19 Useful Tips for Visiting Uzbekistan
When I received my invitation from the World Influencer Congress to visit Uzbekistan and attend their inaugural conference, the first thing I did was open up Google and performed a quick search. I’ve heard of a few of the other ‘stans before, but wasn’t quite familiar with Uzbekistan. I learned that Uzbekistan is a Central Asian nation most known for its ornately decorated mosques, mausoleums, and other sites connected to the ancient Silk Road. My curiosity to explore lesser-known destinations and my love for unique architecture and history was enough to get me to happily accept the invitation and experience the country for myself. In this Uzbekistan travel guide, you’ll learn how to prepare for your visit with 19 useful tips for visiting Uzbekistan.
Getting to Uzbekistan
1) Flying is the easiest way to get into the country.
Uzbekistan is a double-landlocked country, meaning that not only is it landlocked, but it is surrounded by other landlocked countries. The easiest way to get into the country is by air. I flew into the primary international airport (TAS) in Tashkent. However, there is also an international airport in Samarkand (SKD). Aeroflot, Turkish Airways, and Uzbekistan Airways are the main airlines operating flights into Uzbekistan. I had a direct flight from JFK to TAS on Uzbekistan Airways, however most people in my group had layovers in Istanbul or Moscow.
2) You need an Uzbeksitan visa for entry.
Citizens from select countries including the USA, India, and many others, are eligible for an e-visa. Here’s the application process: 1) Fill out a standard online application (no letter of invitation needed) 2) Pay the $20 visa fee using a Visa or Mastercard 3) Receive your Uzbekistan visa in your inbox within two working days.
If you’re not eligible for an e-visa, you will need a letter of invitation with your application. You can get this online through many travel agencies. Once you have your letter you can apply for your visa in person through the embassy. You should receive it in one week.
Free Visa Upon Arrival
Citizens of European Union, Canada, Brazil and many others are eligible for a free 30-day visa upon arrival in Uzbekistan.
Learn more about the visa process here.
3) There are many ways of getting around Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan Railways has high-speed trains operating regularly between the cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. I had a comfortable experience with them. It’s best to book your tickets in advance online, however you can also book tickets in person at the train station.
There are only two operating subway systems in Central Asia, one of which is in Tashkent. Beyond being a cheap way to get around (1,200 UZS/0.15 USD), it’s worthy of a visit because of its beautiful designs.
Yandex Taxi, is a ride-sharing mobile app currently only available in Tashkent where you can book a taxi. You can also catch a taxi in most major cities by standing on the side of the street and flagging one down. Before you set foot in the car, always settle on the cost of ride, the exact destination, and the currency you will pay. Taxis are affordable in Uzbekistan. You can travel within the city center between $4-5.
Money in Uzbekistan
4) The Uzbekistani SOM is the official currency.
At September 2019, 1 USD is 9397 UZS. Banknotes come in denominations of 1000, 5000, 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000.
5) Use ATM cash withdrawal sparingly.
There are now ATMs in the major cities that accept international cards. They dispense UZS and USD. However, there’s a chance they may not work and there can be trouble with them accepting foreign cards. Therefore, I recommend bringing most of your cash with you to exchange.
6) You can exchange money at banks which are easily found.
There are banks to exchange your money all over cities. Some of the major hotels offer money exchange as well. You can also get money exchanged on the black market, however be careful because they often short change you a few notes.
7) Your money needs to be crisp and clean for currency exchange.
Currency exchange places are incredibly strict about the quality of the bills. When changing your money you will need to bring your passport and bills that are crisp and clean. Many places won’t accept ripped or old notes.
8) Credit Cards aren’t usually accepted.
Uzbekistan is a cash economy where paying with credit cards is unusual, but is possible at a few high-end hotels and restaurants. Visa is more commonly accepted than Mastercard.
9) Spring and Fall are the best time to visit Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan has all four seasons with the winters being extremely cold and the summers extremely hot. You’ll have the most comfortable and moderate weather during the Spring and Fall.
Spring- Spring begins in February and ends in May. Average temperatures during this time can range from 60 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain levels are high during the Spring.
Summer- Summer begins in May and ends in late September. Average temperatures range from 90 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer is the driest time of the year in Uzbekistan with one rainy day per month. I visited Uzbekistan towards the end of Summer in August, it was some of the most intense heat I’ve ever experienced while traveling (and I’ve been to the Sahara Desert)!
Fall- Fall begins in October and ends in the beginning of December. Temperatures are lower than Summer, but still warm enough. Rain levels increase in the Fall.
Winter- Winter begins in December and ends in February. Temperatures can be around 48 °F at daytime and -24 at nights. This vary by geographic region, with temperatures dropping to 28 °F in the Plains and -18 °F in the Mountains.
Staying Healthy in Uzbekistan
10) Don’t drink the tap water.
It is recommended to drink treated water (boiled, filtered, or bottled) and avoid drinking tap or well water while in Uzbekistan. Bottled water is accessible throughout the country or you can bring a reusable bottle with a built in filter.
11) Don’t eat unwashed or unpeeled fruits or vegetables.
It is best to eat fruit and vegetables that you can peel yourself. It was fig season while I was in the country. I ate the inside, avoided eating the skin, and I didn’t have any stomach issues.
11) Uzbekistan has some of the lowest crime rates in the world.
When I told some of my friends I was visiting Uzbekistan, they immediately had an alarmed face and told me to be careful. Because the country isn’t as well known in the west, it ends in “stan”, and borders Afghanistan people tend to associate it with being unsafe. In reality, Uzbekistan has some of the lowest crime rates in the world and have a high level of security. I walked around by myself a few times during the day in Tashkent and at night in Khiva and I felt safe.
12) Internet is spotty in Uzbekistan.
The internet is mediocre in Uzbekistan. Most hotels provide you with free Wi-Fi, however my internet was spotty the majority of my trip. But, it was nice to not be as connected. I recommend bringing a hot spot if you need consistent internet access.
Uzbekistan People & Culture
13) Uzbekistan people are big on hospitality.
Most people in Uzbekistan are Uzbek, but you’ll find a lot of people living there from neighboring countries. I found the Uzbek people to be really warm, curious, and helpful. I was welcomed with a lot of smiles and picture requests.
14) No strict dress code for women.
Islam is the main religion in Uzbekistan, however it is practiced in a more relaxed way. You’ll find that most of the local women are covered up, but it’s more so for cultural rather than religious reasons. Women can dress as they like, however should follow common sense in regards to visiting mosques, where your shoulders, knees, and hair should be covered. I opted for flowy and light materials, midi and maxi dresses, skirts, kimonos, and pants.
15) Uzbek is the official language.
The official language is Uzbek, but many people also speak Russian. Most people don’t speak English, except in the touristic areas. Learning a few Russian phrases will be helpful for getting around. Salaam-Alaikum, the Arabic phrase for “peace be upon you” is also a common greeting.
16) Mosque, Madrassas, & Minorets are terms to know.
You will spend the majority of your time in Uzbekistan swooning over the beautiful Islamic architecture. Here are some common words you will hear to describe it:
Mosque: Muslim place of worship
Madrassa: A Muslim school, college, or university that is often apart of a mosque.
Minorets: A tall slender tower, that is usually a part of a mosque, with a balcony from which Muslims were called to prayer five times a day.
17) Get familiarized with the history of Uzbekistan.
Important stop on the Silk Road
The Silk Road was the historic trade route between China and the Mediterranean dating from the third century B.C. until the 16th century. Uzbekistan is the perfect glimpse into the Silk Road because it’s located in the center of Eurasia and was an essential part of trading not only gold, silk, and spices, but also cultural and religious practices.
Former Soviet Republic
Uzbekistan gain it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 after the USSR dissolution.
Recently ruled under an authoritarian regime
Islam Karimov, the first President of Uzbekistan ruled under an authoritarian regime from its independence, in 1991, to 2016, when he died. During his dictatorship he strained a lot of international relationships. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the current President is working to change this with the growth of tourism being one of the many new priorities.
18) Plov is the national dish.
Plov is the national dish in Uzbekistan made of fried rice in lamb fat, meat and different vegetables. There are several types of plov and it varies by region. It’s by far the favorite dish of many Uzbek people. In the capital Tashkent, there is a Central Asian Plov center, a huge building where they only serve plov.
Other typical foods include shashlik (kebab), Laghman (noodles soup), manti (dumplings), and freshly baked bread. Most of our meals were family style and several courses. Uzbek cuisine is definitely meat heavy. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try the horse which is commonly served.
Souvenirs in Uzbekistan
19) There are an abundance of traditional local handicrafts shops.
One surprising thing about my visit to Uzbekistan was seeing the abundance of touristic shops lining the ancient Silk Road streets in Khiva and Bukhara. A lot of the madrassas were turned into shopping centers. Uzbekistan has really impressive local handicrafts. You can find a lot of interesting ceramic, wood, and metal goods. Shopkeepers are honest and will tell you whether or not something was made in India and not locally.
Uzbekistan quickly became one of my favorite countries to shop. Here’s some of the things I picked up:
Ikat clothing- Ikat is the national fabric of Uzbekistan and is made with beautiful bold colors. You can get a custom made silk or cotton Ikat outfit made in 1-3 hours!⠀⠀⠀
Doppi hat- Doppis are traditional Uzbek hat with colorful designs.
Suzani- Suzani means embroidery. You can get suzani bags, pillowcases, and table cloths. The thing I love most about suzani is that each embroidery represents a special story.
Silk scarves- Uzbekistan is the third largest silk producer in the world. There’s a lot of goods that are made with silk in the country. I brought some gorgeous scarves.I’m going to have to come back for a silk carpet. A small 100% silk area rug starts at $500, the most expensive one I saw was $78k.
Overall, Uzbekistan was a majestic experience— walking the streets of one of the most monumental trade routes, soaking up the stunning architecture and sights that left me speechless, warm people who embraced me wherever I went. Everyone deserves an Uzbekistan kind of experience.
Disclaimer: I was invited to Uzbekistan by the World Influencers Congress, but all opinions expressed here are my own.
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