Backpacking Central Asia – A Guide to the Stans for 2023

Why Now Is the Best Time for Backpacking Central Asia

In this comprehensive guide, we will tell you all you need to know about backpacking Central Asia and the Stans.

Central Asia has so much to offer every type of traveller and is rich in culture, history, cuisine and natural landscapes.

From the architecture of the ancient Silk Road to mountains and deserts, you are sure to find something to amaze in this vastly underrated part of the world. In this Central Asia Travel Guide, you can discover all you need to know about the “Stans”!

Boring stuff: I have visited each of the places I recommend and give you my honest opinion, warts and all. All photos are my own unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission. Affiliate links may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

Quick Guide to Backpacking the Stans

What Countries Make up Central Asia and the Stans?

There is no set definition of the geographical limits of Central Asia, however, most people agree that the core area encompasses the five former Soviet “Stans” of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Central Asia Travel Map

Afghanistan and the Chinese province of Xinjiang (referred to by some as East Turkestan) are also geographically part of Central Asia. The extreme far west of Mongolia can also be considered Central Asian both geographically and culturally.

In this guide, we will stick to the five main Stans.

Traveling to Central Asia is equal parts challenging and rewarding. This destination isn’t for tourists looking for a relaxing vacation. Rather, it’s a destination for devoted travelers who want to see the world, experience unique cultures, and have an adventure.

Figure Out Your Visa Needs

Central Asia has five core countries and varying passport requirements for each. While people from the Western hemisphere typically don’t face challenges when getting visas, it’s important to understand the nuances of each place.

For example, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan do not require visas for stays up to 30 days for most Western countries.

However, United States citizens require an electronic Visa to get into Uzbekistan, which should be applied for at least three days before the trip.

Turkmenistan has entirely different requirements. Travel visas are required to pass through Turkmenistan but are complicated to get and often rejected for no reason.

Several routes throughout the region require special permits to travel. Plan your trip down to each detail well in advance. Check your country’s government website for current travel restrictions.

For UK residents, the FCO website provides the latest travel information.

Visa Information for Backpacking Central Asia

Kazakhstan Entry Requirements

As of February 2022 Kazakhstan is now open again and the visa-free policy that was in place before the pandemic has been resumed! The land borders remain closed to tourists but it is possible no to fly in and out of Kazakhstan.

Open for Tourism: Yes

Visa-free: Yes (citizens of the EU, UK, USA and more can visit visa-free for 30 days)

Visa on Arrival: Yes

E-visa: Yes

LOI Required: No

Negative PCR Required: Yes (72-hour validity)

Quarantine Required: No

More information: Kazakhstan eases travel restrictions

Kyrgyzstan Entry Requirements

Open for Tourism: Yes

Visa-free: Yes (citizens of 60 countries can enter Kyrgyzstan visa-free)

Visa on Arrival: Yes

E-visa: Yes

LOI Required: No

Negative PCR Required: Yes (72-hour validity)

Quarantine Required: No

More information: Visa policy of Kyrgyzstan

Tajikistan Entry Requirements

Open for Tourism: Yes

Visa-free: No

Visa on Arrival: Yes

E-visa: Yes

LOI Required: No

Negative PCR Required: Yes (72-hour validity)

Quarantine Required: Yes, 14-day quarantine is required at a state facility.

More information: Official Tajikistan E-visa portal

Turkmenistan Entry Requirements

Update April 2023: Turkmenistan has reopened for tourism and there are already reports of travelers succufully obtaining visas and touring the country.

Uzbekistan Entry Requirements

Open for Tourism: Yes

Visa-free: Yes (citizens of 130 countries can enter Uzbekistan visa-free)

Visa on Arrival: Yes

E-visa: Yes

LOI Required: No

Negative PCR Required: Yes (72-hour validity)

Quarantine Required: Uzbekistan operates a traffic light system. Those travelling from countries on the green list are not required to quarantine. Those travelling from red or yellow list countries (which include the UK) must self-isolate for 14 days.

More information: Official Uzbekistan E-visa portal

Dangerous Border Areas

Afghanistan Uzbekistan Border
The border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan at Termiz

In recent years there has been sporadic fighting between some of the “Stans” and border points can be potential flashpoints. The Kyrgyz/Uzbek border saw violence as recently as May 2022. Check local media before crossing land borders.

It goes without saying that the border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan should be avoided.

Generally speaking, the crossings between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are safe for travellers. I have made these crossings many times without incident.

Be Careful in Nature

Many people venture to Central Asia to hike the beautiful mountain ranges. Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan are common destinations for avid hikers who want to experience the natural beauty in this part of the world. However, it’s important to understand the risks involved and prepare.

Take some time to research the local wildlife, so you know what to do if you encounter something dangerous. For example, the leopard gecko is a relatively calm creature that many Westerners keep as pets.

The Caspian cobra, however, is one of the more dangerous species to inhabit the region. In the desert areas of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan always shake your clothes out for spiders and scorpions.

It’s also important to understand the dangers of traveling in the mountains as the weather can be unpredictable, even in summer. The winter temperature in Kazakhstan can drop as low as -30c, especially near the Russian border and capital, Nur-Sultan.

When going trekking, try not to go alone, and if you do, tell your hotel/hostel of your proposed route and when you expect to return. Ensure you pack plenty of layers, have a detailed map, and lots of water or ways to purify it.

Take a Bathroom Kit

While you’ll find a few Western toilets in high-end establishments in the cities, prepare for squat toilets everywhere else.

These toilets are typically holes in the ground over which you squat to do your business. Toilet paper is a rarity in most bathrooms in Central Asia.

When backpacking Central Asia, consider packing a toilet kit for your adventures, including wipes, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. You’ll be glad you did.

Learn Some Basic Russian

Central Asia is a diverse region with several different languages and subcultures. However, this former Soviet-ruled area still has a few cultural hangovers that make it unique.

One of which is that the unifying language across countries is Russian. Most people in Central Asia will speak Russian as well as their native language, however in parts of Uzbekistan you might struggle to find Russian speakers, and English is certainly no widely known in the region.

It’s also worth having the Google Translate app on your phone, as learning Russian is easier said than done.

Invest in a Data Plan

WiFi is unreliable at best in Central Asia and non-existent in some areas. Invest in a data plan for your phone or pick up a local SIM card when you arrive. You’ll need data for navigation and translation.

You’ll also want to use a VPN while travelling to ensure your connection is secure. ExpressVPN is one of the cheapest and best on the market with servers in over 160 locations around the globe.

Carry Cash

As many parts of Central Asia are underdeveloped, carrying cash is a must. While many establishments accept Visa (but not Mastercard), they’re often declined without explanation or reasoning. Furthermore, each country has a different currency.

It’s also recommended that you carry some US currency or Euros to exchange, just in case. Look for a currency exchange in a well-populated, busy area to avoid getting scammed. Don’t use the money exchanges at border crossings as you will get ripped off!

Negotiate Transportation

While public transportation is a great option for getting around the cities, you’ll likely need a taxi to get to some prime hiking spots.

While Central Asia is relatively safe, there are many taxi scams, especially in Uzbekistan. Negotiate a price before getting in and write it down, showing the drive that you have it.

Keep your bags with you and consider using an app to stay safe. Yandex is a popular ride-sharing app in the region (Russian Uber).

Navigating through Central Asia takes patience and preparation. Keep these key considerations in mind as you plan your grand adventure.

Kazakhstan Travel Information

Almaty Mountains, Kazakhstan
Almaty Mountains, Kazakhstan

Quick Facts
Capital: Nur-Sultan (nee Astana)
Language(s): Kazakh, Russian
Currency: ₸ Tenge ($1 USD = ₸428)
Daily Budget: $40

Visa Info
Visa-free: Yes
Visa on arrival: Yes
E-visa: Yes
See visa section for current rules

Kazakhstan is the largest of the Central Asian countries and the ninth-largest in the world. Due to the size of the country, the landscape includes huge swathes of desert, steppe and mountains which makes it an excellent playground for adventurous travellers.

The ultra-modern city of Nur-Sultan (Astana) is the business hub and offers opportunities for shopping and fine dining, but the former capital Almaty is truly the beating heart of Kazakhstan. Here you can indulge in a range of outdoor activities from skiing, snowboarding, hiking, canyoning and more.

Almaty is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with many fine restaurants, cafe’s and bars. See my full Kazakhstan Travel Guide or backpacking in Kazakhstan guide for more.


Aktau is a small resort town on the Caspian Sea and the departure point for boats to Baku in Azerbaijan. It is so remote, that unless you plan on taking the Caspian Sea Ferry, it’s probably not worth the long trip to get there.

Things to see and do in Aktau

  • City Beaches
  • Lighthouse
  • Mangistau (day trip)


Cable Car, Almaty
Cable Car to Kok Tobe
Places to visit in Kazakhstan
Ascension Cathedral

Almaty is the charming former capital sitting in the shadows of the Tian Shan Mountains. From wine bars to winter sports and architecture to opera, there is something for everyone here.

Things to see and do in Almaty

  • Paniflov Park
  • Ascension Cathedral
  • Medeu Ice Rink
  • Charyn Canyon (day trip)
  • Kolsai Lakes (day trip)


Aralsk was once a thriving fishing port on the Aral Sea, but thanks to the rerouting of rivers for Soviet cotton farming, the inland sea is now miles from Aralsk (but thankfully slowly returning). Now all that is left are a few rusting ships and a town that has seen better days.


Home of the Russian space program, and technically considered part of Russia due to the lease, Baikonur is the fully operational launch site of manned and unmanned rockets. It’s even possible to witness a launch!


A small town not far from the capital, Karaganda is home of the Karlag gulag camp, the largest in Kazakhstan during soviet times. There is now an interesting museum at the site, and the town has a few things of interest such as some soviet murals.

Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana)

Kazakhstan’s shiny new capital lacks the soul and charm of Almaty, but is home to some interesting post-soviet architecture. Nur-Sultan is the place to find the most upmarket restaurants and the best shopping in the country and is a useful hub for travelling to and from Russia.


Shymkent is a small city close to the border with Uzbekistan. It is sometimes referred to as the “Texas of Kazakhstan” because of the large cattle farms and “cowboys”. The city is pleasant with some good bars and restaurants and makes a good base for hiking in the nearby mountains.


Turkistan is where you will find the best examples of Kazakhstan’s Silk Road past with its medieval Islamic architecture. It was here that Timur (Tamerlane) had a large mausoleum constructed for Islamic scholar Yasawi. The beautiful blue-tiled tomb is a must-see and is reminiscent of Samarkand.

Kyrgyzstan Travel Information

Central Asia Travel – Kyrgyzstan

Quick Facts
Capital: Bishkek
Language(s): Kyrgyz, Russian
Currency: Лв Som ($1 USD = Лв84.57)
Daily Budget: $40

Visa Info
Visa-free: Yes
Visa on arrival: Yes
E-visa: Yes

Wild Kyrgyzstan is Kazakhstan’s tiny and much poorer neighbour to the south, but although it lacks the vast oil wealth of its neighbour to the north, the country is rich in culture and boasts some of the most fantastic scenery in the world, such as Lake Issyk Kul.

Wander the world-famous Osh Bazaar which is full of the sights, smells and sounds of the Silk Road or take a trip trekking on horseback through the Fergana Valley or mountain passes of the High Pamir Mountains. The capital, Bishkek, makes a good base from which to explore this wild and enchanting land.


Kyrgyzstan’s bustling capital isn’t as modern as some of the others in Central Asia, but certainly retains its Silk Road charm! Here you will find bazaars and stalls shadowed by the ever-present Tian Shan Mountains.

Top thing to see and do in Bishkek

  • Osh Bazaar
  • Paniflov Park
  • Ala-Too Square

Note: Unfortunately, and unlike Central Asia’s more developed cities, Bishkek has a reputation for petty crime. It is not advisable to go out alone after dark, don’t flash expensive items and keep your belongings safe, especially around Osh Bazaar and on public transport. A Kyrgyz friend of mine was robbed while she slept in a marshrutka, so it is not only foreigners that are targeted.

Lake Issyk Kul

The jewel of Kyrgyzstan, Lake Issyk Kul covers more than 6,000 square kilometres. The lake was a popular tourist destination during soviet times and retains a few small resort areas that have seen better days. The mountainous landscapes around the lake however are stunning! The small city of Karakol on the eastern tip of Issyk Kul makes a good starting point for further exploration!

Tajikistan Travel Information

Central Asia Travel – Tajikistan

Quick Facts
Capital: Dushanbe
Language(s): Tajiki, Russian
Currency: SM ($1 USD = SM11.41)
Daily Budget: $40

Visa Info
Visa-free: No
Visa on arrival: Yes
E-visa: Yes

The Republic of Tajikistan is the wildest of all the countries in Central Asia and traditionally has been one of the more difficult to visit. Things are changing fast though and the government is keen to promote the country to adventure seekers and outdoors enthusiasts.

Tajikistan is a dream for hikers and mountain climbers with peaks rising to over 5,000 metres. Due to its proximity to next-door Afghanistan and a recent high-profile terrorist attack on cyclists, a degree of caution is required when travelling in some areas.


Although with a smaller population than Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe is a little more modern and tourist-friendly. The city is home to pleasant parks like Victory Park and has a good selection of bars and restaurants.

Top thing to see and do in Dushanbe

  • Rudaki Park
  • Somoni Statue
  • Fort Hissar
  • Victory Park
  • Zilioni Bazaar

The Pamir Highway

Pamir Highway
Pamir Highway in Tajikistan

The Pamir Highway (officially known as Highway M41) runs across much of Central Asia from Afghanistan, through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and into Kyrgyzstan. Driving (or even cycling) the Pamir Highway is absolutely one of the best ways to see these wild and untamed lands up close.

A trip on the Pamir Highway takes some planning as it really is a wild place with long distances between settlements. Ensure you have enough food and water and have a clear plan of where you will stay. A lightweight tent is a useful addition even if you don’t plan on camping.

Turkmenistan Travel Information

Ruhy Mosque, Ashgabat
Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, Ashgabat

Quick Facts
Capital: Ashgabat
Language(s): Turkmen, Russian
Currency: Manat ($1 USD = 3.5 MNT)
Daily Budget: $200

Visa Info
Visa-free: No
Visa on arrival: No
E-visa: No
Applications to: Nearest Embassy

The Republic of Turkmenistan is the most intriguing of all the “Stans” due to its secretive past (and present) as a “hermit “state similar to North Korea. Turkmenistan is truly a strange country and the marbled capital Ashgabat has been described as like Las Vegas on steroids, which is not far wrong on an aesthetic level at least.

If you can get hold of the notoriously difficult Turkmen visa, then the country is well worth exploring for its historic sites such as Konye Urgench. The highlight of any trip to Turkmenistan has to be the infamous “Door to Hell“, or Darvaza Gas Crater in the middle of the Karakum Desert.

It is very difficult to visit Turkmenistan as an independent tourist; the only way this can be done is with a transit visa, which means you must enter and exit the country at different points. Most people who visit take a guided tour, which isn’t cheap (around $1,000) for four days), but totally worth it for such a unique experience.


The capital of Turkmenistan really is a very strange city. If you mixed ancient Rome with Las Vegas you might get something of an idea of Ashgabat. The city was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1948 and has since been reconstructed in white marble shipped from Italy.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of interest including the large soviet memorial park, Ruhy mosque, city cable car and spotless, empty streets! Be careful where you point your camera and make sure not to snap any government buildings, officials or police (if in doubt, ask your guide or a policeman)!

Top thing to see and do in Ashgabat

  • Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque
  • Kopet Dag Cableway
  • Independence Park
  • Giant (opening) Ruhnama
  • National Museum
  • Memorial Park


The reason many tourists make the difficult journey to Turkmenistan is to gaze into the fiery abyss of the Darvaza Gas Crater (also known as the Door to Hell). This large, burning pit in the middle of the Karakum Desert exists thanks to a drilling accident in 1971. When geologists set the natural gas ablaze, little did they realise that it would continue burning strong for forty years!

It is possible to camp next to the crater on many tours of Turkmenistan. Eating barbeque overlooking Darvaza as the sun sets has to be one of the most unique travel experiences there is!

Konye Urgench

Konye Urgench is a well-preserved ancient city of the Khorezm Empire and is located close to the Amu Darya (Oxus) River near the border with Uzbekistan. here you will find a selection of mosques, madrassas and mausoleums, plus the tall Kutlug Timur minaret leaning precariously over the site!


Yerbent Desert Village is a small settlement between Ashgabat and Darvaza on the edge of the Karakum Desert. If you are lucky, you will see camels wandering between the rusting soviet jeeps and nomadic yurts.

See the Turkmenistan page for more information.

Uzbekistan Travel Information

Registan Square, Samarkand
Sherdor Madrassa, Registan Square, Samarkand

Quick Facts
Capital: Tashkent
Language(s): Uzbek, Russian
Currency: Som ($1 USD = 10,600)
Daily Budget: $50

Visa Info
Visa-free: Yes
Visa on arrival: Yes
E-visa: Yes

The Republic of Uzbekistan offers some of the finest history and architecture in all of Central Asia. The cities of Bukhara, Khiva and of course Samarkand are home to some of the most magnificent medieval architecture in the world. The capital, Tashkent, is a pleasant city with leafy suburbs filled with colourful, wooden Izby houses that remind of the country’s ties to Russia.

For those seeking a little more adventure, a trip to Termiz in the far south of the country will be rewarded with some ancient Buddhist ruins, not to mention being as close as it’s possible to get to Afghanistan across the Amu Darya (Oxus) River.


The ancient city of Bukhara has a history dating back over 2,000 years and was an important trading hub within Central Asia. The city is home to some of the most stunning examples of medieval Islamic architecture with its yellow-bricked madrassas and shimmering blue domes.

Top thing to see and do in Bukhara

  • Kalyan Minaret
  • Ark Citadel
  • Plaza Labi Havz
  • Samani Mausoleum
  • Kukeldash Madrassa


Another important Silk Road settlement alongside the better known Bukhara and Samarkand, Khiva is well worth a visit for its walled ancient city.

Top thing to see and do in Khiva

  • Kalta Minor Minaret
  • Tash Chauli Palace
  • Medieval Baths
  • Ichon-Qala (Khiva Old City)
  • City Walls


Samarkand is the most famous of Uzbekistan’s ancient cities and was once the seat of the Timurid empire led by Timur, or Tamerlane as we know him in the West. The city is centred around Registan Square which houses three large madrassas, or Islamic schools.

Top thing to see and do in Samarkand

  • Registan Square
  • Tilla Kari Madrassa
  • Sherdor Madrassa
  • Ulugbek Madrassa
  • Bibi Khanym Mausoleum
  • Gur e Amir Mausoleum
  • Amur Timur Statue


Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent isn’t as flashy as say Nur-Sultan and has a much more provincial feel to it. Old Russian wooden houses line the sleepy suburbs, and the centre is home to a decent selection of parks, museums, restaurants and bars.

Top thing to see and do in Tashkent

  • Tashkent Old Town
  • Amur Timur Museum
  • Assumption Orthodox Cathedral
  • Climb the TV Tower
  • See the massive soviet Hotel Uzbekistan


Termiz is a small town right on the border with Afghanistan, across the Amu Darya (Oxus) River. The place has a very wild west feel to it and is a haven for smugglers taking contraband in and out of the war-torn country. There are also a lot of troops stationed nearby. For those heading to Mazar-i-Sharif, this is where you will cross the border.

Top thing to see and do in Termiz

  • Amu Darya River
  • Friendship Bridge
  • Hakan Al Termizi Mausoleum

See the Uzbekistan page for more information.

Central Asia Travel – Getting Around

One of the best things about backpacking Central Asia is that public transport is cheap and there is a good network making travelling to and from each of the countries very easy.

In the future, we can expect the land borders to open again making Central Asia travel a lot easier. There are train, bus and marshrutka routes crossing between all of the Stans.

Below are some of the main routes:

Money and Costs

Yerbent, Turkmenistan
Backpacking the Stans – Yerbent, Turkmenistan

With the exception of Turkmenistan, Central Asia travel is inexpensive by world standards. Travel, accommodation and food are all much cheaper than in Europe or the USA.

A budget of $40 per day is fine for backpacking Central Asia if you will be staying in hostels, travelling by slow trains/bus and eating at modest establishments.

A budget of $60 would allow for a cheap but comfortable hotel room, travelling by fast train (in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) and eating at more upmarket places.

Money-Saving Tips for Backpacking Central Asia

Central Asia has plenty of hostels in the larger cities and prices start at around $12.00 per night. In the smaller towns it’s possible to get a hotel room for the same price as a hostel, though it may be very basic. See for some great deals on accommodation.

In Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the old slow trains can cost up to 60% less than a ticket on the new fast trains and are perfectly comfortable for an overnight journey outside of the summer (no air-con).

Long-distance buses make a good alternative to the trains and ply many of the same routes.

Food in Central Asia

Food in Central Asia is pretty heavy with lots of meat and lots of carbs. Plov (pilov) which is a dish made of rice, meat and carrots can be found across the region alongside staples such as shashlik (grilled skewers of lamb, chicken or horse) and assorted pastry dishes.

Horse meat is widely consumed in Kazakhstan and lamb is popular across Central Asia. Off the beaten track and in nomadic communities you will find goat meat in many dishes.

For vegetarians and vegans it’s not all bad news, as you can find fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and pulses in the bazaars. There are also many different types of bread baked across the region (in Uzbekistan especially, bread is considered sacred so try not to drop it).

As well as traditional foods dating back to nomadic times, you will also find a lot of Russian dishes in Central Asia.

Some famous Central Asian dishes include:

  • Plov – rice with meat (usually lamb and sometimes goat) and carrots
  • Shashlik – grilled meat skewers, usually served with raw onion and dill
  • Beshbarmak – boiled noodles and meat (lamb or horse)
  • Manti – dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables
  • Lagman – a dish of noodles, meat and vegetables
  • Samsa – meat pastry a little like a samosa
  • Kovurma – finely chopped meat fried in its own fat

Central Asia Hostels

Sky Hostel, Almaty

Apple Hotel, Bishkek

When is the Best Time to Travel in Central Asia?

The skiing season runs from November until late March, but Shymbulak is a great destination all year round. Outside of winter the area is perfect for outdoor activities from hiking and picnics to horse riding.

Remember that the temperature will be a lot colder than in the city, even in summer.

Is Central Asia Safe?

Central Asia is a wild region with huge distances between cities. Although the roads are steadily improving and the old soviet era trains are being replaced with new rolling stock, the infrastructure remains behind that of most western countries.

Central Asia is overall a very safe place to travel, but the deserts and mountains can pose a hazard for unprepared tourists. Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance cover before departing and if you will be heading into the mountains to ski or hike be sure that these activities are covered.

If hiking in spring and summer there is a danger from ticks carrying encephalitis and other diseases. These can be found across the region and particularly in the Almaty area.

Our partners at SafetyWing provide cover for travellers, backpackers and Digital Nomads. Get a quote here and ensure you have the proper cover for your trip.

Security Situation

Update February 2022: In January 2022 violent protests erupted across Kazakhstan, notably in the western city of Aktau and the former capital Almaty. Russian and other peacekeeping troops were sent in to help quell the violence. Thankfully as of February, things have calmed down and the peacekeeping forces have been withdrawn.

Avoid any and all political gatherings, protests and large crowds.

Update May 2021: In early May 2021 there was sporadic fighting around the Kyrgyz and Tajik border leaving 19 people dead, avoid the Batken area. Tensions at the Kyrgyz and Uzbek border mean this is also closed to foreigners. If you plan on travelling in Central Asia at the present time then flying between countries is the only safe option.


I’ve travelled Central Asia many times over the past four years and the only scam I ever fall foul of (repeatedly) is where taxi drivers demand double, triple, or in some cases 10x what was agreed. This seems to be worse the farther off the beaten track you are (such as Aktau & Aral in Kazakhstan and Termiz in Uzbekistan). It’s certainly less of a problem in the larger cities. You can read more in my guide to safety in Kazakhstan.

Try and avoid exchanging currencies at the borders unless you can check the rate online and make sure you count everything as those dear old babushkas aren’t as innocent as they look.

Packing List for Central Asia Travel

Sturdy backpack

Hiking boots

Money belt

Lifestraw or filter bottle

Swiss Army Knife*

Lightweight tent

Warm layers


Travel adapter

First aid kit

Personal medication**

*You won’t be able to take a Swiss Army Knife into China’s Xinjiang Province, but the rest of Central Asia should be fine.

**Uzbekistan has tight rules on what medicines can be brought into the country. Check this list before you pack!

Further Reading

Check out my list of the Best Travel Memoirs, many of which include journeys through Central Asia. Below are some particularly good choices.

Shadow of the Silk Road – Colin Thubron

In Xanadu – William Dalrymple

In Search of Kazakhstan – Christopher Robbins

The Travels of Marco Polo – Rustichello da Pisa

We hope you have found this guide to backpacking Central Asia and the Stans useful. Now really is the best time to discover this often-overlooked region!

Frequently Asked Questions

What Countries are in Central Asia?

Central Asia usually refers to the five former Soviet “Stans” of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Parts of Afghanistan, China and Mongolia can also be considered to fall within Central Asia.

What is the main religion in Central Asia?

Islam is the dominant religion across the region. Due to the sizable Russian population of Central Asia, Orthodox Christianity is also practiced as well as Buddhism and Shamanism.

What Language is Spoken in the Stans?

Each of the Stans has its own Turkic language, with Russian widely used and understood (and in the cases of Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan is recognized as the official language alongside Kazakh and Kyrgyz).

Is Central Asia Safe to Visit?

Most of the countries within Central Asia are very safe with low levels of crime against foreigners. Obviously, Afghanistan is an exception and fighting can spill over the borders, so these areas should be avoided.

Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

About the author:

Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has traveled to over 60 countries, lived in Armenia, China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.

Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of the world by train, bus and boat. He has been interviewed multiple times by the BBC and recently featured in the documentary Scariest Places in the World. See the About page for more info.

Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲

2 thoughts on “Backpacking Central Asia – A Guide to the Stans for 2023

  1. Sharon says:

    Traveling to any of the Stans really offer a great sense of adventure. Thanks for the money saving tips. It would be more interesting though if you include some pics. But still a great post overall.

    • steve says:

      Thank you for your comment Sharon! Initially I included lots of photos but then the pages load slower so I’m trying to find the right balance. I’ll look to adding a few more though! Best wishes, Steve

Comments are closed.