samarkand bukhara mosques

Samarkand and Bukhara have a stunning architectural legacy

Exquisite mosaics and blue-tiled domes are characteristic of Central Asian mosques.

Photo by Galyna Andrushko / 123RF

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Central Asia Explorer

A Cultural Odyssey Along the Golden Road to Samarkand and Beyond
Repertory Trip: No Future Dates Set

Central Asia Explorer route-map

Trip Details at-a-Glance

Cost From: TBA  
Length: 24 days
Arrive: Astana, Kazakhstan
Depart: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Lodging: 23 nights in hotels
Meals: All meals included
Activity: Cultural Adventures
Trip Level: Cultural exploration and walking tours, rugged road travel


  • Issyk-Kul Lake in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan
  • Ancient Samarkand, capital of Tamerlane, with its magnificent blue mosques
  • Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Khiva, now World Heritage Sites

Choosing the Right Trip

We work hard to help you choose the right trip for you, paying attention to your individual interests, abilities, and needs. If you have questions about the level of comfort or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please contact us.


We are proud to have an exceptionally high rate of repeat travelers. For more information, we would be happy to put you in touch with a client who has traveled with us.

Repertory Trip

This is one of our special Repertory Trips offered every two to five years.  Future dates have not been set for this trip, but you can see the “Itinerary at a Glance” and the “Full Detailed Itinerary” below (there may be small changes to the itinerary for the future departures, and prices will be finalized closer to departure). Contact us to receive early notification of the trip dates. These special trips fill very quickly once the exact dates are set!

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan—sometimes known as the four ’Stans—present a rich historical and ethnic canvas, dazzling scenery, and a multitude of architectural wonders, from the blue-domed Silk Road oasis of Samarkand, where Tamerlane once held sway, to Issyk-Kul, a vast alpine lake surrounded by the forested peaks of the Tien Shan. With veteran Central Asia Trip Leader Roger Williams, we enjoy a full exploration of these four countries, roaming ancient bazaars that take us back to the times of the Arabian Nights, meeting local families and traditional artisans, and exploring two World Heritage Sites: magnificent Bukhara, a 2,000-year-old Silk Road city-state, and Khiva, a walled town isolated in a vast desert. Join us for the ultimate Silk Road adventure!

Itinerary at a Glance

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

Days 1-9
Almaty, Kazakhstan / Karakol / Issy-Kul Lake / Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

After exploring Almaty, we head to remote Karakol, a town on the shores of Issyk-Kul Lake, one of the largest alpine lakes in the world. We visit the colorful market, a summer encampment of Kyrgyz nomads, and fascinating lakeside petroglyphs. En route to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, we visit the striking 11th century Burana tower, a Silk Road monument, and stop in a Mennonite village for lunch with a local family.

Days 10-13
Tashkent, Uzbekistan / Samarkand

After exploring Bishkek, we fly to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, Central Asia’s biggest hub, and tour its Old Town. We then drive to ancient Samarkand, with its breathtaking main square, the Registan, a panorama of handsome blue-tiled mosques. We also visit the Shahr-i-Zindah, one of Tamerlane’s first creations, the famed market at the village of Urgut, and enjoy lunch at the home of a local Uzbek family. A day’s excursion brings us out to Shakre Sabz, birthplace of Tamerlane.

Days 14-17
Bukhara / Khiva

We head to historic Bukhara, with two full days to savor this fascinating city, whose beautifully restored medieval quarter is now a World Heritage Site. We visit the covered bazaars and mulberry-shaded plazas where old men play chess and enjoy roaming Bukhara’s marvelous markets. We visit the sand dunes of the Kyzyl-Kum Desert en route to Khiva, then enjoy a full-day walking tour of this atmospheric walled city.

Days 19-24
Urgench, Turkmenistan / Ashgabat / Merv

Crossing the Turkmenistan border, we head to Urgench, with its pre- and post-Mongol monuments, then fly to Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital, an ancient city surrounded by the Kara-Kum (“black sands”) desert. Flying to southeastern Turkmenistan, we visit the vast ruins of ancient Merv, once one of the most important cities along the Silk Road and now a stunning World Heritage Site. Back in Ashgabat, we enjoy a full-day tour of the capital city of Turkmenistan, including the famous Tolkuchka Sunday market, and explore the famous archaeological site of Nisa, which served as the winter capital of the Parthian rulers. Depart from Ashgabat on Day 24.

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

What the Trip is Like

The trip is rated Level 3, moderate. While this trip is not expected to be physically strenuous, the rustic accommodations, long travel days, and transportation conditions may be quite demanding. Accommodations are in good city hotels and in comfortable rustic lodges. Overland travel is in minivans and small buses, depending upon the size of the group. Road conditions can be very basic, and trip members should be prepared for long drives. Our expedition travels to areas that have experienced very little tourism. We believe that the most important requirements are a spirit of adventure and the understanding that you are visiting a remote and fascinating region. This is not a hiking trip, but we do hope to have opportunities for walks of two hours or more during the journey.

Explanation of Trip Levels

Arrival & Departure Information

You are responsible for your own transportation to the arrival and from the departure cities listed below. For more detailed information, including transfers, please download the Detailed Itinerary.

Please do not purchase your tickets until you are confirmed on the trip. Once your tickets have been purchased, please send us a copy of your airline schedule.

2015 Departures

Astana, Kazakhstan

Suggested Arrival Airport:
Astana, Kazakhstan (airport city code: TSE)
Suggested arrival time: anytime
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Suggested Airport for Departure:
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (airport city code: ASB)
Suggested departure time: anytime

Roger Williams

In 1986, Roger Williams led his first Wilderness Travel trip. Nearly 30 years later, he shows no sign of stopping, with added trips filling up quicker than the one before. If it isn’t the surplus of knowledge Roger brings when he leads a trip that makes it so unique, including his cultural insight to places like Nepal (where he spent eight years studying Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhist iconographics, Himalayan languages, and woodblock art) and Japan (where he spent another two years studying Japanese woodblock art, Japanese language, and Shingon Shu, an esoteric sect of Japanese Buddhism), then it may be his awareness for cultural preservation that keep clients coming back. In July 2014, he returned from The Great Game journey, a special Wilderness Travel Expedition that included visits to the Wakhan Valley as well as Mazar i-Sharif and Balk (formally Bactria) in northern Afghanistan. Roger has also been working as a technical advisor with USAID consulting in tourism development projects in Mongolia, Armenia, and Croatia. When not leading trips, Roger is the director of Snow Lion Graphics/SLG Books in Berkeley, California, a publishing house specializing in books and calendars relating to Asian cultures. “There should be a rating higher than excellent for Roger,” one client wrote after her Central Asia Explorer trip with Roger. “His knowledge, energy, planning, and attentiveness are superlative.”

Upcoming Trips:

China's Wild Southwest, October 13-November 4, 2015
India's Malabar Coast, January 27-February 20, 2016
Iran: In the Footsteps of Kings, March 10-April 2, 2016
Iran: In the Footsteps of Kings, April 7-30, 2016
Trans-Caucasus Adventure, May 20-June 13, 2016
Nagorno-Karabakh: Land of the Black Garden, June 13-22, 2016
The Great Game, August 20-September 14, 2016
Wonders of Nepal: Festival of Lights, October 18-November 1, 2016
Eastern Bhutan and India's Wild Northeast Frontier, November 21-December 17, 2016

Client Testimonials:

Tibet is a place like no other on the planet! Roger’s language skills and knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism opened many doors. Connie D., Alamo CA
Heart of Tibet
Exceedingly knowledgeable, very caring. Priscilla and Franklin O., Malvern PA
Mystical Bhutan
Roger knows how to run a trip. He’s very organized and clearly communicates the daily plan. Also, he's a lot of fun and I was impressed with his expertise on Buddhist iconography. Fran M., Mill Valley, CA
Hidden Himalayas
Roger is remarkable. This trip showed him at his best. We could never have traveled across the roof of the world without his preparation and energy. Thanks for a grand experience! Ruth and Frank H., Edmonds WA
In the Footsteps of the Great Game
Roger takes good care of his travelers and we learned a lot about the people, their culture, and history. His love for this part of the world is infectious. Ruth G., Del Mar CA
In the Footsteps of the Great Game
Roger is great! Hard working, knowledgeable, personable. He really makes a difference. Bill R., Walnut Creek, CA
Passage to India
I can understand why Roger has such a big following. He worked all the time to make the trip the best it could be. Marsha S., New York, NY
The Great Game
Roger is clearly a well-seasoned professional. He is passionate about India and it shows everyday, whether it is interacting with the locals or talking about the iconographics and sites. Grace L., Boston, MA
Passage to India
Exceptional dedication, passion, and professionalism. Roger has the right personality and attitude for this. Jonathan T., Boston, MA
Passage to India
Roger is a wealth of knowledge and very well traveled. He takes his duties as trip leader extremely seriously and goes out of his way to please each client. Terri H., Berkeley, CA
Armenia and Beyond
Roger provided a unique and enjoyable travel experience. His knowledge and familiarity with the sites visited and enthusiasm for these countries and peoples made this a great travel experience. Judy A., Davis, CA
The Burma Road: Kunming to Rangoon
Roger's extensive travel experience and knowledge of Asian culture and Buddhism greatly enhanced the trip. And all the planning he did before and during the trip ensured an excellent itinerary and made everything run smoothly. Nancy R., Walnut Creek, CA
Tribal China
There should be a rating higher than excellent for Roger. His knowledge, energy, planning, and attentiveness are superlative. Debra B., Jackson, WY
Central Asia Explorer
Roger is the best tour leader with lots of experiece and profound knowledge of the subject area. Kudos to him and WT. Tan Kiet T., Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tribal China
Roger has tremendous skills as a trip leader. He has a real gift with people and his relationship with local guides enriches the areas we visit. Joan L., Baltimore, MD
Journey to the Heart of China
Roger is simply a brilliant organizer and always finds the very best services available. He also brings a wealth of knowledge and insights to anything Asian. Elizabeth M., Providence, RI
The Burma Road: Kunming to Rangoon
I'm struck again with the magnitude of the incredible adventure you led us on. I have pretty much traveled the world since that trip, with adventures galore...but nothing has, or ever will, compare to it. Aleen S., Cedar Mountain, NC
The Great Silk Road
Roger is an exceptional trip leader with an historian's grasp of the influences shaping this part of the world. Kathe W., Pittsburgh, PA
The Best of Southeast Asia
Roger was nothing short of outstanding as a trip leader...managing people as well as logistics of a 25+ day intensive trip. He has a clear desire to share his knowledge, interest, and excitement about Southeast Asia. We've had a lot of good Trip Leaders and I'd rate Roger as #1 on my list. Greg W., Pittsburgh, PA
The Best of Southeast Asia
Roger was well organized, with careful planning and terrific knowledge of the culture and religion. His interaction with the group was unlike anything we have experienced on prior trips. He is a real treasure for WT, one of your best. Donald H., Farmington, CT
The Best of Southeast Asia
Roger is a flexible leader who listens to his travelers and absolutely cannot do enough for people. He looked after us well and programmed as much variety into the trip as possible. Mary R., New York, NY
Trans-Caucasus Adventure
Roger is amazing! His knowledge of the history and culture of the area is extensive and he can recall all sorts of information on any number of subjects. His enthusiasm, kindness, and energy never wane. Jane F., Naples, FL
The Great Game
Roger is a lot of fun, as well as being extremely knowledgeable! He goes out of his way to make the trip interesting and comfortable for those traveling with him. Catherine H., Cambridge, MA
Journey to the Heart of China