Having gained independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan is a young country. But the roots of this vast land are ancient.
For centuries, this area of land was a major crossroads along the Silk Road – an age-old trading route that stretched all the way from China to the Mediterranean. Samarkand, one of three major cities dotted along the road, contains so many architectural feats from this period that it has been classed entirely as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See for yourself at the Registan, a wide plaza bordered by three mosaic-covered madrassas (religious schools) with bright turquoise domes. To the west, Bukhara offers similarly impressive landmarks, including the ruins of a 5th-century royal compound known as the Ark, while the walled city of Khiva further north is the most remote but best-preserved of the Silk Road cities. Here you’ll find stunning mosques, mausoleums and palaces towering over a labyrinth of streets. But there’s more to Uzbekistan than ancient history. Tashkent, the urban capital in the eastern region, is refreshingly cosmopolitan, while in the far north you can visit the Aral Sea – formerly one of the world’s largest lakes now on the verge of disappearing completely.
Hotels and guesthouses are aplenty in the capital, as well as in the Silk Road cities. Accommodation is quite limited elsewhere.