Backpacking Central Asia – A Guide to the Stans for 2022

Central Asia Travel

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”!

Update June 2021: Travel in Central Asia travel is becoming possible again as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are all open for tourists who follow the latest health rules (more on that below). Afghanistan, China and Turkmenistan remain closed to tourists, likely until 2023 at the earliest.


Quick Guide to Backpacking the Stans

*Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, which means should you click and purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.


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 practised 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.


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.


Afghanistan Travel Information

Afghanistan
Central Asia Travel – Afghanistan

Quick Facts
Capital: Kabul
Language(s): Pashto, Dari
Currency: ؋ Afghani ($1 USD = ؋78.50)
Daily Budget: $50

Visa Info
Visa-free: No
Visa on arrival: No
E-visa: No
Apply at: Nearest embassy

Afghanistan remains an enigma to many thanks to years of conflict. From the Soviet and American invasions, the takeover of the Taliban and local tribal conflicts, the country has suffered much over the past forty years. Although not considered a tourist destination, adventurous travellers are still lured by the appeal of a true wild frontier.

Travel to Afghanistan is effectively travel in a warzone and those wishing to do so should conduct thorough research and employ the help of local guides and security specialists (this is more true now due to the imminent troop withdrawals coming up in September 2021 which could see further destabilisation).

Mazar-i-Sharif

For those just wishing to dip their foot into the country, Mazar-i-Sharif is a good option. It is only 100km from Termiz in Uzbekistan and is easily reachable from there. Mazar has escaped the worst of the fighting and is not controlled by the Taliban, though that’s not to say that this could not change at any moment.

Top things to see and do in Mazar-i-Sharif

  • The Blue Mosque (Shrine of Hazrat Ali)
  • City Bazaars
  • Balkh

For more information on travel in Afghanistan, I suggest you head over to Alex at Lost with Purpose as she has one of the most comprehensive guides to the country there is.


Western China Travel Information

Mosque in Xinjiang
Backpacking Central Asia – Xinjiang Province, China

Quick Facts
Capital: Beijing
Language(s): Mandarin
Currency: ¥ Yuan ($1 USD = ¥6.45)
Daily Budget: $40

Visa Info
Visa-free: No
Visa on arrival: No
E-visa: No
Apply at: Nearest embassy

Only the far western reaches of China’s Xinjiang Province are considered part of Central Asia. The population is mostly made up of the Uighurs; Muslims of Turkish origin. This troubled region has a heavy police and army presence due to the Uighur separatist movement calling for an independent East Turkestan, which Beijing has tried to crush with relative success.

Although travel in Xinjiang comes with its own set of annoyances, the region is wild and beautiful and hugely rewarding for the intrepid traveller! Unlike Tibet, no special permission is required to travel in Xinjiang, however you will need a Chinese visa, and when applying it is probably best not to indicate an intention to visit the area.

Dunhuang

Crescent Moon Lake, Dunhuang
Crescent Moon Lake
Gobi Desert, Dunhaung, Silk Road, China
Camels on the Silk Road in China

Dunhuang is an ancient Silk Road settlement where caravanserai used to stop on their route to and from Europe. Here you can find the famous Crescent Moon Lake; an oasis in the desert that has somehow retained its shape regardless of the shifting sands.

Top things to see and do in Dunhuang

  • Crescent Moon Lake
  • Echoing Sand Mountain
  • Mogao Caves
  • Shazhou Night Market
  • White Horse Pagoda

Kashgar

The city of Kashgar has was another important trading stop on the Silk Road and definitely feels more Central Asian than Chinese. Kashgar is also a good starting point for entering both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan from China.

Things to see and do in Kashgar

  • Old Town
  • Bazaars
  • Id Kah Mosque
  • Tomb of Apak Hoja

Urumqi

Urumqi is not a tourist destination in and of itself. Aside from one or two pleasant temples and parks, the city is a polluted concrete jungle with seriously tight security. Urumqi is however a good base for exploring the beautiful landscapes and lakes nearby. Urumqi is also the starting point for trips to nearby Kazakhstan and there is a daily bus and twice-weekly train to Almaty.

Things to see and do in Urumqi

  • Hongshan Park
  • The Grand Bazaar
  • Confucius Temple
  • Tomb of Apak Hoja

See the China page for more information.


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

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)

Almaty

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
  • Charyn Canyon (day trip)
  • Kolsai Lakes (day trip)

Aralsk

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.

Baikonur

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!

Karaganda

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

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

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.

See the Kazakhstan page for more information.


Kyrgyzstan Travel Information

Kyryzstan
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.

Bishkek

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

Tajikistan
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.

Dushanbe

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.

Ashgabat

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

Darvaza

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

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.

Bukhara

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

Khiva

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

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

Tashkent

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

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.



Visa Information for Central Asia Travel (Updated February 2022)

Afghanistan Entry Requirements

Since the withdrawal of US troops and the takeover of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s security situation has deteriorated significantly. Due to this, it is not recommended to visit the country at present.

Open for tourism: No

Visa-free: No

Visa on Arrival: No

E-visa: No

LOI Required: Yes

Where to Apply for Visa: your nearest Afghan embassy*

*The Afghan embassy in Dubai is the easiest place to obtain a visa for Afghanistan

Negative PCR Required: Yes (72-hour validity)

Quarantine Required: No


China Entry Requirements

Closed for tourism, likely until 2023.

For those already in China, travel to Xinjiang is possible. No additional permit is required other than a green health code.


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

Closed for tourism until further notice.


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


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 Trip.com 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 World Nomads specialise in insurance for adventurous destinations and you can get a free no-obligation quote on their website. Insurance is a must when backpacking Central Asia.

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.

Scams

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

Waterproofs

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!


Steve Rohan

About the author: Steve Rohan, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang, the tropical paradise of Sanya and Hong Kong.

He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.

2 thoughts on “Backpacking Central Asia – A Guide to the Stans for 2022

  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

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