Independence Monument, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

The Five Stans of the Silk Road

23 days
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£4,499
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Trip code: 
AXK
Way to Travel:
Guided Group
Activity:
Culture
Group size:
5–16
Min age:
16

5 countries, 3 weeks, 1 epic trip along the Silk Road through the heart of Central Asia

Vast deserts, rolling steppe, fertile valleys and majestic mountains form the backdrop to the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia which are commonly known as the five Stans. Amongst this changing and varied landscape are traditional villages, ancient towns and modern cities which tell a tale of advancing Greek and Persian armies, marauding Mongolian hordes, traders selling their wares along the Silk Road, philosophers, astronomers, Communist experiments and post-Soviet eccentrics. Journey past giant burning gas pits, intrinsically tiled mosques, alpine lakes bordered by yurt camps, grand monuments, rural villages and colourful markets on this epic trip through the heart of Central Asia.

Highlights

  • ‘Door to Hell’ giant burning gas pit in Turkmenistan
  • Islamic architecture and  ruins along the great Silk Road
  • Villages and lakes of the Fann and Tien Shan Mountains
  • Post Soviet grand monuments
  • History of traders, preachers and invaders
  • 20th July 2019 departure: accompanied by photographer and National Geographic Explorer, George Kourounis

Key information

  • 23 days land only / flight inclusive
  • Travel by minibus
  • 15 nights hotels, 3 nights home stays, 2 nights yurts, 1 night cottage and 1 night guest house
  • All breakfasts, 3 lunches and 8 dinners included
  • Single supplement available
  • Countries visited: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan

What's included

  • All accommodation
  • All transport and listed activities
  • Western tour leader throughout (plus a local guide in each country)
  • All breakfasts, 3 lunches and 8 dinners
  • Flights from London (if booking incl. flights)
  • Arrival transfers for any flight, departure transfers for group flights only

What's not included

  • Travel Insurance
  • Single accommodation (available on request)
  • Visas or vaccinations
Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for tailormade trips:
020 8772 3874
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Yard of Poi Kalyan oriental complex at sunset. View from the gate. Bukhara

At Exodus we believe in the power of Responsible Travel.

Every time we travel, we are part of a global movement that creates jobs, builds more sustainable societies, encourages cultural understanding and safeguards common natural and cultural heritage. To learn more about what Responsible Travel means to Exodus click here

Itinerary

  • Day 1

    Fly to Ashgabat

    Fly to Ashgabat. The group flights usually arrive very late at night (i.e. around 2am on day 2). Please note that it is obligatory by Turkmen law for tourists to have an arrival transfer booked from the airport. For anyone not joining the group transfer, Exodus offers free arrival transfers for any flight, provided you have supplied your flight details in advance - please see the 'joining' section of the Trip Notes for more information.

    Hotel Ak Altyn or similar

  • Day 2

    Explore Ashgabat

    Ashgabat holds the world record for the most white marble buildings in the world. In the post-Soviet era successive Turkmen leaders have invested in these impressive buildings as a show of the country’s strength and grandeur and can make for quite a surreal experience. Ashgabat has been described as Pyongyang meets Las Vegas and you can see why.
    Following an initial briefing, we visit some of the city’s greatest monuments, buildings and fountains including Ertogrul Gazy Mosque, Independence Park, the Neutrality Arch and the National Museum.
    Hotel Ak Altyn or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 3

    Nisa and Darvaza

    Today is a long day trip out of the city. Our first stop, on the outskirts of Ashgabat, is the ancient Persian-era fortress of Nisa. A former capital of the Persian Parthian Empire which controlled much of the region from Iraq to Pakistan 2000 years ago, the ruins of Nisa were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

    We later head north in jeep convoy into the Karakum Desert some 260kms (4 hours drive) away to one of the world’s more unusual sites, a massive burning gas crater in the middle of nowhere in the Darvaza region. In the 1970s Soviet engineers looking for natural gas deposits came across this area. Attempting to assess the amount of gas present they set up a drill. The drill collapsed, exposing a big crater and seeping methane gas into the air. The engineers decided to set the gas alight in the belief that it would burn off within a few weeks. Over 45 years later the crater is still burning. The sight of a big burning crater in the middle of the desert after the sun goes down is quite an experience and likely to be unlike anything else you’ve come across.

    We have dinner near the crater before returning to Ashgabat after dark, arriving back at the hotel after midnight. If you do not want to travel this distance to see the incredible burning crater at Darvaza it is possible to stay behind in Ashgabat.

    Hotel Ak Altyn or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast Dinner
  • Day 4

    To Mary

    Leaving the Turkmen capital behind we start our journey east along one of the Silk Road routes of old. Our destination today is Mary, about 5hrs away (plus stops). A short distance outside Ashgabat we make our first stop at the 15th century Anau Mosque which is located on the edge of a Bronze-age site.
    From here we continue to the remains of the Silk Road-era town of Abiverd. The settlement, which was completely abandoned for about three centuries, was once a vibrant and important centre. The 12th century city is about 130kms, two hours, from Ashgabat and makes for an interesting stop and an ideal opportunity to stretch our legs.
    As we continue on the way to Mary look out for camels and small dusty desert towns.
    Eventually reaching Mary we have a late afternoon/early evening city tour taking in the Central Bazaar, Juma Mosque and Russian Orthodox Church.
    Hotel Mary or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 5

    Merv and to Bukhara, Uzbekistan

    Possibly the largest city in the world in its heyday, Merv was razed to the ground by Genghis Khan and his Mongolian hordes in 1221. It is believed 700,000 people lost their lives when the city was destroyed - It never recovered.

    Today, this UNESCO site is Turkmenistan’s most important historical site and we take the time to visit it before continuing to the border about 5.5hrs (245kms) away where we say goodbye to our Turkmen leader. We hope to arrive at the border around 4pm and then crossing the border from Turkmenistan into Uzbekistan can take about 1.5hrs. We meet our Uzbek leader on the other side and drive for approximately another 2 hours (100kms) to one of the great Silk Road cities, Bukhara. 

    Hotel Kavsar or Similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 6

    Bukhara

    2000 year old Bukhara has an old centre which evokes the many centuries of traders and travellers who’ve passed through here on their way between the Mediterranean and China. We spend the day exploring this fascinating Silk Road city including at its heart the historic Lyabi Khauz architectural complex with the oldest reflective pool in Central Asia. It is surrounded by medieval buildings including the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah and Khanaka with a façade of intricate mosaics. We also visit the Poi Kalyan Complex which includes the 48m high Kalyan Minaret which has come to symbolise the city, the Kalyan Mosque with 288 domes covering galleries below, Samanids Mausoleum, the Ark Citadel and Chor-Minor.

    Hotel Kavsar or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 7

    Bukhara to Samarkand

    This morning we uncover more of Bukhara’s fascinating history and culture as we explore the Sitorai-Mohl-Hosa Palace, Bukhara’s Emirs’ Summer Palace. After lunch we have a 4-5hrs (300kms) drive to the other great Silk Road city, Samarkand. We break up the journey with a short stop at Rabat-i-Malik, a caravanserai ruin and lunch in Navoi.

    Kavsar Dilshoda / Malika Prime or similiar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 8

    Full day sightseeing in Samarkand

    Possibly the most famous of the Silk Road cities, Samarkand's blue tiled buildings dazzle in the bright sun. Most impressive is one of the World’s great squares – Registan Square, surrounded on three sides by the madrassahs of Ulugh Beg, Sher-Dor and Tilya-Kori. It is said that the square and its madrassah influenced other sites from the great square in Iran's Isfahan to the Taj Mahal in India. The city was the capital of the great Tamerlane and we spend the day visiting a number of Tamerlane era sites including the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Ulugh Beg’s observatory, the huge cathedral mosque Bibi Khanum, as well as the impressive Necropolis.

    Hotel Dilshoda / Malika Prime or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 9

    Shakhrisabz and Termez.

    We start early for the long day ahead, combining driving (approx. 8 hours) with sightseeing.

    The day starts with a 3hr transfer to the town of Shakhrisabz. Timurin (from the reign of Tamerlane) city boasts a number of important historic monuments including the ruins of the Ak Saray Palace, the Doruttilyavat Ensemble, the Kok Gumbaz Mosque and others mostly dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Sadly, the city’s historic centre is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage in Danger.

    After exploring Shakhrisabz’s sites we continue south heading towards the Silk Road city of Termez, about 5hrs away. We arrive at Termez in the evening.

    Hotel Meredian Termez or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 10

    Termez city tour.

    The region around Termez is unusual for the Stans in that it is home to Buddhist ancestry and relics as well as some more traditional Silk Road sites and interesting museums. We spend the day exploring this city often overlooked by visitors (due to its remote location) including the 1st century Fayaz-tepe Buddhism Complex and the 9th and 10th century Samanid Sultan Saodat Mausoleum. Out of town (about 40kms) is the oldest site in Uzbekistan, dating back to the 4th century BC: Kampyr-Tepe. We visit the ruins of this ancient settlement before returning to Termez in order to visit the historical museum.

    Hotel Meredian Termez or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 11

    Cross into Tajikistan; on to Dushanbe.

    Another early start to head to country number three, Tajikistan. On the way we hope to visit the village of Jarkurgan, famed for its mediaeval minaret. Upon arrival at the Saryosiyo border we bid farewell to our Uzbek leader and upon crossing are greeted by our Tajik leader. The drive from Termez to Dushanbe is 205km on a good road and takes about 5 or 6 hours (depending on border crossing time) and we will stop for lunch en route.

    Dushanbe's origins probably stretch back 3,000 years though the city grew under Soviet rule as the capital for the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, a part of the Uzbek USSR. Upon arrival in the Tajik capital we have a city tour taking in Independence Square, the Samany Monument (dedicated to the founder of the Tajik Government), Rudaki Ave. and a historical museum.

    Hilton Dushanbe or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 12

    Into the Fann Mountains and Iskanderkul Lake.

    The Fann Mountains are one of two of Tajikistan's great ranges (along with the Pamirs) and have peaks towering up to 5,489m. Our destination is Iskanderkul Lake (named after Alexander the Great and is thought to be the final resting place of the conqueror’s beloved horse, Bucephalus) situated at 2,200m. The scenery is stunning as we travel through a beautiful vallley; the drive takes about 4-5hrs/125km - please note that for the last 25km os so the road conditions deteriorate. 

    This afternoon we explore the area around the lake including visiting Tajikistan’s biggest waterfall, affectionately called ‘Tajikistan Niagara’ and is 40m high. The glacial lake itself is often claimed to be the jewel of the Fann Mountains and one of the most beautiful in the former Soviet Union.

    Tonight we spend the night in a cottages with fantastic views overlooking Isanderkul Lake. There are shared bathrooms and toilets (some indoor and some outdoor).

    Cottage

    Meals included: Breakfast Dinner
  • Day 13

    Istravashan and Khujand

    Leaving the Fann Mountains behind we make our way into Tajikistan's industrial and agricultural heartland around the city of Khujand (about 4hrs drive). En route we visit the town of Istravashan founded by the Persian king Kier in the 6th century, where we visit the old city with its bazaar and the Kok-Gumbaz mosque and madrassah.

    Whilst Khujand, today, is not the most attractive of cities it has a complex history. Believed to be one of the oldest in Central Asia it was, over the centuries, attacked by successive armies of Alexander the Great, Arab invaders and the marauding hordes of Genghis Khan as well as being an important stop along the Silk Road. There are still traces of the city’s glory days and we take in a tour of the sites including the Sheikh Maslikhiddin Mausoleum, the Payshhambe bazaar and Urumkhodjaev family country estate, a copy of the Russian tsarist palace of Petergof.

    Khudjand Delux Hotel or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 14

    Fergahana Valley in Uzbekistan

    We return to Uzbekistan via the border crossing at Andurkhan where we say goodbye to our Tajik crew and re-join the Uzbeks.

    The total driving time to Ferghana town is about 5hrs from Khujand but we make a number of stops along the way. The first of these is at Kokand which was the capital of the 19th century Kokand Khanate. We visit the Khudoyar-Khan Palace (1871) home to a museum, the Norbuta-Biy Madrassah and the Modarikhon Mausoleum.

    From here we continue on to the small village of Rishtan which is famous for potter dynasties and ceramics masters. We visit a local ceramics studio and witness a demonstration of the craft before having the opportunity to buy some of the iconic earthenware.

    Our final stop is at Marghilan where we visit a local silk factory and learn about the material which has given its name to the greatest trade route in history.

    Eventually we arrive in Ferghana town where we spend the night.

    Hotel Club 777 or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 15

    To Osh and Arslan Bob in Kyrgyzstan

    A short drive gets us to our next border crossing and country number 4. After meeting our Kyrgyz leader we head into nearby Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city and begin our exploration. The order in which we visit places is flexible but we'll visit Osh Bazaar (Central Asia’s largest market), as well as the sacred Sulayman Mountain, a holy Muslim site (and burial place of the prophet Sulayman (Solomon)) and the central point on the Silk Road. The walk to the top of Sulayman Mountain is paved with some steps and can be tiring in the heat but the views over the city and valley below, small museum and 15th century church are worth the effort.

    Later, this afternoon, we leave the city behind and head for Arslanbob Nature Reserve (about 3.5-4hrs away including stops), arriving in the evening. The village of Arslanbob is located in the mountains at around 1,600m (though the top and bottom of the village vary considerably in altitude) and is surrounded by an ancient walnut forest believed to be the largest in the world. 

    We spend the next two nights in a basic homestay with outside drop-toilets and outside showers (normally with hot water).

    Homestay

    Meals included: Breakfast Dinner
  • Day 16

    Full day in Arslan Bob

    After quite a few days of moving on every day and covering a lot of ground, today is for relaxing in the picturesque village of Arslan Bob surorunded by walnut forests. We take it easy and at around mid-morning we will go for a walk and picnic lunch in the surrounding countryside. The walk takes around 4 hours (including lunch and stops) and requires walking shoes/boots. The pace is leisurely but if anyone prefers not to walk, you are free to opt out.

    Homestay

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 17

    Chychkn Gorge

    Our journey today takes us through the central Tien Shan Mountains as we drive through picturesque canyons and gorges and around Toktogul Reservoir. The drive takes approximately 8-9 hours to cover the 350km (including lunch and rest/photo stops). Eventually we reach Chychkan Gorge with its fir and juniper trees. Here we spend the night in a simple guest house with en suite rooms on the banks of a rushing river. 

    Oson Guest House

    Meals included: Breakfast Dinner
  • Day 18

    Kyzyl Oi Village

    This morning there's a chance to go for another short walk to a nearby gorge before continuing our crossing of Central Kyrgyzstan. In the late morning, we set off on the drive to the village of Kyzyl Oi (4.5/5 hours including lunch and rest/photo stops), which translates as ‘Red Bowl’ and is so named because of the red cliffs surrounding the village like a bowl and who’s clay is used to construct its buildings. The mountains here are hues of red and brown and particularly attractive in the late afternoon and early morning sun. The village itself dates from before the Great October Soviet Socialist Revolution and has kept its distinctive Central Asia character. Whilst the valley opens out, the village itself is located in a narrow gorge on the banks of the powerful Kekermeren River.

    Upon arrival there is some free time to explore the village and surrounding area or interact with the families in whose homestays we will spend the night. We will usually be spread across a few houses but we will all have dinner together in one of the houses.

    Homestay

    Meals included: Breakfast Dinner
  • Days 19-20

    To Son Kul Lake

    Leaving the gorges behind we head towards the high pastures surrounding Son Kul Lake (approx. 4 hours drive, including some rough roads), arriving in time for lunch. Considered by many to be the Jewel in the Kyrygz crown for natural beauty, this is a land of nomadic shepherds tending their flocks. Whilst today yurt camps have multiplied around the lake, the people who look after these camps still often tend their flocks and cattle dot the jailoo (high mountain pastures) cared for by men on horseback. The lake’s name means ‘the last lake’ and sat at 3,016m it’s easy to see how it got its name.

    We have the whole of the next day to take in the beauty of the landscape. There is the option to go on a 2-2.5 hour walk to the nearby hills - the hills are quite steep and this may not be for everyone but those who make it to the top will find a few petroglyphs. After lunch, we visit one of the Kyrgyz shepherd families close to camp to learn about their lifestyle and perhaps taste some kumis (a natural drink made from fermented mare’s milk) or similar. There is also the option to go horseriding (optional extra) 

    We experience a bit of the nomad life as we stay in a yurt camp. There are now western style toilets and a 'shower yurt' with proper showers and wash basins. There is hot water when the generator is runing (usually morning and evening) but it is not wholly reliable. 

    Yurt Camp

    Meals included: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Day 21

    Bishkek

    Leaving the high mountains which characterise Kyrgyzstan behind we make our way to the Republic’s capital city, Bishkek (about 7hrs drive), stopping for lunch en route. The former Soviet city is undergoing a transformation with cafes and trendy bars opening. Upon arrival we have a short tour for a couple of hours of some of the city’s main sites around the main square, Alatoo Square. We visit the Museum of History and have some time for souvenir shopping or relaxing. (please note that if the Museum of History is closed for renovation or any other reason, we may substitute it for the Fine Arts Museum).

    Asia Mountains Hotel or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 22

    Almaty, Kazakhstan

    A mere 4-5hrs from the Kyrgyz capital city (depending on border crossing times) is Almaty, the former Kazakh capital city and the biggest city in the fifth country on our trip. We spend the morning driving to what is considered Central Asia’s most European city and set off on a city tour after lunch. We take in the Panfilovs Park with the Piously-Voznesenskiy Orthodox Cathedral (1907) built without any nails; a memorial to victims of WWII, the Republic Square and the high mountain dam of Modeo on the outskirts of town.

    Hotel Kazzhol Almaty or similar

    Meals included: Breakfast
  • Day 23

    End Almaty

    Those on the group flights will be taken to the airport in time for their flight. If you’re continuing on to the Astana extension you will be taken to the airport in time for the internal flight to the Kazakh capital. For land only passengers, the tour ends after breakfast.  

    Meals included: Breakfast
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Extend Your Trip

Astana Extension

Code: XXK

Extend your adventure in Kazakhstan and explore it's relatively new capital city. 

Rising out of the Central Asian steppe, Kazakhstan’s glitzy capital city is unlike any other. Built from scratch by President Nazarbayev, and paid for by gas and oil money, the city is a surreal modernist dream. Skyscrapers vie for your attention and the bright coloured lights are reminiscent of a futuristic sci-fi movie. 

The detailed itinerary can be found here.

Please ask your sales consultant for more details.

Essential Info

Visas

Uzbekistan

All nationalities require a full passport that must be valid for at least 3 months beyond your entry date into Uzbekistan. It is your responsibility to have the correct personal documents and to obtain your own visa, if one is necessary, in accordance with the regulations of the country you are to visit. The information below is primarily for UK passport holders, and other nationalities should check with their travel agent or the relevant embassies. We are not responsible for the actions of local immigration and customs officials, whether at points of entry or otherwise, and any subsequent effects.

Anyone travelling on a British Citizen, Australian, New Zealand, or Canadian passport can enter Uzbekistan as a visitor (for tourism or business purposes) for stays of up to 30 days without a visa. For a full list of nationalities that are eligible for a visa-free visit of up to 30-days, please visit http://www.uzbekembassy.org/e/visa_to_uzbekistan/

Many other nationalities are eligible for a simplified visa in advance (without the need for an authorisation letter of invitation), including USA. If you are eligible for a visa in advance then you should apply for one as for visas upon arrival, a letter of invitation is still required. Should you need an authorisation letter, please contact Exodus at least 8 weeks before departure as we can arrange this for you through our local operator.

It is no longer necessary for you to complete a currency declaration form upon arrival (unless you are carrying over US2000 with you). However, as this has only recently been implemented (summer 2018), you will still need to keep your receipts given by each hotel that you stay in - please hold on to these as they may be checked when you leave.

There have also been greater restrictions on bringing medicine into Uzbekistan. If you have any special medicine we recommend you check with the Uzbekistan Embassy about allowed quantities. You should also bring copies of your prescriptions and declare them upon arrival. Visa regulations can change without notice: please check the current regulations in good time to obtain a visa if one is required.

Kyrgyzstan

British, most European and most other nationalities, including Australians, New Zealanders, Americans and Canadians do not require visas for visits of under 60 days. All other nationalities should contact the nearest Kyrgyzstan Embassy if in doubt.

IMPORTANT: You can be arrested if you are not carrying ID in Kyrgyzstan.  You should carry your passport or a copy of it with you at all times.

Visa Kazakhstan

A number of countries including the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand Germany, Belgium and France can enter Kazakhstan for up to 30 days without a visa.

Turkmenistan

Everyone needs a passport with 6 months validity on it as well as a visa to enter Turkmenistan. A letter of invitation organised by the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan is necessary in order to obtain the visa and we can organise this through our partners. This allows you to obtain a visa on arrival at Ashgabat Airport. Please note that the State Migration Service usually issue a group letter of invitation with all participant's personal details on. We will need the following information and documents to obtain the letter of invitation:

Last name
First and middle name(s) on your passport
Any other name(s) used before (e.g. before marriage)
Name of highest educational institution completed
City and country of that institution
Field of study
Qualification
Occupation (if retired just put ‘Retired’)
Place of work (if retired just put ‘Not Applicable’)
Previous visits to Turkmenistan (dates, purposes)
Marital Status
Full name, date of birth and citizenship of spouse
Full name(s), date(s) of birth and citizenship of child(ren)
E-mail Address
Home address

- Full colour scan of the photo page of your passport showing all 4 edges of the passport making sure no part of the passport has been cut by the scan. This scan must be sharp and clear, not checkered, glossy or blurry and must be in either JPEG or PDF format and between 250KB and 1MB.

- A passport photo – minimum 3x4cms and not a photoshop version of the photo from the passport. If necessary it is possible to send a photo taken with a digital camera or phone as long as it meets the above requirements and does not use flash or have any glass reflections making any part of the scan/photo unclear.

Once our partners have applied for the invitation letter it can take about month to get it. Once you have the invitation letter you just need to present it upon arrival at Ashgabat Airport and pay the visa and administration fees.  For UK citizens the visa fee for a visa up to 10 days is USD115 and the administration fee is USD4. For all other nationalities the visa fee for a visa up to 10 days is USD85 and the administration fee is USD4. Payment should be made in US Dollars cash (although credit/debit card payments are reportedly now accepted, it is better not to rely on this in case your bank blocks your cards or your card is not accepted).

Please note that Turkmenistan has a higher visa rejection rate than most countries. This is out of our control but we are able to reapply for the visa invitation letter, though only with the same information provided.

Please note that some medicines are banned in both Turkmenistan unless you are carrying a doctor's prescription. These include medicines which contain tramadol, morphin, opiates, codeine or similar components often found in pain killers.

Please Note: soon after your arrival (usually the morning after your arrival), a local representative will collect your passport in order to register your visit with the Turkmenistan State Tourist Registration Office (STRO). You will be issued with a stamp in your passport and your passport will be returned to you when the process is complete. This process can sometimes be delayed so we recommend that you carry a copy of your passport with you.

Tajikistan

Most nationalities can complete an online Tajikistan evisa application:  https://www.evisa.tj. The evisa costs US$50 and usually takes about three working days for the application to come through - please allow more that this in case there is a delay for some reason. Please note that Yahoo is banned in Tajikistan and we advise that you do not give a Yahoo email address for your visa application as we believe that this can occasionally result in visas being denied.

The evisa type you require is ‘individual’ and to the question regarding GBAO Permit please answer ‘NO’ (this is a permit to visit a semi-autonomous region which we do not go to).

You will then have to upload a copy of your passport in the document section. You will also need to have the hotel name, address and phone number in Dushanbe to hand. Please note that a Letter of Invitation (LOI) is no longer required for most applicants. 

Please ensure that you take a printed copy of the e-visa with you.

Vaccinations

Uzbekistan

There are no mandatory vaccination requirements. Recommended vaccinations are: Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Hepatitis A. The risk of malaria is slight but you may wish to consult your GP or travel health clinic for further advice.

Kyrgyzstan

No vaccinations are compulsory, but vaccination against typhoid, polio, tetanus, hepatitis A and diphtheria are recommended. The risk of Malaria is slight but you may wish to consult your GP or Travel Clinic for advice.

Kazakhstan

No vaccinations are compulsory, but vaccination against typhoid, polio, tetanus, hepatitis A and Diptheria are recommended.

Turkmenistan

There are no mandatory vaccination requirements. Recommended vaccinations are: Tetanus and Hepatitis A. The risk of malaria is slight but you may wish to consult your GP or travel health clinic for further advice.

Tajikistan

There are no mandatory vaccination requirements. Recommended vaccinations are: Tetanus, Typhoid and Hepatitis A. The risk of malaria is slight but you may wish to consult your GP or travel health clinic for further advice.

Eating and Drinking

All breakfasts, 3 lunches and 8 dinners included

Common dishes in the region include shish-kebabs and plov (rice usually with mutton, onions, carrots, spices, raisins, peas) which you’ll probably see plenty of. The kebabs can be from different meats including lamb and beef whilst plov is a rice-based dish (variants elsewhere are known as pilaf or pilau rice). Another main staple is bread, especially in Uzbekistan where it is freshly baked and sold everywhere, and in Turkmenistan flat round bread baked in clay ovens is known as churek. Other traditional dishes include chorba, a meat and vegetable soup; manty, steamed dumplings filled with lamb; qu'urma, a lamb dish; ichlekli, a meat and onion pie, and gutap, a pie filled with meat, potatoes, spinach and pumpkin. There are normally a couple of opportunities to try home-cooked meals. Tea is also plentiful, both black and green and is drunk with most meals as well as throughout the day. 

Please note that vegetarian food choices may be rather limited. If you are strictly vegetarian or have any special dietary requirements please notify us well in advance. In this region, the availability of certain specialised products for restricted diets, e.g. gluten-free or dairy-free, is minimal or non-existent and we strongly recommend you bring such specialised dietary items from home.

Drinking water is included and will be provided in large containers for you to refill your bottle from - please bring a reusable bottle with you.

Weather

Covering a large area varying from the deserts of Turkmenistan to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan the climate can change a lot. The summers (July and August) can be very hot in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan but fairly pleasant in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, whilst the Spring and Autumn (May/June and September/October) can be cooler in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan but more pleasant in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As we visit regions ranging from deserts to high mountains you can expect temperatures in the 30s as well as close to freezing on the same trip and need to be prepared for both eventualities. Winters are very cold and harsh and some areas are impassable (especially to Sonkul in Kyrgyzstan) for most of the year which is why the season for this trip is relatively short lasting only from June to September.

Bishkek

Bishkek

Samarkand

Samarkand

Is this trip for you?

This trip covers a lot of distance in three weeks and there are a number of places where we only spend one night (especially during the section through Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyzstan).  Most drives tend to be 4-5 hrs with the odd drive taking 6hrs and there is a particularly long day from Samarkand to Termez which involves around 8hrs driving, though this is broken up with a stop at Shakhrisabz.

The countries visited don’t necessarily have a great infrastructure and you shouldn’t expect the same comforts you would get at home. Most nights are in standard hotels, though we do also stay in homestays, yurt camps and a guest house which will be more basic. Hot water is normally available but may not always be reliable; toilets might be squat toilets and toilets and/or showers may be outside the main building on some of the more basic nights. Some nights you may end up having to share a room with more than one other person and whilst every effort is made to ensure that on such nights men and women who are not travelling together don’t have to share a room this cannot be guaranteed. On these nights single supplements do not apply. We stay in these places, however, as there are very limited options in some of the areas we visit.

Whilst this is not an active trip, the pace and distance covered can be tiring. There are also some occasions where we go on hikes, in particular in Kyrgyzstan. These hikes are not challenging and can vary depending on the preferences and abilities of the group, however.

Over a relatively short period, three weeks, this trip takes in a vast array of sites both cultural and natural and covers five fascinating countries which once shared a common history but which now are each developing in their own way.

Please note that smoking in public is illegal in Turkmenistan (though smoking in private is fine resulting with the situation where more people smoke indoors than outdoors) and you should not smoke outside the airport on arrival or in the street in Ashgabat. Also, you can only bring 2 packs of cigarettes into Turkmenistan.

When visiting mosques and other religious buildings women should wear long skirts and have their shoulders covered, it is also advisable to bring a scarf and cover your head on such occasions. Knee-length skirts/dresses and shorts, as well as sleeveless tops, are fine in other circumstances.  

Given the bureaucracy in the region, particularly in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, we may be forced to change the route or activities due to government decisions which are beyond our control. 

There will be a Western leader throughout, plus a different local leader in each country. Border crossings can be chaotic and will require patience. In some cases, you will need to walk through a neutral zone between the two countries’ immigration posts with your luggage. The Turkmenistan - Uzbekistan (Farab border) is the most complex and involves walking 2-2.5km; sometimes cars are available to drive us but this cannot be guaranteed. 

Temperatures can vary from extremely hot to close to freezing on any given departure as we visit both deserts and high mountains.

Following a review of all our trips we have categorised this trip as generally not suitable for persons of reduced mobility. However if you are a regular traveller on such trips, please contact customer services to discuss the trip and your personal condition.

Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for tailormade trips:
020 8772 3874
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Accommodation

Hotel, Yurt, Cottage and Homestay

Most nights are in standard hotels, though we do also stay in local homestays, cottages, yurt camps, and a guest house which will be more basic. Hot water is normally available but may not always be reliable; toilets may be squat toilets at times and toilets and/or showers may be outside on some of the more basic nights.

At the homestays in Arslan Bob and Kyzyl Oi (days 15, 16 and 18) you may have to share with 3-4 people to a room. Similarly, for the two nights in the yurt camp at Son Kul (days 19 and 20), you may sometimes have to share with 3 people to a yurt. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that on such nights men and women who are not travelling together don’t have to share a room, this cannot be guaranteed. We stay in these places, however, as there are very limited options in some of the areas we visit.

Additional Accommodation

In Turkmenistan, hotels charge a daily tourist tax of around USD2 per person per day - this is included in the holiday price for the main tour so you needn't worry about it. However, if you book extra nights accommodation in Ashgabat before the tour, you will need to pay this directly to the hotel yourself. If you book pre-tour accommodation in Turkmenistan (and will be staying in the country for more than three days plus your arrival day), you will be required by law to register your passport with the State Service of Turkmenistan - our local partmer will assist with this. 

Single Supplement

If you prefer to have your own room, a limited number of single supplements are available on a first come first serve basis on some nights of the tour only - please request this at the time of booking. Please note that a single supplement is not available at the homestays (3 nights) or the yurt camp (2 nights) and in these locations you may have to share with 3-4 people per room. Single supplements are also not available at the cottages by Iskanderkul Lake (1 night) which are on a twin-share basis.

Call for general departures:
020 8772 3936
Call for tailormade trips:
020 8772 3874
Trip Notes

Click on the button below for detailed Trip Notes containing all the particulars about this trip, including kit lists and practical information.

Note: these can vary by departure; you can check out the specific Trip Notes for your chosen adventure on the dates & prices page.

Expert Blog Entries

Embracing a healthy lifestyle can be a challenge, but if you’re going to keep it up there’s got to be more to it than

  • 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.

Dates & Prices

An overview of flight options

Exodus is committed to making joining our tours as easy as possible, wherever you live. We generally only block book seats from London, but this certainly does not mean that you need to fly from there. Depending on the route and airlines available, there will usually be various options available for those who want to fly from their local airport.

This page aims to provide a useful overview of the options available to our clients. However, the best flight arrangements should be tailored to your personal requirements, so please contact our Sales team for expert advice.

 

What kind of options do I have ?

1. We can book for you: Flights from anywhere in the world - not via London  

Depending on the route, this may be direct or via an overseas hub like Amsterdam, the Middle East or elsewhere. On short haul routes there may be direct flights with low cost airlines, charter flights or scheduled airlines. Exodus can book most, but not all, of these for you. The most appropriate airline may be different to that which we use for the group flight from London, but many people now travel on different airlines and meet up with their fellow passengers at the destination.

Pros Cons
  • May be the most direct route
  • Often the extra fare compared to the London flight is minimal.
  • As you will be in the hands a single airline for your entire journey, the airline will be responsible for your bags and your connections.
  • You may not be able to join the group transfers. However, we can usually arrange private transfers, or book your flights to try and coincide with the group transfers. See notes on transfer arrangements below.

 

2. We can book for you: Connecting flights from your local airport to London

Exodus can book connecting flights to London so you can join the group flight there. Connecting times will be followed according to airline advice, or as requested by clients. There are two types of fares we can use for this option: a 'through-fare' or a 'published fare'.
 
a) A 'through-fare' is where you will be in the main airline's care throughout. You change planes, but your bags are checked all the way through to your final destination. 

b) A 'published fare' ticket is completely seperate from your onward ticket from London. It is usually cheaper than a through-fare but will need to be paid for and issued as soon as it is booked. This can be a problem if your tour has not yet reached minimum numbers. On 'published fares' neither airline is aware that you have connecting flights, so Exodus is responsible for timing your connection, not the airlines involved. The tickets are also usually non changeable and non refundable.

Pros Cons
  • Depending on the fare type, Exodus or the airline is responsible for flight connections.
  • Through fare tickets can be expensive.
  • On a published fare, tickets must be issued immediately; tickets on published fares can be very difficult to change if onward flight times change; bags are not checked though to your final destination.
  • Published fares are non-refundable.

 

3. Booking some or all of the flights yourself

You can also book connecting air travel yourself, either to London, or all the way to the start point. There may be certain airlines or routes we don't have access to, so this is always an option. However, if you make your own travel arrangements you become liable for any delays, cancellations or missed connections, and Exodus is not required to offer refunds if you have trouble reaching the start of your trip.

Pros Cons
  • You might find cheaper fares, or routes not available to Exodus.
  • You are responsible for any delays or missed connections, and the cost of the tour is not protected should you miss your flight be cancelled.

 

 Notes on transfer arrangements

Sometimes it is possible to travel on a different airline to the group flight from London. Where this is the case, we need to think about ensuring you meet up with the group with minimum extra cost and hassle.

  • On certain trips, it is easy to arrive on a different flight and still meet the group at the hotel with time in hand. We can usually arrange private transfers (at extra cost) or offer advice on taking a taxi to the start hotel.
  • On other trips (especially in Europe), the transfer meets the group flight and then travels some distance to the first night's accommodation. Where this is the case, our Sales team will try to arrange flights that arrive before (and depart after) the group. However, we do have to make it clear in your final documentation that if your flights are delayed, the transfer cannot wait for you. While Exodus or our local operators will do what we can to help you reach the start point of the tour, any additional costs must be paid by the client. 

 

Next steps? 

Call our Sales team on: 0203 733 0698

Email your query: [email protected]

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