Come to Uzbekistan and be spellbound by its epic architecture and ancient cities, which all gives a glimpse into the fascinating history of the Silk Road. You can’t help but be blown away by its fabulous mosques, madrassas and mausoleums. Wandering the streets here, is akin to stepping back in time and discovering the country’s interesting past. Culture vultures will adore the technicolour bazaars, fascinating Soviet buildings, and parks in Samarkand. You can visit most of Samarkand’s high-profile attractions in two or three days. If you are short on time, then at least see the Registan, Gur-e-Amir, Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Shah-i-Zinda. Other top destinations include Bukhara, which is Central Asia’s holiest city and boasts buildings that span a thousand years of history. In fact, its thoroughly lived-in old centre has not changed much in two centuries. Most of the centre is an architectural preserve, and is full of madrassas, minarets, a massive royal fortress and the remnants of a once-vast market complex. A trip to Uzbekistan would not be complete without a visit to Khiva. This was once a major stop on the Silk Road as all the caravans stopped here on their way to China and back. Most of Khiva is an open-air museum. And the nucleus of this museum is castle Itchan-Kala. This stunning fortress boasts marvellous minarets, and stone-paved alleys that lead to a madrassa. If you are after more eccentric attractions in Uzbekistan, then be sure to check out the fast disappearing Aral Sea, the fortresses of remote Karakalpakstan, its boom town capital Tashkent and the ecotourism opportunities in Nuratau Mountains. Another selling point, is its friendly locals who genuinely welcome travellers onto its mysterious and mesmerising shores.
You can truly enjoy the best of both worlds in Kazakhstan. Experience the buzz of city life one moment and then total tranquillity with a trek up its majestic mountains and green valleys.
It’s biggest city, Almaty, is reminiscent of Europe with its leafy avenues, chic cafes, glossy shopping centres and hedonistic nightlife. The capital Astana, on the windswept northern steppe, has been transformed into a 21st-century showpiece with bold futuristic architecture. It is the place to see and be seen, so be sure to bring your selfie stick to snap photos of yourself with stunning landmarks. But you have to venture beyond the cities to find the greatest travel adventures. Be in sync with mother nature with a hike in the high mountains and green valleys of Tian Shan. Maybe you will want to search for wildlife on the lake-dotted steppe, or enjoy home-spun hospitality in village guesthouses. If you are after a truly unique experience, then you can even jolt across the western deserts to remote underground mosques. Kazakhstan is the world’s ninth-biggest country thanks to its abundant reserves of oil and valuable minerals. This means generally better standards of accommodation, restaurants and transport than elsewhere in Central Asia.
If you yearn to see the full majesty of mother nature, then there is nowhere else like Kyrgyzstan. This nation is defined by its natural beauty of unspoilt mountains capes, stark craggy ridges, and rolling summer pastures. A trip here brings to life its semi-nomadic, and yurt-dwelling shepherd culture. It's easy to see why Kyrgyzstan is the gateway of choice for many travellers in Central Asia, thanks to its visa-free travel. The vast majority of its main attractions are rural and high altitude, so be sure to time your visit carefully. Summer is ideal for hikes. Midsummer also sees Kazakh and Russian tourists converge on the beaches of Lake Issyk-Köl. From October to May, much rural accommodation closes down and the yurts that add such character to the Alpine vistas are stashed away. So, think twice about a winter visit unless you want to ski.
It may not be an obvious holiday choice, but those willing to explore Turkmenistan will be rewarded with a cultural feast for the eyes and mind. It is by far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asia’s nations. If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of the Silk Road, then this is the place for you. The ancient cities of Merv and Konye-Urgench inspire visions of caravans plodding along the ancient trade route. In fact, in its heyday Merv stood alongside Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo as one of the great cities of the Islamic world. A major centre of religious study and a lynchpin on the Silk Road, its importance to the commerce and sophistication of Central Asia cannot be underestimated. Another must-see here is the Karakum Desert, which is both mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful. The full Turkmen experience is ultimately about mingling with the warm and fascinating Turkmen people themselves. Along your travels, don’t be surprised if you spot golden statues of its bizarre dictator Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled until his death in 2006. He covered this little-known desert republic with statues himself and grandiose monuments while in power.