The Aral Sea was formerly the world’s 4th-largest lake straddling the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. It was and continues to be drained for cotton production, to the extent that it has now almost ceased to exist. The eastern basin has been renamed the Aralkum desert. Remnants of the Aral Sea survive both in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
The shrinking of the Aral Sea is a major environmental disaster that foretells much of the future of Central Asia, and the rest of the world: a hotter, drier, more extreme climate in which human survival will become increasingly difficult.
This guide aims to help the tourist visiting the area of the former Aral Sea.
Uzbek side or Kazakh side?
The majority of the Aral Sea territory used to be on the Uzbek side, and this is where most of the interest for tourists can be found. If you want to visit the remains of the Aral Sea and have the choice between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, choose Uzbekistan.
In Uzbekistan, the gateway town is Moynaq. In Kazakhstan, it’s Aralsk. Both towns have ship cemeteries, a small museum, some accommodation and tour companies organising jeep tours, so there is little difference there.
What can you see?
You can read detailed reports of a 2-day trip around the Aral Sea, one from a local and another from a tourist, or you can check out the itinerary of our Aral Sea tour to get a feel for the attractions on offer.
What can you not see?
Aralsk-7 on Vozrozhdeniye Island. The former secret biological weapons facility was completely bulldozed in July 2019.
You can also not see the excellent ambient album Aralkum by Kazakh violinist Galiya Bisengalieva. But you can listen to it as you drive through the Aralkum desert.
All your questions are welcome in our Aral Sea forum Q&A.