Lonely Planet has just named Central Asia – and its mystical Silk Road – ‘top region’ to visit in 2020. Read on to discover why this enigmatic part of the world is OUT of this world!
More than 1,200 years after the Central Asian Silk Road reached the peak of its prominence, the ancient trading route is making waves, once more. Named the very best region to visit in 2020 by Lonely Planet, the trail, which meanders through five spectacular countries known collectively as the Stans, offers some of the most astonishing travel experiences on earth. The Silk Road has been attracting avid adventurers for decades, its expansive wilderness – ranging from picturesque deserts to fertile valleys and snow-capped mountains – home to some of the world’s most fascinating cities of antiquity. Bustling bazaars, awe-inspiring mosque tiled in colourful mosaics, ridiculously picturesque valleys dotted with yurts, camels and yaks; nomadic herders going about life as if the last millennium didn’t even happen – these are just some of the amazing highlights that await you in the Stans.
We brought our Spotlight on the Stans at the beginning of this year and it seems the world has finally caught up.
So what on earth are you waiting for? Come retrace the steps of ancient traders and discover for yourself what an astonishing corner of the world this is.
Here are the top reasons Central Asia should be your travel destination of choice in 2020.
- New visa regulations have made visiting the Stans easier than ever
The recent easing of entry requirements in all Central Asia countries has obviously had an immense impact on how Lonely Planet, and most travellers, view travels along the Silk Road. Up until recently, getting a visa for each and every Stan was a bit of a hassle, which probably led many potential visitors to give up and go elsewhere. Yet today, Australians and citizens of most Western countries can waltz right in, visa-free, for visits of 30 days in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, whilst Tajikistan has introduced a simplified e-visa procedure that’s super easy and hassle-free. This leaves Turkmenistan as the lone wolf in the region (visa is still somewhat of a pain) but at least now you no longer need an invitation letter for a 7-day transit visa, which is actually ample time to soak up its highlights. Given the country’s penchant for being anti-social, even this easing is quite something.
There has literally NEVER been an easier and better time to visit Central Asia!
It’s the ideal region for multi-country explorations
The main reason the visa-easing is having such a huge impact on tourism in Central Asia is that the region is considered to be ‘one’ destination: given its remoteness and the need for extensive travel to get there in the first place, not many people envisage only visiting one Stan. If you go, you’ll want a multi-country itinerary that takes in the insane wilderness of Kazakhstan, the mesmerizing sites in Turkmenistan, famous citadels of Uzbekistan and those jaw-dropping valleys and mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Plus, you can easily throw in a meander through mesmerizing Iran as well, to experience some of that famed Persian hospitality. A contradiction in its own terms, Central Asia is both a single, homogenous region and one of the world’s most eclectic, every country boasting its own history and culture.
And now you can have it all.
- Central Asia is still way off the beaten path
In a decade or so, one could image Central Asia being a hive of tourist activity; yet, for now, it remains a mysterious and lesser-visited treasure. There’s no denying this tugs at the heart of avid explorers who love the chance to take epic road trips in-between the most iconic highlights, and soak up the wonders of the astonishing countryside, devoid of any form of mass tourism. You’ll certainly meet other tourists in the most famous sights like Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand but The Silk Toad is anything but crowded. Aside from a distinct lack of tourists, there’s also the bonus that these are some of the most sparsely populated countries on earth, except for Uzbekistan, perhaps. The rugged countryside of Central Asia has not been favourable to farming so the population is literally clustered around pockets of desirable land. The rest, harsh and unenticing to easy living, is downright magnificent to experience. This is the primary reason you’ll want to include some road-travel along the Silk Road, to tap into the immense solitude and grandeur of this gobsmacking corner of the world.
Central Asia still feels very much off the beaten path yet considering the increase in its prominence in the travel-sphere, it probably won’t stay that way for long.
- The famous highlights are as extraordinary as you’ve always been told
We challenge anyone to stand in front of the Samarkand’s Registan, Khiva’s Kalta-minor Minaret, Bukhara’s Kaylan Complex or the magnificent peaks of the Pamir Mountains and not be insanely blown away by them. No matter how many photos you’ve seen on Instagram, nothing compares to casting your own eyes on Central Asia’s wonders; their sheer imposing size impossible to convey on film. The highlights of the Silk Road are not only awe-inspiring but also imposing and overwhelming. Standing in the heart of Bukhara and realising this was an absolute hive of commercial trade more than 2,500 years ago, and represented the original ‘information and trade highway’ between East and West, is soul-stirring.
- You’ll be following the footsteps of some badass historical figures
From Wudi, the Emperor of the Han Dynasty credited with creating the Silk Road, to Alexander the Great, Confucius, Buddha, the Prophet Mohammed, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and Macro Polo, inarguably the most famous explorer to have overlanded the Stans, this incredible region is drenched in thousands of years of fascinating history. For lovers of ancient history and modern politics, a tour of the Central Asia’s Silk Road is akin to time-travel. Retracing the steps of some of humanity’s most mystical characters is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s not easily forgotten.
If you’re a really vid history-lover, you may just need to make a side-trip to Mongolia to see the largest Genghis Khan statue ever constructed.
- Mother Nature still comes up with the biggest surprise of them all
Ask anyone who’s travelled The Silk Road in Central Asia about their journey and they’ll surely tell you that the ancient sites are breath-taking, the hospitality exceptional and that the feeling of being ‘transported to another world’ is tangible and unreal. What most visitors remark on, however, is how unexpectedly astonishing the nature is. This is something not many people expect.
Out of all the Stans and all the cacophony of landscapes, the one that stands out more than any other, as far as staggering wilderness is concerned, would have to be Kyrgyzstan although both Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, which share the region’s mountainous spine, are nothing short of spectacular. Not only that, the options for active adventures are numerous and include multi-day horseback riding, trekking and mountain biking some of the highest and remotest ranges in the world.
With their captivating mix of ancient cultures, a wealth of irreplaceable historical sites and a rainbow-coloured canvas of extraordinary nature, The Stans offer a very special kind of adventure, the one everyone craves – the one you simply cannot have anywhere else on earth. T
This is a one-of-a-kind region and, in 2020, it’s been proclaimed to be the very best on earth.
Why won’t you be the judge?
Meet The Legends of the Silk Road and discover the most unmissable attractions. We also guide you through the ideal time of year to visit and how to plan a multi-country journey that soaks up the best historical, natural and cultural highlights.
At Get About Asia, we organise small-group and bespoke private tours along the Silk Road, with fabulous itinerary suggestions for Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. You’ll see multi-country itineraries at the bottom of every country’s dedicated page so you can get an idea of how best to combine these gems into the one unforgettable journey.
Or you can simply contact us, tell us what your Silk Road dream is all about and let us do the rest!