Central Asian countries aren’t on most travellers’ radar. But after visiting Uzbekistan earlier this year, I can tell y’all definitively…
This part of the world is BEYOND underrated. It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s affordable. The people are unbelievably warm and friendly. The architecture is jaw-dropping. You’ll feel a sense of adventure, wonder, and magic that you could never find in London or Paris.
When I left Uzbekistan, I felt like I’d just glimpsed a truly unique piece of the world. And I can’t wait to plan a long visit through the rest of the “stans”.
Till then, here are my favorite things about this stunning, undiscovered* country (*by mass tourism. Not going all Christopher Columbus with this). Here’s 7 reasons you should visit Uzbekistan this year!
The Architecture is Unbelievable
The architecture in Uzbekistan would put even Gaudí to shame. I can guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it before – the precision and attention to detail is next-level. These buildings are absolute works of art.
Wandering through Uzbekistan’s mosques, madrasas, and tombs, my jaw literally dropped more than once. I found myself visiting the same places over and over to admire them again. I promise, you’ll easily spend hours at a single one of these Central Asian sites without getting bored.
Aside from classic Islamic architecture, you’ll find another unexpected influence in Uzbekistan. The entirety of Central Asia used to be part of the Soviet Union, so there’s also Russian-orthodox-style churches, monolithic hotels, and all kinds of other weird, Soviet-style buildings. It’s VERY cool and you’ll genuinely feel like you stepped back in time.
[at the Shah-i-Zinda Mausoleum + Tilya-Kori Madrasa, both in Samarkand, Uzbekistan]
It’s Extremely Safe, Even for Women
I had no idea what to expect from Uzbekistan, but I was pleasantly surprised by the egalitarian society. It’s extremely safe to travel there, even as a solo woman! I met plenty of local women traveling alone, which isn’t something you typically encounter in Muslim-majority countries.
Since I spent so much time with local people, I got to see up-front how the ladies were treated. And they were completely equal. The woman was always offered the front seat in a share taxi (the comfiest seat, and the only one with a seat belt) as a measure of respect. But once she was there, she was shit-talked, roasted, and included in conversation just like one of the guys.
I couldn’t believe how progressive Uzbekistan felt – it was such a huge contrast to the Middle Eastern countries I’ve visited. Barely any women had their hair covered. I felt totally safe walking around alone, day and night. Men didn’t bother me, and the one guy who was overly pushy was still extremely respectful (he just really wanted to marry me, lol).
You’ll Meet the Friendliest Locals
Every single person I met in Uzbekistan was impossibly lovely. From taxi drivers to airport staff to randoms at the side of the road, everyone was DELIGHTED (and sort of confused) to see me – a solo, American, female, traveler – enjoying their country. Everyone wanted me to have a good time.
Uzbeks are the friendliest people you will EVER MEET. An entire class of teenagers at the Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum wanted to practice their English with me and begged for photos. Once an old man there realised I spoke Farsi (similar to Tajik, a local language), he spent an hour reading me inscriptions about the mausoleum’s history.
I spent five hours having the most FASCINATING conversation with four locals about visas, politics, and our wildly different lifestyles/upbringings — while crammed in the back of a share taxi, communicating solely via Google Translate!
Taxi drivers insisted on carrying my bags up the stairs for me. I took SO MANY SELFIES with strangers. I was constantly getting passed different foods to try. People wanted to show me around everywhere. I laughed my ass off with so many people while trying to understand wtf the other was saying, and delightedly shouting words in our garbled accents once we figured it out.
I had SO MUCH FUN. And these aren’t even half of my stories. The people really are that lovely.
[at the Registan complex in Samarkand, Uzbekistan]
You’ll Get a Taste of Adventure & “Uncharted Territory”
Maybe it’s because I’m a more “experienced traveler” now, but there’s something so special to me about venturing off the beaten path. I love visiting popular destinations, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I feel like… why bother going somewhere like Cinque Terre? I’ve seen so many pictures and heard so much about it that I sort of feel like I’ve already been there.
At this stage of my life (and my travels), I want new perspective. I want to meet people whose lives are nothing like mine, I want to experience a culture that’s totally unlike my own. I want to feel a little uncomfortable.
Uzbekistan was that breath of fresh air for me. It is such a UNIQUE place. I guarantee you’ve never been anywhere like it before. The culture, the architecture, the people – it all feels like part of a world we’ve never gotten to see.
If you’re itching for something new – if you want to feel inspired – if you’re looking for some kind of perspective about your place in the world – GO TO UZBEKISTAN. You will feel out of your element in the best possible way (and sometimes the worst, lol – post on that will be up in a couple days).
It’s Cheap as HELL
Uzbekistan is one of the most affordable countries I’ve ever visited. To give you some perspective on just how cheap it is – I took a four-hour taxi ride for less than $10 USD. A suite at the premier hotel in the capital city cost me $100. A typical meal cost just a few dollars. Even the high-speed bullet train between cities is under $30.
While the whole country was affordable, it was the transport costs that really made the difference. Taxis trains, and buses usually add up quick, but that’s not the case in Central Asia. It really is that cheap. USD goes a long way.
This is – in large part – because of the weakness of Uzbek currency. 1 USD is about 8500 Uzbek som as of August 2019, so expect your wallet to be quite literally overflowing with money here. It’s hard to go over budget. That said, I tipped excessively and overpaid for pretty much everything. The average Uzbek earns under $300 USD/month – and it made me happy to tip a couple days’ extra salary to a really lovely human instead of throwing it away on coffees or some dumb fast fashion top.
The History is Rich and Unique
Uzbekistan has a rich history. As part of the old Silk Road route, many of its cities enjoyed fabulous wealth. The splendor of Uzbek cities like Samarkand, Khiva, and Bukhara is because they used to be key trading hubs. After the collapse of the Silk Road, Uzbekistan was overtaken by the Russians, and later became part of the Soviet Union. It only gained its independence in 1991 – how crazy is that!!
Because of this bizarre combination of influences, Uzbek culture is really unique. There are OVERT Russian, Islamic, and Asian influences. You’ll find Islamic architecture with signs printed in Russian! Everybody in Central Asia is fluent in Russian, but there are plenty of areas where people speak Uzbek or Tajik (closely related to my dad’s native Farsi, spoken in Iran!).
It never seemed like any of these cultures clashed – actually, they all seemed to complement each other! At least to an outsider, it really just seemed like a beautiful mish-mash of a ton of different cultures.
It’s Only Getting Easier to Travel There
There has seriously never been a better time to visit Central Asia. This entire region is becoming more and more accessible as the tourism industry expands. Within the last 5 years, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan have all established e-visa, visa on arrival, or visa-free programs for most countries!
It’s also a good idea to get in before tourism totally blows up. Uzbekistan got super popular on Instagram this year (full disclosure – that’s how it caught my eye) – and it’ll probably be flooded with tourists within a couple of years. Other Central Asian countries are going to follow suit as more people figure out that this is an AWESOME place to travel.
I seriously couldn’t recommend visiting this region highly enough. It’s everything I hoped for and more and has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the world. If you want to get a little off the beaten path, please consider Uzbekistan for your next trip! This place is a gem – it will surprise you, challenge you, and take your breath away. GO. You won’t regret it.
Hope this post gave you a few compelling reasons to visit Uzbekistan this year 🙂 Feel free to shoot me a message or comment with any questions! And don’t forget to PIN if you found this post helpful. Thanks for reading, friends!