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Full of eastern promise, Uzbekistan is a delight for travellers seeking age-old monuments, mosques and mausoleums

With Kazakhstan above and Turkmenistan below, this Central Asian Silk Road staple is surrounded on all sides by ‘Stans’.

Here, amid the desert hinterland, sand-coloured fortresses guard oasis towns that bear romantic names like Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, conjuring up half-remembered tales of ancient warriors and warring kings. Gaze across vast deserts, wonder at intricate mosaics and sample local cuisine that has been influenced by invaders and traders.

 

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Culture and history

Despite a tumultuous past, Uzbekistan is a hospitable country where guests are warmly welcomed. Although a fairly liberal Muslim country, visitors should still dress modestly and be respectful, especially when visiting mosques where you’ll be expected to remove your shoes and women should cover their hair with a scarf. During the holy month of Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking in public is forbidden by the Muslim culture and visitors should abstain from these activities when out in public.

Delving into Uzbekistan’s past, we know that during the first century BC, the country formed an important part of the Central Asian Silk Road linking Imperial Rome with China and the Middle East.  The towns of Bukhara and Samarqand were established at this time, and both flourished with the wealth that the busy trade route brought with it.

In the 7th century Arabs conquered Uzbekistan, establishing an important centre of Islamic culture in Bukhara and spreading the Islamic faith throughout the region. Arab rule declined several centuries later clearing the way for the hoards of Genghis Khan, whose Mongol empire seized control in the 13th century.

In the late 19th century Russia began to have a growing influence on the region, initially seizing control of the capital Tashkent and fanning out from there to take control of Bukhara and other cities.

Throughout the next few decades the new Communist rulers closed down mosques and launched a campaign for secularisation, installing Moscow loyalists in positions of power. In 1991 Uzbekistan gained independence and became a republic. The country still has strong economic and military ties with Russia and the surrounding ‘Stans’. 

Things to do

On our escorted tour you’ll visit sight after show-stopping sight, from the carved Samanid mausoleum in Bukhara to the monumental 14th century Ak-Saray Palace gateway in Shakhrisabz. Walk inside Khiva’s old town, said to have been founded by Shem, the son of Noah.

Catch a fast train to the evocative city of Samarkand, the heart of the ancient Silk Route. The history here is palpable as the dry desert breeze whispers a thousand stories of the travellers who’ve passed through. Gaze at the celestial blue domes of ancient Registan Square, explore the complex 15th century Bibi-Khanym Mosque and wonder at the myriad blue tiles that bedeck the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis.

Throughout your holiday you’ll take expert guided tours, stay in some of the country’s comfortable hotels and enjoy the famously friendly hospitality of the Uzbek people.

Flight time

It takes approximately seven hours to fly to Urgench from the UK.

Currency

Uzbek Sum -

The currency in Uzbekistan is the Uzbek Sum (UZS) which is divided into 100 tiyn. Credit cards and travellers cheques are not widely accepted, except for at hotels in the capital, Tashkent.

Some hotels in Tashkent may have an ATM. Your tour manager will be able to assist you with exchanging money as it can be a complicated task in Uzbekistan. We recommend that you take enough US dollars (unmarked and in good condition), particularly in small denomination notes, for your needs for the duration of the trip.

It's worth noting that whilst it is technically illegal to buy goods with foreign currency, the use of US dollars for tipping or buying souvenirs at local sites is widespread.

As a guideline, the following are typical prices that may help you budget…

Green or black tea – 75c

Iced tea – $1

Large bottle of mineral water – $1

Can of cola – $1.50

Bottle of beer – $5

Glass of local wine – $1.75

Caesar salad – $3

Bowl of soup – $2.50

Chicken skewer – $4

Club sandwich – $3.50

Beef steak sandwich – $5

Passports and visas

A full passport and visa is required. On arrival, you’ll need to fill out two copies of the customs declaration form: ensure both copies are signed and stamped by customs officials.

You will need to present one to the customs authorities as you enter the country and produce the other on departure, so double check the dates too. Any currency or valuables not declared on your customs declaration form may be confiscated.

Phrases

Hello - Assalomu Alaykum! Vaalajkum assalom!

How are you? - Ishlaringiz yaxshimi? Ahvolingiz qalay?

Fine, thanks - Rahmat, yaxshi

Goodbye - Hayir

Bon appetite - Yoqimli ishtaha!

I don't understand - Men tushunmayapman


Timezone

Uzbekistan is five hours ahead of GMT, or four during DST.

Electricity

Mains voltage is 220/240 volts AC (50 Hz cycles). Round, two-pin continental plugs are used, so you'll require an adaptor – remember to take one with you as these are not widely available.

Language

Language -

Uzbekistanis speak Uzbek, a member of the Turkic group of languages, and it is written in Cyrillic.

English is not widely spoken except by people working within tourist areas. Don't worry though – your tour manager will be able to help you with any language barriers that you encounter.

Tipping

As a guideline, the average amount for good service is $2-4 per person, per day for your tour manager and $2-3 per person, per day for coach drivers.

Some tourist sites require a photography permit, typically less than £1 per camera, which is payable in the local currency.

Climate

As a semi-desert country, Uzbekistan has extremes of temperature. Layers are essential in spring and autumn to ensure you keep warm, and temperatures can change with dizzying speed.

When the sun is out you might be comfortable in just a jumper and need some sunscreen on your face, but if it is cloudy, or there is a cold wind blowing, temperatures will plummet and you’ll be grateful for a snug coat, a hat, scarf and gloves.

It might be 15°C one day, and snowing the next – though snow will be fleeting at this time of year. There are only a few places on the tour that will require you to cover up your head, legs and arms. At most places a long pair of shorts or long skirt and t-shirt should be sufficient.

Health

Whilst it is permissible to take prescription medication into Uzbekistan, there are specific rules that must be followed. You should carry a doctor’s prescription if you intend to travel with prescription medicine, and may also require a letter from your doctor confirming the medication that you are on (make sure you request a letter from your GP at least two weeks before departure).

You must also declare all prescription medicine on your Passengers Customs Declaration form. These forms are handed out on the plane and should be completed in duplicate – one is given to customs on arrival, the other you hand in to customs on your return. The crucial question to complete regarding medication is number 6: ‘Information on goods and means of transport’. Simply list your medication in this section, and when you go through customs you may also be asked to produce your supporting documentation. If you fail to declare your prescription medication and it’s discovered later, you may be held in the country and subjected to legal procedures.

You can check with the Uzbek Embassy what the legal quantities of medicine are before you travel, though the website lists active ingredients rather than proprietary names.

Flying insects, including mosquitoes, can be a feature of this part of the world during the warmer months and you may find it helpful to wear long-sleeved tops and full-length skirts or trousers, and to use mosquito repellents on exposed areas of skin. Those in which DEET is an active ingredient are thought to be the most effective.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

28.7 million people live in Uzbekistan – which is just under half of the UK population.

Uzbekistan is a dry, land-locked country measuring 172,742 square miles (447,400 square kilometres), making it approximately 1¾ the size of the UK.

Smoking

Smoking is prohibited in public places although it is not heavily enforced.


Places in Uzbekistan

The Heart of the Silk Route

Full of eastern promise...


Climate