Today I’ve put together a complete Uzbekistan travel guide with all the insider info for planning the perfect trip! There’s a LOT of Uzbekistan travel tips in this post, so get comfy 🙂
Uzbekistan unexpectedly turned out to be one of my all-time favorite countries. Of all the places I’ve visited, it has the most breathtaking architecture and by far the loveliest people. It’s an incredible, unique destination – such a breath of fresh air, especially in the age of social media where it sometimes feels like everything’s been “done” already.
One of only two double-landlocked countries in the world, Uzbekistan is located along what used to be the Silk Road. Back then, its cities were key trading hubs for textiles, spices, and more, before it was overtaken by the Soviet Union – only gaining its independence a few decades ago.
The result of this complicated history? A developing country with towering Islamic architecture, intricate tilework, and a high-speed bullet train… where everybody speaks Russian. Okay, why not.
Its distance from the Western world is a challenge in some ways. Transport, communication, and even finding an ATM are frustrating and difficult at times. This is a country where you definitely need to go in planned, booked, and prepared. If you know what to expect and what not to do, your trip will be a lot smoother than mine!
So with no further ado, here’s my full Uzbekistan travel blog with all the info you’ll need for planning a trip to Uzbekistan!!
(PS: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase I may receive a commission, at no additional cost to you.)
Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan: The Basics
There’s NEVER been a better time to visit Uzbekistan. In mid-2018, they finally reformed their visa policy to encourage tourism – abandoning visa requirements altogether for some countries and offering an e-visa for others.
Many countries – including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and any in the EU – have a 30-day visa exemption for Uzbekistan. You can check if you need a visa by selecting your country from the dropdown here on the official government site.
If your country doesn’t have an exemption, check if you can get an e-visa. Many countries, including the USA, are eligible! You can apply for a 30-day single entry e-visa online, instead of going to an embassy – apply here for $20 USD. You need to do this at least 3 days before your trip, but please do it sooner in case you run into issues with their [glitchy, pain in the ass of a] website.
If your country isn’t eligible for an e-visa or visa-free entry, you’ll need to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get a visa.
When to Visit
Uzbekistan is a great year-round destination, but the best times to visit are spring (April/May) and autumn (Sept/Oct). The weather will be nice but it won’t be as hot – or crowded – as the summer months. I visited in late April, and the weather was perfect – warm and sunny, but not unbearable.
If you visit in late March, you can enjoy Norooz (Persian New Year) on the 21st, which is a massive celebration. And if you’re there September 1 you can celebrate Uzbekistan Independence Day, which is a huge holiday complete with fireworks, military parades, and more.
How to Get There
There are multiple airlines serving Uzbekistan. Most people will end up flying with Turkish Airlines, Asiana, or Korean Air. I was coming from Istanbul so flew with Azerbaijan Airlines via Baku (bare-bones and nobody spoke English on the flight but otherwise fine).
I arrived in Tashkent, the main international airport and Uzbekistan’s capital city. All international flights will land here unless you’re coming from Russia, in which case you can fly to Samarkand or Bukhara directly.
Language (Tip: Brush Up On Russian)
Uzbek people mainly speak Uzbek and Russian, plus Tajik in certain areas. I would highly suggest keeping Google Translate open and ready to go on your phone! Learning a few basic Russian words & phrases will be helpful too (ex. if you’re looking for a ticket office, look for the word “kassa”).
Hotel and tourist location staff will know at least basic English, but don’t expect taxi drivers to speak a word of it. English is NOT common here, because it hasn’t been a huge priority for the tourism industry until recently. Uzbekistan sees millions of tourists annually, but only a small percent are Westerners. The vast majority come from neighboring countries, followed by Russia, Turkey, and India. I didn’t meet – or see – a single other American during my week there.
For me this was one of the hardest parts about traveling here. Uzbekistan is definitely the least English-friendly country I’ve visited**. I relied on Google Translate a lot and felt very lucky that I speak Farsi (basically Tajik but a different dialect) – it was way more useful than my English.
**FYI this isn’t a complaint! We’re in their country and should not expect anyone there to speak English.
Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan: Where to Go & What to Do
Tashkent is Uzbekistan’s capital city. It’s by far the least exciting stop in Uzbekistan, but I still think it’s worth a visit for a day or two. I loved visiting Chorsu Bazaar and admiring the elaborate metro system. I’d also suggest checking out some of the crazy Soviet-style architecture like the monolithic Hotel Uzbekistan, and visiting the Amur Timur Museum & Teleshayakh Mosque.
I never got the sense of being anywhere “new” here. Tashkent actually feels quite European! It was a nice intro to the country to start somewhere calmer and more metropolitan before heading into the Silk Road cities. I’d recommend starting your trip with Tashkent, too.
How Long to Stay: 1-2 Days
Samarkand is easily one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited. Once a wealthy city along the Silk Road, it just feels historical – like you stepped back in time and are walking through a majestic, powerful city. The old buildings here are absolutely magnificent and you can easily spend a few days admiring the sites. I spent two days and would have enjoyed a third.
Must-dos include the INCREDIBLE Registan (a complex of three enormous Islamic-style buildings and a huge courtyard), the intricate Shah-i-Zinda and Gur-e-Amir Mausoleums, Bibi Khaynm Mosque, the Ulugh Beg Observatory, and the Samarkand Bazaar.
How Long to Stay: 2-3 Days
I didn’t make it to Bukhara due to scheduling issues (my fault completely, and I’ll explain how to avoid it below), but it’s a must-visit. As another of the old Silk Road cities, it has some of the most incredible architecture in Uzbekistan. There’s more to see here than any other city in Uzbekistan so I’d prioritise spending a few days here.
Visit the Ark (the huge fortress walling off Bukhara’s inner city), the turquoise-tipped Chor Minor mosque, the towering Mir-e-Amir Madrasa, the spectacular Po-i-Kalyan complex, crazy detailed Samanid Mausoleum, and the historical Bolo Haouz Mosque – among others.
How Long to Stay: 3 Days
Khiva is Uzbekistan’s most touristy main city, but it’s popular for a reason. Located a bit off the main track, Khiva is harder to get to than the other cities but has some truly spectacular ancient architecture.
You’ll likely spend most of your time inside Itchan Kala, the inner city. Make sure to visit the Islom Hoja Minaret (the tallest in Uzbekistan!), Kalta Minor Minaret, the rustic Juma Mosque, beautifully tiled Tosh-Hovli Palace, and the nearby fortress ruins of Toprak Kala.
How Long to Stay: 1 Day
Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan: Hotels & Accommodation
Book Hotels in Advance
I would not recommend winging your accommodation in Uzbekistan. Plan it out well in advance and make sure your hotels are booked and confirmed. Why? Because otherwise you may end up in a city where there are literally no hotels available.
I’m more of a spontaneous traveler, so sometimes I don’t book hotels until the day of. I wanted to spend an extra night in Samarkand because I was enjoying it so much.. and was surprised to discover that literally every hotel in town was fully booked – something I’ve never encountered in any other city in the world, ever.
I thought something was wrong with Booking.com, but my hotel confirmed that nope, everywhere was full. So I left.
After some further research, apparently many hotels get booked up ASAP by larger tour groups. It’s maybe worth noting that some hotels aren’t available to book online yet, so you might be able to call around and find a room independently — I didn’t bother.
Where to Stay
In Tashkent I stayed at the absolutely MAGNIFICENT Ichan Q’ala Hotel and the bare bones Topchan Hostel (what can I say, I live in extremes). Hotel was incredible, hostel sucked (no atmosphere, unhelpful staff). I’d recommend European Backpacker & Sakura Hostel to meet people, Art Hostel for a relaxing stay + bomb breakfast, or Homestay B&B for a nicer budget option.
In Samarkand I stayed at Ideal Hotel and Muzaffar Hotel – would recommend Muzaffar because of its freaking LOVELY STAFF and awesome location. It’s a short walk away from Registan, Bibi Khanym Mosque, shops, and other attractions.
The Uzbek government requires you to register with all your hotels when you check in – this basically just means they record your passport + visa details and give you a slip of paper to hold onto listing the dates of your stay. Hostels and hotels will do this for you, if you are staying in independent accommodation you’ll need to do it yourself.
Some of your hotels may ask to see your previous registrations. You MIGHT get asked for all of your registrations when you leave the country, so make sure not to lose them! There’s a chance you could get a fine if you don’t have them.
Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan: Budgeting, Currency, and Cash
Budgeting for Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is extremely affordable. $1 USD = roughly 9400 Uzbek som as of October 2019 (it was only 8500 when I visited in April!). Expect to walk around with your pockets literally overflowing with cash.
You should budget between $30-50 USD/day but can easily spend less or more (hostels vs. fancy hotels, cheap local meals vs. nicer dinners, etc) – this is just a guideline!
As far as accommodation, a hostel bed will be a few dollars whereas a basic hotel will run you about $20-30 USD. Meals will cost a few dollars, if that. Transport, even by high-speed bullet train, is very affordable – a standard ticket for a couple hours journey will only be around $20-30 USD. I traveled exclusively in share taxis and paid about $10 USD for a 4-hour drive.
Bring Cash. Please.
Uzbekistan is a cash-based society. Hotels are pretty much the only place you can use a card, and even then it’s not a guarantee. Booking.com should tell you in advance if your hotel accepts cards, but you can also message the property directly on there.
ATMs are extremely unreliable – including the ones at the airport – so MAKE SURE THAT YOU GET CASH OUT BEFORE BOARDING YOUR FLIGHT. ENTER UZBEKISTAN CARRYING CASH.
I’d never been to a country before where the airport did not have functional ATMs. There are three machines at Tashkent International, and all three were out of cash when I arrived.
…I ended up having a taxi take me to four separate ATMs in Tashkent before we found one that worked and I was finally able to pay him. I wasn’t just unlucky, btw – this is standard.
**There are two small currency exchanges at the airport, so if ATMs are not functional you can still get Uzbek currency as long as you arrive with cash on you. You can only exchange US dollars, Euro, Japanese yen, or British pound – no other currency will be accepted. And you typically can’t change more than $50 USD worth at the airport – the rest you’ll have to swap at a bank or currency exchange.
Don’t Count on ATMs Working – If You Find One At All
To reiterate, lol — it’s bad. If the ATMs at the airport don’t work, just imagine how bad everywhere else is. There are barely any ATMs in the cities and the ones that do exist are often empty.
Expect to go to several before finding one that works. Never, ever allow yourself to get short on cash because it may be a while until you find a working machine again. Also please note that a lot of cash machines only accept VISA, so if you’re using MC make sure you use an ATM with a MasterCard sign or it won’t work.
Black Market vs. Bank Currency Rates
You may have read something online about exchanging currency on the black market. Basically, tourists used to have to exchange money via black market instead of in a bank or currency exchange because the rate was so much better.
As of a year or two ago, that’s no longer necessary! The Uzbekistan government has matched the black market rate and you can safely get currency in a bank or exchange without getting ripped off.
Do Not Leave the Country with Uzbek Som
Fun fact: outside Uzbekistan, Uzbek som are worthless. And if you leave the country with any, you won’t be able to exchange it. Anywhere. So make sure you stop at a bank or currency exchange before you head to the airport and get rid of all your excess currency, or you’ll be stuck with a FAT stack of bills.
Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan: Transport & Getting Around
Get Used to Running Across Streets
I was surprised to see that many intersections didn’t have walk-signs on the streetlights. You kind of just have to run across the road between cars a la Frogger. It actually stressed me out so much that I avoided crossing roads at intersections whenever possible lol.
I ended up either going out of my way to cross in safer, smaller intersections, or following along when locals crossed. I’m still not sure what “local custom” is as far as right-of-way, so unfortunately this isn’t a super actionable tip – just something to be aware of.
Organise Train Tickets in Advance if Possible
Uzbekistan has a high-speed bullet train – called the Afrosiyob – similar to Japan’s. It’s very cool, but unfortunately I didn’t get to ride it, because their ticketing system (both on and offline) was a f*cking trainwreck.
First off, their online system is glitchy and unreliable. It’s difficult to navigate. It often won’t take a valid card, for no reason whatsoever ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The station names are all written in Russian, not English, even when using the English version of the site, which can be SUPER confusing. The main stations for reference:
- ТАШКЕНТ (УТИ) = Tashkent Main Station (Northern Station)
- ТАШКЕНТ Южный = Tashkent Yuzhny (Southern Station)
- САМАРКАНД (УТИ) = Samarkand Station
- БУХАРА 1 (УТИ) = Bukhara Station
It took a hell of a lot of Googling for me to get that far. And I never managed to get through anyway, because their site wouldn’t accept any of my FOUR valid cards.
I decided to head to a ticket office in town, and got different information than what was listed on the website. I concluded that their site probably doesn’t update in real-time so trains may be sold out but not listed as sold out on the site. I ended up saying f the whole thing and taking taxis in between cities.
If you do want to take the train (it’s way faster/nicer than driving), I’d go directly to the train station to avoid any confusion. I never went directly to the station, because I’m lazy and didn’t want to venture out of the town centres, so that MAY have been my mistake.
Regardless, book WELL in advance (like, days). Trains sell out fast. If it’s out of your way, I’d try booking via a third-party service like Caravanistan. It’ll be more expensive but it will save you the hassle of dealing with the UZ Railway website.
How to Get Between Main Cities
Between Tashkent -> Samarkand -> Bukhara is easy because of the high-speed train. Just purchase a ticket either from the website (if you can), at the train ticket office, at a ticket office in town, or via an online service, and head on over. Train travel is supposed to be seamless so once on board you should be comfortable.
If you can’t get a train, it’s super easy and extremely cheap to grab a share taxi (see below).
Khiva is the only difficult one because there’s no direct train line. Your best bet is to take the train to the city of Urgench – which is about a 40-minute drive from Khiva – and grab a taxi from there. Otherwise you’re looking at a 6-hour drive from Bukhara, 10-hour drive from Samarkand, or 14-hour drive from Tashkent.
How Taxis, Share Taxis, and Marshrutkas Work
In Uzbekistan, everybody is a taxi driver. At least that’s how it seems. I rarely, if ever, got into a car that actually looked like a taxi. You can organise taxis through your hotel, otherwise literally just flag anyone down and some random dude will stop and pick you up.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t expect a taxi meter, lol. It’s on you to negotiate a price (always haggle). And you will never be able to pay with a card so make sure you always have cash on you.
Taxis are very cheap. To get from Tashkent airport to the city you should expect to pay between $2-5 USD, and a ride within the city should never cost more than a few dollars. I paid less than $10 for a 4-hour ride in a share taxi.
Basically, share taxis or marshrutkas (share buses) allow you to split fare with other travellers going the same way. Instead of paying like, $30 or $40 for private transfer, you get crammed into a car with a ton of other people.
You first take a taxi to the share-taxi pickup, which is just like… a parking lot where a bunch of guys are parked. You tell him where you want to go and get in the car, and then you wait for other people to show up who are going the same way. Once the car is full, you leave. This can take HOURS.
I waited four hours once and it was absolutely maddening. It is definitely a very disorganised and chaotic process but if you aren’t on a tight schedule I’d actually recommend it anyway. I really enjoyed chatting to locals during my long drives and it was very interesting to see the country by car.
Gas Station Etiquette
In case you end up in a taxi where you can’t communicate with anyone, just a heads up — if your taxi stops for gas, you’ll get kicked out of the car. You have to stand at a safe distance (usually at the side of the road there will be a little stand or rest area).
This is because they fill up using natural gas and there’s a chance the car will explode (yes, this is for real). You aren’t allowed to stay in the car so don’t be alarmed, just get out and they will swing back around and pick you up after they get gas.
Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan: What to Eat
Typical Uzbek Foods
Uzbek food is tasty, but it’s plain and very heavy. Most of what you eat will be meat & generic beige carbs – rice pilaf with lamb, boiled meat dumplings, etc. I’ve heard really mixed reviews about the food there but I personally enjoyed it a lot.
That said, by the end of your trip you’ll probably feel DEPLETED AF – I know I did. I was literally craving fruit and vegetables as I hadn’t eaten any all week. Of course you can stop at a supermarket for food but if you’re eating out you probably won’t find anything of much nutritional value.
scurvy this feeling, I’d suggest bringing a multivitamin with you and taking it everyday. I think a Vitamin C tablet would have helped me immensely.
Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan: Culture + What to Wear
Uzbekistan is Muslim, But Not Really
Uzbekistan is an Islamic-majority country, but like… not really. Barely any women cover their hair. There’s no call to prayer blasted 5x/day. You don’t see shopping centres flooded with worshippers like in Turkey or Egypt. The society seems weirdly… secular. I was shocked at how un-Muslim it felt.
I didn’t feel a single ounce of the judgment or misogyny that I typically feel when travelling in a Muslim country. Actually I felt really at home, accepted, comfortable, and was treated with so much respect and egality. It was a pleasant surprise.
Even though it’s not super conservative, I still wouldn’t dress full American Ho for a visit to Uzbekistan. I made a point to dress respectfully but comfortably – meaning mainly loose trousers or long skirts, jeans, t-shirts or blouses, etc. I didn’t have any problems and felt like I blended in just fine – I wasn’t over or under-dressed compared to the general population.
Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan: Safety, Scams, & Things to Look Out For
Uzbekistan is an extremely safe country. Feel free to walk around alone without concern. I walked around by myself at night and felt very comfortable, although of course you should exercise caution and common sense depending on the situation.
Crime rates are low and there’s a heavy military presence. Like I mentioned above, although Uzbekistan is “Muslim” it’s honestly the most outwardly secular Islamic country I’ve visited. Don’t be worried about travel here if you’re a woman. You’ll be safe and treated kindly and respectfully.
I personally didn’t deal with more than a light tourist tax. Taxi drivers tried to tack on 10 or 20,000 extra som a few times but nothing egregious. I was always able to haggle my way down to the correct price if I felt like it, anyway. There’s a lot of competition for taxi rides so I felt I had the upper hand in negotiation.
It might be worth mentioning that I probably didn’t get ripped off because I’m Iranian. I blended in very well because I look like a lot of the population, especially in the southern areas. If you’re white, black, Asian, etc, you may have a different experience than I did as you’ll probably be more identifiable as a tourist.
Don’t Photograph Military or Government Personnel or Buildings
Don’t take photos of any military or government anything, no matter what. I inadvertently photographed some soldiers in Samarkand while taking pictures of a mosque – I got a few stern whistles, then a yell, then someone literally chased after me and I ran away lol (I escaped, but I do not recommend). Just something to keep in mind.
You might have read that photography is also banned in the metros – this is no longer the case! As of 2018 you are allowed to shoot photos of Tashkent’s beautiful subway stations.
Resources for Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan
Flights: I used Skyscanner to get a great deal out of Istanbul! I recommend them for getting the most competitive flight prices.
Hotels: I only book through Booking.com – they have the best user interface and the best selection!
4,000 words later, I hope y’all feel PREPARED AF FOR VISITING UZBEKISTAN! Honestly, everyone I know that’s been to Uzbekistan has loved it as much as I did. It’s seriously a magical country and so deserving of the recent boom in tourism. My visit there 100% wasn’t my last, and it probably won’t be yours either. I hope this Uzbekistan travel guide helped you plan your trip!!
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