Large swathes of Turkmenistan are designated restricted or border zones, and require special permission to enter. You will need to discuss with your travel agent, or whoever is inviting you, whether your itinerary includes any designated border areas, as they will need to specify these in your letter of invitation. When you collect your visa, make sure that the issuing embassy or consulate has included reference to these border areas, as it will involve effort and expense in Ashgabat to have these added on if they have omitted to do so.
The geography of Turkmenistan, with a large desert in the centre, and much of the population having always lived along the rivers and in the oases which lie around the edges of the country, means that many of the most interesting places to visit sit in restricted border zones.
Major tourist attractions falling within border zones include Konye-Urgench, Dekhistan, Yangykala, Ekedeshik, Badkyz and Kugitang. Ashgabat, Merv, Turkmenabat and Balkanabat are not in restricted areas. An additional restricted zone permit does not seem to be required for travellers passing straight through a restricted zone on the direct main route to a border crossing, provided that this is the place specified on their visa.
Special permission is also required to visit any one of Turkmenistan's eight nature reserves. Proposed visits to these areas should again be discussed with your local travel agent, who will need to apply for permission from the Ministry of Nature Protection at 102 2035 Kochesi, Ashgabat (tel. 12 396002). Processing time can take two to three weeks. Permission is rarely given between May 1 and October 1, except to the Repetek Reserve, because of the high risk of fire during the summer months. It can occasionally be turned down for more eccentric reasons. One application to visit the Hazar Reserve on the Caspian coast was refused with the argument that 'the birds have flown away', and therefore, the authorities reasoned, there was presumably nothing of interest to the visitor.
Various fees are payable to the local reserve director during the visit, including a basic entry charge (typically around US$15). In most of the reserves, the authorities can arrange basic accommodation, usually in a hut used by rangers. A small amount in dollars is charged for this. The reserve director may also enforce a photography fee, sometimes calculated on a per-shot basis.
RESTRICTED BORDER ZONES OF TURKMENISTAN
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs circulated the following list of restricted zones
• Ak Bugday, Kaka and Serakhs districts
• Archabil, and the villages in the hills near Ashgabat of Bagabad, Kasamly/Julge, Ipaykala and Germab
• The village of Uchbirleshik in Geok Depe District
• The villages of Nohur, Garawul and Konyegummez in Baharly District
• The sub-districts of Garabogaz, Jangra, Guwly, Hazar and Gyzyl Gaya
• Turkmenbashy, Hazar, Esenguly, Etrek and Magtumguly districts. (The reference to Turkmenbashy District here is to the rural district lying outside the town; the latter is not considered to be part of a restricted zone)
• Dashoguz town
• Georogly, Niyazov, Gubadag, Boldumsaz, Konye-Urgench and Saparmurat Turkmenbashy districts
(This list suggests that only two districts of Dashoguz Region, Akdepe and Gurbansoltan Eje, are not restricted zones. Since it is not possible to reach either without passing through a designated restricted zone, this means that access to the whole of Dashoguz Region is effecively restricted.)
• Atamurat, Beyik Saparmurat Turkmenbashy, Koytendag, Magdanly, Hodjambaz, Farap and Birata districts
• Tagtabazar and Serhetabat districts