Uzbekistan captures the imagination like almost nowhere else. The country is virtually synonymous with the Silk Road and the three of the greatest Silk Road cities – Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva – all fall on Uzbek soil.
The people, ideas, and goods that travelled east to west, and, indeed, west to east, have left indelible marks on Uzbekistan’s landscape, its culture and the genetic make up of its people, creating a diverse destination with layer upon layer of competing (but entwined) identities.
This Uzbekistan travel guide is for overlanders who are planning to drive to Uzbekistan, as well as for travelers who fly to Tashkent and want to do a road trip from there. Information on Uzbekistan’s road conditions, road maps, navigation apps, guidebooks, gas stations, SIM & WiFi stuff – you will find it all here.
Make sure to also check out our Uzbekistan Travel Budget Report with our travel expenditures and focus on paperwork, workshops, sightseeing, and accommodation/camping!
Edited to add Aug 22, 2021: This overland travel guide doesn’t discuss covid rules & regulations because they change all the time. Caravanistan keeps up to date with the changes. Find their overview here.
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Of the five Stan countries that make up Central Asia (the others being Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan), Uzbekistan arguably has the most to offer in terms of sightseeing. This is a country to be a tourist and stroll the sites in Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva – palaces, forts, mausolea, mosques, museums, and more. Uzbekistan is home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The advantage of overlanding is that you can easily drive on and see more off-the-beaten-track sites in Termez and Shahrisabz as well.
Uzbekistan is vast and so has enough distances for you to cover. The main attraction for off-roading lies in the far west, across the deserts all the way to the shore of the ever-shrinking Aral Sea.
But when tired of vastness and desert-like landscapes, the mountains are waiting from you east from Tashkent, in the magnificent Umag National Park.
Index for our Uzbekistan Overland Travel Guide
Our Overland Travel Information Pages for Uzbekistan consists of two parts: The Uzbekistan Travel Budget Report, and this is the Uzbekistan Overland Travel Guide.
In this blog post we will discuss the following topics:
- Uzbekistan travel – Why / When / How
- Our Road Trip in Uzbekistan
- Roads, Traffic Rules & Police
- Roadmaps & Navigation Systems
- Guidebooks & Other Books and Resources for Uzbekistan
- Water & Food (including info for vegetarians)
- WiFi & Local SIM Card & Apps
- Additional Overland Travel Information Sources
1- Uzbekistan Travel – Why / When / How
1a – Uzbekistan Travel – Why
What we loved:
- The plethora in mind-blowing architecture (particularly Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva)
- The surprising, culturally rich region of Termez.
- The sites in the town of Shahrisabz.
On the downside:
- Forget about vegetarian let alone vegan food. Most local dishes are animal-based. More on that below, see 7- Water & Food.
- The asphalted roads are mostly in bad condition making for long tiring drives, esp. when your vehicle has a stiff suspension like our Land Cruiser. If you are looking for overland adventures, neighboring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are definitely more of interest.
An extra note:
I can imagine there is a great off-road adventure to be had, from Moynaq to the Aral Sea. It was not part of our itinerary because we came from south Kazakhstan and had driven thousands of kilometers through similar scenery (and saw the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan). So that’s why this is not mentioned either on the plus or minus side of our Uzbekistan overland experiences.
1b – Uzbekistan Travel – When is the Best time to Visit
It depends on what you define ‘the best’:
Climate wise, the best time to travel Uzbekistan is in spring or autumn (April – May & September / October).
Tourist-busy wise, it’s a different story. The best-climate months will be far the busiest, particularly in the popular cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. Uzbekistan is hitting the ‘must see’ lists of Lonely Planets, CCN, Fodors and the like and so the masses are growing rapidly.
If you like sightseeing but not with the crowds:
- Go in summer, but know it will be bloody hot (except probably for the Tashkent metro system which has aircon :-))
- Go in winter. We ‘did the sites’ early November. Sure it was a bit cold, but dry and blue skies and there were no tourists. Bliss in every possible sense. Recommended. When we returned in January, the temps were still above zero (Celsius) but more grey skies.
1c – Uzbekistan Travel – How
For the largest part, we explored Uzbekistan with our Land Cruiser. Our home on wheels gives us the freedom to go and stop where we want. To be able in sleep in it allows for rough camping in the wilderness, but also in a parking lot or in a street in cities. The latter will save you a lot of money – accommodations in Uzbekistan are not cheap.
Another part was in the great company of my mother and sister. With them we rented a car in Tashkent, drove to Samarkand and Bukhara and back. The only foreign car rental company in Uzbekistan is Sixt. The big difference with local car rental companies is that Sixt allows unlimited kilometers, which is great for long-distance travel (like we did, 1 week Tashkent – Bukhara – Tashkent).
Every major hotel offers car rental services, which for one or two days is perfect because you most likely won’t drive a lot of kilometers. When driving few kilometers, this will be a cheaper option than renting a car at Sixt.
In retrospect a better, but more expensive, option would have been to drive to Bukhara, leave the rented car there and take the train back. The road between the cities isn’t particularly interesting and not particularly comfortable due to bad sections of asphalt. The train, of which there are many in different budget levels, is a great alternative (more details trains in Uzbekistan here).
2- Our Road Trip in Uzbekistan
Fun fact: Uzbekistan or, officially, the Republic of Tajikistan, is a double-landlocked country in Central Asia, meaning it is surrounded by land-locked countries (The only other double-landlocked country in the world is Liechtenstein).
“Uzbekistan in Asia is surrounded by five, all of them are Stan countries (ending with “stan”). They are Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan is of course a Stan country on its own.
As there are seven Stan countries in total, the only Stan country missing is then Pakistan, which is 300 kilometers from Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is then of course the only country in the world exclusively surrounded by stan countries. Oh, the trivia you pick up here…”
Uzbekistan is bordered by Kyrgyzstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, China to the east, and Afghanistan to the south.
Uzbekistan Country Stats
- Size/area: 447,400 square km
- Climate: Extreme continental
- Population: 29,2 million (July 2015)
- Life expectancy: 73,5 years
- National Sports: Kupkari (a game played between two teams, using a goat’s carcass to score points), Kurash (traditional wrestling), football, judo, boxing, and tae kwondo
Travel Stats for Uzbekistan:
- Time traveled in Uzbekistan: 155 days (Oct/Nov ’19 & Jan ’20 & spring ’21)
- Total kilometers driven: 4826 kilometers
- Average km/day: 31
- Note: Our average is so low because we were stuck in Uzbekistan due to covid restrictions (land borders closed) and spent a lot of time in & around Tashkent (spring ’21).
3- Languages Spoken in Uzbekistan
The national language in Uzbekistan is Uzbek, spoken by some 27 million native speakers in Uzbekistan and surrounding countries.
Many speak (some) Russian, which is taught in schools, although I had the impression it was less than in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Not speaking any Uzbek, it helped we spoke a few words of Russian (no matter how limited that still is), which we learned during our overland trip through Russia’s Far East and Siberia.
Google Translate is super useful to have. There are a couple of ways to use it:
• Google Translate on the web – online only
• Google Translate app – instant voice translation in a two-way setup – online only
• Google Translate app – camera translation – offline*
• Google Translate app – text-typing translation – offline*
*Offline = you need to download the Russian language package (unfortunately this is not possible with the Uzbek language). The offline use is particularly useful because in many of the remote regions you won’t have cellphone connection let alone WiFi (more on that below, 8- WiFi, Local SIM card, Apps)
Tip: It is wise to install a Russian keyboard so that the other party can type a text in Russian into the Google Translate app.
Insight Guides Phrasebook
We have an Insight Guides Phrasebook, which comes with an app for on your smartphone.
What did we try to learn Russian:
- We practiced online using e.g. Russian for Free, or on apps such as Duolingo and Memrise.
- We tried a one-week course on arrival in Russia, Vladivostok but that didn’t help much.
Michel Thomas Method to Learn Russian
We are smitten with the Michel Thomas method! We used it in South America to learn Spanish and it worked great and it turns out that his method is available in a number of languages, among which Russian.
It was perfect to listen to and learn while driving those endless roads. We only wish we had known about this earlier. It is a super intuitive way of learning a language.
Read More: Sightseeing in Vladivostok
4- Roads, Traffic Rules & Police
4a- Roads in Uzbekistan
- In Uzbekistan people drive on the right side of the road.
- There are no toll roads.
- Uzbekistan has a fair level of crazy drivers, playing chicken when overtaking, pushing you off the road, driving without lights at night or in thick fogs. Driving only during the day = recommended.
No matter which road trip we did, the asphalt was only at small sections smooth. For the most of it, it is badly maintained with patch upon patch, potholes, eaten-away asphalt. It makes for tiring driving. To cover the distances, take 1,5 times more than Google maps suggests.
Road trips done:
Denau– Termez – Shakhrisabz – Samarkand – Tashkent
- Tashkent – Samarkand – Bukhara – Tashkent
- The border on the far west with Kazakhstan – Moynaq – Nukus
- Nukus – Khiva – Bukhara
- Tashkent – Umag National Park (Urungach & Badak Lake)
- Tashkent – Kokand – Margilon – border Kyrgyzstan
Between the border on the far west with Kazakhstan to Moynaq, the asphalt was so bad that we tried to go across the steppe/desert instead. There are many trails and it’s a game to find the best one. But the quality of those trails was quite bad to with washboarded sections so we ended up returning to the asphalted road that at least at times, was reasonable.
I guess the only true off-road adventure lies between Moynaq up to the shore of the Aral Sea. We didn’t do this but apparently it’s not uncommon to get stuck there.
Tips on stuff to bring for unpaved, possibly dusty or muddy roads:
- Put a dust screen at the back (we use Velcro to keep it in place).
- Carry an air compressor and a pressure gauge to inflate/deflate the car tires depending on the road surface.
- Carry recovery gear.
4b- 2WD or 4WD?
You don’t need 4WD to see the main sites, the exception being – as mentioned above – is the off-road part between Moynaq and the Aral Sea.
4c- Traffic Rules & Traffic Police in Uzbekistan
- Highway: 100 km/hr
- Within city limits (indicated by white road sign, rectangular): 70 km/hr unless indicated otherwise
Pay attention because there are cameras on the highways. This may not be an issue when driving a vehicle with foreign license plate but if you rent a car, the rental company will charge you immediately when you turn in the vehicle (we had one minor speed-limit ticket, which cost the equivalent of about 20 euros).
We haven’t been stopped by the police. In case you’d like to know what to do when stopped by a police officer, we wrote a general blog post on how to deal with police officers based on tricks and experience during 18 years of overlanding.
5- Roadmaps & Navigation Systems
Our paper map is, as usual, from Reise KnowHow. Hardly ever perfect as roads change all the time and we don’t mind. The Reise KnowHow maps give a perfect overview of the whole country, which is great for planning a general itinerary and getting a feel for how to get where and what the distances are.
Reise KnowHow has a dedicated road map for Uzbekistan as well as a map of Central Asia, which helps to detail your trip in a bigger picture:
5b- Navigation Systems (Electronic Road Maps)
Our choice for offline navigating in Uzbekistan:
- Guru Maps (formerly: Galileo)
Mostly used in big cities. In the latest version of MapsMe, it is a delight to see that the Beta option of Latin translation works for the Russian language (contrary to e.g. Korean or Japanese).
In cities we like the routing option of MapsMe.
Guru Maps (formerly: Galileo)
Galileo had disappeared from our phone since we first started experimenting and beta testing it in 2012. It appeared on our radar recently when they too offered offline routing. But that is not its greatest feature.
The gem is the fact that you can add your own offline maps. Although it is not easy to accomplish that, it is by no means impossible. E.g. we had Russian Military maps installed and are testing with some contour, hill-shaded sat maps. So far it has not resulted in the optimal solution, which would be vector-based maps with contours and maybe hill-shading. If you know where to access them, please let us know.
Apart from that, the base-installed OSM vector map shows nice detail when zoomed out (this is where it outshines MapsMe) and instead of routing there is the option of showing a bearing line that indicates the general direction to travel instead of turn-by-turn navigation where you lose any sense of control.
This way it is more like our first old-school Garmin-eTreks (read about it here) with just a line on a very detailed terrain. You are free to choose which roads or direction you want to travel.
Additionally, Guru Maps has a very nice tracking feature that just works.
6- Guidebooks & Other Books
6a- Guidebooks for Uzbekistan
There are way too few guidebooks out there on the Central Asian countries yet. Not one to be had in Dutch, and very few in English. Here’s what we’ve used:
- Bradt Travel Guides generally dives deeper into a country than any other guidebook we’ve come across. Bradt Travel Guides are about learning about the country, culture, sights, and less about the practical side of things.
- Lonely Planet Travel Guides are great for a quick impression of a country with the basics generally covered on culture, food, history, etc. Super extensive on the practical side of travel information, much of which is useless for overlanders who camp most of the time.
- We appreciate Insight Guides for their photo-rich travel guides. They are perfect guidebooks to get a feel for a place and to get inspired. It describes the highlights of places, has good maps, and is limited on practical information.
6b – Books on Uzbekistan
More than enough reading material available to get inspired for your road trip to the Pamir Region, whether as a destination by itself or as a part of a bigger trip to Central Asia / of the Silk Road.
Among the ones I’m reading / are on my list to read:
- Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present, by Christopher I. Beckwith
- Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World, by Justin Marozzi
- Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder, and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia, by Philip Shishkin
- The Great Game, the Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, by Peter Hopkirk
- Setting the East Ablaze; Lenins Dream of an Empire in Asia, by Peter Hopkirk
- Travels into Bokhara: A Voyage up the Indus to Lahore and a Journey to Cabool, Tartary & Persia, by Alexander Burnes
- A Carpet Ride to Khiva: Seven Years on the Silk Road, by Christopher Alexander
- Land of Lost Borders: a journey on the Silk Road, by Kate Harris
- Stans by me; a Whirlwind Tour through Central Asia, by Ged Gillmore
- Sovietistan; Travels in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, by Erika Fatland
- Life along the Silk Road (Second Edition), by Susan Whitfield
- A Poet and Bin-Laden, a reality novel, by Hamid Ismailov
6c- Other Resources on Uzbekistan
- Eurasianet covers news and analysis of the Central Asian region. Find the website here, and Facebook page here.
- For information about Karakalpakstan (western Uzbekistan), check out this website.
7- Water & Food
Clearly in this desert climate, drinking water is of utmost importance. However, drinking tap water is not recommended. With the filter system and water tank in the Land Cruiser that’s easy for us. We fill the water tank from water pumps in villages, or at people’s homes.
Whether you hike, bicycle, motorcycle, drive a car or backpack around the country, please minimize buying water. Bring a stainless -steel water bottle and a water filter system. There is an amazing selection of small, handy, water filter systems out there, such as MSR water filters or, even smaller, a SteriPen or Lifestraw. Or carry water purification tablets if weight and space really are a big issue (we do so on our long-distance hikes).
The environment will thank you!
7b- Uzbek Food
There is enough to say about the Uzbek cuisine, for sure (here’s a good website, including recipes). However, this being a big animal-eating country and use being vegetarians (vegan-diet, mostly), our food choices have been extremely limited. We mostly cooked our own meals. On
In the countryside, shops are small and is a great place to stock up if you love soda, chips, candy, and cookies. You’ll find some staples like rice, pasta, couple of canned foods, frozen meat, and maybe a bit of fruit and minimal vegetables.
7c- Info for Vegetarians
Based on our trip in November and January (as some products may be seasonal):
- Mushrooms I only found in a big supermarket in Tashkent.
- Most common legumes: mung beans, red lentils, pinto beans, chickpeas.
- Most common vegetables: tomatoes, cucumber, onion, potato, white cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, bell pepper, garlic, spring onions. Less common, depending on supermarket/bazaar: eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce.
- Nuts / seeds: In abundance: walnut, pistachio, hazelnuts (different varieties), peanuts, cashew (expensive), pumpkin seeds.
- Dried fruit: Particularly rich in dried apricots, dates, and figs.
You can try the Happy Cow app to find restaurants that serve vegetarian/vegan foods.
Tip on bazaars: Take reusable mesh bags to stock up on legumes, grains, nuts and the likes. Many vendors want to sell every product in a different plastic bag and you’ll find the bags littering towns and countryside.
Spread the word through good example 🙂
Good restaurants to eat non-Uzbek food:
- Kim Sat Gat Korean restaurant
- Yusuf Khos Khodjib Street, Tashkent
- GPS Waypoint: 41.297656, 69.257984
- Kafe-Restoran ‘Ogni Tashkenta’
- International food in great ambiance, 1970s style restaurant
- GPS Waypoint: 41.309999, 69.272322
- Bella Italia
- Italian food (don’t order the cheese plate, but the soups and pizzas are very good)
- GPS Waypoint: 39.773659, 64.430414
8a- WiFi & Local SIM Card
- In every city you can buy SIM cards.
- Beeline is only in offer in the main cities.
- We bought Ucell in Denau, right across the border from Tajikistan (which worked well). This small shop in Denau even had a form printed in English with the different packages – “Tourist S” tariff plan (in English!) with 3 options, ranging from 25,000 to 50,000 and 80,000 UZS.
For the most up to date information about a countries cellphone service it is wise to ask other travelers who have been in the region recently or find it on this website.
Good WiFi in Tashkent:
- Small cafe Sunpresso
- Good coffee and cakes, and packed sandwiches
- Adress: Rakatboshi Street 15A
- GPS Waypoint: 41.300896, 69.258351
WhatsApp is popular. Install it if you don’t have it. It’s free, fast, and easy to use. You do need to be online to use it.
9- Additional Overland Travel Information Sources
- The forum on Horizons Unlimited has been a longstanding source of information especially for motorcycle tourers but has a growing wealth for four-wheeled travelers as well.
- WikiOverland, help expand the special Wiki Overland pages.
- iOverlander is the place where overlanders share GPS waypoints on many things, among which camping spots.
- 4ever2wherever is another site where overlanders contribute with practical information
- Overlanding Facebook groups among which Overland to Asia.
- Caravanistan is an excellent, up to date online resource for Central Asia.
Tips, Suggestions, Feedback?
We hope you find this Uzbekistan Travel Guide useful. Do you have questions or your own experiences to add? Feel free to do so in the comment section below. Thanks!
Here is the Uzbekistan Travel Budget Report, with additional road-trip information for Uzbekistan.
Originally published: June ’20 / updated Aug ’21
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