Journey from Bishkek to Tashkent through Central Asia

Be entranced by the beauty and the wonder of Central Asia on this 17-day tour from the capital of Kyrgyzstan to the heartland of Uzbekistan. Take in the tranquil landscape of Song-Kol Lake; watch for wild boar and deer around Chychkan Gorge; see Solomon's Throne in historic Osh; and get your fill of mosques and museums in Samarkand. Abounding with ancient culture, divine natural beauty, intriguing relics and friendly locals, this is a journey that will leave you eager to discover more of Central Asia.


Start
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Finish
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Destinations
Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan
Style
Original
Theme
Explorer
Code
KFSR
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why you'll love this trip

  • Central Asia is a fascinating and unique mix of ancient Silk Road culture, Soviet influence and striving to redefine nations post independence. Geographically and for a time historically, it is the real centre of Asia.

  • The much-photographed Registan in Samarkand is one of the true pinnacles of Islamic architecture. You'll be wowed by the scale, grandeur and beauty of the monuments to iconic figures such as Tamerlane and the Persian influenced madressas, mosques and mausoleums.

  • Experience for yourself the legend that is Central Asian hospitality - there's really nothing like being welcomed into a local home or yurt for a meal, chatting with stall holders at bazaars or simply marvelling at the sights alongside locals.

  • Kyrgyzstans mountains are its monuments and its majesty. The landscapes here will stay with you long after the journey is over.

  • Marvel at the beautiful Song Kol Lake, where in mid-summer you may see flocks of sheep, goats and herds of horses watched over by nomadic herdsmen and their families.

  • Stay overnight in a yurt lakeside and live like the locals have for centuries in these portable, felt lined traditional tents.

  • Reflect on the important role horses have played in the traditional Kyrgyz nomadic life style while witnessing horseback sports like odarysh (wrestling on horseback), tiyin-enish (where riders try to pick up coins at full gallop) or kok-baru (goat polo).

Is this trip right for you?

  • Central Asia is a remote destination, perfect for intrepid travellers in the true sense of the word! You will venture well away from cities, right off the beaten track and be able to immerse yourself in local food, life and culture.

  • Accommodation may on occassion be more basic than what you are used to in homestays, guesthouses and yurt stay. Shower and toilet facilities will be limited in some places and non existant in others. While the comfort level won't always be high, the rewards of living in true local style in this far-out part of the world are immeasurable.

  • This is an overland journey, so there will be some very long days of travelling and driving, often over rough terrain. This can be tiring at times and will require a great deal of patience at others, especially at border crossings. 

  • What Kyrgyzstan lacks in "sights" compared to the Silk Road monuments and old towns of Uzbekistan, it makes up for in alpine landscapes, opportunities for interaction with local families and plenty of time spent on the road or outdoors exploring natural surroundings.

Itinerary

Welcome to Kyrgyzstan! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Dinner
Special Information
Keep in mind that many flights into Bishkek arrive very early in the morning. If you would like to be able to check in on arrival, please book an additional night of accommodation beforehand so a room is available for you. Regular check in time is 1 pm.
Enjoy a full-day city tour of Bishkek. You'll notice a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere as you stroll around town. The centre of the city is Ala-too Square, which was known as Lenin's Square in Soviet times. Lenin used to stand in his concrete overcoat in the middle of this square, proudly gesturing towards the mountains. For those interested in their Soviet memorabilia, a larger-than-life Frunze can be found still sitting on a bronze horse facing the train station, though his name plaque has been removed. You can also still visit the museum built over Frunze's birthplace. A nice place to watch the world go by is Dubovy (Oak) Park, where you'll find a few open-air cafes that are great to sit at and soak up the atmosphere over a drink. The century-old oaks here and all along Freedom Avenue make Bishkek one of the greenest cities in Central Asia.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Bishkek - City Tour
Optional Activities
  • Bishkek - State Historical Museum - KGS150
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Drive 60 km to the 11th-century Burana tower, an ancient minaret from the Silk Road period. In the nearby village of Don Aryk, visit a local home. Reflecting the important role horses have played in the traditional Kyrgyz nomadic life style, the country is famous for at least four types of horse games such as odarysh or wrestling, tiyin-enish, where riders try to pick up coins at full gallop and kok buru or buzkashi, a type of goat-snatching polo. We'll take the chance here to watch the how the locals play the horse game here. Enjoy lunch with the family.

Continue to Issyk Kul lake – the second largest alpine lake in the world. This beauty is one of the biggest natural water reservoirs in the world, at 170 km long and 70 km wide. A combination of extreme depth, thermal activity and mild salinity means the lake never freezes. Next, continue to Kochkor. Explore a small local market in the centre of the village as well as local co-op that provides training to local women in traditional handicrafts.
Accommodation
  • Guest House/Home Stay (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Shamsy Valley - Burana tower
  • Don Aryk - Local home visit & horsemanship demonstration
  • Kochkor - Market
  • Kochkor - Women's Felt Co-op
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Make the 130 km drive to Son-Köl, one of the largest lakes in the country. This beautiful alpine lake is considered a sacred place for many Kyrgyz people as well as one of the best summer pastures for nomadic herders. In the middle of the summer, you'll see nomadic herdsmen and their families watching over goats, sheep, and horses. Enjoy exploring your surroundings for the rest of the day. There are many beautiful lake trails to hike along. Alternatively you might like to visit some ancient petroglyphs in the local area, or visit a nomad camp for a first-hand look at nomadic life. Simply sit and take in this beautiful corner of the world.

Tonight you will stay in your first yurt of the trip. Yurts, made of felt and tarpaulins on a round frame, are the traditional dwellings of the Kyrgyz people. Sleeping arrangements are on a multi-share, mixed-gender basis with mattresses on the floor. It can get very chilly in the evenings, so there's a stove for heating and plenty of blankets. There are no bathroom facilities inside the yurts. Outdoor toilets are to be expected. All meals are included during our stay here. Those daring enough for an invigorating morning splash can use the lake nearby.
Accommodation
  • Yurt Camp (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
Notes: The pass to Son-Köl is not open all year round. When the road is impassable, an alternative destination will be arranged for this day of the trip. Also in September and October, depending on the temperature, we may only make a day trip to Son-Köl lake if it's too cold to stay in the yurts, and we'll return to Kochkor for the night.
Today you travel along the gravel roads to the tiny village of Kyzyl-Oi squeezed between the mountains. On our way, we will pass large coal deposit and continue along the Kökömeren river which feeds the Syr Darya - one the major rivers of Central Asia that used to fill the Aral Sea. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the banks of the river in the shade of the trees and take some free time to explore the village once we arrive. 
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse/Homestay (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Keep in mind that the roads in Kyrgyzstan see little regular maintenance, so even short distances can take a full day. You will arrive at tonight accommodation sometime in the early evening so expect a full travel day. The road crosses the Suusamyr Valley – a high steppe plateau situated at around 2,200 metres above sea level. The mountainous, lush surrounding landscape is dotted with yurts. Just when you think the road couldn't possibly climb any higher, you will arrive at your guesthouse for an overnight stay. The road follows the Chychkan river that cuts through the Tien Shan range. Stop here for a while and soak up the amazing scenery. Surrounded by mountains and rivers flowing below, Chychkan is simply stunning. Arrive in Kok-Bel and stay in a guesthouse again tonight.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse/Home Stay (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
After breakfast, drive to Arkyt Village (approximately 4–5 hours). This UNESCO World Heritage-listed network of nature reserves is located in the Sary-Chelek National Park, about 15 km before Sary-Chelek Lake. The reserve was founded in 1959 to preserve the flora and fauna of the walnut-fruit forests and alpine landscapes. On our way, you'll see some small dam projects along the river. After lunch continue another 10 km to take a boat trip across the lake. Stay in a local homestay and enjoy more of that warm Kyrgyzstan hospitality.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse/Home Stay (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Sary Chelek - National Park
  • Sary Chelek - Boat trip
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
A morning drive (approximately 5 hours from Sary-Chelek Lake) brings you to Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan. Located in the Fergana Valley in the south of the country, Osh is often referred to as the 'capital of the south'. It is one of the truly ancient Central Asian towns, dating back to the 5th century BC. While you are here, be sure to pay a visit to the Jayma Bazaar where you might pick up an interesting souvenir or two. Also pop your head into the famous three-story yurt, or venture up Suleiman-Too Mountain ("Solomon's Throne") which looms over the lovely Fergana Valley.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Osh - Bazaar
  • Osh - Solomon's Throne
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
This morning we drive to Kyrgyz – Uzbek border. After passing through the border (approx. 1-2hrs), we meet our Uzbek guide and transfer to Andijan. From here we will take a local train to Tashkent (approx. 5.5 hrs). Arrive at our Tashkent hotel in the evening and take a good rest after a long day of travelling.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Begin you introduction to Uzbekistan. City sightseeing today in Tashkent will include a visit to State history museum, visit Abdul Khasim Medrassah with its hujra cells used as metalwork craft workshops to produce jewellery and other goods and Khast Imom Complex with its amazing architectural beauty. After lunch, stop in at the exciting Chorsu Bazaar to see traditional wooden cradles, handmade musical instruments, and the extensive vegetable and spice market.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tashkent - Chorsu Bazaar
  • Tashkent - Khast Imom Complex
  • Tashkent - History Museum
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Transfer to the station for the high speed train to fabled Samarkand (approx 2 hours). This city is located at the very centre of the ancient Silk Road. Enjoy a sightseeing tour of this ancient city on arrival. Inspect the remains of the remarkable medieval observatory developed by Ulug Beg, Tamerlane's (Amir Timur) brilliant astronomer grandson. Today, only half of the below-ground semi-circular track remains to be seen, together with the excellent small museum close by. In the afternoon we drive to the site of Afrosiab, or ancient Samarkand, and visit the Afrosiab Museum with its fine collection of treasures unearthed from the site, including the world famous 10th century frescoes. We check into our hotel in the late afternoon and perhaps go for a short walk before dinner.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Samarkand - Ulug Beg Observatory
  • Samarkand - Afrosiab Museum
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Visit the great central square of Samarkand, the Registan. Continue to Guri-Amir, where Tamerlane is buried, to Bibi-Khanum Mosque and also visit the nearby market. Then we drive to Konigil village in the outskirts of Samarkand. A special lunch is served for us here by the family who set up a watermill here for a paper making workshop. After lunch we'll have a tour of this place and explore traditional way of making famous Samarkand paper from mulberry. Upon return to Samarkand we visit Shaki-Zinda ensemble of the Mausoleums. This unusual necropolis has monuments from the 14th and 15th centuries, reflecting the development of the monumental art and architecture of the Timurid dynasty.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Samarkand - Bibi Khanum Mosque
  • Samarkand - Guri Amir Mausoleum
  • Samarkand - Shakh-I-Zinda Mausoleum Complex
  • Samarkand - Registan
  • Samarkand - Paper making workshop & home cooked lunch
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Continue tracing the Silk Road towards Bukhara. One of the most important portions of the ancient route named Royal Road, this route connects two major cities of the area and takes us through steppe to the small town of Shahrisabz - a home town of Tamerlaine. We will make a stop at Shahrisabz, visiting the legendery Ak Saray Palace, Dor-ut Tilovat Memorial Complex, Dorus Saodat Complex and Kok-Gumbaz Mosque.

Then we'll continue to Bukhara where we will rest for tonight.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Shakhrisabz - Ak Saray Palace
  • Shakhrisabz - Kok-Gumbaz Mosque
  • Shakhrisabz - Dor-ut Tilovat Memorial Complex
  • Shakhrisabz - Dorus Saodat Complex
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today, we'll enjoy a full day sightseeing in Bukhara.

First, you'll visit the lovely Sitora-i Mohi Khosa, once the summer residence of the last Emir. Designed by Russian architects, it has lavish interiors decorated
with traditional filigree plaster, mirrored surfaces and delicate floral wall paintings by local artisans. Then your private transport takes you through the Bukhara oasis to the peaceful 16th century Chor Bakr necropolis, where you'll enjoy the simplicity of decoration of Khonako-Medrassah-Mosque complex that is typical of Bukhara.

In the afternoon, visit the Ark Fortress and Kalon mosque which is symbolic of Bukhara, then to one of Central Asia's oldest and most exquisite structures, the 10th century Ismail Samani Mausoleum, whose superb decorative brickwork has survived 1,000 years of rugged history. From here it is only a short distance to the Lyabi-Haus area and our hotel which is situated in the old Jewish quarter and decorated with traditional Uzbek crafts. After dinner, there's time to join the locals strolling around the area and visit some of the small craft studios tucked into the ancient nearby madrassas and trading domes.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Bukhara - Ismail Samani Mausoleum
  • Bukhara - Sitorai Mohi-Khosa Palace
  • Bukhara - Chor-Bakr Necropolis
  • Bukhara - Ark Fortress
  • Bukhara - Kalon Mosque
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Historically Gijduvan was one of the caravan stops on the way to Holy Bukhara. Local Sufi master Kholiq (Abdukholiq Gijduvoniy) made this place famous because the Sufi Order he founded here in the 13th century. A couple of centuries later Ulugbek – the famous astronomer ruler of Samarkand and grandson of Tamerlane built a medrassah here, just next to the grave of the Sufi Saint. This town has gained further fame as one of the centers of glazed ceramic production. Today, you'll be transferred to this small town and visit the private studio of a local ceramic artist, meet his family and have a master class with ceramic artists. Later you can have some free time to explore this small town and learn more about life of Uzbek people outside big cities. For lunch we recommend to try another specialty of Gijduvan cuisine - the juicy
kebabs of Gijduvan are famous throughout Uzbekistan! On your way back, stop to see the minaret from the late 12th century in Vobkent.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Vobkent - Minaret
  • Gijduvan - Ceramics Workshop
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
After breakfast, enjoy some free time for optional sightseeing in Bukhara. In the afternoon, take a fast train back to Tashkent and arrive in time for your farewell dinner with your fellow travellers. Transfer to the hotel and stay overnight in Tashkent.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. Please speak to your leader about storing luggage at the hotel.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

16 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 7 dinners

Transport

Private Bus, Metro, High Speed Train

Accommodation

Guesthouse/Homestay (4 night), Hotel (11 nights), Yurt (1 night)

Included activities

  • Bishkek - City Tour
  • Shamsy Valley - Burana tower
  • Don Aryk - Local home visit & horsemanship demonstration
  • Kochkor - Market
  • Kochkor - Women's Felt Co-op
  • Sary Chelek - National Park
  • Sary Chelek - Boat trip
  • Osh - Bazaar
  • Osh - Solomon's Throne
  • Tashkent - Chorsu Bazaar
  • Tashkent - Khast Imom Complex
  • Tashkent - History Museum
  • Samarkand - Ulug Beg Observatory
  • Samarkand - Afrosiab Museum
  • Samarkand - Bibi Khanum Mosque
  • Samarkand - Guri Amir Mausoleum
  • Samarkand - Shakh-I-Zinda Mausoleum Complex
  • Samarkand - Registan
  • Samarkand - Paper making workshop & home cooked lunch
  • Shakhrisabz - Ak Saray Palace
  • Shakhrisabz - Kok-Gumbaz Mosque
  • Shakhrisabz - Dor-ut Tilovat Memorial Complex
  • Shakhrisabz - Dorus Saodat Complex
  • Bukhara - Ismail Samani Mausoleum
  • Bukhara - Sitorai Mohi-Khosa Palace
  • Bukhara - Chor-Bakr Necropolis
  • Bukhara - Ark Fortress
  • Bukhara - Kalon Mosque
  • Vobkent - Minaret
  • Gijduvan - Ceramics Workshop

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Important notes

1. This trip enters Uzbekistan at a land border, so all travellers must have a valid Uzbekistan visa in their passport before joining the trip. Most nationalities do not require a visa for Kyrgyzstan.
2. Uzbekistan does not have it's own consulate in a number of countries, including Australia & New Zealand. Please see the Visa section of the Essential Trip Information for more details on applying for your visa and ensure you allow sufficient time and budget to obtain your visa prior to travel.
3. A Single Supplement is available on this trip, excluding nights in yurts, homestays and guesthouses.
4. Your leader will change at the Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan border.
5. As Central Asian immigration and customs officials are notoriously strict, please make sure you keep all forms for when you exit the country. A lost customs or immigration form could result in a fine or being detained at the border. You must also declare ALL currency when entering and exiting the country; keep all currency exchange slips or ATM receipts.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

Reviews

Our Central Asia Explorer trips score an average of 4.6 out of 5 based on 10 reviews in the last year.

Central Asia Explorer, July 2017

Anne Bowden

Central Asia Explorer, July 2017

Susan Walker