Turkmenistan travel isn't easy; an escorted tour is the only way to experience the harsh desert and unforgiving countryside of this off-beat, unconventional destination.
The capital Ashgabat is a modern city full of monuments. Its Sunday market is still the best place to buy traditional carpets though. Due east is Mary, which lies close to the remains of Merv, the ancient second city of Islam that is still littered with archaeological treasures. Elsewhere, Darvaza is a small town at the heart of the Karakum Desert, a strange sea of sand pitted with gas craters, where its residents eke out a semi-nomadic lifestyle; you can stay in traditional yurts and enjoy local hospitality.
Travel to Bakharden to see the underground lake Kov-Ata, situated below the slopes of the Kopet Dag mountains. Alternatively journey to the Repetek Desert Reserve, where air temperatures of more than 50°C have been recorded, to see strange reptiles and lizards or the impressive, pristine Kugitang Nature Reserve, where rare markhor mountain goats can be found amidst the country's highest peaks, deep canyons, thick forests and caves; Explore Dinosaur Plateau here to see ancient footprints cemented into the mud by the baking sun.