Uzbekistan is the happiest country in the Commonwealth of Independent States based on the World Happiness reports. The Commonwealth is a regional organization formed during the breakup of the Soviet Union. However, the reality in the country is different than the happiness reports indicate.
The country is rich in gold and natural gas deposits, but it is still one of the poorest countries in Asia. The poverty of the country is due to the economic benefits shared exclusively among the elite circle of the president.
Economics aside, Uzbekistan is popular for the historic Silk Road. This road served as a highway for the transportation of goods between China and the Mediterranean for centuries. Samarkand is a World Heritage UNESCO site. In Bukhara, the architecture of the Klan Mosque is unrivaled.
Also, Uzbekistan has natural diversity. It has the Kyzylkum Reserve, Badai-Tugai Reserve, Jeyran Ecological Centre, and Kitab State Geological Reserve. These reserves are full of endangered species. Apart from the splendid architecture and diverse wildlife, Uzbekistan is a good place to hone your Trekking skills. The desert sands make it possible for you to do Camel trekking. In addition, you can go rafting in the Syr-Darya Rivers.
Places to See in Uzbekistan
The capital of Uzbekistan is a combination of ancient and modern. Although a massive 1966 earthquake, flattened much of the old city, there is still some architectural heritage left. Among the places of interest left in the city are Kaffali-Shash Mausoleum and Kukeldash Madrasa, as well as other sites of Muslim culture. Keep in mind, however, that some of them are not open for non-Muslims.
Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent is a typical Asian, but particularly lively, bazaar. You will find the piles of fruit and vegetable, as well as numerous souvenirs for every taste and wallet size. The city also offers numerous museums to explore.
Samarkand is one of the most popular destinations in Uzbekistan. In the 14th century, Timur transformed the city into the world’s greatest capitals. It is the place, where you will see the site of Alexander the Great’s slaying of his friend Cleitos and the pivot of the Silk Road.
The center of the old town is the Registan Square, where the three huge madrassas are situated. These include Shir-Dor and Tillya-Kari, which were built between the 15th and the 17th century. The Bibi Khanym Mosque, situated not far from the Registan, is a testimony to Timur’s love for his wife. However, it was partly destroyed during the 1897 earthquake, and now it is almost constantly under repair.
Many people consider Bukhara one of the most interesting cities in the world. It offers its visitors over 350 mosques to admire. The center of it all is the Shakristan, with the Ark, the palace complex of the Emirs. Nearby, the 47m-high Kalyan Minaret is situated. Other places of interest include the covered bazaars and the Kalyan Mosque, open for non-Muslims.
Almost completely preserved, the city lies within its original walls and hasn’t changed much since the 18th century. It has a small number of inhabitants, but a lot of museums.
If you want to watch a snow tiger, a Tian-Shan gray bear, and the Berkut eagle, go to Chatkalsky Reserve. And during the winter, the most popular activities in the area are trekking, skiing, and snowboarding. Equipment rental and training for beginners are also available.
Built at the beginning of the 19th century, the Juma Mosque complex is centered around the 22m-high minaret. It also includes 98 redwood columns, which were brought from India. Admission fee includes a free tour, although, only in Russian.
The deepest caves in Asia, Boi-Bulok and Kievskaya, are definitely worth visiting. However, they are suitable for experienced cavers only. Beautiful gypsum formations can also be seen in the Kugitang cave. And the Baisuntau caves contain mummified bears and numerous underground rivers and lakes.
The Silk Road
If you want to see the Silk Road, cycle from Tashkent via Lake Aidarkul to Khiva. However, easier routes go in the Ferghana Valley and around Tashkent, where the lake and mountains sceneries can be enjoyed. You can go by yourself or arrange an organized tour.
When to Go
Uzbekistan has mainly continental climate. The average winter temperature is -8oC in the north and 0oC in the south. However, sometimes the temperatures can get extreme, up to -35oC in winter and +45oC in summer. So, the best time to visit the country is definitely spring and autumn.
What to Wear
If you are coming during the winter, bring a lot of layers. Mountain wear will do too, as it can be rather cold. In the summer, you will need loose, breathable clothes, made of natural fabrics.
The official language of the country is Uzbek. Russian is also understood well. People involved in the tourist industry speak English.
One USD is equal to 3237.5 Uzbek Sum, but the exchange rate fluctuates. It is illegal to change money on the black market and penalties can be harsh, although in the provinces this is sometimes the only way. Money exchangers can be found in bazaars but be aware of corrupt police, who will demand large on-the-spot fines if they catch you – undercover police officers are common.
Banks and the currency exchange bureaux in major hotels will change at the official rates (which nowadays, due to reform, are about the same as the black market, so there is no reason to risk). Also, tourists and business people without special status have to pay for hotels, hotel services, and transport in hard currency, US Dollar being the preferable one. The acceptance of credit cards is not common. ATMs are available in Tashkent.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
Mobile coverage is available throughout the country, and the prices are relatively low. Internet cafes can be found in Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva.
The predominant religion is Sunni Muslim. There are also small minorities of Orthodox Christians and Jews. When in the country, you should respect local traditions, based on Islam. Homosexual relations are illegal. However, public display of heterosexual affection is also not appreciated. Hospitality is the general behavior in Uzbekistan. People here even say: “The visitor is dearer than your father”. The crime rate is rather low. But it is still wise to avoid showing your valuables in public.
Uzbek food is similar to the rest of Central Asia. However, unlike all other Asian cuisines, Uzbek food is not spicy and even tends to be quite bland. During summer and autumn time, there is a wide variety of fruit. The Uzbeks are proud of the quality and wide variety of their bread. Local specialties include plov, shashlyk, lipioshka, samsa, and manty.
Hotel food usually shows a strong influence of the Russian cuisine. There are also a number of European and Korean restaurants. Leaving a 5-10% tip in restaurants, bars, cafes, and nightclubs is common. On the other hand, in international hotels, the service fee is usually included in the bill.
Unlike many other Muslim countries, restaurants in Uzbekistan serve different alcohol: beer, wine, brandy, vodka, etc. There are also 14 wineries in the country, the oldest and the most famous being the Khovrenko Winery in Samarkand. Other popular drinks include green tea, sparkling wine, and kefir (thick drinking yogurt).
The national airline is Uzbekistan Airways. It operates flights to and from London, where you can change for a flight to the USA. There are also numerous indirect options, which are operated by the following airlines: Lufthansa, Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines, and Air Baltic.
The old state bus systems are disappearing and being replaced by private bus lines. However, they don’t keep to the official schedules all the time and often leave, only when being full.
You can travel around in trains. They are efficient. There are three train systems, passenger, high-speed and fast trains. The railway connects Termez, Samarkand, Bukhara, the Fergana Valley, and Nukus. Also, the Trans-Caspian Railway goes throughout the country, from Chardzhou in Turkmenistan, via Kagan, Samarkand, and Dzhizak, where it branches off to serve the capital. There are two railway stations in Tashkent. Keep in mind, when in the train, you should not leave you possessions unattended. Store you valuables under the bed or a seat.
It is not advisable to drive yourself in Uzbekistan or to drive at night even with a driver. Road speed increases, drunk driving is a big issue, and roads are perilous with potholes and few markings.
Renting vs. Bus, Train, Taxi
Taxis are tiring and uncomfortable. The climate here is hot; you will not want to be in a vehicle full of sweaty people without air conditioning. If you need to take a taxi, always negotiate the price beforehand.
There are very few official car hire services in the country, but you can easily hire drivers with cars via travel agencies. Car Rental Uzbekistan (www.carrental.uz) offers a range of vehicles for self-drive. However, driving in Uzbekistan is not easy.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the right side of the road here.
Uzbekistan Trip Cost
It is easy to feel wealthy in Uzbekistan. The highest Uzbek note (1000S) is worth less than 50 cents. You can bargain and bring the prices down when shopping on the streets. However, in department stores, the prices are fixed. Be sure to buy some Uzbek caps as a tour memento.
Electricity & Plug Type
As for electricity, Uzbekistan uses types C and F sockets. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 220 V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Reach
Such air companies as Uzbekistan Airways, Lufthansa, Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines, and Air Baltic operate flights to Uzbekistan from different European destinations. A flight from London takes 7 hours.
Uzbekistan has road connections with all of its neighbors. There is also a Friendship Bridge, which connects Afghanistan with Termiz in Uzbekistan. However, sometimes, it can be closed, due to security reasons, so check in advance. Customs security can sometimes be long and strict, so try to arrive as early as possible. Also, if you need a visa, make sure to gain it in advance. It is not possible to obtain a visa at any of the land borders.
However, with air fares becoming lower and lower every year, it is almost not worth to take a train. Unless you want to enjoy the view outside the window while going from point to point.
Where to Stay
Most hotels are run by Uzbektourism and tourists are required to stay in one of them. However, a growing number of independent hotels now get their licenses. When you live the country, you need to have a paper stamped by the hotel, which proves that you’ve stayed there. Most receptionists will remind you of this. But you need to keep that in mind, in case, the person forgets.
The services and facilities of Uzbek hotels are not generally relative to Western standards. But much effort is being made now in this direction. All regional capitals have, at least, one approved hotel accepting foreigners. If you don’t have accommodation included in the tour, you will be required to pay in US Dollars.
Bed and Breakfast
In the recent years, bed and breakfasts and guesthouses have been opening all around the country. They are cheaper, comparing to hotels, and give a great local experience. Although bed and breakfasts don’t usually offer private rooms, guesthouses mostly do.
There is a number of temporary campsites in the mountains. And several locations even offer their visitors an opportunity to sleep in a traditional yurt. Tour agencies, which arrange these yurt stays, usually offer full-board and camel rides as well.
However, the most atmospheric accommodations in the country are the old caravanserais. These are roadside inns, which date back to hundreds of years. A few of them were, however, converted into guesthouses.
How Safe is Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is known for occasional crime incidents, against foreigners as well. Sometimes, policemen or those, who pretend to be policemen, may require an on-the-spot fine. In this case, demand an ID or pay a fine at the nearest police station. Also, you should avoid showing tour valuables in public and walking alone at night.
Before you go to Uzbekistan, you need to get vaccinations against the following disease: hepatitis A, tetanus, diphtheria, and sometimes typhoid and malaria. Emergency health care is free of charge. However, as in most countries of the former Soviet Union, it can often be inadequate. Also, doctors and other medical personnel often require additional cash payments. Ant the shortages of necessary medicine are also frequent. Therefore, travelers are highly advised to get travel insurance and to bring a fully-equipped first-aid kit.
All water, outside main centers, is regarded as a potential health risk. If you use water for drinking, brushing your teeth or making ice, you should boil it or sterilize it some other way. Milk and dairy products are safe for consumption. As for meat and fish, you should only eat them well-prepared. Vegetables should also be cooked and fruit peeled.
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