How to get from Dushanbe to Samarkand the Most Exciting Way

Making the journey from Dushanbe to Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, is relatively easy since the recent opening of the border at Penjikent. Here is how you can make the overland journey with a stop off at Tajikistan’s second most famous attractions; the Fann Mountains and Iskanderkul Lake.

Jake looking out at the Fann Mountains, Tajikistan

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Leaving Dushanbe for Samarkand

We woke up on our last day in Dushanbe, dreading the feeling of our heavy backpacks on our backs once again. We had spent 3 nights at Doshan Hostel; which was a blessing after our nonstop escapade through the Pamir Highway, staying no more than one night in each place. No longer would we have the car which carried us from Osh, Kyrgyzstan, to Dushanbe. This would be the first day in almost two weeks we would be lugging our heavy bags from one place to another!

For more prices and deals on properties in Dushanbe, CLICK HERE.

Leaving Dushanbe - Tajikistan
Sitting in an overcrowded taxi to the bus station in Dushanbe

1st leg – Take a shared taxi from Dushanbe to Savoda

Our day started easily enough. A short walk to the bus stop, followed by a short crammed minibus journey to the city centre. From the city centre, we hopped onto another bus up the road to the shared taxi station. Upon arriving at the shared taxi station, we quickly agreed on a price to Savoda and waited patiently for 45 minutes for the driver to collect enough passengers to cram into his car.

The journey to Savoda is 100 km. The roads are smooth enough to allow you to doze off easily, which is exactly what Jake did!

Cost of shared taxi: 50 Somoni ($5.16) each.

Arriving in Savoda

We arrived in Savoda and were greeted with a bombardment of overpriced taxis for a journey 35 km through the valley to Iskanderkul. To put it into perspective, we paid 50 Somoni each from Dushanbe to Savoda. Whereas drivers were asking for 150 Somoni ($15.47) to Iskanderkul. It was an instant unanimous reaction for us both to simply shake our heads, smile and walk away in the direction of Iskanderkul.

Cost of a taxi to Iskanderkul from Savoda: 150 Somoni ($15.47).

A factory in Savoda, Tajikistan
A factory in Savoda

Hitchhiking to Iskanderkul Lake / Fann Mountains

As we walked along the roadside with our thumbs stretched out to signal oncoming traffic, luckily for us, the first vehicle that came by stopped and offered us a lift. The vehicle just so happened to be an 18-wheeler lorry! So, we climbed the steps up to our seats and admired the panoramic view of the road for the next 5 km, until we reached the small dirt road that turns off towards Iskanderkul Lake.

See also  How to Make an Uzbekistan Visa Application in Bishkek

If you’re all for hitchhiking, make sure to check out how to hitchhike in Japan.

A lorry we hitchhiked in the Fann Mountains, Tajikistan
View from the lorry we hitchhiked on the way to camp

For the next 2 km of our remaining 30 km journey to the lake, we walked down the quiet road, declining several locals who were also aware of the overpriced tourist rates to Iskanderkul. Thankfully, a car stopped to offer to take us towards the lake; as far as the next village (in which we presumed they lived). It was around 4 pm by this point and only a 10-minute wait before our next friendly local motorist picked us up.

Hitchhiking in Tajikistan
The kind HGV driver who gave us a lift to our camp in the Fann Mountains

It was a small truck, and the front seats were already taken. However, there was plenty of room in the back with all the construction equipment. This part of the journey will be remembered for the good times, and the bad. Bouncing up and down, losing our balance, and struggling to drink from our water bottles as the van thrashed its way through the stone road valley being the good times. The thick smog from the exhaust blowing into our faces and the constant build-up of dust on our bags and clothes were bad.

Hitchhiking in a lorry - Tajikistan
Getting dusty in the back of the lorry

Camping the night by Iskanderkul Lake

Counting down the kilometres, we made it to the lake. We thanked our driver with a thick mucus cough and made our way to the lakeside to pitch our tent. It was just $5 to pitch up for the night. We set up camp, ate instant noodles during the first half of France vs Peru in the 2018 World Cup, tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags, and then watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall. By 11 pm, we were out like a light.

For more camping stories, make sure to check out our 3-week camping trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls.

The Fann Mountains and lake at sunrise
The Fann Mountains and Lake at sunrise

Getting back to Savoda

The next morning, we packed up our dewy wet camping gear and admired the stunning lake in its morning glory. We took a few snaps and then headed back to the main road to hitch a ride. Before we even reached the main road, a driver offered us a ride for a reasonable price of 15 Somoni ($1.55) each back to Savoda, which we gladly accepted.

Iskanderkul valley - Tajikistan
Mountains and streams at Iskanderkul Valley

2nd leg of Dushanbe to Samarkand: Make your way to the Penjikent border crossing

After breakfast in Savoda, we declined a few more overpriced taxi fares (150 Somoni/ $15.47) to the border. So once again we walked away politely and stuck out our thumbs. 10 minutes went by and we were stuffed into a small car. It was an uncomfortable journey as our bags had to be kept on our laps due to the goat in the boot hogging up all the room. Yes, the goat! Nevertheless, we were super grateful for the kind driver that picked us up.

Penjikent border crossing - Tajikistan to Uzbekistan
The Penjikent border crossing

The scenery was everything we had been used to over the last 11 days. However, it was still an equally incredible experience after a 5-day scenic drive along the Pamir Highway. Our driver kindly dropped us off in the centre of Penjikent town, seconds away from a shared taxi station. It took us just a few minutes to agree on a fair price to the border. 10 Somoni ($1.03) each and we were on our way to the border of Uzbekistan.

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Getting to Samarkand after crossing into Uzbekistan

A quick stamp out of Tajikistan, and an even quicker stamp into Uzbekistan, and we had made it to our last country on our Central Asia trip. After that, all we needed to do was take a quick 30-minute mini-van ride to Samarkand. There are plenty of minivans waiting on the other side of the border to make the journey, so there is no need to worry about having to wait around.

Cost from Penjikent to the Uzbek border: 10 Somoni ($1.03) each.

Essential resources for travelling in Central Asia

Travel Insurance – No matter where you’re travelling to, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re covered for any accidents or losses. We spent days and weeks searching for insurance, but most insurers would not allow us to take out a policy as we were already abroad. Our personal choice is Safteywing. You can opt for automatic monthly payments, just like a subscription. More importantly, it is available in 180 countries and can be purchased whilst already travelling. There is no cap on the duration of travel.

Visa – Before you travel to any country, make sure to check if you need a visa. iVisa is a fantastic website that is super easy and quick to use. Just type in where you are from. and where you are going. to check if you need a visa. If you do, you can quickly make an application online.

AccommodationBooking.com is our go-to when looking to pre-book accommodation online. Booking.com tend to almost always have the best rates and a FREE cancellation policy for most properties.

Tours & Activities – If you want to book tours and activities online, make sure to check out Get Your Guide. Get Your Guide takes the stress out of booking activities abroad. You will also find a range of benefits, such as skip-the-line passes, lunch included in your tours, and so much more.

Travel tips ebook -Before you head off on your adventure, make sure to download our free ebook. It has a whopping 109 budget travel tips to help you make your hard-earned cash go further. Click here to download your FREE ebook.

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How to get from Dushanbe to Samarkand the Best Way

14 thoughts on “How to get from Dushanbe to Samarkand the Most Exciting Way

  1. Lydia says:

    You had such a fun adventure and I am so happy you shared it with us, Katie. Iskanderkul seems like an awesome camping place and that lake is so picturesque. Is it possible to swim in there?

  2. myfarrahdise says:

    WOW very adventurous! Good that you managed to get a hitch but a bit scary for me heheh! I wish I can also do that when I travel. I think everything is worth. Such an amazing view of the lake in morning, I wouldn’t ask for more.

  3. Lyza says:

    Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are not really in my bucketlist but they seem very interesting. You had hitched a lot of rides, I wonder if they are safe for solo traveler (especially female). I am glad you enjoyed the trip!

  4. Angelica says:

    This is such a unique experience, thanks for sharing! Something I’ve always wondered about though is when you were hitchhiking in this area, did you pick up a little Uzbek or Russian beforehand or did people speak English? Or is it easy to communicate with the language barrier?

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for the comment. Central Asia is one o my favourite regions. Hitchhiking is super easy because a lot of the locals do it to. We didn’t learn any beforehand. We picked up basic Russian phrases along the way. You just need to make sure if they want any money or not because some do expect you to pay.

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