Total area:488,1OO sq. km
Density:8 people per sq. km
Languages:Turkmen, Russian, English
Religions:Muslim 85%, Eastern Orthodox 10%, other 5%
Ethnic mix:Turkmen 78%, Uzbek 9%, Russian 6%, Kazakh 5% and others 2%
Government:Single party republic
Turkmenistan is the second largest country in Central Asia and is primarily covered by desert. Not yet over-run by tourists, Turkmenistan is renowned for its hospitality and rich oriental culture. Visit sleepy desert cities along the Great Silk Road, experience vibrant bazaars filled with delicious local food and intricate handicrafts or relax on the wonderful beaches along the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan has it all.
According to historians’ assessments, the history of civilizations which have existed in this land covers almost five thousand years. Remains of those vanished cultures can be found here almost everywhere: in the desert and the foothills of mountains, along the channels of dry rivers and in caves. Traces of human activity have been preserved in the form of implements, domestic utensils and real works of art made of stone, bone, ceramic and metal, including bronze, silver and gold.
But it is the architecture which most recollects the distant ancestors of the Turkmen, beginning with the earthenware houses, sanctuaries and formerly inaccessible fortresses of the ancient world to the luxurious palaces and temples of the middle Ages. Turkmenistan is the home of some of the world’s oldest civilizations, having made a significant contribution to our current understanding of the achievements of past cultures.
Contemporary Turkmenistan’s borders first appeared in the world around the same time as today’s India’s and the countries of the Middle East. However, historical sources prove that in 3rd-2nd millennia BC two large states living as consolidated nations far from each other in the desert and river valleys were established on the territory of present-day Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan is one of the least explored countries along the Great Silk Road; however, it has one of the richest cultural heritages in Central Asia. You will see interesting contrasts in this generally unknown desert country: you have modern Ashgabat with its extravagant buildings, colorful bazaars and oriental atmosphere contrasted with the remnants of ancient cultures and impressive, fascinating desert landscapes. Immerse yourself in millennia-old culture when visiting Nisa and Merv and let yourself be enchanted by the Silk Road. Last, but not least, it is the hospitable people of Turkmenistan who make the country so welcoming and worthwhile to visit.
Being the southernmost region of the former Soviet Union, Turkmenistan has by far the highest temperatures in Central Asia, but owing to the low humidity even in summer, this can be bearable. In the south the climate is also slightly less continental than in the north and temperatures seldom drop below -5°C. Northern areas on the Uzbek border and Khorezm (Dashoguz) can become very cold in winter with temperatures dropping below -20°C. The best months for moderate temperatures are April and May for beautiful blossoming deserts and mountains. September and October are great for an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables due to the harvest season. There is snow in the north and above 1,000 m in the mountains in January and February.
Medical & Health
Two western style clinics in Ashgabat can conduct consultations and /or operations performed by foreign (German and Turkish) specialists. Travellers are advised to take medical insurance. No vaccinations are obligatory.
The Turkmen currency is the Manat. Turkmenistan generally has a cash-only economy. However, several new hotels and restaurants in Ashgabat accept credit cards. The State Bank Foreign Economic Affairs of Turkmenistan cashes traveler’s checks and accepts Visa and American Express for U.S. dollar cash advances charging a commission of 5% for this service. Travelers are advised to take only new, clean U.S. banknotes minted before 2003. Manat banknotes come in 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 denominations and are freely exchangeable throughout the country at variable market rates. Like elsewhere in Central Asia it is illegal to exchange money on the street.
Rugs & Jewelry
In order to take Turkmen rugs or jewelry out of the country you need to present an official receipt and registration form from the State or Hotel shop where you bought the items to customs officials. Items purchased otherwise such as those bought at Tolkuchka Bazaar are subject to a documentation procedure that requires our assistance and takes at least one full working day. Many antique souvenirs, especially silver, and items dating back as little as 20 years are entirely restricted from export.
Upon arrival and departure from Turkmenistan, you requested to fill out a Customs Declaration in duplicate. You should declare the exact amount of foreign currency you are taking in/out of the country as well as all electronic items carried (cameras, telephones, computers, etc.) and valuable souvenirs bought before or during your trip (especially rugs and handicrafts). You should keep one copy of the stamped declaration for exit or onwards travel within the CIS in order to facilitate smooth customs procedures throughout your trip.
Turkmenistan is a very safe place for travellers. Nevertheless, all foreigners should carry their passport with the valid visa at all the times. Like anywhere else in Central Asia, while travelling overland and at airports & railway stations you may become subject to routine police registration checks. Please respect that you should not take any pictures at police controls, customs facilities, airports, railway stations and bridges.
Clothing & Practical
Turkmenistan is a Muslim country and it is advisable to wear long sleeved clothes for both men and women especially in rural areas. Nevertheless women are not expected to wear headscarves (let alone veils), but a head covering and sunglasses (bring a spare pair!) become essential during summer. When you are trekking wearing high boots is preferable to sandals as a protection from snakes, spiders and the sun. On off-road trips bring a light scarf to protect against dust and bring dust-proof bags for your cameras. Bottled water and soft drinks are freely available throughout the country and you should drink as much as possible to avoid dehydration. In rural areas check the seal on plastic bottle lids to ensure the bottles have not been refilled and do not drink tap water unless boiled.
There is good and safe restaurant fare available throughout the capital and at some restaurants in the larger cities. Otherwise it is preferable to eat cooked food (as is local custom) and to avoid unpeeled fruit and vegetables Hepatitis A&B immunizations and plenty of mineral and vitamin substitutes are strongly advised. As a rule carry toilet paper, wet napkins and a small flashlight for some of the less attractive toilet facilities and preferably use the countryside on overland trips. Most foodstuffs and toiletry are available in Ashgabat, and a few basic items throughout the country. Nevertheless you should rely on your own batteries and film.
The local mobile phone network (TMCELL) works throughout the city areas. Long distance calls are available from the better hotels and at the post/telegraph office. Public phones are scarce throughout the country and usually not suitable for international calls.