TOP UZBEKISTAN TRAVEL TIPS AND GUIDE
We’ve gathered together all our top Uzbekistan travel tips to make your Uzbekistan travel easier and cheaper.
“Come on Mister, it’s only $10,” said the smiling gold teeth.
On the plane, just before we’d landed at Taskent, Uzbekistan’s capital city, a gentleman from Tashkent, warned us that the taxi drivers might try and rip us off, and not to pay any more than USD$1.50 (15,000 SOM) for our taxi from the airport to our city hotel.
But guilt kicked in when the taxi drivers reacted to our offer of 15,000 SOM as if it was a grave injustice.
Travelling on a budget means we watch our pennies, but it’s sometimes difficult navigating the line between what’s fair and just and when you’re being taken for a ride. And in this case — we needed that ride. Whatever the price you settle on, be warned that the customs is to haggle and that the taxi drivers’ pleas can pull on your heartstrings.
We managed to bargain our ride down to USD$6 — knowing that this was still way above the average fare, but happy to part with it and just get to our hotel. The next morning the hotel booked a taxi for us and it cost 13,000 SOM (about USD$1.30) for the same distance.
Knowing the lay of the land when you arrive in a foreign country can help you navigate the twists and turns inevitable when you land in a new place and experience a new culture.
These Uzbekistan travel tips will help you save money and avoid possible hassles in this famed country of the Silk Road.
UZBEKISTAN TRAVEL TIPS: SUMMARY
- Many nationalities get free access to Uzbekistan without a visa – check here
- The most popular cities to visit in Uzbekistan are: Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva
- Tourists are welcomed in Uzbekistan and tourism is being actively developed
- Most international flights land in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan
- The languages spoken are mainly Uzbek and Russian — some younger locals speak English
- The local currency is Uzbek SOM (UZS) – Note: US Dollars are no longer used as local currency
- Cash is the main currency of choice but some larger stores and hotels take credit card
- Banks can exchange foreign currency for SOM and there are increasing numbers of ATM machines for different card types in the main cities
- Banks and money exchanges will only take pristine notes (even if there is a tiny tear or the note is wrinkled/dirty they are reluctant to change them.)
- Use up your SOM before you leave Uzbekistan as you cannot exchange this outside the country
- Tourist Police are active in the cities and have stations near the main tourist areas
- Trains run between the main Uzbekistan cities
- Alcohol is freely available
- It is recommended not to drink the tap water in Uzbekistan
- One of the main Uzbekistan national dishes is called Plov and is a lamb, veg and rice dish
- There are no strict dress guidelines in Uzbekistan ( Though you will need to dress respectfully in religious places and practising mosques)
Uzbekistan used to be the trading centre of the famous Silk Road. But today, it is tourism, rather than trading, that is Uzbekistan’s drawcard.
Uzbekistan was once the main thoroughfare of the Silk Road, with traders and travellers plying their wares along its route. When the trading route began to decline and Uzbekistan came under the rule of the Soviet Union, the country was difficult to enter. Many great examples of its architecture, mausoleums and mosques fell into disrepair.
However, the magnificence of what once was is being restored with ongoing projects in the main cities of Uzbekistan. The country is welcoming visitors from all over the world and the pride of the locals in their heritage is tangible.
Since 2016 the new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, was changing the approach to tourism and made it easier for foreign visitors to visit Uzbekistan. Moreover, Lonely Planet has named the Central Asia Silk Road region, as one of the top places to visit in 2020.
WHERE IS UZBEKISTAN?
Uzbekistan is surrounded by all the other ‘Stans’ in Central Asia. It is bordered by Kazakhstan to the west and north, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south.
Uzbekistan declared independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991, becoming the Republic of Uzbekistan. The suffix ‘stan’ is an ancient Farsi or Persian word meaning place of or country.
UZBEKISTAN TRAVEL VISA REQUIREMENTS
Since February 2019, many nationalities do not need a visa to enter Uzbekistan – check visa requirements here.
Also, from January 2020 the visa requirement was waived for more nationalities and Chinese nationals won’t need a visa for a 7-day stay. Uzbekistan was expecting a big jump in tourist numbers in 2020 … then along came the Covid pandemic.
IS UZBEKISTAN SAFE FOR TOURISTS?
If you are considering visiting Uzbekistan, you should keep up to date on the safety travel status of Uzbekistan. Consider subscribing to your country’s safety updates if they provide them. We subscribe to Smart Traveller in Australia for email updates on security issues, health issues and natural disasters around the world.
- In Australia, we subscribe to Smartraveller to ensure we receive the latest travel information.
- If from the UK, you can check for Uzbekistan Travel Advice here
- If you are from the US find Uzbekistan travel advice here
We didn’t experience anything untoward while travelling through Uzbekistan, but it is always advisable to stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.
Take the following precautions:
- Avoid going out alone at night
- Avoid wearing expensive clothing, jewellery or showing your cash
- Be aware of pickpockets in cramped areas. (I always wear my lockable Pacsafe crossover bag and can’t praise it enough)
- Only use marked taxis
We found most of the Uzbekistan people to be extremely hospitable, friendly and welcoming. They are also happy to impart their own Uzbekistan travel tips to you if you stop and chat with them.
The main cities had a high presence of Tourist police to assist with any problems tourists may encounter. Because Uzbekistan tourism is being developed, it is much easier and safer to travel in the country than in previous times.
DO I NEED VACCINES FOR UZBEKISTAN?
Yes, some vaccines are recommended by the CDC for Uzbekistan:
- Hepatitis A and Hep B
- Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR),
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis),
- Chickenpox and shingles,
- Influenza (flu) and Covid 19
We would also recommend that you have a comprehensive Travel Insurance Policy.
WHAT LANGUAGE IS SPOKEN IN UZBEKISTAN?
The languages spoken in Uzbekistan are mainly Uzbek and Russian. However, some younger locals speak English.
Try to learn a few Uzbek words if you are visiting Uzbekistan because this is really appreciated by the locals.
- Hello = Assalomu aleykum
- Hello (informal) = Salom
- Thank you = rahmat
For pronunciation and more Uzbek phrases – check out this website
FLIGHTS TO UZBEKISTAN
Many airlines now fly to the international airport in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The airport is about 7.5 miles from the city centre.
One of the main airlines is Uzbekistan Airways. Before we flew with them we were unsure as to what to expect. But, the service was great.
The inflight entertainment might not have had the latest blockbusters but there was enough variety to keep the average non-film buff happy.
The food on the flight was standard aeroplane food. Take note not to be confused by the email asking you to order your plane food before departure. We thought it meant that we didn’t get a meal (due to it being a budget flight) and we bought several sandwiches for the journey. Just after demolishing those, the air stewardess asked whether we wanted ‘chicken’ or ‘beef.
No need for any more food that day.
ARRIVAL AT TASHKENT AIRPORT
Entry into Uzbekistan at Tashkent Airport was very straightforward. We stood in line for about half an hour to have our passports checked at Customs. We were asked where we had flown from, then our passports were stamped, continued to baggage collection, bought our sim card and withdrew cash from an ATM.
All done in 20 minutes.
For those requiring visas, there was a special desk from which you could purchase this.
CATCHING UZBEKISTAN TAXIS
Most of the locals used an app called Yandex Taxi to order their taxis.
Download the app before you get to Uzbekistan and you will be ready to use it as soon as you arrive — which means no need to barter with the cab drivers at the airport. It states exactly how much the fare is and you can link it to your credit card, so you also don’t need cash to pay.
There are yellow marked taxis and unmarked taxis. We were told that the only difference between the two, is that the yellow ones are licenced to stop and pick up extra people for a fare and can be shared taxis. The price is the same and you can barter with both types. However, if you are in a shared taxi you may have more bartering leverage.
We found that if we were catching a yellow taxi in the city they were offering a fair price within the city — a standard 10,000 – 20,000 SOM ( USD$1 to $2). However, if you need to get from train stations, airports or travel a distance of more than about 5km, then the price jumped up quite significantly. This is when your bartering skills come in handy.
You can book Uzbekistan trains online in advance or buy your tickets directly at the train station. However, we would advise booking in advance as our carriages were full and only a limited number of trains ran.
There are a few websites that sell online Uzbekistan train tickets. The official one – http://railway.uz/en/ we found to be unreliable and was down a lot of the time. We used tutu.ru. and found that to be the best for us.
The online tutu.ru ticket bookings only become available online about 45 days before the actual train journey so you can’t buy tickets before this. What you can do though, is have email notifications sent to you advising when the window is open. This is what we did and were then able to buy our tickets online immediately as seats do book out.
We booked Tashkent to Samarkand, and Samarkand to Bukhara online.
NOTE: Remember to keep hard copies of your train tickets with you.
We weren’t able to book Bukhara to Khiva online so we approached a local Uzbekistan travel agency, Advantour, who was super helpful and arranged the tickets at no additional cost. They had them waiting for us at the hotel in Bukhara when we arrived.
Summary of our Uzbekistan Travel by Train:
TRAIN TASHKENT TO SAMARKAND
- Cost USD $17
- Time: 3 hours
- Booked online
- Business Class in old-fashioned train cabins
TRAIN SAMARKAND TO BUKHARA
- Cost USD$8
- Time: 2.5 hours
- Booked online
- We used economy class on the train trip from Samarkand to Bukhara and it was more comfortable than the business class from Tashkent and was half the price!
TRAIN BUKHARA TO KHIVA
- Cost USD $40
- Time: 5 Hours
- Booked through Advantour The tickets were delivered to our hotel a couple of days before our journey.
- The business class on the fast train from Bukhara to Khiva was nicer than the economy but really the only difference is having more legroom and a table.
On our departure from Uzbekistan, however, we weren’t asked to show them. Other travellers we asked didn’t have to show them either. That said, there is a possibility of being fined, so although departure procedures seem to be less strict, it is worth keeping your accommodation registration slips just in case.
UZBEKISTAN’S LOCAL CURRENCY AND ATM MACHINES
- The local currency is the Uzbek SOM (UZS) — locals call it ‘SOM’
- ATMs dispense SOM only
- Local Banks will change USD, British Pounds, Japanese Yen and Euros
- Ensure bank notes are pristine, or the bank will not accept them (They rejected many of ours that were just crinkled but no tears)
The local currency in Uzbekistan is SOM and can be either bought before you arrive or withdrawn from ATMs.
[There is an ATM machine that accepts foreign visa cards at Tashkent Airport near the Baggage Carousel. Be mindful that you will be unable to exchange SOM for another currency after you leave Uzbekistan. ]
Up until 1st October 2019, the USD was also used as local currency and available at ATMs, but this has now changed.
There are several ATM machines in the cities, but whether they work or not can be hit and miss. Therefore, it is a good idea to withdraw cash before you get desperate. A few stores take credit cards, but the majority are cash-based.
ATM machines do accept different types of cards but the Master Card seemed to be the most common. There are quite a few ATMs about but because we had a visa card, we had to search pretty hard to find an ATM machine that would accept it.
Sometimes we found that ATMs ran out of SOM.
Desperation leads us to the Black Market
All the ATMs we tried had run out of money. We only had USD and most vendors only accepted SOM, not USD or credit cards. The banks were all closed as it was late afternoon. Because we needed to eat and I needed to buy a pair of sandals (my only ones with me had broke), we were desperate for cash.
On the grapevine, we had heard that there was a Black market exchanging USD for SOM. Therefore, we asked around and found someone. Luckily the interest rate was only marginally lower than that offered by the banks.
We ate and were able to buy some new sandals.
Please note, however, that the black market is an illegal activity. We have been told that sometimes government officials go undercover.
Therefore, our recommendation would be to be aware of the possibility that the ATMs may not be working and plan to get money from a bank or exchange centre when they are open so as to not run short on cash.
UZBEKISTAN SIM CARDS AND WIFI
The majority of foreign Sim cards don’t work in Uzbekistan, so it is advisable to purchase a Sim card on arrival in the country.
At Tashkent airport, you can purchase a UMS Sim card at the ‘Tourist Service Centre’, which is conveniently located right beside the baggage collection carousel.
The minimum price for a data sim is 84,000 SOM (about USD$8.40) for 8GB data. They set your phone up right there for you — so you are all set to go without the worry of having to find free WIFI somewhere.
Some of the tourist info centres and hotels have free WIFI but the signal can be intermittent and is rarely high speed.
TOP PLACES TO VISIT IN UZBEKISTAN
These are the main four cities that tourists visit in Uzbekistan.
Tashkent is a neon sign-filled city with extraordinary subway stations.
It is the first city most travellers see when they arrive in Uzbekistan. Tashkent’s mix of Soviet-era architecture and modern buildings is surprising, and none more so than the art deco of the underground metro stations, which is simply incredible.
Hundreds of street sweepers seem to be constantly cleaning the pavements and the cars all resemble each other — until recently 90% of all cars sold in Uzbekistan were Chevrolets.
Tashkent wasn’t at all what we were expecting.
Samarkand, once the intersection of the silk road trades route, is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its abundance of monuments, mausoleums and Madrasahs.
But Samarkand, is not only its monuments, but it is also its people. And the strong sense of local pride here is equally as enthralling as its tiled beauty.
READ MORE: For more information about this city see our post, Amazing Things to do in Samarkand Uzbekistan
Bukhara, (Buxoro) as a city had a more relaxed feel compared to Samarkand. The madrasahs and minarets haven’t been restored as much as those in Samarkand, so they seemed less grand but perhaps more authentic.
The historic centre of Bukhara has over 140 architectural monuments and is one of the most complete examples of a medieval city in Central Asia. It is over 2000 years old and listed by UNESCO as having Outstanding Universal Value.
READ MORE: For more information about this city see our post, Best Things to do in Bukhara Uzbekistan
Khiva was once a trade slaving post with its leaders known for their brutality. There are two parts to Khiva, the old and new town. The old town, called Ichan-Kala has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and is within a fortress wall, with many of its homes and buildings built of mud walls.
UZBEKISTAN ACCOMMODATION REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTS
When you travel in Uzbekistan you are expected to register at a hotel or at the place that you stay. The hotel gives you a registration slip which you then keep to show on departure.
UZBEKISTAN ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS
There is a range of options for accommodation in Uzbekistan.
Budget accommodation is on average about USD$10-$20 /night and standard accommodation is about USD$30-40 / night.
Hotels and B&B’s we used and would recommend:
- Tashkent: The Art Hotel (we paid $21 USD/night – breakfast inc.) or visit Booking.com to find Tashkent Deals
- Samarkand: The hotel we stayed in has closed – but you can find Samarkand deals here.
- Bukhara: Amir-Yaxyo Hotel (we paid $25 USD/night- Fantastic Breakfast inc.) or visit Booking.com to find Bukhara Deals
- Khiva: Xiva-Azim-Ota (we paid $ 30 USD/night – breakfast inc.) or visit Booking.com to find Khiva Deals
- Urganch: Ariya Hotel – ($30/night breakfast inc.) or visit Booking.com to find Urgance deals
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT UZBEKISTAN?
The best time to visit Uzbekistan is in spring (from March to May), or autumn (September to November).
In spring the mountains are green, and the weather isn’t yet too hot.
September and October are good as the temperatures are cooler but still warm and pleasant to explore the country.
Outside of these months, winter temperatures drop to – 5 deg C and summer temperatures climb to a particularly gruelling 40 deg C. During these months, businesses trade sporadically, so you may find some places open but with no fixed hours of operation.
Our October autumn weather was just perfect.
UZBEKISTAN FOOD AND DRINK
While you won’t find a lot of fruit and vegetables on offer in Uzbekistan, you’ll find plenty of meat dishes, and traditional Uzbek cuisine of which the locals are very proud.
Some of the main Uzbek foods you’ll come across are:
- Plov– Uzbekistan’s main traditional dish is called ‘Plov’. This is a rice dish with lamb or beef mince, onions, carrots and depending on where you eat, some other minor ingredients.
- Manti – A dumpling filled with beef or lamb mince and onions. It also sometimes might be filled with pumpkin.
- Lagman Soup – consistency varies depending on the restaurant but is like a lamb stew with noodles and vegetables
- Fried Lagman – Basically fried noodles coated in a tomato-based sauce. Often comes with a fried egg on top.
The Uzbek staples are bread and noodles. You’ll likely find many vendors on the side of the road with bread baked with traditional patterns indented. The food is relatively cheap here and therefore it doesn’t break the bank to eat out.
Green tea is extremely popular as a drink, more so than black tea.
Average Restaurant Costs:
Locals restaurants: USD$3.50 per meal (eg. 3 meat kebabs, one beer, bread, salad)
Tourist restaurants: USD$5-$8 per meal (eg. Meat, veg, noodle Soup, Beer, bread)
Note: It is not safe to drink the water
CAN YOU DRINK ALCOHOL IN UZBEKISTAN?
Although Uzbekistan’s main religion is Muslim, most are relaxed when it comes to drinking alcohol.
Vodka, beer and sweet wines are popular.
You can read more about Uzbekistan’s drinks and drinking customs here.
MADRASAH and MOSQUE ENTRANCE FEES.
Most places have an adult price listed but this is usually only for locals. Further down the price list, you’ll find the fee for foreign visitors. This price is often quite a bit more than the local’s price.
For example, to visit the Madrasahs in Registan Square, Samarkand, the locals pay 3000 SOM and foreign tourists, 40,000 SOM. A fair enough difference, given that the average wage is so much lower in Uzbekistan compared to that of most tourists. It would be a shame if the locals were priced out of visiting their own historical monuments.
On average the entrance costs range from 20,000 to 50,000 SOM per person. Many places also charge extra if you want to take photos.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND DRONE USAGE IN UZBEKISTAN
Photography in Uzbekistan
When taking photos, be sensitive to the local culture. If an area has a ‘No Photos’ sign abide by it and show respect.
In regards to taking photos of strangers, always ask permission. Most people we asked were happy to have their photos taken. In fact, strangers asked us to take photos of them, rather than us asking them!
Only on two occasions did we get asked for money — both times the person had asked us to take a photo of them before requesting money. We politely refused, not wanting to encourage this type of touristic scam.
Many places we visited on our Uzbekistan trip charged an extra fee, in addition to the entrance fee, if you wanted to take photographs.
Drone Usage in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan has banned the import, sale, and usage of drones.
We chose to send our drone home, rather than risk having it confiscated when entering the country.
WHAT TYPE OF SOUVENIRS CAN YOU BUY IN UZBEKISTAN?
Some of the main souvenirs and items that you’ll find being sold in Uzbekistan are:
- Silk scarves
- Cotton scarves,
- Knives and
WHAT SHOULD YOU WEAR IN UZBEKISTAN?
You’ll find many of the older locals wear conservative-type clothes. Men may wear suits, while the women wear long velour type pants with long colourful dresses over the top. Many also wear bright headscarves.
Many of the younger crowd, however, wear clothes that would not be out of place in Europe or the US. Many were wearing jeans, the latest trainers and trendy brand t-shirts.
Tourists seem to wear whatever they feel comfortable in.
If you visit a practising mosque, though, then it is respectful for women to cover their shoulders and head (I always travel with a light scarf) and wear long pants or a skirt. For men, long pants and a shirt ( no tank tops). You’ll find some of the mosques are no longer used as such and therefore the clothing requirement is less strict.
What will be really useful in Uzbekistan are comfortable walking shoes as you will likely be doing a lot of walking in each city.
UZBEKISTAN TRAVEL TIPs … That’s a Wrap
We will endeavour to keep this post updated with any changes that occur. If you know of anything that we have missed or changes that have occurred please drop us an email or leave a comment so we can give readers as relevant information as possible 🙂
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Have you been to Uzbekistan or planning on going? Let us know what you thought or if you have any questions ask away and we’ll try and help.
Which of these Uzbekistan Travel Tips has helped you the most?
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PLANNING YOUR TRAVELS?
These are some of the travel resources we use when planning our trip and can recommend:
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads
- Book Accommodation: We use Booking.com and Tripadvisor to find accommodation that suits our budget
- Travel Gear and Accessories: Check out our top picks here — Lifejourney4two page on Amazon
- Car Hire: We use Rentalcars.com
- Motorhome/Campervan Rental: We highly recommend the Motorhome Republic
- Activity Tickets: Get Your Guide
- Free Accommodation: Get 25% off Trusted House Sitters
- Wall Art: Shop our ETSY store
For a more thorough list visit our Travel Resources page here.