be a pre-departure meeting at 10:00am - please look out for a note from your leader at the reception of the joining hotel upon arrival with more details about this important meeting. Your leader will need to carefully check your visas at this initial meeting.

The rest of the day is free to explore this old Soviet city.

In Tashkent we will stay in a comfortable hotel with good facilities.

*Important note - do not bring any medicines containing tramadol, codeine, temazepam, morphine or opiates to Central Asia. These are illegal in all circumstances in most of Central Asia and you will risk arrest. If in doubt about a particular medicine, please do not bring it. See the notes at the bottom for more details.*

*Another important note - please be aware that all itineraries in Kyrgyzstan are highly weather-dependent. The itinerary described in these notes are a statement of best intention, but we must approach each trip in Kyrgyzstan with a large degree of flexibility, as our leaders and local guides will have to 'play things by ear' according to the local conditions and weather. In low season certain routes become impossible and it may become far too cold to camp - in all cases there are fantastic and well-tried alternatives in place which means we can always run an excellent and comprehensive trip here, but please do not treat the exact details of the itinerary listed here as gospel - thanks for your understanding!*

39

Day 45: Fergana Mountains

This morning we travel in local transport over the Kamchik Pass to Kokand, where we will have the oppurtunity to visit the Khudayar Khan's Palace and the nearby Margilan Silk Factory before completing the journey to Ferghana. 

The truck must pass over the Kamchik Pass without passengers and will rejoin us this evening in Ferghana.

In Ferghana we will stay in a basic local hotel.

Estimated Drive Time - 6 hours (please note that all drive times given here are the approximate number of hours that the truck will be in motion only, and does not include any time taken for coffee or lunch stops, border crossings, photo stops, activities en route, comfort breaks, shopping stops, toilet stops, etc. The times given are approximate estimates only and whilst given with the best of intentions, the drive times are heavily dependent on traffic, road conditions, weather, police roadblocks, and many other factors - flexibility is essential on any overland trip!).

40

Day 46: Arslanbob

Border information: Exit Uzbekistan at Andijon, enter Kyrgyzstan at Dustlik.

This morning we leave Uzbekistan behind and make our way into the magical mountain kingdom of Kyrgyzstan! 

Once we have crossed the border we continue our journey to Arslanbob in Kyrgyzstan's Ferghana Valley - if we are delayed at the border we may choose to stay in the closer town of Jalalabad instead.

In Arslanbob we will stay overnight in a local family-run guesthouse.

Estimated Drive Time - 8 hours.

41

Day 47-49: Kyrgyz Fergana Valley

We will spend the next 3 days overlanding through the stunning and remote Kyrgyz Ferghana Valley, stopping often to admire the views and perhaps take some impromptu hikes in the hills and countryside.

During these days we plan to wild camp en route. Please note that trips running in low season (May to mid-June and October to November), we may not be able to camp if temperatures are too low, in which case we will stay in local guesthouses along the route instead.

Drive times - 4-8 hours per day.

42

Day 50-51: Song Köl Lake

Today we complete the drive to the incredible Song-Kul Lake, where we will spend the next two nights.

We will have free time here to explore the area, and to enjoy some optional activities including hiking, horse-riding or watching a game of goat polo!

At Song-Kul we will stay in traditional felt yurts.

Estimated Drive Time - 4-8 hours.

Please note that trips during the low season will not be able to visit Song-Kul Lake, as temperatures will be below freezing, the road will be snowed over, and there will be no yurts to stay in! Instead we will likely stay in yurts on the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul.

43

Day 52: Kochkor

Today we drive to the small village of Kochkor, where we stay in local family-run guesthouses and enjoy traditional Kyrgyz hospitality!

Whilst here we will visit a small museum and women's felt making cooperative that produces 'shyrdaks', the felt carpets for which Kyrgyzstan is renowned. We may also have the opportunity here to see some excellent local musicians playing traditional Kyrgyz folk music and to see how a yurt is put up!

In Kochkor we will stay in family-run guesthouses, accommodating up to 8 guests in each home.

Estimated Drive Time - 6 hours.

44

Day 53-54: Jeti Oguz Valley

Today we drive along the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul and up into the mountains to the alpine trekking region of Jeti-Oghuz. En route we will have an included demonstation from a local 'eagle hunter'.

The next day we will have a free day to hike in the incredible scenery here, or take an optional horse ride with some of the local nomads!

In Jeti-Oghuz we will camp close to a local family yurt.

Estimated Drive Time - 7 hours.

Please note that on trips in the low season we may not be able to camp in Jeti-Oghuz due to low temperatures. If this is the case, we will stay for 1 night in a local hotel at the base of Jeti-Oghuz Valley (allowing time for some day walks) and then move via a stunning and incredible drive up a mountain in a Russian 4x4 truck to Altyn Arashan, a hot spring development in a stunning alpine setting, staying in dormitory accommodation.

45

Day 55: Karakol

Today we will move on from Jeti-Oghuz or Altyn Arashan to the Russian-style town of Karakol, where we will have a free afternoon to explore and relax!

In Karakol we will stay in a decent local hotel.

Estimated Drive Time - 5 hours.

Inclusions:
    Activities
    • Head out on Telavi's 'Big Day Out' - a tour of the town's monasteries, bee-keepers and textile-weavers, followed by lunch and wine tasting at a local family-run winery
    • Spend the night in an atmospheric converted 17th-century Caravanserai in Sheki
    • Explore the exquisite Palace of the Sheki Khans, built in 1797
    • See the fascinating 40,000-year-old rock petroglyphs of Gobustan, showing depictions of life during the Late Stone Age
    • Visit the small mud volcanos in the hills above Gobustan, once a central part of the Zoroastrian religion that flourished here
    • Explore the mysterious and iconic Maiden's Tower in Baku's Old Town
    • Take an audio-guided walking tour of Baku's Old Town
    • Learn all about the Shirvan Muslim history of Baku at the Palace of the Shirvanshahs
    • Cross the Caspian Sea on a local transporter ferry between Baku and Turkmenbashi
    • Explore Turkmenistan's unique underground lake at Kow Ata and swim in waters naturally heated to around 36°C
    • Explore, shop, and haggle at the vast Altyn Asyr Sunday Bazaar
    • Explore the unique and bizarre Turkmen capital of Ashgabat on a guided tour of the city
    Tour Staff
    • 2 Dragoman crew and 1 local crew (except Turkey)
    Accomodation
    • 25% Camping - 75% Hotels
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