Uzbekistan dazzles with its main attractions, the icons of the Silk Road at Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. For most foreigners, this is as far as tourism goes in the country, yet there is much more to see for those who venture off the tourist trail.
Mountains just as beguiling as those in the other Stans await you, and the first ecotourism projects are taking off. The desert in the west harbours interesting nature, a world-famous museum and a dark attraction for disaster tourists, while Fergana Valley is home to cottage industries and more history, overlooked by the bus tourists.
Uzbek culture is rich, warm and dynamic, and so different from the surrounding nomadic nations. You come for the plov, but stay for the melons. Or the apricots. Or the nuts. You get the point.
Tashkent and Fergana Valley
Tashkent is the most populous city in Central Asia after Kabul. It has its share of interesting sights and monuments, like the world’s oldest Koran and the Chorsu bazaar, but for those who manage to stay longer and poke around, it offers a real insight into Uzbekistan today. Furthermore, the cultural life is second to none in the region.
As any truly nice city, it has a great natural reserve on its doorstep. The Chatkal mountains around Chimgan inside the large Ugam-Chatkal reserve are great for hiking, rafting, mountain biking, skiing and heliskiing.
Fergana Valley has some interesting towns. Kokand, ancient capital of the Kokand Khanate, is interesting enough for a half day. Fergana has little history, but as the biggest city in this part of Uzbekistan and centrally located, it’s the best place to base yourself for a few days to explore the surrounding villages. Most famous for tourism are the pottery village of Rishton and the silk production center at Margilon. Andijon is an interesting place and worthy of a stopover if you are heading to Kyrgyzstan.
Central Uzbekistan Travel
If you are in Uzbekistan, Samarkand is unmissable for its monuments of the powerful khans of the past: the Registan, Shah-I-Zinda, Bibi Khanym, Guri Amir, the observatory, and so on. It’s enjoyable, as long as you are prepared for mass tourism. If you are not, try Shakhrisabz. In Timur’s hometown stand the ruins of his greatness, far away from the overrestored monuments in Samarkand.
Outside of town, Hoja Ismail is a famous pilgrimage spot and Urgut is well-known for its Sunday bazaar. With Tajikistan so nearby, the nature in the Zerafshan and Hissar mountains are seldom explored. Instead, ecotourism in Nurata and Aidarkul lake is growing in popularity for those looking to see a different side of Uzbekistan.
Bukhara has an equally spectacular cityscape as Samarkand, and a predictable load of tourists as well. In any case you have to go, it is amazing, and when you are done sightseeing, it turns out to be a nice place to relax in the shade if you have the time to take a few days off. Around Bukhara more shrines, palaces and mausoleums await you. Termez is interesting for the archeological remains in the vicinity, and a necessary stop on the way to Afghanistan.
West Uzbekistan: Khorezm and Karakalpakstan Tourism
One more essential stop on the Silk Road itinerary, Khiva is much more remote and therefore a bit quieter (though no less polished) than the gems of Central Uzbekistan. Travel times are long and the climate is extreme in the Kyzyl Kum desert. From Urgench you can explore the many fortresses of Elliq Qala, go camel trekking or take a hike in Badai-Tugai national park.
Karakalpakstan offers mostly despair and poverty. Cotton fields picked by children sucked the Aral Sea dry. In Moynaq, where respiratory diseases are a major issue due to saline winds spreading around radiation from Soviet nuclear tests. Nukus is at least bearable, and a must-visit for art lovers because of its world famous museum of Igor Savitsky.