Strategically positioned along the Silk Route, the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara were famed trading centres for the caravans that passed this way in ancient times. On journey follows in their footsteps, discovering magnificent architecture and bustling bazaars that have changed little since the rule of Tamerlane. We'll marvel at the bizarre Darwaza Gas Craters in the Turkmenistan’s desert, visit the ancient city of Konye-Urgench and Merv and head into the markets of Ashgabat to practice our bargaining skills. Moving on we explore the hidden world of Iran. Travel through this fascinating country to discover refined Islamic cities, colourful bazaars, ancient Persian ruins, fascinating nomads, and shimmering deserts. Whether relaxing in a teahouse in Shiraz, standing in awe of the architecture in Esfahan and Yazd the warmth and hospitality of the Iranian people, is endearing and the profound beauty of their land is mesmerising.
Day 1: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
You will meet your guide on arrival, transfer and check-in to your hotel. During the drive your guide will provide an introduction to Tashkent, answer any questions you have, and make arrangements for the following day. Enjoy free time for the remainder of the first day. Tashkent is Uzbekistan’s capital city and home to three million people. This old Soviet city is a perfect place to encounter the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Central Asia.
This afternoon see Tashkent's main sights including the central square Amir Timur or Tamerlane's Square, the Alisher Navoi Opera Theatre, the Chorsu Bazaar and the old town's mosques and madrassahs. The old part of the city is the center of traditional local cuisine. Between Kukeldash Madrassah and the Chorsu Bazaar you will find a great number of chaikhanas cafes and eating houses where you can snack on a kebab, shawrma or an Uzbek somsa.
Day 2: Samarkand
Early in the morning we take the fast train to Samarkand. No city is as evocative of the Silk Road as 'golden' Samarkand. Registan Square is the quite simply the most spectacular architectural ensemble in Central Asia. Made up of three madrasas (places of learning) and a mosque, this beautiful square is inspiring. Your guided tour of Samarkand and the surrounding area, includes The Registan, Ulugbek Medressa, Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Shah-I-Zinda.
Day 3: Bukhara
This morning we drive into the Zerafshan Mountains which provides us with magnificent views as we travel to Shakrisabz, birthplace of Tamerlane, where the ruined entrance towers of his Ak-Serai Palace still stand. Stop en route in Shakrisabz to visit Ak-Saray Palace, Khazrati-Imam Complex, and Dorut Tilyovat.
Moving on we reach the fascinating city of Bukhara. Alive with history, the Ark Fortress and the Samanid Mausoleum are some of the world's oldest monuments and the Kalyan Minaret, standing at 47 metres makes it one of the tallest in Central Asia. At the covered bazaars, rugs, silks and spices are still traded in a time-honoured tradition dating back centuries.
Day 4: Bukhara
Today we enjoy a guided tour of Bukhara and the surrounding area. With its narrow alleyways and bustling bazaars, Bukhara is the quintessential Silk Road city. Today enjoy a full day tour through the old streets of Bukhara, some of the highlights include the Kalon Mosque, Zindon Prison, Ark Fortress, Kalyan Square with its great minaret and the Ismael Samani Mausoleum dating from the 10th century.
Day 5: Khiva, Uzbekistan
Early morning, drive to Khiva and explore the city. Khiva is one of the most iconic and enthralling towns ever to grace the historic Silk Road. You’ll be captivated by Khiva’s winding alleyways, tiled madrassa's and beautiful palaces.
Enjoy a full days excursion to medieval Khiva. With your guide you will be able to wander through the maze of twisting alleyways and visit the Kunya Ark or old citadel, the Emir's Palace and the magnificent Juma Mosque with its 200 individually carved wooden pillars.
Day 6: Turkmenistan, Gas Crater
Today it is time to tick off another country. We cross the border at Dashogus / Shavat and continue to Kunyaurgench were we visit the highlights. At night we drive across the Karakum Desert to the Darvaza flaming gas crater via a mud crater and water crater (also caused by industrial accidents). The ‘mouth of hell’ is one of the strangest and most spectacular things it is possible to see, literally has to be seen to be believed and worth going to Turkmenistan for this alone.
Day 7: Ashgabat
Continue via Erbent to Ashgabat the capital and largest city of Turkmenistan, situated between the Karakum Desert and the Kopet Dag mountain range.
Day 8: Ashgabat
Today we explore the the city of Ashgabat and surroundings. Depending on how much time we spend at each sight we will visit the Independence Square, Independence Park, Altyn Asyr shopping centre and monuments in Berzengi, Arch of Neutrality and Gypchak which is largest mosque in Central Asia that houses family Mausoleum of first president of the country!
Day 9: Merv
In the morning our guides will drive us to the aiport for our onwards flight to Merv. It is the oldest and best-preserved of the oasis-cities along the Silk Route in Central Asia. The remains in this vast oasis span 4,000 years of human history. A number of monuments are still visible, particularly from the last two millennia.
Day 10: Mashhad, Iran
Cross from Turkmenistan into Iran arriving in Mashhad about 5 hours later.
Mashhad is home to the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza, otherwise known as Astan-e Qods-e Razavi. This is one of the world's most visited Shia places of pilgrimage, with estimates of annual visitors hovering around the 10 million-plus mark. Upon arrival you will be guided around the incredible Holy Shrine of Imam Reza.
Day 11: Mashhad
Free time to explore more of Mashhad including another visit to the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza. In the evening of day 11, you will experience some delicious Iranian cooking at the home of a local family. The city is famed for having the country's tastiest khoresht (a thick meaty stew of vegetables and nuts) and fesenjun (a sauce of pomegranate juice, walnuts, aubergine and cardamom - usually served over chicken or even camel).
Day 12: Shiraz
Fly from Mashhad to Shiraz. Enjoy a guided tour upon arrival visiting the Karim Khan Citadel, Vakil Mosque, Shiraz Bazaar and hear some poetry being recited at the Tombs of Hafez. You will also visit Shahcheragh, one of the most sacred shrines for Shiites, Atique mosque, a traditional teahouse in the wonderful Bazar-e Vakil, Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque and Khan Madraseh.
Day 13: Shiraz and Persepolis
On the morning of day 13 you’ll explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Persepolis, the ceremonial palace of Darius the Great with amazingly well-preserved carvings. Our guided tour will also take in the rock cut tombs at Naqsh-e Rostam, the resting place of Darius the Great. Return to Shiraz in the early afternoon where you will have free time to explore more of the city.
Day 14: Qashqai Nomadic Stay
Leaving Shiraz we travel on to meet our nomadic hosts. Iran has over 500 different nomadic tribes - the largest and most important is the Qashqai tribe. More than half the area north of Shiraz is home to different tribes who have gathered in this region over centuries of nomadic existence.
This is our chance to observe the lifestyle of nomads as they herd their animals, tend to the fields and enjoy simple meals. Overnight in a nomad tent.
Day 15: Abarqu
Perched between the desert and the mountains, Eqlid acted as the main gateway from the north to Persepolis in ancient times, as other routes were mountainous and difficult to pass. Visit Sassanid empire ruins dating back 1800 years, a Zoroastrian 'Tower of Silence' and the sacred shrine of Eqlid. Moving on we reach Abarqu, home to the famous Ice house, 11th century Gonbad Ali Dome, Jameh Mosque and the famous 4000 year old cypress tree.
Day 16: Yazd
Arrive in Yazd, the centre of the Zoroastrian religion. Tour the old town, marvelling at the unique towers (Bagdirs) that scatter the city. Visit the Jameh Mosque, Amir Chakhmaq Complex, Zoroastrian Fire Temple, The Water Museum and the Towers of Silence burial grounds. Yazd is a fascinating place to wander around, being one of the best preserved mud brick old towns in the near East.
Day 17: Yazd
Today is a free day to explore more of the city.
Yazd is unique for its intriguing architecture, which has been perfectly adapted to the harsh weather conditions of the surrounding desert. Wind towers, or badgirs, are a feature of most of the buildings in the old city - they trap even the gentlest of draughts and direct them into the houses.
Day 18: Esfahan
Arrive in the beautiful city of Isfahan, enjoying the famous square, mosques and bartering at the bazaar. Hang out on the many bridges that make Isfahan unique or shop for an authentic Persian rug. Your tour in the afternoon of day 18 starts in the world's second biggest square - Iman Square and visits the Iman Mosque, Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque and the Ali Qapu Palace. You’ll also explore the atmospheric bazaar with its wonderful scents and spices.
Day 19: Esfahan
Day 19 is dedicated to visit the Zayandeh River and stop for a well-deserved chai at one of the stunning bridges that give this part of the city a relaxing, but colourful air. You will also visit to the Jameh Mosque (Friday Mosque), the Chehel Sotun Palace and the bizarre Manar Jomban (shaking minarets).
Day 20: Abyaneh
A scenic drive through Natanz brings us to the mountain village of Abyaneh. Included village walk through Abyaneh, known for having retained its ancient charm. Set at an altitude of 2,500 metres and nestled at the foot of Mt Karkus, Abyaneh features houses that are arranged in a stair-step shape. An impressive aspect of Abyaneh's architecture is that the mud brick houses are uniform in appearance.
Day 21: Kashan
In the morning depart for Kashan. Kashan is a beautiful oasis city with a very long history - human settlements in the area date back to the 4th millennium BC. Here you will visit the Iman Khomeini's shrine, Finn Gardens, Agha Bozorg Mosque and Madraseh Qom Shrines.
Later in the day we discover some of the finest traditional houses in Iran on visits to the Khan-e Borujerdi and Khan-e Tabatabei. These 19th-century khans were funded by wealthy merchants and feature lovely courtyards, lush gardens and fine intricate relief designs carved into stone and stucco work.
Day 22: Qom and Tehran
Our first visit today is Qom, one of the holiest cities in Iran and the Middle East due to the Fatima È Massummeh Shrine. Qom is the main city for religious studies in Iran and the largest Theology school in Iran is located here. Most senior ranking Iranian clerics of Shia Islam live in Qom.
Moving along the way to visit the holy shrine of Imam Khomeni, the leader of the Islamic Revolution. Also visit the nearby Behesht-e Zahra, an enormous cemetery where 200,000 people who lost their lives during the Iran-Iraq War are buried.
Day 23: Tehran
Iran's capital is exciting, noisy and chaotic. Home to 16 million people, Tehran is where the country's true national identity is found. Expect to see women wearing full-length chador competing for space with young and hip girls in figure-hugging manteau and headscarves. Also expect to be stopped by friendly locals who love nothing more than to chat with you about anything and everything.
On Day 23 we enjoy a final sightseeing day in the busy capital of Tehran. Visit Golestan Palace, Tehran Bazaar and former US embassy and the National Museum.
Day 24: Tehran
Day 24 here is departure day. There are no activities planned and you may depart at any time. Hotel check out is at 11am.