Planning & Information
Not many people in the so-called western countries have heard of Uzbekistan, nor any of the ‘stans’ (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan are the others)! But the lack of travelers in the region (and the country), the elaborate mosques and madrasas, the hospitable people, and perhaps, most importantly, the idea of a less-traveled, ex-USSR, most-liberal among the ‘stans’ and a beautiful country makes it worthwhile to travel to this land.
Most countries in the world would require a whole lot of time to experience the culture, sights and things to do, but if you have limited number of days then eight days is good enough for Uzbekistan. Or at least good enough to see the major sights and cities. Although I traveled through the main cities only, if you’re planning to visit Aral Sea, then you’d need an additional two to three days because of the long distances and lack of infrastructure.
Here are some thoughts:
- Highways connecting towns and cities are not in good condition. While you may not need a 4×4, your rental car may experience frequent flat tires and/or breakages. Roads in the cities are very clean and well-maintained.
- Public transportation in big cities are abundant and cheap. No specific public transportation is available in between cities.
- Uzbek is the main language, but almost everyone speaks Russian. The country uses both, Latin and Cyrillic alphabets everywhere. English is not widely spoken and most locals, even in large cities, may speak basic English.
- Food comes very cheap and delicious. Don’t expect to find vegetarian meals anywhere.
Not all citizens are allowed independent travel in most nations of the Central Asian region. Having said that, Turkmenistan is the worst among the five ‘stans’ in terms of getting a visa or entry, and Uzbekistan is the most liberal. But this also means that you may have to book an organized tour even before you can apply for a visa. Make sure to check Uzbekistan embassy or consulate in your country (Uzbekistan Embassy in Washington D.C.) for details on whether you need to be on an organized tour or can travel independently. For example, citizens of U.S. can travel to Uzbekistan independently, whereas citizens of India must book an organized tour.
If you do need to book a tour then our recommendation is Shahina Travels. They are very professional, very reliable and very helpful to manage your entire trip.
Almost everyone needs a visa to travel to Uzbekistan, except the CIS countries. Some countries require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) before applying for a visa. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website lists all the rules for visa application, in addition to the new rules in effect for which nations require LOI, prior visa or e-visa.
I required a LOI and a tourist visa to Uzbekistan, which has to be applied in advance. So I contacted Shahina Travels and got the LOI from them, in addition to booking a 9-day tour. The agency can provide the LOI only, without booking any tours, so check their website for prices. After gathering all the documents, I had to send them to the consulate in Washington D.C., which granted my visa in 2 days, costing $70 (it is $160 for U.S. citizens) for single entry valid for 30 days.
Uzbekistan’s currency is Som (UZS). The Som has no sub-divisions. Although the official exchange rate is USD 1 = UZS 2900, almost everyone in Uzbekistan run on the unofficial rate of UZS 6000 to a dollar. The best way to get this widely-used rate is outside of airport and banks, who will stick to the official rate. Ask your tour guide and they will get the currency exchanged at the unofficial rate.
Note that the notes comes in denominations of 1000, 2000 and 5000 only, which means you will always be carrying a whole bunch of notes everywhere!
I was traveling with friends and having booked a tour, we had a private van for most of the trip. The tour also included flight from Tashkent to Khiva; and train from Samarkand to Tashkent.
For international flights, I used miles from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tashkent (TAS) on Turkish Airlines, via Istanbul. And paid for the return trip on Turkish Airlines.
We had booked our entire tour with Shahina Travels, which included:
- Letter of Invitation (LOI) for visa.
- Private van everywhere (inside and between cities)
- English-speaking guides in every place
- Accommodation in 3-4 star hotels.
The cost was $930 per person and payable before the trip began. You can transfer the amount using PayPal, which incurred fees of $35 per person.
Note that although breakfast is included in the cost of the hotels, other meals are not.
We stayed at the following hotels during our stay in Uzbekistan:
- Shodlik Hotel – Tashkent
- Mirzaboshi – Khiva
- New Moon Hotel, Bukhara
- Malika Prime, Samarkand
IMPORTANT note about hotels – Uzbekistan immigration requires you to register with the authorities while you’re in the country, but as opposed to going to a police station, you must collect registration slips from every single hotel you stay at. This is provided by the registration desk at each hotel, and make sure to get this before you check out. You will have to present all these registration slips at immigration when your leave Uzbekistan.
Note: All values in USD, unless otherwise mentioned, are approximate and based on the exchange rate at the time of publishing. Each cost is for one adult. The exchange rate at the time of publishing is assumed to be USD 1 = UZS 6,000.
|International flight – TAS to LAX||$760||Return flight from Tashkent (TAS) to Los Angeles (LAX) via İstanbul on Turkish Airlines. Economy class.|
|International flight – LAX to TAS||$10.60||Extra fees for flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tashkent (TAS) via İstanbul on Turkish Airlines, using 80K miles business class.|
|Visa Fees||$70||For single entry, valid for 30 days.|
|Shipping fees||$48||Sending passport to Uzbekistan consulate in Washington D.C. and back.|
|Tour||$965||Booked for 9-days, including PayPal fees.|
|Total Costs||$1,853.60||Per person|
|Overall Costs||$1,853.60||Per person|