Turtle, Ecuador

Reviews

Your Words - We tell it like it is! Holiday Reviews by previous Exodus travellers  

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10 Reviews

  • Reviewed September 2019
    Deborah Evans

    Amazing, Extensive, Exhausting Trip

    If you want to see classic Silk Road architecture then go to Uzbekistan. If you want to see amazing mountain scenery then go to Kyrgyzstan. If you want to see both of the above plus three other countries in Central Asia, whilst experiencing a wide range of 'best of' activites plus a few off the beaten track sights, all crammed into three hectic weeks, then the Five Stans trip is the one for you. My expectations were high, but this trip surpassed them.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I can't pick one, here are a selection of things that blew me away: Surreal Ashgabat. Beautiful Bukhara. Samarkand. Obviously. The night sky (and entire yurt experience) at Son Kul lake

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Suzie Grant is a one woman whirlwind. She held our great group together, looked after us all, kept our spirits up and used her natural curiousity to help make it the best trip possible for us. It was a privilege to travel with her.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Bear in mind that the itinerary is very 'full on' and, although I consider myself to be relatively fit, I was quite tired by the end of the trip. That said, I am grateful for the opportunity to do so much in such a short period of time.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Just go.
  • Reviewed August 2019
    Susi Quinn

    A long and varied road

    This amazing trip was like several holidays rolled into one. From the surreal weirdness of Ashghabat and Darvaza, through ancient archaeological sites to the stunning monuments in Bukhara and Samarkand, through the desert to the Afghan border then up into beautiful mountains, lakes, rivers and nomad camps, before descending back down to the modern post-Soviet cities… every day there was something new and wonderful to see.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    So many! Ashghabat set us up with three weeks' worth of jokes; we all fell instantly in love with Bukhara; the necropolis in Samarkand was an unexpected delight; the drive into the Fann Mountains was a welcome return to awesome scenery, and the whole of Kyrgyzstan was jaw-droppingly beautiful, especially the ever-changing colours of Son Kul lake and the brilliant stars on a clear night.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Our fantastic tour leader Ale(jandro) was a major reason for the success of the trip - always on hand to organise things or deal with any issues, endlessly cheerful and calm, and full of entertaining stories about his previous trips. The local guides sometimes varied in quality, but the best ones were truly stellar - Bek in Uzbekistan and Valentina in Kyrgyzstan in particular were excellent.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    The Tajik visa is valid for about 45 days, so allow a few days' leeway at the start rather than trying to calculate your exact entry date (a few people got this wrong and had to get new visas over dodgy Turkmen internet). The Turkmen LOI can arrive very late, not the "month in advance" suggested in the trip notes, but nobody got rejected. Take plenty of rehydration salts even if you have bowels of steel - nearly everyone had some troubles, and the salts are also good if you're sweating buckets (which will definitely happen at 46 degrees!). Learn some Russian if you can, it's spoken almost everywhere, and will help you understand the bill at restaurants. The transfer window at Istanbul Airport on the way home is very tight - do whatever it takes to speed things up, whether going through the VIP security check or hitching a ride with a motorised wheelchair (have some $$ ready to tip the driver), as you may have over a mile to run to make it before boarding closes - we all made it, but only just.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Make sure you have plenty of room on your camera memory card!
  • Reviewed July 2019
    Sarah Eddington

    Leave the West Behind

    If you want to leave the west behind until the last city on this incredible journey, then welcome to the former Soviet States that make up the silk road. This trip has everything, religion, wildlife, nomad living and amazing countryside and mountains. Forget McDonalds and Burger King, at times you won't even get social media!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    staying in a Yurt high in the mountains, seeing the nomad people living their lives as they have done for 1000's of years

    What did you think of your group leader?

    our group leader was good, and the local guides and drivers were exceptional

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Do not expect western standards, the food is basic at times as are the toilet and shower facilities. There are no home comforts which is what makes this trip what it is. Do not go expecting to get Wifi and social media, it isn't going to happen at times
  • Reviewed June 2019
    Mike Frampton

    The Five Stans - A journey through history and the Central Asian Republice

    A great holiday with plenty of superb sites and stunning scenery. One reason for calling this the Silk Road was that silk was used to pay people. It started with the Chinese needing horses to fight the nomads from the north. By 53BC, Rome was spending half its silver production on silk and other products from the Silk Roads. Rome also had to introduce modesty legislation because of the number of people wearing only silk. Whilst Julius Caesar was invading Britain in 53BC, his friend Marcus Crassus was leading another Roman army to defeat by Persia, in an empire that stretched from modern day Iran to Afghanistan and north to Merv. 10,000 Roman captives were sold at the Merv slave market to the Chinese, to fight on their northern border against marauding nomadic tribes. The ruins of three cities can be seen at Merv, in southern modern day Turkmenistan. The first was built by Cyrus the Great when he created the first Persian Empire. Next to it is the remains of the city built by Alexander the Great and next to that the remains of the city built after the Arab invasion, which was destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan 1221 AD, with up to a million people being massacred. Alexander is a hero in Turkmen, after he freed them from Persian rule. In Uzbekistan, Timor is the hero, as he rose from hired sword to ruler of a vast empire, stretching from the Chinese border to Egypt, destroying many armies on the way. He made Samarqand his capital and made it one of the greatest cities. In Tajikistan, it is Cyrus the Great who is remembered, partly because he was murdered there. In Osh, Kyrgyzstan, it is Babur, great great grandson of Timor and founder of the Indian Mughal dynasty who is remembered. Although it is Manus who is the local hero.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Too many. Merv, Bukhara, Samarqand to name three cities. The snow capped mountains, throwing snowballs and sweltering in the heat all on the same day, magnificent lakes, watching flocks of goats and sheep being moved to the high pastures and seeing the yurts of the shepherds. One surprise was the large number of roses and other plants we saw in the first three countries visited.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Very good. Unusually we had both a western leader for the whole trip, as well as local guides for each of the countries visited.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    You may only spend one day in Kazakhstan, but a day time flight home, clouds permitting, gives you the opportunity to see the steppes and the salt pans of this vast country from the air, either through the window (book seat early) or as an alternative to a movie, using the plane's downward looking camera (which is an option in the My Flight screen). On arrival at Ashgabat airport, you have to take your invitation letter to the Visa desk before going to through passport control. The visa fee is also variable, partly depending on the exchange rate. We also found the fee charged to individuals varied from a low of $99 each to a high of about $130 each. Beware of each fresh fruit and salad, it is usually washed in local tap water, which can cause problems. Our costs per person were around: Turkmenistan - 200 Turkmen Manat for food and photo fees (June 2019 rate 4.42TMT = £1) Uzbekistan - 800,000 Uzbek Som for food and photo fees (10,700UZS = £1). Spending in the markets, pottery, silk and carpet shops is extra. Tajikistan - 380 Tajiki Somoni for food (11.93TJS = £1) Kyrgyzstan - 2,000 Kyrgyzi Som for food plus 500KGS for optional Arslanbob jeep tour (88.24KGS = £1) Kazakhstan - 15,000 Kazakh Tenge for food and market visit (481.79KZT =£1) Istanbul/other airport stop overs - don't forget this. Visa fees and tips are extra. Istanbul
  • Reviewed September 2018
    Christine Raines

    Varied and Interesting Trip

    A busy and varied trip covering five countries, encompassing a wealth of culture and history, and some amazing scenery.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Riding a horse above Lake Song Kul. Beautiful blue and gold ceiling in the Registan in Samarkand. Many encounters with friendly and welcoming local people, especially when we had homestays in the villages.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Suzie Grant is one of the best leaders I have come across. The trip would not have been half as good without her. Very well organized, very attentive to the wishes of all her clients, and a lovely personality.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Be prepared for a busy schedule: you are moving on almost every day, and there are long hours of driving. Bring clothes for all climates: temperatures ranged from 40 Centigrade in Ashgabat to near freezing at night in the highlands. Learn some Russian if you can: it is the lingua franca in all the countries, restaurant menus are usually in Russian, and all our drivers were Russian. Be aware that there is often no internet.
  • Reviewed September 2018
    John Cross

    The must see's of the Five Stans

    This is my 17th trip with Exodus and this has been one of the best so far, if not the best. There is so much to see, though there is quite a lot of travelling to enable this to happen. However the scenery, mostly deserts and mountains, are delightful. The accommodation ranged from the sublime (A Sheraton!) to the plain and simple, homestays, which gave us an even better chance to interact with local people. If you have the time to do this trip, do it, the scenery is stunning and the history of this region is the history of the civilised world. Brilliant!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing the Gur E Amir (Timur's tomb) during the day and then again by Moonlight.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Suzie Grant's organisational skills are simply outstanding. Her experience and endless patience ensured that we all had a fantastic, trouble free trip, without feeling rushed or manipulated in any way. Don't ever let her go, your company will be much the worse for it

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Go on this trip and maybe read John Frankopan's 'The Silk Road' first?
  • Reviewed September 2018
    Ros and Peter Buck

    An Incredible Trip

    An incredible journey across a region that has not always been easy to visit.The trip encompasses grand landscapes, huge distances and wonderful opportunities to learn much from the local guides. Bek in Uzbekistan and Aibek in Kyrgyzstan/ Kazakhstan particularly endeared themselves to the group, bringing knowledge, consideration and enthusiasm to the task. The trip endeavours to give wide and varied experiences and "gets off the worn track" with inclusions such as Termes, Uzbekistan near the Afghanistan border.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Expect to be amazed ! ... From bizarre Ashgabet, historically dense Bukhara and Samarkand, roadside interactions with local herders in their Yurt camps to stunning high altitude lakes.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    For a trip such as this, which encompasses moving almost every day, 5 currencies , many meal arrangements and visa challenges at borders, an extraordinary guide is paramount for success. Our guide Alejandro (Alex) was without doubt the reason for the smooth progression of the trip. His positive manner, perceptive nature, great humour and organisation skills endeared him to us all.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Beware: The trip is exhausting (particularly with temperatures averaging around 40 degrees celsius in August for much of the trip) even though much of the time is spent sitting in the vehicles. Pack light but include extra layers for high altitude. Be very sure your visa arrangements are correct.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    You will meet interesting people. Our group was well travelled, very interested to learn more of the region and well informed. It was great to share the experience and fun with them.
  • Reviewed September 2018
    S M Turbett

    Fantastic trips

    This is a really fascinating, busy, exhausting and quite unique trip across 5 countries in just over 3 weeks. Go with an open mind and you will enjoy the most amazing experiences, see incredible sights, meet really lovely people and learn so much.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    My favourite time was in the yurt camp at Son Kul lake. After a really hectic couple of weeks this was a brilliant place to relax and chill, walk and ride local horses. There are very few places in the world with no phone or internet access and no sound of roads, planes or trains - but this is one of them. I would have stayed another week here just to unwind and enjoy the spectacular surroundings if I could have.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Our group leader, Alejandro, was quite exceptional - his patience, calmness, kindness and good humour kept us all together as a group for this long and quite intense trip.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    This trip requires a really small wardrobe in order to manage a lot of one-night stopovers, with very cool lightweight, easily washable clothing for the incredibly hot places (Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and a down jacket, hat, gloves and thermals for the much cooler places (Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan). If you take the Astana extension - just make sure your free day is NOT a Monday, when everything (yes, literally everything!) is closed.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Please ensure you take bucket loads of patience and good humour, along with hours and hours of reading/podcasts/music for the long bus journeys.
  • Reviewed July 2018
    Lawrence Orgee

    The 5 Stans

    A great trip covering a wide range of experiences - from Turkmenistan [Ashgabat with its somewhat bizarre architecture (the Wedding Palace being a particularly good, if that's the right word, example) and the welcoming wedding parties at the Arch of Neutrality; the ancient ruins at Nisa and Merv; and the burning pit at Darvaza among particularly memorable sights - all in the presence of a great local guide Jabar]; through Uzbekistan [with spectacular sights and sites at Bukhara, Samarkand and Shahrisabz together with the ruins of one of Alexander the Great's fortresses by the River Oxus all with the guide, Bek, who is probably the best guide on any tour I've been on]; Tajikistan [wonderful journey through the mountains to the gorgeous Iskanderkul Lake]; back into Uzbekistan [to learn about ceramics and the mechanics, and smell (boiling silkworm cocoons), of the silk industry; Kyrgyzstan [marvellous mountain scenery, great homestays, and lovely yurt camp (though be prepared for all weathers in one day - from bright sun to hail and lightning in a matter of minutes)]; and a brief stay in Kazakhstan [could have stayed longer and got to see more of Almaty, etc]. Suzie, the British guide who accompanied the trip throughout was wonderful and made everything easy for us - without her it would have been a lot more difficult. Food was ok to very good (the meal at the family house in Samarkand and the meals at the homestays being favourites), but was very limited for the vegetarians generally. Hotels were good to excellent and the transport was fine, though the air-conditioning on the minibuses in Kyrgyzstan didn't cope with the high temperatures.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Visiting Samarkand - seeing Registan Square and visiting Timur's mausoleum. This made the history, culture, etc of the region memorable, and together with the whole trip, ranging from visiting 4th century BC ruins to seeing present-day life (from modern cities to semi-nomadic herders living in yurts) vividly brought to life how much this area has contributed to world history yet how little we hear about it.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Suzie was wonderful - she made everything easy for us, organising things so we had no worries, speedily and efficiently dealing with any issues that arose, and fascinating us with her stories of her earlier travels through the region and telling us about how things had changed in the intervening years.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    While this is advertised as an easy/moderate trip it is a very full trip with little time for relaxing - this is not at all a complaint as the trip covered so many different aspects of life, culture and history in the countries we visited, but is more tiring/physically demanding than it might appear from the trip notes. Also, it is worth noting that the toilets are often of the squatter variety and not always in pristine condition - indeed, far from it - so just be prepared and always have some spare toilet tissue, just in case. Also, for any vegetarians be prepared for a distinct lack of options/variety in what is available.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    A brilliant trip - thoroughly recommended.
  • Reviewed July 2018
    Carol Penn

    A remarkable trip

    This was a trip full of variety and dramatic scenery, from the surreal Ashgabat, the amazing Darvaza crater, the beautiful mosques and madrasahs of Samarkand and Bukhara to the truly majestic and ever changing scenery of the Kyrgyzstan mountains. Each of the 5 countries had its own unique character. There are some long journeys but they are full of continuing interest with lots of worthwhile stops on route. 99% of the accommodation was very comfortable, spacious and spotlessly clean.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I found the experience of the continuing journey to new and unexpected sites and places the biggest wonder. There was no tourist commercialism at all. One guide in the walnut grove was highly surprised when I said I would buy 3 packets of walnuts!!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    The experienced and knowledgable Suzie Grant guided us effortlessly throughout and 3 of the local guides were outstanding.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Be prepared for ‘4 seasons in 1day’ at Son-Kul lake. Take some warm layers. The stoves in the yurts are not lit until 8.30pm and it is c o l d! That said, it is very comfortable glamping.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    A truly remarkable trip. Thank you Exodus.