• Exploring Xinjiang's Ancient Cities

    Wander ancient towns on the Silk Road, seldom visited by Westerners, on this unique cultural journey

    A visit to this fascinating border region with its plethora of cultures, languages, religions and ethnic groups cannot help but be fascinating. Our trip immerses you in all facets of ancient Xinjiang and the Silk Road. You will come away changed, more knowledgeable, and refreshed from getting off the grid. (This entire trip is below 6,000')

    best times to go: August - September

    departures: 3 scheduled datesview departures

    pricing: from $4,495 see detailed pricing

    Other Asia


Wander ancient towns on the Silk Road, seldom visited by Westerners, on this unique cultural journey

Nestled in the farthest western reaches of China, Xinjiang Province has served as a cultural and commercial crossroads for centuries. This land of tribes and clans of at least thirteen different ethnicities is still rooted in tradition. And as the heart of the Silk Road, their warmth and hospitality remains as timeless as ever. Traveling through beautiful landscapes of forest, steppe, grassland, and desert, and framed by the dramatic backdrop of the snowy Tian Shan Mountains, you’ll see firsthand a vanishing way of life and marvel at the cultural and natural riches to be found on China’s “New Frontier.” We’ve put a strong emphasis on cultural encounters by combining visits to colorful markets, local artisans, and ancient villages with a couple of overnight homestays, folk performances, and tons of regional cuisines to offer you genuine and educational interactions with the local people. Topped off with a distinctive desert camping experience—one you can only get with MTS—and even a night in a traditional yurt, you’ll go home with an insider’s perspective of this raw, remote land the way few Westerners have a chance to see it!


Hiking, cultural touring, camel ride


  • Discover the intricate mix of ancient Silk Road cultures through the history, art, nature, and friendly hospitality of China’s Wild West
  • Wander through colorful markets and visit local artisans
  • Immerse yourself in desert culture on this unique cultural journey adventure that includes a night of desert camping—an experience you can only get with MTS
  • See the ancient centers of the Silk Road through the eyes of the locals on homestays, watching folk performances, and sampling the varied regional cuisines
  • Get off the grid to see some of the most dramatic and remote mountains and lakes in China, plus the vast Taklamakan Desert

Duration: 16 days Start Location: Beijing End Location: Beijing

Download Detailed Itinerary
  • Day 1 : Arrive in Beijing (This entire trip is below 6,000')

    Arrive in Beijing. Take the complimentary Hilton Capital Airport Hotel shuttle to the hotel to check in.

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    Day 2 : Beijing to Dunhuang

    Today we fly from Beijing to Dunhuang. Upon arrival in Dunhuang, check into the Silk Road Hotel, the best hotel in Dunuang, set amid amazing scenery. We have lunch before afternoon sightseeing, which begins with the Mogao Caves, the best preserved Buddhist caves in China. The caves boast murals, frescoes, and statues dating from the 4th through 10th centuries. We return to Dunhuang and visit the night market, where we will enjoy dinner.

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    Day 3 : Dunhuang

    After breakfast this morning, we visit Crescent Moon Lake and Ming Sha Shan. Crescent Moon Lake is a small, crescent-shaped pond that is fed from spring water. Surrounding the lake are the incredible sand dunes of Ming Sha Shan—the highest reaches 5,600 feet.  The stunning view from the top of the dunes acrss the desert is worth the hard work to get there. After lunch, if time allows, we'll take in Yumenguan before transferring to the train station in Liuyuan (approximately 70 km from Dunhuang) for our overnight, soft sleeper train to Turpan. 

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    Day 4 : Turpan

    Early this morning we arrive at the Turpan train station and transfer (1 hour) to Turpan. Upon arrival at the hotel, we will have time to shower and have breakfast before setting out for our day's activities. Today we will visit the world famous Karez irrigation system (this system is unique to dry, arid areas such as Afghanistan, Iran and Xinjiang) as well as the ancient city of Yargul (Jiaohe). Yargul (Jiaohe) was established during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), but was decimated by Genghis Khan, so little remains. We'll enjoy a traditional lunch in a local restaurant, then explore the local market for handicrafts and local products.

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    Day 5 : Turpan Area to Tuyuk Village

    Today we visit Idkut (Gaochang), which was founded in the 7th century and still boasts the remains of a large Buddhist monastery in decent condition despite its age. Afterwards, we explore Astana Tombs, where the dead of nearby Gaochang were buried. Some of the artifacts in the tombs date from the 3rd to 5th centuries. Afterwards, we will drive to Tuyuk Village, the oldest known Uighur town and a very unique experience. You will not see any other travelers here. We will visit village markets and learn about the local Uighurs’ lives in this area and stay overnight with local families

    **Homestay is subject to change depending on the current political situation

  • Day 6 : Tuyuk Village to Urumqi to Kuqa

    After breakfast today, we drive 140 miles to Urumqi to catch our flight to Kuqa. Upon arrival in Kuqa, we check into our hotel and have some time to freshen up before driving to Kuqa old town to visit a Uighur family and enjoy tea with them. After our visit, we can explore the old town and visit various shops, among them a traditional pharmacist. Enjoy dinner in a local Uighur restaurant.

  • Day 7 : Kuqa

    Today we will visit the Kuqa Grand Canyon, driving through the Tangritagh Mountain Range and catching sight of the amazing land formations of this area. We will hike for 2 hours in the canyon before driving to Kizil 1000 Buddha Caves, which date back to the 11th century and match those of Luoyang, Dunhuang and Datong. We have lunch, then explore the Buddhist caves. The paintings here hail from a pre-Islamic Buddhist civilization that existed in this region from the 5th century until the 11th century

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    Day 8 : Kuqa to Hotan

    Today we will cross the Taklamakan Desert, one of the biggest and most mysterious deserts in the world. Taklamakan means “those who go in will not come out” attesting to its emptiness and remoteness. Our drive takes over 10 hours, including occasional stops and a picnic lunch along the way. We will arrive in Hotan in the late afternoon and check into our hotel.

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    Day 9 : Hotan to Camping in Taklamakan Desert (4,500')

    Today we will explore Hotan, visiting the Jade River and a traditional clothing factory where we can enjoy local culture in action before driving to the Taklamakan Desert for our distinctive desert trekking experience. We will ride camels and hike for a few hours before building our camp (our gear will be carried by more camels). For dinner, we will roast lamb kebabs over the fire before we settle into our overnight desert camping experience.

  • Day 10 : Hotan (4,500')

    Return to Hotan and our hotel to clean up before visiting a local carpet factory, where will learn how the local women have made carpets by hand for hundreds of years. Afternoon at leisure. Overnight in Hotan.

  • Day 11 : Hotan to Yarkent

    Today we drive 5-6 hours from Hotan to Yarkent on the Southern Silk Road. This road was used in ancient times for trade between East and West. Animals, such as camels and horses, were the main means of transportation and carried goods from city to city. Along this road we will pass villages that were used as caravanserais for the merchants.  Many of these old caravanserais are now big towns and cities. We will have lunch at one of the villages along the way. After arrival in Yarkent, we will visit Amanisahan Tomb, the tomb of a famous Uighur musician and Queen of the Yarkent Kingdom.

  • Day 12 : Yarkent to Kashgar (4,200')

    Today we drive from Yarkent to Kashgar (approximately 5-6 hours). Along the way, visit the famous Uighur knife town of Yinggisar. Here we will see the expert knife makers making Uighur knives by hand. We will have lunch along the way and, upon arrival in Kashgar, check into the Qinbagh Hotel.

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    Day 13 : Kashgar

    Today we will rise early to catch the famous Sunday market, when the population of Kashgar swells by 50,000. This market is still one of the most amazing bazaars in the world and there is little that is not for sale here. You will see an overwhelming array of livestock, rugs, and clothing. Photo opportunities abound and you can lose hours in the labrynthine chaos. Next we will visit the Old Town where we will enter into a Uyghur home for a delicious lunch. Afterwards we will visit the Apak Hoja Tomb where there are 58 tombs and 5 generations buried. Our guide will relay the differing legends of the "Fragrant Concubine" related to this site.

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    Day 14 : Kashgar to Karakul Lake (11,800')

    Today, after an early breakfast, we drive to Karakul Lake on the famous Karakorum Highway which extends from outside Kashgar to Pakistan.  The trip is 120 miles, but takes 5 hours, including stops. We depart from the hotel at 7 a.m. and after about an hour arrive at Opal Village, where we will buy fruit and fresh bread as well as some gifts for the Kirghiz students at Karakul Lake. Our second stop will be Oytagh Mountain, where we are treated to the amazing scenery of the Kunlun Mountain range with mountains of all different colors. Before Karakul, we'll stop at the Gez checkpoint, where we will need to get out of the bus and have our passports checked. 

    Upon arrival at Karakul Lake, we will enjoy lunch in a traditional Kirghiz yurt by the lake and can visit local shepherds' homes. After lunch we get to stretch our legs as we hike about 3 miles to Subash Village, where there is a local elementary school. The hike is flat, but the elevation is a lofty 12,000 feet! After we reach the village and visit the school, our driver will meet us and transfer back to Kashgar.

  • Day 15 : Kashgar to Beijing

    Take the earliest flight to Beijing and transfer to the HIlton Capital Airport Hotel by airport shuttle for overnight.

  • Day 16 : Fly home

    Transfer to the Beijing International Airport by hotel shuttle for your flight home or to your next destination.

Download Detailed Itinerary

DATES: Best time to go: August - September Departures: Sep 30, 2014 - Oct 15, 2014 Aug 18, 2015 - Sep 2, 2015 Sep 15 - 30, 2015


2014 Prices

$4,495 (10-16 members)
$4,895 (6-9 members)

$1,000 internal airfare – Beijing/Dunhuang, Urumqi/Kuqa and Kashgar/Beijing - subject to change
$1000 single supplement

2015 Prices

$4,495 (8-16 members)
$4,895 (4-7 members)

$1,000 internal airfare – Beijing/Dunhuang, Urumqi/Kuqa and Kashgar/Beijing - subject to change
$650 single supplement

Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.

Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you’d never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You’ll be in good hands with them every step of the way.

photo credits: ©MTS Photo File


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Activity Ratings


Many activities are optional and involve fairly easy travel. Trips may include short hikes of two to three hours or optional walks at low elevations. Includes less demanding sea kayaking and river rafting trips with Class I-II rapids.


More active trips involving hiking over moderate terrain, usually - but not always - with vehicle support and at elevations less than 10,000 feet, or trips with long hiking days, multiple sea kayaking days, wilderness camping, or other invigorating activity. On many trips, you can elect to skip a day's activity, depending on logistics. Includes more demanding sea kayaking trips and river rafting trips with Class III rapids.


Hiking and trekking over steeper or more rugged terrain or where elevations may exceed 10,000 feet - often several days in a row. Includes more demanding sea kayaking trips (4-5 hours paddling a day) and river rafting trips with Class IV-V rapids.

Ultimate Challenge!

Our most demanding trips: trekking over steep, rugged terrain at high elevations (no vehicle support) or with substantial altitude gains and losses; trips to remote, extreme wilderness; mountaineering trips. Includes our most demanding sea kayaking (5-7 hours paddling a day) and river rafting trips with Class IV-V rapids.


Departure Dates

Sep 30, 2014 - Oct 15, 2014 Aug 18, 2015 - Sep 2, 2015 Sep 15 - 30, 2015

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