Uzbekistan’s history reaches back thousands of years, and today there are countless relics preserved in both its cities and deserted corners that give us astounding glimpses of the life and accomplishments of our predecessors in this region. The desert fortresses that comprise the Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm; the Ark Fortress where powerful emirs once ruled; the 2,000-year old remains of Ming Urik that now sit in the middle of a modern capital city; and the exquisite tomb of Tamerlane, whose exterior rivals many palaces, are all vestiges of former great empires.
The Ancient Cities of the Orient Tour is a 9-day expedition to Uzbekistan’s most famed destinations in Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and the Kyzylkum Desert. You’ll tour sights that are revered by historians, studied by archeologists, admired by travelers and preserved with pride by the people of Uzbekistan. Customize your tour by choosing the group size, time of departure and budget option best suited for you, and come prepared for a remarkable journey!
Overnight in your Tashkent hotel.
- Excursion to the Old City, including the Khazret-Imam Architectural Complex, which holds the oldest known Quran in the world. Also on site are the Madrasah of Barak-Khan (16th century), Tillya-Sheykh Mosque, Juma Mosque and Mausoleum of Saint Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi (all 15th century).
- Visit to Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent’s most well-established bazaar that includes a large selection of traditional Uzbek ceramics, jewelry, handbags, garments and more.
- Ride on the Tashkent Metro, an immaculate subway system with each station decorated in colored mosaics and ceramics to depict a specific theme.
- Walk through Amir Temur Square, with a massive statue of none other than Tamerlane himself at the center.
- Independence Square, including the touching World War II Mourning Mother Monument and the Eternal Flame.
- Ming Urik settlement, a stratified archaeological site holding 2000 years of history in the middle of Tashkent city.
- Drive to the Sacred Heart Cathedral, a 20th century Roman Catholic Church with beautiful stained-glass windows and Gothic-style architecture.
- Tour of the Applied Arts Museum, an informative collection of Uzbekistan’s finest handicrafts housed in an ornately decorated villa.
Tour duration: approximately 5 hours
Upon arrival in Urgench your driver will meet you at the airport to take you on a tour of Ellik Kala Region (80 km, 1-1.5 hrs). This area holds the Desert Castles of Ancient Khorezm, historically significant fortresses built during the height of the Kushan dynasty. Your drive will include stops at three major fortresses:
- Kyzyl Kala Fortress, a remnant of antique history from the Kushan dynasty.
- Toprak Kala, one of the most unique monuments in all Khorezm due to its size and architecture, which served as the capital of Khorezm in the 3rd century AD.
- Ayaz Kala, a Zoroastrian complex that holds on of the largest fortresses in Khorezm, with ruins dating from 4th century BC – 2nd century AD.
(Note: no guide will accompany you on Day 3).
- Kunya-Ark Fortress, the inner citadel of Ichan-Qala.
- Kalta Minor Tower, which would have been the tallest minaret in Central Asia had construction been completed; its name literally means “the short tower”.
- Muhammad Amin-Khan, the largest medieval madrassah in Khiva.
- Muhammad Rahim Khan Madrasah, one of the largest madrassahs in all of Central Asia.
- Juma Mosque (Friday Mosque), with 212 wooden columns and a minaret 32.5 meters high.
- Tash-Hauli (Stone Courtyard) Palace, resembling a fortress with high battlements, towers and fortified gates.
- Pahlavan Mahmud Necropolis, the former religious center of Ichan Kala.
- Minaret and madrassah of Islam Khodja, the vizier of the last khan. This ensemble includes a madrassah and a minaret with a viewing platform 45 meters high, the highest observation point in town.
Tour duration: 6 hours
Enjoy free time as you explore the old streets of Bukhara, whose alleyways resemble a living depiction of “A Thousand and One Nights”. Overnight at the hotel.
- The Lyabi-Hauz ensemble holds the largest artificial reservoir of medieval Bukhara (14th-17th centuries). This ensemble includes some of the largest madrassahs in Bukhara: the Khanaka Madrassah, Kukeldash Madrassah and Nadir Divan Beghi Madrassah (all 16th century).
- The Magoki-Attori Mosque is the oldest mosque in Bukhara (12th century).
- Walk through the four Trade Domes (15th-16th centuries), where you can join your traveling predecessors in purchasing carpets, jewelry, fabrics, ceramics and other handmade souvenirs.
- Continue your city tour of Bukhara to the Poi Kalyan Ensemble (12th-16th centuries), consisting of the Kalyan Minaret, Kalyan Mosque, Amir-Allimkhan Madrasah and Miri-Arab Madrasah.
- Explore the relatively untouched Ulugbek Madrasah (15th century) and Abdulazizkhan Madrasah (17th century).
- Head to the Ark Fortress (4th century), the ancient center of Bukharin statehood and currently home to a small museum.
- Stop by the Bolo-Khauz Complex, consisting of an artfully decorated 18th century mosque, a minaret and reservoirs that once provided water for the entire city.
- Complete your city tour of Bukhara at the Samanids Mausoleum (9th-10th centuries), the most ancient brick building in Central Asia, and the Chashma Ayub Mausoleum.
Tour duration: 6-7 hours
Continue driving to Samarkand (240 km, 3.5 hrs). Along the way, stop by the Rabat-i-Malik Caravanserai ruins and Sardoba, an ancient reservoir.
Arrive in Samarkand, the capital of Tamerlane's Empire. Check in to the hotel and have a free evening to rest or explore the neighborhood. Overnight at the hotel in Samarkand.
- Registan Square, the commercial center of Samarkand for centuries and Samarkand’s most famous site today. The square includes three madrasahs: Ulugbek Madrasah (15th century), Sher-Dor Madrasah (17th century) and Tilla-Kori Madrasah (17th century).
- A boulevard lined with workshops and souvenir stores.
- Bibi Khanum Mosque, built by Tamerlane for his favorite wife.
- Siab Bazaar, a multi-level complex where you can shop for souvenirs and sample sweets, fruits and Samarkand’s famous bread.
- Shakhi-Zinda, a burial complex built between the 9th-14th centuries. Climb the blue-domed path and explore more than twenty small mausoleums that line the broad alleyway.
- Gur Emir, the imposing burial site of Tamerlane and Mirzo Ulugbek.
- Ulugbek Observatory, where you can see the remains of a 14th-15th century sextant and tour the Ulugbek Museum.
Tour Duration: 6-7 hours
- Airport and train station transfers;
- Accommodation based on double/twin room in 3-star hotel with breakfast (7 nights);
- Accommodation in a yurt camp, shared room, with lunch, dinner and breakfast (1 night);
- Private, local English-speaking guide and entrance fees to the sights as per itinerary on days 2, 4, 6 and 8;
- Transportation during the city tour and transfers between Urgench- Ellik Kala-Khiva and Bukhara-Samarkand (1-2 ppl in sedan; 3-8 in minivan);
- Economy class flight tickets from Tashkent to Urgench (flight times subject to change based upon availability);
- Economy class train tickets for the Khiva–Bukhara and Samarkand-Tashkent routes (on rare occasions when the high-speed train is unavailable, we will replace it with a reservation on the regular train).