Essential Uzbekistan Travel Guide: Everything We Wish We’d Known

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Our Uzbekistan travel took us along the historic Silk Road on a journey of discovery to the wonders that are held within the country. Starting in Tashkent we traveled the country to uncover the very best of Samarkand, Navoi, the Kyzylkum Desert, Bukhara and Khiva. 

I can say without hesitation that Uzbekistan holds wonders you might only see in your wildest dreams. It is a place that embraces history and showcases an exotic side of travel with some impressive architecture and great stories. 

Despite the rise in interest around travel on the Silk Road, it is still a country that sees a small number of travelers each year. As a result, it can be challenging to find the information necessary to plan a trip there. 

Prior to our visit, we knew little about this fascinating country and what we could expect during our visit. We knew there would be great architecture and a great history to learn but continually came up short on basic questions like WIFI connections, language, and budget expectations. 

In this guide, we share with you the many highlights from our trip alongside all of the practical information we wished we had known prior to our trip. For those of you planning a trip to Uzbekistan, you’re in for a treat. For those of you that are just curious, what are you waiting for? 

Khival, Uzbekistan Travel

How to Travel Around Uzbekistan

First things first, while it is possible to plan your Uzbekistan travel independently, and plenty of people do, we highly recommend seeing Uzbekistan on a tour, like we did.

All of the experiences we talk about here are highlights from our Best of Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan tour with G Adventures.  If you’re considering taking a tour in Uzbekistan, this outline will give you a look into the experience you could have by booking this tour.

Taking a tour for our first visit not only helped us set the pace for a great trip but kept us on track instead of tempting us to divert from a plan to explore other areas.

The itinerary we experienced was specifically designed to introduce us to the wonders that Uzbekistan offers.

Disclosure: This tour was in partnership with G Adventures and was provided to us as part of our involvement as G Adventures Wanderers

If you’re planning to visit Uzbekistan independently, this guide will give you a good starting base for where you can go and how you should pace yourself for a great visit.

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Places to visit in Uzbekistan Itinerary

Tashkent - Uzbekistan Travel

Tashkent (2 Days)

It is inevitable if you arrive in Uzbekistan by a plane that you will end up starting your trip to Tashkent. An impressive Soviet-era city, this capital is a blend of the culture that defines the Silk Road and Russian influence.

As you explore the city, you come across tall grey buildings that fade against the backdrop. Every so often an explosion of color, in the form of blue tile, takes over the landscape.

Chances are high that you’ve flown a long way to reach Uzbekistan and will be suffering from some level of jet lag, so I strongly recommend that you fly in early and give yourself a couple of days to recover.

In doing that, use your time in Tashkent to enjoy the city. Get out and see the sights and get a feel for how things flow in Uzbekistan. The tourism authority has put in some great effort to make the city tourist-friendly.

Download the free app, UZ Pass, that will give you location information and story to all the things to do in Tashkent, and other prominent cities, during your trip.

They’ve also introduced a new city bus tour that departs from the Hotel Uzbekistan multiple times throughout the day. This is a double-decker bus that takes you to many of the top sights in the city over the span of a couple of hours. You can buy tickets from the driver and they have narration available in English.

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Places to Visit in Tashkent:

  • Hotel Uzbekistan: If you are not staying here, I recommend you at least pay it a visit. The architecture is impressive and very soviet. At night, they light up the hotel in thousands of colored lights. It’s a sight to behold.
  • Amir Timur Square: This square is located directly opposite the Hotel Uzbekistan. It features some impressive gardens, a beautiful statue and a museum about the Timurid empire.
  • Chorsu Bazaar: Harkening to the history of the Silk Road, this bazaar gives you a taste of the wonders that were once traded along this route. It is the biggest bazaar in the city and literally offers anything you could imagine for purchase. Including, but not limited to spices, sweets, souvenirs, and fresh produce.
  • Hazrat Imam Complex: The perfect place for the perfect introduction to architecture in Uzbekistan. This complex features many of the classic blue tiles, a madrassa, a mausoleum, and an Islamic Institute.
  • Metro Stations: Similar to the metro stations in Moscow, which are world-famous for their opulent architecture, Tashkent has its own impression to offer. Built when Uzbekistan was part of the former Soviet Union, they are among the most ornate in the world.
  • Minor Mosque: Built from white marble, this beautiful mosque gives a nice contrast to the varied architecture of the city. It’s impressive and worth a visit, although you won’t be able to visit the inside if the service is in session.

Where to stay in Tashkent

I touched on this briefly above, but I highly recommend staying in the Hotel Uzbekistan. The hotel is well located, right across the street from a nice park and directly on the metro line.

The hotel itself is an icon in the city and well suited for tourists. It has dining options, ATM, WIFI and English speaking staff.

Read reviews and check prices with our Hotel Search Engine, that gives you the best hotel deals found on the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you.

Registan - Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Samarkand (2-3 Days)

Leaving Tashkent, we headed south to Samarkand. While the capital city merely whets your appetite, Samarkand delivers the first course of your journey among incredible architecture and history along the Silk Road in Uzbekistan.

Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, founded in the 7th century B.C. Due to its location, it served at the center of major trade routes attracting travelers and traders for centuries.

Due to the importance of the location, Samarkand was once captured by both Alexander the Great in 329 BC and Genghis Khan in 1220. It became the capital of the Timurid Empire in the 14th century and throughout history has been ruled by Persians, Greeks, Turks, Mongols, Chinese and Russians.

Today, Samarkand is part of the UNESCO World Heritage list and is the second-largest city in Uzbekistan.

Shah-i-Zinda, Samarkand, Uzbekistan Travel
Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Places to Visit in Samarkand:

  • Registan: The most popular and most famous area of the city, the square features three of the world’s oldest madrasas. The architecture is simply unreal, featuring intricate detailing across thousands of tiles. This site should be visited both by day and night to witness all of its glory. During the day, the interior comes alive with many merchants and makes for some great local interaction and shopping.
  • Shah-i-Zinda: I loved Registan but was blown away by the unique beauty of this site. It features a compact avenue of mausoleums that displays some of the most intricate tile work in the Muslim world. I’ve never seen so many shades of blue, put together with tile, in my life. It’s a sight to behold and a real highlight of Samarkand.
  • Bibi-Khanym Mosque: Built in honor of the wife of the great Amir Timur, this mosque was once one of the biggest in the Islamic world. Today, it is a stunning display of intricate detail and is not to be missed during your visit.
  • Gur-e-Amir: The mausoleum of the great Amir Timur, this is a must-visit while in Samarkand. Not only does it pay tribute to one of the greatest known leaders of Uzbekistan, but this building also served as inspiration for the Taj Mahal in India.
  • Siob Bazaar: Of all the bazaars we visited in Uzbekistan, this one was the most alive. Visited by everyone that passes Samarkand, you’ll find some of the friendliest merchants in the country. Bring your appetite with you as the locals love to offer samples of the goodies on offer. This includes sweets, fruit, baked goods and more.

Where to stay in Samarkand

You have plenty of options for accommodation in Samarkand across all budgets. We stayed at the Zilol Baht Hotel and thought it was a good option. The rooms are comfortable, and the hotel has free WIFI.

It is within walking distance to several restaurants, which is convenient. The walk to Registan is not too far and along paved sidewalks.

Read reviews and check prices with our Hotel Search Engine, that gives you the best hotel deals found on the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you.

Aydar Kul Desert, Uzbekistan Travel
Sunset over Aydar Kul Desert

Aydar Kul (1-2 Days)

One of the things that make Central Asia such a great travel destination is the variance in landscapes. You can be in the mountains one moment and the next in a desert. Uzbekistan is really no exception to this.

Heading west from Samarkand, we made our way into the Kyzylkum Desert. Along the way, we stopped off in Navoi, where we had the chance to climb up and view the ancient remains of a fortress that was built by Alexander the Great.

The climb is steep but not too hard and well worth the views from the top. It is interesting to see the natural materials that were used to construct the fortress. Much of the mud and straw walls still exist today.

En route to our final destination, a yurt camp in the desert, we stopped off at the manmade Aydur Kul Lake.  The lake is one of three brackish water lakes that formed during poor irrigation planning by the Soviets. It is believed that this redirection of water has directly contributed to the drying up of the Aral Sea.

The lake is isolated from any major city but there is a small number of people that have settled on or near the lake. We stopped at a newly built beachside bed and breakfast to enjoy a picnic lunch and walk on the beach before heading to the yurt camp.

At the yurt camp, we enjoyed camel rides, climbing sand dunes, local music and entertainment by the family that owns the camp. Sleeping in a yurt is a must when you visit Central Asia and the experience is as unique as they come.

Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Dome Bazaar in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Bukhara (2-3 Days)

After being in the two largest cities in Uzbekistan, Bukhara was a breath of fresh air. The city is small and filled with historic buildings that are more than 2,000 years old.

Most of the buildings and monuments in the city center have been preserved over the last two centuries, meaning that a visit is like stepping back in time. With it being much smaller, you can easily see and experience all that the city has to offer in two to three days. 

We did all of our touring on foot, but there are options to use taxis, buses or tuk-tuk style transportation to get around the city. If you do nothing else, be sure to visit the spectacular dome bazaars throughout the city.

They are filled with amazing Central Asian textiles and handicrafts. The locals that run the shops are incredibly friendly and outgoing. Often inviting us in for sweets and tea while they showed us their offerings. 

Bukhara is a place to relax and exhale the fast pace from the previous two cities. 

Ark Fortress, Bukhara - Uzbekistan Travel
Ark Fortress Walls in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Places to Visit in Bukhara

  • Lyabi-Hauz Complex: This was our favorite place to relax in the city. The complex has a large pond that acts as the centerpiece for several restaurants and cafes. You can browse several merchant shops here, as well as listen to live music in the evenings.
  • Ark Fortress: Uzbekistan is full of impressive architecture, but few compare to the mighty Ark. This structure is the oldest in Bukhara and was the residence of its emirs for centuries. Be sure you opt for a guided tour, so you can learn the history and hear the stories. There is also plenty of merchants inside, so be prepared to do some shopping too.
  • Bukhara Tower: Get an impressive birds-eye view of the Ark Fortress from the top of the Bukhara Tower, as it is located right across the street from the structure. Newly constructed, the tower gives 360-degree views of the city too.
  • Bolo Hauz Mosque: Also located near the Ark, this unique temple features 20 intricately detailed wooden pillars that hold up the ceiling. It is an interesting contrast to the tiled buildings you get used to seeing.
  • Taki-Telpak Furushon: The shopping in Bukhara is fantastic with the best variety we found in Uzbekistan. This colorful domed bazaar offers plenty of souvenir shops with local handicrafts.
  • Kalon Minaret: Spared by Genghis Khan when he sacked and destroyed the city in the 13th century, it is a worthwhile stop for some photos.
  • Kalon Mosque: Located opposite the Kalon Minaret, this mosque features an expansive courtyard.
  • Chor Minor: All that remains of a great madrassah that once stood nearby, this gatehouse was built in 1807. It features four minarets that each represent a different religion, making it a unique stop in Bukhara.
  • Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah: This massive complex was built in 1652 and is a show stopper in terms of color and architectural design.
  • Bozori Kord Hammam: You haven’t been to Bukhara until you’ve experienced a traditional steam bath. This particular hammam was built in the 14th century and is one of the oldest in the world.

Where to Stay in Bukhara

The closer you can be to the center the better. We stayed at the Hotel As-Salam and it was just steps from the Lyabi-Hauz Complex, which in my opinion is the best place to be in Bukhara.

The rooms were large, very clean and had good air conditioning.  They also offered breakfast and free WIFI.  

Read reviews and check prices with our Hotel Search Engine, that gives you the best hotel deals found on the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you.

Khiva, Uzbekistan Travel
Sunset over Khiva, Uzbekistan

Khiva (2-3 Days)

Out of all the Silk Road gems in Central Asia, the city of Khiva is perhaps the most intact, remote, and preserved of them all. This medieval town is essentially an open-air museum. It has a fortress surrounding its inner city, which is home to dozens of ancient madrasas, mosques, minarets, and clay-colored houses.

Due to its location, we learned that many people tend to leave it off their Uzbekistan itineraries entirely. Having been, I can say without hesitation that you shouldn’t do this. The city is gorgeous with an equally fascinating history. 

Khiva, Uzbekistan
Historical center of Khiva, Uzbekistan

Places to Visit in Khiva

  • Itchan Kala: The main attraction of Khiva that resides in the center of the town. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is what draws people to this small town in Uzbekistan. Everything within the walls has been preserved and we highly recommend pairing your visit with sunrise and sunset viewing from atop the walls of the city. 
  • Tash Hauli: Featuring blue tiles, 9 courtyards, and 150 rooms, this palace is a must-visit place in Khiva. 
  • Juma Mosque: This is the most unique mosque you will encounter on your travels to Uzbekistan. It features 218 wooden columns throughout the interior of the building, each showcasing unique and intricate wood carving designs.
  • Kuhna Ark: Once the residence of Khiva’s rulers, this fortress is worth a visit. 
  • Watchtower: Once of the best sunset spots in all of Khiva, it offers stunning views of the ancient city. The tower is accessible through the Kuhna Ark.
  • Kalta Minor Minaret: This turquoise-tiled minaret is the centerpiece of Khiva and you won’t be able to visit without seeing it. Construction of the minaret began in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan with plans to complete the structure to stand at 80 meters tall. When he passed away in 1855, the structure was left unfinished at 29m.
  • Islom Hoja Minaret: If you seek aerial views of Khiva, be sure to climb this minaret. At 57 meters tall it provides sweeping 360-degree views on ancient Khiva.

Where to Stay in Khiva

Anywhere inside the walls of Itchan Kala is going to be the perfect fit. This allows you easy and instant access to the beautiful sites that reside in the ancient part of the city.

There are many locally owned and operated bed and breakfasts that feature comfortable rooms. These small inns have been built within the existing structure of the city, providing a unique vibe you cannot get outside the walls. 

Read reviews and check prices with our Hotel Search Engine, that gives you the best hotel deals found on the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you.

Uzbekistan Travel Planning Essentials

Uzbekistan Travel - Samarkand
Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Is Uzbekistan Safe?

Despite significant efforts by the local tourism board and a steady increase in foreign visitors, we were asked about the safety of Uzbekistan by anyone we mentioned the country prior to our trip.

There is a strong base assumption that any country that ends with ‘stan’ is a place overtaken by radicals and unsafe for travelers. This is something that couldn’t be more wrong.

The countries along the Silk Road, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan are some of the most interesting and underestimated travel destinations we have ever visited.

Formerly part of the Soviet Union, these countries blend a colorful nomadic culture with influences from both Russia and the Middle East in a seamless and unique way. As western travelers, we felt welcomed by the locals and entirely safe during our visit to Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan travel

How to get to Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is more connected to the rest of the world now than ever. It is possible to fly into Tashkent on direct flights from Europe on Uzbekistan Airways.

These non-stops are not offered daily, yet, but if your schedule doesn’t land on the same day as these direct departures, there are many options to connect you easily with Uzbekistan.

Flying from the United States, we connected in Frankfurt and Moscow before landing in Tashkent. Once in Uzbekistan, you can fly easily within the country to visit other cities.

You can also easily access Uzbekistan from other countries along the Silk Road both by land and air.

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan Visa

In mid-2018, Uzbekistan introduced the e-Visa for 51 countries. Noting an increase in tourism, they quickly expanded to 70 countries at the beginning of 2019. If you hold a passport for one of the 70 countries listed as eligible for this service, getting a visa for Uzbekistan is easier now than ever before.

Like other countries that offer the service, you can access the application on their website, fill out the application, upload a copy of your passport and a recent photo that matched the required specs and expect to receive an electronic copy of your visa via email in less than a week.

We found the process easy, once we were able to get our photos uploaded (full disclosure, we fill out documents like this all the time). There seems to be a glitch in the photo acceptance system, so once you make sure your photos meet the exact specs that are required, stick with it and keep trying. It will accept it, eventually, and you’ll have your visa in no time.

More information about the Uzbekistan eVisa process can be found here

Tour in Uzbekistan

When to Go

Like all Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan experiences a high and low season. Very few people travel through these countries in the offseason due to very cold weather. Uzbekistan is best experienced during the shoulder and high seasons.

Lucky for you, even the high season sees very few tourists right now. So push images of summer in Europe aside and don’t be afraid to travel during the summer months.

A breakdown by weather looks like this:

  • April to June: You can expect clear skies, sunshine and cool air. Combined, this makes the most optimum travel time and, in my opinion, is the best time to visit Uzbekistan. We traveled through both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan during June.
  • July & August: This time period is the height of summer and with it you can expect to experience some extreme heat. With the heat, you’ll definitely find price breaks on hotels and tours but the weather is no joke. It can be too hot to be out during the middle of the day, so take that into consideration if you plan to visit during these months.
  • September & October: The peak heat from summer has passed but you’ll still be warm. It’s a great alternative to the other months and I would say the second-best time option for visiting Uzbekistan.
Khiva - Uzbekistan Travel
Camel in Khiva, Uzbekistan

Taking Taxis in Uzbekistan

Once you’ve arrived at your hotel, getting around the cities is easy by taxi. The unique thing you’ll find is that most cars on the street will operate as taxis. Meaning you have both official and unofficial options. You can literally stand in the street, raise your hand and people will pull over and offer you a taxi ride.

In our experience, the prices are the same and both get you where you need to go. The hardest part is the language barrier. If you do not speak Russian or Uzbek, it is advised to have the hotel reception write down your desired destination for you prior to hailing a taxi.

Taxis in Uzbekistan accept cash only, so be sure that you have enough local currency on you before you flag one down.

Ark Fortress, Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Inside the Ark Fortress in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Getting Money in Uzbekistan

The local currency in Uzbekistan is the Som. As it’s a currency that features many zeros (too many in my opinion!), expect to be carrying around huge wads of cash when you exchange from USD or Euro.  

I won’t lie, there were a number of times we found ourselves frustrated in front of ATM machines while in Uzbekistan. The machines are everywhere, but we quickly learned they are rarely stocked with currency.

That said, do not rely on being able to withdraw money from them. When we first arrived in Uzbekistan, we were able to withdraw local currency from an ATM at the Tashkent airport without issue.

We were also able to withdraw from the ATM at the Hotel Uzbekistan.

After that, we never found another ATM machine that worked. That said, we were able to exchange USD at bigger hotels. The rates were very good, most of the time better than the official exchange rate on XE.

Uzbekistan Food

Food in Uzbekistan

As with all the countries along the Silk Road, you can expect a diet that centralizes around meat as the main dish. Beef, chicken, and mutton are the center staples throughout Uzbekistan.

You’ll also find a nice selection of salads, including Greek and Caesar, but not in the traditional sense. All of their salads, with the exception of the Greek, tend to be mixed heavily with mayo centered dressings.  I’m not a fan of this, but I love ordering Greek salad in Central Asia.

The tomatoes, cucumber, and feta offer the perfect freshness to the grilled meats. You can also get French Fries everywhere.

Traditional dishes that you shouldn’t miss out on our plov, manti (dumplings filled with meat and potato) and laghman (a type of delicious noodle soup).

Additionally, Uzbekistan has an intense tea culture. They love their tea and I encourage you to branch out and try some of the varieties they have to offer. Think old style infusions with unique spices in both green and black tea. They also have some excellent herbal options and very tasty honey.

Uzbekistan Travel
Merchant in Registan Bazaar in Samarkand, Uzbekistan


The official language of Uzbekistan is Uzbek and is spoken by 85% of the population within the country.  The country boasts a 99.98% literacy rate, which I find impressive. If you haven’t brushed up on your Uzbek, Russian is the next widely spoken language.

Although since their break with the Soviet Union, it is not a required language in schools anymore. With that movement, it is slowly vanishing from Uzbekistan as an official language.

Outside of the tourism industry, English is not widely spoken. If you are traveling independently, it is advised to have a phrasebook with you if you do not speak Uzbek or Russian and to hire local guides.

Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Internet & Data

As with most places in today’s world, Uzbekistan is well connected. Most hotels, cafes, and restaurants throughout the country offer WIFI. We found the connections to be relatively stable and speed was decent. Of course, do not expect the kind of speeds you would get in the USA or Europe.

With the increase in tourism, it is not possible to purchase a tourist SIM card on arrival at the Tashkent airport that offers data to stay connected during your visit. There are two main packages, 5GB and 10GB, stretching over 30 days of use.

The two main companies are UCell and UMS.  To make the process faster, we each got different providers. I ended up with UCell and David with UMS. That said, UMS was useless once we left Tashkent. It never worked in other parts of Uzbekistan which was frustrating.

UCell, in comparison, had service throughout our travels in Uzbekistan. They cost the same, so make sure that you choose UCell when you purchase a SIM.

Uzbekistan Travel
Silk rug weaver in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Taking Photos in Uzbekistan

As with all travels, respect in capturing photos or taking video is crucial. We found the people of Uzbekistan to be very receptive to both. Often times going out of their way to pose for photos or ask us to film them.

I can’t think of any instances where someone asked us to not take a photo. That said, we are always respectful in our travels when it comes to cameras. We ask, then shoot. If someone tells us not to, we listen.

In terms of carrying equipment around, we felt safe. Nobody looked twice at our gear and we walked around all of the cities with it around us.

Registan, Samarkand - Uzbekistan Travel
Bazaar inside Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Shopping in Uzbekistan

The local artisan shops in Uzbekistan are full of amazing handicrafts and deserve some time during your travels. Crafted with local products, you can get a large variety of art, plates, fabrics, rugs and more.

Each city features at least one main bazaar but knows that there are many other small shopping areas throughout all of the main cities. In Khiva and Bukhara, we encountered shopping along all of the major streets.

Even if you’re not into buying a lot when you travel, take the time to wander through the shop stalls. The items are beautiful, and the amount of skill required to make them will not go unnoticed.

Bukhara, Uzbekistan Travel
Central Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan Travel Budget

Uzbekistan is one of the cheapest destinations we have traveled to, ever. During our visit the exchange rate was around 8400UZS to $1USD.

  • Meals: It was not uncommon for us to sit down for a 3-course meal of soup, salad and main dish for around $5. Beer or wine was usually not more than $1-$2.
  • Taxis: Most taxi rides within the city cost less than $5, roundtrip.
  • Admission: Most of the historical sites require admission. The average ticket cost was around $5.
  • Camera Fees: Uzbekistan is place that charges for camera use inside ticketed sites. Most of the time the fee was 10,000UZS per camera. Just over $1USD.
  • Accommodation: As with most places, accommodation costs varies. Across Uzbekistan we saw prices that ranged from $10/night up to $350/night. Finding affordable accommodation that meets your budget is not an issue.
  • Transportation: We opted to see Uzbekistan on a tour with G Adventures. Transportation between cities was included for the duration of our tour. However, for independent travelers, it is possible to book private cars or take buses between cities. It is also possible to fly.
  • Tipping: As a traveler, be sure to factor in some budget for tipping your guides and restaurant staff. It is acceptable to leave a tip at your table if the service is good and the waiter is friendly. Something to watch for, though, is the added service charge on your dining receipt. Most of the places we visited added this automatically, so no additional tip was needed. It is generally 10%.

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Essential Uzbekistan Travel Guide: Everything We Wish We'd Known



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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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