Now is the time to explore Uzbekistan.
Why is now so much easier for independent travelers?
- There is no need to mail off your passport and pay for an expensive visa. 20 USD tourist visas are available online now for many countries. You no longer need an invitation, proof of tickets or itinerary. It is a very straightforward process.
- The black market for currency is no more. Exchange offices provide great rates with little to no commission. If you are like me, and feel uncomfortable carrying around large amounts of cash, then ATMs are also available and accept foreign cards.
- Tourists are no longer hassled by the police. Not once was I stopped or asked for our passport on the street. They have even instituted an English speaking Tourist Police department to assist confused travelers.
- Hotels are still issuing registration slips but I was not asked for these upon departure. I also did not need to fill out a customs form. Results may vary so I would recommend keeping these items for the time being.
- You can now buy train tickets online up to six weeks in advance. This saves a lot of expense and helps with planning.
- Thousands of years of history as a silk road crossroads has produced amazing architectural sites.
- People are cordial and welcoming.
- It is a budget-friendly place, especially for meals and transportation. For example, as of November 2018, 4 USD can get you a delicious meal and draft beer at a local place. A six hour private taxi, for up to 4 people, from Bukhara to Khiva is around 50 USD. I paid 7 USD for a train ride from Tashkent to Samarakand.
How do I get there?
- Buy a ticket. There is no need to overthink this. You can buy a plane ticket online. I flew into Tashkent on Asiana Airlines from Seoul and out on S7 from Urgench, but there are many options. You can also come overland.
- You will likely need a visa. Get one online here. I travel on a US passport. My visa was 20 USD and was processed in three days.
- I recommend making hotel and train reservations in advance. Even in November, the fast train was sold out a month in advance. Hotels in Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara were also quite busy.
A few basics.
I followed a common route, taking 14 days. It could be done in less time though. I flew into Tashkent, took a train to Samarakand, a train to Bukhara and a private taxi to Khiva. I left the country by flying out of nearby Urgench. All of these cities have great sites, comfortable hotels in all categories, and are accustomed to visitors.