Getting there & away
You can enter Turkmenistan by boat from Azerbaijan.
Visitors with visas can enter Turkmenistan from all bordering countries, although the borders with Uzbekistan and Iran are the most frequently used. There are no international train or bus services to or from Turkmenistan at the present time. You should reckon at one to two hours for crossing the border at any point in the country (although three hours is not unheard of). All land borders are open from 9am to 6pm daily.
Serkhetabat (formerly known as Gushgi) is the border town with Afghanistan. Crossing here is now a fairly hassle-free prospect, although be prepared to be thoroughly searched by both Turkmen and Afghan border guards. If you arrive late it’s OK to overnight with a local family as there are no hotels in town.
The border post is 3km south of Serkhetabat town. Leaving Turkmenistan, there’s a 1.5km walk to the first Afghan village of Torghundi and it’s a two-hour taxi journey onwards to Herat. If you are coming to Turkmenistan, you’ll need to catch a ride from Herat (US$20 in a shared vehicle) to Torghundi. Here you need to pay an US$11 customs fee at a bank in town (2km south of the border), or you might be able to pay an extra US$4 to the border guard to do this for you.
The Saparmurat border crossing near Kerki is used by UN staff, but was not recommended for independent travellers at the time of writing.
The simplest exit point is Gaudan/Bajgiran, due south of Ashgabat and a corridor between the Kopet Dag into Iran. From Ashgabat, take a taxi (US$10 to US$15) for the 20km ride to Yablonovka checkpoint. Here you’ll have your passport checked, after which you take a marshrutka shuttle to the border. Once through, it’s a taxi (US$2.50) across some 20km of no-man’s-land to Bajgiran where you can get buses or taxis (US$20, 4 hours) to Mashhad.
From Turkmenbashi there is a good road to Karabogas (formerly Bekdash), with spectacular views of the Caspian Sea and the Karabogas Basin. En route you cross a bridge that spans the 5km long channel which connects the Caspian Sea and the inland gulf. The distance between the bridge and Karabogas town is around 60km.
Karabogas is a nearly abandoned Soviet industrial city, filled with vacant apartment blocks gutted for anything usable. The city is surrounded by surreal-looking salt lakes; the remnants of a once profitable sodium sulphate business gone belly up. From here is a 40-minute drive to the border on a rough dirt track.
Marshrutki (US$40 per car) go from Turkmenbashi to the Kazakh border and continue to Zhanaozen (Novy Uzen), where there is further transport to Aktau. Delays at the border can occur when caravans of traders appear together. Rather than wait for all the taxis to get through, it might be faster to get a lift to the border, walk across and then look for another ride on the Kazakh side. You should be able to get a ride from the Kazakh border to Zhanaozen (US$50, two hours), with a little patience.
There are three crossings from Uzbekistan. Each crossing requires a walk of about 10 to 20 minutes across no-man’s-land. Shared taxis are sometimes available to shuttle travellers across; the cost of which ranges from US$0.50 to US$1. Whether they are operating or not when you visit is a matter of luck.
The Farab crossing is closest to Bukhara (Uzbekistan) and Turkmenabat (Turkmenistan). The 45-km taxi ride to Farab from Turkmenabat should cost US$4 to US$6 for a taxi (or US$0.50 for a seat in a shared taxi). From the border, take a taxi (US$8) to Bukhara, or hire a taxi as far as Uzbek Olot (or Qarakul), where you can change to a shared taxi.
Less used is the Khojeli crossing, a 10-minute taxi ride (US$1) from Konye-Urgench. Once across the border it’s a half-hour drive to Nukus in Karakalpakstan. A taxi from Konye-Urgench to the border is around US$1. From the border, take public transport to Khojeli (US$1) or a taxi all the way to Nukus (US$7).
On entering the country, it’s likely that your bags will be searched, although backpacks are rarely emptied – they prefer to use an X-ray machine. The numerous documents to be filled out are time consuming; pay close attention to the green Entry Travel Pass and the immigration card. There is also a customs declaration – list anything valuable you have with you and make sure it is stamped and that you keep a copy. On exit you’ll need to fill out a second one, but be ready to show the original as well. Upon exiting some travellers have been asked to show the pictures on their digital camera – this is not the time to be caught with a flash card full of bridges, airports, government buildings and military bases.
The only international airport in Turkmenistan is Saparmurat Turkmenbashi Airport (37 84 11) in Ashgabat.