Uzbekistan travel blog. Exploring Karakalpakstan with kids.

Uzbekistan with kids: A complete travel guide (things to know, practicalities and challenges).

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Travel in Uzbekistan is rapidly growing popular, and deservedly-so. Central Asia is a bucket list destination for many. (I know; it’s high on ours too). But what about travel in Uzbekistan with kids?

Making your way along the Silk Road covers a lot of highlights of Uzbekistan, as well as some of the greatest highs and lows of an empire. And the good news is, it turns out that travel in Uzbekistan with kids is not only doable, but is guaranteed to exceed all expectations.

Growing up in New Zealand we didn’t learn much about times of the Soviet Era, or about the stretch of its reign. Perhaps it feels too far away, or too burdensome to talk about, but it made us curious to find out what today is like for the cities of the Silk Road, and to learn more about how it had been.

Read on for our route across Uzbekistan, all the things you need to know before you go, and the best of highlights from our now-favourite country

CONTENTS

ABOUT UZBEKISTAN

  • Capital: Tashkent
  • Official language: Uzbek
  • Recognised inter-ethnic languages: Karakalpak, Russian
  • Population: 33,570,609
  • Currency: Uzbek Som (UZS)
  • Religion: 88% Islam, 9% Christian

Uzbekistan is unique in that it is a landlocked country surrounded by landlocked countries. It shares borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan to the south, and Kazakhstan to the north and west. 

THE THOUGHT OF TRAVEL TO THE ‘STANS

Let’s be honest; first thoughts of the ‘-stan‘ scares off foreigners. History and media presents a certain image abroad, and for the seven countries in Asia that end with the suffix ‘Stan, our first reaction is not instinctively smooth.

Stan means land in Persian Farsi, a word for “place of” or “country”. A bit like the suffix of names in English such as England, Scotland, Switzerland.

And rightly so. It is a region of diverse geography and land with a lot of fascinating history behind it.  Albeit we didn’t tell our family we were heading to Central Asia until we were actually there, because we didn’t want to be put off. And you shouldn’t be either. Uzbekistan is now a firm favourite country of ours.

VISAS FOR UZBEKISTAN

In early 2019, Uzbekistan announced it will no longer require visas for visitors from 45 countries. This is amazing in terms of travel news (note: get yourself there before everyone else does too).

Citizens of the following nationalities can get free entry on arrival to Uzbekistan for 30 days:

  • All EU citizens
  • Australia, New Zealand, Canada
  • Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey
  • Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Serbia
  • Argentina, Brazil, Chile

In addition, other ex-Soviet countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan can get up to 90 days entry on arrival.

An e-visa scheme is extended to citizens of 78 countries, so travellers who do not qualify for the visa-free entry scheme can apply for visas online. Always check for updated details of visas before you go. Check here and read information for the online visa on the website here. 

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Uzbekistans climate has variations that are extreme. In summary, winter is literally freezing, and summertime is baking hot. Temperatures drop below to -50°C in the coldest time of year and soar in summer to 40°C and above. (We know, because we were onboard an overnight train that set out at 43°C. Read about that here).

The best time of year to visit is any time that will avoid these extremes. Travel in spring and autumn on the shoulder of extreme seasons, ideally from April to June and September to November.

We landed in Tashkent at the start of August and the temperatures were hot. Like desert and camel, hot. In emails planning our trip the Aral Sea ahead of this we were even warned to reconsider whether this was a good time to travel in Uzbekistan with kids. Slightly unnerving, but in truth the heat was manageable. It is a dry heat, unlike Southern parts of Asia and without the humidity the heat is easier to handle. In saying that though, I would love to visit again in the shoulder seasons. The middle of the summer day is not ideal for exploring.

Uzbekistan with kids meant that even a roadside stop was an adventure. We pulled over for camels in the Karakalpakstan desert.
Camels alongside a Russian Lada on the road in Karakalpakstan.

UZBEK LANGAUGE

Firstly no, we didn’t become fluent in Uzbek (sadly). But when you are travelling full-time and fairly fast and the languages of Asia start to roll in to one, it’s a good reminder to keep up with learning your hellos and thank you’s.

Like neighbouring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the Russian language is still widely spoken in Uzbekistan as a result of the Soviet influence and occupation. Many Uzbeks can speak both Uzbek and Russian, and both languages are still taught in schools.

Uzbek is part of the Turkic family of languages, but there is Arabic influence in the language as well. We found this the easiest part of the language to recognise and use, with the greeting Salom aleikum. However, if you are keen and can already read Cyrillic, then you are a few useful steps ahead!

THE BASICS

  • Salom aleikum: Hello
  • Walaykum asalom: Hello (in response)
  • Rahmat: Thank you
  • Katta rahmat: Thank you very much
  • Arzimaydi: You are welcome
  • Iltimos: Please
  • Ha: Yes
  • Yo’q: No

PLACES TO VISIT IN UZBEKISTAN

Settle in because this is the best part. Uzbekistan is currently the biggest draw card for Central Asia and with good reason. It’s undeniably exciting in the thought alone of retracing the ancient Silk Road. Practicalities of modern travel mean it’s easy enough to do just that, but get as far as Khiva and Karakalpakstan and you can’t help but feel satisfied you are well off the beaten track. Read on and find out where you need to visit in Uzbekistan ASAP…

In Uzbekistan we spent time in:

TASHKENT

A first day out in Tashkent is all it took for us to fall in love with the colours and vibes of Central Asia. Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan, and a city that has seen many things in its 2000 plus years history. The chances are if you are heading to Central Asia, Tashkent might be your first stop. And if so, you are in luck. The city is exciting in it’s bustle of Asian city feel; beautiful in the colours and architecture of the Silk Road; and with a touch still of Soviet to remind you that you really are there. It’s a contradiction in an exciting way.

THINGS TO DO IN TASHKENT

  • Visit Hast Iman Square: This is a perfect first outing to get started with the iconic Islamic architecture of Central Asia. The complex is described as the spiritual heart of Tashkent, fronted by the Hazrat Imam mosque, the largest place of worship in Tashkent.
  • Get sampling at Chorsu Bazaar: You can find any kind of dried fruit and nut in the marketplace. Even if you don’t actually have any shopping to do, the bazaar is the epitome of Central Asian atmosphere.
  • Try taking a taxi like the locals: Seriously, you can wave down any passing car and they can give you a ride. You have to try it. (Read more about that here).
  • Eat at the Plov Centre: This place is insane. Giant cauldrons of Uzbekistan’s national rice dish serve 500 people at a time! You don’t want to miss out on trying Plov here.
  • Swim at Аквапарк Limpopo: Furkat Recreation Park is only a 15 minute walk from Topchan Hostel in Tashkent. We became regulars at the swimming pool, and this alone is probably what the kids would name as the highlight of travel in Uzbekistan!

The bustling ground floor of Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent.

NUKUS AND THE ARAL SEA

The city of Nukus is situated within the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. A once fertile area known for the booming economy surrounding the cotton fields, now the poorest and most desolate region in the country.

Getting there requires some mad planning… You can picture us at 3:00pm, boarding an ex-Soviet era train in Tashkent with the temperature already reading 43°C. We’d made the mad plan to take the overnight train across the desert to Nukus; the other side of Uzbekistan (with kids).

On a train to Nukus. Travel in Uzbekistan with the kids.
On board the train for Nukus.

THINGS TO DO IN NUKUS

  • Nukus Bazaar: Every market in Central Asia is worth at least a visit. Nukus isn’t huge, but the selection of breads and qurut at the bazaar is.
  • Mizdakhan Necropolis: Explore the remains of the ancient Khorezm city, Mizdakhan inhabited from the 4th Century BC.
  • Visit the Savitzky Art Gallery and museum: Less exciting if you are traveling in Uzbekistan with kids, or if you aren’t a specific fan of avant-garde art. But the Nukus Museum hosts the world’s second largest collection of Russian avant-garde art.
  • Eat plov and lagman: Not technically a sight of Nukus but a good place to become an Uzbek food expert.

Full details on all the things to do in Nukus here.

Note: This part of Uzbekistan is an autonomous republic; the Republic of Karakalpakstan. It even has a different flag and dialect. [We thought that was kind of fitting with our own identity challenge in Central Asia… No one understands when we say we are from ‘NEW ZEALAND!’].

Nukus Bazaar, Karakalpakstan.

THE ARAL SEA

We first saw the Aral Sea on a TV documentary. We were shocked/fascinated and horrified, trying to imagine how such damage could have been caused by human hands. Only 10% of the original sea is left. It was once the fourth largest lake in the WORLD, and is now one of the most emblematic environmental disasters of the WORLD. It’s been literally losing water for over half a century. Ever since Soviet engineers began diverting the rivers that fed in to it, in order to grow cotton in the desert…

REASONS TO VISIT THE ARAL SEA

  • It’s disappearing: Literally. With only 10% of the original sea left that’s reason enough to hurry up and visit now; while you can.
  • Experience a yurt stay: Sample a taste of nomadic lifestyle staying in a yurt on the shore of the Aral Sea. (How surreal is that!).
  • See the cemetery of ships: You can walk amongst the ship graveyard, where the fishing vessels that once created livelihood for Karakalpakstan are more than 165km from the actual seashore.
  • Visit Muynak: A once thriving fishing village, this town is now high and dry. Again, literally. Wander around the now-ghost-town in the middle of the desert.
  • Adventure to get there: It takes an entire day and over seven hours of driving to reach the shore of the Aral Sea from Nukus, 400km away. But it is so worth it.

Check out all the details on visiting the Aral Sea and our thoughts on visiting such a large scale human disaster here in our Uzbekistan travel blog.

Yurt camp just back from the receding shore line, with perfect vantage point to ponder sunrise over the Aral Sea.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of finally standing there and feeling what literally was once the sea floor underfoot. It’s beautiful, but overwhelming; and SAD. The damage is IRREVERSIBLE. 

KHIVA

Khiva conjures up all the images of the iconic Silk Road. It’s like a giant outdoor museum that met a city made of sand in the Urgench desert. We spent three days in Khiva and unanimously decided it is our favourite city in Uzbekistan.

THINGS TO DO IN KHIVA

  • Visit Pahlavon Mahmoud Mausoleum: The iconic blue dome on the top of the mausoleum houses the tomb of Pahlavon Mahmoud, Khiva’s patron saint.
  • Eat kabob in the square: Our (again) favourite pastime in Khiva. The old city has a selection of outdoor cafes you can eat non and kabob and soak up the atmosphere.
  • See sunset from the watch tower: The perfect vantage point for sunset. (Albeit you won’t be the only one; the watch tower in the best view of the city from above). At only 7,000 som ($0.80) entry it is worth a visit at any time of day.
  • Experience the bazaar: Yes, another bazaar. The main bazaar in Khiva sprawls inwards to the old city from the East Gate and is definitely worth a visit.
  • Visit a nearby village: You might get lucky and stay where we did (Guest House Khiva Yoqut) where the family took us out for the day to a nearby village. The kids caught fish (in Khiva?!) and played with local kids and donkeys.
  • Get lost in the backstreets: You can’t help but fall in love with Khiva. It looks like and feels like being in a different millennia!
Uzbekistan travel blog - our guesthouse in Khiva.
Our guesthouse inside the old city walls of Khiva

BUKHARA

The history of Bukhara spans more than a thousand years. The city was a prominent stop on the Silk Road trade route between the East and the West. Nowadays it contains hundreds of beautifully preserved mosques, madrassas, bazaars and caravanserais dating back from the 9th to 17th centuries. And for travellers it is set up as an ideal walking town to get around easily. Not a lot looks like it has changed much over the last centuries!

THINGS TO DO IN BUKHARA

  • Go shopping in the Old District: Hands down, if you are looking for souvenirs from Uzbekistan, this is the place to do it. We bought some of the amazing hand-woven textiles that Uzbekistan is famous for from inside an old caravanserai. How cool is that!?
  • Climb to the rooftop of Chor Minor: The name chor-minor translates to “four minarets” in Tajik, and you can’t miss this iconic building in Bukhara. Access to the rooftop is only 4,000 UZS per person.
  • See the Ark of Bukhara: The oldest structure in Bukhara was once a massive fortress, built in the 5th century and occupied until it fell to Russia in 1920.
  • Admire the Mir-i-Arab Madrasah: Visitors can’t enter the madrassa as it is still used today as a place of education for future religious leaders, but the complex is stunning. Go at sunset and take it all in.
  • EAT at Lyab-i Hauz Lake: A small, man-made lake occupies the centre of the Old Town District. Plus, its totally acceptable to visit Lyab-i Hauz Restaurant multiple times a day. It’s the best place to order a beer and kabob and watch sunset in the best spot in the Old District.
  • Take a tour to Bukhara’s Summer Palace: The summer house of Amir Olimknon, the last Khan of Bukhara is impressive in its sprawl and grandeur of it’s hey-day. A little run down in todays standards but blissfully quieter than Bukhara’s tourist sites in town.
Sunset vibes at Mir-i-Arab Madrasah.

SAMARKAND

Samarkand is known around the world for its unrivalled beautiful blue mosques and mausoleums. It’s the most iconic and biggest drawcard for tourism to Uzbekistan and understandably so. For a lot of us, Registan Square is like a tangible sight to lay eyes on the prize: we will get there and see it for ourselves one day…

Unsurprisingly, Samarkand is also the most popular destination for tourists to Uzbekistan and it does feel more crowded. Remember though, this is within the realms of tourism to Central Asia, which fortunately still isn’t booming. Manage your expectations for Samarkand, and look into where else you can visit within the city for uninterrupted culture (hint: start at the bazaar and eat your way from there).

For us, aside from the iconic Islamic architecture of Samarkand, our most special memory was the chance to learn about the most sacred of Uzbek bread. Yup, memories of the time we found ourselves spending the best part of a baking day with a fourth generation family of Uzbek bread bakers…

THINGS TO DO IN SAMARKAND

  • Visit the Registan: Registan Square is the heart of the city and by far the most popular and iconic sight of Samarkand. The square is designed around 3 madrassahs (which means ‘school’ in Arabic) that all face the centre square; Ulugh Beg Madrasah, Tilya-Kori Madrasah and Sher-Dor Madrasah. I couldn’t believe my eyes at the scale and grandeur.
  • Bibi-Khanym Mosque: The legend of this mosque is almost as striking at the courtyard. It’s nearby to Registan Square and well worth a visit.
  • Go right into the Shah-I-Zinda Necropolis: More beautiful architecture, rich tilework and mosaics but this one you can go right down inside to the mausoleum.
  • Gur-e-Amir complex: The name means ‘Tomb of the King’ in Persian, for the mausoleum and final resting place of conqueror Timur.
  • Walk through Siob Bazaar: The main market in Samarkand is just as you would expect (and hope) of another Silk Road bazaar. It’s busy, colourful, vibrant and with dried fruit and halva sweets that will convince you of your love for Uzbek food.
Oscar learning how to make Samarkand bread during our travel in Uzbekistan with kids. Uzbekistan travel blog.
A lot of learning and tasting at a home bakery in Samarkand.

CULTURE IN UZBEKISTAN

Uzbek culture is uniquely steeped in influence due to its geographic location and historic location along the Silk Road. Ancient Persians, Turks, Arabs, Chinese, and Russians have all contributed to Uzbek culture. This was part of what excited us the most in planning for travel in Uzbekistan. And it is still largely (blissfully) off the main tourist trail.

We found Uzbek people to be friendly and curious, especially to see us travelling there with kids. Uzbek cuisine is diverse and exciting, representing again the geographic location and ancient influence of culture. And hospitality is second to none. (Trust me, we were adopted by an Uzbek family).

FOOD IN UZBEKISTAN

Uzbek food is different, diverse and interesting. It shares a base of cuisine from Turkic culture combined with Asian style and ingredients. There is a lot of bread and noodles (you have to try lagman), and most meals are made with meat. Mutton is the main variety of meat used in dishes like plov.

Some famous Uzbek dishes:

  • Non: bread (the best of the best)
  • Shakarap: salad of tomato and onion
  • Kabob: meat kebab
  • Barak: fried dumpling
  • Samsa: samosa like pastry
  • Lagman: Soft wheat-flour noodle dish
  • Halva: sweet dessert
  • Katyk: sour milk-yoghurt drink
  • Qurut: fermented yoghurt snack
  • Plov: national rice dish with meat and pulses, usually contains carrots, raisins, stock and spices.

Read the full details of our best Uzbek food experiences here.

HOSPITALITY IN UZBEKISTAN

We were offered rides, picked up while walking, hosted for dinner, breakfasts and lunches. The kids made fast friends with and children they met and were given handfuls of dried fruits and nuts at what felt like every fruit stand we passed.

Uzbek women love children.

WE WERE ADOPTED BY AN UZEBK FAMILY

We met Aslbek, a student from Samarkand, when we first arrived in Tashkent. He told us that when we got to Samarkand his family would like to show us their part of Uzbekistan. He said they wanted to take us to their ‘paradise’ in the mountains of Urgut, on the border of neighbouring Tajikistan.

Uzbekistan travel blog. Hospitality in Uzbekistan is second to none.
Our new Uzbek family in Urgut.

Wow. Wow. And wow. We spent two days with them, met the entire extended family, shared so many new Uzbek foods, and as he said, they took us right out of Samarkand to their paradise in the mountains. Urgut is an absolutely stunning region, and time with an Uzbek family the most incredible experience. Hospitality in a different country and culture brings the kind of travel memories and emotions that can’t truly be captured any other way.

TRAVEL IN UZBEKISTAN WITH KIDS

Travel in Uzbekistan with kids is both challenging, and rewarding. It isn’t an obvious choice for travel as a family. But in saying that, I would be the first to recommend it. Distances between the cities of the Silk Road are long (especially long if travelling by ex-Soviet train across the desert) but modern high speed rail between Tashkent, Bukhara and Samarkand make it easier, and more like other parts of modern East Asia.

Uzbekistan has a culture that celebrates family. I lost count of the times we found ourselves stopped on walks through bazaars for stall holders to meet the kids. You will be given more samples of dried and fresh fruit than you have stomach room for.

Food in Uzbekistan isn’t spicy, and can range from simple breads and pastries to sweet desserts that kids will genuinely enjoy.

We didn’t find tours or activities specifically geared towards children. However, we also didn’t look hard and we didn’t check the wealthier/expat and modern areas of Tashkent and Samarkand. The tours that we did do (to the Aral Sea and Muynak, and around the villages from Bukhara) were adapted thoughtfully and the kids were welcomed and well looked after. Kids don’t seem to have quite the same penchant for incredible Islamic architecture or additional visits to mosques. (Weird?) But I can assure you they will enjoy staying in a yurt and hand feeding a baby camel on the way. Travel in Uzbekistan with kids certainly makes it different. If you are thinking about it, I highly recommend it.

GETTING AROUND UZBEKISTAN

Transport options in Uzbekistan range from modern fast trains to taxis and tiny shared mini bus vans.

BY TAXI

In Tashkent especially, quite literally any car can be a taxi. There are also authorised taxi’s with a sign on their roof, but ‘independent’ taxis means that you can wave down any private car if they are willing to stop. Just offer them a taxi fare if they are going in your direction, negotiate if you need to, and hop in. The local custom is to simply stand by the side of the road with your arm extended downward and slightly away from the body. If that sounds unlikely you’ll have to trust me on this one. It works! It’s even possible to use independent taxis travelling in Uzbekistan with kids. Just take care and make sensible decisions if you choose to.

Taking a taxi in Tashkent, Uzbekistan with kids.
Random blonde Uzbek boy in our taxi in Tashkent.

From Nukus to Khvia, we booked a taxi driver through our hotel. This is an awesome way to travel shorter long-distance legs in Uzbekistan. Our driver was so excited to show us some old ruins at a fort and we went out for lunch with him in a little yurt-style restaurant on the outskirts of Urgench.

BY PLANE

Uzbekistan Airways National Airline is the flag carrier of Uzbekistan. Getting from Khiva to Bukhara we flew with Uzbekistan Airways. Yes, we could have taken the slow train but we had already enjoyed that challenge of travel in Uzbekistan (with kids). And seriously, we loved the adventure of the overnight train. But, in the daytime heat and given the price of the train and plane ticket, we chose the faster option for this leg. Flights to Khiva depart from the nearby Urgench Airport. Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent all have domestic flights as well.

BY TRAIN

Travelling by train in Uzbekistan is definitely not as adventurous or risky as it once was. (Unless you take the ex-Soviet clunker across the desert to Nukus, but even that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend for the adventure).

Uzbekistan has a high speed railway operating between Tashkent and Samarkand (a far cry from the once Golden Road to Samarkand in poems of camel caravans). The Afrosiyob in the high speed train, operating under Uzbekistan Railways. A ticket from Tashkent to Samarkand costs 95,000 som (USD $10) in Economy, 132,000 som in Business, 582,000 som in VIP. 

We took a fast train from Bukhara to Samarkand, and from Samarkand back to the capital. The train is actually easy to navigate, and you can turn up to the station and book tickets in advance in person. We had help from our tour operator Timur (who booked our Aral Sea tour), who pre-booked tickets for the fast train in advance for us. In hindsight you could save some money booking them yourself. At the time however, we were very grateful for his help and it made the trip much smoother.

Taking the high speed train in Uzbekistan with kids.
Ready to board the Afrosiyob from Bukhara.

INTERNET IN UZBEKISTAN

In general, internet access through wifi in guesthouses and hotels in Uzbekistan is adequate. Speeds vary from extremely slow (in Nukus) to fast (in Tashkent). And you can access Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks without any restrictions. We found wifi to be ubiquitous in all the places of accommodation we stayed (with exceptions in the yurt camp at the Aral Sea. Obviously).

PHONE AND SIM CARDS

Mobile internet is cheap in Uzbekistan. Your foreign SIM card will likely work on roaming in the country, but it is seriously easy to buy and set up a local SIM. The information desk at the arrivals hall in Tashkent International Airport has all the information. You literally step through immigration and customs and out towards the baggage claim, where an information desk is bang, smack in the middle.

The mobile data market is dominated by the three major players: Beeline, Mobiuz (UMS) and Ucell. Each of the three providers advertises a tourist plan with data included, to work for up to 30 days at a time. We bought a UMS SIM card inside the Tashkent airport on a tourist package which is ridiculously cheap (under $10 USD for a monthly data package with option to add more in needed). The staff are extremely helpful, speak English, and will have your SIM working in ten minutes.

MONEY IN UZBEKISTAN

It’s easy to feel rich in Uzbekistan… The soʻm (сўм in Cyrillic script) is the currency of cash in Uzbekistan with the highest denomination of note is 100,000 UZS worth around US$10. You quickly end up with wads of cash!

Some guesthouses accept payment in USD, though since currency reforms in 2017, it is expected that tourists will pay in Uzbek som. At most we found it straightforward to pay electronically, and hotels can change smaller amounts. Larger exchanges can be made at the airports or a bank.

ATM’s are reasonably frequent in the bigger cities (Tashkent, Bukhara and Samarkand). We never had a problem finding one. Look out for signs for Asaka Bank, Kapital Bank or the National Bank of Uzbekistan (NBU). It’s worth noting that not all banks accept MasterCard; Visa seems to be more widely accepted in Uzbekistan.

If you are flying into Tashkent it’s not necessary to exchange money prior to travel to Uzbekistan. We flew from Seoul, South Korea. Carry US dollars with you at all times, and you can withdraw Uzbek som from an ATM at the airport arrival area.

Our first wad of Uzbek Som (UZS).

BARGAINING AND TIPS

Like a lot of Asia, it is possible to bargain at the markets, but in honesty the prices are pretty fair (and cheap by Western standards with the exchange rate). We didn’t find the need to try bargaining. Well, except once buying fabrics in Bukhara. We couldn’t control ourselves and wanted to send something home as a souvenir.

Tipping is not common practice in Uzbekistan. It’s not in New Zealand either, but it is nice to tip your guide. Tips in foreign currency are hugely appreciated.

BUDGET FOR UZBEKISTAN

Travel in Uzbekistan can be made cheap. Even with the biggest splurge cost of our trip being the two night tour to the Aral Sea, travel around Uzbekistan for the remaining weeks balanced out coming in under our alloted budget. As a family of four, we booked accommodation with four beds (or ideally two singles and a double) which we had no problem finding. (Easier than in East Asia where family rooms are harder to come by). And transportation around the cities is reasonable by taxi, and easy and obviously cheap on foot.

To give you an idea of budget for Uzbekistan, here are some of the daily costs for travel:

  • Basic lunch meal: 30,000 – 50,000 som (USD $4 – $6)
  • Loaf of bread from bazaar: 5,000 som (USD $0.50)
  • Bottle of water: 5,000 som (USD $0.50)
  • Bottle of vodka: 30,000 – 60,000 som (USD $4 – $8)
  • Short taxi ride around town: 10,000 – 20,000 som (US $1.50 – $3.00)
  • Long (private) taxi ride between cities:
  • Entrance fee to cultural sights: 10,000 – 30,000 som (US $1 – $4 per adult, children free).
  • Domestic flight Urgench to Bukhara: 800,000 – 1,000,000 som (USD $80 – $100)
  • Budget to mid-range guesthouse: USD $40 – $70 p/n.

WHERE WE STAYED

  • Tashkent: Topchan Hostel [incredible breakfast, trendy layout and spaces, really clean shared bathrooms, amazing staff – helped with anything and everything, shared kitchen immaculate. Highly recommend!].
  • Nukus: Jipek Joli Inn [great location in Nukus; great breakfast, really friendly staff, walking distance to markets and museum. In-house restaurant and convenience store across the road].
  • Aral Sea: Yurtstay (organised by Sanat Tours)
  • Muynak: Homestay (organised by Sanat Tours)
  • Khiva: Guest House Khiva Yoqut [incredible location! Right inside the old city walls. Nice breakfast, really friendly family owners – took us fishing and even took me to the post office to send something home!].
  • Bukhara: Samani Bukhara [lovely courtyard breakfast; great central location; spacious room; lovely family owners plus friendly extended family and kids].
  • Samarkhand: Hotel Ishonch [walking distance to centre; not many suitable restaurants close by].
Our room in Muynak at a guesthouse.

ONE CHALLENGE FROM UZBEKISTAN?

Ahh, the challenges of family travel in Uzbekistan with kids… On our first day in Tashkent we were introduced to ‘Plov’. Aside from bread, this is the staple dish of Uzbekistan. Each region has their own variation of plov, cooked with rice, fresh mutton or beef, carrot, chickpeas, raisins, onions and vegetable oil. [It’s delicious!].

We had heard about the Plov Centre in Tashkent. It was on our list of things to do on arrival in the capital. Well, the size of the plov cauldrons was unbelievable. They have five on the go at once, and serve 500 people at a time.

Meal of Plov at the Plov Centre Tashkent. Travel in Uzbekistan with kids.
One of the giant plov cauldrons at the Plov Centre.

Now magine, if a child dropped a piece of LEGO into a giant pot of plov. This cheeky little face did just that. Not just on the floor beside the pot, or under the table… But into the biggest pot of plov in the place. 

Eating Plov in Tashkent after Oscar dropped a piece of lego in the cauldron. One challenge to travel in Uzbekistan with kids!
The face of innocence?

Everything was happening in slow motion. Another diner saw it happen and called over a waiter. Oscar’s having a tantrum on the floor. The other diner is talking furiously in Russian. And the waiter is trying to locate the piece of LEGO with a 2m long cauldron spoon. 

They found the piece of LEGO, and the tantrum eventually stopped. I wanted to sink into a little hole away from the horrified glares of other childless-diners. But, the plov was worth the stay. Another one for the travel stories that WILL be funny later on… (For now stored away as our most embarrassing moment of travel in Uzbekistan with kids. Good for the Uzbekistan travel blog though, right?!).

SAYING GOODBYE TO UZBEKISTAN

Making the trek right out across the desert, and back along the old Silk Road is definitely a circuit that really allows you to see some of the highs and lows of an empire. The cities have such an incredible display of Islamic architecture that is so different to the rest of Asia, and so well preserved. The buildings alone evoke such vivid images of the Silk Road. You can almost smell the camel caravan unloading their goods and being hobbled for the night. And seeing Uzbekistan with kids made it that much more of an adventure and an eye-opening experience.

Making it out to the Aral Sea is a humbling and big learning experience. That, coupled with amazing food and all the people we met along the way, have definitely put Uzbekistan in our top three. And we would do it again in a heartbeat.

READ MORE ABOUT UZBEKISTAN


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