Last Modified: 06 Dec 2013
Ashgabat to Istanbul
Trip code: KDVEC
Validity: 01 Jan 2013 to 31 Dec 2013
Get up close and personal with some of Europe and Asia's most off the beaten track adventures on this overland odyssey through Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. With 1.77 million years of human history under their belts, landscapes that stretch from snowcapped hills to the honeycombed domes of Cappadocia and cities that are chock full of Roman, Ottoman, Islamic and Soviet influences, this region holds more than a few surprises for even the most seasoned traveller. With barely any tourists in site, cross the Caspian Sea in a ferry and head toward the cosmopolitan city of Baku, the quaint villages of Georgia, the regal architecture of Tbilisi, visit the birthplace of Stalin and sip tea on the Black Sea coast. Then it's off to Turkey, where ancient underground cities, remote monasteries and soulful cities are the order of the day. When it comes to one-of-a-kind adventures, they don't come much more wonderful than this mind-challenging, eye opening adventure.
Warning - this is a new trip for us!
While we have thoroughly researched this area to put together this trip, it still must be remembered that this is a relatively new trip for us. To be frank, we expect some things to go wrong. When we head to new destinations, we usually find there are more pleasant surprises in store than unpleasant ones, but the warning is sincere. If it concerns you then we recommend that you wait for a year until we get any bugs ironed out.
This trip is operated by our experienced local partners Dragoman Overland. Dragoman shares Intrepid's ethos for adventure travel and has many years' expertise in overlanding.
Table of Contents
To save you money and the hassle of booking multiple trips, this journey is a combination of some of our most popular adventures so your leader and the composition of your group may change.
- The best value journeys on the planet! On a Basix trip you can expect amazing experiences, but none of the inclusions that you may not want. Which means budget (1-2 star) accommodation, plenty of free time, activities that are optional and the freedom to choose meals to suit your budget. On some trips you may be camping and required to set up your own tent. You'll also have access to a group leader to offer advice and help you uncover the region's hidden gems. On a Basix journey, the way you travel is all a part of the adventure. Depending on the destination and the itinerary, you could find yourself travelling on anything from a donkey to a bus or a private safari vehicle. These trips are ideal for first-time travellers seeking fun and independence with the support of a group leader. They're also ideal for independent travellers looking to make the most of their travel time with minimum hassle and maximum experiences.
Days 1-2 Ashgabat
The trip begins with a group meeting at 10am.
You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting; please ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If your flight arrives too late, we recommend that you consider arriving a day early and book a night's accommodation prior to the trip so you are able to attend. If you are going to be late please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your kitty, insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting so please ensure you have all details on hand to provide to your leader.
Ashgabat is a unique modern city that has been extensively rebuilt over the last ten years since the country gained independence. Little is left of the original Russian Imperial city as most of it was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1948, today the centre is a unique mix of futuristic and outrageous public buildings that are an extraordinary sight. The earthquake affected every family in Ashgabat and is ingrained in the psyche of the local people. The Earthquake Monument and Museum are well worth a visit, as are the Carpet and the National Museums. If you are into carpets, Turkmenistan is the country to visit, and if you are in Turkmenistan, Ashgabat's Sunday Market is the place to buy them. This wonderful market stretches for hundreds of acres into the desert. Carpets, camels, clothes, pigs, jewellery, goats, cars, chickens, hats and ex soviet military paraphernalia are readily available.
Following the meeting we will head to Ashgabat's famous Sunday Market.
Ashgabat's wonderful Sunday Market stretches for hundreds of acres into the desert. Carpets, camels, clothes, pigs, jewellery, goats, cars, chickens, hats and ex soviet military paraphernalia are all readily available.
The rest of the afternoon and the following day are free to explore this unique modern city.
- Carpet Museum - USD5
- National Museum - USD10
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 3 Geok Tepe
This morning there is time to explore Ashgabat before driving (approx 100 km) to the spectacular Kow Ata underground lake. We will have some time either this afternoon or the following morning to explore this lake of clear water naturally heated to about 36°C.
We will bush camp in the area overnight.
- Geok-Depe - Kow Ata Underground Lake
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Day 4 Turkmenbashi
This morning we drive to Turkmenbashi (approx 470 km). Our itinerary in Turkmenbashi and the Caspian Sea must be flexible as it is very much determined by the sailing times of the local ferries. These are notoriously unpredictable and we must adjust our times both in Turkmenbashi and Baku if the ferry is delayed.
We spend the night in a comfortable hotel.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 5 Overnight Ferry
From Turkmenbashi we will take the ferry across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan. The boat docks at the city of Baku. Ferry is perhaps a rather misleading word - rusty, old and tub are words that may spring to your mind - but there is only one way across the Caspian Sea and beggars can't be choosers!
We spend the night in cabins aboard the ferry.
Overnight ferry (1 nt)
Days 6-8 Baku
We arrive in the Azeri capital, Baku, where, depending on the ferry schedule, we may have three days to explore the city.
In Baku we stay in a comfortable hotel.
- Baku - Shirvan Shakh Palace - Free
- Baku - Maiden's Tower - Free
Hotel (3 nts)
Day 9 Gobustan
Today we have a short drive to the town of Gobustan where we visit the rock art and mud volcanoes that this area is known for. In the afternoon we will continue driving, visiting local villages along the way, before bush camping overnight.
- Qobustan - Mud volcanoes
- Qobustan - Petroglyphs
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Day 10 Sheki
Today we continue our drive to Sheki. Whilst here we visit the exquisite Khan's Palace and the Museum of History. We spend the night in a hotel.
- Sheki - Khan's Palace
- Sheki - Museum of History
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 11 Bush Camp
Today we cross the border into Georgia. Once the border formalities are over we continue our drive into the lush Alazani valley. We bush camp tonight en route.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 12-13 Telavi
This morning we drive to the Alazani valley and on to Telavi where we base ourselves for two days. The afternoon is free to explore the area.
Telavi is the capital of the wine growing region of Kakheti, and is situated in the valley of Alazani, near the Gombori Mountains. There are hundreds of different grapes grown here, and each village has its own particular variety. We will hopefully get to see some of the local traditions, including grape harvest, wine making, and, most importantly, the keipi (banquet). We will also visit some of the local vineyards.
Whilst in Telavi we stay at a comfortable homestay.
The following day we visit the sixth century Shaumta Monastery, which is beautifully located on an isolated forest hilltop.
- Telavi - Shuamta Monastery
Homestay (2 nts)
Days 14-15 Tbilisi
A short drive brings us to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi. This afternoon is free to explore
By far the biggest city in Georgia, Tbilisi has been the capital since the fifth century AD. Set among hills along the Mtkvari River, it is one of the most attractive cities in the Caucasus. The architecture is a testament to Tbilisi's history - a mix of European, Byzantine, and Middle Eastern styles - with its winding alleys, art deco buildings, and caravanserais. There is plenty to see and do here with a good smattering of churches, museums, political buildings and parks. For great views over Tbilisi climb up to Narikala Fortress and the statue of Kartklis Deda.
The following day we have a guided tour of Tbilisi's old town, including sites such as the National Museum, Metekhi Temple and the Sioni Cathedral.
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary, meet your new fellow travellers, and collect the next part of your kitty.
- Tbilisi - Sioni Cathedral - Free
- Orbeliani Bath House - Free
- Narikala Fortress - Free
- Tbilisi - Metekhi Church - Free
- Anchiskhati Church - Free
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 16 Kazbegi
An early start this morning sees us drive to the Unesco World Heritage site of Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia. Whilst here we will explore the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.
We then drive on to the spectacularly-located town of Kazbegi (approx 160 km) where we stay at a homestay.
Located near the Russian border, Kazbegi is a small town in north-eastern Georgia, in an area famous for its natural beauty. Although its buildings are mainly Soviet in style, the setting of the town is spectacular with views of Mt Kazbek, and the hill-top Tsminda Sameba Church.
- Kazbegi - Tsminda Sameba Church
Homestay (1 nt)
Day 17 Gori
This morning we will walk up to Tsminda Sameba Church, or Church of the Holy Trinity, and be treated to spectacular views of Mt Kazbeg.
In the afternoon we make our way to Gori (approx 150 km) where we spend the night at a homestay. Once in Gori we will have a guided tour that includes the Stalin Museum.
With a name meaning 'heap' or 'hill', Gori was an important strategic post in the Middle Ages, but these days is most famous as being the birthplace of Joseph Stalin.
At Gori we will visit Stalin's House and Museum. The museum houses many photographs, as well as some documents, furniture and gifts presented to the dictator. It also houses Stalin's death mask. Outside the museum is the railway carriage which Stalin used for 12 years.
Homestay (1 nt)
Day 18 Kutaisi
After a relaxing morning we leave Gori and make our way to the ancient town of Kutaisi (approx 140 km). In the afternoon we will visit the medieval Bagrati Cathedral and the Gelati Monastery.
Kutaisi is one of the cradles of Georgian civilisation, and the peopled here are renowned for their hospitality. Kutaisi is also home to the Bagrati Cathedral which sits high on a hill overlooking the town. This immense building was started by Bagrat III in 1003. It is now in a state of ruin, but is still an impressive Christian monument.
While visiting Kutaisi we stay overnight at a either a local hotel or a homestay.
- Kutaisi - Bagrati Cathedral - Free
Homestay (1 nt)
Day 19 Batumi
The morning is free to relax and explore Kutaisi. In the afternoon we drive about 140 km to the port town of Batumi, where we stay in a comfortable hotel. The rest of the afternoon and the evening are free to explore.
Situated on the Black Sea coast, Batumi has the feel of a resort town, nicely positioned between the sea and the green hills. It is a great place to relax and there are plenty of cafes where you can enjoy a Turkish coffee, sitting outside watching the people and the ships.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 20 Sumela
Today we cross the border into Turkey and drive approximately 235 km to Sumela, where we camp overnight. In colder weather we may stay in a hotel in Trabzon.
Camping (with facilities) (1 nt)
Day 21 Bush Camp
This morning we will visit the beautiful Sumela Monastery.
Set in the cliffs is the beautiful monastery of Sumela. The monastery clings to a sheer rock wall high about evergreen forests and a rushing mountain stream.
We then drive approximately 340 km, perhaps stopping in the town of Zara en route for supplies before finding somewhere to bush camp for the night.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 22-23 Goreme
Today we drive approximately 330 km to Goreme, where we stay at a well-equipped campsite.
In the heart of Cappadocia, the town of Goreme lies in a fantastic region of cones, needles and columns, fashioned by nature from the soft volcanic tuff rock. It's honeycombed with caves scooped out to make churches and dwellings that are known as fairy chimneys and castles. In times of peace, the people in this region lived on the land but in times of war or persecution they took to living underground.
The following day we have a full day to explore Goreme, including a guided tour of the enchanted valley of Cappadocia.
- Goreme - Guided Goreme Valley tour
- Goreme - Underground City - TRY15
- Hot Air Ballooning - EUR120
- Goreme - Open Air Museum - TRY15
Camping (with facilities) (2 nts)
Day 24 Bush Camp
We spend the morning in Goreme, and then in the early afternoon head west, stopping at or near Toz Golu where we bush camp for the night.
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 nt)
Days 25-26 Istanbul
Today we arrive in Istanbul where we stay in a friendly local hostel with good facilities.
Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, so it will come as no surprise that this vast metropolis is home to a beguiling mix of different cultures and traditions, blending the influences of both east and west. Originally founded by Greek settlers over 2000 years ago, Istanbul originally went by the name of Byzantium, then Constantinople when the Romans made it the capital of their eastern empire. Today, intriguing Istanbul is a bustling mega-city with a population of over 12 million people and a rich history and food scene waiting to be explored.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
If you would like to stay longer in Istanbul there are plenty more things to see and do. Don't miss the superb Aya Sofya, the home of beautiful mosaics and an incredible reminder of the city that was once Constantinople. Visit the Archaeology Museum, which contains an incredible array of ancient exhibits - of particular interest are the artefacts from infamous Troy. Head down to the Bosphorus and take a ferry cruise on one of the worlds most celebrated waterways or grab a fresh fish roll for lunch. You could travel over to the stylish Taksim Square area and stroll along the main street with the local hipsters. Visit the atmospheric underground Cistern, a vast underwater storage tank built in 532 AD. If all of this makes you a little tired, then an hour or two spent in a hamam (Turkish bath) will leave you rejuvenated at the end of your journey.
- Istanbul - Aya Sofya - TRY25
- Istanbul - Topkapi Palace (incl. harem) - TRY35
- Istanbul - Basilica Cistern - TRY10
- Istanbul - Archaeology Museum - TRY10
- Istanbul - Turkish Hamam (incl. massage) - TRY100
- Istanbul - Blue Mosque - Free
Hostel (1 nt)
We've allowed plenty of room for freedom and flexibility in our trips. In fact, flexibility is one of the ingredients that makes each of our trips so exciting. This style of travel offers us some unexpected circumstances at times, for example, bad weather and road conditions, technical defects of transportation, inconveniences caused by local operators and authorities, and other circumstances beyond our control. Changes in the program may be required to make the best of the unique situations that we encounter.
Overnight stops and driving distances each day may vary to best suit the needs of the group. Our described itineraries are to be used as a general guide only.
Expect some culture shock. You'll be exposed to signs of poverty and access to services may be sporadic. The food will be quite different to home and English speakers harder to find. Respecting the local culture will make it easier to fit in and really experience the location.
Some easy physical activities included in your trip. No physical preparation is required to make the most of the journey.
In these parts of the world you'll need to be healthy enough to cope with extremes of climate; from hot deserts through to the cold of high mountain areas.
Overland travelling can be demanding - long, rough travel days and dusty conditions can be challenging to some. You'll need to be fit enough to help every day with the camp chores (cooking, washing up, general camp set up) as well as putting up, and taking down your own tent. There are some long driving days and some early morning starts. The step-up into the overland vehicle, while not overly high can become tiring. You need to judge if you are physically fit enough to haul yourself up and down the step at least 8-10 times a day.
Included activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary, all other activities are optional and at your own expense. If you choose not to participate in the included activities on this itinerary, the cost will not be refunded.
On this trip it's compulsory to contribute to a kitty. The kitty is an on-ground payment put into a central fund and overseen by travellers and the crew. It helps fund accommodation, camp meals and some included activities. Kitty amounts are subject to change to reflect local price increases. Please check our website for the up-to-date amount 48 hours prior to your trip commencement.
Your kitty will be collected when you arrive for your trip, either on day 1 or, if on a combination trip, in stages throughout your trip.
You may pay your kitty in a mixture of US Dollars cash and the rest in local currency (amount and type of currency to be agreed by the leader at the start of the trip). Most of our travellers chose to bring a cash passport with them for withdrawing local currency (you can visit www.cashpassport.com for further information on these). This is a very secure way of carrying your money whilst travelling. You treat them exactly like an ATM card and draw out local currency from an ATM to give to your leader within each country.
If you do choose to pay part in local currency your trip leader will confirm the current exchange rates with you so you will know exactly how much to hand over.
Travellers cheques have become increasingly difficult to change around the world with passengers and our leaders experiencing huge frustration and numerous hours spent trying to find a bank which will change travellers cheques. For this reason we no longer accept them on our trips.
We constantly monitor local price changes and exchange rate fluctuations that could affect kitty expenses. Final kitty contributions are likely to be different from those quoted in the brochure or at the time of booking so you must check the final amount just before departure.
As our kitty is flexible the indicated amount is indicative only. Follow the link below to view the kitty amount for your departure date.
A selection of optional activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary. This isn't an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only. Prices are for entrance only and don't include transport costs to and from the sites or local guides unless indicated. It may not be possible to do all the activities listed in the time available at each destination. Optional activities aren't necessarily endorsed or recommended by Intrepid nor included in price of this trip. If you do any optional activities, you do so at your own risk and it must be clearly understood that your participation is your own decision and doesn't form part of your contract with Intrepid. You may be required to sign/complete a waiver form or a receipt for some optional activities.
It is not really worth trying to buy local currencies before you travel. Do also bear in mind that many countries have strict regulations about the amount of their own local currency you are allowed to import - if you are found with amounts in excess of the allowed amounts, it may well be confiscated!
For obvious security reasons we hesitate to recommend you bring lots of cash with you, a sensible mix of cash, travellers cheques and ATM cards is best. However, most of our past passengers have said they wished they had been told to bring more cash. Apart from the convenience of being able to change money in many more places, you will sometimes get a much better exchange rate for cash. Note that for trips in Central Asia it's virtually impossible to use traveller's cheques or find ATMs. We therefore recommend that you bring cash in US$.
You should take a mixture of denomination notes. Banks and money-changers in most countries will now only accept bills with a metallic strip running top to bottom of the bill and which are dated from 2003 or later. You should not take worn or damaged notes, or any that have been written on. Cash machines are available in some areas but are not always reliable therefore we recommend that you do not rely on them as your only source of cash. Credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express are the most commonly accepted, but be prepared for very high commission charges.
Please do not rely on cards for daily use, as they are not always accepted outside of larger towns and cities. Please bring a mixture of small and large denominations as in more remote areas it can be hard to change amounts over $50.
Every traveller is different and therefore spending money requirements will vary. Some travellers may drink more than others while other travellers like to purchase more souvenirs than most. Please consider your own spending habits when it comes to allowing for drinks, shopping, participating in optional activities, and tipping. Please also remember the following specific recommendations when planning your trip.
If you are happy with the services providing a tip - though not compulsory - is appropriate. While it may not be customary to you, it is of great significance to the people who will take care of you during your travels, inspires excellent service, and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across many Intrepid destinations. We recommend that any tips are given to the intended recipient by a member of your group, rather than collected and passed on by the group leader.
The following amounts are based on local considerations and feedback from our past travellers:
Restaurants: Please check the bill and if there’s an addition of 10% service charge, there’s no requirement for tipping. Otherwise, 10% of the total bill amount is appropriate.
At local markets and basic restaurants: Leave the loose change.
Local guides/Porters: Throughout your trip you may at times have a local guide in addition to your leader. We suggest US$1 per person, per day for local guides/porters.
Your crew (including the leader and driver, and perhaps cook depending on your trip): You may also consider tipping your crew for outstanding service throughout your trip. The amount is entirely a personal preference; however as a guideline US$2-3 per person, per day can be used. Of course you are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality and the length of your trip. Remember, a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.
All departure taxes should be included in your international flight ticket.
Please note this Intrepid trip is operated by our experienced local partners Dragoman Overland. Your departure will be run in a Dragoman vehicle with a Dragoman crew.
The minimum age for this trip is 18 years old and bookings for minors, even if accompanied by a parent, cannot be accepted.
Visas for this trip can take many weeks to be issued so book early. Central Asia visa support letters are included in the trip price.
NB: These are not the actual visas. Visa costs are a separate to the trip price.
EXPORTS / IMPORTS:
An export certificate is required to take carpets and anything else considered antique out of Turkmenistan. Export certificates are available from the Carpet Museum or this can be arranged through the seller. It is also important to catalogue and declare to Customs any carpets or anything antique looking - even if clearly from a different part of the world - that you bring into Turkmenistan with you.
RAMADAN & THE EID UL-FITR FESTIVAL (BAYRAM) 2013:
In 2013 the important month of Ramadan will be in progress from the 9th July through till the 7th August, and the Eid ul-Fitr festival will be held directly at its conclusion for 3-4 days. Ramadan is a festival of sacrifice where the devout refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. During Ramadan business hours are shortened, including opening hours at some tourist attractions. Alcohol is not permitted during daylight hours and many restaurants will be closed. While you should expect some delays and inconveniences during this period, the month is a fantastic opportunity to travel in a Muslim country and witness this unique period, particularly the nightly celebrations when the sun sets and the fast is broken. Please note that although the Eid ul-Fitr festival can also be a fascinating time to travel it is a period of National holiday. Most government offices and businesses will be closed and some tourist site opening hours may be impacted.
Some destinations visited on this trip do not have consulates in Australia and New Zealand. We recommend that travellers from these countries book the WESTBOUND itinerary of this trip where some visas can be obtained en route.
Maximum of 21 travellers per group.
Your fellow travellers
As you travel on a group trip you will be exposed to all the pleasures and maybe some of the frustrations of travelling in a group. Your fellow travellers will probably come from all corners of the world and likely a range of age groups too. We ask you to be understanding of the various needs and preferences of your group - patience with your fellow travellers is sometimes required for the benefit of everyone's travel experience. Remember too that you have responsibilities to the group. If you are requested to be at a place at a certain time, ensure that you don't keep the rest of the group waiting. We have found time and time again that the very best trips we operate are those where the dynamics within the group work well - this takes just a little effort on your part.
Due to privacy reasons we are unable to provide you with contact details and any personal information about your fellow travellers booked on your trip prior to departure. However you can download Intrepid's FREE Meet Up app to chat with your fellow travellers before your trip. Meet up, discuss your upcoming trip and share the excitement of planning for your adventure. For more information visit:
Our group trips are designed for shared accommodation and don't involve a compulsory single supplement. Single travellers share with people of the same gender in accommodation ranging from twin to multishare. Some of our itineraries have accommodation booked on a mixed gender share basis and where applicable this will be specified in our Trip Notes. On a selection of our trips, you have the option to pay a single supplement to ensure that you have your own accommodation (where available). Please note that this only applies to accommodation during the tour - pre-trip and post-trip accommodation will be booked on a single room basis.
Hotel (10 nts), Bush camp (no facilities) (5 nts), Homestay (5 nts), Camping (with facilities) (3 nts), Overnight ferry (1 nt), Hostel (1 nt)
Dragoman overland trips are designed for shared accommodation, whether camping or staying in hotels, ranging from twin to multishare. The type and variety of accommodation is determined by conditions on each of our routes. Each route is different - on some we use a mixture of campsites and wild camps; on others we also use hotels.
Where it's not practical to camp (ie: in towns and cities), we use hotel accommodation and eat out in local restaurants. The frequency and regularity of hotel stops depends on the route and area.
Campsites will range from rather basic to those with excellent facilities, including swimming pools, restaurants and bars. In some cases it may also be possible to upgrade locally to bungalows, lodges or even tree-houses. One of the highlights of overlanding is that in more remote areas we will wild-camp. This allows us to get far away from the tourist crowds to some beautiful, secluded spots. We will also arrange as many village or local homestays as possible, allowing us to get close to indigenous populations and ensures our money stays within local communities.
All meals when camping
Please budget for additional meals and expenses while on your trip. Our suggestion is based on past traveller feedback but you may choose to spend more or less.
On an Overland journey you are more than just a passenger, you’re part of the crew - pitching in to set up camp, shopping for food, cooking and generally helping out. We operate a rota system, dividing the group into smaller units of 5 or 6 people, so that these duties are shared equally amongst the group. These jobs will include things like collecting water and firewood, loading the back locker, supervising the kitty and food stores etc. While camping on overland journeys, all meals will be included in the kitty and this means that you will be working as a group to prepare meals and cook for your group. If you have any dietary requirements please tell us at the time of booking and also remind your crew at your welcome meeting.
A typical camp breakfast might be toast with spreads, cereal and something hot such as eggs or pancakes as well as tea and coffee. Lunch is almost always a sandwich heaped high with healthy salad and assorted fillings, with fruit to follow. Dinner might be a BBQ, risotto, pasta dish and there is always the chance to try some local cooking. Generally our passengers find the more they put into a trip, the more they benefit for it.
Overland vehicle, Overnight ferry
Roads can be very rough which makes for long, slow travel days. It's all worth it however for the spectacular scenery and novelty of truck travel.
The ferry across the Caspian Sea is far from luxurious and can be very slow. Sailing times and days can be very unpredictable, so a flexible attitude is necessary. This is a unique experience however and a spectacular sunset can make it all worthwhile.
On all of our Dragoman-operated Overlanding trips you will be accompanied by two Western crew members who are responsible for the group and the overall organisation of the trip.
While not being guides in the traditional sense you can expect them to have a broad knowledge of the places visited and to offer suggestions of things to do and see. In East and Southern Africa we will also have an African camp master/cook who is in charge of running the camp and organising all of the meals. Their knowledge of the local produce makes shopping at the markets great fun and you will learn how to prepare and cook some unusual dishes. In the rest of Africa, South America and the majority of Central Asia and China we use local guides who may stay with us for just a few hours or will actually travel with us for some or all of the journey. In these cases they become a third crew member and are able to offer their local knowledge as well as a real insight into the lives of the local people. Our crew are chosen for their leadership skills, and most importantly have a passion for the region and its people.
We endeavour to provide the services of an experienced leader and crew; however, situations may arise where your leader is new to a particular region or training other group leaders
On any Overland trip, there are a number of tasks that need to be done. Our overland trip leaders will organise the group into smaller groups of two or three who will take turns in the daily shopping and cooking, vehicle cleaning, disposing of rubbish, etc. There are also a number of other jobs that need doing e.g. collecting water and firewood, luggage loading, supervising the kitty and food stores, which may be assigned to particular people or on a rota system according to group size, make-up, and so on. You must come prepared to 'pull your weight' and share in these duties; you will become very unpopular with other group members if they have to do your share. The more you put into a trip, the more you'll benefit.
Ak Altyn Hotel
Magtymguly şayoli 141/1
Phone: +993 12363700
Joining point instructions
There are licensed taxis in Turkmenistan, which are clearly identified and yellow in colour. Although the taxis have meters to calculate the fare, drivers will usually ask foreign nationals for a set fee of around 5 to 10 Manat (taxis from the airport cost more and they usually ask for US$). Most taxi drivers do not speak much English. It is also possible to flag down ordinary cars from the roadside and negotiate a fee with the driver for the journey to your destination. We advise against this as there is usually no insurance cover, the servicing of the cars is very likely to be infrequent and of poor quality and they are unlikely to have working seatbelts.
Alternatively transfers from Ashgabat airport to your hotel can be booked through us in advance. Please contact our reservations department.
PRE TRIP ACCOMMODATION
All tourists must register within three days of arrival in Ashgabat with the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan. This registration procedure will be carried out by Dragoman’s local agent in Turkmenistan on arrival at your hotel in Ashgabat (if arriving before the trips start date) or with the group on the first day of your trip.
Due to the registration procedure we ask all clients arriving in Ashgabat before your trip starts to contact us with full arrival details i.e. flight number, date and time of arrival at Ashgabat airport. We also ask that all clients wishing to book pre trip accommodation do so directly with Intrepid in order for the registration procedure to be carried out. Please contact us for full details and prices of pre trip accommodation in Ashgabat.
We don't expect any problems (and nor should you) but if for any reason you are unable to commence your trip as scheduled, please refer to the emergency contact section below for who to contact depending upon your starting location.
No refund is available on missed transfers or portions of your trip owing to a different flight arrival or delayed flight arrival. Any additional cost incurred in order to meet up with your group is at your own expense.
Akbiyik Caddesi no:13
Finish point description
The Orient Hostel Istanbul is ideally located close by to the Topkapi Palace, Saint Sophia, The Blue Mosque, Yerebatan Cistern, Hippodrome, numerous museums are only 200m away, the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, Cemberlitas, and Beyazit are an easy walk. It is also in a easily accessible location to transport and public services. Please note the rooms are small at this hostel.
Please also make sure you have access to an additional US$400, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (eg. a natural disaster, civil unrest or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. The visa requirements for your trip vary depending on where you are from and where you are going. As a general rule most countries expect that you will have at least 6 months' validity on your passport. On arrival visitors may be asked to present return tickets and evidence of means to cover your intended stay.
We keep the following information up to date as much as possible, but rules do change - it's important that you check for yourself. Residents from other countries must consult the relevant embassies or your travel agent.
CENTRAL ASIA VISAS (DRAGOMAN):
This trip visits multiple countries for which visas can be difficult and time consuming to obtain. Please ensure that you have enough time to apply for all visas you require before booking this trip.
You will need to plan very carefully how and where you will obtain your visas as some Central Asian destinations may not have an embassy in your country. Some countries also require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) in order to apply for your visa. Specific information about visas for each destination on this trip can be found in the Trip Notes. Please remember that while Intrepid, Dragoman and The Visa Machine are able to provide some advice about visas, it is the responsibility of the individual traveller to ensure that all correct and necessary information and documents are supplied on time for their own Letters of Invitation and visa applications. While it is possible to apply for visas independently, some travellers choose to use a visa service or agent for the process. Your booking agent can advise of a reputable service.
We strongly advise booking this trip on its own or taking it at the beginning of your broader travel plans as the already complicated visa process will only be further complicated by trying to get visas on the road.
LETTERS OF INVITATION (LOI)
This trip travels to one or more countries which may require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) in order to apply for your visa. Please check the country specific visa information below to see if this requirement affects you and your trip.
In order for Dragoman to apply for the LOI on your behalf through our partners The Visa Machine you will need to do the following immediately after booking:
1. Complete & submit the following form: http://dragoman.thevisamachine.com/visa-support
2. Email the following documents tomailto:firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name in the subject of the email followed by "Dragoman LOI":
* Clear, colour scanned copy of your passport (+ passport PHOTO scan for Turkmenistan LOI)
* Letter of Employment or Study (Uzbekistan LOI). This must be a letter from your employer or place of study on a business letterhead that states clearly that you are travelling for tourism purposes only. If you are retired or self-employed, please indicate this on the form above.
Submitting this information for your LOI is the responsibility of the traveller. Please complete the Visa Support form as soon as possible after booking. Any delays in returning this form, along with the associated documents, will have a knock on effect to the amount of time you have in applying for the actual visa.
Please be aware that LOIs can take up to 30 days to be processed and can only be applied for 3 months before entry in order to remain valid. The Visa Machine will be able to advise you on the expected time frame in which you will receive your LOI. You must indicate where you will apply for your visa on the above form and any changes in this information will result in your LOI being delayed so please plan carefully.
Once the LOI has been processed a copy will be sent to you. You can then begin the process of applying for your visa. LOIs are valid for a 3 months period so you must apply for your visa within 3 months of the LOI being issued.
LOIs are generally included in the trip price unless otherwise indicated, however remember that these are NOT the actual visa. Visas are the responsibility of the traveller and separate from the trip price. Costs will vary depending on your nationality and place of application.
On occasion visa applications or LOIs may be rejected. The reasons for the rejection may or may not be disclosed. While Intrepid, Dragoman and The Visa Machine have no control over such situations and cannot be held responsible, should this occur we will do what we can to help you continue your trip or arrange alternative travel plans.
AZERBAIJAN (DRAGOMAN OVERLAND):
LETTERS OF INVITATION (LOI):
Most nationalities require a visa to visit Azerbaijan. Most also require a LOI in order to apply although this can depend on where your application is made. Visa rules for Azerbaijan are constantly changing and embassy staff often find it hard to keep up with or know how to interpret them. We recommend checking the following websites for reports and up to date information: http://azerbaijan24.com & http://caravanistan.com.
The following information was current at the time of writing. You will need to check with the embassy where you will apply for specific information and costs.
VISA ON ARRIVAL:
It is no longer possible to get a visa on arrival at Baku Airport or at any land border into Azerbaijan. All travellers must apply for their Single Entry Tourist Visa to Azerbaijan in advance.
APPLYING FOR AN E-VISA:
From March 2013 Azerbaijan has introduced an e-visa system. This is an online process, with the visa emailed to you as a PDF attachment that you will need to print out. This visa enables entry to Azerbaijan at any border point, land or air and is issued strictly for the dates your documents show only. The e-visa costs US$100 and takes up to 15 days to be processed and requires submitting the following documents:
*Clear, colour copy of passport in JPEG format
*Clear, colour copy of applicant’s photo size 3x4 cm in JPEG format
*Flight reservation details if arriving or departing by air
*Confirmation of hotel booking – This can be requested from Dragoman by emailing email@example.com
*Completed e-visa application form in WORD format
Please note that while this is a very new service, we advise all pax to apply for the e-visa rather than applying at an embassy.
There are 2 options for obtaining the e-visa:
1. The Visa Machine
The application process can be started by going to the following address:
The application cost is $80US plus £20 admin fee.
2. Direct to an Azeri travel agent
An alternative option is to use Azerbaijan24, an Azeri travel agent. Please follow the link to find instructions on completing the application form independently:
The application will cost $100US.
INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR VISA APPLICATION:
Organisation, juridical or physical person inviting you to Azerbaijan:
Mirvari Travel Ltd.
Istiqlaliyyet str. 23
+994 12 492 09 45
Address of the place of your stay in Azerbaijan:
Asif Zeynally street 39
(unless otherwise indicated on your LOI)
DOCUMENTS REQUIRED FOR VISA APPLICATION:
* Letter of Invitation (LOI), additional official documents depending on the embassy
* Photocopy of your passport
* Passport size photos (up to 4)
* Please check with the embassy for any other specific requirements
Many nationalities do not currently require a visa for Georgia, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK, USA & all EU member states. However, all nationalities should check with the nearest embassy for the latest visa information as this may be subject to change at short notice.
TURKMENISTAN (DRAGOMAN OVERLAND):
LETTERS OF INVITATION (LOI)
All visitors to Turkmenistan require a visa. You will need a Letter of Invitation (LOI) in order to apply for your visa.
How and where apply for your Turkmenistan visa will depend on how you enter the country.
VISA ON ARRIVAL - LAND:
Travellers arriving in Turkmenistan overland on a WESTBOUND itinerary can obtain their visas at the land border on arrival. Please indicate this as the place where you will apply for your visa on the The Visa Machine LOI form. Costs will depend on your nationality (currently US$55-$85) and payment must be in cash. There is also usually a tax imposed on land arrivals of approx US$14.
VISA ON ARRIVAL - AIR
Travellers arriving into Saparmurat Turkmenbashy International Airport can obtain their visa on arrival at the airport. You will require a printed copy of your LOI that includes your exact flight details in order to board your flight so please ensure you supply this information to The Visa Machine. Costs will depend on your nationality (currently approx US$85) and payment must be in cash.
In all other circumstances you must obtain your visa from an embassy before your travel and must indicate specifically where you will apply on the The Visa Machine LOI form. On arrival in Turkmenistan you will be required to fill out an immigration card which must be kept for your entire journey. Turkmenistan embassies where you may be able to apply for your visa include: Beijing, London, Istanbul, Tashkent, Almaty, Washington, Berlin, Paris. The following website may have useful information and traveller reports about applying for visas at these and other embassies: www.caravanistan.com
INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR VISA APPLICATION:
You will need to apply for a Single Entry Tourist Visa (G)
Name(s) of Host/Sponsor/Contact:
Magtymguly Avenue 108-13, 14
+993 12 352914
Address in Turkmenistan:
Ak Altyn Hotel
141/1 Magtymguly ave
+993 12 363700
DOCUMENTS REQUIRED FOR VISA APPLICATION:
* Letter of Invitation (LOI)
* Photocopy of your passport
* Passport size photo (up to 4)
* Please check with the embassy for any other specific requirements
WARNING - TRAVELLING IN OCTOBER:
Independence Day in Turkmenistan is on October 27th. The government usually imposes restrictions on the issuance of the LOIs and visas during the month of September for all those travelling to Turkmenistan in October. If you are planning to travel to Turkmenistan in October please ensure your visa application is submitted well in advance.
TURKEY (ALL TRIPS):
Please note that many nationalities require a visit to enter Turkey, and the process for obtaining a visa is due to change on 10 April, 2014.
Those planning to arrive in Turkey on or before 9 April 2014 will be able to obtain a visa on arrival. Costs vary depending on your nationality:
Australian & Canadian: US$60
US & UK : US$20
Other nationalities should check the cost via your local consulate or embassy.
For those planning to arrive in Turkey on or after 10 April, 2014, the following will apply:
Australia: Yes - apply for an e-visa before you go
Belgium: Yes - apply for an e-visa before you go
Canada: Yes - apply for an e-visa before you go
Germany: No - not required
Ireland: Yes - apply for an e-visa before you go
Netherlands: Yes - apply for an e-visa before you go
New Zealand: No - not required
South Africa: Yes - apply for an e-visa before you go
Switzerland: No - not required
United Kingdom: Yes - apply for an e-visa before you go
USA: Yes - apply for an e-visa before you go
To apply for an e-visa, please go to https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/ at least a few weeks before you go.
The visa costs can change at any time and with little notice depending on the political climate of the region.
A valid passport is sufficient for citizens of most other countries including New Zealand, Argentina, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland for stays up to 3 months. All other nationalities please check with your nearest Turkish embassy.
Issues on your trip
While we always endeavour to provide the best possible holiday experience, due to the nature of travel and the areas we visit sometimes things can and do go wrong. Should any issue occur while you are on your trip, it is imperative that you discuss this with your group leader or our local representative straight away so that they can do their best to rectify the problem and save any potential negative impact on the rest of your trip.
We recognise that there may be times when your group leader/local partner may not be able to resolve a situation to your satisfaction - if this is the case, please ask the leader to speak to their direct manager.
You may also choose to provide details in your online feedback, which we ask you to complete within 30 days of the end of your trip. But we do ask you to be aware that it is very difficult for us to provide any practical help after the trip is complete.
What to take
What you need to bring will vary according to the trip style you have chosen, the countries you are visiting and when you are travelling. Generally speaking you should pack as lightly as possible. On the vast majority of our trips you are expected to carry your own luggage and although you won't be required to walk long distances with your luggage (max 30 minutes), we recommend keeping the weight under 10kg / 22lb.
Most travellers carry their luggage in a backpack, although an overnight bag with a shoulder strap would suffice if you travel lightly. Smaller bags or backpacks with wheels are convenient although we recommend your bag has carry straps. You'll also need a day pack/bag to carry water and a camera etc for day trips.
You can find Intrepid's Ultimate Packing List on our website. It should be used as a guide only and isn't intended to be a complete packing list.
The size of baggage that can be brought on this tour is limited by the locker space on the truck. Different trucks have different sized lockers however to be safe we recommend that your bag be no larger than 66cm deep, 30cm wide, and 30cm high. You will need to bring your own lock for your locker. We recommend a 20-30mm sized padlock with a long shackle.The weight limit for luggage on all trucks is maximum 20kg. Backpacks shouldn't have an external frame unless it can be easily removed and stored separately to avoid damaging other people's luggage.
CAMPING EQUIPMENT / MATTRESS:
A sleeping bag (we recommend a 3–4 season). It can get very cold at night in winter months in desert and mountainous regions. If you're travelling during the hot season you may wish to also pack a sleep sheet so you will be comfortable no matter the weather. Pillows are NOT provided so please bring a travel pillow along.
We don't provide a mattress so please bring your own (a Thermarest / inflatable mattress is recommended).
A simple plastic bag / waterproof toiletry bag (that can hang on a nail on the back of a door) will be useful to keep your clothes dry inside basic camp shower structures.
You will need to bring a mixture of lightweight clothing, some warm items for the evenings, and long shirts and pants for protection against mosquitoes in the malaria areas. Clothes should be easy to wash and dry. Some people like to take jeans for evenings out but they can be tough to dry and should not be used for trekking. Avoid nylon and other synthetics, which can be very uncomfortable in hot weather. Ex-military or military style clothing and equipment is NOT recommended.
As this trip includes camping and/or bush walking we highly recommend that you take a pair of comfortable, closed-in walking shoes. Closed-in shoes will help to protect your feet from cuts and scratches when walking through bush/grass-lands, and will also act as a barrier protection in rare cases against bites or stings from dangerous animals in this environment.
Consider bringing your own water bottle to refill along the way. We recommend at least a 1.5litre capacity. The sale of bottled water contributes to an enormous environmental problem around the world. In addition to the water in bottles, the production of a 1 litre plastic bottle takes 2 litres of water and 200ml of oil. A large proportion end up in limited landfill or discarded in waterways and natural environments. Please avoid the purchase of bottled water by using the chemically sterilized water stored in the purpose-built storage tank or in water jerry cans in your overland vehicle. You're free to refill your bottle as many times a day as you like.
Most of our trips have access to power to recharge batteries for phones and cameras every couple of days. We always recommend that you carry an extra battery for your camera just in case. Your vehicle will be equipped with a 12 volt “cigarette lighter” socket which may be used at the crew’s discretion, however, do bear in mind that only one piece of equipment can be charged at a time and it will not be allowed if there is a risk of running the vehicle’s batteries low. Batteries may also be recharged from hotel room wall sockets. We suggest you bring a mix of normal and rechargeable batteries and the appropriate recharging unit. Hotels and many campsites have electricity and charging of batteries is advised before checking out the following day.
Please try to avoid bringing unnecessary valuables, and use your hotel safe and the safe on the overland truck to store the bulk of your money, passport, and airline tickets. It’s also a good idea to purchase a money belt or pouch that is easily hidden.
We strongly recommend that you photocopy all important documents e.g. air tickets, passport, vaccination certificate, etc. and keep the copies separate from the originals. While not valid, a photocopy makes it very much easier to obtain replacements if necessary.
All Intrepid travellers need to be in good physical health in order to participate fully on this trip. When selecting your trip please make sure you have read through the itinerary carefully and assess your ability to cope with our style of travel. Please note that if, in the opinion of our group leader or local guide, any traveller is unable to complete the itinerary without undue risk to themselves and/or the rest of the group, Intrepid reserves the right to exclude them from all or part of a trip without refund.
You should consult your doctor for up-to-date medical travel information or for any necessary vaccinations and anti-malarial requirements before departure. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses) as they may not easily be obtained at the locations on this trip. For legal reasons our leaders and guides are prohibited from administering any type of drugs including headache tablets and antibiotics. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.
Many national governments provide a regularly updated advice service on safety issues involved with international travel. We recommend that you check your government's advice for their latest travel information before departure. Please refer to our website's safety page for links to major travel advisories and updates on safety issues affecting our trip.
We strongly recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe-keeping of your passport, air tickets, cash and other valuable items. Leave your valuable jewellery at home - you won't need it while travelling. Many of our hotels have safety deposit boxes, which is the most secure way of storing your valuables. A lock is recommended for securing your luggage.
Your leader will accompany you on all included activities, however during your trip you'll have some free time to pursue your own interests, relax and take it easy or explore at your leisure. While your group leader will assist you with the available options in a given location, please note that any optional activities you undertake are not part of your Intrepid itinerary, and Intrepid makes no representations about the safety of the activity or the standard of the operators running them. Please use your own good judgement when selecting an activity in your free time. Please also note that your group leader has the authority to amend or cancel any part of the trip itinerary if it's deemed necessary due to safety concerns.
For more details on the type of conditions and safety standards you can expect on your trip, please refer to Intrepid's operational safety policy on our website. We recommend that you take a moment to read through this information before travelling, and would appreciate any feedback on how well it's being implemented in the field:
Where we use a local partner to fully operate one of our itineraries, we use the travel advisory of the country where that operator is based rather than the Australian DFAT advisory. This itinerary is operated by our local partners Dragoman, and as such will follow the British Government (FCO) Travel Advice. To view these travel advisories please log on to:
PETTY THEFT AND PERSONAL SAFETY:
While travelling there is always the risk of pick-pocketing and petty theft, particularly in the more touristy cities. We recommend that you exercise caution when walking alone at night and encourage you to walk together and only on main, well-lit thoroughfares. Be particularly vigilant on public transport. Simple measures like carrying your day pack on your front, not hanging your bag over the back of your chair and wearing a money belt will reduce any chance that your valuables should go missing.
The vehicle has fully lockable doors and windows, which is an obvious advantage, but it will probably be necessary to guard it at times and everyone should be prepared to share in this responsibility.
In most areas there is very little to fear from the point of view of violence. But in all areas 'tourists' are a tempting target for pickpockets and con-men. Always be aware of this and be especially careful when leaving banks or money-changers, in any crowded areas, etc. NEVER leave things lying around - they will almost certainly get stolen. We cannot emphasise enough how important it is to always be security conscious and to take all necessary precautions. Great inconvenience and distress can be caused by having your documents or possessions stolen.
A few of our past group members have had the unhappy experience of having their belongings stolen before the trip starts. Beware of carrying your passport and other valuables around with you in cities. We strongly suggest you deposit your valuables in your hotel safe on arrival.
Travel insurance is compulsory for all our trips. We require that, at a minimum, you are covered for medical expenses including emergency repatriation. We strongly recommend that the policy also covers personal liability, cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects.
When travelling on a group trip, you won't be permitted to join the group until evidence of travel insurance and the insurance company's 24 hour emergency contact number has been seen by your leader.
If you have credit card insurance your group leader will require details of the participating insurer/underwriter, the level of coverage, policy number and emergency contact number rather than the bank's name and credit card details. Please contact your bank for these details prior to arriving in-country.
Please go to our website for links to various travel insurance providers:
We believe strongly in low impact or rather positive impact tourism. Broadly speaking this means that we try to minimise the negative aspects of tourism on the local cultures and environments that we visit and highlight the positive aspects. Please visit our website for further details and suggestions on how you can be a responsible traveller:
Dress standards are conservative throughout Asia, especially outside major cities. To respect this and for your own comfort, we strongly recommend modest clothing. This means clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Loose, lightweight, long clothing is both respectful and cool in areas of predominantly hot climate. In many rural areas women will need to wear modest clothing even to swim. Singlets, tank tops and topless sun bathing are all unacceptable. When visiting religious sites men often need to wear long trousers and women a long skirt or sarong.
A couple of rules
Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on our trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is a part of local culture in some parts of the world but is not acceptable for Intrepid travellers. Intrepid's philosophy of travel is one of respect towards everyone we encounter and in particular, the local people who make our destinations such special places. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy. Our group leader has the right to expel any member of the group if drugs are found in their possession or if they use prostitutes.
The Intrepid Foundation
Since Intrepid Travel commenced operating in 1989 we've been committed to giving something back to the communities we visit. One way has been through our support for local humanitarian, development and conservation projects. Many of our travellers want to contribute something too. Whilst it is often tempting to give hand-outs to those less fortunate, this has the potential to promote a culture of begging and dependency. Handouts are not a sustainable way for individuals or communities to live. That’s why we established The Intrepid Foundation – to make it easier for travellers wishing to give back to communities in an effective and meaningful way.
The Intrepid Foundation is a not-for-profit fund offering a selection of excellent grassroots organisations which you can contribute to. All donations to The Intrepid Foundation will be matched by Intrepid Travel dollar for dollar (up to AU$5,000 per donor and a total of AU$400,000 for all donors in each financial year). And every cent gets there as Intrepid Travel pays for all the administration costs. Donating is simple and secure. Please ask your group leader for information on the projects we support through The Intrepid Foundation or go to our website:
Responsible Travel projects
Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Turkey include:
* Mavi Kalem provides the children of rural immigrants, in the poorer areas of Eastern Turkey, with additional weekly classes through its Children's Education Program. These lessons, by trained teachers in all areas of formal education, give unprecedented educational opportunities in a region where the uneducated face limited prospects.