Its name may be difficult to pronounce, but this old republic of the Soviet Union offers countless attractions for the adventure-minded visitor. Relatively few tourists travel to Uzbekistan, which means you'll have the country's wide range of mesmerizing landscapes, from desert plains to imposing mountains, all to yourself.
Uzbekistan has a little of everything: basins, desert plains and oases, overlooked by the famous Pamir mountains. There used to be a major crossroads on the Silk Road right here, around the towns of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarqand. Wonderful tours allow you to discover the Uzbek history through local arts and culture. One of the most beautiful treasures of Central Asia.
Our Editorial team's advice
Plunge into the peaceful and meditative atmosphere of the historic cities of Bukhara, Samarqand and Khiva, on the condition that you avoid tourist seasons. In the Old Town of Bukhara, relax in the 16th century hammam. In Samarqand, wind your way around the tortuous lanes of the Old Quarters, lined with ancient adobe houses. In the "turquoise city", admire the superb domes and minarets. At the easternmost point of the country, in an enclaved area, discover the Fergana desolate valley, surrounded in the north by the Tian Shan ridge, and the Pamir in the south. The region is an extraordinary meeting point for different cultures, however often contested, where traditions and rural habits are kept alive.
+Discover a country rich in history, cut out from the rest of the world for a long time, within the Soviet block.
+Uzbekistan is a rich concentrate of age-old sites on the Silk Roads, the regional crossroads of which being Samarqand.
-Accommodation conform to western standards is just starting to develop. We should like to mention the fact that the country has just come out of 70 years of communism.
-It is not always easy to travel alone in this country as in the whole area, if not endowed with an adventurous mind.
-English is not widely spoken.
The local practise of Islam is very tolerant. As almost everywhere else in Central Asian countries, the inhabitants' sense of hospitality and welcome are innate. A tourist can easily be invited for dinner, or to stay the night, even for a few days (three days according to the Muslim rule).
The Uzbek national dish is plov - mutton mixed with rice and served with vegetables (onions, carrots), raisins, spices (cumin, coriander...). Plov varies depending on the region and can be found in some regions of other Central Asian countries. As for other common dishes in the area, you will find shashliks or kebabs - small mutton, beef, chicken or poultry liver skewers, often served with raw onion; mantys, a sort of large steam-cooked ravioli. Try also the meat and vegetable soup called chorba, and taste the fried meat or vegetables, close to Indian samosas. Savour also the large flat bread, sold almost everywhere. Drink some of the green or black tea, throughout the day, out of the sun in a chai-khana (tea house).
As almost everywhere in Central Asia, enjoy the many spices and herbs which explode with flavours and colours on the bazaar stalls or on the various types of gaudy coloured silk, often sold by the metre. Rugs are part of Uzbek everyday life. They are not all hand-woven and the so-called Bukhara rugs, often of great quality, actually come from neighbouring Turkmenistan, reputed for its skilled work. Normally, if you want to purchase a rug, you should obtain an export certificate, to be requested from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. You will be able to buy pretty silver jewels, sometimes mounted with a gem, but beware of fakes. Opt instead for jewels made with semiprecious stones, such as the lapis lazuli, or simply made of chiselled silver. In Tashkent, Khamza street, behind Timur square, is lined with all kinds of stalls and little non-expensive restaurants. Shops are open from 9 AM to 6/7 PM.