- This article is an itinerary.
Caravans have been traveling the Silk Road for over 2000 years, and Chinese silk was reaching Rome before the time of Christ.
Ideas also traveled this road. Both Islam and Buddhism reached China by this route and some Silk Road areas have important relics of those religions. Various ideas from the East also reached the Islamic countries and sometimes Europe.
Marco Polo followed this route, reaching China overland via Khotan and beginning his homeward journey with a ship on the Maritime Silk Road from Quanzhou to Iran.
Many travelers today follow all or part of this ancient path by train, bus and private car. Some Wikitravel itineraries partly follow the Silk Road.
This is not an easy route or one for the novice traveler. Consult a travel medicine specialist about vaccinations and about medicine to take along. See also Tips for travel in developing countries.
Note that parts of this route may be difficult or impassable in winter, and various borders may sometimes be closed for political reasons. Check country listings for details.
Xi'an to Dunhuang
The main caravan route from China to the West
- started in the capital Chang An, what we know today as the great city of Xian
- headed west to Lanzhou and north along the Hexi Corridor to Dunhuang and the end of the Great Wall of China
Around the desert
The caravan route splits to go around the Taklimakan Desert
Northern Silk Route
Middle Silk Route
Southern (Jade) Silk Route
After Kashgar, the main route goes:
- northwest into Central Asia, over a pass to Kyrgyzstan
- on toward Tashkent, Samarkand and Bokhara
- southwest through Turkmenistan and into Iran, then known as Persia
- west to Baghdad, Damascus and Istanbul
There were also
- alternate routes — for example:
- branches off the road for example:
- a Maritime Silk Road — from Chinese ports like Nanjing and Quanzhou to India and the Arab countries
- a "Tea and horse caravan" route  much further South, from Chengdu through Yunnan and parts of Tibet to Northern India
The traditional inns of the area are called caravanserai. They are built around a walled courtyard and have stables for the horses and camels. Some still exist; anyone traveling this road should try to stay in them at least once.
The whole area is Muslim which implies at least:
- a tremendous tradition of Muslim hospitality and wonderful treatment of visitors
- some conservatism, especially in matters such as womens' clothing
- risk of foreigners who do not understand Islam giving offense
- complicated politics, mixed with religious issues
- considerable hostility toward both Western and Russian influences
Some of the people are still nomadic herdsmen, and even in the cities tribal loyalties may run strong, which implies at least:
- tremendous hospitality again
- suspicion of outsiders, even from neighboring tribes. Foreigners are sometimes exempt
- many of them are heavily armed
That said, with a bit of common sense and goodwill and a lot of flexibility on the part of the traveler, the risks are moderate.
See individual country and city listings for more.