Up-and-Coming Uzbekistan: 7 Reasons Why a Local Recommends You Visit Now
Born and raised in Samarkand, Abdu Samadov is full of inside information about Uzbekistan. He has studied in England and the U.S., and is fluent in English, Farsi, and Russian. Abdu guides MIR travelers throughout Central Asia, and enjoys sharing his knowledge with other travelers. Here, he describes some of the progressive changes that have started to take shape in his home country, and offers seven reasons for why travelers should experience Uzbekistan now, before the rest of the world catches on.
Uzbekistan’s fabled Silk Road gems — Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva — with their exquisite Islamic architecture and spellbinding cache of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, have long been destinations that many people have dreamed of seeing. But such would-be travelers have also assumed that these ancient and exotic cities were too inaccessible, expensive, or difficult to visit. While that may have proven true in the past, things in Uzbekistan are finally starting to change for the better.
All of these changes spell progress for Uzbekistan — meaning the time is ripe for travelers to visit now, before the flavor of the ancient Silk Road is diluted, even slightly, by increased contact with the outside world.
There are many reasons why Uzbekistan should be at the top of your 2019 bucket list, but here are seven of my favorites for why now is the best time to visit my extraordinary homeland:
1. Visas Are Easier & More Affordable Than Ever Before
Gone are the days of having to acquire letters of invitation, filling out paperwork, and mailing off your passport. Now the once tedious, time-consuming, and expensive process of getting an Uzbek visa can be done with the click of a button.
In July 2018, Uzbekistan introduced 30-day e-visas for 51 different nationalities, including U.S. travelers. The entire application process can be done in less than 30 minutes online — simply go to EVISA.GOV.UZ to fill out the form requesting basic information, upload digital scanned copies of your passport and a passport-quality photo, and pay the consular fee. The cost is only $20, and the Uzbek e-visa will be sent straight to your email inbox, usually within a matter of days.
For now, the new e-visa system is only good for single-entry visas, but the Uzbek government has plans to add double- and multiple-entry e-visas by March 2019. And as of January 2019, visa-free travel has been granted for citizens of over 60 countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.
2. Getting Around Is a Breeze
Traveling across Uzbekistan is now faster and much more comfortable thanks to the country’s excellent high-speed rail network. Implemented in 2016, the brand-new European-style bullet trains now connect the country’s capital, Tashkent, to the fabled, UNESCO-listed oases of Samarkand and Bukhara, as well as Andijan in the Fergana Valley.
The government also inaugurated a new international rail line in 2017 running between Tashkent and Almaty, Kazakhstan, which has opened up even more possibilities for travel throughout the region.
There’s no high-speed rail line to Khiva (yet), but as of January 2019, a new regular train route with limited direct service between Bukhara and Khiva was officially launched, offering a more convenient transit alternative to car or bus rides. When the high-speed network extends to Khiva in late 2019 or early 2020, travelers can finally say goodbye to those long and frequently bumpy drives across the desert, and enjoy extra time to explore the dazzling mosaics and shimmering domes of Uzbekistan’s most treasured cities.
3. New International Flight Routes Are Taking Off
Getting to Uzbekistan doesn’t, as many travelers might think, require numerous long-haul flights with contentious connections. Over the last few years, Uzbekistan has made significant strides toward improving international and domestic airline service.
Turkish Airlines increased its service between New York and Tashkent, making just a single quick stop in either London or Moscow. They’ve also recently begun twice-weekly flights transiting between Istanbul and Samarkand, eliminating the need for an extra stopover in the Uzbek capital.
The country’s national carrier, Uzbekistan Airways, has also stepped up its level of service. The airline recently deployed larger airbuses on routes to major international airports like Delhi, Dubai, and London Heathrow, and for the first time in over 25 years renewed service between Tashkent and the Tajik capital of Dushanbe. There’s plans to roll out direct flights to Ashgabat in neighboring Turkmenistan soon, giving travelers greater options to visit other parts of Central Asia in just one trip.
4. Border Crossings Are Re-opening Again
During the 27-year rule of former president Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan had closed itself off from its neighbors. Many of the country’s overland border crossings had been shut down, but scores of them have finally re-opened in the last year or so.
These include the Dostuk border crossing, connecting Andijan and the Fergana Valley with the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan, as well as 10 points along the Tajik-Uzbek border, such as the once-popular Samarkand to Penjikent crossing. This means that travelers can now easily add a visit to the excellent Osh Bazaar or the ancient ruins of Penjikent to their itinerary, without having to backtrack or take a more complicated transit route.
5. Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventure Awaits
Uzbekistan’s architectural legacy amazes, but the country is also gaining a solid reputation as an outdoor adventure destination. Within a few hours’ drive of both Tashkent and Samarkand, you can discover green forests, blossoming alpine meadows, cool blue lakes, and sweeping mountain vistas dotted with traditional villages, waterfalls, and cave networks.
Uzbekistan offers multiple opportunities for hiking — from quick jaunts to multi-day treks — in areas such as the alpine Chimgan Mountains and remote Hayat Village in the Nuratau Range. Travelers wanting a peaceful escape from the caravan cities can spend a night in a nomadic yurt camp in the Kyzyl Kum Desert. And a brand-new ski resort is currently being built in the mountains northeast of Tashkent, set to be fully completed in 2022 with hotels, restaurants, a spa, and a concert venue.
6. There’s Reason to Celebrate All Year Long
Many people ask me when the best time to visit Uzbekistan is. The simple answer is anytime. No matter when you choose to visit, you’re bound to discover some kind of exciting festival or cultural event going on.
Mid- to late March brings the annual Navruz Festival, when locals all over the country celebrate the arrival of the first day of spring with rituals, feasts, and age-old traditions. In April, the city of Termez will host a nationwide bakhshi folklore competition to pay homage to the traditional epic poetry and music of Uzbekistan. And travelers can see Uzbekistan’s famed Silk Road ceramics come to life this June, when the city of Rishtan hosts its annual international pottery and ceramics festival.
7. A Shifting (and Lifting) of Attitudes
President Mirziyoyev’s recent modernizing reforms have signaled the start of an open, progressive shift in Uzbekistan’s development. Since then, an optimistic change of mood has been felt all across the country. Many recent travelers have taken notice of the more easygoing vibe here, from the scores of smiling police and immigration officials, to the more relaxed security regulations around famous monuments. You’re even encouraged to take photos of once-restricted areas like the Tashkent metro, the first time travelers can do so since a photography ban was enacted more than 40 years ago.
Mobile apps like WhatApp and Instagram are now working in the country, meaning travelers can quickly and easily share their photos and favorite highlights with family and friends. And major tourist sights have been staffed with a special branch of the police force designed to offer greater assistance to visitors. These friendly and approachable individuals can help answer questions, give language tips, and make suggestions for what to see and do during your time in Uzbekistan.
More About Uzbekistan: Photos and Videos
There’s never been a better time to travel to Uzbekistan than now! Make your plans to explore this off-the-beaten-path destination before it becomes the next travel hotspot.
More photos and info:
- Secrets of Samarkand: How to Explore Uzbekistan’s “Crossroad of Culture” Like a Local
- Enthralling Uzbekistan: Our Favorite Things to See & Do
Videos and info:
Travel to Uzbekistan with MIR
MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Central Asia, and has an affiliate office in Uzbekistan, with a roster of contacts that can take you to places that you didn’t even know you wanted to go. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
You can visit Uzbekistan in a number of ways – on a small group tour, on a rail journey by private train, or on an independent trip put together just the way you want it:
Small Group Tours
Rail Journeys by Private Train
Custom Private Journeys
MIR specializes in personalized, private journeys, and we’d love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you. Travel wherever, however, and with whomever you like, relying on our expert assistance. Contact us to find out more about our custom and private travel expertise – each trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.
(Top photo: Smiling vendors show off their beautiful embroidered suzani in Uzbekistan. Photo credit: Phil Kidd.)
PUBLISHED: January 16, 2019