AnurTour – top notch, highly recommended
Travelled with them 28 Sept to 9 Oct 2017
Desktop due diligence stage - 5
Not a fan of organized travel myself, but having decided to take my parents and my aunt (all >60) to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for my mom’s 70th birthday, realized I’d have to be realistic about the logistics thus I decided on a private tour. Did some research online and chose AnurTour due to excellent reviews and prompt response. I tried to call a few other tour operators, and AnurTour was the only one that had a salesperson who answered my call immediately, and in fluent English as well.
Planning stage - 5
Excellent reviews and prompt response go a long way, yet it’s their flexibility that earned them five stars. I always travelled independently in the last twenty years (except once with another organized group in Kamchatka but that’s a totally different story as it only offered fixed itineraries so you’ll see why). I’ve already had a list of places in mind for ages before this trip coz I’ve been planning a trip there for over a decade. So I asked them to include all the cities/towns/sights I named, they came up with an itinerary in no time, along with all the estimated journey time re car rides and the domestic flights, which was priceless, because info from the few online sources regarding the domestic flights and the actual journey time by car was often wrong as I found out later. They also arranged the drivers and vehicles, hotels and visa application etc. As I previously planned to travel independently, logistics in the stans was one of the key risk areas I identified after years of planning. AnurTour came up with a viable plan very quickly and all the planning, booking and visa application went smoothly.
Costing - 5
We were only required to wire them a small % of the total amount due before arrival. Couldn’t be bothered to check hotel prices since hotels they booked were reasonably nice it didn’t feel like a rip-off at all.
AnurTour also suggested us to use different local guides in different regions to help cut costs, probably one of the main reasons why I found the price reasonable.
Prices are very reasonable everywhere if you haggle well for souvenirs but that’s up to you not the company.
Staffing – 5
Most of the guides arranged were friendly and knowledgeable, all of them spoke fluent English. Most drivers seemed reliable too. Main problem was that the guides didn’t usually travel with us inter-city, and the drivers didn’t speak very good English. So, the inter-city logistics was confusing at times. Although Elina, our organizer, was very responsive, we couldn’t reasonably expect her to pick up our calls 24-7, bad reception didn’t help either. I was going to deduct one star but added 1.0 back because a) the arrangement helped save so the confusion in logistics was kinda inevitable $; b) confusion provided an added sense of adventure coz we did get some alone time; and c) our guide in Bukhara happened to be the sister of the chef of Doston House, a famous restaurant, which we wouldn’t have found if not for her (booking recommended).
Itinerary – 5
Their itinerary included all the places I wanted to visit, seemed hectic in the beginning, but our group of four aged 70, 69, 62 and 34 coped comfortably.
28 Sep Arrival in Tashkent – connection flight to Nukus – 6 hr to and fro Muynak, overnight in Nukus
29 Sep 3hr drive to Khiva in the morning, overnight in Khiva
30 Sep Morning transfer to Turkmen border, lunch near Kunya Urgench, 2hr tour there then drive to Darvaza gas crater (bumpy long ride watch out), overnight there in tents
1 Oct morning drive to Ashgabat, arrive for lunch then half day tour, overnight in Ashgabat
2 Oct Ashgabat, overnight in Ashgabat
3 Oct early morning flight to Mary, tour the ancient city of Merv, lunch at Uzbek border, drive to Bukhara, overnight in Bukhara
4 Oct Bukhara, overnight in Bukhara
5 Oct Bukhara, overnight in Bukhara
6 Oct early morning departure for Shahrisabz, 1hr tour, 0.5hr free time + 1hr lunch then drive to Samarkand, overnight in Samarkand
7 Oct Samarkand, overnight in Samarkand
8 Oct Samarkand until mid-afternoon, train to Tashkent, overnight in Tashkent
9 Oct Full day in Tashkent
10 Oct departed on 0105 flight
Before you go
- The campsite at Darvaza seemed to be run by the Turkmen government or even if not, collectively by some ministry. AnurTour didn’t seem to have much control over the quality of the camping equipment . Tents and sleeping bags could be faulty or dirty or both. If not constrained by luggage allowance please consider bring your own sleeping bags for Darvaza
- Most of the hotels were nice and centrally located, but the one they booked me in Samarkand was a bit far from the centre, do ask for a central location if you wanted to do morning strolls with your tripod
- For Khiva, they booked me into the Orient Star hotel. It was absolutely stunning and it occupied a former madrasa and was right next to the famous half minaret. Do your own research, if it’s your cup of tea, do insist on staying there. I’d travelled Iran before in 2011, they did have some nice caravanserai hotels but not madrasa, neither in Morocco in 2009 (it could be because I was on a very tight budget on that trip though, only tried one decent riad)
- Keep everything piece of paper they give you at the customs, every certificate re carpets or special items you bought esp. in Trukmenistan, and every receipt/cert they give you when you change money. You will need them at some point.
- Turkmen currency highly illiquid outside the country, no exchange/bank would take it not even in Uzbekistan
If AnurTour could have pointed these out before our trip, I would have raised their rating from a well- deserved five star to a, I don’t know, a perfect five? Anyway, thank you very much AnurTour and Elina, the elders were very happy with the trip.