Turkmenistan is the least traveled country out of the "5stans" due to its isolation from the outside world. So it's still mysterious and unknown to many people. Probably this fact makes Turkemistan an even more interesting travel destination. Turkmenistan is the second-largest country in Central Asia after Kazakhstan. It covers 488.000 square km sharing land borders with Kazakhstan, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan. Its longest border is with the Caspian Sea in the west. However, 80% of the land is occupied by the Karakum Desert, that's why the population of the country is only 5.9 million people. Turkmenistan is located in the GMT(+5) time zone.
The population of the country is around 5.9 million people, out of which 91% indigenous Turkmens. The ethnic minorities in the country are Uzbeks, Russians, Kazakhs. Kazakhs mostly live along the shore of the Caspian Sea, near Kazakhstan. Turkmens are known to be very warm-hearted, hospitable people, so you will receive a warm welcome.
The official language of the country is Turkmen, which is spoken by the majority of the population (around 72%). Turkmen was originally written in Arabic, but during the Soviet Union, the alphabet was replaced by the Cyrillic one.
The 2nd widely spoken language in the country is Russian since Turkmenistan was part of the Soviet Union. English, unfortunately, is not used in everyday life and most people don't understand. But usually, people are very friendly and eager to engage in conversations with foreigners.
The major religion in the country is Islam. Around 89% od Turkmens are Muslims, the other 10% are Christians ( Russian Orthodox) and the other religions in the state altogether form the remaining 1%. Though most of the Turkmens are Muslims, there is a freedom of religion in the country. Muslims here don't strictly follow all the religious ceremonies.
Best time to visit
Turkmenistan's climate is a lot influenced because of its deserts. And the summertime isn't the best choice to visit this arid continental area. Even more, it's best to avoid visiting Turkmenistan in summer, when the temperature can reach up to 50°C. The only place that has a milder climate in summer is the coast of the Caspian sea.
In contrast to the summer heat, winters here are very cold. There are not many activities to do during this season. There are two good options to take into consideration before planning your trip: Spring or Autumn. In Spring March to April is a nice season to take a visit, also because of the Nowruz festival with a lot of celebrations.
Do you need a Visa?
YES! Obtaining a visa for Turkmenistan is a process through which citizens of all the countries need to go. There are two types of Visas: transit and tourist. A transit VISA is valid for 5 days and you must enter and exit Turkmenistan at different points. If you are thinking about crossing the Caspian Sea by boat don’t even consider this option as the VISA can easily expire before you even reach Turkmenistan (delays at sea are common).
To obtain a tourist VISA for Turkmenistan you must first get a Letter of Invitation (LOI) which can only be issued by tour companies. Unless you are transiting and have been approved for a transit VISA, you must book a tour for a visit to Turkmenistan. Once you have your LOI you can apply at your local Turkmen embassy.
Money in Turkmenistan
The national currency in Turkmenistan is manat, which can be divided into 100 tenges. The international banking services are not working very well in the country, so it's advisable to bring the money you intend to spend in the country in cash. You can bring US dollars with you. You can also pay with dollars in hotels, for the travel agency, touristic visits. You can't exchange manat outside of Turkmenistan, so make sure to change your money back into dollar when you're inside of Turkmenistan.
What to eat in Turkmenistan?
Meat is the main focus here similar to the other Central Asian countries. Being Muslim Turkmens don't eat pork and instead use mutton. Popular dishes include a soup known as Shurpa, which is made from mutton broth with tomatoes and potatoes. Shashlyk, Turkmenistan’s version of the kebab, also features skewered pieces mutton or lamb grilled over an open fire.
A typical dinner in Turkmenistan tends to consist of Pilaf. This comes in many different varieties across Central Asia, yet the two main ingredients are always meat and rice. In Turkmenistan, this is then flavored with various spices, onions and thinly cut vegetables. Pilaf would normally also be served with bread such as Chorek – a flatbread made in a clay oven known as a tamdyr. Green tea is the beverage of choice in Turkmenistan and you’ll find this drink on offer everywhere. Smaller towns and camping areas were more basic, serving soup, rice, meat and a variety of salads. Beer is everywhere too.
Where to stay in Turkmenistan?
There are luxury hotels in Ashgabat in big cities. They may be a bit soulless, but the services and facilities are good. Other than the hotels if you go to desert tours you might stay in camps. Homestays are not as popular here as in the other areas in the region. But there are some families hosting tourists in Nokhur. Airbnbs, apartment rentals, hostels are not legal in Turkmenistan.
There is a 2USD fee for a tourist visit per night, so don't be surprised when staying at a hotel you will be expected to pay additional expenses. Accommodation and services can be paid both in local currency and in US dollars.
- Photography and filming is a bit of a touchy subject in Turkmenistan. While it is fine for you to have your camera and photograph the many unique, strange and beautiful things you will see during your visit, keep in mind that there are many restrictions. Drones are also banned within the country. You can be questioned and searched while crossing the border if you have them.
- Print all the documents you need. With the approved letter invitation provided from your tour agency or embassy, you can get your visa stamp at your designated entry point but be sure to print the letter of invitation before arriving at the border.