Shah i Zinda in Samarkand at sunrise (Dreamstime)
List Words : Wanderlust team | 19 February

Meet the ‘Stans: 9 incredible holiday adventures in Central Asia’s most enigmatic corners

From ancient walled cities to vast steppes dotted with yurts, the 'Stans of Central Asia offer authentic, immersive experiences you'll never forget. Follow the Silk Road to these incredible adventures now

1: Reveal Uzbekistan’s hidden soul

Ship graveyard, Aral Sea (Dreamstime)

Ship graveyard, Aral Sea (Dreamstime)

Discover the sublime and the surreal on this 11-day adventure through Uzbekistan with Wild Frontiers.

Your journey begins with a 4WD excursion out to the remote Aral Sea. Following desert tracks on the baked sea bed, you'll pass marooned fishing boats and blighted landscapes.

In marked contrast, the second part of your odyssey reveals treasures from Central Asia’s heyday – the glittering cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand – where a golden period of Muslim culture and trade created some of the most impressive monuments to Islamic art and architecture in the world.

This is an incredible journey of discovery, where the sublime and the surreal meet across the desert plains of Central Asia.

Trip: Uzbekistan: Samarkand And The Aral Sea

Who: Wild Frontiers

When: Departures May & Sep

How long: 11 days

How much: From £2,095 (exc. flights)

2: Discover the jewels of the Silk Road

Inner courtyard of the Kalyan Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan (Dreamstime)

Inner courtyard of the Kalyan Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan (Dreamstime)

Take the golden road from Tashkent to Samarkand on this Silk Road adventure with Explore.

This is the ultimate Central Asian experience, revealing all the jewels along this ancient route – from the walled caravan city of Khiva to the dizzyingly tall Kalyan Minaret in Bokhara and on to the fabulous wonders of Samarkand. At Karmana, you’ll turn off the highway and head deep into the desert, to a remote camp where you’ll ride camels, swim in Lake Aydarkul and learn the ways of the nomads.

Finally, glittering Samarkand, the capital of Tamerlane's empire. Here you’ll find some of Central Asia's most breathtaking architecture, including the tomb of the 'Great Destroyer’, Gur-Emir, and the 600-year-old Observatory of Ulug-Beg, the astronomer who calculated the length of a year to within 10 seconds.

Unforgettable.

Trip: Golden Road To Samarkand

Who: Explore

When: Departures Mar-Oct

How long: 12 days

How much: From £1,374 (Exc. flights)

3: Only in Kyrgyzstan

Old Burana tower, Kyrgyzstan (Dreamstime)

Old Burana tower, Kyrgyzstan (Dreamstime)

Venture deep into the landscapes and nomadic cultures of Central Asia’s most beautiful country on this ‘Kyrgyzstan Only’ tour with Wild Frontier.

With 90% of the country lying above 1500m, this is very much a destination for lovers of epic mountain scenery. The Tien Shan or “Mountains of Heaven” stretch across the length of Kyrgyzstan, dissecting sweeping steppe lands, primal forests, crystal streams and turquoise lakes. You’ll gaze in awe at the striking alpine scenery of Sary Chele, walk through the ancient walnuts forests of Arslanbob and be showered with nomadic hospitality in yurts at Son Kul lake. 

Many travellers regard  Kyrgyzstan as their favourite country in the world. After this journey, you will too.

Trip: Kyrgyzstan Explorer 

Who: Wild Frontiers

When: Departures Jul & Aug

How long: 15 days

How much: From £1,895 (exc. flights)

4: Live large on the Pamir Highway

Pamir Highway in Tajikistan (Dreamstime)

Pamir Highway in Tajikistan (Dreamstime)

Take one of the world’s wildest and most mind-blowing road trips on this 16-day adventure along the Pamir Highway with Undiscovered Destinations. 

Starting in Dushanbe in Tajikistan and finishing in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, you’ll rattle through the mountainous heart of Central Asia, exploring ancient Silk Road forts, rubbing shoulders with local traders at village bazaars and crossing high mountain passes that will, quite literally, take your breath away.  You'll also stay in some of the most remote communities on the planet, hike through surreally beautiful scenery and swim in the legendary lake of Issyk Kul. 

This is an adventure through a wild and untamed land that will find its way into your soul and never leave.

Trip: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - Along the Pamir Highway

Who: Undiscovered Destinations

When: July departures

How long: 16 days

How much: From £2,295 (exc. flights)

5: Meet the K’Stans

Big Almaty Lake, Tien Shan Mountains (Dreamstime)

Big Almaty Lake, Tien Shan Mountains (Dreamstime)

Here’s your chance to get off the beaten track and dive deep into the cultures of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan with G Adventures.

You’ll quickly discover why travellers love this part of the world. Beginning in Almaty, you’ll drive through the stunning Charyn Canyon, before spending the night in a traditional yurt with a welcoming nomadic Kyrgyz family. Epic landscapes and epic hospitality. What’s not to love?

Finally, Bishkek beckons. It offers big city thrills as well day hikes and horseback riding on its doorstep. Wide screen nature is never far away in the K’Stans.

Trip: Best Of Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Who: G Adventures

When: Departures May-Sep

How long: 9 days

How much: From £675 (exc. flights)

6: Take your time in Tajikistan

The Monument of Rudaki, Dushanbe (Dreamstime)

The Monument of Rudaki, Dushanbe (Dreamstime)

Experience the legendary hospitality of Central Asia and discover the awe-inspiring beauty of its remotest corners on this journey through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with Intrepid.

Although your trail is dotted with reminders of great civilisations and battles won and lost, you’ll discover that little has changed in these vast timeless landscapes. You will stay with nomadic families who live as they always have and stand in wide, sweeping elemental landscapes. You’ll enjoy a picnic lunch beside Karakul, the largest lake in the Pamirs, gaze upon the mighty peak of Muztag Ata and explore the ancient streets of Dushanbe.

This is a side of Central Asia very few get to experience.

Trip: Tajikistan Discovery

Who: Intrepid

When: Departures May-Oct

How long: 13 days

How much: From £1,595

7: Conquer Tajikistan’s remote Fann Mountains

Iskanderkul in winter (Dreamstime)

Iskanderkul in winter (Dreamstime)

Become one of the first people to explore the remote Fann Mountains in Tajikistan on this unique trekking holiday with KE Adventure Travel.

Tucked away on the southern edge of the Central Asian republics, the Fann Mountains boasts numerous snow-capped 5000 metre peaks and challenging paths through rocky valleys and across high passes. You’ll meet Tajik shepherds grazing their flocks on remote upland pastures, climb to high viewpoints, including the dramatic Mazalat Pass (4133m), and camp beside breathtakingly beautiful high altitude lakes.

This is a pioneering itinerary for experienced trekkers. Are you ready to step up to the challenge?

Trip: The Ultimate Fann Mountains Trek

Who: KE Adventure Travel

When: Departures Jul-Sep

How long: 17 days

How much: From £2,195 (exc. flights)

8: Uncover hidden Turkmenistan

Local family collecting wood in Merv, Turkmenistan (Dreamstime)

Local family collecting wood in Merv, Turkmenistan (Dreamstime)

Gain a rare and in-depth insight into Central Asia's least known country on this 15-day Turkmenistan adventure with Undiscovered Destinations.

Starting from the futuristic capital Ashgabat, you’ll travel through remote deserts, visit ancient ruins and camp overnight near a flaming gas crater. You’ll explore the magnificent scenery of Yangikala, spend a night on the shores of the Caspian Sea and visit the archaeological site of Merv. In many places you’ll stay in local communities, sharing meals and stories and gaining memories of a lifetime.

This is a true journey of discovery through a hidden land.  

Trip: Turkmenistan Encompassed

Who: Undiscovered Destinations

When: Departures in Sep

How long: 15 days

How much: From £2,499 (exc. flights)

9: Ride the Silk Road by private train

The night sky over the Kazylkum desert (Dreamstime)

The night sky over the Kazylkum desert (Dreamstime)

Travel the fabled Silk Road in style on this luxurious train journey through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan with Regent Holidays.

The cars on this privately chartered train have up to nine beautifully appointed compartments, each sleeping either two or four travellers. You’ll watch endless desert and then grassy steppe gently roll by as the train travels between Central Asian republics, before alighting in shimmering desert towns and cities to explore in depth. Ornate Islamic palaces, ancient mud brick forts and intriguing Soviet-Era structures await. You’ll follow in the footsteps of ancient traders, but in a thoroughly modern style.

Trip: The Silk Road By Private Train

Who: Regent Holidays

When: Departures Apr & Oct

How long: 14 days

How much: From £2,895 (exc. flights)