Khiva: A Journey Along Uzbekistan’s Historic Silk Road

Khiva: A Journey Along Uzbekistan’s Historic Silk Road


After a bumpy taxi ride along the dusty road from Urgench, I was deposited outside the towering mud-brick walls of the old Silk Road City of Khiva. The taxi flew off back towards Urgench shouting out some directions to me in Russian as he went past, covering me in dust and leaving me in the baking hot summer sun to find the guest house he was supposed to drop me off at.

Khiva is an old place. It’s been the home of Khans and rulers out in the Central Asian desert for centuries. The walls have stood in some shape or form here for hundreds of years and today, although its former glory has faded and been superseded by the large, nearby Soviet built city of Urgench and by the larger Uzbek cities of Tashkent and Samarkand, Khiva has been painstakingly preserved and restored to give travellers a fine example of Silk Road architecture.

That’s why I was here, way out in the desert, one thousand kilometres from Tashkent, to see this historic Silk Road city.

Once I’d found my guest house in the shadow of the walls of Khiva, I went through the gates and into the maze of narrow alleys and old streets that make up the Itchan Kala – the old town.

In the old town, colourful minarets stood out against the desert brown mud walls and houses, and around every corner was a museum or a madrasa waiting to be explored. There were no cars in the old town, and I just wandered around from building to building, climbing minarets and taking in the history of the Silk Road in the shadows of the all-encompassing defensive walls.

This was Silk Road history at its best, at its most vibrantly colourful, and chaotically cramped. I got lost in the same dusty streets that have seen thousands of travellers passing through year after year, each on their own journey through the ages, stopping along the Silk Road to admire life in the desert, and history in the desert, just as I was today.

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SEE – Photos & Videos

WSE Travel - Khiva, A Journey Along Uzbekistan’s Historic Silk Road - Kalta Minor Minaret Khiva

Kalta Minor Minaret Khiva

WSE Travel - Khiva, A Journey Along Uzbekistan’s Historic Silk Road - Khiva Old Town Walls

Khiva Old Town Walls

WSE Travel - Khiva, A Journey Along Uzbekistan’s Historic Silk Road - Khiva West Gate Entrance To Old Town

Khiva West Gate Entrance To Old Town

WSE Travel - Khiva, A Journey Along Uzbekistan’s Historic Silk Road - View From Juma Minaret Khiva

View From Juma Minaret Khiva

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GO – Getting There

Uzbekistan is a vast country to travel around, cities are spread out and getting from one point to the next can take time if travelling overland. Khiva is connected to the capital Tashkent by domestic flights which are suited for those needing to speed things up, but it is also connected by bus, train and shared taxis to the neighbouring Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand via the nearby city of Urgench.

Urgench is just 35 kilometres away from Khiva, and this is where the majority of overland transport and flights will actually take travellers. From Urgench, it’s easy to find a taxi, or shared taxi onward to Khiva or even to take the local trolley bus.

WSE Travel - Khiva, A Journey Along Uzbekistan’s Historic Silk Road - Map

Khiva, A Journey Along Uzbekistan’s Historic Silk Road – Map

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Do – Activities & Attractions

The main attraction of Khiva is the ancient, walled city, the Itchan Kala. This is a beautifully restored and preserved example of a Silk Road City, an incredible piece of history in the Uzbekistan desert.

The Itchan Kala – the old town – is surrounded by high mud-brick walls and entrance is on foot only through the towering wooden gates. It’s a fantastic place to simply wander around, and inside there are many small museums, mosques and palaces that were built through the centuries by the mainly independent Khanate of Khiva – long before Uzbekistan existed as a Soviet state and then as a nation in itself.

The old town is a colourful affair, and the most impressive building is the bright blue and turquoise Kalta Minor, a huge minaret that dominates the skyline.

The nearby Juma Mosque has a fascinating wooden interior, held up by handcrafted beams, and the narrow Juma Minaret needs to be climbed for the best views over the whole of the old town, including of the bright Kalta Minor.

Outside of the walled city, there is modern Khiva to explore. Although not as historic, this is where the locals actually live, and it’s a great contrast to walk through the local market, try out the street food and to see how Uzbeks actually live today.

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Stay – Accommodation

The majority of Khiva’s accommodation is found just outside the old walled town, giving easy access to the museums and minarets, all of which will easily be within walking distance.

There is a range of accommodation standards available, suitable for any budget. Backpacker style dorms are available for 10 – 20 USD per night or standard basic rooms will cost between 20 – 40 USD. The budget hotels also tend to operate as money changers and travel agents and they will be happy to help you arrange onwards transport in share taxis or to arrange bus and train tickets. A great budget option is Guesthouse Lali Opa, situated just outside the main gate and offering good value dorms and rooms.

Pricier options are available too, with more upmarket rooms in fancier hotels costing up to 100 USD per night. The Orient Star Khiva is one of the only hotels actually inside the walled city, and one of the oldest and most well-known hotels in the whole country. Its position and heritage command a heftier price tag though.

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Eat – Restaurants

Local delicacies include the delicious rice-based Plov, which Uzbeks take pride in preparing. Each region has its own distinct flavour and Khiva is no exception. Other dishes include Manti, which are stuffed dumplings, and everywhere you go it’s easy to find Shashlik – meat kebab skewers – and Somsa, samosa style pastries filled with meat and vegetables.

The old town has many restaurants catering to tourist tastes, but outside the walls, it’s easy to find real local places too, especially around the market.

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Time – Seasonality & Schedules

Uzbekistan has a dry, arid climate. The summer months, especially June and July, are brutally hot and temperatures can easily exceed 40 degrees Celsius. The best time to visit is the end of summer, or the end of winter when temperatures are still not scorching but nighttime in the desert is not too cold either.

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Safety – Possible risks

Khiva is a very safe city to travel to and to walk around on foot. Locals within the old town are used to seeing foreign visitors, while those in the newer parts will be interested to see visitors taking the time to explore other parts of the city. The roads in and out of Khiva, as with anywhere in Uzbekistan can be potholed and drivers can be erratic, but it’s always possible to take trains for extra safety and comfort when undertaking long journeys through the country.

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).

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Pay – How much does it cost?

The Uzbek Som is the local currency, but this is a highly inflated currency and until recently, notes were only issued in small denominations, meaning people had to carry around stacks and stacks of Som to even pay for small purchases such as meals and transport.

Things are changing, and bigger notes are now being issued, while the government have also cut down on the black market money changing system, by allowing banks and official exchanges to trade money at the actual market rate.

Unfortunately, there are still very few ATMs in the entire country, so when travelling to Khiva ensure you have lots of US Dollars, or Euros to exchange into local Som, as getting cash can be tricky. The exchange rates tend to fluctuate wildly, so check in banks, hotels and at the local markets thoroughly before changing money to get the best rates.

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Responsible Travel – Best Practices

Staying in local guesthouses and supporting local eateries, an opposed to government-run operations, is the best way to support the local economy, especially as the government of Uzbekistan has a bad reputation in the international community for its human rights record.

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Reality Check – Be Aware

Khiva is a remote destination, and unless flying then it takes a lot of time to travel here. It’s an exceptionally well-preserved piece of Silk Road history however and worth the extra effort involved, especially as not so many tourists make it this far into Uzbekistan. Be prepared with enough cash, as this can be difficult to attain far out from Tashkent, and if you don’t speak Russian or Uzbek then it’s very handy to have a phrasebook or translation app, as English is only spoken by a few people.

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JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages

This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?

Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!

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