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Blast Off in Central Asia: 14 Days in Kazakhstan & Uzbekistan

Fourteen days, two countries, eight cities and one rocket launch: there are not many journeys that you’ll make quite like this one. Over the course of two weeks, you’ll be treated to all the important historic sites of Uzbekistan and its ancient Silk Road cities, as well as witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime event – the “Soyuz” rocket being launched into space from the cosmodrome in Baikonur. The itinerary route starts in the Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, and a trip to the highest sports complex in the world. After a journey through the rugged Kazakh landscape to the launch site in Baikonur, it’s then on to explore three of the world-renowned jewels in Uzbekistan’s ancient crown: Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand; each city as elegant and fascinating as the next.  

Highlights   Pricing
  • Watch, wait, and then feel the wall of sound hit you moments after the Russian “Soyuz” rocket blasts off into space from the launch site in Baikonur 
  • Don your ice skating shoes at the highest sports complex in the world, overlooking Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty
  • Peruse Khiva’s maze of ancient Persian buildings and assortment of elegant mausoleums 
  • Spend three days discovering Bukhara’s historic attractions, including Bahauddin Naqshband, a stunning pilgrimage stop epitomizing the unique style of this city
  • Walk around the mesmerizing Shakhi-Zinda necropolis in Samarkand, with its series of blue-tiled tombs and gorgeous mausoleums
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Day by Day Itinerary

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Day 1

After touching down in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, a short tour kicks off proceedings. Visits to Panfilov Park, Zenkov Cathedral, Central Mosque Medeo skating rink (part of the highest sports complex in the world) all feature on the bill. After lunch in Medeo, a short cable car trip Kok-Tobe awaits, which, as the highest point in the city, offers incredible panoramic views. In the evening, transfer to the railway station to take a night train to Tyuratam.

Day 2

The overnight train from Almaty will be pulling into the city of Baikonur just as the sun is rising over the horizon. Transfer to the hotel for a bit of rest and then it’s on to see one of the city’s main attractions: the Museum of Baikonur Cosmodrome History. The fascinating exhibits include various models of different rockets over the years, spaceship artifacts, and several personal items associated with the careers of Yuri Gagarin and Sergei Korolyov.

Day 3

An unforgettable, once in a lifetime (for most) experience awaits on this third day; today you will witness a rocket being launched into space. Watch, listen and feel the earth shake as "Soyuz" blasts off and into the earth’s stratosphere. Following the epic show, it’s on to visit two launch complexes ("Gagarin's Start" and “Zenith”), as well as the memorial house of Yuri Gagarin and Sergei Korolev.

Day 4

A good part of this fourth day will be spent on a train, as you make your way to the ancient city of Turkestan. The journey is comfortable, providing a full lunch and refreshments, and there’s the chance to take in the stunning Kazakh landscape along the way. Upon arrival in Turkestan, visit the incredible mausoleum of the great Muslim sage, Hodzha Ahmed Yassavi. There’s also time in the afternoon to check out some medieval bath houses.

Day 5

It’s a new day and time for a new country. The drive to the Kazakh - Uzbek border provides a perfect opportunity to stop off and visit the interesting museum in village Shaulder and also the Otrar ruins – a settlement which was once widely known as the capital of the province and the birthplace of the great medieval philosopher Abu Nasr al-Farabi. After arrival in Tashkent (a 4-hour drive), the capital of Uzbekistan, you’ll have a brief tour of all the ancient sites and places of interest in the afternoon.

Day 6

Leave hotel in the morning to catch a flight to Urgench. Lying 40 miles away from here is the museum-like city of Khiva; a maze of ancient Islamic architecture boasting beautiful palaces, awe-inspiring mausoleums and well-preserved ruins. On the agenda of the day-long tour are the Djuma Mosque, the spiritual center of Khiva with 212 wooden carved columns; Kunya-Ark fortress, former home of Muhammad Aurang-Khan; and the Tash Hauli Palace, a mesmerizing, intricately detailed building.

Day 7

Depart to Bukhara (around 7 hours away), crossing the Kyzyl-Kum desert and Amu Darya river. On the way there’s a scenic picnic stop for lunch together with a meeting some Karakul sheep experts – famous to this part of Central Asia. Arrive later in Bukhara, a monastery city, and historic a place of religious education and pilgrimage. Check in to your hotel and prepare for a full day of exploring Bukhara tomorrow.

Day 8

In the morning you’ll visit Lyabi Hauz Place – one of the most famous and beautiful places in this elegant city. The site is comprised of a plaza built of water with a series of buildings around the edge, dating back to 1620. This is then followed by a trip to the Poi-Kalyan place, with its Kalyan minaret, and Ismail Samani mausoleum – the oldest building in the Central Asia. Dinner is at the stunning Nodir Divan Begui madrasah with a traditional folk show.

Day 9

The legendary city of Bukhara really deserves your time, not only for its sheer beauty but also its wealth of fascinating attractions, so spending a third full day here is understandable. Visit the Royal Mosque of Bolo Khauz, followed by Sitorai Mokhi Khosa – the former residence of Emir of Bukhara. In the afternoon it’s off to see the Bahauddin Naqshband ensemble; an incredible pilgrimage stop renowned across the world for its central dome and intricate blue tile work.

Day 10

Say goodbye to Bukhara and begin the morning drive to Samarkand via Shakhrisabz (around 4 hours). The road goes through the beautiful mountain landscape and there’s a short sightseeing tour of Shakhrisabz (famous for its links to the ancient Tamerlane ruler) to break up the journey. Here, a visit to the Ak-Saray Palace – the summer residence of the great ruler – is a must. After lunch it’s back on the road to Samarkand.

Day 11

Waste no time rising on this eleventh day; the blue-washed city of Samarkand, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, is waiting to be explored. The day’s visits in this once Tamerlane-ruled empire include Bibi-Khanym Mosque, known for its huge blue dome that competes with the firmament; Registan Square, the heart of Samarkand with its three madrasahs; and Gur-Emir mausoleum, the burial place of Tamerlane.

Day 12

Another day sightseeing in Samarkand represents another chance to unearth even more of this historic city’s captivating past. Shakhi-Zinda, which you’ll visit in the morning, is a mini necropolis comprised of narrow streets with looming buildings, sparkling blue-tiled tombs and various mausoleums. Then, head to Ulugbek observatory (the first and biggest observatory in Central Asia) and finish off with a visit to a traditional paper-making factory in the afternoon.

Day 13

It’s time to leave Samarkand and make your way back to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. The 400-mile journey takes you across the rugged, enthralling terrain of Uzbekistan for one last time, and there’s a chance to stop off at Bakhmal village for a quick lesson on how cotton honey is made. After arrival and check-in at your Tashkent hotel, make some last city visits before a farewell dinner.

Day 14

Your two-week discovery through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan has come to an end. Enjoy a buffet-breakfast at the hotel before a comfortable morning check-out. Private transport takes you to the airport for your onward flight to your next destination.


Suggested Accommodations

Hyatt Regency Almaty, Ritz-Carlton Almaty

Hyatt Regency Almaty

Lying between the Alatau Mountains and the surrounding plains, the Hyatt Regency Almaty is a five-star hotel boasting some excellent facilities and even better views. As soon as you step inside the impressive lobby and are greeted by the friendly staff, the reasons become clear as to why this is one of the most popular hotels in town. The 285 elegant and well thought out rooms and suites include all the modern conveniences expected with a luxury hotel, such as air conditioning, mini-bar, high-speed Wi-Fi broadband and a satellite TV. Guests also have the choice of two fine restaurants. The Grill serves up mouth-watering steaks while the other, Dzhambul Restaurant, has a wide variety of local and international flavors on its menu. There’s also a beer garden out back – a great spot for sinking a few cool ones on a warm summer’s day.


Ritz-Carlton Almaty

Occupying the top ten floors of the Esentai Tower, the Ritz Carlton enjoys unrivalled views of Almaty and the sweeping, jagged, snow-peaked Ile-Alatau mountain range. Guests choosing to stay here have the best of both worlds with easy access to the city and all its famous historic sights as well as the ski slopes in the national park to the south. After a long day on the piste or exploring the city, guests can ascend the escalator into the luxurious surroundings and enjoy all that the hotel has to offer. With restaurants and bars decorated with the latest works from the hottest modern artists in the country, from cocktails with a view to sumptuous dishes prepared with expertise, dining and drinking at the Ritz Carlton is a feast for the senses. Rooms and suites boast stunning panoramas and are fitted with every modern convenience and comfort. Meanwhile, the acclaimed Six Senses Spa offers a retreat from the stresses of everyday life. 

Sputnik Hotel

Sputnik Hotel

The aptly named Sputnik Hotel is located in the heart of Baikonur, a region famous for being home to Cosmodrome and Russian-controlled rocket launch pad-site. As well as being located close to the region’s main attraction, this four-star hotel also boasts a large swimming pool, a health club, conference rooms, and 120 well-appointed guestrooms, making this one of the largest accommodation options of its type in Baikonur. Each room is well-equipped with modern conveniences including Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, televisions, heating controls and refrigerators. There is also an on-site restaurant and bar at the hotel, meaning that guests don’t have to venture outside for food and drinks late at night.

The Turkestan Hotel

The Turkestan Hotel

Hotel Turkestan, quite appropriately, lies at the heart of Turkestan city in South Kazakhstan. Guests have a choice of standard rooms (double or twin) or can upgrade to a deluxe. The no-frills rooms are basic and could do with a bit of an upgrade, although that's not to say they don't offer a comfortable stay for one or two nights. The grand lobby does its best to bump up the star-rating of the Turkestan, and there's also a bar and restaurant serving a buffet-style breakfast every morning. The real reason guests stop here is to explore the surrounding region, which boasts various attractions illustrating area's rich and long history. The city of Turkestan, about 200 miles northwest of the larger Taraz city, has played a significant role in shaping Kazakhstan into the country it is today, and this city is considered to be sacred for many Kazakhs.
Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace , International Hotel Tashkent, Miran International Hotel

Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace

Perfectly located for business, vacation and travel, the Tashkent palace is situated in the center of the Uzbek capital, just a ten minute drive from the international airport and within easy strolling distance of the fountains of the city park, the international ceramics garden, Amir Temur Square and the Alisher Navoi Opera. Built in traditional Uzbek style, the hotel features all the modern conveniences required by international travelers. All 232 rooms feature en-suite bathrooms, satellite television, mini bar and air conditioning as well as views of beautiful Tashkent. After a hard day’s sightseeing, enjoy Uzbek and international cuisine in the hotel restaurants, one of which is open air and offers views of the city and a fountain show. The hotel also has spa and fitness amenities including an outdoor pool, a gym and sauna and massage facilities to ensure guests are fully relaxed during their stay.


International Hotel Tashkent

This property lies in the heart of Tashkent with all the marvellous sights and sounds, museums, mosques and bazaars just minutes away. The International Hotel Tashkent is just 20 minutes’ drive from the airport and within walking distance of the beautiful and peaceful Japanese Garden. The elegantly appointed rooms range from standard to presidential and all are equipped with mini-bar, air conditioning, satellite television and WiFi. Enjoy fine dining and international cuisine in the Allegro Restaurant; relax with beautiful lake views and a barbecue at bright and fresh Brasserie on the Park or sip cocktails in one of the hotel bars. Aquarius Spa is fully-equipped to provide full relaxation and regain harmony of body and soul with massage, gym and sauna facilities, a gorgeous pool and even yoga classes are available. Whilst it wouldn't rank as an international 5-star standard hotel, it's the best hotel in the city. 


Miran International Hotel

The Miran International Hotel offers comfort and convenience for business and leisure travelers in the heart of Tashkent. Its 140 spacious rooms feature all mod cons including 42-inch flat-screen televisions and high-speed WiFi, while the en-suite bathrooms are equipped with toiletries and bathrobes. The hotel offers a range of cuisines in its restaurant as well as banqueting and conference facilities. What’s more, guests can spend their leisure time relaxing with a game of billiards or in the health club with its year-round indoor pool, sauna, jacuzzi and gym. Within walking distance to Amir Timur Square and its museum and just a short drive to the treasures of Chorsu Bazaar and the beautiful Khast Imam Mosque, this hotel surely offers something for all visitors to Tashkent.

Asia Khiva, Malika Kheyvak Hotel, Malika Khiva Hotel

Asia Khiva

This comfortable is perfectly situated in the city center, next to the southern entrance to Itchan Kala - the old town. Within walking distance are some of ancient Khiva’s  most famous sites, including the Stone Palace, Citadel Kunya-Ark and the Djuma mosque with its carved wooden columns. The hotel has 132 rooms, all of which feature air conditioning, refrigerators, wireless internet and satellite television as standard and though not necessarily modern and luxurious, the authentic charm of the decor is in keeping with the city surroundings. The hotel restaurant serves international cuisine and guests can dine inside or out on the terrace. After a hot and tiring day discovering Khiva’s historic sites, unwind by the outdoor pool or take advantage of the sauna facilities. 


Malika Kheyvak Hotel

This comfortable hotel, although relatively modern, is built and decorated tastefully in the authentic Uzbek style so that guests enjoy all the conveniences in an environment of intricate wood carvings, elaborate Khiva carpets and traditional design. Located within the crenellated walls of the Itchan Kala fortress, it sports stunning views of the skyscraping Islam Khoja Minaret and is a short walk from the mausoleum of Pahlavan Mahmud. The hotel restaurant serves delicious Uzbek cuisine and there are acclaimed local wine varieties, as well as international brands of spirits, available at the hotel bar, while the summer terrace offers wonderful views of the old city so that guests can relax and unwind, fully immersed in the marvellous culture of the city. All single and double rooms have en-suite bathrooms, satellite television and a mini bar. 


Malika Khiva Hotel

Since 2004, the Malika Khiva hotel has been charming and enchanting its guests with its blend of old world authenticity, modern convenience and colorful, quirky decor. Situated at the very entrance of Itchan Kala at Ata Darvaza and built to look like a madrasah, it serves as a perfect doorway into the old town of ancient Khiva and boasts the very best views in the city. The gorgeous main hall and reception area is decked out with colorful hanging Uzbek carpets, traditionally dressed dolls and even features a giant novelty chess set and classic Silk Road bullock cart for guests to enjoy upon check-in. The bright and cozy single and double rooms each have their own en-suite bathroom, air conditioning and satellite television; the hotel restaurant serves up tasty Uzbek dishes and room service is available 24 hours a day.

Asia Bukhara, Lyabi Khauz Hotel, Omar Khayyam Hotel

Asia Bukhara

Built in 2006, this 96-room hotel in central Bukhara allows guests easy access to the city’s main historic attractions. Part of a respected hotel chain within Uzbekistan, the Asia Bukhara Hotel is built in the style of a traditional madrasa and offers travelers welcoming three-star service, with facilities that include an outdoor swimming pool, business center with conference rooms and fitness center. The hotel also offers massage services to help travelers recuperate after a day exploring Bukhara’s ancient sites. Guest rooms include a modern bathroom with tub and shower, a minibar, air conditioning, satellite TV, and in the deluxe rooms, a safe. The on-site restaurant serves up national and international dishes and a bar and nightclub gives visitors the chance to socialize with fellow travelers and locals after hours. The Asia Bukhara Hotel is located in the heart of the ancient city, and guests will find many historic sites of note within walking distance.


Lyabi Khauz Hotel

Positioned in the heart of the Old City, Lyabi Khauz Hotel provides warm Uzbek hospitality in a beautifully restored 19th-century house. All 40 rooms have been refurbished in a comfortable, modern manner with traditional Uzbek accents and mod-cons such as satellite TV, air conditioning, fridge, work desk and full bathroom. Accommodation is available as single, twin or triple rooms with the option of a Junior Suite for travelers who require more space. Among the highlights of this beautiful hotel are its original facade and a central dining room and hall with ornate tiles and antique decorations. The place was designed and built by architect Usta Shirin Murad, whose other works include the Summer Palace of the Emir of Bukhara and the Ballet Theatre. Not only is the hotel a valuable part of Bukhara heritage itself, it’s located in the historic center of town, within steps of the 16th-century Silk Road marketplace where travelers can pick up souvenirs and handicrafts. The Lyabi Khauz Hotel is also equipped with a business center, bar, 24-hour room service and laundry service. The restaurant serves up more than 100 local Uzbek dishes, plus international favorites and vegetarian fare. 


Omar Khayyam Hotel

Named after the legendary philosopher, astronomer, mathematician and poet, the Omar Khayyam Hotel offers guests an authentic experience in the heart of ancient Bukhara. With 22 rooms, including one apartment-style studio and several deluxe suites, this property features ornate stucco arches and balconies that overlook a central courtyard. In-room amenities include satellite TV, air-conditioning, fridge, work desk and modern bathroom with hairdryer. The restaurant serves up traditional Uzbek meals as well as European dishes, vegetarian fare and Korean cuisine. In the summertime, the courtyard sets the scene for an open-air bar and cafe, providing a wide range of drinks and a taste of local sweets. For the executive traveler, there’s a business center with internet access and safety boxes. The hotel also provides laundry services and access to medical care, if required. Many of this UNESCO city’s major historic attractions - the Po-i-Kalyan complex and the 5th-century Ark-Citadel, for instance - are within walking distance of the hotel. 

Grand Samarkand Hotel, Grand Samarkand Superior Hotel, Registan Plaza, Samarkand Plaza

Grand Samarkand Hotel

This four-star hotel is located within a mile of the Old Town and Registan Square. It offers spacious, traditional-style rooms with free WiFi, TVs with international satellite channels, and ambient sitting area with open fireplace. The on-site restaurant offers local and international meals, with an emphasis on warm Uzbek hospitality and traditional breakfast served each morning. The streets surrounding the hotel also offer a range of restaurants for guests wanting to explore their surrounds. The centerpiece of the hotel is a picturesque garden courtyard with seating where travelers can enjoy breakfast or relax with a drink after a day of sightseeing. The Grand Samarkand Hotel is a favorite in the area for its quaintly decorated rooms and boutique feel. The architecture of the building and the detail in its stained glass and ironwork reflect the craftsmanship still evident in Samarkand’s old quarter. The hotel is located opposite its sister property - the Grand Samarkand Superior - which has a business center, fitness center and rooftop swimming pool.


Grand Samarkand Superior Hotel

This elegant hotel is located close to the heart of historic Samarkand, convenient for shopping and within a mile of the famous Registan Square and Old Town. Rooms at the Grand Samarkand Superior Hotel are decorated in a traditional manner, with Uzbek carpets and Silk Road textiles creating a cozy, comfortable ambience. Modern in-room technology includes a flat-screen TV with satellite and USB connectivity, air conditioning and free WiFi. Bathrooms amenities include robes, slippers and hairdryer. Aside from single and twin/double rooms, larger apartment-style rooms are also available for guests who require more living space. The hotel has a wide array of facilities, including a Finnish sauna, a rooftop pool with sun loungers, a fitness center with cardio machines and free weights, and a well-equipped business center offering a range of executive services. The onsite restaurant serves up Western and traditional Uzbek cuisine, with a fine collection of wines to match and a pianist providing live music every night. Just across the road is the hotel’s sister property, the Grand Samarkand Hotel. 


Registan Plaza

This large, atrium-style hotel located in the center of Samarkand offers traditional Uzbek hospitality in a modern setting. Conveniently placed both for business and leisure travelers, this four-star property offers well-equipped rooms with satellite TV with English-language channels, air conditioning, Egyptian cotton linens, mini-bar and work desk. Accommodation is spread over seven floors, with 166 rooms in total, with a deluxe category offering the most space and luxury for guests. The hotel has an indoor pool, massage services, gift shop, bar and lounge area with fee-based WiFi, 24-hour room service and complimentary daily newspapers. The hotel is located within walking distance to Central Park and Registan Square, with Bibi Khanym Mosque, Sher Dor Madrasah and most other major historic sites also within an easy stroll. The restaurant serves up local and European dishes buffet-style for breakfast and dinner with staff well-trained in serving the needs of an international clientele.


Samarkand Plaza

Undoubtedly the best hotel in the city, the Plaza offers international standard service and convenience. Rooms from twins to suites are all comfortably appointed and come well equipped with air conditioning, satellite television, high-speed internet and well stocked mini-bar. Thanks to its location right in the heart of ancient Samarkand, it is the ideal base from which to explore the treasures of the city. After a long day of sightseeing, relax in one of two hotel restaurants for a range of Uzbek and international dishes, lounge with a drink in the bar or take advantage of the pool with its sauna and fitness facilities. 

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From Travelogues
Jay Tindall was amazed by Uzbekistan's cultural diversity, its 2700-year old history and its mosques, markets and friendly people.
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