Uzbekistan is one of those non-descript Central Asian ‘Stans’ that has you reaching for your Atlas. Landlocked but seated beside the Aral Sea, it is a historically significant country, having hosted several great empires since the second millenium BC. Some of its highlights are the Ark, a former dwelling of the Emirs, the ancient city of Samarkand, and the western end of the Tian Shan mountain range. The mountainous landscape make it a popular site for climbing, trekking, and hiking. Tourist facilities are abundant, and transportation is fairly safe and reliable. However, its tourist potential is shadowed by terrorism threats and general political instability in the region. Besides, it’s not the easiest place to get to.
When to Go
The climate is extremely continental, with the northern part having the coldest weather and the south being the warmest. Temperatures can reach 113°F in the summer and dip to -31°F in the winter. The best times to visit are spring and autumn, as temperatures are milder.
Getting There & Away
The country is in the middle of nowhere, deep inside the Caucasus. Tashkent Airport is the main entry point, serving several international airlines including the national carrier, Uzbekistan Airways. There are frequent trips to the city center via bus, train, and trolley. Rail services connect most major cities, with two stations located in Tashkent. Bus service is fairly cheap and travels to most Uzbek towns, and are usually safer than trains. Taxis and car hire are also available, but use only officially marked taxis and do not share taxis with strangers.
Health & Safety
Major health risks include typhoid and cholera. Malaria occurs occasionally, but is not widespread. Tap water is untreated, so drink only boiled, distilled, or bottled water. Visitors get free emergency care, but medical facilites are extremely limited. Bring your own first-aid kit and prescriptions, especially if you plan to stay outside Tashkent. Terrorism threats are high, and foreigners are frequent victims of robbery and muggings.
Food & Hospitality
The Uzbek national dish is pov, made of rice, mutton, carrots, and onions. Tea and vodka are considered the national drinks. Other dishes worth trying are the chuchvara, a sort of mutton-stuffed ravioli, dumplings, and samosas.
The country has other things on its mind than tourism and still exists very much in the Soviet era. Tourists are usually required to stay in hotels run or licensed by Uzbektourism. Most local hotels are below Western standards, although there are foreign-owned ones and Western chain franchises. There is at least one licensed hotel in the regional capitals. Smaller bed-and-breakfast hotels are also available, but they offer limited accommodation.
Three days in Tashkent
Three days in Samarkand
One day at Chatkalsky Reserve
One day at The Ark
Tashkent: recently rebuilt after a massive earthquake in 1966, the country’s capital now sports tree-lined streets and sleek modern buildings. The remains of the old town can be seen west of the city center, where the older buildings are more interesting. Some of the highlights are the Kaffali-Shash Mausoleum and the 16th-century Kukeldash Madrasa.
Samarkand: best known as the site where Alexander the Great killed his friend Cleitos, Samarkand features 15th- to 17th-century madrasas (Islamic seminaries) and the remains of the Bibi Khanym Mosque, which was partly destroyed by an 1897 earthquake.
The Ark: a former palace complex of the Emirs, The Ark features an Emir jail, where signs of ancient torture methods can be seen, and the 12th-century kalian Minaret, often called the Tower of Death. The Kalyan Mosque, one of the few mosques open to non-Muslims, can also be found nearby.
Chatkalsky Reserve: this is a narrow gorge within the Tian Shan mountain range inhabited by rare snow-dwelling species, such as the Tian-Shan grey bear, snow tigers, and the Berkut eagle.
Trekking: the mountains in the south have challenging peaks for experienced hikers, and gentler foothills for beginners. The trail from the Chatkal Range to the Chatkal Natiore Preserve is particularly scenic.
Climbing: serious mountaineers can climb some of the world’s highest peaks, such as the Peak Khan-Tengri, Peak Korzhenevskaya, and Peak Pobeda. Vertical rocks and ridges for rock and ice climbing are also available.
Cave exploring: experienced cavers can explore the Boi-Bulok and the Kievskaya, two of the deepest caves in Asia. The Kugitang caves have beautiful gypsum formations, and mummified bears can be found in Basintau.