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!
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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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I always check with the CDC before traveling. Generally, Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended vaccines as well as having tetanus up to date.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
This is another option but much less desirable in my opinion. For more information here is a detailed guide on public transport in Uzbekistan.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Hello: Assalomu Aleykum
Good Night: Xayrli Kecha
Good Bye: Xayr (khair)
Thank you: Rah-mat
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.
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.
Uzbekistan’s capital is a modern city but has an old section that is great to visit.
This ancient walled city was a “khanate” in the 1500s. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
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.
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.