With their long history, impressive sites and exotic ambiance, the central Asian caravan cities of Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara have long attracted intrepid travelers from the west. Over the last decade or so travel to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan has opened up and tourist infrastructure has developed, making these legendary cities and more remote places accessible to travelers.
This 17-day tour combines Islamic architecture, Emirs’ palaces, mosques and mausoleums with visits to the Silk Road cities of Khiva, Ashgabat (“the city of love”), Bukhara and Samarkand. Explore Sassanian citadels and Achaemenid cities in the desert oasis of Merv. Wander through the archaeological ruins left by ancient Parthian kings at Nisa. Visit the mighty warrior Tamerlane’s birthplace at Shahr-i-Sabz and see one of Uzbekistan’s most important archaeological sites: Afrosiab, the capital of the ancient nation of Sogdiana.
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Delve into a brutal history of barbaric cruelty and slave trading cravens in the walled city of Khiva, a trading post and fort dating back to the 8th century. Explore the dark alleys and labyrinthine narrow streets, then venture into the residences of the Emirs of Khiva.
Experience the restored Central Islamic mausolea and minarets at this World Heritage site, located to the north of Ashgabat. The first century capital of Northern Khorezm, Kunya Urgench was conquered by the Arabs and became the ‘heart of Islam’.
Admire outstanding examples of Sassanid and Achaemenid cities at the oasis city of Merv on the Silk Road. Uncover over 4000 years of human habitation and one of the Islamic world’s largest and most important cities at the large archaeological park that makes up the site.
Explore this mythic Silk Road town’s origins at Afrosiyab, travel to the archaeological sites at Shahr-i-Sabz and visit the outsized monuments constructed by Timur, the most powerful ruler in the Muslim world, and known in the West as Tamerlane.
Day 1:Arrive, overnight in Tashkent and an orientation tour
Days 2-3: Fly to Khiva and visit Kunya Ark, Citadel, Khiva old town, Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum, Summer Palace
Day 4: Drive to Nukus and visit Savitsky Museum
Days 5 – 6: Drive into Turkmenistan to Kunya Urgench. Fly to Ashgabat, visit Nisa and Gypjak & the National Museum.
Days 7 – 8: Fly to Mary, visit Merv, Gyaur Kala & Erk Kala
Days 9 – 12:Drive to Bukhara, cross into Uzbekistan. Visit the UNESCO historic centre, Jewish quarter, Emirs Summer Palace
Days 12 – 15:Drive to Samarkand, tour Registan Square, Vist Afrosiab, Shah-i-Zinda & Shakhrisabz
Days 16 – 17: Drive to Tashkent, time at leisure to visit the Bazaar, depart for airport.
The tour begins Friday 9 September at the Tashkent hotel in the late evening.
The tour ends on Sunday 25 September with a transfer to the airport in the early evening.
Friday 9 September – Arrival
The tour begins at the Tashkent hotel in the late evening, once the flight has arrived. After checking in and time to freshen up, a light dinner will be available in the hotel.
Overnight Tashkent (D)
Saturday 10 September – Exploring Tashkent
An important trading post in Central Asia, Tashkent has a chequered history of invasion from Genghis Khan to the Russian occupation. Our orientation to Tashkent begins with Amir Timur Square, dominated by a statue of the powerful Timurid military leader and statesman Amir Timur on horseback. The buildings around the square exhibit differing styles of architecture, from the Samarkand style to the baroque. We pass by the modern Parliament building and the Navoi Opera and ballet theatre and see Independence Square, a favourite resting place for the locals with its impressive monuments, fountains and gardens. Early this afternoon we travel to the airport for our flight to Khiva where we have a short introductory walk through the town before a welcome dinner in the hotel.
Overnight Khiva (B, L, D)
Sunday 11 September – Exploring Khiva
Entering the walled city of Khiva, a trading post and minor fort since the 8th century, is like stepping into another era surrounded by history. Our sightseeing includes the Kunya Ark – the citadel of the Khiva rulers, complete with the Khan’s harem. Inside the city walls we visit the mosques, minarets and madrassas of the old town. Of particular note is the Pakhlavon Mahmud Mausoleum, the resting place of Khiva’s patron saint.
Overnight Khiva (B, L, D)
Monday 12 September – Khiva to Nukus
We depart for Nukus, making an extended stop to visit the ruins of the ancient Khorezm fortress of Tuprak Qala. This afternoon we visit the Savitsky Museum, which has a collection of unique paintings and applied arts items.
Overnight Nukus (B, L, D)
Tuesday 13 September – To Ashgabat
Today we cross into Turkmenistan, meeting our Turkmen guide and coach driver after completing the border-crossing procedures. We continue to Kunya Urgench: destroyed by Genghis Khan in the 13th century, it was rebuilt and is now listed as a World Heritage site. We visit the Najmitdin Kubra Mausoleum and the Turabek Khanum complex with its geometrically patterned octagonal dome featuring beautiful mosaics. We travel to Dashoguz Airport and board an evening flight to Ashgabat.
Overnight Ashgabat (B, L, D)
Wednesday 14 September – Touring Ashgabat
Today begins with a short drive from Ashgabat to Nisa, where we explore the ruins of the ancient Parthian kings dating from the third century BCE. In Gypjak we visit the Turkmenbashi Mosque and mausoleum, the largest mosque in Central Asia. With four minarets soaring above a gold dome, it was built as a monument to Turkmenistan’s first president. Ashgabat, Persian for “the city of love,” is a modern city with many interesting sites. Our afternoon touring commences at the Turkmen carpet museum, which boasts the world’s largest hand-woven rug, and is followed by a visit to the Ertogrul Ghazi Mosque, reminiscent in style of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Overnight Ashkabat (B, L, D)
Thursday 15 September – To Mary
This morning we visit the National Museum of Turkmenistan, a sprawling complex surveying the country’s long history and containing some exceptional archaeological and ethnographic exhibits. Afterward, we depart from Ashgabat Airport on our flight to Mary. Overnight Mary (B, L, D)
Friday 16 September – Touring Merv
Today we explore the ruins of the ancient city of Merv, located near Mary. Strategically located at an oasis on the Silk Road, Merv was a major centre for religious study and an important commercial metropolis, occupied at various times by Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Uzbeks. We begin by touring the Sassanian fortress of Gyaur Kala and the Achaemenid city of Erk Kala. Although Zoroastrianism was the state religion, the area was home to Christians, Jews and Buddhists and the site of a stupa and monastery at Gyaur Kala, make this the westernmost point to which Buddhism initially spread. We visit the Citadel of Sultan Kala and its testimony to Seljuk power and recently restored Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, under whom Merv reached the height of its prosperity throughout the 11th and 12th centuries. We return to Mary for lunch and free time to explore the bazaar. Overnight Mary (B, L, D)
Saturday 17 September – To Bukhara
We depart Turkmenistan today for Bukhara, a drive of 380km including a stop for lunch en route. Crossing the border back into Uzbekistan we once again undergo the lengthy border procedures before continuing to our hotel and check in.
Overnight Bukhara (B, L, D)
Sunday 18 September – Exploring Bukhara
The city of Bukhara has long been a centre of trade, scholarship, culture and religion, and the historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We begin with a visit to the 9th/10th-century Ismail Samani mausoleum, one of the most highly regarded expressions of Central Asian architecture, and then move on to the mausoleum of Chashma-Ayub. Meaning “Job’s well,” this is according to legend the place where Job made a well by striking his staff. Afterward, we’ll explore the Ark Fortress, Bukhara’s oldest structure, and Zindan, a jail which is now a museum. This evening includes a folkloric performance in an old madrassa. Overnight Bukhara (B, D)
Monday 19 September – Around Bukhara
Further exploration of Bukhara takes us to Char Minar, built as a gatehouse to a madrassa. We also visit the Kalyan Minaret and Mosque, Ulugbek and Abdulazizkhan madrassas, trade domes, Magoki-Attori Mosque and Lyabi-Khauz Complex. The afternoon and evening are at leisure.
Overnight Bukhara (B)
Tuesday 20 September – The Emir’s Palace
Today we travel to the Emirsï’s Summer Palace, a unique site combining Oriental and Russian architecture, where the last Emirs of Bukhara ruled until the early 20th century. We will also visit the House of Faizullah Khodjaev, an infamous Bukhari personality who plotted with the Bolsheviks to overthrow the Emir and was rewarded with the presidency of the Bukhara People’s Republic. We return to the hotel, where the afternoon is free. Overnight Bukhara (B, D)
Wednesday 21 September – Shahr-i-Sabz
We depart for Samarkand with a stop first at Shahr-i Sabz, the birthplace of the great warrior Timur in the 14th-century. Most of the monuments we’ll see here date from the time of his rule. We’ll visit the ruins of the White Palace, Tamerlane’s most ambitious project, then move on to the Kok Gumbaz or ‘House of Contemplation’ – two blue-domed 15th-century mosques. Finally, we’ll see the mausolea of Jakhongir and Omar-Shaykh. In the afternoon, we’ll continue on to Samarkand.
Overnight Samarkand (B, L, D)
Thursday 22 September – Exploring Samarkand
Our touring begins at the Bibi Khanum Mosque, the jewel in Tamerlane’s empire and one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. Then we’ll explore Registan, the public square at the heart of ancient Samarkand that for many people epitomises a Silk Road city. Here we visit the main square and the three imposing madrassas, adorned with large central arches and mosaic panels. After lunch we visit the Ulugbek Observatory, destroyed after Ulugbek’s death and only unearthed again by archaeologists in 1908. Our final stop is the Gur Emir Mausoleum, the final resting place of Tamerlane, his sons and grandsons, including Ulugbek.
Overnight Samarkand (B, L, D)
Friday 23 September – Around Samarkand
This morning we visit one of Uzbekistan’s most important archaeological sites. Afrosiab was the capital of the ancient nation of Sogdiana and has a museum which contains a 7th-century fresco of King Varkouman receiving foreign dignitaries as well as various terracotta and bronze artefacts. From the museum we visit Shah-i-Zinda, an avenue of mausoleums that contain some of the richest tile work in the Muslim world.
Overnight Samarkand (B, D)
Saturday 24 September – Return to Tashkent
We depart Samarkand and make the 300km journey to Tashkent where we have lunch and check into our hotel. This evening we meet for our farewell dinner.
Overnight Tashkent (B, L, D)
Sunday 25 September – Departure from Tashkent
Today is free with the option to visit the Chor-su bazaar and the old town. Rooms are available until we transfer to the airport this evening. (B)
An historian specialising in the religion and art of the Middle East and North Africa, having spent several years in Arabia.
Chris Bradley is a cultural historian specialising in the religion and art of the Middle East and North Africa. After many years of leading tours he has built up an enviable knowledge and personal photographic library that he uses to enhance the Academy Travel tours that he leads to Ethiopia, Iran and Central Asia.
Chris gained an honours degree at the University of Liverpool and spent several years working in Arabia, which gave him a good foundation for understanding the Middle East in general. The Arabic that he learnt through the 1970s proved invaluable for his own travels throughout the Middle East whilst researching, writing and photographing more than a dozen guidebooks as well as countless travel articles. For 30 years he has supplied international picture libraries with photographs that are used worldwide in newspapers, magazines, websites and museums, including the V&A and British Museum in London. This experience also led to his filming and producing credits on many television documentaries for the BBC and National Geographic TV.
Chris was invited by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to analyse sustainable tourism development, initially for Libya and later Egypt. His interest in Islamic and early Christian art is an underlying theme for many of his illustrated talks and lectures for the Arts Society (formerly NADFAS) in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and around the world. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and regularly gives lectures at their various locations. His study days on Islamic Art, The Silk Road, Roman and Islamic Art of North Africa are always over-subscribed.
In the 40 years since Chris started leading group tours in the Middle East he has worked in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Oman, Yemen, Sudan, Morocco and Tunisia. This experience has allowed him to design and develop his own itineraries to Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. His tours aim, where possible, to go beyond the obvious major sights and search for the hidden gems.
We asked Chris, what do you enjoy about tour leading?
“Because of the scope of my interests I enjoy making connections between countries and religions that are often not obvious and I am always searching for links along the lines of ‘where did that idea come from?’ Working with each country’s national guides (many of whom are now personal friends), I love to expand every aspect of the subjects that we cover for the groups, which could be the Queen of Sheba, Zoroastrianism or Shia Islam.”
Hotels on this tour vary from five- star to simple three-star hotels according to what is available, and there is an overnight stop in a very simple two-star hotel. Please note that the overall quality and service standards in the hotels are not necessarily at the same level as other countries.
Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace, Tashkent (1 night)
Orient Star, Khiva (2 nights)
Jipek Joli, Nukus (1 night)
Yyldyz Hotel, Ashgabat (2 nights)
Mary Hotel, Mary (2 nights)
Asia Bukhara Hotel OR Shakhristan Hotel (4 nights)
Grand Samarkand Hotel, Samarkand (3 nights)
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.