A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for 10xTravel on the Best Ways to Fly to Uzbekistan with Miles. That piece fueled a trip to the Central Asian country, and I had a plan to travel there for 2020. Because we all know what happened in 2020, the trip didn’t take place, so I put the country on a back burner until it was possible to visit.

Finally, Uzbekistan is open again, and I spent 10 days there at the end of September and early October. With two other travelers, I visited more mosques than I could count and ate as much local cuisine as I could fit in my belly. Here’s how it went.

Uzbekistan Trip Report - Mosques, Minarets and Mausoleums

Mausoleum Gur-e-Amir in Samarkand is the resting place of conqueror Amir Timur. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

How I Booked a Flight to Uzbekistan with Points and Miles

Because I had written the aforementioned article, I was also familiar with the ways to use credit card rewards for a trip to Uzbekistan. However, the way that I actually redeemed my miles will surprise even the most experienced award bookers.

So, let’s start at the beginning. After studying Uzbekistan’s unique geography, my friends and I decided to begin our trip in Khiva, a small city in the west, and move eastward all the way to Tashkent, the country’s capital, by train. The closest airport to Khiva is in Urgench, and that’s where we ultimately chose to start the journey.

route map to Uzbekistan

Image courtesy of Google Maps

Interestingly enough, Turkish Airlines flies to Urgench. This tidbit of information was unanticipated but turned out to be a welcome addition to the piggy bank of facts we were collecting while preparing for the trip.

For my award flight, I used the United MileagePlus program, but that’s not the surprising part, considering Star Alliance has the most travel partners and therefore the most options of flights into the region.

What shocked me was that United had a Business Everyday Award available for just 80,000 MileagePlus miles. Considering that a Saver award through the United loyalty program starts at 85,000 miles for a trip between the United States and Central Asia, 80,000 miles for an Everyday Award was an incredible find.

Furthermore, my friend and a fellow writer, Anna Zaks, found a similar award departing Cleveland, Ohio (CLE), so without deliberating too long, we both jumped on these flights.

My itinerary consisted of four segments, including travel from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Houston (IAH), to Frankfurt (FRA), to Istanbul (IST) and finally to Urgench (UGC)—with all four segments in business class on flights operated by United Airlines and Turkish Airlines. The flight from Houston to Frankfurt was on United Polaris on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with a 1-2-1 seat configuration.

United Polaris business class on the flight from Houston to Frankfurt

United Polaris business class on the flight from Houston to Frankfurt | Photo courtesy of Anya Kartashova

If you know me even a little bit, you know that I prefer to redeem fewer miles for more trips, and the same itinerary in economy class was actually available for 46,800 United miles. However, because I was looking at more than 30 hours of travel time, I decided to splurge for a business class flight and arrive ready to hit the ground running when the plane landed in Urgench in the early hours.

From Tashkent (TAS), I continued my trip to Tbilisi, Georgia (TBS), and redeemed 25,000 Aeroplan points for a one-way trip with Turkish Airlines.

What I Did in Uzbekistan


As I mentioned before, our journey began in Khiva, whose old walled city of Itchan Kala was the first site in Uzbekistan to be included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991. Itchan Kala once was the final stop along the Silk Road for the caravans to rest before crossing the Karakum Desert and continuing to Iran.


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Now, Itchan Kala is an open-air museum of well-preserved wonders of Muslim architecture.


Chor Minor (Four Minarets)

Chor Minor (“Four Minarets” in Arabic) is an entryway to a now-destroyed madrasa in Bukhara. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

Bukhara is another stop on the Great Silk Road, and it shows. The remnants of what once was a popular trading center are everywhere. We’re talking cobblestone alleyways lined with rug merchants. Old caravanserais (roadside inns) are bursting at the seams with handmade pillowcases, ceramic dinner plates and colorful textiles. Ancient madrasas (schools) are full of trinkets and souvenirs.

Madrasa Mirzo Ulughbeg

Madrasa Mirzo Ulughbeg has turned into a touristy souvenir shop. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

Shopping aside, the Historic Center of Bukhara is another UNESCO World Heritage Site worth seeing. The city’s original layout and historic monuments have been preserved and are impressive to say the least.


Not to sound cliché, but Samarkand is the crown jewel of Uzbekistan. It’s the exact reason we planned our journey west to east so as to not witness Samarkand’s grandeur first and be underwhelmed by the other cities the rest of the way.

Three madrasas and a mosque adorn the Registan Square in Samarkand. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

Three madrasas and a mosque adorn the Registan Square in Samarkand. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

The city’s famous Registan Square is enough to blow anyone’s mind with its Timurid architecture of three madrasas and a mosque covered with ceramic tiles. However, the Bibi-Khanum Mosque and the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis are the final pieces of ammunition that kill you with their architectural splendor.

The necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand

The necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand consists of more than 20 mausoleums and other ritual buildings. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

The most magnificent mosques and impressive monuments in Islamic architecture are located in Samarkand, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (surprise, surprise).


Unfortunately, a disastrous earthquake hit Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, in the ’60s and destroyed many historic parts of the city. Since then, it’s been rebuilt following Soviet architectural styles of the time. As you can imagine, Tashkent wasn’t the most impressive stop on the itinerary, but it’s where most of the flights go to and from, so we had to end the trip there anyway.

Amir Timur monument in front of Hotel Uzbekistan in Tashkent | Photo by Anya Kartashova

Amir Timur monument in front of Hotel Uzbekistan in Tashkent | Photo by Anya Kartashova

For me, the highlight of visiting Tashkent was going to a plov center. Plov is a traditional rice dish made with lamb fat, grated carrots and chopped onions. I grew up eating it in Kazakhstan as well, so seeing literal tons of it made in giant pans warmed my heart with nostalgia.

A food runner about to deliver orders of plov to guests

A food runner about to deliver orders of plov to guests. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

I’d say the second most fun thing to do in Tashkent is ride the metro. What? The metro? How much fun could going through dark underground tunnels be, right? Well, each of the 43 Tashkent Metro stations is designed differently, featuring artistic elements illustrating its name, and seeing some of the most beautiful stations is pretty entertaining.

For example, the Kosmonavtlar station looks like a space shuttle adorned with images of Soviet cosmonauts, and the Navoi station features ceramic murals with scenes from Alisher Navoi’s (a Turkic author) poems.

Alisher Navoi metro station in Tashkent

Commuters wait for trains at the Alisher Navoi metro station in Tashkent. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

A single-entry, unlimited-use subway ticket costs about 13 cents and keeps on giving as far as entertainment in a world capital goes.

How to Travel Between Cities in Uzbekistan

With its developed infrastructure, Uzbekistan is pretty easy to navigate independently. My friends and I traveled between cities by train. We booked our tickets online directly with Uzbekistan Railways (available for purchase about 40 days prior to travel).

Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara are connected by two trains: a high-speed Afrosiyob and a slightly slower Sharq. However, Khiva and Urgench are so far away, you have to take an old Soviet-era train to reach them, and that one is really slow. The journey from Khiva to Bukhara took us eight hours.

During our trip, we tried all three types of trains, and obviously the modern Afrosiyob train is the best option to use between cities if you’re not going to visit Khiva.

Afrosiyob train waits to depart Bukhara for Samarkand

Afrosiyob train waits to depart Bukhara for Samarkand. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

Once in Tashkent, we used Yandex.Taxi, a ride-hailing app similar to Uber. Although the vehicle quality isn’t what you’d expect in the United States or Europe, the cars arrived quickly and the rides were inexpensive.

Visa Requirements and COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

Depending on which passport you hold, you might or might not need a visa to enter Uzbekistan.

If you’re a U.S. citizen, you need a visa to travel to Uzbekistan. Normally, you could apply for an electronic visa through an online portal at e-visa.gov.uz for $20. However, the issuance of eVisas has been suspended since September. Now, one has to apply at the embassy and pay the processing fee of $160 for a 30-day sticker visa, which is what I had to do. Luckily, the consulate section accepts applications by mail, and you don’t have to travel to Washington.

All passengers traveling to Uzbekistan must have a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of departure from an approved lab.

If you need a test before you leave Uzbekistan, here’s the list of available testing facilities. For about $22, I took my test at a mobile lab Inter Med around 11 a.m., and the result came back around 6 p.m. that same day.

Although Georgia, my next destination, didn’t require a COVID-19 test in conjunction with a vaccination certificate, there had been some confusion as to whether a test was required to leave Uzbekistan. Apparently, citizens of certain countries (mostly those of non-post-Soviet states) had to present a test upon departure. I had taken a test just in case and was able to leave without issues.

Final Thoughts

Exploring Registan by day in Samarkand

Exploring Registan by day in Samarkand. | Photo courtesy of Anya Kartashova

After a tumultuous year, I’m glad that I’ve been able to re-create a trip that got swallowed by the black hole of 2020. Uzbekistan is quite a distance away, but credit-card rewards brought it within reach. I flew halfway around the world in business class and arrived ready and excited to explore a new country.