Central Asia: Five Stans Express

Intrepid Travel Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
4.6 . Excellent
Travel Style: N/A
Physical Level: All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included. Moderate
Lodging Level: Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value (3*)
24 days
From: $ 5,453 $ 227 / day
Checking price


Highlights (Bullets)

  • This trip explores the essential highlights of Central Asia and uncovers culture, nature and history while meeting some of the most hospitable people in the world
  • With breathtaking scenery at every turn, you’ll discover the incredible Darvaza Crater, Kolsai Lakes and Issykul Lake
  • Take a step back in time as you explore the Silk Road history and visit Khiva ancient town, Registan in Samarkand, Bukhrara, and Khujand
  • Get to know the locals as you visit a carpet-making workshop, meet a local eagle trainer (or Berkutchi), rub shoulders with the locals in the bustling bazaars and test your taste buds in a dinner of home-cooked plov (Uzbekistan's national dish)
  • Enjoy special stays like sleeping in yurts by Lake Issykul, staying in local villages and making yourself at home in a boutique hotel that used to be an old Jewish house in Bukhara

Short Description

Start in the grand Ashgabat of Turkmenistan, explore Samarkand in Uzbekistan, head to Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – yep, that’s a total of five Stans! See the best of the Silk Road and deep dive into the fascinating history, captivating landscapes and beautiful culture that is intertwined throughout this region. You'll stay in yurts by Lake Issykul, explore Registan square in Samarkand and discover Darvaza Crater, a 70-metre wide hole in the Karakum Desert that is permanently aflame (yes, you read that right). And that’s just a few of the highlights of this trip! There’s so much to see, do and learn in this region, you’ll constantly find yourself surprised and delighted on this 24-day adventure through Central Asia.

Style Small group tour
Itinerary Focus N/A
Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Lodging Level Value (3*)
Flight & Transport Inclusions All internal ground transport
Start City Ashgabat
End City Bishkek

Activities & Interests


Age Requirement


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Day 1 Ashgabat

Welcome to Turkmenistan! Your adventure begins in the country’s capital of Ashgabat. This fascinating city is currently being transformed into a lavish, marble-lined oasis. You’ll find perfect parklands and manicured streets – a vast contrast to the rest of the ancient country we’re about to explore. We kick things off at 6 pm this evening with a welcome meeting where you’ll meet your fellow adventurers and group leader before going over a few details of your epic trip. Then, you’ll head out for dinner as a group, tucking into your first taste of Turkmenistan cuisine.

Day 2 Ashgabat

Wake with excitement for your first day exploring this intriguing desert city. Your locally based leader will take you to the main sites to see. You’ll spend hours touring the city – and trust us, you’ll need every minute to soak up everything this place has to offer. You’ll marvel at the four-pointed minarets atop the Ertugrul Gazi Mosque and the extravagant Independence Monument. This sculpted park is filled with statues of Turkmen heroes (and controversial politicians) line the paths that lead to a golden dome and a (surprise!) massive minaret. From this lavish ode to Turkmen identity, continue to the Neutrality Arch, which despite its name has a provocative history. Then travel outside of the city to the Turkmenbashy Ruhi Mosque, the mausoleum of former Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov, before heading further out of town to the ruins of Anau. The crumbling remains of the medieval mosque still attract the devout, who come to pray and make offerings. After an action-packed day full of sightseeing, the evening will be at leisure for you to explore (or simply relax) as you wish.

Day 3 Darvaza Crater

Wake up without an alarm today – you've got a leisurely morning to explore Ashgabat at your will. In the afternoon, we’ll make tracks for Darvaza Gas Crater – an astounding 70 metre wide hole in the Karakum Desert that is permanently aflame (yes, you read that right). Soviet oil prospectors started drilling in this area in 1971, with the expectation of finding oil, when suddenly the ground collapsed to form the crater. Worried about the gas released into the air, they deliberately set the crater on fire to burn off the excess, expecting it to last a few weeks. As you’ll see today, they were wrong – the crater has been burning ever since. You’ll be treated to sunset over the crater, also known as the 'Door to Hell', from your nearby camp. Then, dig into a Turkmenistan-style barbecue dinner with your newfound travel companions before retiring to your tent for a night camping under the desert stars.

Day 4 Border crossing/Khiva

After breakfast at your desert camp oasis, we’ll hit the road enroute to Khiva – with a few sightseeing stops along the way, of course. Our first stop will be in Kunya Urgench, once a main hub of the Islamic world, it suffered destruction at the hands of Genghis Khan and the Timurid dynasty and fell into decay until the 20th century. Sporting plenty of monuments and interesting sites from the 11th to 16th centuries, you’ll explore a mosque, mausoleum and 60 metre Gutlug Timur Minaret in this interesting city. After a little time to explore, we’ll continue to the Turkmen/Uzbek border of Khodjeyli (Xo’jayli) and on to Khiva. On arrival in Khiva, you’ll have free time to get acquainted with the city before exploring in depth with your leader tomorrow.

Day 5 Khiva

Today is for sightseeing – and trust us, you’re going to see a lot. So, strap on your best pair of walking shoes, have the camera fully charged and hit the streets with your local leader to guide the way. You can expect to see the magical blue-tiled Kalta Minor Minaret and the Mohammed Amin Khan Madressa. Then, explore the Kuhna Ark, the 'citadel within a citadel' which once housed the Khan and his family in the 17th century. You’ll visit the Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum, a complex constructed in honour of the famous 13th-century poet, craftsman and fighter – the mint-coloured dome that tops the main mausoleum is stunning. You’ll marvel at the towering Islom Hoja Minaret, the tallest building in Khiva. Explore Juma Mosque and see how the roof is propped up by 212 wooden columns designed to let in sunlight. Next, take a peek at Uzbek luxury – explore Tosh-Hovli Palace, built in the first half of the 19th century. Wander through elaborately decorated courtyards connected by labyrinthian corridors. We told you there’s plenty to see here and this is a big morning of sightseeing, so the afternoon is at your leisure.

Day 6 Bukhara

Today’s requirements – a good book, fully charged phone or pair of trusty headphones, ideally all three! We have a big travel day ahead of us. You’ll arrive in Bukhara in Uzbekistan in the late afternoon, and the long drive will be forgotten as you’re swept up in the beautiful mosaics and incredible ancient monuments of this destination. Founded no later than the 1st century BC, across its many years, the city has been ruled by countless empires and dynasties which are reflected in the colourful culture here.

Day 7 Bukhara

It’s time to explore all that Bukhara has to offer. You’ve got a full day of sightseeing ahead of you. First up, visit the Sitorai Mohi Khosa – once the summer palace of the last Bukharan emirs. Designed by Russian architects, it has interiors decorated with traditional filigree plaster, mirrored surfaces and delicate floral wall paintings crafted by local artisans. After some time to explore the palace, you’ll continue to the little-known, 16th-century Chor-Bakr necropolis. This complex was built in 1563 by a Shaybanid Dynasty ruler to memorialise his family – with a number of their graves found here, it’s also known as the ‘city of the dead’. You’ll wander through the madrasa and mosque, learn of the history here and marvel at the beautiful architecture and mosaic touches. Then in the afternoon, visit the Ark Fortress and Kalon Mosque before continuing to one of Central Asia's oldest and most exquisite structures – the tenth-century Ismail Samani Mausoleum. The superb decorative brickwork here has survived 1000 years of rugged history and the geometric architecture is recognised the world over. This evening, maybe have dinner in the LyabiHaus area, a busy 17th-century plaza featuring beautiful trees that are hundreds of years old. Later, you may want to wander the small craft studios tucked into the nearby madrasas and trading domes.

Day 8 Samarkand

This morning, you’ll jump aboard the high-speed train bound for Samarkand – located at the very centre of the ancient Silk Road. On arrival, you’ll have a little free time to get acquainted with the city and explore. You might like to check out the remains of the remarkable medieval observatory developed by Ulug Beg or perhaps visit the Afrosiab Museum of Samarkand, the main attraction of which is a tenth-century mural. After the day at your leisure, you’ll visit a local family to learn the secrets of plov cuisine during a cooking demonstration in the evening.

Day 9 Samarkand

It’s time to explore Samarkand with your group leader. First up is the Gur-Amir mausoleum where the great Uzbek conqueror, Tamerlane, is buried. From here, continue to a central square called the Registan, which features three of the most famous madrassahs in Uzbekistan - standing as true pinnacles of Islamic architecture. Then, you’ll visit the enormous Bibi Khanum Mosque and explore the ancient bazaar right behind it and maybe sample Khalva (local sweets made of sunflower seeds or peanuts) and get a glass, or two, of squeezed pomegranate juice (depending on the season). From here, a short stroll will take you to Shak-i-Zinda, a necropolis that features a series of gleaming, blue-tiled mausoleums. This sacred site has monuments from the 14th-19th century, reflecting the development of the monumental art and architecture of the Timurid dynasty onwards. You’ll be drawn to capture photos at every turn, just remember to be respectful as pilgrims still visit this complex.

Day 10 Tashkent

Today, you’ll jump back on the high-speed train and head straight to Tashkent. On arrival, we’ll explore the city on a leader-led walking tour. From the city center, you’ll discover Amir Timur square, hop on the metro for a tour in the station to see its extravagant decoration and then lose yourself in the exciting Chorsu Bazaar, browsing traditional wooden cradles, handmade musical instruments, and the extensive vegetable and spice markets. With some free time in the afternoon, you might like to explore Abdul Khasim Medrassah, where craftspeople operate in many small ‘cells’, making jewellery and other things. Or head to the Khast Imom complex – a restored series of religious buildings including a mosque and a library containing an ancient Qur’an, parts of which have been dated to the 9th century.

Day 11 Tashkent

Follow your leader on a city walking tour - explore Amir Timur square at the city center, then hop on the metro and lose yourself in the exciting Chorsu Bazaar, browsing traditional wooden cradles, handmade musical instruments, and the extensive vegetable and spice markets. Then head over to the State History Museum to learn about the history of the country. Enjoy a free afternoon and maybe go and visit the Khast Imom complex, a restored series of religious buildings (including a mosque) and a library containing an ancient Qur’an, parts of which have been dated to the ninth century, or simply relax and enjoy some well deserved downtime.

Day 12 Border crossing/Khujand

After breakfast this morning, we’ll hit the road to the Oibek border to cross into Tajikistan before arriving in Khojand. This city is known as Alexandria Eskhata (Alexandria the furthest) and believed to have been founded by Alexander the Great in 6th century BC. You’ll get a chance to explore Khojand in the afternoon, with a visit to the fascinating history museum and an opportunity to wander around the bazaar and Jami Mosque. If you have any free time, you might like to visit Arbor palace – an example of soviet architecture of the 1950’s.

Day 13 Iskanderkul lake/Sary Tag Village

This morning, you’ll take the epic drive across Shahriston pass (with an elevation of 3378m) to Iskanderkul Lake. Strap in, this is sure to be an exciting ride but don’t worry, your experienced driver is a pro when it comes to the twists and turns of this high-altitude highway. You’ll be delighted to arrive at Iskanderkul Lake, named after Alexander the Great, this place is a weekend destination for many locals from Dushanbe. You’ll get a chance to marvel at the local “Niagara” and Zmeinnoe Lake before continuing to Sary Tag – a mountain village on the other end of the lake in the heart of Fann mountains. This evening, you’ll have a little time to explore the village and truly discover the local way of life.

Day 14 Dushanbe

This morning, we’ll hit the exciting mountain roads once more and drive over the Anzob Pass (with an elevation of 3373m) to Dushanbe – the capital of Tajikistan. After lunch, we’ll pay a visit to Hissor Fort, the former capital of Eastern Bukhara province. Explore this ancient fortress, located atop a hill overlooking the town of Hisor, and check out its impressive stone walls, commanding gateway and perfectly manicured gardens. Then, the afternoon is free for you to explore Dushanbe however you please, you might choose to explore one of the many parks or museums in the city.

Day 15 Dushanbe

Today is made for a full day of sightseeing in Dushanbe with your locally based guide by your side. You’ll see Rudaki square, Ismail Somoni monument overlooking city hall and friendship palace. And, anyone with a soft spot for archaeology will enjoy the Museum of National Antiquities, which opened in 2001. You can check out exhibits here from Tajikistan’s pre-Islamic civilizations (Greek/ Bactrian, Buddhist, Hindu and Zoroastrian). The centerpiece is the 14m reclining Buddha in Nirvana – since the tragic destruction of the Bamiyan statues in Afghanistan, this is the largest surviving Buddha statue in Central Asia.

Day 16 Border crossing/Almaty

After breakfast today, we’ll catch a flight to Almaty – the largest city in Kazakhstan. It’s known as a skier's paradise, with snow-capped mountains framing the entire city. With beautiful parks, ritzy restaurants, excellent museums and plenty of shops and markets to choose from, this city stands in stark contrast to the countryside surrounding it, where locals live much more simply. Depending on the time of your flight today, you may have an opportunity to explore the city at your will this afternoon, otherwise grab an early night and get prepared for a jam-packed day of sightseeing tomorrow.

Day 17 Almaty

Strap on your walking shoes – we have a full day of sightseeing in Almaty ahead of us today. Kazakhstan is one of the world's top five oil-producing nations and you’ll sure notice the development and wealth that comes from it as you wander the glittering streets today. You’ll visit Central Square and the colourful Zenkoff Cathedral in historic Panfilov Park, dedicated to the 28 guardsmen who died defending Moscow against Nazi tanks in WWII. Then, check out the fascinating Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments and the State Historical Museum, which features a great collection of ancient relics. And finally, summit Kok Tobe Hill to take in the breathtaking views over the city before returning to the hotel to relax after an action-packed day.

Day 18 Kolsay Lakes National Park

This morning, we’ll drive to Saty Village with a stop along the way at the spectacular Charyn Canyon. The richly coloured orange canyon etched into the surrounding landscape is no less impressive than the Grand Canyon in the US (though much smaller). Enjoy some time here to marvel at this natural wonder and grab some photos before we continue to Saty Village.

Day 19 Kolsay Lakes National Park

We’ll explore the surrounding area of Saty Village today with a hike to Kolsai Lakes – also known as ‘the blue necklace’ for their azure water framed by lush, green mountains. Trust us, the hike through the forest will be well and truly worth it once you arrive at these lakes. You may also get a chance to visit the lesser-known Kaindy Lake, a stunning turquoise lake with a striking ‘submerged forest’ protruding from the water. Amazingly, the lake was created by an earthquake in 1911 which caused a limestone landslide causing a dam in the forest. As time went on, the dam filled with water and the trees were covered, leaving just their trunks standing dramatically in the centre. Enjoy a picnic lunch during your hike and then return to a hearty meal after a big day on your feet. After dinner, the evening is all yours to rest, relax or explore as you wish.

Day 20 Border crossing/Karakol

After breakfast this morning, we’ll cross the border into Kyrgyzstan. In the afternoon, you’ll enjoy a little sightseeing in Karakol, once a small Russian military post, then a bustling soviet state, this town is bursting with history just waiting to be explored. You’ll visit the Dungan Mosque, built in 1910 this colourful mosque was created without the use of a single nail – instead, the structure was built using special cutting and groove techniques. You’ll also get a chance to explore the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral and a local market and then take a short hike along the panoramic Jeti Orghuz Canyon Track. After lunch, stroll along Karakol’s streets and lanes, spotting Russian-style ‘gingerbread’ houses as you go.

Day 21 Issyk-Kul Lake

Today is for scenic hikes, waterfalls and panoramic views! After breakfast, we’ll drive along the south shore of Lake Issykul. As one of the largest lakes in the world, the lake is 178km long and 60km wide – it's a fantastic sight to see! On route, we’ll stop to see the picturesque Jety Oguz, also known as Seven Bull Valley, where your leader will take you on a forest hike to a waterfall with panoramic views. From here, you’ll continue to Skazka (Fairy Tale) canyon where you’ll marvel at the rich orange landscapes that blanket the area – it's dry and arid but there’s something incredibly beautiful about this place. This evening, you’re in for a real treat – you'll get the chance to stay in a yurt camp by Lake Issykul. A truly special experience, yurts have a long history in this area – used for generations by nomadic tribes as the structures are easy to transport and assemble. Enjoy your night by the lake, under the stars!

Day 22 Issyk-Kul Lake

With relaxed plans for today, we’ll wander the beautiful alpine area and visit a few local families who’ll teach you more about their traditional yurts. With a special workshop, you’ll learn the basics of how these nomadic dwellings have been manufactured and how they play an important role in the community here. Afterwards, meet a local eagle trainer (or Berkutchi) and discover the ancient principles of training these beautiful creatures to follow commands, catch prey and return back to their masters. From here, you’ll visit a local family and learn how they make felt. Then, tonight, relax in your authentic yurt camp and sit back with a cold homemade vodka – created by your yurt camp owners, just for you.

Day 23 Bishkek

This morning, you’ll kiss your alpine camp goodbye and hit the road for Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. After lunch, you’ll step back in time with a city tour showcasing the country's fascinating history. You’ll visit the centre of the city – Ala-too Square, which was known as Lenin Square in Soviet times. Lenin used to stand in his concrete overcoat in the middle of this square, proudly gesturing towards the mountains. Then, we’ll explore Dubovy (Oak) Park, where you'll find a few open-air cafes and lush, century-old oaks. Later in the afternoon, you'll have some free time to further explore Bishkek at your leisure. You might like to visit Osh Market – it might be a little noisy and crowded but it provides the perfect peek into local life. You'll find all kinds of things on sale here from spices and fruits to clothes and carpets. In the evening, perhaps get together with your travel mates and enjoy an optional final dinner together to celebrate a great journey through The Five Stans.

Day 24 Bishkek

With no further activities planned, your Five Stans adventure comes to an end after breakfast today. You can check out of your hotel any time before noon.


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Price From $ 5,453
Price Per Day: $ 227 per day
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4,356 Intrepid Travel Travel Reviews & Ratings

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Central Asia: Five Stans Express

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Company Reviews

Beware of intrepids Lack of Ethics

We were to travel with intrepid tours on a premium morrocco trip on sept 25,2023 However the 6.8 earthquake on September 10 made us rethink our plans. Would there be tremors? If we needed medical attention (we are seniors) would We be able to receive it? And we believed it was too soon to visit Morrocco when thousands of people just died in an earthquake. We did want to roll over trip to 2024.
We were told by Intrepid we needed to cancel two weeks before our trip started. That would have made sense in normal times, but this was not normal times whatsoever. There hadn’t been an earthquake in decades We were trying to get answers from intrepid, before deciding what to do.
We called and chatted multiple times and begged to have the trip rescheduled. Each customer service person said no and there was no opportunity to speak to a supervisor. It was a dead issue with intrepid.
Intrepid was totally nonnegotiable for allowing us to delay the trip. As far as they were concerned, the September 25 trip would depart with modifications. I asked what the modifications were. They couldn’t tell me. We spent thousands of dollars and no one knew what the modifications were but we were supposed to be willing to travel …really? I have been vocal on their Facebook page. No response from intrepid. Yes they had to ensure travelers in Morocco are safe, but they also should have had the manpower to address our concerns with the trip scheduled in two weeks
When we did cancel, they immediately posted openings on their website for the September 25 departure at a $200 discount so they kept our money, wouldn’t allow us to postpone the trip and aimed to sell our slot. Double dipping if you asked me,
I then read on intrepid‘s Facebook page that other people scheduled to take tours to Morocco around the same time as us got their trips rescheduled I was truly upset for company. The prices itself on its ethics, not treating each customer with the same rules is well unethical. I sent an email to the CEO in Australia and the general manager in North America. I saved in chat and emails with their customer service people I had evidence of our request to reschedule.
I finally got a response in two weeks. It was from an underling who didn’t answer my main question, which was why we weren’t offered the option to reschedule like others did. This person gave BS corporate speak about intrepid will apply what they learned to future trips, and thank me for my insight Why didn’t she answer my question and now with the war going on in Israel, Intrepid isn’t allowing future guests to reschedule the trip looks like they just d o what’s best for them in normal and abnormal Times
We had trip insurance but are still out thousands of dollars
Avoid this tour group at all costs

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PREMIUM LEVEL check Accomodation reviews.We have just done 3 Intrepid tours.

We have just done 3 Intrepid tours.
My review here relates to the Premiun Turkey in depth tour.
Excellent Guide Seda, Excellent driver Mesut and Excellent Itinerary.
Where this trip disappointed us was some of the accommodation was not Premium Infact one would not even meet the Original Tours standard.
We paid considerably more to travel at this level and like others in the group were disappointed all accommodation was not at Premium standard which is what we paid for. Some others were hoping to book Intrepid Premium again but said they would look at other options. It doesn't come near the Peregerine level which we understand Intrepid have purchased and call it Premium.
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Update to my 1 star review

Update to my 1 star review. Intrepid has not returned +$7,000 from a trip our agent booked and paid for but was cancelled by Intrepid. We have submitted a fraud claim with the Better Business Bureau and now our lawyer is involved. Stay away from this company.
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Intrepid is lovely, until you’re actually on the trip. I spoke to a number of kind and helpful staff with questions up until the start of my trip however, once this trip began I found myself in a different situation entirely.

I went on a trip with Intrepid from New York to Miami in a majority female group and our tour guide was creepy towards us the whole time taking pictures without consent, often not passing them on to us and even started private messaging members of the group after the trip had ended. I have tried to bring this up with intrepid multiple times through email but have received no response.

Besides this our tour guide also had never been to most of the places we visited so we often ended up being the one guiding him. Also, as a type 1 diabetic, keeping my medication cool and safe is extremely important as I literally depend on it to stay alive. Knowing this, I contacted intrepid ahead of time hoping they’d inform my guide after being assured that the guide would be able to accommodate me and I was in good hands. Upon meeting my guide I found out he didn’t even know what insulin was let alone the appropriate storage conditions. This lack of organisation on Intrepid’s part meant that I had to store my medicine in a cooler underneath piles of unsanitary food bags amongst ice which was melted most of the time risking water logging of said medications.

All in all I did not feel safe while on this tour and honestly think I may have been better off traveling by myself. Clearly more attention is needed in the hiring department.
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Somebody came down with Covid

Somebody came down with Covid, Intrepids policy policy is to continue the tour. Then at least two more people had it. My last trip with Intrepid Travel. Gadventures and Exodus both do quarantine, off the bus.
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Intrepid Travel are disguising

Intrepid Travel are disguising, backing a WEF agenda to limit our basic human right to travel through carbon footprint allowance. Spend your money elsewhere.

With great power comes great responsibility?! You aren't spiderman.
You aren't a government body, you are a commercial entity providing a service. You have no business encroaching on basic human rights.
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Flight & Transport Inclusions

All internal ground transport Private Vehicle,Flight,Metro,High Speed Train

Group Size

Small Group - 24 max

Maximum Number of People in Group: 12


Hotel (16 nights),Guest House (1 night),Tourist Yurt Camp (2 nights),Home Stay (3 nights),Camping (1 night)


All group trips are accompanied by one of our group leader or local representative. The aim of the group leader or local representative is to take the hassle out of your travels and to help you have the best trip possible. Intrepid endeavours to provide the services of an experienced group leader or local representative however, due to the seasonality of travel, rare situations may arise where your group leader or local representative is new to a particular region or training other group leader or local representative. Your group leader or local representative will provide information on the places you are travelling through, offer suggestions for things to do and see, recommend great local eating venues and introduce you to our local friends. While not being guides in the traditional sense, you can expect them to have a broad general knowledge of the places visited on the trip, including historical, cultural, religious, and social aspects. At Intrepid we aim to support local guides who have specialised knowledge of the regions we visit. If you are interested in delving deeper into the local culture at a specific site or location then your group leader or local representative can recommend a local guide service in most of the main destinations of your trip.

Age Notes :

Min. Age: 15

Max Age: 99

Additional Information

Finish point

  • Rich Hotel
  • 111, Timiryazeva St
  • Bishkek
  • Phone: 996 312 322038

Trip ID#:


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