Central Asia is one of the less known area in the world, a land full of charm maybe also for being still a bit mysterious. The most visited among Central Asian republics is out of doubt Uzbekistan, country with a millenary history the remains of which may be admired even today in Samarkand or Bukhara. You can think travelling in Central Asia is very difficult, a fear exploited by tour operators offering this destination sometimes at very high prices. In reality for visiting Central Asia without troubles is enough to organize and know where you are going. Below some suggestions for travel to the best in Uzbekistan, enjoying a wonderful country.
Preparing the trip
A good news is that long gone are the days of Soviet Union, today get the documents to visit Uzbekistan is really easier, indeed from the first of February 2019 citizens of several countries are allowed to enter the country without any visa. The new political direction, after the death of the former President Islam Karimov, has streamlined the red tape with the aim of attracting tourists to improve the Uzbek economy. The official language of the country is the Uzbek, branch of Turk family once written in Arabic, then since 1927 in Latin script and therefore from 1940 in Cyrillic. For obvious reasons in Uzbekistan is spoken the Russian as well.
Uzbekistan is a safe country, however we suggest to subscribe a travel insurance that, in any case, is mandatory to enter in the country; a good flexible insurance is World Nomads. Be careful if you travel with some drugs, not all are admitted in Uzbekistan, you can consult this list of prohibited medicines thanks to our friends of the website Caravanistan. So, don’t bring with you sleeping pills, antidepressants and meds containing codeine. Are also forbidden drone and pornography, finally better avoid books about politics and religion.
The official currency of Uzbekistan is the Uzbek Sum (UZS) and, almost surely, you will not get it before the departure. Bring with you some dollars in good shape (or they could be refused) and consider the limited diffusion of ATMs. In 2017 the government has fixed the official exchange rate, so using the black market is now quite useless and to change the money at the banks is much easier. Entering in Uzbekistan you will have to state the amount of money you are bringing in the country, this form will be verified at the moment of your leaving.
When to go
Uzbekistan is located in Central Asia, a region with strong climate change. The weather could be eventually an issue, especially in high-altitude areas that during winter are literally blanketed in snow or in deserts where summer makes the temperature even more hottest as usual. Best time to travel in Uzbekistan is in the mid seasons, April and May or September and November, when temperatures are moderate and the climate mild. In summer you can find averages around 35 degrees Celsius, during winter the temperature is often below 0, creating difficulties as regards transport.
Accordingly, the choice of clothing to put in your suitcase depends on the season of the year you want to visit Uzbekistan. You have to consider also that is a Muslim country, although Islam in Central Asia is often very tolerant and culturally far away from the Islam of more orthodox countries. Women should avoid miniskirts, tank top and whatever dress leaves the body too exposed. For men is suitable don’t use tank top and shorts, cotton long trousers are ideal.
What to see in Uzbekistan depends on the time available, for appreciating the country as it deserves, you should cross it for two weeks at least. Most likely your entry point in Uzbekistan will be the capital city, Tashkent, increasingly connected to the outside world through the opening of new air routes. You can search for your flight on Kiwi. About domestic flights it should be noted Uzbekistan Airways, the flag carrier, has a de facto monopoly.
If you can travel in Uzbekistan for two weeks an interesting tour could be this: Taskhent – Samarcanda – Buchara – Khiva – Nukus
Tashkent: Many people don’t like the Uzbek capital, city with a great Soviet imprint but with some must-see attractions, including the tube modelled on that of Moscow and the museum of applied arts where you can admire the local craft production, especially that of the famous Uzbek fabrics. Very interesting is also the Chorsu Bazaar, offering the most delicious typical dishes of Central Asia cuisine.
Samarkand: The most famous place of Uzbekistan, maybe of the Silk Road whole, is the one who has the least need of presentation: The Registan, Shah-i-Zinda, the mosque of Bibi Khanym and the complex of Gur-e Amir. Yet according many travellers, the city of Tamerlan demands less time for the visit than the nearby Bukhara. To you to decide if this is true.
Bukhara: As mentioned, according to some this city is the real jewel of Uzbek architecture, despite authorities are exaggerating with the restoration. In Bukhara you shouldn’t miss the Kalon Mosque with the (sadly) famous minaret, the Ark from where the caliph ruled spreading terror and the small mosque of Chor Minor. If then you want to go shopping the stores of Lyab-i Hauz are at your disposal!
Khiva: This ancient capital of the homonymous khanate is backed by a challenging past. This place was in fact a crossroads of the slave market in the region. Today it is an unmissable destination, among the deserts of Kyzyl Kum and Karakum, with a beautiful old town where you will seem to go back in time but (perhaps) without the danger of being taken prisoners and sold. Khiva is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and once visited it will not be difficult to guess why.
Nukus: If you still have time, you can visit the northern Uzbekistan arriving at the capital of the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan: Nukus. Besides being the logistic base to reach Moynaq and what remains of the Aral Lake, Nukus also offers an interesting necropolis, Mizdakhan, but above all hosts an incredible museum whit a unique story, namely the incomparable Savitsky collection. From Nukus the most convenient way to end your journey is to take a flight back to Tashkent, or make journey by train in around 20 hours.
If you are lucky and you can stay in Uzbekistan one month, you can add at the previous itinerary a visit to the Ferghana valley, particularly with regard to the cities of Margilan, Kokand and Andijan, or go hiking in the Nurata Mountains and admire Lake Charvak.
Ferghana Valley: This is perhaps the most delicate area of Uzbekistan, where Islam is most felt and where ethnic clashes – complicated by a true mosaic of borders – between Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Tajikistan have not been rare in the past. The Ferghana Valley, however, is also a paradise for fruit lovers, you can enjoy it in Margilan, the capital of the Uzbek silk industry, in the bazaar of the city of Andijan so beloved by Babur the founder of the Moghul dynasty and also in Kokand, capital of another Khanate whose era remain interesting vestiges such as the imposing mosque and khan palace.
Monts Nurata: If you want to escape the crowd, a few days in the valleys of these mountains are the perfect solution. The Nurata mountains can be reached from the city of Navoi with a collective taxi and you can stay in some yurt camp, walking, trying to mount a camel and relaxing in the source of Chashma.
The Charvak Lake: about a day’s journey away from Tashkent and nestled in the Chimgan Mountains, this lake is a little secret for lovers of destinations outside the more traditional tourist circuits.
Travelling by public transport in Uzbekistan is easy and cheap! Nearly all major destinations can be reached by train. The trains in Uzbekistan are of two types: The Afrosiyob is a modern express train with first and second class, while the Sharq is a slower and dated model equipped also with third class. Both types of train are comfortable but only the Sharq travels at night. Since summer 2018, after about a year of suspension, tickets can be purchased online again, but we do not guarantee for how long it will be possible. If you will buy them at the station, do it the day before to make sure you find them.
Another very common way to travel in Uzbekistan is to use collective taxis that depart, when full, from fixed points of the city. Let your hotel tell you the location and let them help you get a good idea of the prices, so you won’t see double your fare as a foreigner! Uzbek taxi drivers tend to be a bit wily, so once on board remember them the agreed price and that you are waiting for the taxi to be full, otherwise you might find yourself traveling with a collective taxi just for you, which will obviously cost you a lot. The expense of a place in a collective taxi will also depend on your skill in dealing.
The bus in Uzbekistan, however, is not very interesting for a foreigner visiting the country, since the service is not very widespread and is rather sporadic. Finding information on bus timetables is quite arduous and tickets could be more expensive and difficult to find than other means of transport. If you are eventually hitchhiking, remember that the Uzbeks expect money in exchange for the passage so, in case, make it clear right away that you have no money! Renting a car in Uzbekistan is usually expensive, better to rent a car with driver.
A small note on transport: the night train ticket counts as a registration, a practice that has remained despite the simplification of the visa regime for Uzbekistan.
Estimate of the cost
It is never easy to calculate a daily budget, personal needs are too different and subject to countless factors, for example as accommodation you can choose from excellent hotels – you can browser Agoda – to private families. Let us say that 40€ per person per day, including sleep, could be a realistic estimate.