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One of our biggest frustrations when traveling in Uzbekistan was all the outdated travel tips we came across. Most of the travel blogs, guides, and other resources tlisting all the things we needed to know before traveling to Uzbekistan had us over-preparing to enter a rigid country, filling out tons of customs paperwork, and dealing with many outdated laws and views on tourism. Our experience was so different from many of these guides, we actually kept thinking we were missing things – like maybe we just skipped the customs line or forgot to get paperwork. But just within the last year or two, Uzbekistan has changed drastically in its approach to foreign tourists and outlook on travel, but not a lot of the information has been updated. On the plus side, we over-prepared opposed to under-preparing, so we can’t complain too much, but it is nice to know what you are actually getting yourself into when you visit a new country. So, after traveling Uzbekistan independently here is our list of top things you need to know before visiting Uzbekistan. All these essential travel tips are recent for 2019/2020 with some added myth-busting facts addressing some of the outdated information you might come across.
I would like to note that the insights I share are the personal accounts of an Australian and U.S. Citizen and may not apply to all people traveling through Uzbekistan. Please ensure you are following all the laws and guidance of your home country.
We read a lot of websites and heard from many people that customs in Uzbekistan were very strict.We were fully prepared to fill out tons of paperwork and have customs go through everything we own counting all our money, checking for medications, and porn.
While there are guidelines on what you can and can’t bring into the country, you only need to declare certain things in certain cases, we were not subject to search at the Tashkent airport and honestly customs was a breeze.We were able to enjoy their new red and green customs system that allows you to self declare any items that you need to, and keep on walking if you have nothing to declare.
Myth Busting: Customs is a Nightmare
We boarded our flight from Istanbul to Tashkent on Turkish Airlines with no trouble at all.The only minor issue we had was Turkish Airlines was not aware that recently in 2019 Australians were allowed visa-free entry into Uzbekistan, so they asked Ganesh for his visa.We were thankful we had printed the statement from a government website stating he did not need a visa.
When we landed in Tashkent, Uzbekistan we breezed out of that airport so quickly, we actually thought we forgot to do something or missed a checkpoint.After disembarking, we went through a passport check where I showed my visa and received my stamp.Ganesh had no issues on his Aussie passport and we met on the other side to pick up our luggage.We exchanged some USD to SUM using an automatic machine that ate our USD and spits out Sum and turned to leave the airport.We noticed that customs was a wide-open area, with minimal staff, where you could walk along a green or red zone.We just walked through the green area – as we had nothing to declare and no one questioned us or asked us to fill out any paperwork.
When we left Uzbekistan via Tashkent airport we weren’t checked at all either.No one went through our bags, asked us how much money we had, or even wanted to see our hotel slips.
Important to note:As of 2018 international airports in Uzbekistan use a green and red system.If you choose to go through the red zone you will have to fill out declaration paperwork, if you choose to go through the green zone, they seem to trust you and you continue on your way with no trouble.
When should you use the red zone?Uzbekistan DOES have some pretty strict customs rules.You should never bring porn in the country, drugs, or medication with codeine and you need to declare yourself if you are carrying more than 2k USD (the average yearly wage of locals).You can find all the Uzbekistan customs regulations, here.However, since the green and red zones were introduced at the airports in 2018, it seems their approach to customs is much more relaxed.That does not mean you should violate their customs rules and if you are entering with any banned material be prepared to be deported, or if you have items you need to declare, go through the red zone and be prepared to fill out extra paperwork.
It should also be noted that the more modern and relaxed customs seem to be found at the international airports if you drive across certain land borders you are subject to the customs of both countries and your chances of being searched greatly increase.
2. Visa Free Travel? – Maybe!
Uzbekistan is notorious for requiring citizens of most countries need a visa. It is very important that you check if you need a visa. Most citizens of countries that are required to get a visa need the visa BEFORE they arrive, and if you are not able to apply for an E-Visa you may even need to go to a consulate and submit a letter of invitation.
As a citizen of The United States I was able to apply for my 30 day E-Visa online. My husband, an Australian, was able to travel visa free.
Myth Busting: Almost Everyone Needs a Visa
New, as of Feb 2019, 46 additional countries joined the 17 visa-free countries for Uzbekistan. That means about 63 countries no longer need to obtain visas prior to arriving for a length of stayd anywhere from 30-90 days. My husband, who is Australia was one of the first Australians to enjoy visa-free travel to Uzbekistan.
30 day visa-free: Australia, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Switzerland, Andorra, Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Cyprus, Malta, Poland, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Vatican City.
60 day visa-free: Kyrgyzstan
90 day visa-free: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine
Important to Note: It is your responsibility to know if you require a visa. With information regarding tourism changing quickly, please verify all travel requirements with your government website, as this list may change at any time.
3. E-Visa Travel
Some countries not approved for visa-free entry can apply for the new electronic E-Visa.
E-Visa: All European Union citizens (except those listed for visa-free) Albania, Andorra, China, Hong Kong, India, Kuwait, Macedonia, Monaco, Montenegro, Oman, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and The United States of America.
If you are eligible for the Uzbekistan e-visa, like I was then don’t worry, it is super easy to apply online. It costs $20 and it helps to have a recent copy of your passport photo on hand, or you will need to go get a professional photo taken. Once you fill out the information online, it takes about 2-3 days to hear if you are confirmed or denied.
Important to Note: Make sure you print your visa out and keep it in a safe place. You will need to show it to the border control upon entry, you may need it to board your flight, and again when you leave the country, so make sure it is packed in your carry-on baggage.
Myth Busting: Applying for a Visa Takes Forever
This new E-Visa system means applicants requiring a visa no longer need to submit a letter of invitation to receive the visa. This simplified Uzbekistan visa procedure also means that the consular offices of Uzbekistan are issuing visas within 2-3 working days. I got mine in 3!
4. Always Carry Your Passport & A Copy
You should have your passport on you at all times when traveling in Uzbekistan, so make sure you invest in a great wallet or purse that is safe and secure with a hidden pocket for your passport. While bribes against tourists are less common these days, there is still a small chance you will be the victim of fake police asking for your passport. If anyone asks you for your passport, you legally have to present your passport. If you have a weird feeling you might be getting scammed, show them a copy, and say your real passport is back at the hotel. You can always return to your hotel or head to the Tourist Police where a local can help you clarify whether the person asking for your passport is legit or not.
Things To Know About Money in Uzbekistan
5. Using Cash: USD or SOM?
A lot of travel resources for Uzbekistan talk about how important it is to have cash, specifically USD.Because of this we actually exchanged quite a lot of Euro for USD before leaving for Uzbekistan.However, after traveling through Uzbekistan in late 2019, we realized that we didn’t need to bring so much USD in or rely on it as much as we thought.Cash and specifically USD doesn’t rule as much as it used it.
Myth Busting: USD & Cash are King
Our USD did come in handy in a few situations and is good to have for an emergency, but since we live in Europe we found that Euro was just as easy to use, and we wished we had used Euro rather than exchanging Euro to USD and then USD to Som.Everyone that accepted USD also accepted Euro.To be honest, they probably would have even accepted AUD and GBP.
We even paid for a few high-end souvenirs from master crafters with a credit card in the madrasa bazaars in Samarkand.
Important to Note:Visa is the preferred card. Some places only accepted Visa, and we were thankful we brought our Visa. MasterCard is probably the second most preferred.
Larger hotels servicing an international crowd often accept credit card.However, if you booked a local homestay then Som is helpful.
You will NEED cash (Som) still for most things such as taxis, some restaurants, small souvenirs, and entrance into most tourist attractions.
6. Using ATMs
We successfully withdrew local currency with our international bank card at a few ATMs in cities such as Tashkent and Bukhara.The days of bringing in hundreds and hundreds of USD and declaring it at the border are over.
Myth Busting: ATMs Don’t Exist
ATMs used to only allow you to take out small amounts of local currency and didn’t work with international cards. It has also been noted not to rely too much on ATMs as they are often broken or out of money, however this is changing.ATMs are increasingly more common to come across, international cards are more widely accepted and you can take out larger amounts.
Important to Note:Uzbekistan’s relationship with money is changing, and while our experiences with ATMs were problem free that might not be the case for everyone.It is important to have some backup currency to ensure you don’t end up in any situation without cash.Before heading to a small town or a remote area make sure you have enough Som to cover your accommodation, food, and transportation for your stay.
7. Pack A Regular Wallet
When traveling to Uzbekistan before 2017 you would need a giant Zelda pouch with several upgrades to carry all the small denomination currency notes. Carrying the amount of 25-50 USD often meant you needed dozens of notes which also meant you needed a fat wallet. Between the two of us and splitting our money evenly along with keeping some cash hidden in our secure hotel room our wallets didn’t stretch too much.
Myth Busting: Pack a Large Wallet
In 2017 Uzbekistan introduced the 50,000 note and in February 2019 they introduced a 100,000 banknote. While the 100,000 is only worth about $12 USD it goes a long way to cut back on the wallet bloat. Everytime we went to the ATM we received the 50,000 banknote.
8. It is Insanely Cheap
Uzbekistan has a reputation for being cheap, and I am happy to say it is still cheap in 2019! I am not a budget backpacker and my partner and I travel with a higher disposable income, so even after booking nice accomodation in Bukhara and Tashkent, booking taxis through our hotels for a higher price, eating at nice restaurants, we came out under budget. On average we spent about 30 Euro a day for two people, not including our accommodation.
9. Tourists Pay More
Most entrances to tourist attractions and museums have two prices. There is a tourist price and a local price. As a tourist, you should expect to pay more than locals. Personally I LOVE this, as it allows locals to visit their own sites. As a visitor, I should be happy to pay a higher wage in order to ensure these sites are maintained.
10. Local Tourism
We encountered very few tourists while traveling Uzbekistan. In fact, most of the people we saw appreciating the museums, and sights were locals traveling through their home country. After that, most of the tourism came from the surrounding countries traveling visa free. So, we also encountered a lot of Georgians, Russians, Kazakhs. We ran into very few English speaking tourists, but we did meet a few people from Germany, France, Japan, Korea, and China.
11. Money Talks
We came across an old madrasa complex in Samarkand that was technically closed for the night. The security guard stood outside telling a few people it was closed. When we walked up we pointed to the pricing list and offered to pay the entrance fee. He took our som and let us in. Money seems to talk, so if you’re willing to pay to get in and there is still security, see if you can weasel your way in.
12. To Haggle or Not to Haggle
Coming from the bazaars in Istanbul, of the street markets in SE Asia, I figured that most of the souvenirs in Uzbekistan would be cheaply made and open to haggling. However, many of the items are the markets that were handmade by master craftsmen. It is important to ensure you are paying the right price for things to support hard-working artists. As a traveler, I am privileged to have the income to travel and support the local economy. So, I’m always willing to pay a fair wage for the right item. That being said, high-quality items in Uzbekistan aren’t as cheap as the economy might suggest. Prices for some things start around 50 USD, and while you can haggle down a bit things aren’t as cheap as in some bazaar cities, so be prepared to spend a bit of money if you want quality souvenirs.
I would say there were two tiers of souvenirs, those by master crafters and those that were mass produced in Uzbekistan by general crafters. You will know if someone is a master crafter as often you will find their bio hanging in the store, or the shop keeper will talk about them.
Haggling techniques that worked for us, was the walk away technique, and asking for two things for less than they would be individually.
When to Haggle: When it comes to taxis, fruit, people selling cheaply made items on the street haggling is open for business. You certainly should never pay the taxi their first ask price, as they will almost always charge you.
Things To Know About Uzbekistan Accomodation
13. Hotel Registration Slips
When you check into a hotel you will be asked for your passport. The front desk will often take 10-20 minutes to register you using your passport. It seems they use an online system to do this, but will give you a slip of paper with your passport or when you check out. If you are given these papers it is important to hang on to them, just in case, but you more likely won’t even need them in 2019 or later.
Myth Busting: You Need The Slips to Leave the Country
When we entered the country no one gave us these hotel slips. However, at every hotel, we stayed at, the front desk filled them out and gave them to us when we checked out. They were often in our passport hidden in a page, so be careful they don’t fall out. We held onto these for when we left the country , but I’ll be honest not a single person asked us for these slips.
After reading through some Tripadvisor forums it seems to be a dying system. More than likely the hotels are still in a habit of doing it and therefore they will give them to you. If you are given them, keep them, but don’t stress about it too much. I also suspect that all the information is online. So, either they are doing away with the system – or it is now all online.
14. Booking Hotels
We booked all of our accommodation for Uzbekistan on booking.com and it was wonderful! Just about every property I looked at from Tashkent to Bukhara has a message that said, “Hotel XYZ has been accepting booking customers since X Month 2019 or something similar. Meaning that hotels have really only started using booking in 2019 just before we visited. So, you no longer have to navigate hotel websites and you can use that genius discount to get accommodation.
The only downside is that many properties don’t have reviews yet, so it might help to look up any places that don’t have reviews to make sure it suits your needs. We were lucky that everywhere we booked was just fantastic and we made sure to leave our rave reviews to help those in the future.
Myth Busting: Hotels are Hard to Book
Previously it has been mentioned that hotels are hard to book, difficult to find, and advanced booking is needed. While we were traveling in the summer – which wasn’t peak seasons – we had no issues booking hotels 1-2 weeks before we arrived and found everything conveniently on Booking.
We found accomodation in Uzbekistan to be well within our budget, and as I mentioned we stayed in nice accommodation throughout our trip. However, if you are on a budget and looking for hostel accommodation hostels are starting to pop up around Uzbekistan. Hostels are mainly in Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand, and are slowly showing up in other parts of the country. Booking.com has a wide variety of hostel listings to choose from.
Myth Busting: Hostels Don’t Exist
Tashkent alone has 34 hostel listings on Booking, most of these look like your typical hostel you would find in any other country. Bukhara has 21 hostels listed, howeve, many appear to be more in line with guest houses. Since the growth of tourism Uzbekistan has seen an increase in the number of hostels and they do exist. It is important to note that some of them are not your standard dorm hostel and are more in line with a budget homestay.
16. BnBs, Guesthouses, Camping, etc.
BnB in Samarkand Uzbekistan
Guesthouses & Homestays: Uzbek locals are so friendly and welcoming, choosing a guest house or a home stay is a great option to engage and learn about local culture. Whether or not you need your accommodation slips as you exit the country, your host at all certified guest houses or home stay experiences should be able to register you in the system and provide you with a slip.
Camping: register to do so online.If you are road tripping through Uzbekistan, you are legally allowed to camp and stay the night in your car. However, according to the official Uzbekistan tourist website you must
Myth Busting: Couch Surfing is Illegal
Couch Sufing is said to be illegal in Uzbekistan. However, one of the main reasons for this is the lack of accomodation slips provided. All the information I found on this topic was from several years ago and talked about $2,000 USD fines and being exported. I can not find any reputable information such as a government or tourist website that says otherwise, but with the new government relaxing on accomodation registrtation I forsee couch surfing becoming more popular and legal in the future. There are people who have tried it in 2019 and their couch surfing host was able to register them. So, if you are going to try it ask if they can register you.
Important to Note: Personally until I read from an official source couch surfing is legal I do not recommend you attempt it.
When the Silk Road was at its peak travelers would stay at a Caravanserai, an inn with a large inner court yard to park your camel and open terrace style accommodation looking over the court yard. While most Caravanserais are now abandoned and worth visiting on your travels, you can stay in hotels that look like them. One in Bukhara is quite popular and right down town.
18. Hotel Tax
Along with a general tourist tax at many of the sights, there is a $2 USD hotel tax that will be added on to your bill per night. This tax is something we were happy to pay as tourists. The only downside about this, is the $2 is the same no matter where you stay. Whether you book a $150 night stay or a $8 hostel dorm, you pay this $2, so if you are on a tight budget counting pennies your $8 can go to $10 a night.
Safety & Security Tips for Uzbekistan
19. Tourist Police
In Uzbekistan’s effort to be more welcoming and inviting to tourists they are pushing to make it as safe and comfortable as possible for them. That is where the Tourist Police come into play. The Tourist Police are your best friend if you feel unsafe or that you may be subject to a scam or bribe. It is helpful to make a note of where the Tourist Police office is in every city you go to. If anyone asks you for your passport, tries to burgle you, bribe you, or overcharge you, tell them you can all go to the Tourist Police to verify. More than likely the person will back off and leave you be.
Myth Busting: Uzbekistan Has Many Scammers
A lot of guides out there talk about the scams and bribes that happen in Uzbekistan. The presence of the Tourist Police means that the number of scams and tourist traps has decreased significantly. Never once did anyone attempt to rip us off or scam us. We did see the Tourist Police actively patrolling and pulling over unlicensed taxis and that sort of thing to show they really are cracking down to make it a safe place.
20. Be Ready For Security Checks
One of the important things to know before you visit Uzbekistan is you will be subject to security checkpoints just about everywhere you go. Your bag will go through a scanner and you will walk through a metal detector. It is helpful to ensure you are packed efficiently without a lot of stuff in your pockets, metal in your bags, or anything that could be used as a weapon. You’ll be screened entering hotels, train stations, shopping centers, and metro stations. The first time you are subject to so much screening it is a little weird, but you’ll get used to it.
21. Uzbekistan is Safe
Often times enhanced security means there is an underlying thread to be aware of. However, in Uzbekistan, it is quite safe. Never once did I feel any strange military tension or threats from locals. Every encounter we had with locals or security was friendly and positive. In fact, it was one of the countries where I felt the safest. So, relax and enjoy striking up conversations with locals on the street or having security wave you through with a smile.
Myth Busting: Stans are Unsafe
Having a “Stan” in the name comes with a reputation that the country is unsafe. In 2019 Uzbekistan is conflict free and safe for travelers. The government is priortizing tourism and doing all they can to ensure it remains safe for travelers. The last major conflict was in 2010 in the Fergana Valley.
22. Emergency Contacts
If you find yourself in an emergency while traveling in Uzbekistan you can use any of the following numbers to get help.
Emergency service – 112
Fire service – 101
Healthcare emergency – 103
Emergency gas service – 104
Rescue service – 1050
Inquiry office – 109
Important to Know: You should have your own health and travel insurance to cover any emergency costs.
23. Independent and Solo Travel
As a young couple we traveled Uzebekistan independently. We planned the entire trip ourselves, booked all our trains, planes, accommodation and excursions ourselves. Aside from a few language difficulties with outdated websites, we honestly had no major issues. I highly recommend independent, solo, or couple travel for those traveling through Uzbekistan. .
Myth Busting: You Need to Book a Tour
A couple of years ago you might have not wanted to travel to Uzbekistan by yourself. Most people, save for a few brave adventurers, would book group tours or avoid solo travel. Our experience was that Uzbekistan was a great place for solo or couples travel. In 2019 we still saw quite a few tour groups traveling, but if you prefer to travel by yourself, with a friend, or your partner you will be just fine. With the new government welcoming tourism it is easier to get around and hotels are easier to book. If you want local engagement or perspectives on things, of course, you can book a guided multi-day tour, hire a guide for the day, or book a day trip, but you can also get around just fine on your own.
24. Extra Caution for the Fergana Valley
The exception to most things on this entire list, from sanitation, to customs, to safety, would be the Fergana Valley. For now it is important to collect your hotel slips if you stay in this area and you may be more subject to border questioning. In recent years, it is a safe place to visit, but it is off-the-beaten-path and has expereinced conflict between its bordering countries in the past few years. Many of the modern amenities and luxuries I talk about throughout this post may not be present. If you The Valley is a place to explore the local culture of Uzbekistan, rather than the grand architectures of cities such as Bukhara. That being said, please ensure you do the proper research to ensure you make the most of your time in Fergana Valley. I suggest reading Against the Compass’ Guide to Fergana Valley as a good starting point.
Things to Know About Uzbek Transporation
25. Travel by Train
When we boarded our train from Tashkent to Bukhara we were amazed and how organized, punctual, clean, and wonderful our ride was. From the get-go, we had rail employees approach us to make sure we were getting on the right train and helped us to the correct seats. Once we were settled we were able to enjoy complimentary snacks or choose from a wider selection of food and drink to purchase. The toilets were clean, there was plenty of luggage storage, the seats were comfy and had outlets. It was a great way to get from point A to B in Uzbekistan all for a reasonable price.
The trains run from Tashkent all the way to Khiva covering 263 stations across the country.
Important to Note: The train booking system is a bit difficult as the translation on the website doesn’t always work.
Once you book your tickets you need to confirm in order to get paper tickets you can print out.
When entering the train station or airport you will often have to go through several security checkpoints where you show your passport and ticket before even entering the area. Then you’ll go through a bag screening and another security checkpoint. They are pretty efficient, and most western passports don’t raise any eyebrows, but at any point in time there might be a long line, or you might be subject to additional screening. For this reason it is best to give yourself a large window of time so you don’t miss any of your flights or trains.
27. The Tashkent Metro is Awesome
One of the first things that surprised me in Uzbekistan was how great the Tashkent metro system was to ride -not to mention how beautiful it was. The metro system spans across the entire city with accessible points at most of the major areas or sites. Once you buy tokens from the ticket booth and head down to your platform it is only a 10-minute (or less) wait to ride the metro. Often times you will find staff members who are available to help point you in the right direction.
Myth Busting: You Can’t Take Photos of the Metro
In 2019 you are officially allowed to take photos in the Tashkent metro. So, get your camera ready and click away. Locals are often confused by this as it is a new thing to be allowed to take photos in the metro and tourism isn’t booming there yet, so be prepared for a lot of stares, but you can take photos.
28. Pack Your Walking Shoes
Aside from the Tashkent metro and intercity trains, there is very little public transportation in Uzbekistan, meaning you will be doing A LOT of walking. The major cities and towns in Uzbekistan are large and there are so many things to see and do, spread across the city. We found ourselves walking long distances, daily to see all the sights. You will want to pack comfortable and reliable shoes that are also breathable to deal with the heat. I packed a solid pair of walking shoes and my sandals and hardly even wore my sandals as I needed more support and comfort. This is not time to wear fashion over function.
29. Take a Taxi
If you get tired of walking just about everyone is a taxi. Many of the taxi drivers do not speak English and we often struggle to ask them to take us to major tourist sites. It helps to have your hotel or accommodation book you a taxi, but you will pay more money, which is often what we did.
You can haggle with taxis and you should never take their first offer. If you walk away from the taxi there will be plenty more willing to accept your offer.
Important to Note: The taxis you take are often old and not in the best condition. More than likely you won’t have a seatbelt or other safety features like rear mirrors.
30. Download Yandex
Google isn’t very popular in Central Asia, rather the Russian made Yandex rules. I suggest you download the taxi calling app Yandex for taxis in Tashkent. (We found it didn’t work well outside of Tashkent.) You can also download Yandex maps. We found a lot of restaurants not listed on Google maps that were listed on Yandex, so a whole new world opens up to you if you’re willing to move away from Google and try something new.
31. Luggage Storage
If you find yourself checking out early from your hotel and catching a late bus, or maybe you flew in the morning and are catching a bus in the evening – you can store your luggage at train stations. We stored luggage for the day at the Tashkent train station. It was very safe and secure in a basement area with a security guard watching over it at all times. We just paid a small fee and got a ticket we held onto. You can also keep your bags at most hotels – though we found not many of them had a secure storage area.
32. Shared Busses
Shared busses are very popular to access those hard to reach locations that the train doesn’t go to. It is also a great option for budget travelers. These busses will gather in a central area and they leave once they are full. You never want to go when it is empty because you can get charged a lot of money. So, wait until other people are heading to your destination, load up and head out. These busses are smaller white vans, and have numbers on their window. Double check your destination before getting on.
Culture & Customs Tips for Uzbekistan
33. Pack Those Shorts
Sure, the majority of the country is Muslim, but that doesn’t mean it is a strictly religious country. In fact, the modern Uzbek government actively pushes for the separation of church and state and the locals are pretty relaxed about religion. That means you can fit right in with shorts and a T-shirt. I often wore long cool dresses with no sleeves and that was also totally ok. I chose things that were cool, comfortable, and easy to cover up in a pinch.
I wore this thick strap loose dress quite a lot. Easy to cover up and cool.
Myth Busting: Uzbekistan is Conservative
I was worried about traveling to Uzbekistan in the middle of summer that I would have to pack more conservative clothing. To be on the safe side I packed a few Salwar Kameez, which are breathable and conservative, but I was thankful I packed plenty of shorts, T-Shits, and breathable dresses. I fit right in with locals and tourists, none of whom were overly conservative. I did make sure to carry a scarf around with me in case I wanted to visit a mosque. Uzbekistan in its modern state doesn’t actually have that many active places of worship worth visiting though, so you can pack as you would for any warmer destination, with some quick cover-up options added to your suitcase.
34. Mosques are Quiet
If you don’t hear the call to prayer several times a day it is not because there are no mosques, but because in Uzbekistan’s effort to separate church and state they don’t allow the loud public blast of the call to prayer through the minarets.
That being said, there actually aren’t that many active mosques and the ones that do exist are in an older architectural style, so they don’t’ define the skyline as in many Muslim dominated countries.
35. Say “Salom”
Salom is a common greeting for locals. Don’t be shy feel free to make eye contact in the street and say Salom first. The locals will be happy to say it back and continue on their merry way.
36. Locals are Friendly
The locals do more than say hello in casual passing, they are incredibly friendly. Everyone wants to chat with you, make eye contact with you, exchange hellos, or flash their golden smiles. Be prepared to strike up a conversation at dinner with the table next to you, the local sitting on his doorstep or your server.
37. Russian is Being Phased Out
Most guidebooks talk about learning some Russian phrases as one of the things you should do before you travel to Uzbekistan. While a lot of elder locals spoke Russian, the language is being phased out. I encourage you to learn Uzbek phrases to speak to the locals in their preferred language.
It was actually uncommon to find signs and writing in Cyrillic. Unless you are traveling to other areas in Central Asia such as Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, where Russian is more common it is a waste of time to learn the Cyrillic as suggested by so many.
38. English Isn’t Common
Russian may not be as common as it once was, but English still isn’t very common. Since most of the tourism is Asia, Germany, France, and Russia, most of the locals have learned some phrases in those languages. We were approached a few times and the locals would start speaking French or German to us, assuming we were from one of those locations.
It seems kids are learning English in school though since a lot of younger kids were able to have simple extended conversations with us.
39. Where Are You From
But wait, didn’t I just say that not many people speak English? They don’t, but just about everyone can say, “Where are you from?” Everyone wants to know where you are from. Since they don’t speak English, you’ll often just hear random countries like, “America” or “Deutschland” and that means they want to know your home country.
For me, coming from the U.S. everyone would follow up and want to know what state. Some people knew Alaska was cold and others had never heard of it. For Ganesh, the Australian, everyone wanted to know what city, replying with “Sydney, Melbourne?”
40. Say “Cheese”
A few times a local approached me and I was a bit wary of them, unsure what they would want. Years of traveling in places where the locals are jaded and take advantage of tourists has taught me to be on guard. I had no reason to worry, the locals just wanted a photo with me and would pull out their phone for an epic selfie. Get your best smile ready, and be prepared to be in a lot of photos.
41. Avoid Politics
Uzbekistan is technically a dictatorship, but a benevolent one at that. The locals are generally happy with the way things are and are seeing the benefits of their current leader. They prefer not to talk about politics, so stick to lighter topics.
42. Know Your Timur History
Timur is all over Uzbekistan. His place of rest is in Samarkand, grand statues are spread across the country and there are many references to him and his conquest. If you want to understand some of the history and monuments built to him, then read up on his history.
43. Madrasas, Mosques, Mausoleums, & Bazaars
There are three types of buildings you will come accross when visiting the history silk road cities. It is helpful to identify they and know their history.
Madrasas, are old Islamic schools and were once the pinnacle of knowledge spanning maths, science, astronomy, religion, and writing of the Islamic world. Since Uzbekistan isn’t overly religious very few of them function as schools. However, there is one at the Kalon Square in Bukhara that operates as a school. For this reason, you can not enter. Madrasas are grand buildings with arch way entrances, an inner court yard, and two stories of smaller rooms. Most grand buildings you see along the silk road are old madrasas. Some now have bazaars and others are left empty. You do not need to dress modestly to enter these.
Mosques, much like the Madrasas many of the Mosques in Uzbekistan are not not active mosques. You will find many are now museums. The mosques are not in the style of many of the modern mosques found in Istanbul, rather they are often made out of wood with intricate pillars adorning the entrance. If you do enter an active mosque you should cover up with a headscarf.
Bolo Hauz Mosque
Mausoleums, are mostly found in Samarkand, but they are throughout Uzbekistan. These are grand places of rest of Central Asia’s greatest leaders. They look like they could be a madrasa from a distance, but they are smaller and often more intricate with gold and white colors. Personally I found the Mausoleums in Samarkand at Shah-i-Zinda and Timors to be some of the most breath taking structures I have ever seen. It is common to cover your shoulders when entering these areas, but even locals seem pretty relaxed about it.
Bazaars, are large multi dome structures that you see just about everywhere in Uzbekistan. If you see many brick domes with vents on top that sprawl covering quite a bit of distance, then this is a bazaar. Most of them are still active and are great places for souviner shopping.
Things to Know About Uzbek Food & Drink
44. Yes, You Can Survive as a Vegetarian
If you’ve read my vegetarian survival guide to Central Asia then you already know how easy it was to be a vegetarian in Uzbekistan. We found lots of veggies and fruits and pages of vegetarian options at every restaurant we went to. I didn’t eat meat a single time in Uzbekistan and enjoyed a wide variety of vegetarian dishes. All the restaurant staff was incredibly friendly and helpful to ensure our dietary needs were met.
Myth Busting: Vegetarians are Fucked
Most travel guides to Central Asia or Uzbekistan state that the diet is all meat and all plov all the time, or if you are a vegetarian you are screwed. In 2019, this is not the case. If anything, it was harder to find plov than other meals. A lot of these guides were created by budget bloggers who may not have been able to afford to sit down restaurants, or weren’t looking for vegetarian options. Also, as more tourism comes to the country, especially from countries like India, the locals are more in tune with dietary needs like vegetarian food.
45. Hot Tea on Hot Days
If drinking hot tea on a hot day sounds awful to you, get used to it. One thing that is a staple in the Uzbekistan diet is hot tea. You will be served tea at restaurants and guest houses. Boiling the water helps get rid of any bacteria in the water, and it is known if you sweat in a hot climate with a breeze it can help cool you off. So, sweat it out with some hot tea on a hot day. The only thing missing, the breeze haha.
46. Get Drunk!
Seeing as Uzbekistan isn’t as conservative as other Muslim dominant countries, drinking is perfectly acceptable by both locals and tourists. So, feel free to order beer or wine at dinner, and you may even find yourself drinking vodka with the locals – be careful you will need to finish the bottle though.
47. No Need to Tip, But…
While eating out you don’t need to leave a tip for your server – unless you really want to. You will, however, pay a service charge at most dining establishments, so don’t be surprised when you see that tacked on to a bill.
48. Kids Serve You
One of the most comical memories from Uzbekistan was when we went to a coffee shop in the Registan. We walked up to a high bar counter and said, “Hello?” Two kids popped up on tip toes to see over the counter to take our order. They looked well under 12, but sure enough they were making coffee and mixing cocktails. This is a common sight in Uzbekistan and while it is a bit odd at first, that is just the way it is.
49. Street Food
Samsa Street Food Oven
If you’re not vegetarian or on a budget, there are plenty of street food vendors in both cities and small villages. People will often serve piping hot and fresh samsas or plov out their front door or on the side of the street.
50. Plov, Laghman, and….
Uzbekistan is known for their plov and laghman, but we found the food variety was much more diverse than that. The traditional dishes you will encounter most often are:
Plov: Similar to a rice pilaf this dish is traditionally cooked in large cast iron bowls with meat, raisins, animal fat, and some veggies.
Laghman: Is an egg noodle dish with fat plump noodles typically cooked in fat with meat and some veggies.
Samsas: These are smaller flaky pastry pockets stuffed with meat, cheese, or veggies.
Myth Busting: Plov, Plov, Plov
A lot of guides talk about how all there is to eat is plov and laghman. However, we found a HUGE variety of food. While almost every restaurant had plov and laghman on the menu in all the major Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan we found kebaps, eggplant rolls, lavash with cheese and tomato, pumpkin dumpkings, grilled veggies, fruit salads… etc. So, you won’t be eating plov the entire time, unless you spend your entire trip in remote Uzbekistan.
Things to Know About Health & Sanitation
51. Water is Not Safe to Drink
As someone who strives to be zero waste, water sanitation is always a big deal to me at my destinations. Unfortunately, the water is not clean or safe to drink. This means you will have to source or buy your own water. Uzbekistan can get very hot, so rather than buying liters of plastic bottled water, I encourage you to get a Steripen, which works well. If you are staying at a nicer hotel you can also boil water, reuse bottles and put them in your fridge.
52. Drink Lots of Water
With the heat and all the walking you will be doing, it is very important to drink lots of water. I was drinking several liters a day and we even carried a camel back around with us during the day.
53. Public Toilets & Squatty Potties
Public toilets are easy to find and not as bad as they were.
As someone who has to pee frequently I often rate countries or cities by the state of their public toilets. Just about every restaurant, cafe, and hotel had great toilets, we even found some public toilets that cost about 1000 sum. It was safe to say whenever I needed a toilet I had one.
Myth Busting: Public Toilets are Nasty
If you are reading Lonely Planet or other guides about how nasty the public toilets are, great news, this is changing! In 2018 Uzbekistan introduced an initiative to improve the general health and sanitation for all public toilets around the country, including remote areas with no water. In most of the major tourist destinations, you will see the results of this initiative starting to happen with more public toilets and better sanitation in all toilets. However, since this is a huge project, some public toilets are a bit iffy. For example, the toilets at the train stations are squatty potties and you have to make sure you get toilet paper before you go in.
Important to Know: As conditions continue to improve, have your own toilet paper in your bag, carry hand sanitizer and get used to squatty potties. You will often find a sign on the door asking you to toss your paper rather than flush it.
54. Take a Siesta
If you do travel in the summer or during the hot months, as we did, pace yourself and learn to take a siesta in the afternoon. We would get up early to explore and by 1 pm we would head back to our air-conditioned room to relax, drink water, nap, and eat some lunch. As things started to cool off by 5 pm, we would emerge in order to check out a few more sights, catch the sunset, eat dinner, and stroll around at night with the locals.
55. Pack Sun Protection
I used my scarf as a cover up for mosques and protection from the sun.
While it might be hot enough to get away with shorts and a tank top – the sun is no joke. Make sure you’re protecting yourself from the sun with a hat, a coverup, UV protection sunglasses, and breathable clothing.
56. Pack Some Diarrhea Meds
It is possible you will get sick eating certain foods, especially with the water quality. It doesn’t hurt to have some meds on hand for stomach related issues. Remember to only bring what you need and if it a prescription, make sure it is in your name for customs.
General Tourist Tips To Know About Uzbekistan
57. High Airport Tax
Uzbekistan is making leaps and bounds towards fostering tourism in the country, but there is still one downside. Flying into the Tashkent airport or any other airport internationally is quite expensive due to airport taxes. These fees might get quite high if you are flying in from somewhere like the U.S., but it wasn’t too bad coming in from Germany. Uzbekistan has stated they are working to reduce these high airport fees, so it might not be too long before we see some killer deals to Tashkent. Regardless of the price, it is 100% worth it to visit.
58. Print It!
Print all your important documents including your visa, visa waver information, passport copy, train tickets, booking confirmations, etc. We had a whole packet of paperwork in a protected case that we kept on us. You will need physical copies of many things throughout your trip and never rely on digital copies.
59. Travel in the Autumn
When traveled to Uzbekistan in August it was freakin’ hot to say the least. I ended up with heatstroke walking around 45 degree Celsius temperatures. While it was great because hardly anyone was around and we had places to ourselves there were times we felt it was too hot. The peak season for visiting Uzbekistan is autumn in September or October. This time of year restaurants serve a lot of fresh fruits and veggies from the recent harvest, making it even better for vegetarians. Spring is also a pretty decent time to visit. Winter gets pretty cold at night, so pack some warmer items for winter travel.
60. Get a Local SIM/Google Fi
We use Google Fi when we travel, allowing us to have potentially unlimited data and phone service for up to 60 Euro a month. Google Fi is generally for U.S. citizens and connects to the local server when you travel. We had fantastic high-speed internet throughout Uzbekistan.
If you are not able to get Google Fi, I suggest you get a local SIM card. You can easily pick one up from an English speaking attendant at the airport tourist information booth. The local internet is great, fast, and reliable.
Myth Busting: The WIFI Sucks
We read a lot of complaints about the terrible internet in Uzbekistan. Most of the hotels and accommodation we stayed in had decent wifi. Some cafes and restaurants had it, but not all. It is still an up-and-coming thing, and if you want to stay connected, at this point definitely get a local SIM.
61. Visit Places 2x
Registan during the dauy
Registan at night
As photographers, we visited just about every major tourist spot Uzbekistan, such as the Registan in Samarkand and Kalon Square in Bukhara at least twice. The lighting changes so much from sunrise to after dark. Trust me you’ll want photos of these sights at dawn/during the day and again at sunset/at night to play with the lighting. So, budget enough time in each destination to do this – as in don’t just a day trip to these cities if you can stay longer and appreciate the beauty as the light changes.
62. Bring a Tripod
If you’re also a photographer then I suggest you pack a tripod, which is great for ensuring those night shots are crystal clear. There isn’t much in terms of water features, like grand waterfalls, so you probably don’t need an ND filter, but a travel tripod, such as the Rollei Carbon Travel Tripod, which is what I use.
63. Enjoy a Relaxed Itinerary
We were a bit stressed with the lack of information on what to do and see. It was like everyone read Lonely Planet and copied their guide to create blog posts. So, instead of doing a ton of research and following a plan to see top sights we sort of just walked around. Everywhere in every corner of the cities and towns, there were interesting things to see, people to talk to, photos to take. A loose itinerary with the open mind to explore is the way to explore Uzbekistan.
I suggest booking your transportation and accommodation in advance but leave the day to day sightseeing up in the air. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
64. Ready for Tourism
Since 2017 things in Uzbekistan have changed drastically. A major driving factor is the push for tourism and opening the country up to foreigners. Uzbekistan is ready for tourism in every sense of the word. The hotels are ready to welcome you, infrastructure is in place, restaurants are more diverse for dietary needs, it is safe, there are museums, tourist sites, friendly locals… the list goes on.
65. Don’t Be a Dick and Ruin It
As the heading says, don’t be a dick of a tourist and ruin it. Uzbekistan is still special and remote. It feels authentic and the locals aren’t jaded by ass hole tourists. Please, please don’t be that basic ass tourist who comes and trashes the cities, ruins the sights with endless photos, rips the locals off, or other general bad behavior. Come visit Uzbekistan, but do so with respect.
66. Your Mind Will Be Blown
Lastly, it’s been a while since a destination blew my mind. I was starting to think I was over travel and the type of people who partake in it. I was tired of visiting cities destroyed by selfish and self-centered travelers. I was tired of seeing castle after castle that all looked the same and locals who were angry at disrespectful tourists. The culture, food, history, and architecture truly blew my mind and reminded me of why I love traveling and experiencing new cultures so much.
Pin To Your Dream Travel Board!
I hope these 65 + essential travel tips and things you need to know before traveling to Uzbekistan were helpful. Since Uzbekistan has changed so much in the last two years the myth-busting tips ensure you have the most up to date and recent information to help you plan the best trip to Uzbekistan. Do I need to updated or add anything? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.
Don’t forget to pin for some bucket-list inspiration.
Susanna grew up in small-town Alaska where the changing climate was always on her mind. Through traveling, she gained an interest in the power of sustainable and regenerative travel. She now attends a Master's program for Ecology and bridges sustainable travel with the science of ecology.