Usually, we do not pick up prejudices easily. But this time, the warnings had been explicit. Listening to other traveler’s stories, reading blogs and guidebooks, we had gathered certain expectations about traveling Uzbekistan. Well, reality proved us wrong. And in the end, only one out of seven prejudices came true for us. Let us de-mystify this country for you!
#1 – “Roads in Uzbekistan are in a miserable condition”
This is how we had imagined a typical Uzbek road: full of potholes that do not allow you to travel faster than 30 kph on average. Well, you can easily find these roads while traveling Uzbekistan. But the main roads in and between cities are pretty decent. They may still have potholes, but that kind that does not slow you down too much. The main highway between Tashkent and Nukus is good. Most of the time, you can comfortably travel with an average speed of 80 kph. The road between Urgench and Bukhara is a spotless motorway predominantly. One stretch of maybe 70 km west of Bukhara is potholey, however.
#2 – “You cannot find diesel in Uzbekistan”
Yes, diesel and petrol are not widely available in Uzbekistan. Most local cars and even trucks and buses run on gas. The availability of petrol and diesel at gas stations seemed to be much higher east of Samarkand. Of course, we had not yet been in need there. West of Samarkand, we found only one proper gas station with diesel available.
However, there is a lively black market for petrol and diesel. Just ask around at gas stations or at the local taxi stand and somebody will call one of the local fuel dealers. We always paid between 4000 and 5000 soms for a liter of diesel.
Do not expect good quality fuels. We were unlucky enough to catch the diesel bug on one of our first refills. So enter the country with a full tank and bring a spare fuel filter to swap it after leaving the country.
#3 – “It is impossible to wild camp in Uzbekistan”
Yes, you need to register with the local authorities from time to time. To do so, you have to stay in a hotel. They will put a registration slip in your passport, which will be examined upon departure. The general advice is that you should stay in a hotel at least every third night when traveling Uzbekistan. Our longest period without a single registration was five nights. In total, we were registered for seven out of 15 nights. We had registration slips from Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. They barely looked at them at the border. Neither did anybody at one of the several checkpoints along Uzbek highways.
Our advice is that you should approach the border for departure with a reasonable amount of slips in your passport. A single slip may look puny for a 30 days stay and hence give rise to further curiosity. If they see three or four slips, they are probably satisfied without any further examination.
#4 – “Traffic police is corrupt and will frequently stop you for no reason”
Apart from the fact that traffic police is made of plywood in most cases, we were not bothered by them at all. We did not get pulled over a single time, unlike in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where we heard police should be less annoying. The officers at the checkpoints were always very friendly.
#5 – “Border crossings take forever as they will search all your stuff”
Wow, we had heard terrible stories of people having to empty every single piece of storage space and every bag. Money, pharmaceuticals and porn is what they are supposedly after. Approaching the Dostyk Border from Kyrgyzstan, we were expecting to spend at least 4 hours to get into Uzbekistan. It worked out differently. We were done in 1.5 hours. Most of the time we spent waiting in lines. The inspection of our vehicle took less than five minutes.
Exiting Uzbekistan towards Tajikistan via the Oybek Border took just 10 minutes longer. But we spent considerably less time waiting in lines and more time at the vehicle inspection. Yet, we did not have to empty the whole vehicle. They searched the car for maybe 30 minutes. When they found our camera, they went through all the photos. We did not point them to our laptop, so we avoided further examination. To not lose control, we unlocked only one door at a time while the four officers were.
#6 – “It’s near to impossible to obtain an Uzbek SIM card as a foreigner”
Also this one is far from true. The clerk in a larger Ucell shop in Samarkand just needed a passport with one registration slip. He seemed to be quite familiar with the process and ten minutes later we had a working SIM card. We did not even have to pay the 1000 som cover charge for the SIM card. Ucell has a well translated English website. Coverage was good. 4g in large cities, 3g in most medium cities and bigger towns and 2g along the major highway.
#7 – “Everybody gets sick in Uzbekistan”
We had heard this from people who had been traveling Uzbekistan overland several times before. Unfortunately, we proved them right. We do not know whether is was restaurant food or water quality. The latter is not the best west of Samarkand. We always take the usual precautions, but sometimes it just hits you.
To put it into perspective, Heiner was not really sick either. After two hours of mild stomach problems he went to bed and woke up feeling normal the next morning. Anna, however, had to spend that day in bed..
What are your questions, prejudices and experiences about traveling in Uzbekistan? Please share them below!