We take the Golden Road to Samarkand
James Elroy Flecker
The ancient Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva conjure up images of unimaginably wealthy oases linked by caravans, of imperial politics and incredible architecture. Beautiful turquoise domes and towering minarets grace the skyline while down below everyday life goes on in markets and cafes from years gone by. With hospitality firmly ingrained into the culture, this is one country you will not want to miss.
When to go
April, May, September, October and the first part of November are the best months to travel to Uzbekistan. It is typically warm and dry without it being uncomfortably hot. If you can handle the heat you can travel in summer too.
The tour [Five Stans of the Silk Road] is fabulous and there is a lot to cover (...) The sites, history, landscapes, food, mountains, rivers & lakes were all magnificent but their people were the lands greatest asset. (...) Among the highlights: Ashgabat - the city of white marble; Samarkand - the city of most colourful madrassas; Darvaza - Door to Hell; Iskanderkul Lake - a lovely break from touring; Fann Mountains beauty; fields of cotton, potatoes, corn, wild flowers, etc.; Tien Shan mountains magnificent drive up to Son Kul Lake and the yurt camp ... and so much more. (...) it is an adventure that will remain among the highlights of my life. Aida - Calgary AB - July 2019
A fascinating jumble of contradictions, Uzbekistan's capital is part Soviet city, with wide, tree-lined streets, grand statues and shopping malls, and part sleepy Uzbek town where farmers cart their goods through myriad alleys. The city has some amazing museums covering art and both ancient and more modern history.
A city that features in everyone's dreams about the Silk Road, Samarkand is a treasure trove of architectural monuments dating back all the way to Timur. Sure highlights are Shah-i-Zinda, a street of beautifully tiled mausoleums, and Ulugh Beg’s 15th-century observatory in Samarkand. Throw in a colourful bazaar and a long, rich history and you have a city that one must visit.
Nurata was once regarded as the frontier between cultivated lands and the steppes and still is a jumping-off point from which to visit nomadic yurt camps. The ruins of Alexander's hilltop citadel stand testament to its ancient history, while a 10th century mosque and holy sites attracted pilgrims from all over Central Asia.
Central Asia's sacred Muslim city is also one of the places where one can experience pre-Russian culture at its best. Mosques, madrasahs and minarets are scattered around town, along with an enormous fortress and the remnants of a market complex. The city counts over 900 historical monuments, including 12th century Char Minar, Bolo Khauz Mosque and the old Summer Palace of the Emirs. Stay in an atmospheric hotel and you may feel transported back in time.
At the heart of the Great Game lies Khiva, a former slave trading centre that could only be reached by crossing a desert inhabited by aggressive tribesmen. Walking into the mud-walled inner city is like being transferred to a bygone era. Be sure to experience the 200 intricately carved elm wood columns inside the cool, dark Juma Mosque and the beautiful mausoleum of Pakhlavan Makhmud.
The Khorezm area covering both the Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts near Khiva is home to about 50 ruined fortresses – many still hidden beneath the sand.
Follow the mountain road south from Samarkand, enjoying the amazing views, and reach Timur's home town of Shakhrisabz, one of the most beautiful and colorful Uzbekistan cities.
Surrounded by the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains, the Fergana Valley is Uzbekistan's fruit and cotton basket. It's people are among the most hospitable in the country, while colourful bazaars with exceptional crafts (including beautiful turquoise ceramics), mosques and madrasahs abound.
Food, glorious food
Shish kebab, normally made with lamb or mutton, is served on incredibly large skewers. It is served with bread in all shapes and sizes. Rice topped with cooked carrots, onions, and chunks of mutton makes up plov, the national dish. Salads abound and are lovely. And don't forget cooked apricot pits!
Drink Katyk & tea
This thin yogurt drink comes plain but can be sweetened. Green tea is the most popular tea and there is no better place to have it than in a traditional tea house.
Art in architecture
Mosques, madrasahs, mausoleums and minarets are everywhere in Uzbekistan. They come in all shapes and forms, from the 200 beautifully carved elm wood columns inside Khiva's Juma Mosque to the sand castle-like Chor Minor Mosque in Bukhara. Take your time to see them, but don't attempt to see them all - there are simply too many!
A mix of geometric patterns and calligraphy, delicate flowers, and mosaics in blue, white, green and turquoise, makes up the dazzling tile work Uzbekistan is so well-known for. You have to see it to believe it.
See the vanished sea
The Soviets employed reckless irrigation in their drive to expand the cotton industry. The Aral Sea, now shrunk to a ghost of its former self, and a graveyard to boats and crumbling lighthouses, is a stark reminder of what humans can do to the environment
Stay in a yurt
Kazakh nomads use round felt tents, which are spacious, colourful and comfortable inside, as their dwellings. Stay in one and get a glimpse into what life was like on the Silk Road in times gone by.
Ride a camel
While staying at a nomad camp you may have the chance to ride a camel. Hold on tight as you will be swinging wildly from left to right as the lumbering beast gets up.
Khiva by night
Khiva is at its most spectacular at dawn, sunset and by night, when the moonlit silhouettes of the mosques and madrasahs, viewed from winding alleys, evoke a haunting beauty.
Haggle in a market
There is nothing quite like meandering at your leisure through Uzbekistan's bazaars. Get lost in the crowds and stop to examine the wares. Enjoy a cup of green tea while bargaining over your next purchase.
Tour code: EUUC
Places visited: Tashkent, Samarkand,
Nurata, Bukhara, Khiva, Desert fortresses
Signature Experiences: Food, glorious food, Drink Katyk & tea, Art in architecture, Tile work, Stay in a yurt, Ride a camel, Khiva by night, Haggle in a market
Length: 11 days
Accommodation: Nine nights hotel, one night basic yurt
Included meals: all breakfasts, 2 lunches, 1 dinner
Transport: private vehicle, plane, train
Departures: Set small-group dates and daily private departures between May and November
Customizable? Yes, price on request
Price: Small group departures priced from $1705
Complete Silk Road
Tour code: FKWS
Why we love this trip: a journey along the entire Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul.
(This trip also runs in reverse, contact us for details)
Places visited: China: Beijing, Xian, Dunhuang, Caves of a thousand Buddhas, Turpan, Kashgar, Irkeshtam Pass, Kyrgyzstan: Sary Tash, Osh, Uzbekistan: Fergana Valley, Kokand, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Turkmenistan: Mary, Merv, Ashgabat, Nisa, Iran: Mashhad, Isfahan, Tabriz, Kandovan, Armenia: Yerevan, Dilijan, Georgia: Mtskheta, Tbilisi, Gudauri, Gori, Vardzia, Turkey: Kars, Ankara, Istanbul.
Signature Experiences: In Uzbekistan you will experience Food, glorious food, Drink Katyk & tea, Art in architecture, Tile work, Khiva by night, Haggle in a market
Length: 41 days
Accommodation: Hotels & Guesthouses (32 nights, Home stay (1 night), Trains (7 nights)
Included meals: 33 Breakfasts, 2 lunches, 5 dinners
Transport: Train, private vehicle, public buses (Turkey)
Departures: Set small-group dates April to October
Customizable? portions of this trip can be tailored, price on request
Price: Small group departures priced from $9,395
Five Stans of
the Silk Road
Tour code: EFSS
Why we love this trip: Three weeks cultural adventure on the Silk Road discovering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan (shorter versions exist, contact us for details)
Places visited: Turkmenistan: Ashgabat, Nisa, Darvaza, Mary, Merv; Uzbekistan: Samarkand, Bukhara, Shakhrisabz, Termez, Fergahana Valley; Tajikistan: Dushanbe, Fann Mountains, Iskanderkul Lake, Istaravshan, Khujand; Kyrgyzstan: Osh, Arslan Bob, Chychkn Gorge, Kyzyl Oi Village, Son Kul Lake, Bishkek; Kazakhstan: Almaty with optional Astana Extension
Signature Experiences: In Uzbekistan you will experience Food, glorious food, Drink Katyk & tea, Art in architecture, Tile work,
Ride a camel, Haggle in a market
Length: 23 days
Accommodation: 15 nights hotels, 3 nights home stays, 2 nights yurts, 1 night cottage and 1 night guest house
Included meals: all breakfasts, 3 lunches and 8 dinners included
Departures: set small-group dates & daily private departures between June and September
Customizable? Yes, price on request
Price: Small group departures priced from $5899