From Markets to Mountains: The Highlights of Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan
This 14-day Highlights of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan itinerary has an unbeatable mixture of culture and adventure along the historical Silk Road. Admire some of the world's finest Islamic architecture in the Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva; and experience the unparalleled beauty of the nature in Kyrgyzstan on a road trip with hiking, waterfalls, canyons and gorges of the Central Tien Shan mountains.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Explore the highlights of Samarkand and Bukhara, two of the most fabled of Silk Road cities
- Enjoy a high-speed train to connect you from one Silk Road city to the next
- See some of the most exquisite Islamic art and architecture in the desert city of Khiva
- Stay in small centrally located boutique hotels
- Sample the national dish plov
- Swim in some of the most pristine and beautiful lakes on earth
- Visit the largest walnut forest in the world
- Eat with local families and stay in traditional houses
- Learn from the nomads and sample local cuisine
- Drive on some of the most scenic roads in the country through the Central Tien Shan
- Stock up on vodka in Bishkek
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Day 1: Arrive & Explore Tashkent
On arrival in Tashkent today, head through customs to meet your driver and transfer to your city centre hotel. You'll have time to rest and settle in before your driver-guide meets you to take you to lunch, and then on to an afternoon tour of the city sights of Tashkent.
We recommend you visit Chorsu handicraft market, Kukaldosh Madrasah, the Khast Imam Complex (home to the oldest existing copy of the Koran) and Alayskiy Market, famous for its gold and jewellery. Much of the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1966 and the architecture of massive squares and wide avenues hide much of the city's 2,000-year history as a key stop on the Silk Route.
We also recommend you visit the Applied Arts Museum which has some gorgeous examples of suzani embroidery and which it isn't far from a local ceramicist's house if you are interested in pottery. Enjoy an early supper before heading back to the hotel for your first night in the country.
- Take a trip on the Tashkent metro, there are some stops with beautiful Soviet avant garde artwork to admire
- Stock up on vodka in a beautifully designed bottle found in one of the many bazaars in the capital
- Stroll through one of the many clean, green parks and admire the grandiose architecture of the capital
Day 2: Tashkent to Urgench and onto Khiva
It's an early start today as you take a transfer with your private guide to the city's domestic airport for your short 90-minute flight to Urgench on the west coast of Uzbekistan, arriving at 08:40.
In Urgench you'll be met by your driver and transferred for 30-minutes to Khiva, one of the most beautiful and impressive Silk Road cities in the country.
Take a full day to appreciate the fascinating city of Khiva with the help of your expert guide. Everything is on foot and your guide will accompany you throughout, making sure you get to see the city perhaps starting first with the local market where you'll encounter a lively throng of people and delicious produce with a fantastic atmosphere.
There is a lot to see in Khiva but there are plenty of coffee and cake cafes for pitstops en route. And what a route - within easy walking distance within Khiva's walls are some of Uzbekistan's most exceptional buildings. The highest of highlights include the impressive Kunya-Ark citadel; the intricate wooden pavilions in the Tosh-Khovli Palace; the vast but unfinished Kalta Minor minaret; the 200-plus carved pillars - some dating from the 10th century - in the Juma Mosque and the Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum celebrating a famous poet son of Khiva, and instantly recognisable by its iconic (and unusually green) dome.
Day 3: Khiva to Bukhara
You may want to rise early for a last morning in the old city, taking in a sunrise view from the ramparts of the city walls before meeting your private guide and driver and starting the long day drive north east to Bukhara.
The hotly-anticipated rail link between Khiva and Bukhara opened in 2019 but it only runs three times a week so driving is usually still the best way to go. It will take approximately eight hours to drive to Bukhara through part of the Kyzl Kum desert and you will stop for a roadside meal of shashlik - traditional meaty Uzbek fare - at a remote but surprisingly good restaurant. Arrive into Bukhara in the early evening and check into your boutique hotel in the old city before getting your bearings and stretching your legs with a wander around the lively streets surrounding the Lyab-I Hauz pond.
- Go for a sunset roof top drink in one of the many roof top cafes and restaurants
Day 4: Explore Bukhara
You will have the full day to explore this wonderful city - most of it on foot and accompanied by your expert local guide who will include visits the many mausoleums, mosques, minarets and khans. Bukhara is a lovely town and everything is easily accessible. Take time to enjoy scaling the ramparts of the Ark Fortress complex and step across to the exquisite Bolo Hauz - the Emir's personal mosque - the facade of which is perfectly reflected in the adjoining pond.
Local entrepreneurs have started to open up lovely home restaurants in little courtyards under fruit trees and you will be taken to one of these for lunch before starting the tour again later in the afternoon. There will be time for you to wander the bazaars, indulge in a spot of people watching and shop at your leisure.
Day 5: From Bukhara to Samarkand
This morning you will depart early to drive to Samarkand, a four-hour drive. After checking into your hotel, you can enjoy a lunch in one of the lively local restaurants.
In the afternoon your local guide will take you to see some of the finest sites in the city, including the incomparable Timurid-era Registan Square and the elegant Gur-e Amir Mausoleum. There will be time to wander at your leisure soaking up the sights, and in the evening you will have an opportunity to visit a winery for some Uzbek wine tasting. There are plenty of restaurants in the city to choose from, and we will recommend our favourites.
Day 6: See the Sights of Samarkand
It's an early start today to beat the crowds to see the rest of the sites in Samarkand with your local guide. Smarkand is most known for being an Islamic centre for scholarly study and it still bears the hallmarks of the legacy left by Tamerlane, a famous military leader. It is the second largest city in the country and after the slower pace of life in the south, you will notice the speed of day-to-day life pick up.
Your guide will take you to the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis (possibly our favourite of all sites in the country thanks to the intricate tilework on show); the Ulugbeg Observatory and the Afrosiyab Museum, which documents the pre-Mongol invasion Sogdian civilisation who made Burkhara their capital. There is also an excellent bazaar to stock up on dried fruit, sweets and snacks for your journey to Tashkent later in the day.
Late this afternoon you will transfer to the train station to catch the fast train to Tashkent. It is a two-and-a-half-hour journey and the train is pretty comfortable, so it's time to relax and read up more on the fascinating history of Samarkand while a landscape of cotton fields and little villages flashes by. On arrival, you will be taken to your hotel in Tashkent for one night.
Day 7: From Tashkent to Kokand, Rishtan and Ferghana
This morning you will transfer to the train station to catch the train to Kokand. It is a four-hour journey on a reasonably comfortable train so you can relax and watch the country slide past your window.
On arrival the first stop will be the Khan's Palace Museum and then Rishtan, one of the most important ceramic centres in Central Asia and the place to buy elegant patterned pottery. Afterwards, continue on to Fergana, arriving in the late afternoon. This is the centre of Central Asia's silk production, and with its beautiful scenery is a worthwhile stop on the Silk Road, not only for landscape but distinctive local architecture and traditional crafts.
Day 8: Visit Margilan & Cross the Border into Kyrgyzstan
Margilan is one of the major cities in the Ferghana Valley and the traditional centre of silk production in both large factories and smaller family-run workshops. This morning you will drive to Margilan to visit the silk ikat weaving centre and the Margilan craft centre, supported by UNESCO and housed in a historic madrasa.
Next it is onto Dustlyk to cross the border into Kyrgyzstan where you will meet your new expert guide and driver and driven to the city of Osh.
We've organised a sightseeing tour of Osh for you which will include a trip to the colourful bazaar to sample local produce and examine the gold and handicrafts. Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before visiting Sulayman Mountain, an important Islamic shrine in Central Asia named after Soloman - a prophet in the Quran. You can climb to the top for fantastic views in the knowledge that you are on the midpoint of the ancient Silk Road.
Once you've had your fill of history, culture and views in and around Osh, continue your journey to Uzgen town, once a capital of the Kharakhanids. There is a pretty minaret tower to see before continuing to Arslanbob valley where you'll find the world's largest natural walnut forest - a beautiful maze of trees that is shrouded in fairytale and myth.
Day 9: Hikes through Nature in Arslanbob
It's all about nature today and you will hike through the forests to visit little waterfalls, villages and caves, sample the local produce and enjoy peaceful, unspoilt nature at its best. The valley of Arslanbob is a year-round destination for both riding and skiing and has some of the best locally-produced food in the country that relies heavily on the glorious fruit and famous walnut trees to be found here.
- Getting into the natural caves to pray
Day 10: Arslanbob to Sary Chelek
The next stop on your highlights of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan Itinerary is Sary Chelek, located on the territory of a biosphere reserve. Your driver will take you on a five-hour scenic journey through some spectacular scenery to get there, with ever-present snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance. Arrive into Arkit village just near the lake in the afternoon to spend a night.
Day 11: Serenity at Sary Chelek Lake
Today holds another day in nature, focusing on green sloped mountains that drop into the azure waters of the vast Sary Chelek lake, which stretches over four-and-a-half miles.
Sary Chelek means Yellow Bucket and the legend goes that a beekeeper kept his hives by the lake and was so impressed with the golden honey the bees produced that he named the lake after his yellow bucket. Others think the lake takes its name from the yellowing trees in autumn that surround the lake turning it into a yellowing bucket of sorts.
You will have the chance to hike around the lake and find the seven smaller lakes before you relax under the trees for a picnic lunch and enjoy a long swim in the afternoon.
After you've had plenty of time to enjoy this amazing scene, it's back to Arkit village in the late afternoon to enjoy dinner with a local family.
Day 12: From Sary Chelek Lake to Chychkan Gorge
This morning you will transfer from the beautiful lake area where you've been staying to Chychkan Gorge and into Chichkan National park via the picturesque canyons and gorges of the central Tien Shan mountains.
Chychkan Gorge - translated as 'mouse gorge' - was named after all the field mice living in the area but there is a huge diversity of flora and fauna in the region including juniper and spruce as well as plenty of mammals such as ibex and argali (mountain sheep) as well as wild boar.
There are two alpine lakes located at almost 10,000ft elevations and a beautiful 200ft waterfall to visit. The scenery is truly incredible and this is as much about the road trip (the total drive time is six hours) as it is about stopping for lunch with a local family to enjoy your surroundings.
Day 13: Chychkan Gorge to Bishkek
The last full day of your Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan itinerary starts with another fantastic road trip as you make your way east to the capital Bishkek through the canyons and gorges of the central Tien Shan mountains.
Your route takes you through two dramatic mountain passes - that of Ala Bel and Too Ashuu. En route you will stop to visit nomads living in gers (traditional tents) to sample local cuisine including fresh yoghurt, honey and bread and also kymyz, the hugely popular fermented mare's milk. It's a great way to learn more about the lifestyle of nomads in Kyrgyzstan.
After a cultural and scenic drive, arrive into Bishkek and check into your hotel before you head out for an early evening tour of the main city sights. On your tour, visit Victory Square, the Square of the Revolution, and the National Hero Manas. Marvel at the changing of the Guards before heading to a top city restaurant to sample the local speciality manti.
- Stock up on vodka in a beautifully designed bottle found in one of the many bazaars or malls in the capital
- Stroll through one of the many green and clean parks and admire the grandiose architecture of the capital
Day 14: Fly Home
Sadly your holiday to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan has come to an end, so check out of your hotel to be transferred to Bishkek airport for your return flight home.
Frances and Holly are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.