Turkmenistan Driving Guide
Turkmenistan is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit
At a glance, Turkmenistan is for the curious travelers who are into exploring the not so unexplored places. Turkmenistan is one of the least traveled territories in Asia; however, it never runs out of exciting destinations to discover. You can expect so much from this country with its museum featuring artifacts and arts that date back to the Soviet days and unique natural phenomenon that can only be found in Turkmenistan.
If you are a tourist looking for originality and unusual attractions, you need to explore Turkmenistan. With over six million people, Turkmenistan is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. Making your way to every destination will not be a hassle as you will not be competing with all the crowd coming in and out of every attraction.
How Can This Guide Help You?
Traveling to Turkmenistan entails many planning and considerations, especially in following the laws implemented in the country. This guide will take you through every detail a visitor should take note of before visiting Turkmenistan. It includes things you can do in the country and its tourist destinations. Regarding driving through Turkmenistan roads, this guide contains driving rules and etiquette and car rental information.
Turkmenistan is a Central Asian country with Turkic roots, with Ashgabat as its capital and its largest city. Visitors should understand that the current government has firm control over nearly everything. Tourism is always welcome, but there has to be close coordination between the tourist and a Turkmenistan travel agency. Turkmen is the country’s official language, with some speaking the Russian language.
Turkmenistan sits near the Caspian Sea coast with Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan as its neighbor countries. In terms of land area, it is the second-largest in Central Asia; however, most of its land consists of oases scattered amid the otherwise uninhabitable desert. Eighty percent of the country is said to be a part of the Karakum Desert.
Two broad divisions are evident throughout the country—first, the Oasis region is characterized by adequate water supply, cultivated lands, and developed industry. The desert region occupies nine-tenths of Turkmenistan's territory, divided into western Turkmenistan and Karakum. Karakum is considered one of the largest sand deserts globally, occupying the entire central part of Turkmenistan, extending towards Kazakhstan.
Turkmen use the Turkmen language to communicate whether in their day-to-day lives or at work. Some people also use the Russian language. This was because of a sizable ethnic Russian population in Turkmenistan; however, they relocated to Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union. While driving in Turkmenistan, the English language is not commonly used, but some can understand and speak a little English.
Turkmenistan is the 52nd largest country worldwide, slightly smaller than Spain, with an area of 491 210 square kilometers. Desert largely covers Turkmenistan with intensive agriculture on irrigated oases. The country is one of the largest producers of cotton, occupying one-half of its irrigated land.
The Indo-Iranians historically occupied the land of the Turkmens. During the 18th century AD, the Oghuz tribe moved from Mongolia into present-day Central Asia. The tribe formed the ethnic basis of the modern population of Turkmenistan. Until 1925, Turkmenistan’s organization was exclusively tribal, and the tribes were either nomadic, independent, or subject to neighboring Persia or the khanates.
In the late 19th century, Russian forces started to occupy the Caspian Sea resulting in several resistances. However, Turkmenistan’s territory eventually became under the Russian Empire. During the next half-century, Turkmenistan played its role within the Soviet Union, being the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, and remained outside the course of significant world events. In 1990, they declared their sovereignty from perceived exploitation by Moscow.
Turkmenistan used a new constitution in 1992, replacing that of the Soviet-era constitution. The country follows a presidential republic framework where the president is the head of state and the government. The president has to be elected for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms. The unicameral People’s Council and the unicameral Assembly are the two parliamentary bodies under the 1992 constitution.
There are not much current data available as to the number of inbound tourists in Turkmenistan. In 2016, only 6 000 visited the country, including those who visited Turkmenistan as official delegates. Not that many compared to its neighboring countries; however, those who toured the country find Turkmenistan mysterious and full of surprises. When driving in Turkmenistan, most countries need a visa and a letter of invitation from a Turkmen accredited travel agency.
International Driver’s Permit FAQs
Driving in Turkmenistan now and on any given day, you must have all the documents ready before visiting the country. You must have an International Driver’s Permit with you together with your driver’s license, passport, visa, and additional documents for proper identification. Your IDP is a translation of your local license to 12 UN-recognized languages. Here are some essential points you need to take note of about your IDP in Turkmenistan,
What Countries Recognize International Driver’s Permit?
Your International Driver’s Permit is valid to more than 150 countries worldwide. This makes your driving into Turkmenistan less hassle, especially on checkpoints where authorities will ask for your documents. If your local license is not in English or any language in Turkmenistan, it will be hard for the police to validate your visit to the country. They are very particular with visitors and will not tolerate those who enter their territory illegally.
How Long Does it Take to Get an IDP?
It will only take you about two hours to complete your application online. All you need to provide is a full filled out form and upload your local driver’s license and a passport-sized image of yourself. Once it is approved, you will receive an email with a digital copy of your IDP. Remember that you have to wait for your IDP’s physical copy to rent and drive a Turkmenistan car.
The shipment of your IDP will take seven days for US-based citizens and 30 days internationally. To receive your IDP on time before driving in Turkmenistan, the zip code and your address must coincide. And if you feel like tracking the progress of your IDP shipment, the website provides you with different ways to reach out to customer service through chat, over the phone, or email.
How Long is an IDP Valid?
An IDP is valid for one up to three years. It will depend on how long you want it to be valid. The longer the validity, the higher the cost. Your IDP will also be valid to other countries, even after driving in Turkmenistan now. So securing one will not be a waste of money. If you wish to renew your IDP after driving in Turkmenistan, your zip code, name, address, and email address should still be on the renewal form, just like the first time you applied.
Renting a Car in Turkmenistan
For your convenience when exploring Turkmenistan, you must have your transportation. This way, you will have the freedom to manage your time and schedule and not depend on any public transport schedules in the country. When visiting the desert, it is a must that you drive your car. As you read further, take note of the car rental agencies you can contact to rent a car and other requirements to rent a car.
Car Rental Companies
There are only a few car rental companies in Turkmenistan, and most of them are supervised by travel agencies. That is why it is recommended to coordinate with a travel agency in Turkmenistan first for a hassle-free rent a car transaction. Since you need to book your itinerary ahead before coming to Turkmenistan, you must include your car rental booking. Advan Tour, DN Tours, and Ayan Tourism and Travel Company can assist you with your booking preferences.
As strict as the Turkmen government with the country’s laws, so are businesses, including travel agencies and car rental companies. You need to present your local driver’s license and your International Driver’s Permit to the company for you to rent a car. It is advisable to provide them with other documents like your passport and visa for faster transaction and proper identification. You also need a credit card for your payment.
Since most of Turkmenistan’s land area is occupied by the desert, SUVs, vans, and four-wheel drives are mostly used by locals and travel agencies to visit destinations. If you plan to tour Ashgabat and other cities in Turkmenistan, a compact car will be enough for your road trip. Travel agencies and local car rentals can provide you with your needed vehicle. You just have to coordinate with them appropriately.
Car Rental Cost
You can negotiate and rent a car in Turkmenistan for $50 per day. The inclusion will depend on the company from where you will rent a car. Usually, the basic rental rate includes unlimited mileage and mandatory third-party liability insurance. Add-ons like car seats and additional drivers will be charged on top of your basic rental rate.
A Turkmen must be at least 17 years old to drive legally in Turkmenistan. If you are a tourist, you have to be at least 21 years old with a minimum of one year of driving experience to rent a car in the country. Renting a car and driving your way through Turkmen roads below the required age can lead you to apprehensions from authorities, so you have to follow the rules.
Car Insurance Cost
Having insurance while driving in foreign countries eases your worries in unfortunate incidents on the road like accidents or collisions. You have to ensure that you have checked with your car rental the inclusion of insurance before driving through Turkmenistan roads. All vehicles, especially car rentals and those that tend to tourism concerns, should have car insurance. The car insurance cost will depend on the policy or coverage.
Car Insurance Policy
Car insurance you usually pay when renting a car includes the Collision Damage Waiver, which covers damages on a vehicle after an accident. The Theft Protection insurance may cover a stolen vehicle or any vehicle damage after an attempted theft. If you don’t have existing insurance, it is advisable to get Personal Accident Insurance to cover any driver and passengers’ medical expenses in case of injuries after an accident.
Road Rules in Turkmenistan
No matter how experienced you are in driving, the way you drive on foreign roads and your hometown will surely be different. If you decide on driving in Turkmenistan right now, you have to be familiar with the traffic laws to avoid unwanted incidents on the road. The next few chapters will give you pointers and information on the road rules in Turkmenistan that you must consider before driving.
You have to know that Turkmenistan authorities implement zero tolerance on violations of any laws in the country. May it be rules on the road, or the simple things like areas where taking pictures are not allowed, you can face penalties or even go to jail for not following the rules in Turkmenistan. You can’t jeopardize your exploration in this country because you failed to follow Turkmen’s laws.
If you plan on drinking alcohol on your stopover, make sure that you are completely sober before you drive. Authorities will not tolerate any single alcohol content in your body. Remember that police checks are in place in areas in the country. Aside from the police, drunk driving may lead to accidents on the road. In 2018, the Turkmen government implemented stricter rules forbidding alcohol sales on trains, airplanes, ferries, sports facilities, and holidays.
Turning Signals at an Intersection.
Turning signals when driving in Turkmenistan is your language used to communicate with other drivers. Informing ahead of your turn or lane change will give drivers time to adjust. You need to turn signals when changing lanes, leaving a roundabout, overtaking, or making a left or right-hand turn at intersections. With this, you can prevent any collisions on the road and angry local drivers who will scold you for not informing ahead before making a change.
Parking spaces are available in big cities in Turkmenistan; you just have to take note of parking meters and parking rates before parking your vehicle. Also, vehicles may be parked indiscriminately on busy streets or on the street side, don’t follow them. Authorities can tow your car, and the next thing you know, you already have a violation and penalty for settling.
In rural areas and parking at night, especially when visiting tourist destinations, you can look for well-lit parking spaces. Also, secure your valuables before leaving your car unattended. Turkmenistan is a safe country; however, you can never count out petty crimes especially involving tourists. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Ensure you and your vehicle are in good condition before driving.
It is essential to inspect your vehicle before driving, to avoid any accidents and extra charges when you return the vehicle after your trip. Note that car rentals will charge you for any bumps or cracks found on the vehicle. You don’t want to pay for charges you are not responsible for. Also, inspect if the car’s engine, windows, wipers, car doors are perfectly working.
Before driving in Turkmenistan, a map can come in handy to guide you through Turkmen roads. Also, bring with you visibility vests, beam deflectors, warning triangle. These will be very useful in case of accidents. Lastly, make sure that you are free from injuries and sickness, and you are capable of driving.
General Standards of Driving
You may be familiar with road rules in your hometown, but you must consider distinct Turkmenistan regulations. Driving in Turkmenistan right now, remember some standards of driving as you read through. Ensure your car is clean, as authorities will likely stop you if your vehicle is excessively dirty.
You can drive at a maximum speed of 60 kph within the cities and other urban areas of Turkmenistan. Meanwhile, when driving in Turkmenistan, the road in rural areas has a speed limit of not more than 90 kph. For vehicles passing through highways, you are allowed to drive no more than 110 kph. Remember to follow these rules to avoid any authority stopping you while on the road.
Every person inside the car must use seat belts when the vehicle is moving. According to the World Health Organization’s data, the seatbelt law in Turkmenistan is strong. There are still some drivers who take this rule for granted, but you must not as a tourist. If you are traveling with a child, make sure to provide a child seat.
It is given that you must pay attention to other drivers when on the road. In Turkmenistan, aside from drivers, take extra care to avoid hitting pedestrians. They usually step into the street without looking. You must not assume that pedestrians will yield to oncoming vehicles. When approaching a pedestrian lane, you have to slow down. Also, overtaking is allowed in Turkmenistan but don't use it if it is not necessary.
Traffic Road Signs
Most traffic signs in Turkmenistan look the same as with its neighboring countries. Some words are in the Turkmen language; however, you can refer to signs like those in other countries. Traffic signs include the warning, mandatory, and priority signs that are classified below.
A warning sign indicates a potential hazard, a condition requiring special attention, or an obstacle. Be vigilant on some traffic signs which indicate dangers on the road but not be visible to the driver. Here are some.
- Camel crossing
- Wild animals crossing
- Children crossing
- Two-way traffic
- Road narrow on left
- Uneven road
- Road hump
- Loose stones
- Road narrow on both sides
- Slippery road
- Cyclists crossing
- Pedestrian crossing
- Curve to the right
Priority traffic signs will give the order to which vehicles should pass first on intersection points. Most vehicles tend to conflict with each other without priority signs, especially in the absence of traffic lights. Here are some priority signs you might encounter in Turkmenistan.
- Priority road
- End of priority road
- Yield to oncoming traffic
- Crossroads with priority
- Priority over oncoming traffic
Mandatory signs set the obligation of all traffic that uses a specific area of the road. These signs usually tell drivers what they must do. Most mandatory signs come in a circular form and use white symbols over a blue background. Below are some of them.
- Proceed right
- Turn left
- Turn right
- Keep left
- Keep right
- Cycle path
- Pedestrian path
- Minimum speed limit
- End of minimum speed limit
Right of Way
If you are at an intersection without stop or yield signs, you must slow down and prepare to stop. Remember to always yield to the vehicle that arrived first. Meanwhile, on T-intersections, cars on the through road have the right of way.
Legal Driving Age
Driving in Turkmenistan requires you to be at least 17 years old. You can rent and drive a vehicle for tourists if you are at least 21 years old. Failure to follow this regulation can cause you some fines, especially with police checks where your documents will be inspected. If you are caught driving below the required age, be ready to answer their questions and settle possible fines.
Laws on Overtaking
If you wish to overtake, do it on the left side of the road. Overtaking in big cities in Turkmenistan will be challenging, especially if you encounter drivers not following simple road rules. In your case, you just have to drive defensively and turn signals before overtaking. Remember to only overtake during ideal conditions. Never attempt to overtake if roads are too narrow, as this will result in either an accident or a confrontation between two drivers.
Like most countries, Turkmenistan is a right-hand driving country. This may not be an issue for most citizens traveling here as they are already accustomed to driving on the right. However, for those tourists coming from countries driving on the left side of the road, it will take time to familiarize this rule. But as you go along your trip, you will get the hang of it. Pay attention to drivers going the wrong way on one-way streets or divided streets.
Aside from the rules previously mentioned, you must consider some things that may come up while driving, like if someone calls you over the phone. Read below to know what to do.
Can I Use My Phone While Driving?
You are not allowed to navigate through your phone while driving. It is illegal in Turkmenistan and can cause you hefty fines. You can use the hands-free system instead if you need to answer the call. Another option is to park your car somewhere safe to answer or reply to a message. If it’s not important, you can use your phone after your drive.
What documents Should I bring While Driving?
Your driver’s license, International Driver’s Permit, visa, passport, and additional documents in case authorities will ask for verification. Remember that Turkmen are meticulous when it comes to tourists in the country. They have to make sure that you entered their territory legally. Failure to secure the needed documents can result in confiscation of your license or penalties.
Driving Etiquette in Turkmenistan
Unexpected circumstances are unavoidable when you are on foreign roads, no matter how careful you may be. Knowing the road rules will never be enough; you also have to know how to deal with different situations and effectively communicate with the locals and authorities if something might happen on your trip.
No matter how many times you checked your vehicle before setting out, you can avoid any car breakdowns while on the road. Causes for car breakdowns may vary from running out of fuel, too many potholes on the road, or a faulty engine. If you can move your car far out from the travel lane, that will be better.
If it is not doable, you need to bring out your warning triangle and beam deflectors for proper visibility. These will serve as your early warning devices for vehicles heading your way. Do not forget to call the police (99302) for assistance; if you can fix it yourself, then much better.
When driving in Turkmenistan, you usually see police stationed at almost every intersection. They use a white and black striped stick to signal drivers to stop for questioning. Police stops happen when you violate some rules on the road, or they just want to check your documents. Be careful of authorities asking for bribes. This is why you need to have a complete set of documents so authorities will not find any loophole that could cause you penalties.
You need to settle any traffic fine within twelve hours after you are penalized. If you fail to pay within that period, the amount may double every twelve hours up to 72 hours. Beyond the given time, the vehicle question may be confiscated. There is also a possibility that authorities will revoke your license.
Turkmens are generally approachable, friendly, and hospitable. Of course, you have to approach them properly and respect their local culture. If you think that while driving in Turkmenistan, your map is not enough of a guide for you, Turkmens will be glad to assist you. You can use basic Turkmen phrases, and you never know; of course, you are already building rapport with the locals. The phrases below might come in handy as you explore the country.
- Hello - "Salam" / "Salawmaleýkim"
- Pleased to meet you - "Tanşanymyza şat."
- Good morning - "Ertiriňiz haýyrly bolsun."
- Good afternoon - "Gündiziňiz haýyrly bolsun"
- Good evening - "Agşamyňyz haýyrly bolsun"
- Goodbye - "Hoş sag boluň."
- Yes - "Hawa"
- No - "Ýok"
- I don't understand - "Men düşünemok."
- Do you speak English? - "Siz iňlisçe gepleýärsiňizmi?"
- How much is this? - "Näçeden?"
- Excuse me - "Bagyşlaň."
- Thank you - "Sag boluň"
- Please - "Baş üstüne"
- Where's the toilet/bathroom? - "Hajathana nirede?"
- Help! - "Kömek et!"
You have to get used to driving in Turkmenistan with border checkpoints, here and there. If you come from another country via car, you need to pay $14 for entry tax to enter Turkmenistan. Aside from this, you must have the necessary documents, including your driver’s license, your IDP, visa, passport, and other travel documents. Remember that it is a standard operating procedure in checkpoints to validate your trip before entering Turkmen territories.
If you see checkpoints while driving in Turkmenistan on border zones within its territory, do not speed away. Instead, you need to slow down and declare the documents for verification. Authorities may suspect you as a threat to the country if you don’t slow down on police checks. Be aware that some Turkmen destinations need a permit, including national parks.
You also have to keep in mind what you need to do when you are involved in an accident. Read further for some information on what numbers to call and other tips.
What should I do In case of Accidents?
You need to have a presence of mind to assess the situation before doing anything. If there are injuries, immediately call for an ambulance (99303) and the police (9902) if the accident is severe. Never leave the scene until the police arrive. You can only leave the area if you need additional treatment at a hospital. Make sure to ask for a police report; this might come in handy if you file claims for any damage to the vehicles involved.
Driving Conditions in Turkmenistan
Before you head out and drive in a foreign country, it is proper to know its road conditions so you will not be surprised once you start your trip. Knowing Turkmenistan’s road conditions from rural to urban areas will be of big help as you explore its territories. It makes you more prepared when driving in Turkmenistan.
In 2018, Turkmenistan ranked 85th in the world for the most number of deaths caused by road accidents. The World Health Organization recorded a total of 997 deaths in 2018 due to accidents on the road. Overspeeding, not wearing seatbelts or child seats and drunk driving are among the top road accidents. In Turkmenistan’s data, road traffic accidents are among the leading causes of death in the country.
Vehicles in Turkmenistan vary from buses, taxis, delivery trucks, and private cars. Acquiring private vehicles in the country depends on their purpose. Some people prefer the compact vehicles as it is easy to navigate especially on narrow roads in the rural areas. Meanwhile, four-wheel drives are also used by Turkmens, especially those in the desert area. Few Turkmens also use luxury cars; however, they are mostly used by the elite.
Currently, there are no toll roads in Turkmenistan. In 2018, there were proposals to construct toll roads in the country, but they got suspended. The government plans to repair some roads outside Ashgabat, mostly not in good condition anymore, and looks to build a 600-km road by 2023.
When driving in Turkmenistan, the road like Ashgabat is generally in good condition. The challenging part in driving into Turkmenistan is when you are in the rural areas. Other roads are uneven and not well-maintained. You need to watch out for potholes along your way. Do not be so overwhelmed with the wide and paved roads in the capital, as it gets narrower while heading to rural roads.
Speed limits in the rural areas are a bit faster than those in the urban, but with the road condition in rural roads, your driving pace might be affected. It is safe for you to slow down a bit, especially on potholed and uneven roads. It can get very bumpy if you speed off.
If you are driving in Turkmenistan, you need to drive defensively and take extra caution. Some drivers pay little attention to lanes and road markings. They may overtake your vehicles or suddenly change lanes without turning signals. Be mindful of drivers driving the wrong way or driving on one-way roads or divided highways. These scenarios are prone to collisions and accidents.
On rural roads, you might encounter slow-moving trucks, agricultural vehicles, and animals suddenly crossing the streets. There will also be instances when you meet a vehicle that uses no light during the night, so driving in Turkmenistan during the day is advisable. While not all drivers violate road rules, it still pays to drive carefully and defensively.
Other matters related to driving in Turkmenistan include the unit used to indicate speed limit on traffic signs and consider when driving at night. Read below for more details and tips when driving in Turkmenistan.
What is the Unit to Measure Speed?
If you drive in Turkmenistan, you will see traffic signs indicating a particular road or area’s speed limit. Kilometers per hour of kph are used on every speed limit sign posted on the side of the road. Some traffic signs only reflect the number, so you need to be familiar with the required speed limits in an area to avoid overspeeding. Other countries widely use kph, so seeing it in Turkmenistan is not new.
Is it safe to drive at night in Turkmenistan?
Driving at night in Turkmenistan is discouraged as camels and other livestock might suddenly cross the street without you knowing. You also need to look out for pedestrians stepping into the street without looking and those who stand or walk in the middle of the road on dark streets without wearing any reflective vests, making them invisible to drivers. You should start driving in Turkmenistan during the day to avoid any danger, especially on unlit roads and highways.
Also, for your part, you need to be a responsible driver; if you need to drive at night, you need to use your headlight. It is a must to use headlights when driving at night. This way, you are visible to other drivers you might meet on a night in rural streets in Turkmenistan. Before your drive, ensure your headlights are working.
Things to do in Turkmenistan
If you find exploring and driving in Turkmenistan fun that you wish you can stay longer, you can do so. As strict as Turkmenistan is with its entry rules, there are things and documents you need to consider and process before you can stay for longer days in the country. Read through below to know more.
Drive as a Tourist
The best way to explore Turkmenistan is to have a car. Knowing that there are only car rentals in the country, you have to make sure that the travel agency you are coordinating with your travel itinerary has that option. Driving in Turkmenistan, a visa, your driver’s license, and your International Driver’s Permit should be available. You can only enter the country with a valid visa if you have a letter of invitation with prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Remember that you can’t manipulate anything just to expedite the process to enter Turkmenistan. If you come from another neighboring country bringing a foreign-registered vehicle, you need to pay for fuel compensation, road tax, an immigration card, and entry tax. It may seem a long process, but this is better than having your license revoked or paying hefty fines for not following the rules.
Work as a Driver
One of the most in-demand jobs in Turkmenistan comes from the transport industry. The most common places where you can land a job are Ashgabat, Turkmenabat, Dashoguz, and Mary. Employers seek applicants who know the Turkmen language who can work full-time, part-time, or even seasonal. On average, a driver in Turkmenistan earns about $388 a month; it can go up depending on your driving skills.
Delivery drivers, express mail drivers, food delivery companies, and logistics companies are among those with the highest published employment and wages in Turkmenistan. To legally work in the country, you have to secure a work permit, and one of the requirements is to present a letter of invitation from your employer in Turkmenistan. Below are other requirements to get a work permit.
- fully filled-out visa application form
- Proof of identity like driver’s license
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond the date on the letter of invitation
- A copy of your passport’s first page; make sure to put your signature.
- Passport-sized photo of yourself
- Proof of payment of the visa registration fee
Work as a Travel Guide
Having a mastery of other foreign languages is a plus when working in Turkmenistan’s tourism industry. You also have to learn the Turkmen language. Developments of airports and other tourism establishments could lead to more job opportunities in tourism. Local tour guides will be your competition, so you need to grasp its history and destinations, apart from accreditations and certificates from the Turkmen government.
Apply for Residency
The Turkmen government grants residency permits for up to five years, and the first thing you should do is file an appropriate petition to the State Migration Service through the consular office of the country. Some reasons for the issuance of residency permits include a marriage contracted to Turkmen, residence of foreigners in Turkmenistan for more than two years, and high professional qualifications that can be utilized for the country’s interest.
Take note that authorities have the right to revoke your permit for false information in your application or if you commit actions or grave crimes that contradict the interests of public order. Your permit is invalid when there’s an employment termination, providing grounds for obtaining a residence permit, or in case of divorce with a Turkmen within five years after the marriage in the absence of children.
Other Things to Do
To drive and stay longer in Turkmenistan, you need to have a driver’s license issued in the country. Read more below for some information on license exchange.
Can I Secure a Driving License in Turkmenistan?
Your local driver’s license is only valid for a certain number of days or months, depending on the visa approved by Turkmen authorities. To continue driving for years in its territory, one must replace the local driver’s license with the one issued in Turkmenistan. You can submit your application and file for a Turkmen driver’s license at the Road Safety Directorate of the Ministry Interior.
Turkmen driver’s license applicants must take a three-month training course and driving test to secure a license. Turkmen authorities are strict with issuing driver’s licenses to ensure that those applicants who were issued with the license are competent enough to religiously follow road rules to lessen the number of road accidents and fatalities each year.
The Top Destinations in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan has marvelous natural sights and fascinating historical roots. The country never runs out of scenery that every traveler will be very curious about. Though it can be a challenge to drive outside Ashgabat with the special permit you need to secure, the long and meticulous process will all be worth it when you explore this mysterious country.
If you are curious why Turkmenistan's capital was listed on the Guinness Book of Records, you need to make a stop in Ashgabat. It is a showpiece capital designed to show the world the glories and accomplishments of Turkmens. There will be security guards and police around the city to monitor your move, especially on tourists freely taking pictures. Avoid taking photos of the presidential compound or military complexes.
- From Ashgabat International Airport, continue to Atamyrat Nyýazow şaýoly.
- Head east.
- Turn right twice.
- Left turn.
- Continue straight.
- Slight left.
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Atamyrat Nyýazow şaýoly.
- Turn right onto Magtymguly şaýoly.
- Drive to your destination.
Things To Do
For some, visiting Ashgabat can be strange at first. Being the country’s capital, you expect people on every corner, but it’s different here. Nevertheless, exploring Ashgabat will surely be worth your time.
- Stroll along the Independence Square.
Government buildings, giant horse statues, parks, and fountains are located here in Ashgabat. And from Independence Square, you will see all the buildings in white. They are made out of white marbles. Ashgabat holds the Guinness Book of Records for the most number of white marble buildings. The capital also has the record for the most fountain pools in a public place and the largest indoor Ferris wheel.
- Visit the Ashgabat National Museum of History.
The museum contains about 500, 000 exhibits from archeological and ethnographical finds throughout Turkmenistan. You will see here fossils, rare geological finds, paintings, drawings, sculptures, weapons, and utensils, to name a few. Never the variety of carpets, rugs, fabrics, and clothing that Turkmenistan is famous for. On the lower floor of the museum, you will find an exhibition about Turkmenistan’s president.
- Shop for souvenirs at Tolkuchka Bazaar.
From a bird’s eye view, the market offers unique architecture as its complex resembles a carpet. The bazaar is the largest market in the country and 5th in Central Asia, with 154 hectares. There are even a hotel and a clock tower in the area. With more than 2000 shops inside, you can shop for carpets and furniture on sale and even souvenir items that you can take home.
- Get another view of the city, at the Wedding Palace.
The landmark is not only famous for wedding-goers but everyone due to its unique architecture. The eleven-story building has the form of an eight-pointed star arranged around the globe. Explore Turkmen-style interiors as you go inside the Palace. Never forget the outside view; aside from the unique building, you will be treated with a panoramic view of the palace’s white marble buildings.
- Explore the Fortress of Nisa.
The ancient town of Nisa belonged to the Parthian Empire and once became an essential stop along the Silk Road. The Parthians were believed to have existed from the mid 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. Archaeological excavations in Nisa revealed richly decorated architecture, mausoleums and shrines, inscribed documents, and many Hellenistic artworks. In 2007, UNESCO listed the fortress as a world heritage site.
Kow Ata Underground Lake
This underground lake offers a very unusual yet fascinating experience for tourists and locals who visit the place. Just over an hour’s drive from the capital, Kow Ata Underground Lake is a sulfur-heated underground lake about 80 meters below the ground. The smell will not be pleasant as expected because of the Sulphur rising through the earth and heating the water. The water is also warm as it sits at the foot of the Kopet-Dag mountain near the Iran border.
- From Ashgabat International Airport, get on M37 in Ahal from Kuliyev St.
- Follow M37.
- Merge onto M37.
- Turn right to stay on M37.
- Make a left toward M37.
- Left Turn onto M37.
- Drive to Köw Ata ýoly.
- Slight right toward Köw Ata ýoly.
- Continue onto Köw Ata ýoly.
Things To Do
Adventure awaits as you head to this underground lake in Turkmenistan. Several things you can do here inside and outside the underground. Read more below to find out.
- Hike to the underground lake.
Get ready for some workout leading to the lake. It will not be as easy as counting from one to three; you need to count from your first step until the 276th step to the underground lake. Yes, it’s tiring, sweaty, dark and the smell is not pleasant, but all is worth it as you reach the lake. Steps can also be slippery sometimes, so you need to be careful. There is a long metal staircase where you can get a grip of as you head down.
- Swim and Relax at the underground lake.
The water here is hot, perfect for calming your muscles from all the walking. The temperature ranges from 34 to 37 degrees with a depth of 8 to 14 meters, depending on what part of the lake you are swimming in. Swimmers are not allowed to go as far out as the edge of the cave for safety purposes. There are markings on how far you can go to the cave. You can enjoy a dip in the therapeutic water for as long as you want.
- Spot some bats inside the cave.
The cave where the lake is located also serves as a natural monument. Turkmenistan has the largest colony of bats in the whole of Central Asia. Authorities establish the cave to protect the bat colony, and they camp here inside the cave. And as you swim, they can whirl above you from one end to another. If you don’t see them while you head down to the lake, they might be sleeping during those times.
- Enjoy some shashlik
After an hour of swimming and going up down to the cave, you deserve some snacks. By the entrance to the lake, there is a car park with stalls selling shashliks and drinks. Shashliks are similar to kebabs and are one of the staple foods in Turkmenistan. Pair them with some cold drinks since they can get hot as you get out of the cave.
- Witness local wedding traditions
It is very common in Turkmenistan for a newly-married couple and their guests to visit local destinations, and Kow Ata is one of them. It is an interesting site after a wedding to tour around the country. They pull up their cars, suddenly turning up the music, and start dancing and taking photos. It can be a surprise, but it is a common practice in the country. You are even more welcome to join them for a dance.
Darvaza is a village in Turkmenistan with about 350 inhabitants. People living here are mostly Turkmen of the Teke Tribe, preserving a semi-nomadic tribe. The village area is rich in natural gas, which also serves as one of the many natural attractions. It will be a long drive if you are coming from Ashgabat as it will take you about two hours to reach the village. Be in awe of the destinations in the small village.
- From Ashgabat International Airport, head east.
- Turn right twice
- Make a right turn again, then continue straight.
- Slight left.
- At the roundabout, take the 3rd exit.
- Keep right.
- Then remember to keep left afterward until you reach your destination.,
Things To Do
Get ready for the “door to hell,” however, it is not what you think. It is a natural attraction in the village that occurred in 1971. Read more below to know more.
- Explore the “Door to Hell.”
The 69-meter in diameter crater was created after a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched the massive underground natural gas. The Soviets burned the gas off, believing the gas would burn out within weeks. Decades after, the fiery pit is still going strong. You can go near the crater, it will be hot, but it is one of the best experiences you will ever have. The crater is can more visually appealing during the night.
- Go camping and watch the stars near the crater.
Since you are already in the area, why not make the most out of it? Some will camp in yurt-like tents, or you can just use a regular tent. Bring extra layers with you as it can get cold late at night. Since you are in the desert, you have all the views you want, whether panorama or 360-view. Admire the starry night in the desert while making yourself warm with a bonfire outside your tent.
- Watch the sunrise from the crater.
Camping will not be complete without witnessing the sunrise. This time, it will be extraordinary watching the sun on an early cold morning with the fiery pit keeping you warm. You have to wake up early and be at the crater before everyone gathers to take a peek at the sun, slowly revealing its way from the dawn’s clouds. Watching the sunset from the crater is another magnificent experience.
- Visit the Mud Crater.
As if the “door to hell” is never for you, you can take a side trip to another crater still in Darvaza - the mud crater. It looks like a large sinkhole mostly covered with boiling and bubbling mud. You can even see a few small fires on the side. As you go near the crater, the air will reek of gas, so if you are not comfortable with the smell, you might as well just step aside.
- Make a stop at the Water Crater.
You can interchange your itinerary when visiting Darvaza. Since the water crater sits along the way going to the “door to hell,” you can make a stop here before witnessing the other ones. Some say it is a good preview for the real thing. The water crater, just like the other two, is also a methane gas crater. This time instead of fire, this sinkhole is filled with water. See how the methane gas bubbles through the water.
Merv is an ancient city in Turkmenistan that used to be a busy and progressive city during the 3rd century BC. The old city flourished with wealth provided by its strategic location on the Silk Road trade route. Visiting the site today will give you a glimpse of the city’s glory days through its monuments and mausoleum. UNESCO listed Merv as a World Heritage Site and currently one of the major attractions in Turkmenistan.
- From Ashgabat International Airport, take Project St to M37.
- Head northeast.
- Turn left, then another left.
- Left turn.
- At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Project St.
- Follow M37 to Baýramaly.
- Drive to your destination in Merv.
- Turn left.
- Right Turn.
- Turn right, then another left turn.
Things To Do
Your trip to Merv will be all about exploring Turkmenistan's history and culture from some world-class destinations. Below are some places you can visit when in Merv.
- Explore Gyaur-Kala.
Exploring this ancient city will not be like looking at those gigantic buildings; instead, you will see ruins of the people’s lives in the past. Gyaur Kala stood since around 1000 AD. The Ben Makhan Mosque sits at the center; however, it is hardly recognizable already. This building was among the most potent antiquated structures, with the region more than 300 hectares.
- See the Great and Little Kyz Kala.
These two were small fortresses with layered walls. The Great Kyz Kala is the only remaining fortress preserved so that you can see the walls’ original shape. The fort dates back to the 6th century AD. Meanwhile, the Little Kyz Kala sits just beside the Great Kyz Kala; however, there’s not much left of it. The Kyz Kala has a distinct pattern on the outside that can’t be seen anywhere else.
- Admire the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar’s Interiors.
The architecture is one of the few historical monuments in the Silk Road in Turkmenistan restored after its destruction during the Mongol invasion. The now-gone turquoise tile covering the exteriors is used to highlight the building from afar. The construction of the building includes several materials like terracotta, brick, stucco, and plaster.
- Snap a photo of camels around Merv.
As you roam around and visit the ruins in Merv, it will be impossible not to see camels in the area. Camels and local farmers are everywhere in the desert; they come in groups or solo nibbling wilted shrubs near the ruins. For some, seeing camels will not be as usual as it may seem, so take photos of them and with them.
- Score fresh local products at Zelyony Bazaar in Mary.
Mary is a city just near Merv, so you can shop at the lively Zelyony Bazaar before leaving the area. Stalls sell everything you want from trinkets, fancy dresses, carpets, spices, fruits, and even animals. The bazaar gets crowded, so if you prefer not to join the flock of people, you can observe, take photos if you want and just enjoy how locals spend their day-to-day lives.
Koytendag sits in the very east of Turkmenistan. The village offers a relaxed atmosphere with lively locals hanging around the street, at the front shops and houses, walking around laughing and talking. Here lies the county’s most scenic mountains, deepest lakes, and longest caves. The foothills of Koytendag are painted in red color due to the outcrop of the variegated rocks
- From Turkmenabat International Airport, continue to M37.
- Continue to Köýtendag.
- Turn right onto M37.
- Drive to your destination in Koyten.
- Continue straight.
- Make a sharp right then make a slight left.
- Turn left.
- Turn right.
Things To Do
Explore the unusual and unique natural attractions on this mountainside of Turkmenistan. Check the list below to know more.
- Explore the Kyrk Gyz Cave.
This is just not your ordinary cave as it serves as a shrine where pilgrims attach pieces of cloth to the ceiling with the hopes of having their wishes granted. From afar, it will look like the cave is ornamented with several large colorful stalactites, however on a close look, they are not stones but cloth. Legend says that the cave was home to forty girls seeking refuge to avoid rape and murder by bandits.
- Walk with Dinosaurs’ footprints.
Visiting the Plateau of Dinosaurs in Turkmenistan will be one of your best experiences in the country. The area offers one of the most remarkable collections of fossilized dinosaur tracks that only became known to Soviet paleontologists in the 1950s. There are about 2 500 dinosaur tracks discovered in the plateau, with some tracks measuring 40 centimeters long by 30 centimeters wide.
- Hike the Umbar Dere Gorge.
- Not from the Plateau of Dinosaurs lies a gorge with a 27-meter high waterfall. The winding trails of about 500 meters lead to the waterfall, framed with algae making it look mysterious and scenic. You can hike to the Umbar waterfall and, along your hike, see the pistachio grove with an altitude of 1200 meters. You can visit the waterfall until September since it dries up after that month.
- Bath in Kaynar Baba.
This is a small pond fed warm water visited by locals and people from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to treat joint pains. Kanyar Baba or boiling spring is also a treat to those tourists making long-hour hikes on Koytendag mountains. After bathing here, you will feel fresh and energized. There is also a spring near Kanyar Baba rich in hydrogen sulfide among the green reeds and tamarisk.
- Go caving at Kap-Kutan Cave.
The Kap-Kutan Cave stretches about 56 kilometers and is one of the longest cave systems in the world. The cave features diverse types of marble onyx, varying in colors from light to dark. Some also call this the big maze, influenced by sulfurous thermal springs with several chambers containing calcite, aragonite, and gypsum minerals.
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