Uzbekistan is one of those countries many people never heard about.
For most travelers, this doubly landlocked country is somehow deep inside our imaginary of being a faraway Silk Route nation, full of exotic people, ancient architecture and where Alexander the Great fell in love with Roxana- his future wife.
I entered Uzbekistan five times:
- July 2004 – Border of KZ – fly out to IR – Backpacking Central Asia
- June 2012 – Border of KZ to TJ – Central Asia Rally
- June 2012 – Border of AF to TJ – Driving alone
- July 2012 – Border of TJ to KG – Driving with my wife
- December 2017 / January 2018 – Border of TJ to KZ – Driving with my wife
AF = Afghanistan KG = Kyrgyzstan KZ = Kazakhstan IR = Iran TJ = Tajikistan UZ = Uzbekistan
Uzbek people are always very friendly and curious to talk with foreigners.
My TOP 5 – Visit Uzbekistan
This is my favorite historical place in Uzbekistan. Its distance from other major touristic destinations in the country makes it even more authentic. According to legend, Khiva was founded in the place where Sem – son of Noah – dug the well Keivah. The old city – Ichan Kala – is a well preserved example of Muslim architecture in Central Asia.
Moynaq is an old port south of the Aral Sea. Under Lenin’s orders, Moynaq fishermen played a major role in the struggle against the Russian famine of 1921-1922. Today there is no water nearby, so we can visit the “boat cemetery” with a dozen rusty carcasses of ships, and a small monument that confirms the scale of the current natural disaster that made the water disappear.
At the heart of the Silk Road and the ancient Persian kingdoms, Bukhara is a lovely historical town. I’ve been to Bukhara many times and never get tired of it. Its tiny alleys with brick buildings are very charming, but Bukhara’s impressive medressas and mosques are simply breathtaking.
There’s not much to see or do in Ukhum. This place is on my top experiences in Uzbekistan on a “people’s” level. After I had camped in Lake Aydar for the weekend, I gave a ride to two local Uzbek ladies. After a small talk I ended up taking them all the way to their village, deep inside the mountain through dirt tracks. I stayed in their house for a couple of days, being hosted by an amazing friendly Uzbek family.
Samarkand is probably the most famous city of Central Asia. Rich in magnificent historical monuments, Samarkand was once upon a time, the heart of the Silk Road – located between China and the Mediterranean. Samarkand is on the list of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia.
20 Places to Visit in Uzbekistan
On this page I make a list of 18 Amazing Places which are undoubtedly the country’s major tourist attractions.
Birthplace of Amir Timur aka Tamerlane – a 14th century Turco-Mongol conqueror, Shahrisabz is a historical city south of Samarkand. Many Uzbek come to the famous Timur statue to make pictures after they get married. I stayed in a very nice guest house located near Shahrisabz city center. The old quarters of Shakhrisabz hold exceptional monuments and ancient neighborhoods, dating back from the 15th to the 16th century. My favorite Shahrisabz monuments are the Tomb of Timur, the Aq-Saray Palace and the Kok Gumbaz Mosque. The Historic Center of Shakhrisyabz is inscribed on the World Heritage list.
2. Aral Sea
The Aral Sea is an ancient salt water lake bordering Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. During the 1960’s, the Aral Sea was the fourth biggest lake in the world. Unfortunately and due to terrible Soviet irrigation projects that diverted the rivers, Aral became one of the world’s worst environmental catastrophes. I was able to cross the bottom of this dried lake during the Central Asia Rally.
NOTE: Visit my other blog post about Central Asia Rally – Race into History. 6500 km / 4000 mi Road Trip Adventure.
Bukhara is one of my favorite cities around the world. Involved in charming streets, Bukhara has many centuries of history that can be experienced while exploring the old city. My favorite Bukhara monuments are the Char Minor, the Mir i Arab Medressa, the impressive Kalon minaret, Bukhara Fortress, the Ark and Nadir Divan-Beghi madrasah. To get to Bukhara one can take the epic train trip on the Bukhara Express – on the Tashkent – Samarkand – Bukhara line. The historic centre of Bukhara is inscribed on the World Heritage list.
Kokand is located in the Uzbek province of Ferghana. Kokand was a market stage of the Silk Road during the 10th century. Later Genghis Khan made this city his principal residence and since then its regional relevance lasted for ages. The most important places to visit in Kokand are the Palace of Khudayar Khan, the Jummi Mosque, the Amin Beg Madrassah and the Kokand Khans necropolis. This is the first relevant city after entering the Fergana Valley if you come from Tashkent.
Khiva is located in the northwest of the country. Its old name was Khwarizm, which made part of an important region south of the Aral Sea, between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. Khiva was the capital of the Khanate of Khiva between the 16th century to the early 20th century. The old city is called Ichan Kala and is surrounded by ten meters high brick walls and you can visit many century-old monuments on a short walk. Khiva was an important stop during the Silk Road era. Khiva’s Ichan Kala is inscribed on the World Heritage list.
6. Republic of Karakalpakstan
The Republic of Karakalpakstan is an autonomous republic in western Uzbekistan near the Aral Sea. Its capital city is Nukus. Karakalpaks were once nomadic herders and fishermen, but life changed as there is no more water in the Aral, and the desert is not suitable for animal herding anymore. I crossed Karakalpakstan coming from Kazakhstan and driving through Moynaq and down to Nukus.
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7. Orom Lake
Out of Uzbekistan capital – Tashkent, Orom Lake is a peaceful lake loved by local people that come here during the weekend to relax and cool down from the summer heat. I was taken here by a friend of mine, Sanjar, and his group of friends. We stayed at his friend’s family house and had lots of fun.
On my way to Aydar Lake I came across the city of Nurata. In Uzbekistan, Nurata is known for its water source, considered to be holy by Muslims. The ruins of a fortress built by the army of Alexander the Great still resists its final days. We can go up the fortress hill, but the structure is almost all lost.
Samarkand is a famous historical city. Located in the heart of the ancient Silk Road, Samarkand was one of the largest cities of Central Asia. Alexander the Great conquered Samarkand in 329 BC and it was near here that he fell in love with Roxana – to whom he got married. My favorite Samarkand monuments are the Registan Square, the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis and the Gur-e Amir Mausoleum. Samarkand lively market is a must while visiting the city. Samarkand – Crossroads of Culture – is inscribed on the World Heritage list.
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan. Although this is one of the big metropolis of Central Asia, the oldest known ancient site in the region – Kanka – dates back from the 3rd century BC. The Uzbek capital is the only city in Central Asia where each subway station is sumptuously decorated with a particular theme. It is also one of the fastest subway systems in the world, where trains go really fast. Important places to visit in Tashkent are the 16th-century Kukeldash Medressa, the Amir Temur Square, the Opera and Ballet Theater Alisher Navoi and the Prince Romanov’s Palace.
Today, Moynaq is a witness of the environmental disaster suffered by the region due to shrinkage of the Aral Sea, which lies about 35 km north and is no longer visible on the horizon from the old port. You can visit the cemetery of old rusty boats and also the memorial monument with satellite pictures, explaining the disaster process throughout past decades.
Luckily after giving a ride to two old ladies, I was invited to go to their place to drink tea. I accepted the invitation and in Mullali, I drove out of the main road to reach their village in the middle of the mountains. I stayed for a couple of days visiting the neighboring villages and their family friends. I was very well received and people were very friendly and curious to have two foreigners (I was with my girlfriend) in their place. I was offered different types of cakes, cookies, juices, homemade jams, bread, butter, honey, omelet. The whole family were very happy to have us around and didn’t want us to leave. This was one of my top experiences while traveling in Uzbekistan.
Deep in the countryside and a few dozen kms detour from the main road Shahrisabz to Guzar, I found the interesting village of Katta Langar. I didn’t know what to expect when I came here, as I was actually looking for something else pointed out on my road map. Langar is a mountain village with traditional mud houses, where a special holy place among Uzbeks is located. The 16th-century Mohammed Sadik mausoleum was built on the top of a hill overlooking the village. The views from the cemetery and the mosque are breathtaking. People are very welcoming and you can even join the holy water drinking at the bucket ceremony on the main gate.
Located in the heart of the Fergana Valley, Margilan was a major Silk Road stop before crossing the Alai Mountains to reach Kashgar, China. All around Fergana, but specially in Margilan, people keep a very strict way of conservative Islam. During Soviet times, an important silk factory complex was built, which is today one the largest in Uzbekistan. I visited the silk factories and carpet weaving workshops where everything is done in a traditional way.
Fergana was my last stop before I left Fergana Valley and crossed the border to Kyrgyzstan. The modern city of Ferghana was founded by the Russians in 1876 as a colonial garrison town. Important places to visit are the Ferghana Regional Museum, the old fortress of Fergana and the lively Bazaar in the city center, one of the busiest in Uzbekistan.
16. Dengizkul Lake
Dengizkul Lake is mainly surrounded by sandy desert with large sand dunes covered with acacia bushes – it corresponds to the northern part of the Sundukli sands. I got stuck in sand with my car, and had to wait for 3 hours until someone came to tow me, but he also got stuck, so we had to wait for 2 hours until another person came to save us all.
17. Kasri Arifon
This is a small village located not far from Bukhara. Although almost no tourist knows about this place, it is in fact one of the most famous religious sites in the Muslim world. It was here that was buried one of the most revered founders of Sufi Islam, Mohamed Bahauddin Naqshbandi (1317-1388). While this is off-limits for non-Muslims, I was taken there under protection of an old man that showed me around the complex. I visited the sacred tree and the Naqshbandi mausoleum.
18. Aydar Lake
Off the beaten path destination in Uzbekistan, the Aydar Lake is located along the Uzbek – Kazakh border over a length of 250 km / 155 mi. Here you will not find any hotel or camping.
The only daily activity is watching curious camels and goats from local shepherds passing by. I camped here during the weekend before starting my way to Fergana Valley via Tashkent.