Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are central links along the Silk Road and have extraordinary histories, from the great empires and conquerors of the ancient and medieval world, to the migrations and exchanges between vastly different cultures. Nevertheless, these two countries have retained their distinctive cultures, seen most clearly in their traditional arts and crafts. This 18-day tour uncovers the wealth of history and culture in the ‘Stans’, with visits to the Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, to Sasanian citadels, Achaemenid and Parthian ruins, the palaces of the emirs and the desert oasis of Merv.
History’s great personalities: Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Marco Polo and Tamerlane
Exceptional World Heritage-listed Central Asian and Islamic architecture
Ancient cultures and dynasties, and their archaeological legacy of citadels and oasis cities
The Silk Road, from antiquity to today: traditional arts and crafts, carpets and stunning mosaics
Repositories for millennia of culture and history, in impressive local museums and galleries
The vibrant folk culture of the Central Asian people
Admire archaeological sites at Shahrisabz and Tamerlane’s Samarkand, the heart of the Silk Road
Bukhara’s Samanid monuments, vestiges of the last Persian dynasty to rule Central Asia
Outstanding examples of Sasanian and Achaemenid cities at the oasis city of Merv
Ruins of ancient Parthian kings, dating from the 3rd century BC, at Nisa near Ashgabat
Fine Central Asian architecture and design at the World Heritage-listed site of Kunya Urgench
The extraordinary city walls of Khiva old town, and its mosques, minarets and madrassas
Days 1–2: Arrive in Tashkent, tour the old town and Khast-Imam complex.
Day 3: Train to Samarkand, visit the breathtaking main square.
Days 4–5: Visit Shahrisabz, the city of Tamerlane.
Days 6–9: Investigate Bukhara’s Samanid sites, Islamic mosques and emirs’ palaces.
Days 10–11: In Turkmenistan, visit Mary and the excavations at Gonur Tepe.
Days 12–14: Explore ancient Merv; fly to Ashgabat, visit the extraordinary Turkmen Carpet Museum and Nisa’s Parthian ruins.
Day 15: Fly from Dashoguz to Kunya-Urgench, admire iconic Islamic architecture, cross to Nukus.
Days 16–17: In Khiva, explore the old town.
Day 18: Fly to Tashkent and depart.
A limited number of places remain on this tour and as such, internet bookings are not taken. Please contact our travel consultant listed above if you wish to make a booking.
Korean Airlines has flights to Tashkent, with a stopover in Seoul in each direction. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Tuesday May 14: Arrival in Tashkent
Tour leader Ben Churcher and your local tour manager will meet you on arrival at Tashkent Airport shortly after the arrival of the Korean Airlines flight from Seoul. After a coach transfer to the hotel and time to check in and freshen up, there is dinner in our hotel. Overnight Tashkent. (D).
Wednesday May 15: Exploring Tashkent
One of the most important trading posts in Central Asia, Tashkent was known to the Chinese in the 5th century, sacked by Ghengis Kahn in the 13th century, occupied by the Russians in the 19th century and became the capital of an independent Uzbekistan in 1991. Our day’s sightseeing concentrates on the Old Town, visiting the Chor-Su bazaar (possibly the oldest in Central Asia), the wonderful tiled domes of the 16th-century Kukeldash Madrasa and the Khast-Imam complex. After lunch in a local restaurant we continue with some more recent sites, including a monument dedicated to World War II victims and the Applied Arts museum, with its displays of ceramics, jewellery and rugs. There is a welcome dinner at a local restaurant tonight. Overnight Tashkent. (B, L, D)
Thursday May 16: Tashkent-Samarkand
This morning we take the train (3½ hours) to Samarkand, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Uzbekistan’s second-largest city. After lunch and checking in to our hotel we visit the Registan, the heart of ancient Samarkand. Surrounding the main square are three imposing madrasahs, dating from the 15th to 17th century. Adorned with large central arches and mosaic panels, Registan for many people epitomises a Silk Road city. Lunch and dinner provided at our hotel. Overnight Samarkand. (B, L, D)
Friday May 17: Exploring Samarkand
Today we continue our exploration of Samarkand. The archaeological site and associated museum at Afrosiyob explore Samarkand’s ancient origin. We also stop in at the central bazaar of Samarkand and, after lunch, the 11-domed mausoleums of the Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis, dating from the 15th century. Dinner and overnight in our Samarkand hotel. (B, L, D)
Saturday May 18: Shakhrisabz day trip
Today we travel from Samarkand to Shakhrisabz, a 90-minute trip. Shakhrisabz, meaning ‘green city’ was the birthplace of the great warrior Tamerlane in the 14th century, and most of the monuments we see date from the time of his rule. Our sightseeing includes the ruins of the White Palace, Tamerlane’s most ambitious project, the ‘House of Contemplation’ – two blue-domed 15th century mosques and the mausolea of Jakhongir and Omar-Shaykh. We return to Samarkand in the afternoon. Lunch in Shakhrisabz and dinner in Samarkand. Overnight Samarkand. (B, L, D)
Sunday May 19: Samarkand to Bukhara
We spend most of the day travelling to Bukhara. En route we make an extended stop at the pottery village of Gijduvan, visiting a pottery master’s house to see how popular Uzbek Gijduvan pottery is made. We also share lunch at the house of the potter. We arrive at Bukhara in the late afternoon. There is dinner in our hotel. Overnight Bukhara. (B, L, D)
Monday May 20: Exploring Bukhara
The city of Bukhara has been inhabited for at least five millennia. It has long been a centre of trade, scholarship, culture and religion, and the historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our sightseeing today includes the 9th-10th century Ismail Samani mausoleum, one of the most highly-regarded expressions of Central Asian architecture (Samani was the founder of the Samanid dynasty, last Persian dynasty to rule Central Asia). We also visit the 14th century Chashma-Ayub, Kalon Mosque, the 12th century Kalon mosque complex and the Jewish quarter (Bukhara has a significant Jewish population). Lunch is in the old town today. This evening’s dinner is complemented by a folk dance performance. Overnight Bukhara. (B, L, D)
Tuesday May 21: The Emirs of Bukhara
The last Emirs of Bukhara ruled until the early 20th century, and today we travel a few kilometres outside Bukhara to view their summer palace, in an attractive lakeside setting, with a park, fountains, loggias and pergolas. The palace’s interiors are richly decorated with frescoes, mother-of-pearl screens and stucco carvings – an unusual mix of European and Asian styles. We then visit the village of Sumitan to view the Chor-Bakr Necropolis, a monumental cemetery that sprung up around the tomb of the much-revered Abu Bakr Sayed (a descendent of the prophet Mohammed). The later afternoon is free in Bukhara. Overnight Bukhara. (B, L, D)
Wednesday May 22: Free day in Bukhara
Today is completely free to relax or undertake further independent sightseeing in Bukhara. Lunch and dinner are provided in our Bukhara hotel. (B, L, D)
Thursday May 23: Into Turkmenistan
We depart Bukhara this morning and cross the border into Turkmenistan. (Lengthy border formalities need to be undertaken at both sides of the border and you should expect a delay of around three hours). We continue to the city of Turkmenabat, where we stop for lunch. We continue for another five hours by coach until we reach the town of Mary, our base for the next few nights. On arrival we visit the historical museum, providing an introduction to the ancient city of Merv. Dinner and overnight in Mary. (B, L, D)
Friday May 24: Excursion to Gonur
In the morning we depart Mary and drive through fields along an asphalt road corresponding partly to the Old Caravan Route from Merv to Kunya Urgench. We enter the desert and continue to the archaeological excavations of Gonur, the capital city of ancient Margush. Dating from the third millennium BC, the site has clear evidence of the practice of the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. We inspect the Palace of the City, Fire and Water Temples and Royal Necropolis. We return to Mary in the afternoon. Today we enjoy a picnic lunch in the desert and dinner in our hotel in Mary. (B, L, D)
Saturday May 25: Merv and on to Ashgabat
Half an hour from modern Mary is the ancient city of Merv. Strategically located at an oasis, the city’s origins go back to the third millennium BC and it is even claimed that in the 12th century AD, Merv was briefly the largest city on earth. It has been occupied by just about everyone – Persian, Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Uzbeks. Today the site has been designated a historical park and we spend the morning among its ancient remains and medieval fortresses. This afternoon we fly from Mary to Ashgabat, 400km to the west. Lunch is in Mary and dinner in our hotel in Ashgabat. (B, L, D)
Sunday May 26: Ashgabat
Ashgabat, meaning literally the ‘city of love’ is the capital of Turkmenistan. Unlike many of the places we have travelled to it is a relatively modern city. Nevertheless, it contains many interesting sites. Today’s program takes us to the National Museum of Turkmenistan, a very large complex surveying the country’s long history and containing exceptional archaeological finds. We also tour the Turkmen Carpet Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the monumental marble buildings and fountains of the city and Tolkuchka market. Lunch is at a local restaurant and dinner is in our hotel. Overnight Ashgabat. (B, L, D)
Monday May 27: Ashgabat
Today we visit sites in the environs of Ashgabat. The highlight of the day is the ruins of the Parthian settlement of Nisa, the residence of the ancient Parthian kings dating from the third century BC. After lunch near Nisa we travel to Gypjak, visiting the spectacular modern Saparmurat Khaji Mosque and the mausoleum of the first President of Turkmenistan. We return to Ashgabat, with dinner in our hotel. (B, L, D)
Tuesday May 28: Kunya Urgench and Nukus
We rise early this morning to catch our early flight to Dashoguz in the north of the country. On arrival we travel to Kunya-Urgench, a city with ancient origins that was the capital of the thriving Khorezmshakh state in the 10th century. Kunya-Urgench has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its fine Central Asian Islamic architecture, and we visit the domed mausolea of Fakhr At-Din, Turabek Khanum and Najmitdin Kubra, among other sites. The latter part of the afternoon sees us cross the border back into Uzbekistan, with the lengthy border-crossing procedures. We continue to Nukus, our stopping point. Lunch today is near Kunya-Urgench and dinner is in our hotel in Nukus. (B, L, D)
Wednesday May 29: Nukus to Khiva
This morning we undertake a short sightseeing tour in Nukus, visiting the Savitsky Museum, which has a collection of unique paintings and applied arts items. We then continue to Khiva, making an extended stop at the Ayaz Qala yurt camp. Here we have time to rest in the traditional yurt dwelling of nomadic central Asian, and we also have lunch. We then visit the ruins of the ancient fortresses Ayaz Qala and Tuproq Qala. We arrive in Khiva in the late afternoon. Dinner is in our hotel in Khiva. (B, L, D)
Thursday May 30: Exploring Khiva
Capital of the Khanate of Khiva and known to Muslim travellers since the 10th century, the walled old city of Khiva will be the highlight of the trip for many travellers. Our tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the houses, squares, mosques and minarets of the old town and the equally impressive outer town, also encircled by protective walls. Lunch in the old town is followed by an excursion to the 19th century summer palace and estate of the Emir Tozabog. Tonight we share dinner in our hotel in Khiva. (B, L, D)
Friday May 31: Khiva to Tashkent, departure
This morning we travel to Urgench airport for the short flight to Tashkent. We transfer to our hotel and share a farewell lunch. The afternoon is free to relax, prepare for the flight home or perhaps do some last-minute shopping. We have arranged day-use of the four-star Tashkent Palace hotel until 7.00pm for those passengers departing this evening. If your flight arrangements require it, you may also stay the night in Tashkent and depart the next day. (B, L)
Has a wide range of experience as an educator, and an archaeologist. Since 1994 Ben has led tours to Jordan, Greece, Syria, Egypt, China & Morocco.
Ben Churcher is an archaeologist who works both in the Near East, as well as with Aboriginal archaeology in Australia. He has a strong personal interest in history and archaeology, primarily of the Muslim world, but not exclusively. Ben holds the position of Field Director at the University of Sydney’s archaeological excavations at Pella in Jordan.
Ben holds a BA (Hons) from the University of Queensland and a Dip. Ed from the University of Sydney. In 1983, Ben received a travelling grant from the Alumni Association at the University of Queensland to participate at the excavations at Pella in Jordan and he has been involved in archaeology ever since.
In between digs, Ben worked as a secondary teacher for five years at both public and private high schools and in 1993 he brought together his love of teaching and archaeology by founding Astarte Resources, a company producing and distributing educational resources specialising in history. While running Astarte Resources, Ben has been involved with adult education lecturing on a range of historical subjects and graduate teaching duties at the University of Canberra in their cultural heritage degree.
Since 2002 Ben has worked extensively in Aboriginal archaeology in Australia, working with a small firm undertaking heritage assessments and management. This work has taken him from western NSW, into the Snowy Mountains and onto the coalfields of the Hunter Valley.
Ben has continued his association with the excavations at Pella in Jordan throughout this time and he has participated in most seasons of excavation at the site. This work has involved excavating most major Near Eastern periods from the prehistoric Natufian period, through to the Islamic period.
Ben is a life member of the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation at the University of Sydney and he currently sits on the board of the Foundation.
Ben has also travelled widely beyond the destinations to which he takes tours, has taught English in Japan for six months and has sailed on a dhow to Zanzibar. The consequence of this experience is that Ben is an adept traveller, unfazed by what the world may throw at him, and someone who has managed to amass a lot of information from various places and time periods that he is only too happy to impart.
Ben led his first tour to Jordan and Syria in 1993 and has gone on to take travellers to an eclectic range of countries including Mali, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Iran, Central Asia, China and Mexico. The common thread has been Ben’s interest in global history and the interconnections between both historical periods and cultures. How these interconnections are expressed in architecture, religion and governance is an abiding interest of Ben’s.
We asked Ben, what you think clients get from travelling with you?
“I feel the people I travel with enjoy the way I can place great sweeps of history into context for them. On tour people often want to know what was happening elsewhere while such and such a building was being constructed. Fortunately I can use the experience I’ve built up over the years to answer such questions and then tie the particular culture we are looking at into the broader picture so that it links with things already known by the people in the group.”
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. Some hotels are large constructions and lack any distinctive atmosphere. Others are small and simple, but well located. Please also note that the overall quality and service standards in the hotels are not necessarily at the same level as other countries. It is not unusual for hotels to change before the departure date, so we have listed a couple of choices in some cities.
Tashkent, Lotte City Tashkent Palace (2 nights)
A large international style five-star hotel located in the central business district
Samarkand, L’Argamak (3 nights)
A small privately-run hotel with only 17 rooms. Recently opened in 2015 the hotel is within walking distance of major attractions such as Registan Square.
Bukhara, Asia Bukhara Hotel (4 nights)
Designated as a four star the hotel is located in the centre of Bukhara.
Mary, Mary Hotel (2 nights)
Three-star hotel located in the city centre. The best hotel in Mary with comfortable rooms.
Ashgabat, Yyldyz Hotel (3 nights)
Large, business-oriented five-star hotel in Turkmenistan’s capital.
Nukus, Jipek Joli (1 night)
A very simple two-star hotel for our brief stop here.
Khiva, Orient Star Hotel (2 nights)
A small, three star hotels in a converted madrasa.
Hotels may be subject to change (to another hotel of equivalent quality). Any changes will be advised to all clients booked on the tour.
What is included in the tour price? Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
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 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.
What is not included in the tour price? Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.