There’s Never Been a Better Time to Travel to Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan, the heart of the old Silk Road, is beating a little faster these days.
Yes, its UNESCO-listed oasis towns are still filled with wonderful medieval mosques and madrassahs covered in sky blue, turquoise, ultramarine, and lapis lazuli tiles. Its mud-brick mausoleums and city walls still rise from the ancient desert in perfect harmony with their surroundings. Its brilliant silks still shimmer in their stalls at the bazaar. But change is afoot.
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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.
Neighborly Border Crossings
Since the election of former Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev to the presidency in December 2016, Uzbekistan has been blossoming. As the only country that borders all the other Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan has historically been a hub of trade and commerce. But during the 27-year rule of former president Islam Karimov, the country had distanced itself from its neighbors.
In September 2017, Mirziyoev signed an agreement with Kyrgyzstan that opened more border crossings between the two countries. In January 2018, Uzbekistan dropped visa requirements for its neighbor Tajikistan, allowing local people and goods to move freely back and forth between the two countries.
More border openings are anticipated in 2018, as well as the re-establishment of the Tashkent-Dushanbe air route, languishing for 20-some years.
High-speed rail has made travel faster and more comfortable between Tashkent and the UNESCO-listed Silk Road oases, Samarkand and Bukhara, and a new international line was inaugurated in 2017, running from Almaty, Kazakhstan, to Tashkent.
Tourism Updates in Bukhara
Some 50 monuments in Bukhara have recently been equipped with QR codes, the square geometric markings that you can scan with your smart phone for information about the site. This technology is brand new in Uzbekistan, though it has been used successfully in many other countries to provide fast and accurate information to travelers.
More info and photos:Breathtaking Bukhara: Your Guide to Uzbekistan’s UNESCO-listed Oasis
The Call to Prayer is Back
Banned over public loudspeaker systems for the last 10 years, the Islamic call to prayer, or adhan, is being heard again, at least in Tashkent. Taking advantage of the more tolerant approach to Islam of the new administration, some imams have begun to broadcast the adhan from the minarets of their mosques, though not at full volume so far.
New Directions, New Trade Deals
President Mirziyoev visited the U.S. in September 2017, the first time in 15 years that an Uzbek leader has made an official visit. Mirziyoev addressed the United Nations in New York, speaking about wanting to build a more just society where human interests come first. While in New York, he signed contracts worth $2.6 billion with partners including Boeing and General Electric.
2017 also saw the country’s first currency reform since independence in 1991, virtually wiping out a flourishing black market in currency, as well as encouraging foreign investment.
Top 10 “Improver”
The World Bank named Uzbekistan one of its top 10 improvers in 2017 for ease of doing business, citing reforms in starting a business, construction permits, protection for minority investors, tax payments and electricity supplies.
New Silk Road
China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a development strategy that will open new overland and rail routes through Central Asia, is already beginning to knit the countries more tightly together, with infrastructure improvements making travel and trade easier.
Word on the Street from the Traveler-in-Chief
As we write this dispatch, Douglas Grimes, MIR’s president and co-founder, is traveling through Uzbekistan and reports:
“It’s an exciting time to be traveling in Uzbekistan talking to local people. Everyone is talking about the positive changes — there is cautious optimism all around. As a company that has been committed to and actively taking travelers to Uzbekistan for 30+ years, this is the ‘big opening’ we’ve been waiting for!
We are anticipating the effects of the positive changes in relations with neighboring countries, such as the re-opening of land borders, the re-establishment of the air route between Tashkent and Dushanbe, the normalization of the currency, and the recently announced visa changes for foreigners and for locals. We await the inevitable increase in international air access as well. There’s never been a better time to venture to Uzbekistan — we’re telling our intrepid travelers to get there before too much change takes place!”
Travel to Uzbekistan Now
All these changes spell progress for Uzbekistan, and give impetus to the traveler to visit now, before the flavor of the ancient Silk Road is diluted, even slightly, by increased contact with the outside world.
- Breathtaking Bukhara: Your Guide to Uzbekistan’s UNESCO-listed Oasis
- Favorites from the Fergana Valley: Uzbekistan’s Hub of Crafts & Culture
- Enthralling Uzbekistan: Our Favorite Things to See & Do
- Good Manners in Central Asia: 5 Tips for Travelers in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan
- Trains, Textiles and Travel on the Silk Road
- A Walk Through Old Town Khiva, Uzbekistan
- Silk Road Tour Spotlight: Journey Through Central Asia
- Dancing in Khiva, Uzbekistan: The Khalfi Family
- A Traveler’s Tale: The Art of Home-Made Plov in Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Travel with MIR to Uzbekistan
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
- Essence of the Silk Road by Private Train (Eastbound / Westbound)
- Essence of the Silk Road & Beyond by Private Train
- Caspian Odyssey by Private Train
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: Kalon Assembly, Bukhara. Photo: Peter Guttman
PUBLISHED: February 14, 2018