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Uzbekistan - 7 days
Jewels of Uzbekistan
Prices from £1,149
Jewels of Uzbekistan
Prices from £1,149
Uzbekistan is perhaps the most evocative country in Central Asia, with its splendid old Silk Road cities that conjure up images of its glorious past. Our Uzbekistan holidays are designed to show the very best that the country has to offer, and this short trip covers the key highlights within just a week. We start in the capital Tashkent, seeing its historic quarter and bustling bazaar before flying west to the walled city of Khiva. Exploring this architectural gem is like entering another era, with imposing mosques, minarets and tombs around every corner, all superbly preserved. Crossing the Kyzyl Kum desert we reach Bukhara, once a powerful khanate and with monuments dating back a thousand years, including the impressive Chor Minor mosque, the Ark, and the Lyabi Hauz. Finally our journey takes us to fabled Samarkand where we explore its magnificent Registan Square, the Bibi Khanum Mosque and the observatory of Ulug Beg among other spectacular sights. For those short on time but wanting an insight into this ever mysterious region, this tour offers a chance to understand the fascinating history of the Silk Road.
Day 1 – Tashkent
Arrive in Tashkent. After some time to freshen up, begin exploring the historic sites of the city.
Day 2 – Khiva
Fly to Khiva. We spend the day walking its narrow alleys and uncovering the best of its highlights including the Kalta Minor minaret, the Islam Khodja madrassah and the ark, where the khans of Khiva once lived.
Day 3 – Bukhara
Drive through the Kyzyl Kum desert to Bukhara, passing small villages along the way.
Day 4 – Bukhara
Bukhara is awash with breathtaking monuments and its historic centre is exceptionally well preserved. We spend today exploring this enchanting city and visiting its most important sites.
Day 5 – Shakhrisabz – Samarkand
Drive to Shakhrisabz, once the capital of Tamerlane. Visit the Kok Gumbaz mosque and the Ak Saray Palace among other sites before continuing to Samarkand.
Day 6 – Samarkand
A full day exploring the marvellous sites of Samarkand, one of the most incredible Silk Road cities and with a wealth of monuments to explore.
Day 7 – Tashkent
Drive back to Tashkent and transfer to the airport for departure.
Day 1 – Tashkent
Arrive in Tashkent. After some time to freshen up, begin exploring the historic sites of the city including the Kukeldash madrassah, Khast Imam square – the heart of old Tashkent – and the Chorsu Bazaar. Overnight Hotel Shodlik Palace or similar.
Tashkent is the largest city in Central Asia, and was the fourth largest in the Soviet Union when it existed. The city has always been an important trading centre in the region, having established links with Russia centuries ago and being a key point on the Silk Road of old. It still retains its Silk Road Heritage in places, most noticeably in the old quarter, dominated by the striking Khast Imam complex, a collection of madrassahs, mosques and mausoleums which date back to the fifteenth century. Tashkent never quite attained the legendary status of other cities such as Khiva or Samarkand and was very much seen as a vassal of the Emirs of either Bukhara or Khokand, until it was seized by Russian forces in the 19th century and used as a springboard for their continuing conquest of the region. Tashkent became the capital of Russian Turkestan and this legacy means that it is perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in the former Soviet Union, with large Russian and Korean communities there today. Tashkent changed forever in the 1960s when it was struck by an enormous earthquake which flattened most of the city and killed 300,000, and today it is a mixture of the ancient and modern, with civic monuments and large public squares jostling for space with winding streets and centuries old mosques.
Day 2 – Khiva
Fly to Khiva. Enclosed by mud brick walls, the old part of Khiva, known as the Ichon Qala, has been virtually unchanged for centuries and is an open air museum packed full of intricately decorated minarets, mosques and madrassahs. We spend the day walking its narrow alleys and uncovering the best of its highlights including the Kalta Minor minaret, the Islam Khodja madrassah and the ark, where the khans of Khiva once lived. Overnight Malika Khiva or similar. (BLD)
Khiva is a fairytale city springing out of the desert, with a multitude of well preserved monuments stretching back centuries that have you gasping in wonder at every turn. Once an independent khanate its power was built on the slave trade, and for centuries raiders would set out from here to capture the inhabitants of towns on the very edges of imperial Russia. Its historic centre, the Ichon Kala, is bounded by robust mud walls giving it the effect of a fortress, while inside it contains some of the very best of Uzbekistan’s sights. Graceful minarets stretch into the sky while mosques and mausoleums capped with turquoise domes and intricate tilework give the visitor a sense of the past glories of a once great city. One of its most stunning monuments is the Kalta minaret, intended to be the highest in the Islamic world but left unfinished when its patron died. For a great view over the city, climb the winding staircase to the top of the Islam Khodja minaret to look down on a city that has changed little in centuries. It is hard to oversell the visual impact of Khiva, and no-one comes away disappointed.
Day 3 – Bukhara
Drive through the Kyzyl Kum desert to Bukhara, passing small villages along the way. Overnight Grand Bukhara Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 4 – Bukhara
Bukhara is awash with breathtaking monuments and its historic centre is exceptionally well preserved, making a visit here like stepping back in time to the days when the Silk Road trade was at its height. We spend today exploring this enchanting city and visiting its most important sites, including the Kalon Minaret, the Lyabi Hauz ensemble, the bazaars, the Ismail Somoni Mausoleum and one of our personal favourites, the Chor Minor mosque with its four blue domed minarets. And of course no visit to Bukhara would be complete without visiting the Ark, the vast fortress that was home to the Emirs for over a millennium. Overnight Grand Bukhara Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Bukhara is one of the true gems of Central Asia, with a superbly preserved old city which transports you back at least a couple of centuries. Bukhara was one of the most powerful of the Central Asian khanates and is considered to be the holiest city in Central Asia, with origins stretching back as far as the time when Alexander the Great and his armies passed through the region. Bukhara’s sights are varied but one of the most interesting is the citadel known as the Ark – the residence of the emir, this sturdy construction towers high above the Registan square below, the site of execution for criminals including two unfortunate British officers who were sent here in the 19th century in an effort to bring Bukhara under the British, rather than Russian, sphere of influence. Wherever you walk through old Bukhara, you are continually confronted with grandiose mausoleums, towering minarets and charming old merchants’ houses – the city is a living museum and one cannot fail to fall in love with its charms.
Day 5 – Shakhrisabz – Samarkand
Drive to Shakhrisabz, once the capital of Tamerlane. Visit the Kok Gumbaz mosque and the Ak Saray Palace among other sites before continuing to Samarkand. Overnight Konstantin Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 6 – Samarkand
A full day exploring the marvellous sites of Samarkand, one of the most incredible Silk Road cities and with a wealth of monuments to explore. We visit the enormous Bibi Khanum Mosque, built by the wife of the Mongol ruler Timur, as well as the stunning Registan Square, one of Central Asia’s most iconic sites. We also visit the Shah-i Zinda complex of mausoleums, a stunning collection of buildings dating back to the 14th century that rivals the Registan for splendour, and also the observatory of Ulug Beg. Overnight Konstantin Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Immortalised in poetry, the city of Samarkand was founded in the 8th century BC by the Persians and stands with Khiva and Bukhara as one of the most glorious of all the Silk Road cities. Samarkand has had a turbulent history which has left its mark and has been controlled at various times by Arabs, Sogdians and the armies of Alexander the Great, but it was the notorious Mongol leader who left his greatest mark. Blessed with a wealth of ancient monuments, its most impressive is the collection of mosques and madrassahs around the Registan Square, surely the best example of Islamic architecture to be found anywhere. Elsewhere in the city the observatory of the astronomer and ruler Ulug Beg is well worth a visit, and the wealth of buildings offer superb opportunities to marvel at the intricacies of Islamic art. Samarkand leaves a lasting impression on all who visit.
Day 7 – Tashkent
Drive back to Tashkent and transfer to the airport for departure. (B)
Airport transfers – We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.
Accommodation – Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.
Guides – You will be accompanied by an English speaking guide throughout the trip.
Meals – As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.
Entrance fees – Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.
Domestic flight – From Tashkent to Urgench.
What’s not included:
Visas – We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour (www.travcour.com) can assist.
Airport taxes – If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.
International flights – Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.
Travel Insurance – If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.
Almost everyone will require visas to enter some of the Central Asian ‘stans’. The requirements for these vary according to each different country, but many will require an invitation letter, which we can provide for you.
Kyrgyzstan takes the lead in becoming more tourist friendly, in that many nationalities, including UK citizens, do not need a visa for entry. Kazakhstan has also recently relaxed its rules, and UK and US travellers do not need a visa for stays of less than 15 days (although this is currently set to expire on 31 December 2017).
Turkmenistan allows most travellers to obtain visas upon arrival, but should you wish to do this it is essential that you notify us at least one month beforehand in order that the necessary preparations can be made.
In theory Tajikistan also grants visas upon arrival at Dushanbe airport, but in practice this depends on whether there is anyone at the airport to man the visa desk, so we recommend that you obtain this before travel. If you are travelling into the Pamir Mountains you will also require the GBAO permit, which you should also request when applying for your visa.
Uzbekistan has introduced visa free travel for stays of up to 30 days from 1 February 2019, for many nationalities including UK, Australian, New Zealand, Canada and many EU nationalities. US citizens will need to apply for an e-visa in advance, which can be done via the following website:
Visa regulations in Central Asia are particularly fluid and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy, or us, for the most up to date information.
Health and vaccinations
We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.
It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.
Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.
Arrival and departure taxes
There are no arrival or departure taxes applicable for most countries, but Turkmenistan will charge a $14 ‘immigration tax’, plus $2 bank fees, payable separately in US dollars when you enter.
The local currency in each country varies and is as follows:
Uzbekistan – som
Turkmenistan – manat
Tajikistan – somoni
Kyrgyzstan – som
Kazakhstan – tenge
It’s not difficult to change money in the region – usually the most convenient place will be a hotel but your guide will be able to point you in the right direction. There are also an increasing number of ATMs in larger towns. However these are not always reliable and so it is best to think of them as a back up rather than a main means of obtaining money. The best currency to bring for exchange purposes is US dollars, and these should have issue dates of 2006 or later, otherwise they can be difficult to exchange.
Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and better restaurants (usually in major cities only) but are not commonly accepted elsewhere.
Uzbekistan requires that you fill in currency declaration forms when you enter, which you should keep – they will be checked again upon departure.
When to go
Sitting in the middle of the Eurasian landmass, Central Asia experiences some real extremes of temperature. Much of the region will be covered in thick snow in the winter months, while in the summer temperatures can easily reach more than 45 degrees Celsius. The most comfortable time to visit the region is either in the late spring or early autumn months. However, an exception to this would be mountainous regions of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – here snow can close the passes for much of the year and so the best time to visit is from June to September. Snow in winter can really hamper sightseeing elsewhere in the region and some places may be inaccessible.
Culture – language and religion
Central Asia is an Islamic region, where mosques and madrassahs abound. Although great efforts were made to impose secular beliefs on the people of the region throughout Soviet times, with the coming of independence Central Asia experienced something of a religious revival. However, you’ll often find that Islam is not adhered to quite so rigorously here as it is in other countries, and alcohol is widely available and freely consumed.
There are small pockets of Christians in all countries, mainly among Russian communities that stayed after the break up of the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan in particular once had a sizeable Jewish community, especially in Bukhara, although very few remain now.
Each country has its own language, and all apart from Tajik belong to the Turkic group of languages. Tajik is different in that is has Persian roots and is closely related to Farsi. Russian is widely spoken throughout the whole region and you will find that a few Russian words will help you – although it’s no major problem without them.
Eating and drinking
Central Asia’s food is one of its highlights, with influences from Turkish to Mediterranean to Chinese. A typical dish is meat – usually mutton – and rice, flavoured with spices and cooked as a pilau – called plov in Uzbekistan. Dried fruits such as sultanas and apricots are also often added. Kebabs are also quite popular, and you’ll also find noodles on many menus. Most meals will also be accompanied by vegetable dishes, and the salads here are generally good, although you won’t find many vegetables on offer when heading into the nomadic steppelands.
You should advise us when you book if you have any special dietary requirements. We will try to accommodate you as much as possible, but we cannot always guarantee this.
Luggage and packing
The first rule of packing is not to bring too much. There will be plenty of occasions where you’ll need to carry your luggage yourself and so you should be able to do this without help. Most people are surprised at how little they actually need to bring, and it’s normally possible to get laundry done along the way.
It doesn’t matter whether you bring a suitcase, rucksack or holdall, but please don’t bring more than 20kg of luggage as this may be difficult to accommodate in the vehicles we use. You’ll also need a day pack.
There are no special dress rules for Central Asia, but you should dress respectfully when entering any religious buildings – legs and upper arms should be covered.
You’ll be walking around a number of sites and villages in Central Asia, often involving rocky ground, so do consider this when selecting shoes or boots.
You don’t need to be especially fit to join our trips in Central Asia, but you will be walking around a fair amount of sites and in some instances national parks, so you’ll find it much more enjoyable if you have a moderate level of fitness.
In Central Asia, like many of the destinations we offer, environmental thinking is not at the forefront of everyday life and you will see a lot of litter in places. However, we ask that you don’t contribute to this and to please take all litter back to the hotel where it can be disposed of properly, including cigarette butts.
Especially in the larger cities, you may come across beggars. There’s no hard and fast answer on this and everyone has a different view – some feel that giving simply encourages begging while others see it as helping someone in need. Some guidebooks will tell you that you should only give if you see a local person also giving, to determine whether the beggar is genuine. The issue is particularly difficult when it comes to children, but we’d ask that you don’t give to children as in poor communities this can often act as a discouragement to going to school. If you feel that you’d like to contribute then speak with your guide who will be able to make appropriate suggestions.
Most people like to take photos, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that the photogenic person in front of you may not want their picture taken. Always ask if it’s okay, and respect their wishes if they say no. You’ll often find that in remote villages or among more traditional communities the older generation, and women in particular, are not comfortable with having their picture taken.
On the subject of photography, it’s often forbidden to take photos of ‘sensitive’ areas such as military buildings or border posts, and doing so can land you in trouble with the authorities. If you’re not sure, ask your guide.
If you’re happy with the services of your guide and driver then we would recommend leaving a tip for them at the end of your trip. The amount is entirely up to you, but a reasonable amount for a medium sized group to tip would be between $20-25 per day for the guide, and about $15-20 per day for the drivers – however it is not obligatory and if you do not wish to tip then this is up to you.
When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.
Please note that the Turkmen authorities have recently introduced a new regulation, banning smoking in all public places. It is also prohibited to bring more than 40 cigarettes into the country.
We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to any of the parts of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that we visit on our tours.
This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.
Any or all of the Bradt Guides to the individual countries of Central Asia
The Great Game
A Carpet Ride to Khiva
Christopher Aslan Alexander
The Lost Heart of Asia
In Search of Kazakhstan
Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Updated 22 March 2019
Excellent guide Mashura and driver Istam. Food extremely good and lots of it. I enjoyed and learnt a great deal on our short trip, my favourite place was Khiva. Impressed with Uzbekistan Airways and impressed with the domestic flight. All hotels were good to very good with Konstantin Hotel in Samarkand excellent. Thanks for a great trip.
The trip went very well indeed, thanks largely to Mashhura who deserves 10+ for her excellent knowledge of the history of her country but also her human touch. By the end of the week we were all very fond of her. The driver Istam was also excellent – it’s certainly not his fault that the roads are in such a bad state and he did his best to avoid the worst holes.
Things are changing very quickly in Uzbekistan and such a mistake as we made in not trusting Uzbekistan Airways should not be made again. 3 of the group flew into Tashkent with them and were very pleased with their service. Chiara interestingly flew from Milan and the plane had a stopover in Urgench. If they did that from London too, it would be a good idea to begin the trip in Khiva and finish in Tashkent.
Because of the extreme climate, the tarmac on the roads does not stay flat for long, which means that a long journey by bumpy roads is very tiring. As an express railway is currently under construction it would be a good idea to make as many journeys as possible by train.
(It would be a good idea to launch a worldwide research for solutions to the tarmac problem!)
All in all in was a great holiday and most of the sights there are so overwhelmingly beautiful, you need quite some time to take it all in.
Hope these notes will be of some help to you and thank you for organizing it all so well.
I cannot praise Native Eye highly enough. This was the most incredible trip of my life, I am still dizzy after being home 4 days!
Everything was perfect. First of all, Mashura was totally delightful. I will not forget her in a hurry.
The hotels exceeded expectations, specially Hotel Constantin at Samarkand.
The food was all absolutely fantastic and the restaurants all well chosen: atmospheric, clean, service always excellent.
We were lucky with the weather, sunshine every day and not a drop of rain.
It was well organised and ran smoothly, 10 out of 10!
|20 April 2019||£1,149||£175||Guaranteed||
|05 October 2019||£1,149||£175||Available||
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|03 October 2020||£1,149||£175||Available||