20 things to do in Central Asia.

Posted: 12/06/20 | June 12th, 2020

Last modified on: June 23rd, 2020 at 11:39

20 things to do in Central Asia. How do you start planning for a visit to a region as big as Central Asia? Use our top 20 to get started. Central Asia is a vast region with many different cultures, people, history, and nature. The region being half the size of Europe it might be difficult to get started. Especially since there is so much to see and do. 

20 things to do in Central Asia.

Whatever you are in to, there is something to do for everyone. Whether it is extreme adventures, strolling around in museums, or walking around ancient ruins. You will find it in Central Asia, and the best thing is you can do it all on a backpacking budget! So get your backpack ready and get started with our 20 things to do in Central Asia below! In case you doubting on why you should visit Central Asia, read our 10 reasons why. 

1. Take a road trip on the Pamir Highway.

Our highlight in Central Asia was our epic road trip on the Pamir Highway. We spent two weeks driving a 4×4 through rugged mountains, isolated villages, and had some of the best views we have ever experienced. If you like adventure this is it. Our car broke down several times at 4000m altitude with no help in sight for the next 100km. but with the help of extremely friendly locals and their resourcefulness, a potentially bad situation was turned into a great one.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
20 things to do in Central Asia: Pamir Highway road trip.

Self-driving the Pamir Highway is as close as you can get to a real 4×4 expedition. If you like adventure,  this is a must-do in Central Asia.

Know before you go:

If you choose for a self-drive like us, get a reliable car. We trusted a travel blog that works together with a local guy in Osh. Seemed trustworthy but 3 of his cars broke down. Be sure to make a good choice. 

2. Visit the ancient city of Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand in Uzbekistan.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
The Kalta-Minor Minaret in Khiva, Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is simply stunning, brimming with history and beauty. The 3 ancient cities Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand are unprecedented in their beauty. Beautifully decorated mosques, mausoleums, minarets, and caravanserais are everywhere you look.

About 10 years ago I saw a documentary about Uzbekistan and it featured the stunning blue Kalta-minor Minaret and it kept lingering in my head. This sparked my interest in Central Asia, so I knew I had to go visit Khiva and take a look at this beauty.

Know before you go:

Please don’t skip Khiva, even though it is quite far from Bukhara. It is definitely worth the visit. there are so many nice things to see in this tiny city.

3. Camp next to the Darvaza Crater, Turkmenistan.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
Camping at the Darvaza gas crater in Turkmenistan.

This is one of those weird places you have to visit while you are in Central Asia. Yes, getting a visa for Turkmenistan can be a hassle, but it’s worth it. It’s hard to imagine how weird this place is: a giant burning crater in the middle of the desert. Sleeping 50 meters away from a burning pit of fire, feeling its heat, is truly amazing.

The fun thing about camping here is that most people do this as a day trip from Ashgabat. So when we camped there, we were almost alone in the evening and in the morning when we woke up!

Know before you go:

There are some yurts next to the crater, in case you don’t have a tent to sleep in.

4. Walk in the Charyn Canyon.

Day trip to the Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan.
20 things to do in Central Asia: Day trip to the Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan.

The little sister of the Grand Canyon in Kazakhstan. Bet you didn’t know it was in Central Asia! It might not be as gigantic as the real Grand Canyon but, impressive nonetheless. Take a local tourist bus towards the canyon and spend the day walking down this amazing canyon. It’s just one of these amazing places you never heard of until you visit Central Asia.

Know before you go:

For more info on how to get to the canyon read our blog dedicated to the Charyn Canyon!

5. Visit the Aral Sea.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
Day trip to the Aral Sea, Muynak Uzbekistan.

Visiting the Aral Sea is dark tourism at is best in Central Asia. A sad reminder of human destruction during the Soviet Era. The Aral Sea disaster is one of the biggest man-made disasters in the world. As water from the lake was irrigated for cotton crops in the desert, it slowly emptied and became almost obsolete. Once it was the 4th biggest lake on earth teeming with life, now almost nothing but desert remains. It’s sad but a fascinating place to visit.

Know before you go:

Tours towards the remaining shore of the Aral Sea are extremely expensive. So a cheaper option is a day trip from Nukus to Muynak and visit the ship graveyard from there.

6. Go on a multi-day trek in Kyrgyzstan.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
Trekking in the Karakol Valley, Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgystan is made up of 80% mountains. Some of the highest peaks in the world and most of them are undiscovered by mass tourism. If you are into trekking, you will love Kyrgyzstan. We did our first 3-day trek in Kyrgyzstan to lake Ala-Kul and crossing a pass at 3900m. Doing a trek in Kyrgyzstan is one of those things you should do when visiting Central Asia.

Know before you go:

There are many treks to choose from. Use Maps.Me as an offline map to guide you on the trails. Many trails can be found on Wikiloc.

7. Visit the weird city of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
Weird city of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

Ashgabat is by far the weirdest city we have ever visited. It’s a strange city that is completely out of place compared to the rest of Central Asia. There is little evidence of Central Asia’s ancient history. Which also makes it very fascinating. Spend at least 2 days walking through this city while staring at all the weird white marble buildings.

Know before you go:

Try to stay with a local through Airbnb or Couchsurfing to get a better understanding of life in Turkmenistan. 

8. Take a spa day in Almaty at the Arasan Spa, Kazakhstan.

8. Take a spa day in Almaty at the Arasan Spa.
Slippers at the Arasan Spa.

With so many cool adventures in Central Asia, it’s good to take a rest day once in a while. What better place to go to than a Spa. We recommend going to the Arasan Spa which is located in this Soviet-era grey building in Almaty. The spa is super nice, it features 5 different kinds of saunas inside and you can have every skin/nail treatment there is on the inside. When I walked in there, they noticed I was not a local so a friendly employee walked me through the whole process and explained everything. It is a budget-friendly and fun experience.

Know before you go:

No reservations needed, just show up and select your option from the menu.

9. Hunt for post-soviet souvenirs.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
Old soviet posters bought in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

What better souvenir is there than an old KGB medal? Or an old propaganda poster? The Soviet-era was a fascinating time covered in secrecy and conspiracy. Its remains are visible everywhere in Central Asia. Almost everywhere you can find old medals for sale, a Lenin bust, and propaganda posters. It might not be the prettiest time in history but makes up for an interesting, cool souvenir.

Know before you go:

There are street vendors at the Detskaya Ploshchadka park/playground in Tashkent almost every day. Selling old relics from Soviet times, we could’ve spent a whole day looking at what they offered. 

10. Have Plov at the Central Asian Plov Center in Tashkent.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
Lunch at the Plov Center in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Plov is somewhat of the national lunch dish in Central Asia. It’s made out of rice, chickpeas, carrots, beef (or lamb/chicken), and spices. You will find this everywhere, whether you go to a guesthouse or have lunch in a bazaar. You will eat a lot of Plov in Central Asia. We loved it, easy, filling, and very tasty.

So what’s better than visiting the Central Asian Plov Center? It’s a giant outdoor kitchen where chefs prepare Plov in giant pots. Thousands of people come here every day for lunch. Queue up,  join the locals and get a big portion of Plov, go inside, and enjoy!

Know before you go:

The center is located next to the TV tower in Tashkent and is a 10 min walk from the Habib Abdullayev Metro station.

11. Go on a day hike in the mountains around Almaty, Kazakhstan.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
Hiking outside Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Almaty is perfectly located next to the Zailiyskiy Alatau mountain range. A 30-minute bus ride from the city center brings you the Medeu skating ring and the Shymbulak ski resort. From there you can do endless day hikes, hiking up to Furmanov peak, or take the ski lift up the Shymbulak ski slope. Taking you up to 3200m altitude in no time. Take in the glorious views that the mountains have to offer, just half an hour from Almaty.

Know before you go:

Take bus nr12 from the city center up to Medeu. Install the app 2GIS for all public transport information: time tables, prices, and bus stops!

12. Camp in the Jizeu Valley, Tajikistan.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
20 things to do in Central Asia. Beautiful Jizue Valley, Tajikistan.

The Jizeu Valley is located in the Bartang Valley. One of the most beautiful parts of the Pamirs. While it’s hard to get to the Jizeu Valley it’s best visited while doing the whole Pamir Highway. It’s a bit of a detour from the normal Pamir Highway route and you have to work to get there, but it is worth it. Park your car next to a suspension bridge from there, the walk to Jizeu village is only about 2 hours away.

It’s a short, tough hike, but worth the detour. Spending the night in the village is amazing, it’s extremely peaceful and beautiful. Located next to a perfectly quiet clear lake, mountains all around you and the basic village life!

Know before you go:

Spend the night there, it is magical! It’s extremely peaceful and relaxing.

13. Visit the Silk factory in the Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
Yodgorlik silk factory in Margilan, Uzbekistan.

You always hear about the “Silk” road, but seldom see actual silk. In the Fergana valley,  you can see the process behind the product that gives the Silk Road trading route its name! While traveling on the Silk road it is a must to visit these factories. Spend a few days in the Fergana Valley and make sure to stop in Margilan at the Yodgorlik Silk Factory.

Know before you go:

The entrance is free, and the girl doing the tour is not getting paid. A small tip goes a long way.

14. Get lost in the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
20 Things to do in Central Asia: Osh Bazaar.

The Osh Bazaar in Bishkek is probably the most fun one in Central Asia. We spent almost a full day walking around before our Pamir Highway road trip. Buying all the supplies needed for our trip and tasting all the local food and pastries. It’s a fun bazaar that seems to keep going on forever. Endless little paths going left and right taking you to new places. Do as the locals do!

Know before you go:

Lot’s of people warned us for pickpocketers in this Bazaar. Although we haven’t heard any stories of people getting robbed. Maybe it’s just the local friendliness. But anyway, be aware!

15. Take a culinary tour in Khorog: McDolands and KFC: Korogh Fried Chicken.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
20 things to do in Central Asia. MAC Doland’s in Khorog, Tajikistan.

Khorog is a stop on the Pamir Highway and the largest city in the region. After almost 10 days in the Pamirs, it was nice to be back in a city. Relaxing for a few days, exploring the botanical garden (second highest in the world), and explore some of the local fast-food chains. There is a real McDolands and KFC (Khorog Fried Chicken) in town, which are weird but fun to visit.

Know before you go:

You might want to skip actual eating at these places. We ordered some food, but all of it looked scary.

16. Relax in the hot springs at Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

Hot springs at Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.
20 things to do in Central Asia. Hot springs at Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan.

Usually, Altyn Arashan is the last stop on the 3-day Ala-Kul trek. In case you are not into trekking you can do a trip to Altyn Arashan from Karakol. The village is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by rugged mountains, green forests, and meadows filled with grazing animals. It’s peaceful and the hot springs have a perfect temperature to relax in!

Know before you go:

From Karakol Marshrutka #350 to Ak-Suu. From here either walk (15km) or take a 4×4 taxi to Altyn Arashan. There are many guesthouses there.

17. Visit the yurt factory in Barskoon, Kyrgyzstan.

Private concert at the Yurt factory in Barskoon, Kyrgyzstan.
Private concert at the Yurt factory in Barskoon, Kyrgyzstan.

We stopped in Barskoon for 2 days after coming from Karakol. To visit the nearby Waterfalls and Fairy Tale canyon.  Now 2 days is way too much time to spend there, in fact, I wouldn’t even recommend spending any nights in Barskoon. But we had been traveling for 4 months at the time and needed a few days of relaxing.

So as we walked around town we came across the Yurt Factory. Run by an old craftsman showing of his yurt building skills. It was so much fun, unexpected and we had a great time. He showed us the tricks of the trade and even gave us a private concert using one of his handmade instruments.

Know before you go:

Hitchhiking is probably the easiest way to get into Barskoon. As the Mashrutka’s stop on the main road going towards Bishkek.

18. Marvel at the world’s clock in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
20 things to do in Central Asia: World clock, counting down the days.

This was one of the surprises we came across during a trip in Nukus. We had no idea it existed. During a visit to the Mizdakhan Necropolis located 25 km outside Nukus. The necropolis dates back to the 4th century BC. It is the only thing remaining of what once was the Mizdakhan city.

Many legends are surrounding Mizdakhan. Some say Adam (the one that dated Eva) is buried here and that the world clock has been build upon his tomb. Many people believe this clock is counting down the end of time. A brick falls out every year, continuing until the walls are gone. It’s quite a cool legend, who knows what is true?

Know before you go:

The entrance to the Necropolis was free, during our visit. If someone is trying to make you pay ask for proof or check if there is a ticket booth.

19. Expo in Astana – Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan.

The Expo Museum in Astana / Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
The Expo Museum in Astana / Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

This was by far our favorite thing we did in Astana. In 2017 the Expo was held in Astana. Giant buildings and exhibitions were made for this fair themed Future Energy. Now, most of it is empty and not used. One of the buildings made for the Expo is a giant sphere, which is the biggest in the world. You can see this fascinating building from all over the city.

Inside the Expo is a museum dedicated to Future Energy and it is cool to see. Every level addresses a type of energy and has a bunch of interactive stuff. Fun for kids and older kids like us!

Know before you go:

Use the app 2GIS to navigate around Astana using public transport. Walking is not an option the size of the city is insane.

20. Go skating in Shymkent, Kazakhstan.

20 things to do in Central Asia.
20 things to do in Central Asia: Skating in Shymkent.

Shymkent is often overlooked which is a shame. Since we had to wait for our Turkmen visa we spend 5 days in this lovely city. There is not that much to do other than a day-trip to Turkestan, but there is a lot of life in this city, on a summer day stroll around on Arbat street watch young kids making music and performing their new tricks. Before hopping into the nearby park for a rollercoaster ride or rent a pair of skates.

Know before you go:

Arbat street is most active in the evenings, take your time and stroll around the street and visit the park for a fun night. 

20 things to do in Central Asia.

Hopefully, this gives you a good start on what to do in Central Asia. In the unlikely case you are still doubting whether you should visit Central Asia. Read our 10 reasons why! In case you have more questions regarding the list above drop a message below or contact us!

More about Central Asia:

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