Tips for Visiting Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan was the heart of the Silk Road, an ancient trade route where travelers and merchants from many nations, tribes, and cultures passed through over centuries on their journeys from east to west. The exchange of silk, textiles, spices, ideas, technology and culture that occurred here have shaped the region into the enchanting place that it is today. Wandering along the ancient streets and markets of Uzbekistan’s old cities is a trip through a time machine. Here are some tips for visiting Uzbekistan!

Planning a Trip to Uzbekistan

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Uzbekistan Visa

Start with researching your visa situation. Traditionally strict visa policies are evolving. Many people are now able to get an evisa and for some countries, visa requirements have been dropped entirely. As of 2023, citizens from over 60 countries do not need a visa for stays under 30 days including the UK an EU countries.

E-visa is available for many countries including the United States. Is it $20 USD and only takes a few days. Here is the Embassy of Uzbekistan’s official website.

I needed a separate visit for each of my 3 entries to the country since I was going in and out on my tour around the region. Since 2019, double and multiple-entry electronic visas are available. These e-visas are valid for 30 days and the cost is US$35 for double-entry and US$50 for multiple entries.

Mausoleum with Blue Domes mosque in background, Khiva Uzbekistan

When Is The Best Time to Go?

You can go anytime really but the summer is very hot and the winter is very cold. Spring and Fall are ideal but will also have the most tourists. You will be surprised by how many other tourists you see! I went in mid-October and overall it was pleasant with some chilly days.

Currency

The Uzbek SUM is the official currency and is about 7,800 UZS to 1USD.  Some places will take USD but don’t count on this. Cash is king and most places outside of nicer hotels and restaurants will not take credit cards. Getting money is tricky. I found many ATMs to be out of money, including in the airport!  Every now and then I got lucky with an ATM in the city but more often I simply went to a money exchange. Your tour guide or hotel can direct you to a good one but truly, I just went to any I could find out of convenience. It’s wise to arrive with plenty of cash, USD best, to exchange. Make sure you have some sort of handbag for all the cash you will get. With the exchange rate, I had so much paper money that my wallet wouldn’t close. You will be swimming in cash! Men who don’t typically carry handbags will have trouble carrying this absurdly large amount of cash around!

Ceramic pottery in a market in Uzbekistan

Health and Safety

Many people have asked if Uzbekistan is safe and overall I must say, yes. I traveled as a solo female however I was often with a small tour group. In just about every city I had a couple of hours on my own of walking around, including nighttime. All of these times alone, I felt safe. Nobody stared, harassed, catcalled or in any way threatened my sense of well being.  I have not heard reports of incidents with other tourists. That being said, everyone always has their own experiences so I certainly cannot speak for all female tourists. Interestingly, a travel website called We Go Places recently rated Uzbekistan the 5th safest country in the world for solo travelers!

For more information about safety in Uzbekistan, I urge you to do research on your own.

Taking Photos of People

I recommend against doing this in any country unless you are invited to do so. If you must take a photo ask permission. Offer to mail the photo to that person. This was the advice local guides gave me.

Vaccines

I always check with the CDC before traveling. Generally, Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended vaccines as well as having tetanus up to date.

Drinking Water

Many hotels have water filters and although the water may be safe to drink, the mineral content may upset foreigners’ stomachs. Brushing your teeth or washing fruits with tap water is fine. For drinking, it’s safer to drink bottled water although this is, of course, horrible for the environment. Sadly the recycling movement has not quite made it to Central Asia. If you have your own filter bottle, it is infinitely helpful. This is the one I used.

Grayl Filter Bottle

I love this water bottle with a built-in filtration system that kills just about everything. I used it all through Central Asia

Travel Insurance

I’m not saying Uzbekistan is inherently dangerous, in fact, think it is a very safe country. However, things can happen anywhere such as illness or petty theft and I recommend travel insurance to anyone going anywhere!  I have used both Allianz and Travelex but have also heard good things about World Nomads.

Colorful ancient tile building with woman walking in front in Samarkand Uzbekistan

Other Tips

Registration

All foreigners who are staying longer than 72 hours need to register. This is automatically done at most hotels but maybe not al some budget hotels. They will give you a registration slip which you should clip to your passport and keep with you at all times. If you are staying at a private house, you and your host must register in person at the local OVIR office within 72 hours of arrival.

Upon leaving Uzbekistan, the immigration officer at passport control may want to see this registration form so make sure you have it.

Stay Connected

Get a SIM card. Wifi is available at some nicer hotels but it often isn’t strong. Even if your cell service works internationally it could be slow and patchy. I find travel much easier when I  have access to data and phone service. Make sure to use the offline google maps feature! Download a map of Uzbekistan before you leave and it will be available when you are offline.

How to Dress

Uzbekistan is a Muslim majority country but a secular state.  Women are not required to wear a veil and most do not. Somewhat conservative dress is appropriate but no need to cover the entire body. For women, I recommend knee-length skirts or longer and having shoulders and cleavage covered. Unwanted attention is not a huge problem here for female travelers. Hospitality and kindness are characteristic in Uzbek culture. For men T-shirts, polos or button-down shirts with jeans or trousers is fine.

How much do things cost?

Budget accommodation from $6-12 USD

2-3 star hotels around $25-50 USD

4-star hotels $60-120 USD

Meals are anywhere from $2-6 USD depending on whether it is local vs tourist-focused restaurant

Taxis around the city are usually under $5 USD

The train trips are no more than 15 USD

Sparkling Blue Mosaic Tiles

Getting To and Around Uzbekistan

Flying

Flights are expensive for the region secondary to high airport taxes but this is changing. Tashkent and Samarkand have international airports. If flying directly into Tashkent is pricey, look into flying to neighboring Almaty, Bishkek and then enter overland as an option.

Khiva only recently became accessible by train and only from Bukhara. The other option is to fly from Tashkent on the 1 hr 40 min Uzbek Air flight.

Trains

Uzbekistan has a fast train, the Afrosyob high-speed rail. Coming from a country that DOES NOT, I am quite impressed and jealous.  From Bukhara to Samarkand takes 2 hours and 25 minutes. From Samarkand to Tashkent is just under 2 hours. As of January 2019, Uzbekistan Railways launched a new passenger route between Bukhara and Khiva. The route is 450km long, and the journey takes about 6 hours.

The Bukhara-Khiva train will leave Bukhara at 12:05 pm on odd-numbered days of the month, arriving in Khiva at 5:50 pm the same day (with a stop in Urgench at 5:15 pm). The Khiva-Bukhara train will travel on even-numbered days, leaving Khiva at 8:45 am and arriving in Bukhara at 2:48 pm (with a stop in Urgench at 9:15 am)

Bus or Shared Taxi

This is another option but much less desirable in my opinion. For more information here is a detailed guide on public transport in Uzbekistan.

Tours

A tour is obviously the easiest way to get around with minimal planning on your part but often the most expensive as well. A local tour company I can recommend is Advantour. They have an office in Tashkent and use local guides. They even offer a solo-friendly tour!

Taxis

There are official and unofficial taxis. Official taxis are yellow except in Tashkent where they are beige.  It is best to book a taxi from a restaurant or hotel. Not all taxis have meters. If you stop one on the street, negotiate the price before the journey. The drivers often don’t speak English so it is wise to have the place you are going written down to show the driver. Your hotel can help you with this ahead of time.

Tips for Visiting Uzbekistan

History and Cultural Overview

I mentioned above about the legendary Silk Road. This ancient trade route was not just one direct road but encompassed the entire region in what is now Central Asia and the Caucasus. Goods, language, religions, and ideas all were exchanged along this route from China to the Mediterranean. All these cultures left their mark and have made Uzbekistan the enchanting place it is today.

Uzbekistan was part of the Russian Empire since the late 1800s and then became part of the Soviet Union in 1917.  Independence was obtained in 1991 when the USSR dissolved. Most people are ethnically Uzbek but you will find a mix of people from surrounding countries such as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Russian, or Tajik.

Language

Uzbek is the official language but Russian is essentially an official language as well.  English is spoken at hotels and some restaurants but not so much by taxi drivers and vendors at markets. If you can learn the Cyrillic alphabet or some Russian, this would be infinitely helpful.

Some basic Uzbek words:

Hello:  Assalomu Aleykum

Good Night:  Xayrli Kecha

Good Bye:  Xayr (khair)

Thank you:  Rah-mat

Religion

The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim (roughly 90% and the rest Orthodox Christians but official figures are hard to find), but I call it “Islam-lite” because many people drink alcohol. Just like many ex-Soviet countries, religion had been discouraged for so long that it became less of a force.

Tips for visiting Uzbekistan

Places to Visit in Uzbekistan

I have more details in my post about places to visit in Uzbekistan as well as beautiful Uzbekistan photos that will make you want to plan a trip immediately.  However, here is a brief summary.

Tashkent

Uzbekistan’s capital is a modern city but has an old section that is great to visit.

Must see places in Tashkent

  • Hast Imam Square-Hast Imam is the religious center of Tashkent. Inside the mosque here, you can see one of the oldest Qurans in the world.
  • Chorsu Bazaar-This is the largest market in Uzbekistan.
  • The Tashkent Metro-It is one of only two subway systems in Central Asia. Even if you don’t need to use it, you should if only to see the gorgeous stations.
  • Plov Center– This is THE place to try the Uzbek national dish, Plov.

Samarkand

This fabled ancient city is about 2700 years old. It is as old as Babylon and Rome. Samarkand was the glorious capital of the Timurid empire ruled by Timur.

Must see places in Samarkand:

  • Registan SquareRegistan was the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand during the Timurid dynasty. It was a public square.
  • Gur Emir Mausoleum-This is the shrine of Amir Timur or Tamerlane, the legendary 14th-century ruler
  • Shah i Zinda-This is a necropolis full of mausoleums, ritual buildings and a cemetery all with incredible blue tile work.
  • Bibi-Khanum Mosque –  one of the most important monuments in Samarkand, built by the favorite wife of Tamerlane.
  • Siyob Bazaar  – a great market with local produce, nuts and sweets
  • Oleg Bek Observatory – learn about this astronomer grandson of Tamerlane who accurately predicted the solar calender using medieval tools

Ancient Tiled Mosque Lit at Night in Samarkand Uzbekistan

Bukhara

Bukhara is another ancient city from the days of the Silk Road and has existed for over 2000 years.

Must See Places in Bukhara

  • Kaylan Mosque and Minaret  – This stunning mosque in Bukhara, Uzbekistan was built in early 1500s.  This whole region was destroyed a hundred years later by Genghis Khan but he spared the minaret because it was so impressive.
  • Ark Fortress – This massive fortress was initially built and occupied around the 5th century AD. In addition to being a military structure, the Ark encompassed what was essentially a town Currently, the Ark is a tourist attraction and houses museums covering its history.
  • Lyabi Hauz Ensemble – This is the former Jewish quarter of Uzbekistan and there is a lovely synagogue here. Everything centers around a pond and there are many shops and cafes and beautifully tiled buildings.
  • Bolo-Khauz Mosque –Built in 1712, this UNESCO World Heritage Site served as a Friday mosque during the time when the emir of Bukhara was being subjugated under the Bolshevik Russian rule in 1920s.
  • Chor Minar – This mosque which was once part of a larger madrassa was built by Khalif Niyaz-kul, a wealthy Bukharan of Turkmen origin in the 19th century.

Khiva

This ancient walled city was a “khanate” in the 1500s.   It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

Places not to miss in Khiva:

  • Itchan Kala – the old center of Khiva, where you will find most of the city’s attractions.
  • Juma Mosque – this Friday mosque is on the plain side but unique with its 218 intricately carved wooden columns that support the roof and lack of artificial lighting
  • Watchtower –At the back right corner of the throne room in the Kuhna Ark, a door leads to a flight of steps up to the watchtower, the original part of the Ark. The fee to climb up here is definitely worth it, especially at sunset for city views.
  • Kalta Minor Minaret – a turquoise-tiled minaret begun in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan, who aspired for it to be 80m tall. Unfortunately, he dropped dead in 1855, leaving the structure unfinished at 29m, but still gorgeous.
  • Islam Khoja Minaret – This 57m tall minaret resembles a lighthouse. You can climb it for excellent city views as well as some exercise!

What Food You Should Try in Uzbekistan

Ah, my favorite subject. I was delighted by the food in Central Asia, especially in Uzbekistan.  The food is as if China and the Middle East had a very delicious baby. My tips for visiting Uzbekistan MUST include what foods to try! The food in Uzbekistan was a major part of what made me love this trip so much.

Plov

In the west it’s called Rice Pilaf. It is the Uzbek national dish.  It is seasoned rice with carrots and meat (usually lamb) with sweet dried fruits. I don’t typically love rice but this was really tasty.  It comes in many varieties.

Rice with meat in pottery bowl in Uzbekistan. Tips for Visiting Uzbekistan

Manti

These are delectable dumplings filled with meat or veggies.  My fave were the ones with pumpkin as these shown below. They are often sold by women on the street. Whether on the street or in a restaurant, they are yummy.
Dumplings in a bowl. Tips for visiting Uzbekistan

Soups

Pumpkin soup,  mung bean soup and lentil soup widely available and all usually good

Salads

So many great salad options. The classic is tomato, cucumber and dill but there is sometimes eggplant.

Lagman

Thick noodles often served fried with a tomato-based sauce and egg

Shashlik

This is grilled meat or kabob, usually beef, lamb or chicken.  I’m not a big meat eater but it did smell really good

Shivit Oshi

This is a specialty of the Khiva region.  Green noodles made from dill and served with meat or veggies (I had with pumpkin, which lucky for this orange veggie lover, was plentiful in the region)
Local Green Noodle Dish from Uzbekistan. Tips for visiting Uzbekistan

Naan

This Uzbek bread came in many forms but typically fresh and delicious.  If warm from the oven it is literally irresistible.

So Now Go Plan Your Trip!

I hope these tips for visiting Uzbekistan have taken away any planning anxiety you may have had. It is such a fabulous country and I actually would like to go back.
Have you been? What tips for visiting Uzbekistan should I add?
                         
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About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Crispin | 7th Nov 23

    Hi Cherene, your information about this wonderful country needs a little updating.
    Visitors from the UK and the EU do not need a visa for stays of less than 30 days unless they are leaving and returning to Uzbekistan.
    The black market has bee abolished and there are are plenty of ATMs, certainly in Tashkent, Bukhara and Samarkand.
    In theory you fill up a customs declaration when entering Uzbekistan but nowadays officials wave you through a ‘green channel’ so you don’t have to. Similarly registration slips have either been dispensed with or been digitised; I was never given one (in 2022) or asked for one. But you still need a passport to go on the Tashkent metro.

  2. 25 Incredible Places to Visit in Uzbekistan - Wandering Redhead | 13th Aug 19

    […] you read my post with tips for visiting Uzbekistan and now you want more detail about what to […]

  3. Elina | 11th Aug 19

    I really want to visit one day, the buildings are incredibly beautiful! Thanks for the useful guide 🙂

    • csaradar | 13th Aug 19

      I know you would love it!!

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