8 Take-Aways on Uzbekistan from a First-Time Visitor
Marisa Dodd, Tour Specialist at MIR, is a native Virginian with a deep-rooted knowledge of and passion for Russian culture. She recently returned from her first visit to the heart of the Silk Road, Uzbekistan; she found it to be surprisingly modern, incredibly beautiful, and unexpectedly open-minded. Here are some of her first-timer impressions and observations.
I recently returned from my first trip to Uzbekistan – a country I had long dreamt of visiting – and my experience made a lasting impression on me. I was surprised to discover how smooth, comfortable, and safe the trip felt, for a wide variety of reasons.
Back in the office now, I’m excited to share the knowledge of how fun and easy it was to travel through this ancient land. Travelers should not be intimidated about traveling into the unknown.
Uzbekistan boasts an easy visa process, well-organized Tashkent airport, modern attitudes among those I met, and warm hospitality everywhere I went.
Here are some of the things I found most surprising from my travels through Uzbekistan.
#1 Getting In: Easy
Until recently, obtaining an Uzbek visa meant having to physically send your passport to the embassy and wait for several weeks for the visa to be issued and returned. This roadblock has been eliminated with the introduction of electronic visas (e-visas) for U.S. passport holders.
The e-visa process has been significantly streamlined, requiring only the most basic information and a wait time of three business days. Applying for my Uzbek e-visa took less than half an hour on my first attempt. I applied on a Friday and had my visa in hand no later than the following Tuesday.
#2 Getting Around: Easier
Physically arriving in the country was similarly straightforward. Just 15 minutes after disembarking the plane in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s modern capital city, we had our bags and were meeting our driver to set off for our hotel. It was perhaps the most swift and uncomplicated border control and customs process I’ve ever experienced, albeit partly because we traveled in November, the off-season. The airport itself is easy to navigate, even for novice or solo travelers, who would be hard pressed to miss the waiting area and exit doors after clearing customs.
#3 On the Right Track: High-speed Trains
Our tour was a journey of planes, trains, and automobiles. Modern, high-speed trains now connect many of the major cities, such as Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara, making travel between them significantly more pleasant and convenient than driving. I found that the trains in Uzbekistan are on-par with European and American trains in terms of quality and comfort, even in the general economy class. Complimentary coffee is served at the beginning of the journey, as well as complimentary sandwiches and other for-purchase snacks mid-way through.
The next addition to the train system’s repertoire is the high-speed train between Khiva and Bukhara, which is expected to be open sometime in late 2019 or early 2020. In the meantime, direct regular train service between Bukhara and Khiva officially opened in January 2019, which, though slower than the bullet trains, still offers travelers a more convenient and faster alternative to driving across the desert.
#4 Guardian Angels: “Tourist Police”
In the past few years, white booths have popped up around the main sites. Plastered on the side of these sentinels are the words “Tourist Police,” but I believe this is a misnomer. I think a more appropriate term would be “Tourist Guardian Angels,” as these security personnel are stationed less to chastise visiting tourists and more to ensure the comfort and safety of travelers. Their primary purpose appears to be assisting lost or turned-around tourists who may need a hand in locating an excursion or returning to their hotel. They are friendly, helpful, and, in many cases, more than willing to pose for a photo or two.
#5 Freedom of Choice: Modern Attitudes
I had to overcome my own misconceptions of what it means to travel here, particularly as a woman. Having traveled much of western and eastern Europe, I was accustomed to covering my head at religious sites, and expected this to be the case in Uzbekistan as well. I was fully prepared, scarf in hand, to cover my head as we visited the majestic mosques and madrassahs. But our guide encouraged me to put my scarf away, noting there was no need unless I personally wanted to cover myself. I and the other women who chose not to cover their heads received the same welcoming spirit and kindness as the women who chose to cover.
#6 Chowing Down: The Sweetest Fruit
I was surprised by the wonderful variety of food that was offered to us throughout the country. In particular, the fresh fruit was some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. The grapes that were invariably set on the table were so sweet you could have been forgiven for thinking that they were candy – or dessert put on the table too soon. I found it difficult not to gorge myself on the melon that usually appeared at the end of a meal. As one of our dinner hosts explained to me, there are dozens of varieties of melon that have been grown in Uzbekistan since the days of the Silk Route and earlier. The winter melon that we found everywhere was refreshing and bright and syrupy – I couldn’t get enough. This melon alone is reason enough to travel during the off-peak winter season.
#7 Travel by Foot: Medieval Urban Planning
After years of reading and hearing about travel to Uzbekistan, the images I had conjured were of vast, sprawling cities with miles between notable sites. I was thoroughly surprised when we arrived in Bukhara to find that the city is actually relatively compact and that the gorgeous mosques and madrassahs are in fact directly facing each other. The same was true in Samarkand, Tamerlane’s beautiful capital. The close proximity of these impressive landmarks makes touring these cities a breeze.
#8 Open Arms: Welcome to Uzbekistan
During my time in Uzbekistan, I felt a generosity of spirit and hospitality in every corner that we visited. People smiled at one another on the street. Market vendors freely offered us samples of their wares. The Uzbeks that I met during my time in their country were universally welcoming, quick to strike up a conversation in a public market or ask us about our impressions of their homeland.
I loved my introduction to Central Asia and its star, Uzbekistan. A world away from Europe, it felt exotic, yet familiar. I’m still dazzled by the tilework in every shade of blue, by the mudbrick domes and arches of the mosques, mausoleums, and madrassahs, by the delicious food, and by the friendly people I met throughout the country. I’m looking forward to my return.
Read More About Why NOW is the Best Time to Travel to Uzbekistan
To give you more perspective on this dynamic destination, we’ve published a series of blog posts about what it’s like to travel to Uzbekistan now, and why it’s never been a better time to do so:
by Fred and Sharon Lundahl
by Abdu Samadov
Travel to Uzbekistan with MIR
MIR has nearly 30 years of travel experience in Central Asia and has an affiliate office in Uzbekistan. We have 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’slist 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
- NEW! Silk Road Backroads & Byways
- Journey Through Central Asia: The Five ‘Stans
- Silk Route Odyssey: Caravan Across Uzbekistan
- Backstreets & Bazaars of Uzbekistan
RAIL JOURNEYS BY PRIVATE TRAIN
- Essence of the Silk Road by Private Train (Eastbound / Westbound)
- Essence of the Silk Road & Beyond by Private Train
- Caspian Odyssey by Private Train
A PERSONALIZED PRIVATE TRIP
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.
Chat with a MIR destination specialist by phone
(1-800-424-7289) or email today.
We’d love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip
tailored especially for you.
(Top Photo: Samarkand’s Registan Square, the centerpiece of the city, and the most recognizable landmark for visitors; Photo credit: Abdu Samadov)
PUBLISHED: January 17, 2019