Kyrgyzstan yurts background of mountains in Songköl Lake area
023_Uzbekistan_Samarkand_lowres
023_Kazakhstan_Big-Almaty-Lake

Sandwiched between the Middle East and China, Central Asia has earned its status as a crossroads for much of human history and civilisation.

The "Five Stans" of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are best known as being the central artery of the ancient Silk Road trading routes that connected the ancient civilisations to the east and west.

But the region was far more than merely a connector between China and Europe, with a glittering – if brutal – history of its own; birthing sprawling empires and flourishing cultures such as the vast Timurid Empire.

Today many of the historical landmarks remain – although heavily reconstructed – in the glittering Islamic cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. While out in the hinterlands, you'll find vast steppe and snowcapped mountains, along with the herding communities who have lived here for countless generations.

The cities meanwhile tell their own story of the Soviet era, and their attempts at reinvention since 1991 reinvention – some more successful than others.

It's not necessarily a relaxing vacation destination: if you're looking for lazy afternoons in the sun, you may want to try elsewhere. But if you seek adventure and insights into the incredible, magical, at times awful, human story, well Central Asia is a must.

The Five Stans

A guide to the cultural and historical highlights of the Silk Road

The Five ‘Stans…a handful of countries, but covering a vast swathe of Central Asia. Where do you start an introduction to a region that stretches from China in the east, to the Caspian Sea in the west, when just one of the countries, Kazakhstan, is almost the same size as Europe?Some definitions to get us going: the Five Stans consist of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and the largest, Kazakhstan. Although these five countries have much in common, they also have quite different cultures and traditions...read more

14 days

Essential Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan

Explore the historical heritage of Persian Central Asia
View itinerary
10 days

Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Unwrapped

Explore the lakes and landscapes of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
View itinerary
10 days

The Kazakhstan Loop

Almaty, Shymkent, Astana and Karaganda
View itinerary
12 days

The Uzbekistan Loop

Explore the highlights of Uzbekistan
View itinerary
21 days

Tajikistan & Uzbekistan Adventure

The Pamir Highway and the Uzbekistan loop
View itinerary
21 days

The Silk Road Trail

Explore Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan
View itinerary
  • Kazakhstan

    Kazakhstan

    A land for wanderers
    ...
  • Nur-Sultan (Astana)

    Nur-Sultan (Astana)

    ...
  • Astana

    Astana

    Gleaming constructions of glass and steel by the world’s top architects, rising out of nowhere from an inhospitable desert...
  • Charyn Canyon

    Charyn Canyon

    ...
  • Altyn Emel National Park

    ...
  • Turkestan

    ...
  • Shymkent

    Shymkent

    Located on the southern tip of Kazakhstan, just north of Kyrgyzstan’s Tashkent, Shymkent is the third most populated city in Kazakhstan and a cultural and industrial hub...
  • Aktau

    Aktau

    ...
  • Ustyurt Plateau

    Ustyurt Plateau

    ...
  • Almaty

    Almaty

    The most populated city in Kazakhstan and former capital, Almaty is surrounded by mountains, with streets lined by trees and parks scattered across the city...
  • Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve

    Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve

    ...
  • Karaganda

    Karaganda

    For a different view of Kazakhstan, take a day trip to Karaganda...
  • Kyrgyzstan

    Kyrgyzstan

    ...
  • Bishkek

    Bishkek

    ...
  • Lake Issyk Kul

    Lake Issyk Kul

    ...
  • Song Kul Lake

    Song Kul Lake

    Located in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, Song Kul is a high-altitude, alpine lake perfect for hiking and horseback riding, although the area is covered in snow for the majority of the year...
  • Karakol

    Karakol

    Karakol, on the eastern side of Lake Issyk-Kul, is a traveler’s favourite...
  • Kochkor

    Kochkor

    ...
  • Osh

    Osh

    ...
  • Arslanbob

    Arslanbob

    Arslanbob is the perfect spot for those looking to escape the cities in favour of walking and hiking...
  • The Pamir Highway

    The Pamir Highway

    Connecting Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan by road through the Pamir Mountains, the M41, commonly referred to as The Pamir Highway, is the second highest highway in the world...
  • The Karkara Valley

    The Karkara Valley

    ...
  • The Suusamyr Valley

    The Suusamyr Valley

    ...
  • Tajikistan

    Tajikistan

    ...
  • Yagnob Valley

    ...
  • Dushanbe

    Dushanbe

    ...
  • Fann Mountains

    Fann Mountains

    ...
  • Panjakent

    Panjakent

    ...
  • Seven Lakes

    Seven Lakes

    ...
  • Khujand

    Khujand

    ...
  • Khorog

    ...
  • Turkmenistan

    Turkmenistan

    ...
  • Ashgabat

    Ashgabat

    Ashgabat is a wonder, in that it is a huge, richly decorated, marble clad capital city that’s streets are largely empty of people...
  • Darvaza

    Darvaza

    ...
  • The Karakum Desert

    The Karakum Desert

    The Karakum Desert covers a huge portion of Turkmenistan, bar the lizards, camels and other hardy wildlife, it is sparsely populated, with little rain falling across the area...
  • Konye-Urgench

    Konye-Urgench

    Konye-Urgench is just across the border from Khiva in Turkmenistan...
  • Merv

    ...
  • Uzbekistan

    Uzbekistan

    Mosques, mausoleums and madrasahs
    Central Asia’s showstopper, Uzbekistan is synonymous with the famed Silk Road which weaved its way through much of this historic country...
  • Khiva

    Khiva

    The walled city of Khiva is made up of mud-brick buildings and has over 50 historic monuments meaning you will need a few days to explore the city...
  • Bukhara

    Bukhara

    Bukhara is over 2,000 years old, built on the site of a former Buddhist monastery, it has hundreds of minarets, mosques and madrassas with key sites being the Kalyan minaret, that's tower is a prominent landmark of the city, the Ismail Samani mausoleum and Bolo Haouz Mosque, one of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city...
  • Samarkand

    Samarkand

    A rebuilt 14th-century city, Samarkand in Uzbekistan is a striking place to visit with mosques covered in ceramic tiles and sand coloured buildings...
  • Tashkent

    Tashkent

    ...
  • Termez

    Termez

    ...
  • Derbent

    Derbent

    ...
  • Fergana Valley

    Fergana Valley

    ...
  • Urgench

    ...

Places to go in Central Asia

Central Asia Tours

Best of Central Asia

Experience the people, history and nature of the 'Five Stans

22 daysFrom €4,580
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Tour Type Small group tour, Private guided tour
Activity Active, Walking, Culture, Cities, Museums & Galleries, History, Responsible Travel, Community-led Tourism, Solo Travel

Historical Cities of Central Asia

Following in the footsteps of Marco Polo

15 daysFrom €4,060
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan
Tour Type Small group tour, Private guided tour
Activity Culture, Cities, Museums & Galleries, History, Responsible Travel, Community-led Tourism, Solo Travel

Best of Uzbekistan

Explore Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva

8 daysFrom €1,540
Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent
Tour Type Small group tour, Private guided tour
Activity Culture, Cities, Museums & Galleries, History, Responsible Travel, Community-led Tourism, Solo Travel

Highlights of Kazakhstan

Explore Kazakhstan's epic landscapes

10 daysFrom €2,190
Nur-Sultan (Astana), Charyn Canyon, Aktau, Ustyurt Plateau, Almaty
Tour Type Small group tour, Private guided tour
Activity Culture, Cities, Museums & Galleries, History, Responsible Travel, Community-led Tourism, Solo Travel

Uzbekistan in Depth

Explore Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Termez and Fergana Valley

14 daysFrom €2,590
Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Termez, Derbent, Fergana Valley
Tour Type Small group tour, Private guided tour
Activity Culture, Cities, Museums & Galleries, History, Responsible Travel, Community-led Tourism, Solo Travel

Best of Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan

Follow the footsteps of the Kyrgyz Nomads and ancient Silk Road traders

15 daysFrom €3,160
Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan
Tour Type Small group tour, Private guided tour
Activity Responsible Travel, Community-led Tourism, Solo Travel

Central Asia Travel Companies

Kalpak Travel

Small group tours of Central Asia
Central Asia
Custom itinerary, Small group tour, Private guided tour
Adventure, Hiking & Trekking, Active, Nature & Wildlife, Culture, Solo Travel

Why Horizon Guides?

Impartial guidebooks

Impartial guidebooks

Our travel guides are written by the leading experts in their destinations. We never take payment for positive coverage so you can count on us for impartial travel advice.

Expert itineraries

Expert itineraries

Suggested itineraries and routes to help you scratch beneath the surface, avoid the tourist traps, and plan an authentic, responsible and enjoyable journey.

Specialist advice

Specialist advice

Get friendly, expert travel advice and custom itineraries from some of the world’s best tour operators, with no spam, pressure or commitment to book.