Takir / Turkmenistan, Karakum Desert
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Takir / Turkmenistan, Karakum Desert

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Turkmenistan Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

488,100 sq km (188,456 sq miles).

Population

5.2 million (2014).

Population density

10.5 per sq km.

Capital

Ashgabat.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov since 2007.

Head of government

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov since 2007.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.

The territory of what is now Turkmenistan provided the bedrock for many of the most powerful empires of their age. The Parthians, the Seljuks and the Khans of Khoresm all based their empires at various points on the edge of the Kara-Kum Desert, while Alexander the Great conquered the region during his epic campaign of the fourth century BC. The influence of Islam dates from the seventh century AD, when the region was under Arab control. Modern-day Turkmen are descended from tribes that migrated to the area in the 10th century from the northeast.

Almost all the attractions lie around the fringes of the desert and in ancient ruins such as Merv (now Mary). The capital, Ashgabat, is a modern city. It replaced the one founded in 1881, which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1948. The Sunday market here is the best place to buy Turkmen carpets. Mary, due east of Ashgabat, is Turkmenistan's second city and lies near the remains of Merv, which was once the second city of Islam until Ghengis Khan's son Toloi reduced it to rubble in 1221.

Turkmenistan's harsh desert conditions and terrain mean that tourism has been relatively undeveloped. Another reason is that since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has remained largely closed to the outside world under the rule of President Niyazov, who died in December 2006. It is effectively a one-party state, governed by the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which comprises mostly former communists. Although the country benefits from from its oil and gas deposits, its economy remains underdeveloped due to the low presence of foreign investors. It remains to be seen whether Niyazov's death will bring about the changes needed to encourage foreign investment and tourism.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 01 July 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Incidents of mugging, theft and pick pocketing are rare, but take sensible precautions and keep valuables out of sight. Women should avoid going out alone late at night.

Local travel

Certain areas of the country, particularly border areas, are designated restricted zones and require special permission to enter. The borders with Afghanistan and Iran are particularly sensitive. Ashgabat, the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi, and the ancient Silk Road city of Merv/Mary are not in restricted areas. Check with your local tour guide before travelling outside the capital.

Road travel

You can drive in Turkmenistan using an International Driving Permit.

Driving standards are poor. Road travel at night outside cities is particularly dangerous because of the condition of the roads.

Seat belts, if fitted, should be worn at all times.

Licensed taxis are clearly identified and yellow in colour. Although taxis have meters, drivers will usually ask foreign nationals for a set fee of around 5 to 10 Manat. Taxis from the airport cost more and drivers usually ask for US$. Most taxi drivers do not speak much English. Don’t use unlicensed taxis.

Rail travel

Rail travel is slow and can be uncomfortable. If you have to travel overnight, keep valuables in a safe place. Don’t leave the compartment unattended. Lock the door from the inside.

Air travel 

We can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.

In 2010, the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Turkmenistan.

A list of incidents and accidents in Turkmenistan can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.

It is not clear whether maintenance procedures are always properly observed on internal flights.

Political situation

The political situation is calm. Nonetheless, there is traditionally a relatively high state of security in Turkmenistan. You should avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people.

Telephones

The state-owned mobile telephone provider in Turkmenistan, Altyn Asyr, does not provide a roaming service, and the quality of the network is low. Roaming is however provided by a Russian service provider, MTS, which re-entered the Turkmen market in 2012. It is possible to purchase a local SIM card.

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