Located in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is a prime destination, often forgotten by most travellers. Easy to visit and safe, it’s the ideal place to soak up the atmosphere of The Thousand and One Nights. Follow the steps of Marco Polo for an unforgettable trip filled with outstanding cultural discoveries.
3 reasons to go
- Architecture. Uzbekistan boasts some of the most impressive and gorgeous buildings of the Muslim World. Be prepared to be amazed by mosques and madrasas (religious schools) like you’ve never seen before.
- History. Located on the Silk Road, Uzbekistan has seen so many stories unfold in the past centuries. From Alexander the Great to Marco Polo, many adventurers have explored this land.
- Hospitality. Although English is not widely spoken, the contact with the local population will definitely be a highlight of your trip.
Destination 1: Khiva
Located in the Western part of the country, Khiva has been the first place in Uzbekistan to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. This ancient city in the middle of the desert is famous for its inner town including more than 50 historic monuments protected by a 10 meters brick wall.
Destination 2: Bukhara
A true city-museum, built around a lovely square, Bukhara has the oldest mosque (Maghoki-Attar, 12th century) and madrasa (Ulugbek madrasa, 1417) of Central Asia.
Destination 3: Samarkand
Home of the world-renowned Registan square and listed as the crossroad of cultures in the UNESCO heritage list, Samarkand is a fascinating city.
How to book your vacation?
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This itinerary is set up to make you go from the smallest to the largest city to be visited. This way, the monuments and sites you’ll see will get larger and larger keeping you always amazed by the next spot.
Day 1: land in Tashkent and reach Khiva
You will land in the country’s capital, Tashkent, where you can transfer on a domestic flight to Urgench. From there, you are only 30 minutes away by cab from Khiva, your first real stop in Uzbekistan.
Day 2: Khiva
The inner town is free to explore but you can buy a generic entrance ticket that get you into most museums, madrasas and sites in the city. It is sold at the West Gate and cost 35 000 soms. Some of the highlights include the Juma mosque (go up the minaret), Kalta Minor minaret and the city walls, that you can also climb for a fantastic view over Khiva, in the late afternoon when the sun goes down and the colors are magnificent.
Day 3: Desert tour and reach Bukhara
Ask your guesthouse to find you a car for this pretty common tour. It’s the best way to visit the Elliq-Qala, a series of old desert fortresses. It takes about 3 ½ hours and you can visit three of them, all dating from the 3rd to 7th century BC. After the tour, you still have a 5 to 6 hours drive to reach Bukhara, by crossing the Kyzyl-Kum desert. The tour + drive to Bukhara cost around $70 per car, which you can possibly share with other guests at your accommodation if you want to.
Once in Bukhara, I’d recommend to have dinner around the main square (Lyab-I Hauz), by the fountains. Considering the prime location, prices are surprisingly affordable.
Day 4: Bukhara
Bukhara has many historical sites to explore. They all can be reached by foot and are very close to each others. The emblematic Chor Minor is a must, followed by the madrasas and mosque around Lyab-I Hauz square, the Kalon mosque and Mir-I Arab madrasa. The old fortified city (called the Ark) is a bit disappointing so I wouldn’t recommend it if your time in Bukhara is limited.
Day 5: Bukhara and reach Samarkand
Going to Samarkand by train is the most convenient option. There’s a daily morning train (8:05am) which takes about 3 hours and cost 35 000 soms per person ($6 USD).
Once in Samarkand, you should plan your visits by neighbourhood as some sites are pretty distant. If you stay near the Registan, you will be able to reach them all by foot. Make sure to check the square twice, by day and night to see the lightings.
Day 6: Samarkand
Apart from the Registan, major sites include Shah-I Zinda, with all the wonderful mausoleums and Gur-e Amir (Amir Timur’s mausoleum).
Day 7: Samarkand and return to Tashkent
Spend another day in Samarkand and take the evening train to Tashkent (6:38pm, 3 hours long and cost 42 000 som in first class, or $7 USD).
Day 8: return home
Depending on the time of your flight, you can have a quick look at the center of Tashkent around Amir Timur’s statue and/or visit a museum or two, but you won’t be missing much if you don’t spend time in the capital city. Completely different from the previous towns included in the trip, this soviet-type capital is definitely not crucial to any visit in Uzbekistan. If you wish to visit Tashkent, try to hop on a morning train on day 7.
Tips and advice
- Bring all your budget for the week in US dollars. There are two exchange rates in Uzbekistan, the official and the black market rate. At time of writing, it was officially about 2900 soms for 1 USD but you can get about 6000 soms on the black market. Therefore you understand why you should never withdraw from ATMs. To exchange your cash, simply head to the city’s bazaar and ask around. Very easy to manage.
- Book your accommodation ahead, most have a website and email address so you can contact them directly. Guesthouses with friendly local families are the best options (two suggestions: Meros BB in Khiva and Sarrafon B&B in Bukhara). Regular hotels are mostly charmless old soviet buildings.
- The best time of the year to visit Uzbekistan is from April to mid-June and September to October. The summer is too hot to explore the cities and winters get very cold.
- You can buy your train tickets locally at any travel agency (named Aviakassa). 1 or 2 days ahead is enough but make sure to buy them as soon as you can to avoid any issue. Bring your passport to the agency, they need to have it to book your ticket. When going to the train station, make sure to be there 45 minutes before departure as you will need to go through a security check (similar to an airport check).
- You will need a visa to visit Uzbekistan. Although it is fairly easy to obtain, make sure to plan ahead. You should find the latest information on your country’s foreign affairs website, which usually includes a travel section with the requirements specific to its citizens. Click here if you are French, Canadian, British or a US citizen.
- Booking a domestic flight is the main problem in Uzbekistan. You can’t buy them online and will need to go through a travel agency. To allow you to book your accommodations, contact an agency in your home country, they will book the ticket Tashkent – Urgentch for you. If you choose to buy your ticket on arrival, they are sold only at the airports and must be paid in cash (in USD).
Not convinced yet? Read this additional post: why you should go to Uzbekistan for your next vacation.