Traveling in a foreign country is a daunting concept. Exploring cities or provinces you don’t know and trying to find out what can you do in a short time frame. You can take on this challenge made for time-hungry travelers who try to squeeze in as many experiences as possible in a 10-day itinerary. Our suggested itinerary ensures that you truly experience the rich culture and the natural wonders of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan; to see the most of the Silk Road in 10 days. Ready to go?
Things to know before traveling to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan:
Language – The Kyrgyz is the official language in Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek, on the other hand, is the official language of Uzbekistan. English is not widely spoken in both countries, but mostly members of the younger generation in larger cities like Bishkek and Tashkent. Before entering Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, it is advisable to learn a few Kyrgyz/Uzbek words and phrases to facilitate your travel and to get to your destination quicker. If you are traveling with a help from a tour operator, then you can get by without learning the language.
Currency exchange – The Kyrgyz som is the official currency of Kyrgyzstan, while Uzbekistani soʻm is the currency used in Uzbekistan. Exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Asia. You can exchange currency at the airport, hotels, malls, local banks, and money changers (called obmen balyot) throughout Bishkek and Tashkent. ATMs (called Bankomat in Russian) are plentiful, all accepting international credit cards and debit cards, so it’s easy to withdraw your money in Kyrgyz som or Uzbekistani soʻm. Credits cards are commonly accepted in most restaurants and hotels.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Although most visits are trouble free, remain vigilant because crimes like pick pocketing and theft do occur especially in Bishkek and Tashkent. Every traveler should take safety precautions because there has been an increase in reported armed robberies and other opportunistic crimes targeting tourists.
Getting there – Entering Kyrgyzstan is not as hard as most people think. Through the Kyrgyz Railroad Network, you can get to Bishkek all the way from Moscow, Russia. You may also travel by air to Manas International Airport. The airport serves flights to and from most major and some smaller cities in the country and some international destinations including Russia, Turkey, London, Germany, and Almaty, Kazakhstan, which is the most frequent air connection.
From Bishkek, you can take a short flight to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Tashkent International Airport, the main international airport of Uzbekistan, serves flights to most Asian cities such as Seoul, Beijing, Almaty, Istanbul, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Dushanbe.
Getting around – Bishkek and Tashkent features a good transport network consisting of buses, marshrutkas (minivans) and taxis. Buses are great if you are traveling short distances. If you’re going right across the country, it’s best to use the train or consider taking a short flight. Renting a car and driving on your own is not advised because road travel in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan can be hazardous, as roads are often poorly maintained. Locals have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices.
Where to stay – Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. No trip to both countries would be complete without staying in a traditional Yurt camp, traditional tents made of felt and well insulated. This experience will give you a glimpse of Kyrgyz and Uzbek family life. Make sure to check out Community Based Tourism Kyrgyzstan (CBT) to make it easier to plan your hiking trips and yurt stays.
Day by day itinerary: The ancient Silk Road in 10 days – Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan
Day 1: Bishkek
Your 7-day adventure in Kyrgyzstan starts today! Schedule a flight that will arrive early in Manas International Airport (FRU). The airport is about 25 kilometers away from the city center and it will take about 50 minutes to get there. Super Taxi and Express Taxi are available outside the Arrival Hall and provides 24/7 service to the passengers. You may also take the marshrutka #153 and #380 to get to the city center. After check in at your preferred accommodation, minimize your jet lag by spending a lot of time out in the sunlight so your body can adapt to its new surroundings. Wear a comfortable walking shoes as you will do a lot of walking for today.
Where to stay in Bishkek:
There is no better way to get acquainted to the city than visiting Ala-too Square, the main central square of Bishkek. Here, you’ll witness the ceremonial changing the guard ceremony every hour. At the center you’ll find the 10-meter bronze statue of the Mighty Manas and at the perimeter you’ll see the Museum of Sculptures, the People’s Friendship Monument, and the State History Museum. End the day at the Panfilov Park, a spacious green space and is a popular hangout place for locals. After your historic tour, make your way back to your hotel and get a good night sleep.
Day 2: Ala Archa National Park
On day 2, go on one of the most exciting trips out of Bishkek by visiting the Ala Archa National Park, part of the Tian Shan Mountains known for its spectacular peaks and canyons. Just 30 minutes outside of Bishkek, the national park is a perfect hiking destination, especially for people who has limited time in Kyrgyzstan. You will have plenty of opportunity to take photos of the stunning views of the national park, as long as you leave early enough in the city. You may join a tour with the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan for a very affordable price, or you may do tour on your own. If you do this DIY-style, make sure to take note of the marshrutkas (the minivans) schedule going to/from Ala Archa National Park.
Day 3: Cholpon-Ata
Before you check out the countryside, be aware of the toilet situation on Kyrgyzstan. If you’re staying in a western-style hotel, then this would not be an issue. If you, however, will be staying in a yurt, then expect a pit toilet. Also, avoid using the toilets in gas stations as they usually lack any proper washing facilities. Make sure to pack some toilet paper and hand sanitizers when you travel.
Where to stay in Cholpon-Ata:
On your third day, check out from your accommodation and take a marshrutka to the lakeside town of Cholpon-Ata, where you will stay overnight. Located on the northern shore of Lake Issyk Kul, the town is famous for its mineral waters and stud farm. The drive from Bishkek to Cholpon-Ata is approximately 3 to 4 hours, but you have the option to stop along the way for some photographs. There are numerous selection of accommodations in town, most of it are located centrally with close proximity to Lake Issyk Kul.
Day 4: Back to Bishkek; Fly to Tashkent
On day 4, explore the lake once again and take advantage of the picnicking opportunities. Check out from your accommodation in Cholpon-Ata and travel back to Bishkek. Then, take a short flight to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in the city or you can begin your tour of its famous attractions. Check into your preferred accommodation and rest a little before you start your tour of its museums and Soviet-era structures.
Where to stay in Tashkent:
Day 5: Tashkent to Urgench – Khiva
Don’t get out of Tashkent like most tourists do (and head straight to other parts of Uzbekistan) because the capital boast a few wonderful attractions. There’s no better way to get acquainted with the city than visiting the Independence Square (Mustakillik Square). Before the Soviet time, there was a palace of Khanate of Kokand in this area. It was re-named Lenin Square and only after the declaration of independence in 1991 that it named Independence Square.
Next on your itinerary should be Uzbekistan State Museum of Applied Art, which is the home of applied arts based in ancient traditions of Uzbekistan. This is a relevant and educational stop to create basic understanding of Uzbekistan’s history and cultural heritage. Another well-loved museum you should not miss is the Amir Timur Museum, a museum built in 2006 to commemorate the 660th birthday of Amir Timur, a Turco-Mongol conqueror.
After your museum tour, wander the busy pedestrian streets of In the afternoon, join a small group tour that will take you down to Tashkent Metro, the first underground metro network in Central Asia. Built by the Soviet Union in 1977, this is perhaps the city’s crowning achievement. The metro system boasts some of the most impressive mosaics and architecture which can be considered one of the grandest in the world. It is a living reminder of how it was built with blood, sweat and tears.
Take an afternoon flight to Urgench, a city in western Uzbekistan that was once invaded by the notorious Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. From Urgench, travel for one hour by coach to Khiva, where you will stay for 2 nights.
Where to stay in Khiva:
Day 6: Khiva
On day 6, get up early and have some traditional Uzbek breakfast. Uzbek Cuisine features some of the culinary traditions of its neighboring countries like Mongolian, Turkic and Kazakh. The staple food of the Uzbek people is Samsa, a traditional patty cooked from flaky pastry with meat filling.
After breakfast, get acquainted with the centuries-old history of Khiva. Most of the cities monumental structures were from the Khanate of Khiva, which is the absolute monarchy in Central Asian Turkic state during the 16th century. Head to your first destination, which is the Itchan Kala. It is the historical part of the city surrounded by an ancient fortress and was once a resting place for caravans. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990, Itchan Kala is one of the best examples of Muslim Architecture in Central Asia. At the center of Itchan Kala, you will find the Juma Mosque, also known as the Friday Mosque. Unlike a traditional mosque, this mosque has no domes, arched entrance or portals. It was built with the same structure as the older mosque that used to occupy the place.
After lunch, continue your walking tour of the historical district of Itchan-Kala. Make your way to Muhammad Amin-khan Madrasah, which is the largest Madrasah not only in Uzbekistan but also in Central Asia. Next is Kunya-Ark Fortress, which was named “the Fortress in the Fortress”. This ancient citadel used to contain the residence of the Khan and his family members, the arsenal, mosque, reception hall, and warehouses.
Day 7 and 8: Bukhara
On your 7th day, leave Khiva for the amazing Bukhara, where you will be staying for two nights at a guesthouse or a hotel. To get there, you may take either a shared taxi or a marshrutka. Upon arrival, check in to your chosen accommodation. Then, enjoy a delicious lunch at one of the restaurants in the old town.
Where to stay in Bukhara:
During the next two days, explore some of the surviving attractions from the early times in the historic center situated on the Ancient Silk Roads. History buffs will surely love Bukhara’s medieval townscape, as it is an exceptional example of a ancient Muslim city in Central Asia. Do not miss the Ismail Samanai Tomb, Poi-Kalyan Mosque, Kosh Madrasah, Gaukushon Madrasah, and the Chasma Ayub Mausoleum.
Have you been to Kyrgyzstan and / or Uzbekistan? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Silk Road, Osh to Kashgar, Kyrgyzstan (David Scarborough / Shutterstock.com)