Useful information to find out what to do to make your travel to Uzbekistan as enjoyable as possible.
Why visit: The historic Great Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and Kokand; the ship graveyard at Moynoq; the dynamic, green, modern city – Tashkent; the ambience of a Central Asian bazaar; Uzbek cuisine.
The best time to visit: March – for the spring festival of Novruz (21 March); April – for the pleasant warmth; May – the first harvest of fruits and vegetables; September and October – pleasant temperatures and harvest time for sugar-sweet grapes, honey and watermelons.
Be sure to spend at least two full days in Bukhara and Samarkand, and at least one full day in Khiva. Our recommendation is to explore the cities with the guide and spend half a day exploring the places you like on your own, taking a trip to the countryside or picking out some souvenirs. The tour guide in these cities is essential, he will not only acquaint you with the history and architecture, but also tell you many interesting things about the daily life of the Uzbeks.
If you want to visit the ship graveyard on the shore of the dried-up Aral Sea, you will have to go to the city of Nukus and arrange a trip to Moynoq (about $70, three or four hours one way). A tour along the seabed to the constantly receding water surface can cost $500.
Arrival: the passport control queue at the airport can get very long. There are separate passport controls, for tourists and for locals. You do not have to fill in the declaration form on arrival (only if you have more than 5000 USD, it is important to declare the money you bring with you). In Uzbekistan, you don’t have to worry about registration. All hotels you book are obliged to do such (online) registration.
Departure: You must arrive at the airport on time. This is important. Check at the entrance, the usual procedures of any airport in the world.
Language: the people of Uzbekistan speak Uzbek, an Old Turkic language. In the historic cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, there are also Tajiks who speak Persian. The people in the historic cities who live from tourism can speak and understand simple words in English.
Contact with the locals: the people of Uzbekistan are very friendly and open. During your trip in Uzbekistan it can happen very often that the locals (mostly school children and teenagers) approach the tourists and want to take photos together. It may be that these photos appear on social networks such as Facebook. If you do not wish this to happen, we recommend politely declining to share photos.
Currency and its peculiarities: The Uzbek sum is a currency that is not completely dependent on the dollar exchange rate. Therefore, we leave it up to you to take Euros or American dollars with you (exchange in the historic towns and in the big hotels is no problem). ATMs are available (different ATMs for Visa and MasterCard) in every town. Cashless payment for services is available in most hotels and shops.
Currency exchange: Do not change money on the black market or privately, there may be criminal consequences. You can find exchange offices directly at the airport, hotel or bank.
Exchange rates: the exchange rate in Uzbekistan changes only weekly. The current exchange rate can be found here ⇒ Central Bank of Uzbekistan.
Accommodation: you should not book accommodation through the usual sites like Booking.com. Find a hotel you like through Booking.com or TripAdvisor and arrange a booking with us. This will be the main option, as most hotels are booked by tour operators in the peak tourist season. You can get cheaper and better options with us.
Negotiate: It can’t be avoided, no matter how much you want it. Everyone haggles and almost everywhere. The first price you hear from a seller is usually an unserious one. We recommend quoting 2/3 of the price and then slowly agreeing on a compromise proposal. This kind of negotiation is also fun and part of the oriental tradition.
Cuisine: Everyone drinks tea. Always order green, as black is often brewed from a bag. The food is usually very greasy, so don’t overdo it with lagman or pilaf (but you should enjoy such greasy dishes at least once, we recommend it). In Uzbekistan, the shashlik types are prepared very well. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you have to go directly to the bazaar for dried fruits and nuts – in cafés and restaurants, 90% of the food is meat or fish. If you can tolerate alcohol, we recommend drinking 50g of vodka before the meal to disinfect the stomach (alcohol disinfects and dissolves fats).
Tour guide: In Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva you should definitely have a tour guide with you. You will be told a lot about the history, cultural characteristics and modern life of the Uzbeks. Unfortunately, finding a tour guide is a complicated matter. You should contact us with this question. There are not too many really good tour guides. Our tour guides are very reliable and have many years of experience in tourism in Uzbekistan.
Travelling between cities: From Tashkent you can fly with Uzbekistan Airways to any major city in the country. You can also book tickets for your domestic flights through us, online or directly at the airport. You can also travel between cities by train. You can book tickets for most trains through us, online or directly at the station. Tickets must be printed in advance – there is no electronic registration, nor terminals to get a ticket in Uzbekistan. Tickets for the high-speed train “Afrosiyob” can often be fully booked in the high tourist season, so please contact us in advance. The most popular way to get around Uzbekistan is by taxi. Every car here is a potential taxi. If you need a taxi in town, you can simply wave your hand – one will be waiting for you relatively quickly. But if you want to get from one city to another, it is much more difficult. For a start, it is necessary to determine where the taxi drivers gather in the direction you want to go (it is called “petak” here). You can find this out (as well as the approximate cost of the ride) from the hotel, taxi driver or passer-by on the street. Once you have found the desired collection point, you will have to endure the siege of those willing to take you there. Choose the most accommodating one and negotiate. An important clarification: In the vast majority of cases, you will be told the amount per person. Keep this in mind. If there are two of you and you want to travel comfortably, offer a little more cost for two people. If you are travelling from one city to another, we recommend booking the car or microbus through us. This is uncomplicated and safe for you. We will have you picked up from your hotel and we will take you to your desired destination.
Internet: There is no problem with the internet in Uzbekistan. There is free WiFi in every historical city where the historical sights are located. In addition, all hotels have free WiFi in the rooms or in the foyer for the customers of the hotel.
Weather: April-May and September-October is pleasantly warm. From late June to early August it is unbearably hot. Uzbekistan, like all its neighbours, has no outlet to the World Sea, the main rivers Amudarya and Syrdarya are used to irrigate crops, so at first glance there is no place to swim. This is not true: almost every major city has freshwater lakes. From Tashkent, for example, you can go to the Charvak reservoir for a few days, and from Bukhara – to Lake Tudakul.
A few more small things that can also be important: Sunglasses – not only from the sun, but also from the sand. Eye drops – can be really useful if sand gets in your eyes. Sunscreen – even in March the sun is already very strong. Allergy antidotes – every hotel, tea house and restaurant is covered with carpets and fabrics with national patterns. Allergy remedies won’t hurt, though Uzbekistan is ubiquitous cleanliness, both at home and on the street. Diarrhoea antidote – the food is very greasy. Even if you are self-conscious, do not neglect this advice.
Food: a full meal for two with drinks in the best restaurants in Bukhara and Samarkand costs around $10-15. Everything is cheaper in the tea houses, but you need to be prepared for certain greasy foods. Pilaf – eaten at lunchtime and rarely available after three or four in the afternoon. Alcohol – vodka, wine and beer. The wine in the shops is of very poor quality, it is better to go to any restaurant and pay a little too much. A tolerable red dry costs about three to four dollars. Restaurants have a lot of home-made cognac, it is of average (not bad) quality everywhere.
City taxi: 1 USD – the total price for an average ride. Prices are often quoted per person. Be sure to ask before you get in. But if you are in town for a few days (e.g. in Tashkent), don’t even start talking about money – give as much as you think is fair, based on the limits mentioned above. It will make you feel comfortable to be considered a local.
Souvenirs: Wear silk handkerchiefs, pashmina, adras and cotton. Ceramic plates with patterns. Dried fruits from the market. We recommend salted apricot kernels “shur-donak” – they taste almost as good as pistachios. In Uzbekistan there are also high-quality designer clothes with local patterns – we recommend you look out for these too.