Today’s Turkmenistan was the cradle of many powerful empires of the past. The Parthians, Seljuko and Khorezmian khans established their empires in various locations along the Karakum Desert, and Alexander the Great conquered the region during his epic campaign in the 4th century BC. The influence of Islam began in the 7th century AD when the Arabs took control of the area. Today’s inhabitants of Turkmenistan are descended from tribes that migrated from the northeast in the 10th century AD. Almost all tourist attractions can be found on the edge of the desert and in historical ruins like that of Merv. The capital Ashgabat is a modern city. It replaced the former capital, founded in 1881 and destroyed by the 1948 earthquake. The best place to buy Turkmen carpets is the local Sunday market. East of Ashgabat is Mary, Turkmenistan’s second largest city. Mary is very close to Merv, once the second city of Islam until Genghis Khan’s son Tolui Khan leveled it in 1221. The extreme desert climate and terrain of Turkmenistan has meant that tourism has not been able to develop much so far. The political isolation in which the country has been since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has done the rest.
Arriving by plane
According to top-medical-schools, the national carrier Turkmenistan Airlines (TK) connects Frankfurt/M. non-stop with Ashgabat. Feeder flights to Frankfurt/M. are possible from Vienna and Zurich with Lufthansa (LH) and the respective national airlines. Turkish Airlines (TK) flies from Frankfurt/M., Vienna and Zurich to Ashgabat via Istanbul.
Frankfurt/M. – Ashgabat: 8 hrs 10 mins; Vienna – Ashgabat: 8 hrs 5 mins; Zurich – Ashgabat: 8 hrs 50 mins (Journey time varies depending on length of stopover.)
A departure tax of US$25 (approx. €21) is levied at the airport for international passengers.
Arrival by car
By land, Turkmenistan is accessible from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as well as via Mashad and Tehran in Iran. Border crossings with Kazakhstan may be closed without prior notice. Toll: There are no toll roads. However, a surcharge on top of domestically subsidized fuel prices in US dollars is payable upon entry. In order to determine the amount of the tax, information on the length of the intended journey in Turkmenistan is required at the border. Documents: In addition to the national driver’s license, the international driver’s license is required. The green international insurance card is not valid; Drivers must therefore take out liability insurance at the border.
Arrival by train
There is no cross-border rail traffic. It is possible to travel by train to Bukhara (Uzbekistan) via Moscow or Mashhad (Iran) via Istanbul and Tehran, from where you can continue to Turkmenistan by bus or taxi.
Arrival by ship
There are connections to Turkmenbashi via the Caspian Sea from Baku (Azerbaijan). From Moscow it is theoretically possible to take a ship on the Volga and across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenbashi.
Traveling by plane
Turkmenistan Airlines (T5) serves Ashgabat, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabat, Turkmenbashi and Balkanabat on domestic routes. Flight safety does not meet international standards. Delays are common.
Traveling by car/bus
The main road runs parallel to the route of the Trans-Caspian Railway, from Turkmenbashi on the coast through Ashgabat to Turkmenabat in the east of the country. There is also a road from Ashgabat heading north for 500 kilometers through the Karakorum Desert to Tashaus and Kunya-Urgench on the border with Uzbekistan. Toll: There are no toll roads. However, a surcharge on top of domestically subsidized fuel prices in US dollars is payable upon entry. The amount of the tax depends on the length of the itinerary; the probable length of the route must be given at the border upon entry. Petrol stations: There are petrol stations in the cities;
Right-hand traffic/left-hand traffic
Condition of the roads
Outside the cities, road conditions are often extremely poor. Night driving should generally be avoided.
Rental cars are available from some major hotels.
Taxis and chauffeured cars are available in all major cities. The fare should be agreed before departure.
There are bus connections between the larger cities.
Traffic regulations: – Seatbelts are compulsory. – Telephoning while driving is only permitted with a hands-free device. – Smoking and eating are prohibited while driving. – Alcohol limit: 0.5 ‰. Speed limits: – urban: 60 km/h; – on rural roads: 90 km/h; – on expressways: 110 km/h.
In addition to the national driver’s license, the international driver’s license is required. The green international insurance card is not valid; Liability insurance must therefore be taken out at the border.
Locally on the way by train
The Trans-Caspian Railway runs from Turkmenbashi through Ashgabat and Mary to Turkmenabat and on to Bukhara (Uzbekistan). Trains connect Ashgabat to Turkmenabat several times a day (journey time: 12 hrs 16 mins) and once daily to Dashoguz (journey time: 12 hrs 40 mins). For safety reasons, the compartment should be locked during night train journeys.
Traveling by ship
The Amu Darya River is partially navigable; However, high water withdrawals at various dams are increasingly shortening the navigable routes.