10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan

Updated October 2021, 10 Reasons To Visit Tajikistan was originally written in December 2016

Untouched, unspoiled, and unrivaled, Tajikistan is an oddly shaped, mountainous, landlocked country. Squished between Afghanistan to the south, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and Uzbekistan to the west. A country unknown to most of the outside world that I chose to visit exactly for that reason.

Those that make it to this little-known corner of the world to visit Tajikistan will be greatly rewarded. If you’re just starting to plan your visit, I recommend picking up a copy of Bradt’s newly updated Tajikistan guidebook.


Start planning your visit to Tajikistan: The Ultimate Tajikistan Travel Guide


1. The Mountains

Gora Chapdara, Chapdara, Fann Mountains, Alovaddin Lake, Alauddin Lake, Tajikistan, 10 reasons to visit tajikistan, Fann Mountains Guide

Tajikistan is 93% mountainous, making it one of the most mountainous countries in the world. 100% are bound to leave you breathless and I mean that literally and figuratively- much of the country sits at high elevations, so that lack oxygen is very real. Home to the bulk of the famed Pamir Mountains, as well as the Fann Mountains, Zeravshan Range, Aktau Range, and Shokhdara Mountains just to name a few…

2. The Lakes

Lake Alovaddin, Lake Alauddin, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan, Central Asia, Sughd, Pamir Altai,

IskanderkulKhafrazdara Lake, Karakul, Haft KulLake Sarez, Zor-Kul, Alovaddin & Kulikalon LakesTimur Dara…. I could keep going all day.

Tajikistan is packed full of beautiful lakes.

Best tip: Always be awake for sunrise if you’re at a lake in Tajikistan, the perfect mirror of mountain reflections and the golden colors of the rising sun are to die for.

3. One of the World’s Greatest Road Trips

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The locals nicknamed it Bam-i-Dunya, meaning ‘The Roof of the World’- this is the Pamir Highway or the M41. Just slightly lower in elevation than Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway, this is one of the world’s grandest adventures whether you drive it or cycle it.  

The Pamir Highway will take you up and over high altitude passes surrounded by jagged peaks and dotted with villages full of some of the most hospitable people in the world who will stop at nothing to bring you inside for tea, bread, and homemade yogurt.

Of course, many a side trip can be taken from the Pamir Highway- The Wakhan ValleyBartang Valley, Pshart Mountains, Bachor, just to name a few. The Pamir Highway will take you through the biggest state of Tajikistan, the GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast). Make sure you get your permit when you apply for your Tajik visa.


Start planning your own Pamir Highway adventure
Or plan a perfect 10 day Pamir adventure with my curated itinerary


4. The Epic Trekking

Bolshoi Allo, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan

Tajikistan is the best trekking destination you’ve never heard of. During Soviet times it was a popular trekking destination for Russians looking to get away from it all, but after the Soviet collapse and civil war, it lost its luster for most hikers. It’s now safe and just as beautiful as ever.

More and more people are coming to take in the sceneries, but it’s still far from being crowded. Where to start? The Fann MountainsYagnob Valley, The Pamirs, Bachor, Pik Engels, just to name a few. The options are limitless and all will be well worth the effort.


Pick your route: The Essential Guide to Trekking in the Fann Mountains


Looking for more ideas? Read the 10 best treks in Tajikistan


5. Making Friends That You’ll Visit Again & Again

The people are what ties this diverse and spectacular country together. All over Tajikistan, you’ll be welcomed in by strangers who will stop at nothing to show you unrivaled hospitality.

People here believe that the guest is a gift and will go to great lengths to make sure you’re well taken care of. Trust me, I was essentially kidnapped off a busy street in Dushanbe by an older man who had asked me the time who then ushered me into his family’s Eid al-Qurban feast where I was force-fed for 6 hours and spent the afternoon getting to know the entire family- extended and all! 

Over my several trips to Tajikistan over the last 5 years I’ve made countless friends, and much of my return visits are spent making rounds paying visits to friends all over the country.


Want to combo Tajikistan & Uzbekistan? Check out my two week Uzbekistan & Tajikistan itinerary


6. A Fascinating History

Rudaki, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 10 reasons to visit tajikistan, tajikistan

While its more recent history has been on the tumultuous side, things have stabilized more recently. But the turbulent past makes for an interesting series of events that have led to the Tajikistan we know today.

Tajikistan has fallen under the rule of the Arabs, Mongols, Timurids, Turkic, Persians, and Russians… just to name a few. Even Marco Polo and Alexander the Great took a stroll through Tajikistan. Tajik civilization dates back at least 3,000 years albeit only having been an independent republic since 1991.

If you’re fascinated by the ‘Great Game’ there is plenty of stops in Tajikistan to live out the history of the times when the British and the Russians were vying for control of central Asia. Shaimak in the extreme southeast was a strategic point- having the ability to see into Afghanistan, China, and clear over into Pakistan.

My favorite book on Tajikistan with loads of history? ‘Tajikistan and the High Pamirs’ by Robert Middleton and Huw Thomas. Buy it here.

7. The Cultural Diversity

Tajikistan is as diverse as its mountains are high. Of course, a country sat along one of the many routes of the Silk Road would be diverse, with all the travelers that came through and even settled over time.

In the eastern parts of the GBAO area you’ll find ethnic Kyrgyz still living nomadically, in the Wakhan Valley you’ll find the Wakhi people practicing Ismailism, and with their own distinct Wahki language. Around Khorog you’ll find people who identify as Pamiri and have their own language which is similar yet distinctly different from Tajik, and in the earthquake-ridden Bartang Valley you’ll find the Bartangis, a Pamiri group who speak the Bartangi language a dialect of Shughni that is virtually unknown outside. Then, of course, you’ll find ethnic Tajiks more into the west of the country.

To take a step back in history, head to the Yagnob Valley along the southern slopes of the Zeravshan Range. Despite their tragic history, the Yagnobis have retained their ancient language, and even some have returned back to live in the traditional ways that their ancestors, the ancient Sogdians did. About 10 settlements exist in this area and speak the ancient Sogdian language and practice pre-Islamic beliefs.

Tajikistan is also home to ethnic Russians who came during the Soviet times and stayed, as well as Chinese migrant workers. For being the smallest of the former Central Asian Soviet Republics it is crammed full of culture. There are also substantial Tajik populations outside the country especially in Afghanistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan.

8. The Cities & Towns

10 reasons to visit tajikistan, Khorog, Ghunt River, Tajikistan, Pamir, Pamir Highway, khorog botanical gardens

DushanbeKhorogKhujandPanjakentIstaravshanMurghab… Not place names that you hear people speaking of too often in the common area in a hostel around the world like you would hear mentions of Bangkok, Paris, and Sydney.

Each city and town in Tajikistan has its own unique charm. Watch an afternoon and locals waltz by from a chaikhana (teahouse), go to the opera, visit the city parks, gaze at the intricate designs of mosques. Believe it or not, there’s even some nightlife to be had in Dushanbe.


Need a city break between epic adventures? Check out the Dushanbe City Guide & Best Restaurants in Dushanbe


9. World Class Hospitality

Remember in #5 where we talked about the kindness of the people? With the people of Tajikistan comes a level of hospitality that is something of legend. Many people come to Tajikistan for the nature and leave saying the warm heart of the people was their favorite memory of the country.

From sipping tea in the afternoon, watching the day go by to a good old fashioned shot-for-shot boozy evening of Cognac with the family who owns your homestay welcoming you to their beautiful country, you’ll feel like you can’t move an inch without running across the hospitality Tajikistan is known for.

People will take you into their own homes, care for you, and nearly feed you to death. Plate after plate will be brought out to you and then the sweets come out.

Tajikistan is, economically speaking, the poorest country in the region. People will go into debt showing you grand hospitality, so it’s always advisable to give some Somoni (money) to your host, and if refused hand it over to the eldest child or hide it somewhere in the house to find later.

10. Off The Beaten Path Adventure

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You’ve turned up in Tajikistan, so congrats, you’re already off the beaten path! The adventures to be had here are limitless, from death-defying roads to poorly lit 5 kilometer long tunnels with rubble strewn throughout and machinery parked in the middle of the road, rallying down 4×4 trails not knowing where the jeep tracks end, high altitude treks, cycling broken roads through the high Pamir, kayaking across crystal clear lakes, skiing, to glacier trekking…. you’ll never find yourself bored or unchallenged in Tajikistan.

Have Any Questions About Visiting Tajikistan?

Check out the posts below or ask in the comments section below!

Need Travel Insurance Before You Visit Tajikistan?

Start shopping plans over at battleface, my go-to travel insurance choice, or over at World Nomads.

More Posts from Tajikistan:

33 thoughts on “10 Reasons To Visit Tajikistan”

  1. Great! thanks a lot for the info. Just to know in case i rent all the equipment in Khujand, how should i manage to take them back to Khujand, because i will go in other direction (Penjikent). Thanks!!!

    1. No problem! When you contact ZTDA just let them know your plans and I’m pretty certain they will have somewhere in Panjakent to drop the gear off at (or maybe at Vertical Alovaddin camp).

  2. Hi Nicole thanks a lot for your quick answer. Really helpful!!! Do you know if it’s possible to hire Camping hear over there (tent, sleeping bag) or best option is to take mine? just because this will be my only trek during my trip so don’t want to carry lots of staff. Other thing, have you done the trek to Son-kol in Kyrgyzstan? I would like to hike to the lake, spend one night and come back the following day. I have read the easy way to do it by your own is from Jumgal/Kyzart. And ideally would like to continue from there to Arslanbob/Jalal-Abad, i know it’s a bit tricky no public transport around there, do you suggest a better option?
    Thanks again for your help!!!
    Paula

    1. You can hire camp gear from ZTDA in Khujand. You can contact them at ztda_zarafshon@yahoo.com to arrange rental. Here is the latest price list I’ve received from them when I enquired for another traveler last month:
      tent – 6,5 usd day
      sleeping bag 4,5 usd day
      Gas canister 15 usd (for purchase)

      I would recommend bringing your own mini stove top (like the MSR pocket rocket, or Coleman Peak 1 or something similar).

      From my personal experience I would try to grab a gas canister in Osh, Kyrgyzstan (I’m assuming that’s where you’ll arrive to Khujand from) or Dushanbe at Greenhouse Hostel if coming from that direction. I did run into in 2017 no one having gas canisters at Khujand, Panjakent and Artuch Alplager and finally having to resort to starting my own fires for cooking.

      As for Son Kul, you’ll probably be surprised, but I still haven’t been! (High on my list though). From my understanding it is easiest to go from Kyzart/Jumgal. As for getting out I’m not sure how tricky it is getting over to Arslanbob/Jalalabad from there or if it’s easier to go out to Kotchkor or Naryn to get over there. I’ll ask around!

  3. Hi Nicole, change of plans ha ha. I will be going from Khojand to Iskanderkul lake first one day, then the following day go to Alaudin lake spend a night there and follow to Kulikalon Lake where i will spend the night and the following day go to Artush and keep the way to Penjikent (Sleep here?) and later cross to Uzbekistan. Is it possible or too tight? is it the same for you to do the track this way or is it more physically difficult? Should i arrange a car in advance to pick me up from Artush to Penjikent or could i do it when i’m there?
    Thanks a lot and sorry for many questions.
    Paula

    1. Hey Paula,
      This plan is doable. It is a fairly long driving day from Khujand to Iskanderkul so I’d definitely try to get a really early start to get there in the afternoon so you have a little time to enjoy the lake. Next morning I’d recommend an early start too because the road from the main highway to Iskanderkul as well as the one from the main highway to Vertical Alovaddin are pretty rough and bumpy so it’s relatively slow going. I definitely recommend spending that night at Alovaddin Lake just enjoying the scenery because it is gorgeous around the lake. Optionally you could go on a little day hike from there to Mutnyi Lake and back down if you’re feeling it. The next morning get up at sunrise to see the sunrise over the lake (camp over in the grassy area on the south side of the lake and you can unzip your tent door and watch the magic unfold). After breakfast pack up and trek over either Alovaddin (higher/shorter) Pass or Laudden (lower/longer) Pass. Both passes are pretty straight forward and I’ve done both in both directions and going either direction over the passes is fine, no direction is more challenging on either. Get down the pass and set up camp in the bowl, you can camp next to Kulikalon, Bibijonat or Dushakha (whichever Lake you like). The following morning it’s a short hike to Artuch Alplager or Yakkakhona. There is usually a shared taxi that departs the main Artuch village in the morning for Panjakent (though I am not sure the exact time it will typically depart). So if you don’t want to have to spend a night it is best to prearrange a car to pick you up and bring you to Panjakent. You can grab a hotel in Panjakent for the night and then the next morning hop on a shared taxi for the border. I also did a major update to my Fann Mountains Guide as well with maps and everything. The trail you’ll want to check on that post is “the lakes one way” here’s the link: https://adventuresoflilnicki.com/fann-mountains-guide/

      Definitely let me know more questions you have because I’m happy to help!

      Nicole

  4. Hi Nicole thanks a lot for your recommendation, i think i will go with option 1. Just another question, should i arrange a car to pick me up from Vertical Alovaddin camp in Artush? The idea is to continue next to Iskanderkul spend one night (what do you suggest to do in Iskanderkul) and the following day going north to Khojand and the next day Kyrguistan.
    Thanks!!

    1. Hey Paula,
      I would arrange the car beforehand to get from Vertical Alovaddin to Iskanderkul as it’ll just make the whole process a lot smoother. You can send an email to ztda_zarafshon@yahoo.com or contact one of the tour agencies in the country to arrange a car and get a cost for the car hire. As for Iskanderkul the lake is really pretty especially in the morning when it looks like a giant mirror before the winds kick up. You can either stay in Sarytag or at the lake. Sarytag is more a village but there is a couple homestays on the lakeshore as well as a turbaza (cabins). You can do the short hike to Snake Lake from Iskanderkul (30 min return if I remember correctly) and walk alongthe Iskanderkul shore. There is also a boat near the turbaza that you can hire (I’ve not done it so I’m not sure the cost) to take you on a trip on the lake. For the trip to Khujand it’s worth stopping into Istaravshan for a couple hours to check out the city, it has probably Tajikistan’s best Silk Road architecture (it’s no Samarkand, but you’ll likely have it to yourself). In Khujand the Panjshanbe Bazaar is worth it to check out and there are a couple mosques and a medressa in the same square, not far from there is the Citadel and Kamoli Khujandi Park too.

  5. Hi Nicole how are you? just planning my short trip around Tajikistan and was wondering if i have to choose between the 7 lakes and Kulikalon and Alaudin lake which one do you suggest to visit. I have just 3 days for hiking so no time to do both. I will be coming from Penjikent have 3 days in the middle then iskanderkul for 1/2 days and then going north to Kyrguistan.
    Thanks a lot!

    1. Hi Paula,
      You do have a couple options, but visiting both will be tight (though it is possible).

      Personally, I would choose to spend the 3 days doing the Lakes Loop. Day 1 take a shared taxi from Panjakent to Artuch and trek to Kulikalon, day 2 trek over Alovaddin or Lauden Pass to Lake Alovaddin and Day 3 return to Artuch, or arrange for a car to pick you up from Vertical Alovaddin camp and onto your next destination.

      Second option combines both places but it’ll be a bit rushed. Day 1 visit Haft Kul by car and go back to Panjakent that night. Day 2 go to Artuch and trek to Kulikalon. Finally Day 3 trek to Alovaddin Lake, spend the day/afternoon there and then leave from Vertical Alovaddin Camp (arrange car prior)

      Another option would be to do a trek that combines a couple remote village and ties into the Haft Kul. Day 1 take a shared taxi bound for Mogiyon and trek to the village of Rogich along a winding river that carves thru narrow canyons. Day 2 trek over Komichura Pass to arrive down to Marguzor Lake and stay at a homestay in Haft Kul. Day 3 walk along the Haft Kul lakes and arrange for pickup back to Panjakent or beyond.

      I hope these help you to decide which to do. I personally think Alovaddin and Kulikalon are the most beautiful of the Tajik lakes (all are gorgeous though).

  6. Good god those mountains and lakes! Thank you for putting Tajikistan on my radar, I’d never thought to visit, also had never really heard of the place that I can recall

  7. Beautiful photos Nicki!

    I came across your photos because of Instagram. Tajikistan was never on my radar but it may now be after seeing so many wonderful photos and reading the things you’ve had to to say about the country.

    Cheers,
    Asia

        1. Awesome, hope you have a great time! I’m planning to be in Tajikistan in August and early September, maybe I’ll run into you guys 🙂

  8. Dear Nicole, Thanks for your amazing post, beautiful pictures and kind words about my country. I’m glad you had a great time. Hope to see you soon again. ❤️

    1. Hi Pari,
      Thank you! Your country is easily at the top of my favorites list, it’s really one of the most beautiful places in the world. I can’t wait to return.

  9. Wow, this post is great! Are you traveling alone? I would never tell that Tajikistan could ever be on my bucket list, but now it is 🙂
    Beautiful pictures!

    1. Thanks Barbara!
      Tajikistan is rarely on people’s radar. I saw photos of the Fann Mtns when I was 17 or 18 and knew right away that I had to get there! When people would ask me where the places I wanted to visit the most were and Tajikistan was always near the top and people would look so confused and say I’ve never even heard of that country! It’s definitely a bucketlister, such an amazing place 🙂

  10. This is so inspiring, will probably someday make it to this beautiful country. Are you wearing a satellite phone in that picture? Sounds really remote

    1. Hey Lila,
      You absolutely should go one day! So I’m wearing a Delorme inReach in the photo. It’s a satellite text messager/GPS/emergency beacon. I love mine, it’s really handy for keeping in touch when you’re traveling especially remote areas.

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