Turkmenistan: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
What is Turkmenistan?
Turkmenistan, officially the Republic of Turkmenistan, is a country in Central Asia. Its capital and largest city is Ashgabat and has a population of 5.6 million, the lowest of the Central Asian republics and one of the most sparsely populated in Asia.
Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. In medieval times, Merv (city) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road, a caravan route used for trade with China until the mid-15th century.
Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan later became part of the Soviet Union (the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic), until its dissolution when it became an independent state.
After the dissolution of the USSR, the sovereign state of Turkmenistan was ruled by President for Life, Saparmurat Niyazov (also known as Turkmenbashi) until his death in 2006.
Turkmenistan possesses the world's sixth largest reserves of natural gas resources. Most of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert. From 1993 to 2017, citizens received government-provided electricity, water and natural gas free of charge.
Where is Turkmenistan?
Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the north and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west.
Is Turkmenistan safe?
Turkmenistan is a country that few know much about. The country enjoys low crime rates, with official statistics stating that there is no crime in the country.
Although we don’t believe that to be entirely accurate, even in comparison to most western countries, the country is considered safe for tourists to visit.
Top Things to do in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most bizarre countries and adventure travel destinations. The country was ruled by the former President Niyazov (Turkmenbashy - ‘The Father of the Turkmen) who created one of the world’s harshest ‘cults of personality.’
The country’s capital, Ashgabat, has often been described as a mix between Las Vegas and Pyongyang and the country itself is sometimes referred to as ‘Central Asia’s Hermit Kingdom,’ a reference to its similarities with North Korea.
1) Darvaza Gas Crater (‘The Gates to Hell’)
The Darvaza gas crater, also known as the Door to Hell or Gates of Hell, is a natural gas field collapsed into a cavern located in Derweze, Turkmenistan. Geologists intentionally set it on fire to prevent the spread of methane gas and it is thought to have been burning continuously since 1971.
2) Independence Square, Ashgabat
The main and biggest square in Turkmenistan’s capital.
3) Wedding Palace
Yes, this is a designated place where all the citizens of Ashgabat get married! The Wedding Palace is a civil registry building in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. It was constructed by Turkish company Polimeks. It was built in 2011, commissioned by the Government of Turkmenistan.
4) Turkmenbashi Mosque
Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque or Gypjak Mosque is a mosque in the village of Gypjak, Turkmenistan. It is located about 7 kilometres west of the Ashgabat city centre, on the M37 highway.
5) Ancient Merv
Merv was a major Iranian city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road, located near today's ... its population deported. By the 1800s the city was completely deserted. UNESCO has listed the site of ancient Merv as a World Heritage Site.
6) Settlement of Nisa
Nisa was an ancient settlement of the Iranian peoples, located near (modern-day) Bagir village, 18 km southwest of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
7) Ruhnama Monument
The Ruhnama is a book written by Saparmurat Niyazov, the President of Turkmenistan from 1990 to 2006, combining spiritual/moral guidance, autobiography and revisionist history; much of it is of dubious or disputed factuality and accuracy.
It has often been put on the same level as the Koran in Turkmenistan, causing much controversy in the Muslim world.
8) Turkmenistan Independence Monument
The "Independence Monument" is a monument located in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The design of this building was inspired by traditional Turkmen tents and the traditional headgear worn by Turkmen girls.
9) Ruins of Ancient Dehistan
The former city of Dehistan/Mashhad-i Misrian, now in the Balkan Region of western Turkmenistan, was a major economic center from the 10th to the 14th centuries CE. The city lay on an important trade route of the states comprising Greater Iran.
10) President Niyazov (Turkmenbashy)
You can’t come to Turkmenistan and not be exposed to the first leader of the country - he is everywhere! Take a look into the person who started the cult of personality in Turkmenistan.
11) The Leader - Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
He is only the second leader of Turkmenistan, but he is just as present as his predecessor!
Who was President Niyazov?
Saparmurat Niyazov was a Turkmen politician and 'President for Life' of Turkmenistan. He served as the leader of Turkmenistan from 1985 until his death in 2006.
He was First Secretary of the Turkmen Communist Party from 1985 until 1991 and supported the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt. He continued to lead Turkmenistan for 15 years after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Turkmen media referred to him using the title "His Excellency Saparmurat Türkmenbaşy, President of Turkmenistan and Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers".
His self-given title Türkmenbaşy, meaning Head of the Turkmen, referred to his position as the founder and president of the Association of Turkmens of the World. In 1999, the Assembly of Turkmenistan declared Niyazov President for Life of Turkmenistan, a title that is still used today.
His presidency was characterised by an initial crumbling of the centralised Soviet model and the buildup of a cult of personality, often compared to the likes of the Kim Dynasty in North Korea.
Niyazov made a personal attempt to create a cultural background for the new state of Turkmenistan by writing and promoting the Ruhnama, an autobiography meant to guide the people of Turkmenistan with his ideas and promote native Turkmen culture.
What is the Ruhnama?
The Ruhnama (The Book of the Soul) is a book written by Saparmurat Niyazov, the President for Life of Turkmenistan. It combines spiritual/moral guidance, autobiography and revisionist history; much of it is of dubious or disputed factuality and accuracy.
The text includes many stories and poems, including those by Sufi poet Magtymguly Pyragy. It was intended as the "spiritual guidance of the nation" and the basis of the nation's arts and literature.
This was done by creating a positive image of the Turkmen people, a heroic interpretation of its history, the review of Turkmen customs and the definition of "moral, family, social and religious norms for modern Turkmens".
This would be accomplished by the book being the "centre" of the Turkmen universe.
The Ruhnama was introduced to Turkmen culture in a gradual but eventually pervasive way.
Niyazov first placed copies in the nation's schools and libraries but eventually went as far as to make an exam on its teachings an element of the driving test.
It was mandatory to read Ruhnama in schools, universities and governmental organisations and new governmental employees were tested on the book at job interviews.
Knowledge of the Ruhnama is compulsory in Turkmenistan and the work is a primary component of education from primary school to university.
Knowledge of the text (up to the ability to recite passages from it exactly) is required for passing education exams, holding any state employment and to qualify for a driver's license.
Official ceremonies have featured singing and performing choreography with the book and has been praised on level with the Quran, drawing much criticism in the Islamic world.
There is an enormous mechanical statue of the book in Ashgabat, the country's capital. Each evening, the cover opens and a recording of a passage from the book is played with an accompanying video.
What is a ‘Cult of Personality?’
A cult of personality, or cult of the leader, arises when a country's regime uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, spectacles, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.
A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is established by modern social engineering techniques, usually by the state or the party in one-party states and dominant-party states.
It is often seen in totalitarian or authoritarian countries - most notably in North Korea.
Is Turkmenistan in the U.N?
Unlike our other destinations, Turkmenistan is a completely recognized country with membership in the United Nations.
How do I enter Turkmenistan?
Turkmenistan can be entered through a number of different ways. Firstly, tourists are able to fly straight into Ashgabat through its international airport.
In addition, land border crossings can be crossed from neighboring countries such as; Uzebekistan and Iran.
Do I need a visa to enter Turkmenistan?
In accordance with the law, citizens of all countries require a visa to visit Turkmenistan. To obtain a tourist visa for Turkmenistan, all foreign nationals must supply an invitation letter issued by a travel agency licensed in Turkmenistan.
Holders of a letter of invitation issued by a company registered in Turkmenistan with a prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can obtain a visa on arrival valid for 10 days, and extendable for another 10 days.
What currency is used in Turkmenistan?
The Turkmenistan Manat is the currency of Turkmenistan. It was introduced on 1 November 1993, replacing the Russian ruble at a rate of 1 manat = 500 rubles.
How did Turkmenistan gain independence?
Turkmenistan participated in the referendum held in March 1991 in an attempt to preserve the Soviet Union as a renewed federation with the 98.26% voters approved.
Following the events of the failed coup that took place in August, the Supreme Soviet of the Turkmenistan decided to adopt the law "About Independence and Bases of a State System of Turkmenistan" when it declared independence on October 27, 1991.
After the collapse of the USSR, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic became one of the last Soviet Socialist Republics of the former Soviet Union to proclaim independence.
In 2018, the government of Turkmenistan voted to move the date from October 27 to September 27.
Who are the Turkmen People?
The Turkmen people are a nation and Turkic ethnic group native to Central Asia, primarily the Turkmen nation state of Turkmenistan.
Originally, all Turkic tribes that were part of the Turkic dynastic mythological system (for example, Uigurs, Karluks, and a number of other tribes) were designated "Turkmens". Only later did this word come to refer to a specific ethnonym.
The term derives from Türk plus the Sogdian affix of similarity -myn, -men, and means "resembling a Türk" or "co-Türk".
Historically, all of the Western or Oghuz Turks have been called Türkmen or Turkoman; however, today the terms are usually restricted to two Turkic groups: the Turkmen people of Turkmenistan and adjacent parts of Central Asia and the Turkomans of Iraq and Syria.
Since Turkmenistan's independence in 1991, a cultural revival has taken place with the return of a moderate form of Islam and celebration of Nowruz (an Iranian tradition) or New Year's Day.
Turkmen can be divided into various social classes including the urban intelligentsia and workers whose role in society is different from that of the rural peasantry.
Secularism and atheism remain prominent for many Turkmen intellectuals who favor moderate social changes and often view extreme religiosity and cultural revival with some measure of distrust.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Muslims constitute 89% of the population while 9% of the population are followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the remaining 2% religion is reported as non-religious.
However, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, 93.1% of Turkmenistan's population is Muslim.
The history of Bahá'í Faith in Turkmenistan is as old as the religion itself, and Bahá'í communities still exist today. The first Bahá'í House of Worship was built in Ashgabat at the beginning of the twentieth century.
What language is spoken in Turkmenistan?
Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan, although Russian is widely spoken in cities and used as the linga franca for different ethnic groups. Turkmen is spoken by 72% of the population, with the rest speaking Russian and other minority languages.
It is spoken by over 5,200,000 people in Turkmenistan, and by roughly 3,000,000 people in other countries, including Iran, Afghanistan, and Russia.
Up to 30% of the population of Turkmenistan also claim a good knowledge of Russian, a legacy of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.
Are foreign embassies present in Turkmenistan?
Turkmenistan is a recognized country and is home to many foreign missions. The capital of Ashgabat hosts 32 foreign diplomatic missions including; the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel.
In addition, most European countries and Canada are represented through non-resident embassies in neighboring countries.
Will travelling to Turkmenistan affect future travel plans?
No. Turkmenistan does not have any conflicts with any other U.N. nations. Turkmenistan is the only state that has been recognised as having a status of permanent neutrality by the UN. As such, travelling to Turkmenistan will not negatively affect any future travel plans you may have.