The trail of the Silk Road runs long and wide, through scorching deserts and over freezing mountain passes. If you are on a long overland trip spanning several thousands of kilometers, it will be impossible to time for the best weather everywhere. The perfect trip does not exist, weather-wise, unless you go very quick or very slow.
Therefore, determine what destinations, events and activities are most important to you, and aim to be on the spot at the right time.
Short season round-up
November – February: It’s the time for winter sports, like skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating, but also eagle hunting and buzkashi.
March: Weather-wise, late March – early April is the best time to visit Uzbekistan and Southern Tajikistan, as well as Turkmenistan’s Karakum, which then experiences a short blossom.
April – May – June: Late April – early May is when the hillsides of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan blossom, most notably the tulips of Aksu-Zhabagly. It is also the time of the bird migration to Siberia over Central Asia, best viewed on the lakes of Kazakhstan. Snow above 2000m will not have disappeared before mid-May, when shepherds start to slowly head for the jailoo.
July – August: July and August is the time for mountaineering and high-altitude trekking. It’s also when most festivals happen.
September – October: This is the best time to visit for foodies, as the bazaars are overflowing with superb quality produce. It’s less hot in the lowlands but still good for trekking at lower altitudes.
The best time to be in …
A quick overview of best times to be in the region – for a more detailed view, see the links to the country-specific pages at the bottom.
The mountains: Want to go hiking, or drive the Pamir Highway? The best time for anything above 3000m is July and August for the Tien Shan, Pamir and Fann ranges, as well as the Altai, the Caucasus mountains and the mountain ranges in Turkey. Add an extra month on each side of the season for the lower altitudes. For skiing, the best of the season is to be had from December to March.
Northern Kazakhstan – Siberia – Mongolia: There are 2 times to visit this region. In the brief summer, from June to September, when temperatures are pleasant for camping and horse riding; or in the long winter, when life continues all the same, despite the bitter cold. Summer is the obvious choice here, but winter is possible too – the steppes do not suffer from the same transport and energy problems the mountains have – and the experience will be all the more memorable. Mountainous regions are very difficult to visit in winter, though.
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan: March to May and September to November are the best times to visit climate-wise. In Uzbekistan, this is the time when the majority of visitors come and sites can feel crowded. In the winter months, temperatures hover around freezing point, and you have the place to yourself. Summer brings heat, ranging from unpleasant to unbearable.
Iran: February-May and September-December are best for Central Iran. Choose February and December if you can’t stand the heat, May and September if you like it hot. Peak tourist season is the time around Nauruz (21st of March), when weather is pleasant and interesting events happen, but it is also the busiest and most expensive time. Spring is preferable to autumn as a flush of green lights up the landscape; after summer, a dreary brown dominates.
The Northwest and West of Iran are more temperate during summer and actually cold in the winter; in the South, the winter months are the only time the weather is pleasant instead of terribly hot and humid.
The Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are year-round destinations with a similar climate to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, without the oppressive summer heat of the desert. The mountains can be skied in winter and hiked in summer, while the cultural visitor will enjoy fall and spring as the best time for city-ambling and church-hopping. The cycling season runs from April to October.
Turkey: If you’re not looking to sunbathe, Turkey’s coastline is great from late fall to early spring – cultural sites are empty and prices and temperatures are lower. Istanbul is always buzzing, but you can only escape the cruise ship tourists in the same period as on the coast – late fall to early spring. The only place in Turkey where high summer is a better time to visit is the far east of Kurdistan: Van, Ani, Erzurum – a place like Kars (“Snow”) did not steal its name – are best visited after May.
Route timing suggestions
Here’s an example of route timing for overlanders. Many, many other options are possible, this is just to get you thinking!
Istanbul to Ulan Bator overland – 6 months
With 6 months, you have to make some tough choices. How about this? Take an early spring start in Istanbul on 1st of March and immediately cross the Anatolian heartland into the Caucusus or Iran. The prices and the wealth of things to see and do make an extended stay in the Caucasus and Iran a good idea (eg. mid March – mid June). Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are more difficult and expensive to visit and have a smaller variety of things on offer – 2 weeks to 1 month for both combined suffices for the average visitor (eg. mid June – early July). By this time, all the snow has melted on the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and it becomes a hiker’s delight. Take on Western China in the full heat, and arrive in Ulan Bator for a horse ride in the Indian summer at the end of 6 months.