During the years of plenty, Turkmenistan’s government built a boatload of mid-range and luxury hotels across the country; a bit soulless, but perfectly fine in terms of service and amenities. Unless you are going into the desert camping, this is where you will usually stay on a tourist visa.
For budget travelers hurrying through Turkmenistan on a transit visa, there are still some cheap hotels left that take in foreigners (forum thread). If your wallet does not allow for even those, you will need to save money camping, couchsurfing and sleeping on overnight trains.
For general tips on toilets, hospitality, breakfast and a selection of top places to stay on the Silk Road, see the overview page.
Couchsurfing is probably illegal in Turkmenistan. We are not sure. In any case, on a transit visa, it is possible, there are people hosting travelers, and we have only heard of 1 person getting their host in trouble.
However, if you have friends in Turkmenistan (or, God forbid, a girlfriend), do not visit them more than once or twice in their home. Rather meet them in a public place. Remember that you are being watched, and that you can get your friends, and the tour operator who is responsible for you, into serious trouble (we speak from experience).
Trains and buses
Overnight trains in Turkmenistan, for instance from Ashgabat to Turkmenbashi or Turkmenabat, are good ways to keep some money in your pocket, save time and get a good night’s sleep all at once. You can do this on a transit or a tourist visa. Trains are clean and comfortable, and a great place to meet locals and talk freely.
Overnight buses? No.
The desert is always most beautiful when the sun is low, and camping in the Karakum is a must if your body allows it. Places like the Door to Hell and Yangikala Canyon lend themselves perfectly for overnight camping, and if you are going on a big desert tour, you will do even more of it.
If you are on a transit visa, you can rent a tent at Darwaza to camp near the burning crater, but elsewhere, you need to have your own gear. With organised trips, the tour operator will take care of everything. Guides and gear are professional: you will definitely not be cold.
Spiders, scorpions and snakes are always a danger in the desert, but they tend to be scared of humans. We have not heard of a tourist getting stung or bitten, so consider it a small risk.
Homestays in Turkmenistan exist! You can enjoy a village meal and a village chat in the idiosyncratic mountain hamlet Nokhur. It’s definitely worth a stopover if you are on the way: you do not get many chances to engage with village life in Turkmenistan.
If you want to meet some really different people, you should ask to visit one of the small settlements deep in the desert. Cannot strictly call it a homestay though, as you will be camping.
Airbnb, apartment rental & hostels
The renting economy is not legal in Turkmenistan. Hostels do not exist either.
The price for hotels is the same for foreigners and locals, only that they have to pay in different currencies: if it’s 100$ for you, it’s 100 manat for locals. In practice this means that many hotels are somewhat overpriced for foreigners, but a good deal for locals. No point in complaining, that’s just the way it is.
For 80-90$, you can get a double in a 4-star hotel. If you have more money to spend, there are some surprisingly luxurious options in Ashgabat and Avaza. On a budget, rather pay 10$ more to stay in a new mid-price hotel for 60$, than stay at a scary ancient Soviet hotel for 50$. The difference in quality is huge and you will be happy to have spent the money.
Except for a few hotels working under the radar, hotels must always be paid in dollars.
As a tourist, your tour operator will book all the hotels for you. On a transit visa, you need to book yourself. Most hotels cannot be booked online. Some hotels cannot be booked at all in advance, only on the day itself can you call. In Avaza, all hotels are booked out weeks in advance by locals in July and August. The rest of the year you have the place to yourself.
You can book your hotels in Turkmenistan through us. Guvanch, our rock-steady partner in Turkmenistan, will help you. He is flexible and understands different people have different needs.