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When Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road in the 13th century, he returned with incredible tales of Central Asia that have captured the hearts of explorers since. This was where goods, ideas, and even cultures changed hands, creating a fascinating array of art, music, and cuisine that’s yours to discover in this intimate small-group adventure.
Your curiosity will take you off the beaten path as you map the transformation of the Silk Road through 18 included sightseeing tours and visits to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 2000-year-old Bukhara, with its numerous architectural monuments, will open your eyes to the prosperity of the Samanid empire. In Tashkent, step into metro stations and wander its squares to witness the Uzbek capital’s modern-day beauty.
With 18 included Cultural Discoveries throughout your journey, you’ll also experience local traditions and lifestyle in truly unforgettable ways — some of them exclusive to your Vantage group. Strike up a conversation with a master embroiderer of precious suzani textiles, feast on a home-hosted lunch while being enchanted by a folk performance, and learn the secret to making fluffy, flavorful pilav at a cooking demonstration.
To top it all off, ramp up your adventure with optional tours to sacred Islamic sites — or add another Silk Road stop to your journey with an extension to Kazakhstan! Traveling solo? You can count on zero and reduced Single Supplements to give you unbeatable value on this trip of a lifetime. Join us on this adventure to experience your own incredible stories of Central Asia.
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Fly overnight to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Today you’ll board an overnight flight to Ashbagat, which continues on Day 2 as you dream of the unique adventure to come.
A day at leisure in Ashgabat, followed by a Welcome Dinner and a night tour
After arriving in Ashgabat in the early morning, you’ll have a day at leisure to relax and unwind after your travels. A late breakfast is included, after which you can enjoy your day at your leisure. Should you wish to kick start your explorations, your Adventure Leader can provide suggestions for places to check out.
This evening, savor a Welcome Dinner along with a folk show to introduce you to the culture of this region. After dinner, we’ll set off on an exciting night tour of Ashgabat, discovering this historic city under the lights. (Note: This is a great time to have your camera handy — the photography opportunities are excellent.)
Explore Ashgabat on a city tour and discover the treasures of UNESCO-listed Nisa
Today, we’ll explore Ashgabat on a comprehensive city tour in the light of day. As we travel through the Turkmen capital, the history of the city and country will unfold in the form of landmarks: the Park of Independence, Ruhnama statue, Earthquake Monument, Palace Square, Arch of Neutrality, and the Ertuğrul Gazi Mosque, which is the largest mosque in Central Asia.
Then, you’re off to explore a memorable UNESCO World Heritage Site: Nisa. Once the capital of the Parthian Empire — which ruled this region thousands of years ago — this once-great city was revealed by archaeologists. We’ll tour this remarkably well-preserved site, which includes a ceremonial hall, treasure house, and residences.
Visit a local horse farm to see the iconic Turkmen Akhal-Teke horses
This morning after breakfast, we’ll head out to a horse farm to see a unique and ancient equine: the Turkmen Akhal-Teke. This breed can be traced back 5,000 years, and is intricately connected to the Turkmen identity — so much so, in fact, that it graces the country’s national emblem. We’ll get to see these majestic creatures and even get a chance to ride one. Your afternoon is at leisure, and dinner is at the hotel tonight.
Cross into Uzbekistan and learn more about this region during a lecture
Our discovery of this unique part of the world continues today — we fly to Tashauz and cross over the border into Khiva, Uzbekistan. Throughout our journey, we’ll enhance our experiences with background information on the areas we explore. One of the world’s only doubly landlocked countries (which is a landlocked country surrounded by other landlocked countries), Uzbekistan has developed a culture all its own over the centuries. Khiva offers a superb glimpse into the country’s past, which retains the aura of an ancient Silk Road town once visited by hordes of nomads and traders. Today, we’ll learn more about this country during a lecture entitled “Silk Road & the Glory of Uzbekistan's World Heritage Cities." Dinner is included this evening.
Khiva: Madrassas, mausoleums, mosques, and more
We’ll explore more of Khiva’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring an astounding 60 architectural monuments: everything from madrassas to mausoleums and mosques. This is a spectacular introduction to this ancient city and allows you to get a sense of this city’s fascinating story.
We’ll stop by a local handicrafts center that features wood carving, embroidery, and carpet weaving. Then, get to know some of the locals at a lunch at the home of Lady Zarafshan with folk dancing — a Vantage Exclusive. Dinner tonight will be at a local restaurant. After delving into the sights and immersing ourselves in the culture here, we’ll enjoy a panoramic view, at sunset, from the West Gate Tower. It’s the perfect coda to a remarkable day.
Travel to Bukhara and embark on an orientation walk
This morning, you’ll fly from Khiva to Bukhara. This is Central Asia’s most sacred city, and we’ll begin to become acquainted with its history and allure on an orientation walk. We’ll explore the Lyab-i Hauz area of town, the central component of which is a pool that was built here in the 17th century (the name itself means “shore of pool”). We’ll discover some of the religious diversity here as we visit an old synagogue in the Jewish quarter of town as well as a madrassa at the square. Dinner is on your own this evening.
Bustling bazaars and folk music in sacred Bukhara
Explore Bukhara in depth today, as we embark on a city tour. This was a hub of spiritual and intellectual growth as far back as the eighth century until it was destroyed by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. It rose to prominence once again, becoming the capital of the Burhara Khanate but remained at the center of regional upheaval throughout the centuries, with many different armies taking control of it. The result is a captivating mix of impressive architecture.
Visit the bustling bazaars of Bukhara, which are housed in the restored “trading domes” that date from the 14th to the 17th centuries. Here, we experience the pulse of modern life while surrounded by fascinating remnants of the past. Later, we’ll savor some tea and conversation at a local teahouse, followed by a Vantage-exclusive musical performance by a well-known Uzbek folk singer. You'll also get the unique opportunity to visit a puppetry museum and take in a show there.
Tour a politician’s former home and learn about suzani
We see yet another side of Bukhara today, as we explore the home of one of the city’s famous residents: politician Fayzulla Khodjaev. Now a museum, the home is a fine example of the Bukharian architectural style of the late 19th century, and our visit will provide insight into the life of Khodjaev and the spirit of his times.
We’ll continue our domestic discoveries in the home of Toshev Rakhmon. Mr. Rakhmon is a master of suzani, a type of embroidery unique to this part of the world (the name comes from the Persian word suzan, which means needle). We’ll enjoy a demonstration of Mr. Rakhmon’s artistry — an exclusive for Vantage travelers. You’ll also have an opportunity to visit the Bakhoutdin Nakshbandi Complex & Chor Minor — one of Islam’s most sacred sites in this region — on an optional tour that includes dinner.
Ride by train to ancient and mythical Samarkand
We’ll visit the Mokhi Khosa, a grand summer palace of the emir, and enjoy lunch before transferring to the train station for your journey to Samarkand. Your ride will take you through the beautiful scenery of this country, the landscape largely unchanged from when explorers and traders once roamed the land. You’ll arrive in Samarkand and transfer to your hotel, where dinner is included.
Tour Samarkand and join a family for a home-hosted dinner
This Central Asian city has existed since the fourth century BC (when it was conquered by Alexander the Great), but it was Tamerlane that made it the capital of his vast empire. While this region was hidden behind the Russia’s Iron Curtain for decades, it has roots in a variety of Middle Eastern and Central Asian cultures. To learn more about Samarkand, join us for a lecture on Tamerlane (Timur) & and his most mythical Silk Road city before we depart on the day’s explorations. Many of the places you’ll visit today — including the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Registan Square, and three separate madrassas — reflect the deep Persian influence in this region: colorful, intricate designs, massive domes, and traditional minarets. Your first stop will be at the tomb of the city’s most famous resident: Tamerlane, the 14th-century nomad emperor who was one of the most successful conquerors of all time. Tamerlane (which is a derivation of Timur the Lame) was interred here along with his descendants after he died in 1405.
In the afternoon, we’ll discover the Ulugbek Observatory (named for Tamerlane’s great-grandson, who built it in the 15th century). You'll also get to visit a local silk carpet factory. We’ll join a local family for a home-hosted dinner, featuring delectable pilav demonstrated by a chef. In the evening, you can join a night time panoramic tour in Samarkand, getting to see this fascinating city under the lights.
Day at leisure, or optional tour to Tamerlane’s birthplace
Our days have been filled with discoveries, so we’ll have a day at leisure to relax or set off to explore independently. Or join an optional tour to Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane. Belonging to the legendary founder of the Timurid Empire, Tamerlane’s palace — the ruins of which we’ll explore on this tour — was a masterpiece of medieval architecture. We’ll also visit the tomb of his favorite son, Dzhahongir. Savor an included lunch on the tour before returning back to the city.
In the evening, take your seat at El Merosi, Samarkand’s theater of historical costume, and enjoy a performance showcasing the exquisite clothing worn by past and present-day peoples of central Asia. Dinner is at the hotel this evening.
Experience more of Samarkand before traveling to Tashkent by train
You’ll begin another day of discovery here by exploring the Siab bazaar, a colorful farmers’ market, to experience a slice of everyday life here in the city. Samarkand is known for its silk paper, so we'll also drop in at a silk paper mill to see how it's made. We'll then visit an even more grand tribute to Samarkand's storied past at the Shakhi-Zinda (“Living King”) Mausoleum complex. After wrapping up our extensive explorations of this famed Silk Road city, we’ll venture to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, by train. Dinner is on your own this evening as we settle into yet another fascinating Central Asian city.
Embark on an exciting tour of Tashkent, the epicenter of modern Uzbek life
Become acquainted with the epicenter of modern Uzbek culture — Tashkent, its capital city, is teeming with historic landmarks, museums, and distinctive neighborhoods. Our full-day tour will take us to the Old Quarter, Independence Square, Khast Imam square, and more. We’ll stop by the Museum of Applied Arts, which was built by local craftsmen in the 1930s. Though it was constructed during the era of Soviet hegemony, the building and its contents reflect many facets of Uzbek artistry, architecture, and culture. We’ll also immerse ourselves in the flow of everyday life here as we take a ride on the Metro train. This subterranean system is renowned for its aesthetic beauty, and we’ll admire it as we travel beneath the city with the locals.
Later, we join a local family — the Rakhimovs — at their ceramics studio. World-famous master of ceramics Akbar Rakhimov founded this studio and it has been in the family ever since. We’ll admire the handiwork and learn about the family’s artistry at their private museum (a Vantage Exclusive). Our Farewell Dinner will be at the hotel's restaurant this evening.
Return home or continue on your extension to Almaty
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home or explore yet another fascinating destination on your extension to Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Add another of the “’Stans” to your Central Asia travels with this extension into Kazakhstan. Almaty is renowned not only for its postcard-pretty setting in the foothills of the snowcapped Trans-Ili Alatau Mountains, but for its status as Kazakhstan’s most cosmopolitan city. Your three-night extension includes visits to Zenkov Cathedral, the Memorial of Glory and Eternal Flame, and Panfilov Park. You’ll also learn about the culture and history of Kazakhstan during a visit to a folk music instrument museum as well as the Central State Museum.
In addition to seeing the city from the ground, you’ll experience it from above when you take a cable car up for a panoramic view of this striking city and landscape. You’ll also visit the scenic shores of Great Almaty Lake and stop by a local falcon farm.
This is a superb opportunity to broaden your perspective on this region and get to know the culture and beauty of yet another Central Asian city.
Important Notice: The above day-by-day itineraries are preliminary and therefore subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Vantage Adventure Leader or regional expert.