Central Asia overland tour, the stans

“26 day small group tour of Central Asia featuring five 'Stans', overland traveling and some of the Silk Road's most exceptional cultural sites and mountain scenery.”

Highlights

Tashkent | Khiva | Konye-Urgench | Darwaza | Ashgabat | Merv | Bukhara | Shakhrisabz | Samarkand | Termez | Gissar | Dushanbe | Iskander Kul | Istaravshan | Khojand | Tashkent | Almaty | Altyn-Emel National Park | Charyn Canyon | Almaty | Bishkek | Ala Archa National Park | Song Kul | Bokonbaevo | Karakol | Cholpon Ata | Bishkek |

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Check dates

2019: 31 Aug
2020: 29 Aug
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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Central Asia overland tour, the stans

Environment

Most of the time on this tour is spent in towns and cities, but we do spend some time in the Song Kul area, where we stay overnight in yurts. When exploring these areas on foot we take care to stick to any trails that exist and not to damage any of the flora, as some parts of the region are quite a fragile environment. We operate a strict no litter policy on our tours, and work to educate our drivers and other service providers so as to avoid contributing to this problem. We ensure that all litter at the yurts is disposed of properly – this means working with the owners to educate them about recycling, and taking waste back to proper disposal sites where possible.

Similarly, in conjunction with our local team we work with hotels and guesthouses to implement best practices when it comes to environmental matters – in some places this is far behind what we might be used to in other parts of the world. This includes basic things like not replacing towels each day, as well as saving electricity and turning lights off – small things but Central Asia is not as used to tourism as countries in western Europe.

Some of this trip is spent exploring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan’s national parks and reserves. Both countries have been much exploited and during Soviet rule its environment suffered greatly, like that of much of Central Asia. National parks such as Altyn Emel are vital habitats for some of the region’s most endangered wildlife such as snow leopard and Tien Shan bear, and the entrance fees that we pay here help to fund much needed conservation efforts. In addition, bringing tourism to these areas helps to show local people that there is economic benefit in maintaining wildlife populations, as we employ the services of local guides and rangers in the parks where appropriate, and also use accommodation in or near the parks. With the skins of snow leopards fetching high prices on the black market, this helps to counterbalance the often traditionally held views that wildlife should be exploited and not preserved.

Within the national parks, we stick to the established tracks and trails (where they exist) to avoid damaging the fragile natural environments that we travel through.

Community

On all of tours we strive to include a strong focus on local communities and we are firm believers that tourism should have a positive impact on the places visited. On this tour we try to allow our travelers to gain a real insight into the traditional customs of the country; a good example of this is when we stay overnight in yurts at Song Kul. Not only is this a great experience for travelers but it means that small scale community based tourism projects, often ignored by mainstream tourism, are able to benefit from our visit.

Some of the sites that we visit are popular attractions, others less so – an example of these are the monuments of Termez. Relatively few tourists visit here and so the entrance fees that we pay are more critical than in other places in contributing to the preservation of their heritage. These sites are quite fragile, being made mostly of mud brick, and we ensure that our travelers do not unwittingly contribute to their degradation by briefing them on appropriate behaviour.

Parts of Central Asia are very traditional with certain codes of behaviour, and the people here are not always that accustomed to outsiders. We ensure that our travelers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities. This also applies to the numerous mosques and mausoleums that we visit on this trip; religion is important here and it is important that we respect these traditions.

We use locally owned suppliers and our partners here are deeply involved with the preservation of the culture and heritage of the region. Where possible we encourage our travelers to spend their money with local businesses; for this reason we do not include meals where it is feasible to eat outside of the hotels, in order that local restaurants are able to benefit from the presence of tourism, rather than the income being channelled just to the hotel.

2 Reviews of Central Asia overland tour, the stans

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Reviewed on 07 Oct 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Spending time with nomads in Kyrgyzstan and seeing the wonderful architecture of Uzbekistan.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Take practical luggage with wheels as there is a lot of carrying bags over considerable distances when crossing borders. Don't book Turkish Airlines as they were a disaster on the routing London - Istanbul - Tashkent. Book the direct service!

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Only to a small degree. The group felt that there was little to distinguish us from any other tour group doing pretty much the same itinerary. I only felt that we
made some contribution in Kyrgyzstan.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


It was very fast-paced with little leisure time. However, I did feel that it was a trip of a lifetime and it was clear that we saw so much. I would certainly
recommend it to anyone who wanted to gain a comprehensive overview of the region.
Q3

chased jim for response - chris k 29/11/18

Read the operator's response here:

Thanks for taking the time to provide us with feedback on your trip. We’re pleased that you enjoyed traveling through Central Asia - it’s a fascinating region.

You mentioned that the responsible travel aspect of this trip could perhaps be improved upon, and so that is something that we’ll be taking into account when next reviewing our itineraries. Much of the trip is city based - Central Asia is of course well renowned for its incredible Silk Road cities and it is perhaps a little harder to emphasise this element of the trip in countries such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan than it is in places such as Kyrgyzstan, where a strong community based tourism programme is in place, and many of the highlights are based around smaller, more rural areas.

However we are always keen to make improvements to our trips where we can, and our Central Asia team will be looking at how we can include some additional activities into this tour, with a focus on learning a little more about local life and ensuring that they benefit the communities that we travel through.

Thanks again for your feedback - this is always very helpful and assists us to continually review our trips. We hope to see you on one of our tours again in the future.

Reviewed on 29 Sep 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Kyrgystan was the highlight for me. Our guide was the best and I really felt we were participating in responsible travel more than on other parts of the trip. The culture, food and activities were the best. Bermet added four or five excursions which for a small additional cost, added to the experience. Experiencing yurts, and local culture, family home stays and home prepared food were all great.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Be open to everything!

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Not really aside from Kyrgyzstan. I think Native Eye could have done better with the restaurants we used and the excursions that benefited local people. In general we visited government sites and dined at tourist establishments. I would have liked to see more excursions that visited local people to learn about their culture, crafts and food preparation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


The trip was great, just feel a few more small additions would have made it even more meaningful. Group size was great and accommodations for the most part were really great. Food, except in Kyrgyzstan was quite boring and repetitive. Uzbekistan was just sites, with no cultural additions. I was disappointed not to learn more about carpets and Suzani.
chased jim for response - chris k 29/11/18

Read the operator's response here:

Thanks for taking the time to provide us with feedback on your trip. We’re pleased that you enjoyed traveling through Central Asia - it’s a fascinating region.

You mentioned that the responsible travel aspect of this trip could perhaps be improved upon, and so that is something that we’ll be taking into account when next reviewing our itineraries. Much of the trip is city based - Central Asia is of course well renowned for its incredible Silk Road cities and it is perhaps a little harder to emphasise this element of the trip in countries such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan than it is in places such as Kyrgyzstan, where a strong community based tourism programme is in place, and many of the highlights are based around smaller, more rural areas.

However we are always keen to make improvements to our trips where we can, and our Central Asia team will be looking at how we can include some additional activities into this tour, with a focus on learning a little more about local life and ensuring that they benefit the communities that we travel through.

Thanks again for your feedback - this is always very helpful and assists us to continually review our trips. We hope to see you on one of our tours again in the future.

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