The Ustyurt Plateau is divided between Western Kazakhstan and the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan. For travelers who have plans to take the Caspian Sea ferry or instead want to round the Caspian Sea via Dagestan and Kalmykia, crossing the Ustyurt Plateau is a great way to start an overland journey into Central Asia.
You will skip the endless land sea of the Aktobe and Kyzylorda regions, instead aiming straight for the famed Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. The desert you encounter along the way harbours some really interesting sights.
Sights in Kazakhstan
On the Kazakh side of the border, there is plenty to see for those who have the time and the means to get there: underground mosques (Beket-Ata is the most famous one), Devil’s Balls, and the awe-inspiring landscapes of Mangystau.
Sights in Uzbekistan
An intriguing sight 225 km in the direction of Beyneu, 20 km off the main road. Here you will find the ruined 13th-century Beleuli caravanserai, at N 44°30’15”, E 57°06’55” or 44.5041667, 57.11527777777778 (OSM / Gmaps).
You might also come across these giant saiga hunting traps. We know where some are located, but have been asked to keep the locations off the internet by the person supplying us with their research. Questions and answers welcome in the desert kites forum thread.
Food and accommodation
You can stay in a hotel, buy food supplies and get a sim card in the markets of Beyneu and Kungrad. Between these two, there are no markets or real towns. There are however a few chaikhanas where you can eat something (nobody reports getting sick), have a cold beer and possibly stay overnight in rudimentary conditions.
Transport and crossing the border
Crossing the border at Tejen does not pose any real issues; you can read the latest on the Uzbekistan border crossing page.
The road is good between Aqtau and Beyneu (6 hr), but still very bad between Beyneu and Jasliq (under construction). After Jasliq it gets better (but not great). Beyneu to Nukus can be done in 12 hours of driving.
Do not count of finding petrol between Beyneu and Kungrad. Some travelers have managed to find small quantities of fuel at the chaikhanas, but this is not certain.
By train, bus and taxi
A train runs between Nukus and Beyneu across the border, where you can connect to the Beyneu-Aktau train. See the chapters on trains in Kazakhstan and trains in Uzbekistan for more details, and the Aktau-Nukus train thread for the latest.
There are no cross-border buses. You can definitely get a taxi from the border to Beyneu, but it is unsure if you will find transport from the border to a town on the Uzbek side; hitchhiking will be your best bet here.