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3 Days Turpan Highlights Tour with Kumtag Desert

City and Desert


Turpan is usually known as a significant outpost along the ancient Silk Road. Many cultural treasures left here attracted numerous travelers to discover its brilliant history thousands of years ago. Besides, it is also China's hottest city located in Turpan Basin with a rugged desert landscape. In spite of the harsh climate, the great ancient engineering feat of Karez System makes it An Oasis in the Desert.

This 3-day tour takes you to explore Turpan from multiple perspectives. You will visit the Buddhist relics, city ruins, great engineering project as well as the magnificent Kumtag Desert with amazing natural beauty and entertaining activities. Just immerse yourself in the glory of this “hot” city.

Highlights of this tour

  • Explore the magic Karez Irrigation System in Turpan City to unlock the mystery of how ancient people wisely make Turpan an oasis with in the barren desert;
  • Visit the mysterious Jiaohe Ancient City which is renowned as the "perfect ruin of earth building" and has been well-preserved for almost two thousand years and enjoy a splendid sunset here;
  • Appreciate the beauty of Kumtag Desert – the world's nearest desert to the city, with silk-like soft sands, and have some exciting desert activities to add piquancy to your trip.

Basic Trip Information

from Request
  1. 1. This price is for one person, based on a group of 2 adults sharing one double-bed room in a 4-star hotel and traveling in low seasons;
  2. 2. This price is subject to change according to your traveling season, group size, hotel class, change of activities and possible fluctuation of currency exchange rate.
Travel Route:
Turpan - Shanshan
Travel Length:
3 Days and 2 Nights
Tour Code:
Group Size:
You, your family, friends or group
Any day you want

Full Itinerary Day by day

Day 1 Urumqi – Turpan (B, L)

Welcome to Turpan – China's hottest city that its highest temperature reaches about 50°C in summer and an outpost on the Silk Road and a lot of cultural heritage sites can be explored. Meet your tour guide and driver at the airport/train station or hotel.

You will first discover the brilliant project of Karez System. Together with the Great Wall and Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, Karez System is regarded as one of China’s Three Greatest Ancient Projects. It is a special kind of irrigation system consisting of vertical wells, underground canals, ground canals and waterlogging pond. The vertically dug wells are linked together to channel the water which occurs during summer rain season, or is melted from snow mountains of Tianshan range to desired farmlands in the desert area. Visiting Turpan Karez Museum, you will not only see the pictures and models detailing the history of Karez System, but also visit the real underground tunnels.

Next, drive to Turpan Museum, an informative museum with great collections as well as a good place to avoid summer heat. The first floor has exhibits (like dinosaur fossils, terracotta figurines, clothing, utensils, weapons…) from prehistoric ages to the Tang Dynasty (618 ~ 907) in the history of Turpan. There are also many Silk Road displays from which you will understand why Turpan plays a crucial role on the Silk Road for trading, water and agriculture. Getting to the second floor, you will be awed at the millennia-old mummies well-preserved as to how they were found in their tombs.

Your last stop is the famous relic - Jiaohe Ancient City - an ancient city that was strategically located along the ancient Silk Road. Perching on a plateau, it acted as a natural barrier from the attacking enemies in the old times. Now, it is renowned as the best-preserved earthen architecture in the world. The interesting sculptures, videos and some other displays in Jiaohe Cultural Village Museum will give you an appreciation of the history of Jiaohe City before you start exploring. Then, take a shuttle bus to the core scenic area. Walking up along the pathway uphill, you can see many historical structural remains, including the residential area, official area and Buddhist temples. It is also available to walk to the central platform for a more awesome view of the whole park. When the night drops, you will feast on a breathtaking sunrise over the ruins.

Stay overnight in Turpan.

How to get to Turpan? There are nonstop flights to Turpan from Lanzhou (2.5 h), Changsha (4.5 h), Zhengzhou (4.5 h)… as well as high speed trains from Xian (12.5 h), Xining (8 h), Lanzhou (10 h), Zhangye (6.5 h), Dunhuang (3.5 h)…

Warm Tip: Be ready for the hot weather in Turpan, especially in Flaming Mountain and always remember to drink more water.

Vertical Well of Karez Exquisite Murals Exhibited in Turpan Museum The Model of Jiaohe Ancient City Displayed in the Museum Jiaohe Anicent City Sunset
Day 2 Turpan - Urumqi (B, L)

After breakfast, you will be taken to have a cultural visit to Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, a group of grottoes with rich murals. They are high on the cliffs of the west Mutou Valley of Flaming Mountain. Originally drilled in the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 ~ 589), the caves have gone through about 15 centuries. There are 57 existing caves, and about 40 of them are preserved with brightly-colored murals on the stone-walls. Appreciating the glorious murals in an artistic style and listening to the old Buddhist legends, you may imagine how Buddhism spread to mainland China via Xinjiang.

After enjoying the cultural relics in Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, you will drive to Tuyu Valley along Flaming Mountain Grand Canyon, which condenses the essence of the landscape of Flaming Mountain - the hottest spot in Turpan. Flaming Mountain is immortalized in the Chinese classic Journey to the West as a blazing mountain that the monk Xuan Zang has to pass through. Finally, they use a magic fan to extinguish the blaze and go on with their trip. Flaming Mountain Grand Canyon splits the whole mountain in half and you will clearly admire the unique landform - red sandstones looking like flaming fire, distinctive rocks showing the uncanny workmanship of nature and deep gorge with crisscross valleys. The magnificence, strangeness, danger, and elegance of Flaming Mountain are fully shown here.

The winding road on the cliff of Flaming Mountain will soon lead you to Tuyuk Valley (Tuyugou in Chinese) which is a Uighur valley with lots of historical sites. Mazar Village, the oldest existing Uighur village with a history of over 2,600 years, is a big highlight of the valley. Mazar Village holds a significant status in Buddhism and Islam. It is said that 6 Muslims came to China and started preaching there, so Mazar Village is called Eastern Mekka. Before Islam, it once was a Buddhist center as well. Many Buddhist caves can be found in the village, but the statues and murals failed to survive. The villagers still live peacefully in the village, and you can clearly see how they run their daily lives in the old mud adobe houses. Some villagers kindly ask the travelers to visit their vineyards and taste their fresh grapes or preserved fruits.

After the great time in Mazar Village, you will drive 55 km (about 1 hour) to Shanshan County. Stay overnight in Shanshan.

Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves Flaming Mountain Grand Canyon Peaceful Mazar Village in Tuyugou Valley
Day 3 Shanshan Departure (B, L)

After your breakfast in the hotel, you will drive to Kumtag Desert for an entertaining day. Just adjacent to Shanshan County, Kumtag Desert is the nearest desert to the city in the world. It has coexisted with local people harmoniously for thousands of years.

You will start today's sightseeing by taking a sightseeing car and firstly stop in Sand Lake. It is a picturesque lake with greenery which makes you wonder if you are in a beautiful water town in the south region of the Yangtze River instead of an arid desert. Then, continue with your trip to Happy Sand Valley – the core scenic area of Kumtag Desert. With the change of sunlight, the desert takes on more fascinating colors, light yellow, yellow, orange, red, gray, etc. The sand of Kumtag Desert is as soft as the smooth, so a desert walk is quite comfortable. Climbing to a high sand dune is a little strenuous for travelers, but the view is striking – you will not only savor the endless desert land with rolling waves but also an awe-inspiring vista of the city with fascinating green color. There are many interesting programs in Happy Sand Valley to please you, including sand sliding, camels ridding, desert kart racing, desert motorbike riding, etc. Both grown-ups and kids can enjoy the desert by joining some exciting activities (optional). After a wonderful time here, continue your sightseeing car driving to the Base Camp where many camps are set. It is also possible to enjoy a great performance (like a concert here), especially when you visit during Turpan Grape Festival which always takes place in late August.

After the memorable experience in Kumtag Desert, drive to Shanshan North Railway Station to catch your train to your next destination.

Tips: 1) bring enough water to protect you from dehydration and use a hat, sunglasses, scarf and sunblock to avoid sunburn especially in summer; 2) it is necessary to prepare water-proof boots if you visit in winter, because the sand might be wet in the early; 3) pay attention to protecting cameras, lenses, and other items to prevent sand from damaging the equipment; 4) wearing a dress with pure color of high saturation (such as bright red, jewelry blue, brilliant yellow, etc.) is a good idea for girls if you want to take some nice pictures.

Departure Ideas: 1) it is available to drive back to Turpan City or drive to Urumqi to catch a flight or train if you need, and just tell your travel consultant your plan in advance; 2) there are daily high speed trains from Shanshan to Dunhuang (Liuyuan, about 2 hours), Jiayuguan (4.5 hours), Zhangye (about 6 hours), Xining(about 8 hours), Lanzhou (about 9.5 hours), etc.

Sand Lake in Kumtag Desert Rolling Weaves of Kumtag Desert View the Desert and the City at the Same Time Charming Desert with Changing Colors

Recommended Add-on Options

+3~4 more days to Kanas to Explore Untouched Natural Beauty

Kanas is an area resplendent with virtually untouched natural beauty - turquoise lake, beautiful rivers and bays, pure snow mountains, thick wild forest, fresh air and peaceful Tuva minority villages. It is no doubt one of the most beautiful places in China. Its major attractions are Kanas Lake, Kanas Rivers, Kanas Three Bays, Hemu Village, Beautiful Peak, etc. To explore Kanas to the fullest, you should stay at least 3 full days in the nature reserve, usually 1 day for Hemu Village and 2 days for Kanas Lake Scenic Area (Kanas Lake, Kanas Rivers, Kanas Three Bays…).

Moon Bay (autumn) - the iconic sight of Kanas
+3~5 more days to Kashgar to Experience Authentic Silk Road Culture

Your Xinjiang tour is not complete without Kashgar. It is the best place in Xinjiang to experience authentic Xinjiang culture as well as ancient Silk Road atmosphere. In Kashgar, you can stroll leisurely around the Kashgar Bazaar to find the trading tradition that has lasted more than 1500 years on the Silk Road and experience the Livestock Market if you are in Kashgar on Sunday, explore the traditional living quarter of local Uyghur people and enjoy a relaxing tea time in the Ancient Tea House, drive out the town to enter into a magnificent world of landscape and adventure – Pamirs' beautiful Karakul Lake and Muztagh Ata, the “father of glaciers” .

Welcome to Kashgar

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