Ever wondered what Uzbekistan has to offer, or pondered the practicalities of travelling there? You can find out more about it with our frequently asked questions.
BukharaWhat are the top reasons to visit Uzbekistan and what are the main things it has to offer travellers?
Uzbekistan is a destination that offers a wealth of cultural discovery. From the fascinating contrast between its Islamic heritage and Soviet influences to its associations with the Silk Road, it provides a wide variety of cultural attractions that make for a compelling, memorable holiday.
The opportunity to visit a part of the Silk Road (a historical series of trade routes linking the East to the West) is one of the key reasons to come here, as is the abundance of spectacular Islamic architecture. Blue-domed mosques and imposing madrasas, quite unlike what you can see in the Middle East, are some of Uzbekistan's most characteristic images.
Another reason to visit is simply to experience the fascinating mix of peoples and cultures – something that can largely be attributed to it being located at the crossroads of several civilisations, as well as its years of Soviet rule. Expect to come across everything from taxi drivers speaking Russian to cultural customs more commonly associated with China, such as tea rituals.
What are the country's top destinations?
There are three key destinations in Uzbekistan: the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. Each has something different to offer, so it is worth visiting all three if possible.
Registan Square, Samarkand
Looking at Samarkand first, this large city is famous for its associations with a folk hero called Tamerlane. An Uzbek warrier, Tamerlane is often likened to Genghis Khan, in that he was a warrior who conquered vast areas of Asia. The city is also a great place to see some of the country's most imposing madrasas.
Providing a contrast to Samarkand, which is quite a green city (it being located close to the lush mountainous region), is Bukhara. Perched on the edge of the desert, Bukhara has a real authenticity about it – and experiencing this is one of the main reasons to come here.
Home to yellow stone architecture and fascinating historical buildings, Bukhara is a wonderful place to explore on foot – especially as around almost every corner you come across a mosque or a madrasa, with their beautiful geometric tiled architecture.
Visiting Khiva requires a journey into the desert proper. What marks this destination out as different from Bukhara and Samarkand is that it has been significantly restored to the extent where many of the historic buildings look new. What's more, it's a walled town, with the modern city – where most people live – located outside it. Increasingly, the historic walled Khiva is becoming like a living museum. So, while being fascinating, it perhaps does not offer the same authenticity you will find in Bukhara.
What is the climate like and when is the best time to visit?
When visiting Uzbekistan, as a rule of thumb it is wisest to avoid travelling during the summer months. This is because destinations in desert landscapes, such as Bukhara and Khiva, are extremely hot during this period. Over the winter, the same areas can experience extreme cold – so again, it is sensible to avoid travelling at this time.
Kalon Mosque, Bukhara
In general, spring and autumn exhibit much milder weather and so are the best times to travel. April and May, as well as the end of September, October and November are the optimum months for your break.
Do you need a visa to visit Uzbekistan?
Yes – you can apply for this online.
Do you need any vaccinations?
While you do not officially need any specific vaccinations to travel to Uzbekistan, it is always sensible to visit your doctor and check you are fully up to date with all your usual shots, as well as check whether there are any additional inoculations they would recommend for you personally.
What is the food like?
Uzbek cuisine is very interesting and is mostly meat-based. Among the most popular foods is what we would call kebabs – in Uzbekistan, these are known as shashlik. You'll see them being cooked over coal fires in cafes – a wonderful sight producing equally wonderful aromas.
Another dish you are likely to come across often is plov, which is evocative of the Russian side of the country's heritage – it being a kind of cabbage and meat soup. Bread is a staple, and you'll always come across street stalls selling a wide variety of breads from different regions; supermarkets do not exist here, meaning people still flock to stalls and markets to buy their produce.
Dining can be a little more difficult for vegetarians than meat eaters, simply because the diet here is so meat-based. Often vegetarians will be served dishes containing chicken, simply because the idea of eating no meat whatsoever is so alien here. So, be very careful what you order and check it once it arrives.
It is also worth remembering that, being a developing country, Uzbekistan doesn't really have large Western-style restaurants. Rather, when you eat out, you will often be taken to people's homes that have had one room turned into a guest dining area, and here you'll get some real local food cooked up. There are some families in these three destinations who have linked up with tour operators like ourselves.
Local food, Tashkent
What are the country's top tourist attractions?
Uzbekistan is more a country to visit for the overall cultural experience than individual attractions, but there are a few individual spots that are particularly worth stopping by. Chief among them is Registan Square in Samarkand, which has vast madrasas standing on three of its sides.
In Bukhara, the stand-out attractions include the Mir-I-Arab madrasa, which is a particular highlight thanks to the exceptionally delicate tile work that decorates it. Another must-see in Bukhara, the Ark is a colossal fortress in which is hidden some of Uzbekistan's most interesting – and gruesome – spy stories.
Indeed, being at the crossroads of civilisations and being stuck between Russia and India, this is important in terms of when the British Raj used to have India and were extremely paranoid about what the Russians were planning to try to take over their Indian Empire and so both Russia and Britain had various spies in central Asia, and it was thanks to the Khan of Bukhara that several of these met a sticky end in the Ark.
The whole of Khiva can also be counted as an individual attraction, thanks to its feel of a living museum.
Architectural detail in KhivaI want to head off the beaten track – where should I go?
The Fergana Valley – a destination that's virtually undiscovered by tourists. The industrial heartland of Uzbekistan, it has a huge cotton plantation, and offers travellers the remarkable experience of being able to explore without coming across any other tourists. So, you really do feel like an explorer.
Furthermore, there is a real silk factory here – something you won't find in any of the main three Uzbek destinations, despite their being on the Silk Road. Locals in the area will have a room full of leaves where they grow their silk worm, and when the raw material is ready, they take is to the Yodgorlik Silk Factory where it can be turned into silk. Visiting here, you can see a factory run almost entirely without heavy machinery, using traditional methods instead.
Is there anything else I should know before I go?
It is worth bearing in mind that Uzbekistan has quite a high inflation rate, so do not plan to exchange high levels of currency here – if you do, you will need to carry stacks and stacks of bills, which is impractical. And indeed, as it is an inexpensive country to travel around, you will find you only need a modest amount in any case.
As a quick tip, it is a good idea to take small denomination dollars, as they are acceptable and help sidestep the problem of high inflation on the Uzbek Som.
Discover more on a Cox & Kings Uzbekistan holiday, or call one of our specialists on 020 7873 5000.
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