AIA Tours: land

Journey to the Silk Road by Private Air

Tour Dates: September 18-October 5, 2023 (18 days)

Tour Leader(s): Betty Hensellek ,


Join Archaeological Institute of America lecturer and host Betty Hensellek and trace the path of traders, explorers, and emperors along the fabled Silk Road, with most of the travel aboard a comfortable and convenient private plane. Begin appropriately in Venice, Marco Polo’s home, where many expeditions originated; visit a variety of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and important archaeological finds along historic routes in Georgia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan; and conclude in Istanbul, terminus for many caravans.

Following the fabled silk trade route by land involves long drives and restrictive, time-consuming commercial air travel. Traveling by train limits the time available to explore the most intriguing cities along the way. Having our own private aircraft allows us to maximize the time spent at key points of interest and historic outposts. Most stopovers are two to three nights to provide ample time to delve deep in each location. This is the perfect itinerary for a privately chartered aircraft!

We’ll travel aboard a Canadian-built De Havilland Dash 8-400, the world’s most advanced turboprop, significantly more efficient than aircraft with jet engines. Ours is configured with 72 Economy Class seats, but we are assigning two seats per person, so each of our maximum of 32 trip participants will have both a window seat and a free seat next to them, with ample overhead storage and an armrest that can be raised to provide extra space and comfort. The eight on-tour flights average about one hour and 45 minutes in duration.

This unique and exciting program is co-sponsored by other organizations and features multiple expert lecturers. It will likely fill quickly, so please reserve your space by contacting AIA Tours at (800) 748-6262 or We hope you will join this peerless exploration of a historically complex region amid truly stunning surroundings and world-class accommodations.

Tour Prices (16 nights)

$49,950 Per person, sharing
$54,890 Per person, single

Tour Prices Include: All accommodations, meals, and excursions as specified in the full itinerary, including 16 nights deluxe hotel accommodations, and eight private on-tour flights • Comprehensive program of lectures and presentations • Transfers for all participants on group arrival and departure dates • Hotel porterage and premier luggage transfer services in conjunction with each charter flight • Gratuities to porters, wait staff, guides, drivers, and aircraft personnel for all group activities • Entrance fees and any airport charges • Welcome and farewell wine receptions • House wine, beer, and soft drinks with all group lunches and dinners • Complete packet of pre-departure information • Professional tour manager throughout.

Carbon Neutral: Criterion Travel will be purchasing carbon offsets to neutralize the impact of greenhouse gasses that are emitted as a result of operating this Journey to the Silk Road by Private Air program, with the proceeds helping to fund thoughtfully vetted environmental projects around the world.

To reserve your space using the online form, click here.

For reservations or questions, please email us at (and include your full name) or call us toll-free at (800) 748-6262 (toll: 603-756-2884). To reserve your space using the online form, click here.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Merv, Turkmenistan

Tbilisi, Georgia

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan


Monday, September 18: Depart home: Independent overnight flights to Venice, Italy

Tuesday, September 19: Venice, Italy:  Arrival in Venice; check in to Belmond Cipriani

Wednesday, September 20: Venice: Explore the legacies of handmade velvet and costume making

Thursday, September 21: Venice to Tbilisi:  Flight to Tbilisi, Georgia; traditional dinner and music performance

Friday, September 22: Tbilisi: Two nearby UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the old city center

Saturday, September 23: Tbilisi: Traditional Georgian wine-making and local silk handicrafts

Sunday, September 24: Tbilisi to Khiva to Bukhara: Flight to Khiva, Uzbekistan; see the Ichan Kala citadel and minarets

Monday, September 25: Bukhara: Bukhara’s Old City tour; Ark Citadel; panoramic views

Tuesday, September 26: Bukhara: Local gardens; traditional calligraphy; visit to ancient Jewish quarter

Wednesday, September 27: Bukhara to Merv to Bukhara: Day trip by air to/from Merv, Turkmenistan; visit the ancient city

Thursday, September 28: Bukhara to Tashkent: Flight to Tashkent; visit with president of the Academy of Arts

Friday, September 29: Tashkent: Visit bazaar; ride Soviet-era metro; ceramic workshop; local fashion

Saturday, September 30: Tashkent to Samarkand: Flight to Samarkand; exploration of Old City with Registan Square

Sunday, October 1: Samarkand: Traditional bakery; Afrasiab Museum; silk paper- and carpet-making

Monday, October 2: Samarkand to Istanbul: Flight to Istanbul, Turkey; optional afternoon activities

Tuesday, October 3: Istanbul: Hagia Sophia; Archaeology Museum; private Dervish performance

Wednesday, October 4: Istanbul: Topkapi Palace; spice market; Grand Bazaar; farewell dinner

Thursday, October 5: Return home: Transfer to airport for independent flights homeward

View Detailed Itinerary

Already a powerful trade hub, it was from Venice that Marco Polo set off on his famous expedition to the east in 1271, returning in 1295 with stories about eastern cultures, peoples, traditions, and goods. Stay at the celebrated Cipriani hotel while visiting Marco Polo’s house and the Doge’s Palace. Also learn about the production of handmade velvet and the history of Venice’s famous costume makers.

The Caucasian route of Silk Road trade, through Tbilisi, gained importance in the 6th century and continued through the 14th century. While visiting its important sites, learn about the long list of conquerors and rulers that have fought for control of this strategic location, try your hand in traditional Georgian wine-making, and take part in local handicraft workshops.

Another historic center for education, science, and culture, best known for the imposing walls and grand gates of Ichan Kala, the fortified inner city, Khiva also boasts the most unique tiled minarets along the Silk Road. Be entertained by traditional giant puppets and local musicians before an exploration of the city’s substantial outer walls, ancient mosque, and famously unfinished Kalta Minor minaret.

One of the most prosperous cities in Central Asia throughout the Middle Ages, Bukhara was famous not only for exchange between merchants, but also for culture, scholarship, and religious studies. It was particularly renowned for its textile industry, but also celebrated for gold embroidery and metal work, and many of these crafts are still practiced in the city today.

Tashkent is a large, sprawling city with a fascinating mix of ancient Islamic and modern Soviet history. Accompanied by a local food expert, explore the bustling Chorsu Bazaar, featuring a wide range of food, local produce, and crafts, giving us a sense of life at the height of the Silk Road trading days. Examine the combined legacies of European and Asian settlers and try your hand at traditional ceramics.

Samarkand has long been a central point for trade across the region, and was a substantial city with a citadel and strong fortifications, renowned for its craft production, several centuries before it was conquered by Alexander in 329 B.C. Explore the Old City, including iconic Registan Square; visit a traditional family bakery; and delve into the Afrasiab Museum, focused on the long history of the region.

The legendary city formerly known as Constantinople was probably the most important center for East-West trade for well over 1,000 years. Visit the fabulous Hagia Sophia, a building that has influenced Western architecture since the 6th century. Also visit the Archaeology Museum, the Roman hippodrome, the opulent Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest markets in the world.

For reservations or questions, please email us at (and include your full name) or call us toll-free at (800) 748-6262 (toll: 603-756-2884). To reserve your space using the online form, click here.

support Us

The AIA is North America's largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world. Your contribution makes a difference.