Khiva to Aral Sea Ship Graveyard – A Road Trip Guide

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Khiva Day Trip to Aral Sea Ship Graveyard

This Khiva to Aral Sea road trip starts in the enchanting city of Khiva, where the ancient walls whisper tales of history. Driving north to Muynak will place you at the threshold of a post-apocalyptic world, a desert graveyard of marooned ships.

I’ve journeyed this Khiva to Aral Sea route, visiting all the diverse places covered in this article to put together this essential guide to help future travellers.

The most popular day trips from Khiva to the Aral Sea are completed in either one or two days. I joined a one-day Aral sea tour starting from Khiva.

Having already visited the famous historical cities of TashkentSamarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, this Aral Sea tour would be the final quest in our Uzbekistan travels.

READ MORE: For modern-day travel tips, be sure to read up on our Practical Uzbekistan Travel Tips and Guide.

Aral Sea ship graveyard

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Map of the Attractions from Khiva to the Aral Sea Ship Cemetery

Khiva to Aral Sea Ship Cemetery: Trip Options

A ghostly ship graveyard conjures all sorts of mystery and intrigue. I needed to know more.

Knowing that a mere 370 kilometres from Khiva lay this sandy ship graveyard, I decided I would see the fate of these vessels with my own eyes. One of the Khiva tours to the Aral Sea would fit perfectly into my itinerary.

The Aral Sea Ship Graveyard, the highlight of my Khiva to Aral Sea Day trip

One-Day Aral Sea Ship Cemetery Tour from Khiva
⭐️ I recommend this Full-day tour from Khiva to Muynak and Aral Sea Ship Graveyard ⭐️

(Includes: hotel pickup/drop-off; driver, sedan car, fuel and guide; full refund if cancelled up to 24 hours in advance)

As luck would have it, I was offered a seat on a private day tour. This tour had an extra couple of stops planned into the day trip that normally would not be included (they were Mizdakhan and Badai Tugai).

This trip also included the main stops at:

  • Chylpik Kala fortress
  • Savitsky Art Museum in Nukus
  • Muynak Museum and Muynak Aral Sea Monument
  • Aral Sea Ship Cemetery.

The museum entry fees and food are extra and not covered in the cost of a day tour.

Any of these tours departing Khiva for the Aral Sea involve a fair bit of driving, but the plus is that you get to sit back, ask plenty of questions, and have someone else at the wheel.

Aral sea ship graveyard
Aral sea ship graveyard ©Lifejourney4two

Expect an early start with pickup time between 6.00 am to 6.30 am. You might even beat the sunrise – we did during our October tour of the Aral Sea. Be prepared; it’s a long day. Little did I know, it would be 16 hours before I would set foot back in Khiva.

In hindsight, I would have chosen two days for this trip if I did not already have ongoing travel plans. It simply means there is more time to spend at each location, and the pace is more leisurely.

Also, nearly all of the one-day tours do not include a stop at the Mizdakhan Necropolis, which I found really interesting on the private tour I joined.

Khiva to Aral Sea Day Trip

My trip included visits to a number of diverse attractions. Not only were the stops really interesting, but some of the locations were quite photogenic.

This day trip covers travel across two adjoining regions in Uzbekistan. Khiva lies in the Khorezm region, whilst the attractions mentioned below are all found to the north in the Karakalpakstan region.

Stop 1: Chilpik Kala (Shilpiq – Uzbek spelling; Chilpyk – in Russian)

The towering Chilpik Kala ©Lifejourney4two

Chilpik Kala is a round, fortress-like structure with mud walls built on a small hillock in a remote location. It’s roughly a three-hour drive north of Khiva.

Chilpik Kala overlooks the pretty Amu Darya River with access via a winding dirt road that finds its way from the highway to the base of the Chilpik Kala. This site was thought to be an ancient tower of silence (a royal dahkma or funerary tower) built by the Zoroastrian priesthood.

The Zoroastrian faith dates back thousands of years. Interestingly, it demands that the dead do not pollute either fire, water, earth or air, so they lay the bodies of the dead on raised platforms to be stripped of flesh by birds.

The bodies are then dried in the sun, which is considered a purification process.

Nearby are concrete steps leading up the side of the hill with a modern-looking yurt camp close by. From the top of the stairs, a deeply rutted, worn section of the wall provides a steep but short clamber to the open rooftop of Chilpik Kala.

Rough terrain to access the top of Chilpik Kala
Rough terrain to access the top of Chilpik Kala ©Lifejourney4two

The rooftop is well-weathered, roughly 50m in diameter, leaving no visible indication of how the structure might have looked in its earlier times. 

Cloth fluttering on a tripod, Chilpik Kala ©Lifejourney4two

Multi-coloured pieces of cloth wrapped around a lone flagpole gently flap in the cold, gusting wind. Our guide mentions that this is a tribute to the souls that once walked this earth and, with it, a hope for a wish to come true.

view to Amu Darya river from Chilpik Kala
Views of Amu Darya river from Chilpik Kala ©Lifejourney4two

From the top of Chilpik Kala, beautiful landscapes open up. To the west, the splendour of the fertile lands of the Amu Darya River and to the east, a dry, flat desert terrain is punctuated by small hillocks.

The only permanent inhabitants these days are the pigeons that circle Chilpik Kala and roost in its mud wall crevices.

views-over-yurts-from-Chilpik Kala
Views of the yurts from Chilpik Kala ©Lifejourney4two

An hour gives enough time to absorb all this magnificence. Access to Chilpik Kala is free.

steps up to Chilpik Kala
Steps leading up to Chilpik Kala ©Lifejourney4two
Chilpik Kala, Karalkapakstan, Uzbekistan

An interesting point is that Chilpik Kala still holds great significance in Karakalpakstan, appearing beside Amu Darya (the nearby river) on the emblem of the Karakalpakstan national flag.

Karakalpakstan national emblem with Chilpik Kala and Amu Darya river
Karakalpakstan national emblem with Chilpik Kala and Amu Darya river

Stop 2: Nukus Art Museum and Savitsky Collection

The city of Nukus lies a short fifty-kilometre drive away, and it’s here that the Nukus Art Museum is found. The Nukus Art Museum is also called the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art and is sometimes referred to as the Savitsky Museum.

The museum is home to the prized Savitsky collection of Russian avant-garde art, founded single-handedly in the 1960s’ by Igor Savitsky. He was a Russian archaeologist and collector who coveted over 90,000 pieces of art and artefacts from Soviet censorship.

Today, it is heralded as one of the finest collections of Soviet avant-garde art in the world.

Nukus Art Museum, Nukus
Nukus Art Museum building, Nukus ©Lifejourney4two

Due to the many pieces of artwork on display, a second building was built to house them. Each of the two buildings has its own admission fee. Any backpacks or hand-carried bags will need to be left at a safe storage location at reception to minimise the potential for theft.

There are custodians that walk the museum to ensure all is in order.

Nukus Art Museum entrance sign
Nukus Art Museum entrance sign ©Lifejourney4two
2nd-floor-turnstie-entrance-of-the-Nukus Art Museum
2nd floor turnstile entrance to the Nukus Art Museum ©Lifejourney4two

Entry and Service Fees Including Opening Times of Nukus Art Museum

I only wanted to pay one entrance fee, so I asked at the counter which was the better museum and was recommended the main museum. It houses the most famous pieces of work. I also paid extra for taking photos.

You can see the rather comprehensive fee structure and opening times below:

Nukus museum fees 2019
Nukus Museum Fees (2019) ©Lifejourney4two

Note: as of Jan 2024, the Savitsky Museum’s archeological and applied arts exhibitions remain indefinitely closed due to museum renovations.

Interior-of-the-Nukus Art Museum during the Khiva to Aral Sea trip
The Nukus Art Museum houses many artworks and antiquities on different floors ©Lifejourney4two

The Savitsky Collection and More

The marble stairwells and floors give the museum a grand appearance. The museum’s artefacts from different parts of Asia, the Middle East and northern Africa adorn the walls and cabinets, along with a dazzling display of avant-garde art.

Artefacts-inside-Nukus Art Museum
Artefacts housed inside the Nukus Art Museum ©Lifejourney4two
Many-works-of-art-in-the-Nukus-Art Museum seen during the Khiva to Aral Sea trip
Many works of art on display inside the Nukus Art Museum ©Lifejourney4two

I spent about one and a half hours at the museum as there was a lot to see.

When exiting the museum, I was in for a surprise. I was taken aside by the Uzbekistan Television crew, who were filming outside the museum and asked what I thought of Uzbekistan, the people and my trip in general.

There were smiles all around when I said I was having a great time and was impressed with all that Uzbekistan had to offer.

Celebrity status in Nukus, Uzbekistan
Celebrity status in Nukus, Uzbekistan ©Lifejourney4two

Stop 3: Mizdakhan Necropolis

The next stop was the Mizdakhan Necropolis (or cemetery), a short 22-kilometre drive from Nukus and south of the modern city of Khodjeyli. The Mizdakhan Necropolis covers an area of 100 hectares, with historians claiming that it dates back over two thousand years.

Mizdakhin necropolis
Mizdakhin necropolis ©Lifejourney4two

If ever there was a place that felt sad and lonely, it is here. From the entrance, only a very small part of the cemetery is seen; however, upon cresting, the rise in front soon brings into sight an undulating landscape of four hills filled with thousands upon thousands of graves.

Mizdakhin necropolis and its many graves
Mizdakhin necropolis with its many graves ©Lifejourney4two

It sure is something to behold.

A litter upended in a grave left as a means of access to heaven – quite a common sight here.
Mizdakhan Necropolis, Karalkapakstan, Uzbekistan

Wandering and observing the many graves gives insight into the beliefs of the people. One interesting one is the vertical ladder, which is said to offer the departed access to heaven. Some other interesting attractions in the Mizdakhan Necropolis are:

Mausoleum of Muzlum-Sulu-Khan

This 14th-century mausoleum looks like a rather plain, uninteresting brick-like structure because only the dome and arched entrance are visible. However, the beauty lies within. 

Mausoleum of Muzlum- Sulu-Khan 
The rather non-descript entrance to the Mausoleum of Muzlum-Sulu-Khan ©Lifejourney4two 

Descending the stairs of the mausoleum brings into view walls decorated with small dazzling blue-coloured tiles embedded into the mud-brick walls. The internal octahedral vaults house two gauze-covered coffins with domes resplendent in azure-coloured tiles and latticed windows.

Mausoleum of Muzlum- Sulu-Khan interior mosaics
Mausoleum of Muzlum-Sulu-Khan interior mosaics ©Lifejourney4two
Mausoleum of Muzlum- Sulu-Khan interior architecture
Mausoleum of Muzlum-Sulu-Khan’s exquisite interior architecture ©Lifejourney4two
Mausoleum of Muzlum- Sulu-Khan interior tiled dome
Mausoleum of Muzlum-Sulu-Khan interior tiled dome ©Lifejourney4two

Hillock of Jumart Qassap

This small five-metre-high burial mound is said to have been built over the grave of Saint Jumart. Ancient belief has it that a woman can be cured of sterility by tumbling down the slope seven times.

Jumart Qassap hillock in Mizdakhan Cemetery
Jumart Qassap hillock with two ladies beside the shrine ©Lifejourney4two

Erejep Caliph Mausoleum

This huge structure dominates the local area with its three high walls and partly visible dome. It is an impressive and imposing structure dating back to the 9th century. According to legend, it is the burial place of an Islamic saint who preached in the area.

Erejep Caliph Mausoleum
Erejep Caliph Mausoleum seen from the graveyard

Interestingly, the Erejep Caliph Mausoleum has a cane base to make it earthquake-resistant, a clever construction technique.

Erejep Caliph Mausoleum crumbling ruins
Erejep Caliph Mausoleum crumbling ruins ©Lifejourney4two

Mausoleum of Shamun-Nabi

Saint Shamun was reputed to have special powers. He could heal the sick, talk to the animals, and even control the weather. No wonder he was revered. His 18th-century mausoleum differs from others in that it houses a tomb with a ceiling of seven domes.

His tombstone is a massive 25 metres in length. Surprisingly, when archaeologists opened his tomb, there were no remains inside.

Mausoleum of Shamun-Nabi
Shamun-Nabi’s 25m long tomb ©Lifejourney4two

(Next to Mizdakhan Necropolis are the remains of the 4th century BC Gyaur-Kala fortress. It is one of the oldest and one of the most visited pilgrimage sites, dating back to the time of the advent of the Zoroastrians. We didn’t visit the Gyaur-Kala fortress.)

There is much to take in here at Mizdakhan Necropolis, and the 1.5 hours went by too quickly.

We were approached by one local caretaker who wanted money in return for a personalized tour; however, we did not have the time and instead voluntarily donated to the drop boxes that are found near the mausoleums and used for their upkeep.

The Mizdakhan Necropolis is free to enter.

cloth-tied-for-a wish to come true-at-Mizdakhan-Necropolis
Cloth tied as a desire for a wish to come true, Mizdakhan Necropolis ©Lifejourney4two

Stop 4: Muynak History Museum

Arriving at the city of Muynak in northern Karalkapakstan, some 185 kilometres from the Mizdakhan Necropolis, brings you to the small Muynak History Museum.

Muynak road sign
Muynak road sign ©Lifejourney4two
Muynak Museum
Muynak Museum ©Lifejourney4two

Central to the museum is a large video room with a poor-quality film dubbed with bad English. Some of the footage is interesting, but it was nearly impossible to hear the audit of the explanations — a real shame as it could have solved many of my questions.

Muynak Museum interior
Muynak Museum interior ©Lifejourney4two

The internal small semi-circular hallway is adorned with paintings and photographs of days now past when fishermen could ply the Aral Sea. It was a happier time when the catches were bountiful.

A photo of a photo from the displays in Muynak Museum
A photo of a photo from the displays inside Muynak Museum ©Lifejourney4two
Drying fish caught in the Aral Sea
Drying fish caught in the Aral Sea ©Lifejourney4two
Fisherman on the Aral Sea
Fisherman on the Aral Sea ©Lifejourney4two
Worker at the local fish factory
Worker at the local fish factory ©Lifejourney4two

 I spent about 40 minutes in the Muynak Museum. The Entrance fee is SOM 30,000 (approx. USD $2.50).

Stop 5: Muynak Aral Sea Monument

The Muynak Aral Sea Monument is 100m from the Muynak Museum and was erected to mark the original coastline. Looking out from here, there is no water to be seen—only sand and scrubby trees.

Would you believe it used to be the fourth-biggest inland sea in the world? So what happened?

Aral Sea monument, Moynak
The Aral Sea monument, Muynak, at the position of the original coastline ©Lifejourney4two

During the time of Soviet Union occupation during the 1960s, a directive was issued to supply irrigation to the nearby cotton fields with water extracted from the Aral Sea. Massive projects were undertaken, but much of this water was lost due to absorption into the sand when transferring water from the sea to the fields.

By 1987, the Aral Sea level had dropped nearly 13 metres, shrinking to less than 10% of its original size. It is known as one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters.

Here are Nasa images showing the Aral Sea – before and after the disaster.

The Aral Sea monument is free to visit.

Stop 6: Aral Sea Ship Graveyard

If you didn’t already feel the plight at the loss of the Aral Sea, then gazing down from the Aral Sea monument at the rusted skeletons of the Aral Sea ships drives the point home. A feeling of desolation is almost overwhelming.

There are two locations where the ships are clustered within a few hundred metres of each other.

Oh, the stories these old ships could share ©Lifejourney4two

These decaying metal ghosts all face out to what was once the open sea as if longing to return to a past life that was full of life.

The Aral Sea ship cemetery ©Lifejourney4two

Clamber onto a couple of these boats using the purpose-built ladders and handrails, providing better views across the sand. Apart from the graffiti and the water, these boats lay as they were left many years ago.

Old fishing boats of the Aral Sea ©Lifejourney4two
Wooden hulled fishing boat
Wooden hulled fishing boat ©Lifejourney4two

The Aral ships graveyard was easily worth the one and a half hours spent there, and honestly, I could have easily stayed another hour at least.

It is free to enter and walk around the Aral Sea ship graveyard.

Aral Sea ship cemetery, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan
Me at Aral Sea ship graveyard, Muynak ©Lifejourney4two

Stop 7: Badai Tugai

Although scheduled as part of the tour, there just wasn’t enough time to visit Karalkapakstan’s only nature reserve located 90 kilometres from Khiva. Leaving Muynak at sunset, we ran short on time and light.

It’s a shame, as the reserve is known for its forests, rare Bactrian Deer and birdlife.

Homeward Bound on the Khiva to Aral Sea Ships Trip

The drive from the Aral Sea Ship Graveyard to Muynak passes by man-made lakes with golden grassy island pathways and deep blue shallow waters that take on brilliant hues with the setting sun. A photo opportunity.

cyclist riding on grass islands amongst water
A cyclist navigating the narrow byways of man-made lakes where the Aral Sea used to exist ©Lifejourney4two

It was a long five-hour drive from Muynak to Khiva, broken only by stops at Metan, a methane re-fuelling station. Here, all passengers are required to disembark for safety reasons whilst the vehicle is filled.

We arrived in Khiva 16 hours after our early morning departure. It was a big day but filled with wonderful and interesting attractions. Great memories were made.

Oh, and a final mention. On the way back to Khiva, the car needed to be re-fuelled with methane, so we stopped at METAN. The driver asked all passengers to exit the vehicle for safety reasons – fair enough. We went to the adjoining coffee shop to wait.

Metan methane fuel stop, Karakalpakstan
The METAN methane car re-fuelling station – keep your distance! ©Lifejourney4two

What to Wear During Your Aral Sea Tour

These are the historical temperatures in Karalkapakstan for the different seasons:

  • Winter temperatures: 2 degC to -7 degC
  • Summer temperature: 35 degC to 20 degC.

These temperatures will prompt you to pack what you think you’ll need. During my visit in October, temperatures were chilly, and it definitely warranted wearing long pants and a jacket.

There is a lot of walking to be done during this trip, so it goes without saying that good-quality walking shoes are a must. A beanie to keep your ears and head warm would be helpful against the cold, gusting winds in the colder times of the year.

Aral sea rusting ships.
Aral sea rusting ships ©Lifejourney4two

Khiva to Aral Sea Ship Cemetery…That’s a Wrap

This Aral Sea tour from Khiva makes for a fabulous day out. The sheer variety of the attractions and history behind them really make this trip interesting.

Having completed this trip and seeing the beached, rusted and decaying ships firsthand on that wide expanse of near-barren sand gave full meaning to the depth of this catastrophe. A tragedy that had far-reaching consequences yet still impacts to this day.

Have you joined a day trip to the Muynak ship cemetery? What were your Aral Sea trip highlights?

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These are some of the travel resources we use when planning our trips.

For a more thorough list visit our Travel Resources page here.

Photo of author


Lars, grew up in the Australian countryside and discovered his love for nature early on. Leaving Australia at 20, he began a life of travel and exploration. As a co-owner of Lifejourney4two with Shelley, Lars captures their journeys through his photography. Join him here and see the world through his lens.

8 thoughts on “Khiva to Aral Sea Ship Graveyard – A Road Trip Guide”

  1. Wow! I so love blogs to unique countries such as Uzbekistan! Hopefully, I can visit Central Asia. Please continue making blogs about unique places here on Earth.

  2. Hi guys, just fascinating seeing these places that are so unknown to us. What a gem was the interior of the mausoleum.

  3. Planning our trip, for next year. If only everyone could post like you do, and the photography is like we are twins. Tks

    • Hi John, Thanks for the positive feedback and we’re glad that our article helped you out. Looks like we both enjoy spending time behind the lens:)
      If you have any further questions then please just ask away and we’ll gladly help out. Enjoy your upcoming trip!


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