Solo female travel in Uzbekistan may not sound like the usual choice. That said, it is a much easier place to travel independently as a woman than you may think.
I spent two weeks travelling solo through Uzbekistan. I started in Samarkand, took the train down to Bukhara, drove to Khiva, and then took the night train to Samarkand.
My time in Uzbekistan has been one of my favourite adventures so far. That is definitely no small feat.
After visiting almost 50 countries, I am not all that easy to impress. However, Uzbekistan stole my heart and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys cultural travel and getting off the beaten path.
Uzbekistan had been at the top of my travel bucket list for a very long time. I was mesmerised by the images I’d seen of Uzbekistan’s ancient Silk Road cities, their breathtaking Islamic architectural sites, and their labyrinth-like network of old town streets.
Uzbekistan Opens its Doors to the World
In recent years, Uzbekistan has become much more accessible as a travel destination. With the death of notorious Dictator Islam Karimov in 2016, a new era of Uzbek leadership emerged.
Uzbekistan is still a Dictatorship. However things are slowly and surely improving.
It is much easier for travellers to enter and explore Uzbekistan now. As of February 2019, citizens of certain countries (including British citizens, and several EU country citizens) are entitled to enjoy visa-free travel in Uzbekistan.
Visa-free Travel to Uzbekistan
Upon entry, most British and EU nationals are permitted to stay up to 30 days in the country without requiring a visa. Other nationalities may be permitted to stay for 60 or 90 days visa-free.
Check your government’s travel website to see if you qualify for visa-free entry to Uzbekistan. Even if you do not, the new Uzbek e-visa process makes applying for a tourist visa much easier than it once historically was.
Less Intimidating Border Controls
Uzbekistan used to be notorious for strict border checks. Foreign tourists were almost met with suspicion and border agents would comb through hand luggage, electronic devices, etc.
This has changed in recent years as Uzbekistan aims to promote tourism. There has been no better time than now to travel to Uzbekistan. Arguably it’s better to travel sooner, rather than later when the country becomes a more popular tourist destination.
Solo Female Travel in Uzbekistan:
Where to Travel
The most common route to travel through Uzbekistan is to travel by rail to the major cities: Samarkand, Tashkent, and Bukhara. Charming little Khiva is very far out of the way in the Xorazm region. However, it is well worth the journey.
If your schedule permits, you should also consider travelling to Moynaq and the Aral Sea, the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, and the conservative Fergana Valley. Public transport in Uzbekistan is good. It is easier to get around independenly than you may think.
Tashkent is the typical starting point for most people’s travels through Uzbekistan. This is the country’s capital. Starting here means that you are more likely to encounter other solo adventurers and travel buddies to share your journey with.
That said, Tashkent is markedly different from most cities that you will explore during your time in the country. A devastating earthquake in 1966 levelled out the city and destroyed most of its interesting architecture.
Everything was rebuilt in Soviet style. Silk road highlights are few and far between here. However, the Uzbek capital provides an interesting insight into life in Uzbekistan today.
Tashkent highlights include:
- Chorsu Bazaar – A traditional market that has been operating for centuries
- Plov Centre – An interesting eatery famous for the national delicacy “plov”
- Tashkent Metro – Filled with fascinating art pieces and doubling as a bomb shelter
- Hazrat Imam Complex – A beautiful structure home to the oldest Quran in the world
- Hotel Uzbekistan – A classic example of brutalist Soviet architecture.
Samarkand is often the main reason that many travellers want to venture to Central Asia at all. Indeed, the “golden road to Samarkand” has been written about time and again by Travel Writers, poets, and creatives.
The city is filled with ancient treasures. However, it is the Registan, with its turquoise domes and beautiful courtyards that is the piece de resistance.
This ancient square is encompassed by dazzling blue and white madrassas and was the main rendezvous point during Amir Timur’s rule. It is one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in the country.
The atmosphere here at night is almost ethereal. At this time the tourists have gone, the locals ride around on their bicycles, and the sky behind the madrassaa is illuminated in gentle shades of pink and orange.
Samarkand highlights include:
- The Registan – The main square from Amir Timur’s rule
- Gur-e-Amir – The final resting place of Amir Timur
- Shah-i-Zinda – A beautiful necropolis filled with palatial tombs
- Hovrenko Wine Factory – A nice spot to sample an array of Uzbek wines
- Bibi Khanym Mosque – A stunning mosque that was considered the most beautiful in the orient
- Siyob Bazaar – The largest market in Samarkand
Once upon a time, Bukhara was the capital of Uzbekistan. The city’s history stems back over 2500 years.
Some of the ancient structures here, like the famous Po-i-Kalyan “tower of death” minaret date all the way back to the 11h century. Bukhara’s old city is incredibly well preserved and many locals still live within its confines today.
Exploring the winding passageways and tearooms makes you feel transported back to the days of the Silk Road traders and camel caravans. You should dedicate at least 3-4 days of your solo female travel in Uzbekistan to exploring Bukhara.
Bukhara highlights include:
- Chor Minor – A unique madrasa constructed in an Indian architectural style
- Chasmai Mirob – An adorable tea room that offers incredible views over the city
Po-i-Kalyan – A beautiful complex of historic mosques and madrassas
- Lyab-i-Hauz Square – A central square comprised of a beautiful pond and many quaint tea rooms.
The tiny city of Khiva lies in the extreme west of Uzbekistan. Khiva is quite a trek to get to but is the highlight of most Silk Road adventures.
The old city is incredibly well preserved and almost feels like something from a movie set. Historically, Khiva was synonymous with barbarism and the slave trade. From here you can take day trips to the desert fortresses of Uzbekistan.
Khiva highlights include:
- Itchan Kala – Old town filled with historic mosques and museums
- Kala Minor – An unfinished minaret with a fascinating backstory
- Islom Hoja Minaret – A towering minaret that offers incredible views over the city
- Juma Mosque – An intricately designed Friday mosque with wooden interiors
Encountering Other Travellers in Uzbekistan
Solo female travel in Uzbekistan may sound pretty adventurous and daring. Actually, when you touch down in the country, you will realise that the pearl of Central Asia is not quite as off-the-beaten-path as you thought.
Tour Buses Galore!
As you explore the sights and cities of Uzbekistan, you will note that you sometimes share them with dozens of people on organised tours. These are mostly older citizens from America, the UK, and Western Europe.
This may seem annoying sometimes when you just want to take some good photos without 10,856 people loitering in the back of them. However, it is reassuring in some ways as you never feel isolated or alone in a remote place.
If you are travelling out of season, you are less likely to encounter this. Try to travel to major attractions early in the mornings or in the evenings to avoid the crowds.
The Independent Travel Scene in Uzbekistan
Package tour groups aside though, word about Uzbekistan has not yet got out to the independent travel/ backpacking community. You do not see many backpackers in Uzbekistan. As such, you need to be someone who is self-aware and okay with their own company before you head off to Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is definitely not comparable to a well-trodden route like Southeast Asia. You may find that you will spend days travelling without encountering others. In this way, solo female travel in Uzbekistan is a great travel experience if you want to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Advice for Meeting Travellers and Locals
Most people start their Uzbekistan itineraries in Tashkent. Additionally, a lot of them stay in popular hostels such as Top Chan.
Try and start here. From Tashkent, you can go on to Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, and a few other spots with your new-found travel buddies.
Couchsurfing is emerging in Tashkent. You will find a lot of locals here that are eager to improve their English and excited to show travellers around.
Couchsurfing isn’t just for staying at someone’s house. In Uzbekistan, you can use it for organising a “hang out” and meeting someone for lunch or coffee. Consider messaging a few locals in advance of your trip and see if they will be around during your travel dates.
Safety in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is a very safe country. At one point, Uzbekistan was listed as being one of the safest countries in the world due to its low crime rates!
Uzbekistan is a police state. This is one reason for a lot of the low crime rates across the country.
In some ways, this feels a little daunting. As you walk around the various cities, you will find dozens of police stationed at every street corner at all hours of the day. In the end, though, you realise that they are there for the safety of the local people and the tourists.
A lot of travel resources about Uzbekistan warn you to give the police a wide berth. Guidebooks make mention of corrupt cops expecting bribes from tourists or giving them false charges for accessing free buildings, etc.
This information seems to be outdated. The Uzbek police went through a major reform in 2019 in order to restore people’s faith in the authorities.
Many of the police that I encountered in Uzbekistan were friendly and helpful. I had no negative experiences in this regard.
Safety as a Solo Woman Traveller in Uzbekistan
I felt very safe walking around in Uzbekistan. Honestly, sometimes I even forgot that I was in an exotic place so far away from home. As I wandered around markets, mosques, architectural sites, and museums, nobody really bothered me.
I mean, to be able to walk around and have nobody bother you is something that we take for granted at home. However, what I mean by that is that Uzbekistan is not like Morocco, Egypt, or some parts of the Middle East.
You will not be grabbed and pulled in bazaars, catcalled, or offered camels. Uzbekistan is a very pleasant place to visit as a solo female traveller.
Communicating in Uzbekistan
It is important to be aware that for the most part, very few people in Uzbekistan speak English. Nor have they even heard of it.
Even if you find yourself in the most “touristic” areas such as Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, you will still be faced with hotel employees and tourism staff that can’t speak English. Uzbek is the main language of Uzbekistan.
Russian is also very widely spoken. Try and learn just a handful of phrases in Russian or Uzbek before your trip to make communicating a little easier.
If all else fails, Google Translate is a lifesaver! Pick up a local sim card for a few dollars and you will get quite a generous package with calls, texts, and data. That way if you ever need to communicate, translate is at your fingertips!
Encounters with Local People
Honestly, my encounters with people in Uzbekistan were mixed. I am not saying that to be negative. I’m saying it to be honest and give a realistic view of my experience.
Some people I encountered were incredibly warm and welcoming, whereas I found others very rude. I guess that this is nothing out of the ordinary really. You find good and bad people wherever you go in this world and Uzbekistan is no different.
On the whole, I was not incredibly blown away by the kindness of the people as I was when travelling alone in Oman or in Japan. By the same token, I would not say that locals in Uzbekistan were unfriendly.
Positive Encounters in Uzbekistan
My best experiences in Uzbekistan happened “off the beaten path”. Honestly, I cannot express how much nicer the people were in places like Tashkent, Urgench, and Fergana, as opposed to in touristic destinations.
To give you an example, I took a cab in Urgench before boarding my night train to Tashkent. My cab driver was quite concerned about me waiting by myself for the train for hours.
He showed me around a local market, bought me some strawberries (!), and sat with me for a while drinking delicious Uzbek tea and eating Samsa (meat pies) while I passed the time. I had o assure him that I’d be okay.
When I boarded the night train, a really nice family from Andijan invited me into their cabin. We shared home-cooked food and stories from our different cultures.
Negative Encounters in Uzbekistan
Sadly I also had some unpleasant experiences in Uzbekistan. I hate to write negative things but I wouldn’t be giving a full view of what solo female travel in Uzbekistan was like if I hid these things from you.
I often felt quite frustrated with the way people constantly tried to scam me – especially taxi drivers or people working in touristic positions. This mostly happened in areas accustomed to tourists.
Of course, I appreciate that Uzbekistan is not an affluent country. Uzbekistan is one of the poorest places in the -stans. I
t makes sense that if they are struggling to get by and they see all of these rich tourists entering their country they see them as a way to make money. That said, I had a lot of experiences where people not only tried to charge me a price that was marginally more than the actual price, but 10 times that amount. When I refused or questioned it, they got pretty aggressive and angry.
I am not sure if some of this was because I was a woman travelling alone in Uzbekistan and therefore they thought that I would not be able to stand up for myself. Alternatively, perhaps it happened because I was British and they assumed I had a lot of money. Regardless, it tainted my experience in some places.
Cab Drivers in Uzbekistan
Cab drivers in Uzbekistan will routinely try and charge tourists 10 times the price. The standard is 5000 som for a short journey but they will tell you 50,000. Sometimes I would be standing in the rain with my huge backpack and they would not take me for the actual rate.
I had a particularly bad experience in Urgench when the cab driver agreed 10,000 (I could not be bothered to haggle) to take me to a sim card store. It was closed so he drove me to another that was about 2 blocks away. After this, he expected 50,000 soum and started screaming at me, huffing and puffing about how it was unfair.
I generally felt that I could not trust a lot of the people that worked in hotels or tourist facing positions. This is a shame because usually, you trust that the hotels will help their guests not to get ripped off.
However, in Uzbekistan, they are usually also running their own scams. As an example, I asked my hotel in Bukhara to help me get a cab to the train station. They told me it was $10 when it was, in fact, $1.
My Worst Experience in Uzbekistan
The worst scam I received in Uzbekistan was when staying at the Scheherazade hotel in Khiva. The lady told me that she would organise my ticket for me from Urgench to Tashkent and told me that it was $35 for a private cabin. I paid, trusting she had booked me the correct ticket.
When I arrived at the train, I discovered that she had booked me a bed in a 53-bed cabin and pocketed most of my money. As I was travelling alone, I did not feel safe spending a 17-hour overnight journey in a bunk bed surrounded by drunk men, and I thought that was a pretty appalling thing for her to do.
Encounters with Men in Uzbekistan
Honestly, I received quite a lot of male attention in Uzbekistan. This was not as forward or as aggressive as in some countries, but it was male attention nonetheless.
For the most part, it was just something like a comment or a whistle. I had one very negative encounter at a hotel I stayed at.
I stayed at the Rizo Boutique Hotel in Bukhara which I strongly advise other solo female travellers to avoid. When I checked in, the owner made some remarks about my appearance which made me feel uncomfortable but I dismissed it and went out exploring.
When I arrived back to my room later that day, the owner used the personal information that I provided for my reservation to start messaging me on Facebook. He contacted me in the middle of the night asking to come to my room to “get to know me better” and when I told him no, he started banging on my door and it made me feel very uncomfortable.
I don’t think that this is necessarily representative of Uzbek men, simply an errant weirdo that you could encounter anywhere in the world. In any case, I advise solo women travelling in Uzbekistan to avoid the Rizo Boutique hotel in Bukhara.
What to Wear as a Solo Female in Uzbekistan
Officially speaking, Uzbekistan is a Muslim country and the majority of the population identify themselves as Sunni Muslims. Hearing that probably makes you assume that Uzbekistan is a place where you need to be incredibly covered up. However, the reality is that the country is mostly secular, and the majority of the people do not practice religion.
Many of the old mosques and madrassas that you see in Uzbekistan do not function anymore. They have been transformed into museums, art galleries, and even restaurants!
There are many beautiful Islamic buildings here. However, you will never hear the call to prayer echoing from minarets. Uzbekistan reminded me of Azerbaijan in this regard.
No Set Dress Code
Solo female travellers in Uzbekistan can enjoy some freedom in terms of what they should wear while they are out exploring. Uzbek culture is still more conservative than western culture. Leave the short shorts and the crop tops at home, but don’t worry about having to be incredibly covered up like you would in the Middle East.
Summer dresses, t-shirts, and knee-length shorts are generally fine for solo female travel in Uzbekistan. You will often see that even local girls are dressed the same.
Uzbeks consider themselves as having a very liberal mindset. Women here take pride in their appearance and always sport colourful dresses with catching eyecat designs and sparkly shoes.
The only place that you should dress more conservatively is in the Fergana Valley where people are a lot more religious. You should cover your legs and your shoulders in this area.
Do I have to Cover My Hair?
Uzbek women often wear colourful headscarves but this is more a matter of culture than of religion. When you enter mosques, you will usually not have to cover your hair and you will note that locals do not either. Again, the only exception to this rule is in the conservative Fergana Valley where people are often more religious.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my solo adventure through Uzbekistan. I hope that the negative aspects that I have mentioned don’t make Uzbekistan seem off-putting in any way, but simply act as things to keep in mind during your own trip.
Try and exert the same levels of basic common sense in Uzbekistan as you would at home or anywhere else. Be mindful of over-friendly strangers and don’t walk around alone after dark.
With the right preparation and mindset, your trip to Uzbekistan ought to be one that is memorable for a lifetime, and for all the right reasons.
For more general and practical advice on travelling to Uzbekistan, I have written this Travel Guide to help with things such as entry requirements, acquiring police registration, and so on.
Do you have any questions about solo female travel in Uzbekistan? Please don’t hesitate to drop me an email or a comment below.
Safe travels! Melissa xo