Uzbekistan has featured on many ‘Where to Visit in 2019’ lists – and for good reason. This beguiling land at the heart of the ancient Silk Road is a nation of sumptuous architecture, fascinating history, dazzling arts and welcoming people.
This imaginatively designed 11-day itinerary give you the chance to not only be dazzled by some of the most famous sights of the Silk Road, but also get under the skin of this intriguing post-Soviet nation – to meet artists, celebrate the Spring Novruz festival, learn about the political and economic reforms of the last few years, eat with families and walk in the little-visited mountains south of Samarkand.
You’ll wander the dusty alleyways of Khiva, the UNESCO-listed desert citadel; be awed by the turquoise domes of Samarkand and Bukhara; clamber amongst the ruins of ancient desert fortresses; haggle in bazaars; meet famous Uzbek designers; eat vibrant Central Asian food and follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Joanna Lumley and more.
As you’ll be in Uzbekistan during the Novruz festival – also known as the Persian New Year – this immersive, culture-laden trip also incorporates a range of Novruz food and traditions; from eating sumalak and haft-sin to watching kupkari, the Central Asian version of polo. After seeing this, the Cowdray Gold Cup will never be the same again!
Please note that Uzbekistan is now visa-free for UK nationals (and citizens of 44 other countries, including Australia and New Zealand) as from 1 February 2019.
What is Novruz?
Novruz – also spelt in many different ways including Nowruz, Navruz, Nouoruz. Nevruz and Nooruz – is an ancient rite dating to at least the 6th century BCE that marks new year and ushers-in spring. The festival is observed on March 21st in many countires along the Silk Road, including Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakkhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. You can read more details about the festival at the UNESCO Silk Roads Project page here.
What does the price include?
The price includes all entrance fees to museums, an expert English-speaking local guide, accommodation in high-quality hotels, all meals, one internal flight, train tickets, travel in an air-conditioned minibus and a number of exclusive, bespoke experiences (dance, talks, fashion shows, Novruz festivities etc). It does not include international flights, alcohol or your own personal travel insurance.
Where will we be staying?
We’ll be staying in a mix of places – from four star hotels in Tashkent to stylish, boutique hotels in Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand. You will always have en-suite bathrooms and, if you are a single traveller, your own room.
What size of group will it be?
Our group sizes are always small, allowing for an intimate experience of the cultures we meet along our path. On this trip we won’t have more than ten guests, plus the local guides and drivers. We usually find groups are made of like-minded people, both male and female, from a wide age range.
Who will be guiding this trip?
This trip will be guided by one of our excellent English-speaking Uzbek guides. You will also be joined at various points by historians, artists and ethnographers – each one of them adding to the in-depth, expert-led nature of this carefully designed itinerary.
What will the weather be like?
It’s Spring so the temperature will still be varied – up to 20 degrees during the day and down to as low as five degrees at night. But have no fear, we will supply you with a detailed packing list after you’ve signed up.
I’m a solo traveller – is this for me?
Yes. More than 85 per cent of our guests travel alone as part of our group. We don’t charge single supplements to solo travellers – see below.
Do you charge single supplements – I can’t see them in your information?
No. We don’t believe that solo travellers should be penalised with extra charges except where this is unavoidable. It goes against our ethos, so the price quoted is for both single and twin-travellers.
What kit do I need to bring?
We will provide you with an information pack after signing up to this trip, and this will detail any particular equipment we think either necessary or useful.
What vehicles will we be travelling in?
You will be travelling in a well-maintained minibus.
Can you guarantee we will see a kupkari game?
The local Equestrian Federation only announce the dates of the kupkari games a few weeks before they happen, with multiple games happening in villages and towns throughout the Spring and Navruz period. As soon as the Federation announce the schedule, we will do our best to fit our itinerary around seeing a game. We have opted to do it this way than to put on a show match which would a) add a hefty wack to the trip cost and b) not be authentic.
How much are flights?
This is a moving feast! It depends on where you are travelling from and how you want to get there. If you take the direct Uzbek Airways flights from London to Tashkent, it’s about £400 return. We also use the Turkish Airlines flights which hop via Istanbul for about the same price. If you’d like us to book your flights for you, let us know. We are fully ATOL-protected and can book these as part of an ATOL-protected package.
What will the food be like?
Varied – the ‘stans are a region known for meaty delicacies so you can expect tasty shashlik almost anywhere if this is your thing. But it’s not all bad news for veggies as the salads in Central Asia are fantastic. Bread, plov, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill and vodka all feature heavily!
Will I have to share a room?
No, not if you are a single traveller and request a room to yourself.
How fit do I need to be?
Not very – although there is some walking in each city we visit, how much you walk is largely up to you. There is always the option to do your own thing, or relax at the hotel for a few hours instead. Ideally you should be able to walk for two to three hours at a time though, when exploring cities.
Do you perform proper risk management on your expeditions?
Yes. We are members of TRIP – the Travel Risk and Incident Prevention Group – and perform detailed country risk assessments prior to departure, in line with the ISO 31000 international standard for risk assessment. We also maintain close contact with the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for countries we plan to visit, in addition to making use of the Australian Smart Traveller assessment tool, and the US State Department’s OSAC service. Beyond this, we have a full set of risk management and disaster contingency plans for each expedition. For final back up we also use the services of Remote Medical Support that allows us to have a UK expedition doctor on the end of a telephone line wherever we may be. We really don’t mess around when it comes to safety.
I can’t do your dates but love the sound of your expedition – can you be flexible?
Yes. We offer set group dates for many of our expeditions, but we can organise and deliver bespoke expeditions to groups and individuals to suit your itinerary and budget. More information is available on our Tailor Made tours page.
Is it a guaranteed departure?
No – we do need to reach a minimum number of guests to make this viable. For this trip, we need a minimum of 4 guests. When you express interest in this trip we will send you a deposit invoice to hold your place. This is refundable according to our terms and conditions if we do not reach the minimum numbers. We recommend that you do not book your flights or other arrangements until we have communicated that the expedition is definitely departing as planned and will aim to do this in order to give you at least 3 months prior to the scheduled departure in which to make your travel arrangements.
Is this really for me?
If you love adventure, new places, friendly people, wild landscapes, history and culture then yes!
However, travelling in Central Asia – still an emerging destination – is not for everyone and at times (such as on the road from Khiva to Bukhara) the loos will not be Western-style, and there is nothing we can do about this. If you have issues with this, and are not prepared for a bit of adventure, then this trip isn’t for you.