Could Central Asia Boast the Next Big Backpacker Trail?
Could Central Asia provide a new backpacking trail? Patrick Norén investigates.
Image: Evgeny Dubinchuk/Shutterstock
Despite there being almost 200 sovereign states in the world, there are relatively few regions where weeks or even months of overland travel crossing several countries and passing through a multitude of cities and landscapes is realistic and attractive to “amateur” travellers.
For decades, the two major backpacker trails outside Europe have wound their way through Southeast Asia and Latin America. Meanwhile, many other regions around the world that have the potential to offer something similar are often sadly blighted by a range of obstacles that make the prospect of a border-hopping adventure attractive to only the most hardened explorers.
In the decades following the collapse of the USSR, visits to Central Asia by and large remained the preserve of only the most adventurous. However, as international interest and investment in Central Asia grow and the region continues its cautious embrace of new markets beyond Russia, Central Asia’s prospect of offering a brand new backpacking adventure to the international tourist industry becomes a possibility.
On paper, at least, the potential is there. The types of backpackers who travel for weeks or months around Southeast Asia or Latin America tend not to spend more than a few nights in any given place. For a backpacker trail to succeed in this regard, it is critical to have the right balance of a variety of sights and activities but within a region that can be easily traversed overland.
Indeed, many of Central Asia’s main sights can be found within a relatively small triangle between Almaty in Kazakhstan, Khiva in Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. Other potential destinations outside this triangle, such as Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul Lake, or the Kazakh cities of Astana or Turkistan, are still easily accessible by road or rail.