See Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan as you travel from Istanbul to Ulaanbaatar

Two massive continents, eight countries and one massive overland adventure - Istanbul to Ulaanbaatar really is the trip of a lifetime. Travel along pathways that were once trodden by some of history’s most influential rulers, from the ancient yet highly sophisticated Persians to Alexander the Great and the fearsome armies of Genghis Khan. Beginning in the spice-scented bazaars of Istanbul, this trip follows the legendary Silk Road through holy lands, remote mountain villages and cultured cities including lively Tehran, futuristic Ashgabat, sacred Samarkand and hedonistic Beijing, before crossing the mysterious Mongolian plains. Perfect for travellers wanting to get under the skin of Central Asia, this is the most extensive, off the beaten track, overland experience you will come across.

Start
Istanbul, Turkey
Finish
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Countries
China,
Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan,
Mongolia,
Turkey,
Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan,
Iran
Themes
Overland
Code
EDOMC
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 18
Group size
Min 4, Max 19
Carbon offset
0kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Visit Istanbul and tour the Blue Mosque
  • Travel to Tehran and explore the hidden delights of Iran's capital
  • Discover the romance of the Silk Road in Samarkand
  • Walk through Uzbekistan’s historic city of Bukhara
  • Visit Kyrgyzstan’s epic Song Kol Lake
  • Cross the infamous Torugart Pass from Kyrgyzstan to China
  • Climb deserted sections of the Great Wall of China
  • See the army of Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an
  • Wander through Beijing’s’ Forbidden City
  • Journey through the Gobi Desert in Mongolia

Itinerary

Welcome to incredible Istanbul! Have your fortune told in the Taksim, bargain up a storm in the Grand Bazaar or admire the imposing Blue Mosque.
Visit Turkey's salt lake, Tuz Golo, which provides 63% of Turkey's salt. Bush camp in the evening.
Discover Cappadocia's Goreme Valley and underground troglodyte cities, fairy chimneys and caves.
Travel overland into Eastern Turkey via ancient trade routes. Camp under skies that have been gazed at for centuries by fellow travellers.
The town of Dogubayazit is at the foot of Mount Ararat, reportedly where Noah's Ark came to rest after The Flood.
Enjoy the first night in Iran at Kandovan, an ancient village of caves built into the volcanic rock - and where locals still live.
Explore Zanjan's delightful bazaar and check out the beautiful handicrafts on sale here - perhaps answer the question: does a handcrafted rug fit in a backpack?
Travel to Tehran and be awed by this vibrant city where ancient meets modern. There is plenty of time here to explore the incredible Golestan Palace.
Spend three days in this breathtaking city and take time trawling the souqs, bazaars, beautiful squares and blue-tiled Mosques of Esfahan.
Explore the ancient ruins of Persepolis, Persia, and visit the stunning Islamic Shiraz - discovering its impressive citadel and mosques.
Feel transported back in time while staying in a traditional caravanserai in the Dasht-e Lut desert.
Wind through the old city of Yazd - reputedly one of the oldest towns in the world.
Travel through the Dasht-e Kavir Desert, which lies in the middle of the Iranian plateau, to the tranquil oasis of Khoor.
Explore Iran's oldest surviving mosque - dating back to the 1st century - in Damghan.
Relax by Shirvan's Atrak River, which gives this small town a lush and peaceful feel.
Say goodbye to Iran and travel into Turkmenistan. Conclude the adventure among the futuristic architecture of Ashgabat.
Sleep under the stars in the Karakum Desert. See the spectacular fires of the Darvaza Gas Crater.
Continue the Overland journey through the Karakum Desert, and take in the parched landscape of Asia's hottest desert.
Gaze up at the ancient walls surrounding Khiva and imagine how they once provided sanctuary for weary Silk Road travellers. Explore the historic and perfectly preserved Old Town, beautifully decorated in classic turquoise tiles.
Get to know Central Asia's holiest city, where the combination of buildings spanning a thousand years and a thoroughly lived-in Old Town help create the awe-inspiring atmosphere.
Spend a night in a yurt camp with the local nomads, sleeping among the dunes of the Kyzylkhum Desert.
Travel to one of Central Asia's most magical cities, Uzbekistan’s Samarkand. Discover the romance of the Silk Road in this perfectly preserved city full of exotic architecture and majestic buildings.
Continue your adventure in the most modern of Uzbekistan’s cities. Visit Tashkent’s thriving Chorsu Bazaar to pick up Soviet-style souvenirs and admire the ornately decorated Kukeldash Medressa.
Make tracks into Kazakhstan and enjoy a night with a local family in Zhabagly before exploring the grasslands of Asku National Park. Kazakhstan's oldest national park is a scenic wonderland full of mountain lakes, rivers and glaciers, plus all sorts of unusual flora and fauna.
Soak up the relaxed charm of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital. Wander through its wide streets and admire its wealth of handsome houses.
Set off on a leisurely hike along Chong Kemin River - or if feeling adventurous, perhaps tackle one of the tough 4000 m passes.
Head to Cholpon Ata, nestled on the shores of the vast and beautiful Issyk-Kul Lake.
Discover the remote, picturesque town of Karakol, complete with quaint tree-lined streets and colonial houses.
Admire the lofty sandstone cliffs in Djety Oguz Valley.
Mingle with friendly locals and relish Kyrgyz hospitality while enjoying a homestay in Kochkor.
Spend the night in a yurt near Song-Kol Lake and join in a game of ulak-tartysh.
Make tracks back to Bishkek, stopping to camp in the wilderness overnight.
Take time out in Bishek. Why not stroll through the city's markets and haggle for bargains. Alternatively, relaxing in an Oak Park cafe is another good option!
Make Kyrgyz friends on an authentic homestay experience in Kochkor.
Take a good book as today's lengthy border crossing meanders through the Torugart pass and into Kyrgyzstan, past rugged mountains and wild terrain.
The striking atmosphere of Kashgar provides a refreshing contrast to the past two days' travel. Soak up the exotic sights, sounds and smells of this unique destination.
Set off early to get to stunning Lake Karakol. Spend the day wallowing in the surrounds of this magnificent setting before spending the night in traditional yurts.
Travel to the westernmost end of China and visit Kashgar, an exotic fusion of Chinese, Uzbek and Kyrgyz. Wander the streets that weave through the old town and discover the markets and bazaars of this diverse city.
Leave Kashgar and head to the outskirts of the enormous Taklamakan Desert. Travelling into seemingly unchartered terrain, spend two days on an overland adventure.
Travel towards the Tian Shan mountain range, and arrive at the pristine Heavenly Lake. Located at the top of a mountain - and in the middle of a desert - this is a remote spot, perfect for relaxation.
Escape the desert sands in the laidback town of Turpan. Explore the famous Jiahe ruins, visit the night market or perhaps soak up the lively energy among locals in the town square.
Continue the Overland adventure towards the ancient Silk Road town of Dunhuang. Spend the night wild camping beneath the desert stars.
Arrive in Dunhuang and relax in this Gansu oasis trading town. Visit the nearby Mogao Caves and discover their breathtaking Buddhist art.
Drive to Jiayuguan and discover deserted sections of the Great Wall.
At the crossroads of Qinghai and Gangsu, arrive at Liujiaxia. Visit the Bingling Si Buddhist grottoes to see intricate cliff-side carvings.
Travel to the Tibetan monastery town of Xiahe, often described as one of the most enchanting places to visit in China.
Make tracks to Lanzhou and relax beside the rushing waters of the Yellow River.
Overland to lovely Pingliang, located at the base of the verdant Kongtong Mountain. If feeling energetic, climb through five lush terraces to the scared site of Mount Kongtong, passing temples and shrines along the way.
Admire the 2,000-year-old army of Terracotta Warriors at the end of this journey from Kashgar to Xi'an.
Admire the view from atop the temple-studded Kongtong Mountain and enjoy the spoils of Gansu Province, which has a rich and colourful history as one of the important links on the ancient Silk Road.
The reward for a morning of travel is letting off steam in Shapotou, where daredevils will delight in the dune-sliding madness of this sandy wonderland.
After a pit stop at the grand temples of Zhongwei Gao Miao, enjoy fraternising with locals amid the ebb and flow of daily life in provincial China in the friendly city of Yinchuan.
Head to the Five Terrace Mountains, a focus for transnational pilgramage for Chinese, Tibetans, Mongols and Manchus alike. Many magnificent artworks are on show and powerful temples are scattered throughout the wilderness.
Marvel at the Hanging Monastery and explore the World Heritage-listed Yungang Grottoes.
Take a walk along the monumental Great Wall as it snakes its way through rolling hills as far as the eye can see.
Stroll through the lush Shanzhuang gardens in the footsteps of past Emperors who holidayed here. Take in the rich heritage of Chengde by bicycle or admire Mongolian and Tibetan influences in local temples and monasteries.
End the tour by joining the buzzing hive that is Beijing. Visit the Forbidden City to admire imperial architecture or the sprawling Summer Palace on the banks of Kunming Lake.
Traverse overland through China's north-west on the long journey to the border town of Erlian.
Cross over into Mongolia and continue the journey over the tundra to Sainshand.
Visit the friendly Dechinchoinkhorlin Monastery, if time permits, on the long the journey towards Ulaanbaatar. Spend the night camping under Mongolian stars near Choir.
Arrive in Mongolia’s bubbling capital, a great place to begin your overland adventure. Visit Ulaanbaatar’s many museums and learn about the most famous Mongolian - Genghis Khan.
Head into the Gobi Desert, Mongolia’s heartland and of the largest deserts in the world. Camp beneath the Baga Gazryn Chuluu rock formations.
Continue south through the Gobi Desert, admiring the rocky expanses and camping under the stars.
Visit Yolyn Am in the Great Gobi National Park. Take a nature walk to the glacier valley and try to spot some local wildlife before spending the night in a ger camp.
Bask in the orange glow of Bayan Zag, better known as the 'flaming cliffs'. This area gained international attention when a number of dinosaur eggs and fossils were found within the spectacular rock walls.
Head for the spectacular Khongoryn Els, a breathtaking collection of sand dunes that can reach heights of up to 300 metres.
Continue the Overland journey through the heart of the Gobi Desert.
Arrive in Arvaikheer and visit the ancient ruins of the Ongii Monastery.
Spend time in stunning Orkhon Valley and visit nearby waterfalls. Hike to the 17th-century Tuvkhon Monastery for a spectacular view of this verdant valley.
Cross the Khangai Nuruu mountains and be greeted by lush grasses and open valleys. Visit a nomadic family or bathe in the sensual hot springs.
Visit Karakorum, Mongolia’s ancient capital. Wander the ruins of the old city and drop in on Mongolia’s first Buddhist monastery.
Spot birdlife over the waters of Ugii Lake.
Search for wild horses in the Khustain National Park and spend the night in a ger camp.
Enjoy an action-packed stay in this alpine park. Take a scenic hike or get the blood pumping with a rafting trip.
Complete your Mongolia Overland adventure in colourful Ulaanbaatar.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
n/a
Transport
Overland vehicle
Accommodation
Bush camp (no facilities) (18 nights), Camping (with facilities) (17 nights), Cave house (1 night), Guesthouse (4 nights), Homestay (2 nights), Hostel (2 nights), Hotel (59 nights), Yurt (11 nights)
Included activities
  • Ali Qapu Palace
  • Animal market
  • Ashgabat - Sunday Market
  • Beijing - Forbidden City
  • Bukhara - Guided walking tour
  • Chengde - Bisu Shanzhuang
  • Chengde - Puning Temple
  • Chinggis Khan Monument
  • Datong - Hanging Monastery
  • Datong - Yungang Grottoes
  • Entrance Jiayuguan fort
  • Esfahan walking tour
  • Goreme - Guided Goreme Valley tour
  • Great Wall, Entrance, Jinshanling section, Beijing
  • Guided tour of ancient ruins of Persepolis
  • Guided walking tour
  • Iman Mosque entrance and guided tour
  • Ishak Pasha Palace
  • Jameh Mosque
  • Jeti-Oghuz - Hiking
  • Karakorum - Erdene Zuu Monastery
  • Karakorum - Old City ruins
  • Khiva - Guided city tour
  • Kochkor - Regional Museum
  • Kochkor - Women's Felt Co-op
  • Konye-Urgench - Ancient City ruins
  • Lijiashan - Black Dragon Temple
  • Ogii Lake - Kultigen Monument
  • Ongii Monastery Ruins
  • Orkhon Valley - Tuvkhon Monastery
  • Samarkand - Guided city tour
  • Tehran walking tour
  • Turkish Museum
  • Visit Baga Gazryn Chuluu
  • Visit Bayan Zag
  • Visit to Lake Tuz
  • Visit to the Takhi (wild horse) reintroduction project
  • Visit to waterfalls
  • Visit to Yolin Am Ice Canyon
  • Wutai Shan - Taihui Temple Cluster
  • Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors guided tour
  • Yan'an - Revolution Museum & CCP Headquarters site

Dates

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Important notes

1. Please note that this trip requires minimum numbers to depart, and may be cancelled up until 56 days prior to departure. The places showing on the dates and availability page are an indication only so please contact Intrepid to check if your preferred date will depart before making any final arrangements, such as booking non-changeable flights.
2. Due to a British government travel warning, from September 2012 this itinerary will no longer be able to visit Iran. It will instead travel from Turkey to Georgia and then through Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan. Passengers already booked to travel in 2012 have been notified. The new itinerary for 2013 will be published by November.

Trip notes

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Your trip notes provide a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what’s included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View trip notes