This Uzbekistan Travel Guide aims to be an exhaustive resource for covering everything that you need to know before travelling to the beautiful Central Asian country of Uzbekistan.
There are countless reasons to consider an adventure to Uzbekistan. This landlocked nation boasts a fascinating history that spans back thousands of years, breathtaking silk road architecture, and ancient cities so dazzling it feels like you are in a movie set.
This is one of the easiest destinations to travel to in Central Asia. In recent years, the Uzbek government has been working to promote Uzbekistan to the world as a tourism destination and to make it much easier for international travellers to enter the country. As such, there has never been a better time to travel to Uzbekistan.
This Uzbekistan Travel Guide is pretty exhaustive. Feel free to use the table of contents below to navigate to the specific sections that are relevant to you as you plan your Uzbekistan itinerary.
A Little About Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan’s history spans back over 2,500 years. During the days of the old Silk Road trade route, Uzbekistan played a prominent role in world trade.
Merchants and their camels would pass through Uzbekistan as they travelled from China to Italy selling spices, silks, fabrics, and handicrafts. Consequently, Uzbekistan had a much sought after location.
It is for this reason that these lands have been invaded and taken over countless times over the centuries. Most notably, Uzbekistan was invaded and captured by Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan.
Uzbekistan was once part of the Soviet Union and strong influences of Russian culture remain prominent throughout the country. The country did not obtain independence from the USSR until 1991. At this time, Uzbekistan became a dictatorship under the control of Islam Karimov.
Uzbekistan has always been a very hermetic country. However, since Karimov’s passing in 2016, it has made waves towards opening up to the world. The government has started working on initiatives to encourage international tourists to wander its deserts and settlements.
Where to Travel in Uzbekistan
The Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva are undoubtedly among the main draws of travelling to Uzbekistan. These cities are incredibly well-preserved and wandering through them feels almost as though you are stepping back in time.
Exploring the labyrinth-like alleyways of Khiva at dusk, or sitting in a rooftop tearoom admiring the sunset over the madrasas of Bukhara make you feel as though you are somewhere centuries ago. In fact, sometimes it almost feels as though you are going to see a camel caravan come rolling past at any moment, or a merchant carrying spices.
Off-the-beaten-path Uzbekistan travel
Silk road architecture aside, Uzbekistan offers a varied and very rewarding travel experience. Off-the-beaten path cities like Urgench and Fergana Valley provide insight into the modern nation and its people, post the Soviet era. Uzbek people are perhaps some of the most hospitable and friendly in Central Asia.
Those interested in dark tourism can also stop by Moynaq and the dried-up Aral Sea. This was one of the worst environmental tragedies in human history.
Is Uzbekistan Safe to Travel to?
Uzbekistan is a perfectly safe travel destination. Although it is understandable if you have some skepticism about that.
Presumptions About Travelling to Uzbekistan
Western media does not report an awful lot about this little land-locked country. Furthermore, the fact that the country name ends with -stan, and that it borders conflict-laden Afghanistan sometimes sadly makes peole’s minds automatically think the worst about travel to Uzbekistan.
I was anxious before my trip to Uzbekistan. However, after spending two weeks there as a solo female traveller, I can assure you that I felt safer in Uzbekistan than I have done in some parts of Europe. The country once ranked as one of the safest travel destinations in the world.
Uzbekistan: A Police State
Uzbekistan is a police state. Although the presence of Officers on every corner can sometimes feel unnerving, their existence is to ensure the safety of people and travellers. This is a definite factor in the country’s low crime rate.
For further assurances about the safety of travelling in Uzbekistan, you can review the British government travel advice for Uzbekistan. You will note that no major incidents, terrorist attacks, or crimes against visitors have been reported.
Currency in Uzbekistan
The official currency of Uzbekistan is the Uzbek som. This is extremely weak and heavily inflated.
£1 equates to approximately 10,800 Uzbek soum. US Dollars are also widely accepted by a lot of hotels, tour guides, cab drivers, and businesses. In fact, sometimes they are even preferred.
If you can, try to bring some US dollars into the country and get some Uzbek soum on arrival. Split your spending money 50/50 between the two currencies.
The US dollars can be used for things like hotels and tours. Meanwhile, the Uzbek soum is your local pocket change for taking cabs, having dinners, etc.
The main reason for this is that the Uzbek soum is worthless outside of Uzbekistan and difficult to exchange into another currency. Opting to use dollars minimises your chances of being stuck with loads of soum at the end of your trip. Even when you reach the airport departure area before leaving, you may not find a place that will exchange currency.
Uzbekistan Travel & Money Matters
Uzbekistan is a cash society. Credit and debit cards are not widely accepted, although some hotels will take them.
There are some ATMs in larger cities like Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. However, often you find that they are out of order or just do not work.
Try and save yourself the stress of running all over the city like a headless chicken in 40-degree heat frantically looking for an ATM and try and budget in advance how much spending money you will need. Check your hotel, tour, and transport costs in advance. Then, allocate a daily budget for food and shopping.
It is also worth noting that Mastercards seem to be more widely accepted than Visa cards (both visa debit and visa credit). Visa debit and credit card holders may have difficulty finding banks that would accept the card.
In the past, Uzbek soum would be exchanged on the black market. Today, banks offer the same competitive rates as the government is trying to stamp out the existence of the former.
Try to only use the banks to exchange currency in Uzbekistan. This way, you know that you are getting a deal at an agreed rate. If you opt to exchange via the black market, you then have to worry about haggling or the exchange person trying to short you a few dollars.
It is better if you enter Uzbekistan with US dollars and change some into soum as necessary. If you need to withdraw from your international card, the bank tellers will tell you to do so in USD.
This way you wind up wasting money and paying two sets of comission. There is one fee for withdrawing the dollars, and another fee for converting the dollars to soum!
Prepare to Carry a Lot of Cash
Since 1 GBP equates to more than 10,000 Uzbek soum, the amount of soum that you are travelling with quickly accumulates if you withdraw a few hundred dollars or so at a time. Historically, travellers would end up travelling with bags of cash like Pablo Escabar!
Fortunately, a 50,000 soum note has been released in recent years. When you exchange currency at Uzbek banks and currency exchanges, the cashiers will typically provide you with mostly 50,000 soum notes so that you don’t end up with an outrageous amount of notes.
That said, as you buy things and travel around Uzbekistan, you will probably accumulate change. So be prepared and make sure you have a big enough daypack if necessary. Try to leave an amount of cash in your hotel safe when you go out exploring.
Languages and Communicating
The official language of Uzbekistan is Uzbek. Russian and Tajik are also widely spoken.
Not many people speak English. However, you can just about get by with a small handful of words paired with enthusiastic miming and Google translate!
Try and Learn Some Russian
If you are going to learn a bit of a language in advance of your trip, try and learn some Russian. This is unofficially the second language of Uzbekistan.
Russian is likely going to come in more useful in your future travels than Uzbek which is only spoken here. It is also spoken in nearby Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan.
Useful apps to consider downloading before your trip are Memrise, Busuu, and DuoLingo. The free versions of these are good enough to help you grasp a few phrases before you travel to Uzbekistan.
Travel Insurance for Uzbekistan Travel
Ensure that you purchase comprehensive travel insurance before you travel Uzbekistan. The country has very limited options for medical treatment should you require it, and the standards are generally extremely poor.
Should you get sick or be involved in an incident when you visit Uzbekistan, you will probably have to be taken to India or Eastern Europe to be treated. As you can imagine, that isn’t going to be cheap so make sure you have sufficient medical coverage on your insurance plan!
World Nomads are a reputable insurance company that you may wish to consider for your Uzbekistan triip. They are practically the only provider that offers a comprehensive cover for off-the-beaten path destinations. World Nomads also provides cover for things like repatriation, hiking incidents, and theft.
Visas and Entering Uzbekistan
Historically it was pretty tricky to enter Uzbekistan. You used to need to apply for a visa at an Uzbek embassy in advance of your trip, and visas could get pretty expensive. No more!
As of February 2019, citizens of over 45 countries can enjoy visa-free access to Uzbekistan. This includes travellers from the United Kingdom, the United States, and the majority of the EU countries.
In general, processes for entering Uzbekistan have loosened up a lot over the last few years. Uzbekistan is working hard to position itself as a tourism destination.
Even if you are not from one of the 45 countries eligible to travel visa free, you can apply online for an e-visa. Check the specifics with your country’s government travel advice before you book your Uzbekistan trip.
Police Registration for Uzbekistan
Quite a big headache of travelling in Uzbekistan is the constant need to obtain “registration” and proof of your whereabouts within the country. It’s not a complicated process really, just an annoyance. This basically means obtaining a slip of paper at every place that you stay.
How to Obtain Police Registration
To obtain police registration in Uzbekistan, simply tell the person on reception at your hotel/hostel when you check in that you need registration. They will provide you with a slip of paper that proves that you stayed there that night.
If you opt to couchsurf or do a homestay, you must register via an online portal called Emehmon. If you take an overnight train, like the one I took from Urgench to Tashkent, you should retain your ticket as proof for that night.
Ensure that You Save All Registration Tickets
Once again, progress seems to have been made in this area of Uzbekistan travel. Fines and implications of not registering correctly were very harsh in the past.
Rules stated that you could be detained or fined up to $2500 if you missed something or did not register correctly! When I exited Uzbekistan on the 4th of June 2019, my registration papers were not checked.
I would say that it is better to be safe than sorry and to still obtain and save these papers. However, hopefully this process will become obsolete soon.
Religion and Cultural Customs
Officially, Uzbekistan is a Sunni Muslim country. However, you will find that it is mostly secular and the majority of the people are not practicing religion.
The Russian population of Uzbekistan is predominantly Christian. There is a small Jewish community here also.
People hear that a country is Muslim and automatically fret that it will be ultra-conservative and that they don’t know what to wear so as not to offend. It should be noted that Uzbekistan is not Saudi Arabia, and the people think of themselves as liberal and open-minded.
Dress Code in Uzbekistan
Women do not wear abayas or burkas, and it is not uncommon to see young Uzbeks wearing dresses and shorts. Alcohol is also legal here.
You will find that Uzbek women take great pride in their clothing and style. They often wear vibrant, colourful dresses with geometric or eye cat designs.
These are often paired with sparkly shoes. Many women wear headscarves in Uzbekistan. However this is a cultural thing rather than a religious requirement.
Uzbekistan is more modest and conservative than the west. Although there is no set dress code, err on the side of modesty. Leave your short-shorts and low cut tops at home.
Travellers, especially female travellers, should dress more conservatively in the Fergana Valley. As a rule of thumb, ensure that your shoulders and knees are covered here.
Remember that Uzbekistan is still a Dictatorship
Uzbekistan is slowly opening its doors to the world. However things here are far from perfect.
Uzbeks have no freedom of speech and Journalists and media representatives are routinely jailed for expressing their opinions. As such, you should not push for a political discussion with your new Uzbek friends.
From a human rights perspective, Amnesty International rank Uzbekistan as one of the world’s lowest-ranking countries. This does not affect you as a tourist. However, it is worth being informed as to the situation in the places that you travel.
Uzbekistan is More Touristic Than You May Realise
Who on earth travels to Uzbekistan? Quite a few people actually. Although this magical Silk Road country may seem as off-the-beaten-path as it gets, you may be surprised to see a lot of tour buses as you make your way around the country.
It may be that Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road adventure tv show put Uzbekistan on the map for a lot of people, who knows. However at certain times of the day, you may find that some sites, like the Registan, are overrun with older British tourists piling off tour buses.
The ambiance when you travel Uzbekistan is most magic in the evenings. At this time, the abundance of tourists have left, and all that remain are a few locals riding their bicycles or sipping tea outside the Registan.
Costs of Getting to Uzbekistan
It is likely that the bulk of the cost of your Uzbekistan trip will come from flight costs. Only a limited number of carriers fly to Uzbekistan currently, with the main providers being Turkish Airlines and Uzbekistan Airways.
Exact flight prices will obviously vary depending on where you are departing from. Additionally, it goes without saying that flights are likely to be cheaper if you travel during the off-season.
It is worth noting that flights in and out of Uzbekistan are moderately higher than flights to neighbouring countries (e.g. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan). If you are open to a wider exploration of the Silk Road region, you could save as much as $100 or more by flying first into somewhere like Astana, Kazakhstan, or Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Customs Upon Entering Uzbekistan
A lot of the information online regarding travelling to Uzbekistan is outdated and no longer relevant. The country previously had very strict border controls and there were many rules and customs that travellers needed to be mindful of before entering.
You should still research the rules and customs of Uzbekistan before your trip – you absolutely should! However, keep in mind that processes are much more relaxed lately since Uzbekistan had a change of Prime Minister and wants to encourage more tourism.
The main aspects of Uzbek customs and border control are broken down below.
Customs Forms for Visiting Uzbekistan
Historically, you were given a customs form upon entering Uzbekistan which required that you specified everything that you were carrying. You had to declare any medicines that you had with you and sign a declaration of the exact amount of currency you had. This was then checked with a fine tooth comb when you exited the country to ensure that nothing was amiss.
I travelled to Uzbekistan for two weeks from May 2019 to June 2019. I flew into Samarkand and out from Tashkent.
No customs form was given to me. None of the other travellers I encountered had to complete one either. The only time that you have to fill in a declaration now is if you are travelling with over $2000 of cash.
Carrying Medicines into Uzbekistan
Medicines are one area where Uzbekistan border guards are extremely strict. It is imperative that you know what you can and cannot take into the country with you. This document specifies all the details of what meds you can and cannot take into the country with you and the quantities.
Specifically, the guards are looking for anything containing codeine, as well as anxiety meds like xanax which are illegal in Uzbekistan. Make sure that you carry the correct paperwork and doctor’s notes for prescription meds and leave the super strong painkillers with codeine in behind!
Standard things like painkillers are fine. Neither me nor my bags were checked for meds. I carried just a few boxes of paracetamol and a box of ibuprofen.
Carrying Money into Uzbekistan
If you are travelling to Uzbekistan with currency over the value of $2000 USD, you have to declare it. Again, historically, when you entered Uzbekistan you had to declare all of the money that you were carrying.
If you exited the country with more than what you arrived with, they assumed that something sketchy had gone on or that you had worked in the country. This was not checked for me. However, again, you should err on the side of caution and try not to leave the country with more than what you entered with.
Border guards periodically check through people’s phones and computers upon arrival and exit. This used to be a lot more commonplace than it is now, but random checks can’t be ruled out. If you have any pornography or explicit images and videos on your devices, you should remove them before travelling to Uzbekistan.
This sensitive information clause also extends to books which may be checked. Again, err on the side of caution and don’t pack anything that may be perceived as controversial.
Internet and Wifi Connectivity in Uzbekistan
The internet in Uzbekistan is not that bad. It is by no means fiber optic and fast enough to stream movies online, and usually it was too slow to make calls via Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. However, it was fast enough to get by and quickly check some information, send a message, or upload a video to Instagram stories (priorities!!).
You should note that wi-fi is not widely available in Uzbekistan. Most hotels have wifi, and some tourist restaurants do offer it.
Otherwise, it’s more of a luxury than a commonality. Try to buy a local Sim card if you want to stay better connected.
Sim Cards in Uzbekistan
Sim cards in Uzbekistan are very cheap to pick up. Beeline is your best option.
They offer a SIM for just 30,000 soum ($3!) For this, you get a card with 3 gigabytes of data, plus some calls and messages.
Most of the other retailers would not offer a card to someone who did not have an Uzbek passport. Take your passport with you when you head to the Beeline store.
If you need to add more data, calls, or whatever to your Uzbek sim account, you can simply drop by one of the many kiosks that are dotted around throughout most major towns and cities.
Food Culture in Uzbekistan
Food in Uzbekistan is okay. It is not inedible, but it is also not necessarily the most inspiring cuisine.
A lot of Uzbek food is meat-based. The meat here can be quite fatty and vegetarian options can be very limiting.
Uzbek breakfasts are very nice and are quite similar to the kahvalti that you get in Turkey. At breakfast time, you will be served a tapas-style selection of lots of different foods served on cute tiny dishes and plates.
Some of the most prominent local dishes are detailed below. In Tashkent, there is a little more variety. Also in Tashkent, there is a large Korean population so it is easy to find delicious Korean food if that is something you want to sample.
If there was a national dish of Uzbekistan, plov would be it! You will find this dish EVERYWHERE.
Plov is basically pilau rice cooked in lamb fat, served with beef, carrots and onions. The texture is a little oily (due to the lamb fat) so plov is definitely not for everyone.
Lagman is a hearty beef noodle soup. If you have travelled elsewhere in Central Asia, you have probably stumbled across lagman somewhere else already.
Manti is meat dumplings that are made with minced mutton or beef. They are steamed and usually served with yoghurt or a spicy sauce.
Shashlik, Kabob, and Tandir
You can find a lot of grilled meat dishes in Uzbekistan that are quite similar to what you would expect to eat in Greece or Turkey. You cannot find pork because Uzbekistan is a Muslim country. However, beef, lamb, mutton, and chicken are very common and usually served with a deliciously spiced tomato garnish and a number of small side salads.
Kompot is not a meal, but something worth looking out for when you travel Uzbekistan. This is a homemade Russian fruit juice typically prepared with fresh cherries, or apricots, or a combination of the two.
Alcohol is widely available in Uzbekistan. You will find wines, beers, cocktails, and spirits in many restaurants, hotels and supermarkets.
In Samarkand, you can also sample some sweet Uzbek wine at the Hovrenko Wine Factory. This place has been creating Uzbek wine since the 1800s. The wine here is very sweet and unique tasting.
Being Vegetarian or Vegan in Uzbekistan
Being a vegetarian in Uzbekistan is not easy. That said, it’s not that bad either, perhaps just a little limiting. A lot of menus offer hearty vegetable soups and salads.
You will frequently find salads, lentil soups, bread, and sandwiches available for vegetarians. The only problem is that there are not so many options available.
Many hostels and hotels have shared kitchen facilities. As such, you could also opt to shop at local markets and prepare some meals yourself.
Tipping in Uzbekistan
Tipping is an integral part of Uzbek food culture. Most restaurants calculate their service charges and then add it on to the bill.
You ought to find this charge itemised on your receipt. Service charges in Uzbekistan tend to be in the realm of 10-15%.
Uzbekistan Travel Guide:
Getting Around Uzbekistan
Trains are the best way to get around Uzbekistan. However, it should be noted that a lot of the tracks are still currently in development.
Some parts of the country are serviced by an efficient, modern, high-speed train. Meanwhile, others use rickety old Soviet-style trains.
Both are quite an experience! Marshrutkas, domestic flights, and private drivers are other options detailed here.
Train Travel in Uzbekistan
The Afrosiyob is a modern, high-speed Spanish manufactured rail network that serves Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara. The trains are sleek, run on regular schedules, and get you from one city to another within just a few hours.
It is generally advisable that you buy your tickets in advance a day or two before as they tend to sell out. You can purchase tickets at local train stations
Some areas of Uzbekistan are still only serviced by old Soviet-style trains. The trains are pretty much set out like the Trans Siberian railway. Envisage dormitories or shared cabins filled with bunk beds.
Journeys take much longer on the Soviet trains. However, they are a rewarding experience. Tickets on both train types are very affordable.
Shared Cabs (Marshrutkas) in Uzbekistan
Some destinations in Uzbekistan are best reached by marshrutkas. Marshrutkas are small shared taxis that leave when full.
You may want to take a marshrutka when travelling from Khiva to Urgench, Bukhara to Khiva, or from Urgench to Nukus and Moynaq/the Aral Sea. Tickets are typically just a few dollars at maximum.
Domestic Flights in Uzbekistan
If you want to include Khiva in your Uzbekistan trip but can’t bear a long overland journey via road or train, you can take a domestic flight from Tashkent to Urgench. The journey takes just an hour, and should not cost more than $50-$100 if booked in advance.
Taking Cabs in Uzbekistan
Within cities, sometimes you may want to take a cab. Unfortunately, I had extremely negative experiences with cab drivers in Uzbekistan who always tried to charge me what was literally 10 times the price. I think that this is reflective of cab drivers wherever you go – they are a breed of their own!
As a rule of thumb, it should cost 5000-8000 som for a short journey, and maximum 10,000-12,000 for journeys of 8-10km. Cab drivers will usually tell you that it’s 50,000 but that’s a con to try and rip you off.
It’s very cheap here. Stand your ground and always negotiate.
Sometimes I felt extremely annoyed when I wanted to travel 5 minutes in the rain, and the cab drivers would not take me for the actual rate. It made me dread needing to take one.
In Tashkent, you should download the Yandex taxi app. This is essentially the Uzbek answer to Uber and helps you avoid all of this.
The Tashkent Metro
Tashkent is the only Uzbek city that has a metro. Historically, this doubled as both an underground transportation network and a bomb shelter!
The ceilings of the Tashkent metro are adorned with incredible paintings that are works of art in themselves. A ride on the metro costs just 1200 soum (12p). When you travel to Uzbekistan, it is worth hopping off the Tashkent metro at each station and admiring the art work.
Unofficial Uzbek Cabs
You will note that a lot of Uzbeks hitchhike around their cities in Uzbekistan. It’s up to you if you feel comfortable doing this.
When you are waiting for a cab in say, Samarkand or Bukhara, you will often find that you are offered a lift by people driving. If they are headed in your direction, they will drop you off for a few soum.
Crossing Land Borders from Uzbekistan
Perhaps you are travelling to Uzbekistan as part of a wider Central Asia itinerary. Uzbekistan is bordered by five countries – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.
Many people use the land borders to cross between the countries. However, it should be noted that there is some conflict in some of the regions, and borders can be closed unexpectedly.
Conduct some basic research on the specific border that you want to cross before travelling there, and check the current situation at the time of travel. One thing to note is that there are typically several borders between Uzbekistan and the respective neighbour country.
This means, for example, that if you want to cross from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan and the Dostyk border is closed, there will be an alternative. The same for Kazakhstan, etc. Check your visa requirements for your next destination before arriving at the borders.
Budget For Travelling in Uzbekistan
I spent approximately $600 (excluding flights) for two weeks of travel in Uzbekistan. That’s not bad. However, you can definitely do it for much cheaper than I did! I stayed in boutique hotels, ate at higher-end restaurants, took cabs, and bought a load of silk scarves with that budget, so not bad considering.
Some average costs of travelling in Uzbekistan are detailed below.
- Hostels: $6-10 per night for a dorm bed (plus $2 city tax)
- Mid Range/Boutique Hotels: $20-35 a night (plus $2 city tax)
- A bus ride across a city: $0.10
- A short cab journey: $0.50-0.80
- Meal at a basic restaurant including drink and side dish: $3-3.50
- Meal at higher end restaurant including drink and side dish: $5-9
- Cost of a day’s private Tour Guide: $25-30
When to Travel to Uzbekistan
Either Spring or Autumn are the best times to visit Uzbekistan. In other words, from March to early June, and from September to early November.
During the summer months, temperatures exceeding 55 degrees celsius are not unheard of and would make exploration very uncomfortable! During the winter, it gets fiercely cold.
Locals in Uzbekistan
Uzbeks are generally very friendly and hospitable people who are curious and interested to meet with foreigners and improve their English. I had dinner with some lovely local girls through Couchsurfing in Tashkent, and encountered some really friendly people in Urgench and on night trains who shared their food with me and invited me into their homes. That said, I think that experiences are more rewarding in places not frequented by tourists.
Scams Are Not Uncommon in Tourist Areas
In Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, locals are becoming accustomed to tourism and a lot of the times I felt people trying to rip me off. This was not just the taxi drivers, but sometimes also the people at the hotels who I felt like I could not trust to help me because they gave me a false, over-inflated rate.
To avoid being scammed and conned, check the prices of things in advance so that you know what you ought to be paying. Stand your ground, and remember that Uzbekistan is a very cheap country. An extra $5 here, $3 there quickly mounts up.
If you have any questions about this Uzbekistan travel guide, feel free to drop me a comment below or ping me an email. Safe travels! Melissa xo