Climate & Geography
Turkmenistan is the fourth largest of the states emerging into independence in 1991 from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are the three larger states; Uzbekistan is slightly smaller. But its population is low. Official Turkmen government estimates put this at little more than 6 million, and this is probably decidedly generous. Much of the country is covered by the sparsely inhabited desert known as the Kara Kum ('Black Sands'), and the main population centres are dotted around the edge of Turkmenistan, particularly the piedmont oases at the foot of the Kopet Dag Mountains in the south, the Amu Darya River valley in the east and the Khorezm Oasis in the north. The west of the country abuts the Caspian.
The climate is a severe continental one. Between December and February, temperatures frequently fall below freezing while, at the height of summer, temperatures above 40°C are common, and 50°C not unknown. There is very little rainfall during the summer months, and overall annual rainfall is low: a tiny 80mm in parts of the north of the country, rising to 300mm or so in the mountains in the south.
In fact, Turkmenistan is the hottest country in Central Asia, although its dry desert climate means that it’s not always uncomfortably warm. That said, only the insane or deeply unfortunate find themselves in Ashgabat in July and August, when the temperature can push 50°C. The best times to visit are between April and June, and September to early November. Winters can be very cold throughout the country and aren’t a great time to visit, though you may equally find bright blue skies and spring-like warmth even in the depths of December, but it’s a gamble.