Uzbekistan boasts a long, variegated history of diverse rulers from Alexander the Great to the Soviets. But it’s known best for its central location along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. While travelers from the West have long been attracted to Uzbekistan’s impressive sites and exotic ambiance, over the last decade or so travel to the area has opened up and tourist infrastructure has developed, making both legendary cities and more remote places accessible.
On this 16-day tour, delve into Islamic architecture, art and history with visits to the Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. Shop with the locals at lively, cacophonous bazaars and watch master artisans produce the silk, pottery, and knives for which Uzbekistan is famous. Witness Soviet influence in the fantastic Russian art collections of Nukus, the brutalist architecture of Tashkent and the tragic results of cotton over-farming in Muynak. Wander through some of Uzbekistan’s most important archaeological sites: from the Ulugbek Observatory in Samarkand to Afrosiab, the capital of the ancient nation of Sogdiana.
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Silk Road gems
Follow in the footsteps of ancient traders who travelled across Uzbekistan to three of the most important cities on the Silk Road: the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.
Uzbek arts and handicrafts
Watch master artisans at work, making the products for which Uzbekistan is famous: handmade silks, pottery and wool carpets.
Central Asian architecture
Wander through towering mosques, minarets, madrasahs, libraries, mausoleums and tombs, all decorated with Uzbekistani’s characteristic colourful, shimmering tilework.
Witness the aftermath of the human-caused recession of the Aral Sea as it affected this former seaport. See the “Cemetery of Ships” and learn about the ecological history of the area.
Afrosiab and other archaeological wonders
Explore the remnants and influences of 3000+ years of history in Uzbekistan, which was variously conquered by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Timur (Tamerlane), the Uzbeks and the Russians.
Days 1-2:Arrive, overnight in Tashkent and an orientation tour, visit the Bazaar.
Days 3-4: Depart by train for Magilan, visit Said Akhmad-Khoja Madrasah, visit Chust and travel to Rishtan and Oq-Yer.
Day 5: Drive to Kokand and visit Jami Mosque, tour the Norbut-biy Madrasah and overnight in Tashkent.
Days 6-7:Fly to Nukus and visit Savitsky Karakalpakstan Art Museum and Gyaur-Kala Fortress. Visit the sea port of Muynak.
Days 8-9: Drive to Khiva and visit Itchan Kala, Kunya Ark, the Citadel, Khiva old town and Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum.
Days 10-12: Depart for Bukhara via the Kyzylkum desert. Follow the path of the Great Silk Road. Visit the UNESCO historic centre and the 9th century Ismail Samani mausoleum.
Days 13 – 14:Drive to Samarkand, visit the Mausoleum of Bakhouddin Naqshbandi, explore Chor-Bakr Necropolis and Bibi Khanum Mosque.
Day 15: Visit Mausoleum of St. Daniel and the Afrosiab Museum of Samarkand. Drive to Konigil before taking the highspeed train to Tashkent.
The tour begins Friday 12 May at Tashkent International Airport.
The tour ends on Friday 27 May with a transfer to the airport in the early afternoon.
Friday 12 May – Arrival
Arrival in Tashkent, transfer to the hotel. After checking in and time to freshen up, a light dinner will be available in the hotel. Overnight Tashkent (D)
Saturday 13 May – Tashkent
An important trading post in Central Asia, Tashkent has a chequered history of invasion from Genghis Khan to the Soviet occupation. Our orientation to Tashkent begins with a tour of Khast-Imam, a cultic architectural complex and the religious heart of Tashkent. Located in the old part of the city amongst ancient wattle-and-daub houses, Khast-Imam includes a madrasah, a mausoleum, a mosque and a cathedral, as well as the 16th century Muyi Muborak Library, which holds an original Osman Qoran dating back to the 7th century. After this, we continue to the bustling and cavernous Chorsu bazaar, one of the biggest and oldest in Tashkent, where locals do their shopping. Later that afternoon, we’ll transfer to the centre of Tashkent to see Independence Square, World War II Memorial, Amir Timur Square and Applied Arts Museum. Return to the hotel for free time in the afternoon. Overnight Tashkent (B, L, D)
Sunday 14 May – Margilan and Chust
We’ll depart by train early this morning for Margilan, a picturesque Silk Road city legendarily founded by Alexander the Great after a misheard name for a chicken-and-bread dish offered to him during a visit to the city. Widely known for its great master crafters of silk fabrics, Margilan is even today considered the silk capital of Uzbekistan. We’ll visit Said Akhmad-Khoja Madrasah to see the production of handmade carpets and silk, then continue to Yodgorlik Silk factory to observe the production process of silk with traditional Ikat patterns. After Margilan, we’ll continue on to the city of Chust, one of the oldest cities in the Fergana Valley and an industrial centre known for its production of do’ppis (skullcaps) and knives. Here we’ll visit an Uzbek knife production workshop, then travel on to Fergana. Overnight Fergana (B, L, D)
Monday 15 May – Rishtan and Oq-Yer
This morning we’ll travel to Rishtan, known for its pottery, particularly the unique blue “ishkor” glaze produced by hand from natural mineral pigments and ash mountain plants. We’ll visit two different ceramic master workshops, where we will be able to see the pottery-making process and visit pottery shops. Afterward, we’ll travel to the village of Oq-Yer to see a traditional wool carpets workshop before we return to Fergana for the evening. Overnight Fergana. (B, L, D)
Tuesday 16 May – Kokand
We’ll depart Fergana after breakfast today and drive to Kokand, one of the oldest cities in Uzbekistan. At the crossroads of the two main ancient trade routes into the Fergana Valley, Kokand was a significant trading hub on the Silk Road. First, we’ll visit the magnificent Khudoyar-Khan Palace. Though partly destroyed by the Soviets, the remainder of the palace displays the exquisite craft of Kokand’s 19th-century artisans and a combination of Russian and traditional Uzbek styles. Afterward we’ll visit Jami Mosque, which features a 100m portico supported by 98 redwood columns that were brought from India and decorated with the diverse colour and carving style of traditional Fergana architecture. Finally, we’ll tour the Norbut-biy Madrasah, the largest educational centre in Kokand. After sightseeing, we’ll make the four-hour trip back to Tashkent in sedans. Overnight Tashkent. (B, L, D)
Wednesday 17 May – Nukus
This morning we’ll take a flight to Nukus. A small settlement that in the 1950s became a large, modern Soviet city, Nukus is also a centre for modern art and museums. We’ll start our tour with a visit to the Savitsky Karakalpakstan Art Museum, which hosts the world’s second largest collection of Russian avant-garde art and exposition of Karakalpak applied arts items. Afterward, we’ll take a short drive around the centre of Nukus, where we’ll see the statue of the Karakalpak poet Berdakh, Nukus City Hall, and Drama Theatre. In the afternoon, we’ll visit Mizdakhan Necropolis – an ancient cemetery and one of the oldest and most visited pilgrimage sites of Karakalpakstan. We’ll continue to the remains of the Gyaur-Kala Fortress before returning to Nukus. Overnight Nukus. (B, L, D)
Thursday 18 May – Muynak
This morning, we’ll make the drive to the former seaport of Muynak. Once a bustling fishing community, Muynak’s population declined precipitously with the rapidly receding shoreline of the Aral Sea, thought to be the victim of overfishing, the diversion of water for cotton crops and agricultural runoff. Some characterise the drying up of the Aral Sea as one of the biggest human-caused natural catastrophes. We’ll tour the “Cemetery of Ships,” the port with abandoned ships in the sand. Then we’ll visit a local museum with art exhibits of Aral Sea history. In the afternoon we’ll return to Nukus. Overnight Nukus. (B, L, D)
Friday 19 May – Nukus to Khiva
This morning we’ll drive to Khiva. On the way, we’ll visit the Desert Castles of Khorezm, ancient fortresses that emerge from the arid, sandy plains of central Uzbekistan. We’ll stop at Chilpyk, a Zoroastrian dakhma (funerary tower), and Toprak-Kala, the capital of Khorezm dating back to the 3rd century A.D. We’ll check in to the hotel in Khiva, after which you can enjoy free time. Overnight Khiva. (B, L)
Saturday 20 May – Khiva
Entering the walled city of Khiva, a trading post and minor fort since the 8th century, is like stepping into another era. We’ll spend the day in Itchan Kala, the inner town of Khiva and a UNESCO World Heritage site. A guide will lead us on a sightseeing tour. We’ll see the Kunya Ark, the citadel of the Khiva rulers, complete with the Khan’s harem, along with a number of mosques, minarets and madrasahs. Of particular note is the Pakhlavon Mahmud Mausoleum, the resting place of Khiva’s patron saint. Free time in the afternoon. Overnight Khiva. (B, D)
Sunday 21 May – Khiva-Bukhara
In the morning we’ll depart Khiva for the long (7-8 h) trip through the Kyzylkum desert to Bukhara. Our drive will follow the path of the ancient caravans of the Great Silk Road, which carried porcelain and spices on the same route for hundreds of years. We arrive in Bukhara late in the afternoon and check in to the hotel, where we’ll have time to rest before dinner at the hotel. Overnight Bukhara. (B, L, D)
Monday 22 May – Bukhara
The city of Bukhara has long been a centre of trade, scholarship, culture and religion, and the historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We’ll enjoy a walking sightseeing tour with a guide in the beautiful townscape of the Old City, exploring a number of mosques, trade domes, minarets and madrasahs. Enjoy free time in the afternoon. Overnight Bukhara. (B)
Tuesday 23 May – Bukhara, pt 2
We’ll start our second day in Bukhara with a tour of the Ark Fortress, Bukhara’s oldest structure, and Bolo-Khauz Mosque. We’ll continue with a visit to the 9th-century Ismail Samani mausoleum, one of the most highly regarded expressions of Central Asian architecture, then move on to the mausoleum of Chashma-Ayub. Meaning “Job’s well,” this is according to legend the place where Job made a well by striking his staff. Afterward, we’ll visit Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa, the summer residence of Bukhara’s last emir and a site that uniquely combines Oriental and Russian architecture. Enjoy free time late in the afternoon. Overnight Bukhara. (B, D)
Wednesday 24 May – Bukhara to Samarkand
In the first half of the day, we’ll make an excursion to the Mausoleum of Bakhouddin Naqshbandi. A great theologian of the 14th century, Naqshbandi founded an important Sufi Order and is revered by Muslims everywhere- in fact, the mausoleum is considered the Central Asian Mecca. The complex includes a museum dedicated to Sufism. Next, we go to Chor-Bakr Necropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site that consists of 25 buildings, decorated heavily with colourful tiles. In the afternoon, we’ll depart on an afternoon train to Samarkand. Overnight Samarkand. (B, L, D)
Thursday 25 May – Samarkand
Our touring begins this morning at the Bibi Khanum Mosque, the jewel in the Turco-Mongol emperor Timur (Tamerlane’s) empire and one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. Then we’ll explore Registan, the public square at the heart of ancient Samarkand that for many people epitomises a Silk Road city. Here we visit the main square and the three imposing madrasahs, adorned with large central arches and mosaic panels. After lunch we visit the Ulugbek Observatory, destroyed after Ulugbek’s death and only unearthed again by archaeologists in 1908. Our final stop is the Gur Emir Mausoleum, the final resting place of Tamerlane, his sons and grandsons, including Ulugbek. Overnight Samarkand. (B, D)
Friday 26 May – Samarkand-Tashkent
Today, we check out from the hotel, then continue sightseeing. We’ll begin with a visit to the Mausoleum of St. Daniel and the Afrosiab Museum of Samarkand. One of Uzbekistan’s most important archaeological sites, Afrosiab was the capital of the ancient nation of Sogdiana; the museum contains a 7th-century fresco of King Varkouman receiving foreign dignitaries, as well as various terracotta and bronze artefacts. We’ll follow this with a drive to the village of Konigil to explore the traditional way of making Samarkand paper, from mulberry. After sightseeing you can enjoy free time, with the car and driver at your disposal. Late in the afternoon we’ll take the high-speed Afrosiyob train to Tashkent (journey time 2 h 10 min). Overnight Tashkent. (B, L, D)
Friday 27 May – Departure
We’ll transfer to the airport after checkout, for the end of the tour. (B)
An historian specialising in the religion and art of the Middle East and North Africa, having spent several years in Arabia.
Chris Bradley is a cultural historian specialising in the religion and art of the Middle East and North Africa. After many years of leading tours he has built up an enviable knowledge and personal photographic library that he uses to enhance the Academy Travel tours that he leads to Ethiopia, Iran and Central Asia.
Chris gained an honours degree at the University of Liverpool and spent several years working in Arabia, which gave him a good foundation for understanding the Middle East in general. The Arabic that he learnt through the 1970s proved invaluable for his own travels throughout the Middle East whilst researching, writing and photographing more than a dozen guidebooks as well as countless travel articles. For 30 years he has supplied international picture libraries with photographs that are used worldwide in newspapers, magazines, websites and museums, including the V&A and British Museum in London. This experience also led to his filming and producing credits on many television documentaries for the BBC and National Geographic TV.
Chris was invited by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to analyse sustainable tourism development, initially for Libya and later Egypt. His interest in Islamic and early Christian art is an underlying theme for many of his illustrated talks and lectures for the Arts Society (formerly NADFAS) in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and around the world. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and regularly gives lectures at their various locations. His study days on Islamic Art, The Silk Road, Roman and Islamic Art of North Africa are always over-subscribed.
In the 40 years since Chris started leading group tours in the Middle East he has worked in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Oman, Yemen, Sudan, Morocco and Tunisia. This experience has allowed him to design and develop his own itineraries to Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. His tours aim, where possible, to go beyond the obvious major sights and search for the hidden gems.
We asked Chris, what do you enjoy about tour leading?
“Because of the scope of my interests I enjoy making connections between countries and religions that are often not obvious and I am always searching for links along the lines of ‘where did that idea come from?’ Working with each country’s national guides (many of whom are now personal friends), I love to expand every aspect of the subjects that we cover for the groups, which could be the Queen of Sheba, Zoroastrianism or Shia Islam.”
Hotels on this tour vary from five- star to simple three-star hotels according to what is available. Please note that the overall quality and service standards in the hotels are not necessarily at the same level as other countries.
Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace, Tashkent (4 nights)
Asia Fergana, Fergana (2 nights)
Jipek Joli, Nukus (2 nights)
Asia Khiva, Khiva (2 nights)
Shakhristan Bukhara (3 nights)
Registan Plaza Hotel, Samarkand (2 nights)
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.