The Disappearing Sea

Uzbekistan adventure jeep tour package to the Aral Sea


Country: Uzbekistan View the route map »»
Tour duration: 5 days / 4 nights
Best time to travel: April-May, September-October
Itinerary: Nukus - Kungrad - Ustyurt Plateau - Sudochye Lake - Aral Sea - Muynak - Khodjeyli - Mizdakhan Complex -
 - Khiva - Urgench

The Aral Sea and the surrounding deserts and cities form a unique region in the heart of Central Asia, which, probably, has no equals anywhere in the world. Currently, the once large saltwater lake occupies one fourth of its original area, shrinking still more year after year, leaving towns and villages that once were on its shore in the centre of a white desert named after the disappearing sea, the Aralkum desert. The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air.

However, the sea is still alive and beautiful!

The jeep adventure to the Aral Sea is very interesting and adventurous, revealing the wonderful world of the Central Asian nature and unique oriental culture. The extraterrestrial landscapes of the little-studied Ustyurt Plateau, the gigantic blue mirror of the Aral Sea, once an important Central Asian weather regulator, the sorrowful ship graveyard - rusted ships frozen in the desert, the grandiose Mizdahkan necropolis, the ghost town Muynak, the hot sands of the Kyzylkum desert and the inner part of Khiva, left almost untouched since the medieval times - you will see all this for five days!

Travel to Uzbekistan and ride on jeep to see with your own eyes what happened to the Aral Sea. Find yourself amidst an absolutely different, unusual world, which will be so different from what you observe every day!

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Day 1. Arrival in Nukus.
Arrival in Nukus, capital of Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Transfer to hotel and check-in. Excursion in Savitskiy museum. Leisure time. Overnight rest in hotel.

Welcome to the capital of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic - Nukus, our starting point for traveling to little-studied Ustyurt Plateau and disappearing Aral Sea.
The city, which occupies an area of 200 sq km, is situated in the north of Uzbekistan, in an oasis in the southern part of the contemporary Amudarya delta, near the famous shrinking Aral Sea. Nukus is the sixth-largest city of Uzbekistan, with a population of around 250,000. It developed from a small settlement into a Soviet-style modern city by the 1950s. With the fall of the USSR and growing environmental disaster of the Aral Sea, the city’s situation has deteriorated. Contamination of the region by wind-borne salt and pesticides from the dry Aral Sea bed have turned the surrounding area into a wasteland.

Overnight rest in hotel.

Day 2. Nukus - Kungrad - Ustyurt Plateau - Sudochye Lake - Aral Sea.
Early breakfast at the hotel. At 07:00 in the morning departure from Nukus. Proceeding to Kungrad, then up to Ustyurt Plateau. Transfer to Sudochye Lake. Proceeding to Village of Urga, first Russian settlement in Khorezm and Aral Sea region, lunch en route. Then transfer to Aral Sea. Photographing canyons en route. Arrival at camp site; descent to shoreline. Dinner. Overnight in tents.

In the morning you are going towards Ustyurt Plateau (the town Kungrad) and then, through the village Sudochye, to today’s shore of the Aral Sea, the tragic fate of which has become an enormous ecological problem the whole world is concerned about.
We will stop in the deserted Village of Urga. In the 1950s it was an ordinary functioning fishery village on the shore of Sudochye Lake, with population of a few hundred. It was one of the first Russian settlements in Khorezm. The last resident left the village in 1971.

Lake Sudochye (Lake Sudovshin), once located in the delta of the Amudarya River, was the largest lake in Uzbekistan. Then it got shallow and split into a few smaller lakes. The origin of the names Sudochye (Russian) and Sudovshin (Uzbek) is different, though they sound similarly. The Russian one originated from the Russian word sudak (‘pike perch’), while the Uzbek was formed from the Uzbek words suv (‘water’) and shin (‘true’).

On the way you are seeing peculiar rocks once cut by water, and, maybe, mirages over the sand: though the sea has gone, the image of its mirror-like surface is still there. Absence of roads during this part of the journey is compensated for by the beautiful scenery of the opening shore and waters of what is left of the Aral Sea in the distance.

The Aral Sea, suffering from one the world’s worst ecological disasters, was the fourth-largest lake in the world and supported a fishing industry. It is quite young; according to one of the hypotheses it formed about 10 thousand years ago. It had grown shallow twice during its life, but each time its waters rose to the mark of 55 m above sea level. In the 1960s the inflow of the rivers Syr-Darya and Amu-Darya, which fed the sea, decreased: their waters were sent to irrigation canals to support cotton growing in other parts of the country. The ecosystem collapsed and the water retreated. By the 1990s the inflow to the sea had decreased tenfold, and the sea had split up into two parts: the large one with the Amu-Darya flowing into it, and the small one fed with the Syr-Darya. By 2007 the sea's surface area had further shrunk to 10% of its original size. Entire cities watched their economies vanish as the ships ran aground. Ecologists say that the sea will have completely dried up soon unless some emergency measures are taken.

After seeing the lake standing right on its present-day shore and having dinner you are spending the night in a tent camp pitched beforehand.

Day 3. Aral Sea - Muynak - Khodjeyli - Mizdakhan Complex - Khiva.
Landscape: steppe, desert, saline land, cliffs, bottom of gone-away sea.
Breakfast in tent camp. Proceeding to Muynak along the bottom of the disappeared sea. Visiting monument to the victims of the Second World War (now a monument to the Aral Sea), which is the highest point of the town of Muynak providing a wonderful panorama of the town and the bottom of the former sea.
Visiting famous “Cemetery of Ships” in Muynak. Next visiting a museum at the House of Culture in Muynak, where you can familiarise yourselves with the works of artists F. Madgazin and R. Matevosyan, who used to depict the Aral Sea and the Amudarya River. Lunch in traditional guest house of Muynak. Proceeding to and visiting Mizdakhan Complex: Caliph Erejep, Jumart-kassab hillock, half-underground Mazlumkhan-sulu Mausoleum, Shamun-nabi Mausoleum. Transfer to Khiva. Overnight rest in hotel.

Saying goodbye to once the much larger sea, you are going to the former port city Muynak.

Muynak is a city along the former southern coast of the Aral Sea. Once a bustling fishing community and Uzbekistan’s only port city with tens of thousands of residents, its industry almost entirely driven by fishing of the South Aral Sea; Muynak is now a shadow of its former self, dozens of kilometers away from the rapidly receding shoreline of the Aral Sea with the empty landlocked fishing ports. Today it stands empty; no water, no fish.

Muynak's major "tourist attractions" are the incongruous armada of rusting hulks that made up the proud fishing fleet during the Soviet era (they call it ‘a cemetery of ships’), and a one-room museum devoted to Muynak’s heritage of being a center of the fishing industry.

In Muynak you will best of all realize how sad the Aral Sea disaster turned out to be. Home to only a few thousand residents at most, Muynak's population has been declining precipitously since the 1980s due to the recession of the Aral Sea. Scientists say it is impossible to save the Aral Sea. Even with all the waters of the Amudarya and Syradarya, without taking any for irrigation, the initial volume of waters of the sea might return only in 200 years. Today the former bottom of the sea is called Aral-Kum (‘Aral sands’).

Then you are coming to Khodjeyli (“a land of pilgrims”), a town located at a distance of 15 km west of Nukus, where you are seeing the impressive Mizdakhan Complex (Necropolis Mizdakhan) with a large number of mausoleums and tombs dating back to various centuries. It is probably the only necropolis with sepulchral structures of different religions.

Grandiose ancient architectural ensemble Mizdakhan (IV century B.C. - XIV century A.C., XVII - XX centuries) is situated on hills, in 3-4 km to the South from Khojeyli town, not far from Nukus and occupies a large territory in 200 hectares. Mizdakhan is a huge ensemble of mixed-age antiquities and comprises one of the most ancient cemeteries in Central Asia (including the mausoleums of Shamun-nabi, Mazlumkhan-sulu, Caliph Erejep and a hillock of Jumart-kassab), and also a city of Golden Horde times, caravanserai, ruins of separate estates and palaces, remains of irrigation canals. During the period of Middle Ages Mizdakhan was a third large city in Khorezm.

Mizdakhan today is one of the most honorable Muslim shrines on the territory of Uzbekistan. In the ancient necropolis, traditions of Zoroastrism (Mazdaism) and Islam are interlaced: old burial grounds, ruins of the Middle age mausoleums, swollen ruins of ancient constructions, which have only the very top now, as their most part is hidden under layers of time and send. Many historians consider Khorezm a motherland of Zoroastrism (Mazdaism), which appeared much earlier than Christianity and Islam. When you step on the ancient land of the people of Sun, local old residents will surely tell you, that the tomb of Adam and mausoleum, built up above it and called World Clock in this region, are located just right here. As you have made a pyramid from seven stones here, you can hope for your cherished wish coming true.

Having heard these and other legends and beliefs in the necropolis, you are going to the fabulous Khiva, a city of ancient Khorezm.

Overnight rest in hotel.

Day 4. Khiva.
Breakfast at the hotel. Guided city tour in Khiva, visiting Ichan Kala (historical inner city), Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex, Kunya-Ark Fortress, Islam Hajji Madrasah & Minaret, Tash Khauli Alakuli Khan Palace, Juma Mosque, Muhammad Amin-Khan Minaret & Madrasah, and Avesta Museum.
Overnight rest in hotel.

Khiva is an amazing historic city called ‘a museum under the open sky’. Khiva’s Ichan-Kala ‘inner city’ historic part (also spelled Itchan-Kala), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a walled medieval Central Asian town being preserved as it was in the past - an artifact town. Although protected by the state and having the status of a museum reserve, Ichan-Kala is populated with real people, mainly artisans. Khiva has no tall modern buildings and wide roads with much traffic. It seems time has stopped here to preserve what was built centuries ago.

The best places to visit in Khiva:

All the sights of Khiva are compactly located within the historical Ichan-Kala old town walls. Ichan Kala is encircled by brick crenellated walls whose foundations are believed to have been laid in the 10th c. The walls themselves date back to the late 17th c. Behind them there are over 50 architectural monuments and 250 old houses; most of them date back to the 18th - 19th c. When you are in Ichan-Kala, you feel you find yourself in a Scheherazade’s story of 1001 Nights.

You can climb the stairs of the 44.5-meter-high Islam-Hajji Minaret - the highest minaret in Ichan-Kala and the symbol of Khiva - and have a fabulous panoramic view of the city from its top window.

Djuma Mosque, which was built in the 10th c and rebuilt in 1788 - 1789. It is famed for its hypostyle hall, which still has 213 wooden pillars of the previous 10th-century structure, decorated with unique carvings.

Kunya-Ark ‘old fortress’ was Khiva rulers’ residence and citadel. Since the end of the 18th century the fortress had been a guarded “town in the town”; it was hidden behind its own castellated adobe wall, not to mention the 10-meter-high and 5-6-meter-thick fortification wall of Ichan-Kala itself.

The complex of Pakhlavan Mahmud, the famous Khiva’s poet and a very strong and brave hero who became a local saint after death.

Tash Khauli Alakuli Khan Palace built in 1830 - 1838 is an example of Khorezm architectural grandeur of those times. The palace was built by order of Allakuli-Khan. All the parts of Tash-Khauli are connected with a labyrinth of dim corridors. The walls are richly decorated with white and blue majolica panels; the ceilings are painted brown and red; the windows have fancy copper grates. No part of the decoration is repeated.

Muhammad Amin-Khan Minaret & Madrasah built in 1845 - 1855 still impresses us with its splendor. It is the largest Central Asian madrasah. It was Muhammad Amin-Khan who conceived this Khiva’s largest madrasah. He also initiated the construction of the tallest minaret (known as Unfinished Kalta-Minor Minaret) to be 80 meters tall - taller than Kalyan Minaret (46 meters) in Bukhara and Qutub Minar (78 meters) in Delhi. However, the khan was killed in a fight against Turkmens during his Khorasan military campaign, and the implementation of the grandiose minaret project stopped at a height of 29 meters.

Avesta Museum in Ichan-Kala deals with the history of Zoroastrianism; Khwarezm, with Khiva as its center, is believed to be its cradle.

It is really worth seeing these and many other sights in Khiva "live".

We recommend that you visit Khiva’s bazaar and handicraft shops, where traditional Khorezm carpets, suzani tapestries, robes, embroidered scull-caps and an abundance of other souvenirs are offered. Only at the restaurants of Khiva you can taste traditional Khorezmian dishes that are cooked nowhere else in Uzbekistan.

Khiva is particularly beautiful at sunset. You can take magically beautiful pictures of the setting sun and the ancient city flooded with orange light standing on some elevation, such as the top of a minaret or an observation deck.

Overnight at the hotel.

Day 5. Khiva - Urgench. Departure.
Breakfast in hotel. Transfer to airport of Urgench. Departure.

You have made a trip to the dying Aral Sea. Your descendants may not see it "live" if it is not recovered. Witnessing the sea’s disaster today teaches us quite a lesson.

Travel to the shores of the shrinking Aral Sea is characterized by mixed feelings: grief and anxiety over the scope and immensity of the tragedy of the lake and real admiration for the beauty and magnificence of the Central Asian nature and the fairy-tale oriental architecture.

The aura of Uzbekistan’s historical cities feels distinctive, doesn’t it? If you had more time, you would see more interesting places in the country, of course. Maybe, next time? The hospitable Uzbekistan will always welcome you!

Cost includes:

  • Accommodation at the hotels 3* on twin/double share with breakfast;
  • Services of the driver with comfortable transport during the tour, including airport - hotel - airport transfers;
  • Sightseeing tour in each city according to the tour program;
  • Escort-guide in the Aral Sea part of the tour;
  • Sightseeing tours with local guides in cities;
  • Full service in the active part of the tour from 2 to 3 days:
    • Full board (lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch);
    • Cook, service staff;
    • Accommodation in double tents;
    • Sleeping bag;
    • Individual equipment (camping mat, kitchenware);
    • Bivouac equipment (dining-tent, tables, chairs, kitchenware, dining sets, toilet-tent, gas stoves etc.);
    • Communication facilities: radio stations, satellite phone;
    • First aid kit;
    • Bottle of mineral water per day/per pax;

Cost does not include:

  • International air flights;
  • Entrance fees to the monuments and museums;
  • Medical insurance;
  • Board in the cities.

Additional Services:

  • Entrance fees to the monuments and museums, listed above - 25 USD/per person;
  • Meals in cities (except mentioned):
    • Half board (evening meals) - 80 USD/per person;
    • Full board - 155 USD/per person;
    • Visa support for Uzbekistan - 45 USD/per person.

We choose the most conveniently located and reputable hotels for our customers to stay at hotels 3* - very comfortable hotels providing excellent facilities and services with notable for very warm hosting and home-like atmosphere; mainly located in or near city centers.

The tour comes with the following accommodation:

City Hotels 3*
Nukus Jipek Joli Hotel 3* or similar
Khiva Shams Hotel 3* / Shokh Jahon Hotel 3* or similar
Aral Sea Tents

Depending on the size of a group the following means of transportation are used during the tour:

Group From 1, 4 to 5 tour days From 2 to 3 tour days
Group of 1-2 pers "Chevrolet Lacetti" "Toyota Land Cruiser" - 1 car
Group of 3-7 pers "SsangYоng Istana" "Toyota Land Cruiser" - 2 cars
Group of 8-11 pers "SsangYоng Istana" - 2 cars "Toyota Land Cruiser" - 3 cars
Group of 12-14 pers "SsangYоng Istana" - 3 cars "Toyota Land Cruiser" - 4 cars

"Hyundai Grand Starex"
(up to 6 seats)

Hyundai Grand Starex

"Mitsubishi Rosa"
(up to 15 seats)

Mitsubishi Rosa

"Golden Dragon"
(up to 45 seats)

Golden Dragon
Air conditioner Audio system Safety belt Fold-back seats Lighting in saloon Air conditioner Audio system Safety belt Fold-back seats Lighting in saloon Fridge Air conditioner Audio system Safety belt Fold-back seats Lighting in saloon Fridge


Visa to Uzbekistan:

Visa-free regime for up to 60 days has been established  for citizens of countries below:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Armenia
  • Belarus
  • Georgia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Moldova
  • Russia
  • Ukraine

Visa-free regime for up to 30 days has been established  for citizens of countries below:

  • Andorra
  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Brazil
  • Brunei Darussalam
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • The Republic of Korea
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • Mongolia
  • Montenegro
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Republic of Cyprus
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkey
  • Singapore
  • the Vatican
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

A great number of other countries can obtain an e-visa to Uzbekistan by simply visiting the governmental portal

Read more about visa to Uzbekistan here »»


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is it necessary to get a stay permit (temporary registration of stay) while visiting Uzbekistan?
    Any foreigner to Uzbekistan is to get a stay permit within 3 working days (consecutive or not) during his / her visit to the country. If he / she stays at an Uzbekistan hotel or a guesthouse, such a stay permit for the period of stay at it is granted automatically. (Inquire whether the hotel / guesthouse you want to stay at provides such a permit unless your accommodation is organized by a host tour operator. Also make sure you are given your stay permit certificate with the seal of your hotel / guesthouse when you check out.) If you stay at other lodging facilities during your visit, you will have to get your stay permit from a local visits registration police department.
  2. What is Uzbekistan’s currency? Where can I exchange money?
    The national currency of Uzbekistan is the som (UZS). There are 100, 200, 500, 1.000, 5.000, 10.000 and 50.000-som banknotes used currently. The banknotes are similar in size but vary in color; they depict Uzbekistan’s cultural and heritage sites.
    You can exchange money at Uzbekistan’s National Bank outlets, most of the hotels and official currency exchange offices commonly located near bazaars and at shopping centers. You will need your passport to exchange money through them.
    Note that the most common foreign currency in Uzbekistan is US dollars. The US banknotes you exchange in the country should be in good condition - without defects, bad folds, worn areas and scribbles - or it will be hard to exchange them.
  3. Can I use credit cards in Uzbekistan?
    You can use Visa and MasterCard cards mainly in Tashkent and at fewer locations in Samarkand and Bukhara for cash withdrawals through ATMs (cash machines) in their large hotels or banks. You can also make payments with these cards at some hotels, restaurants and stores in Tashkent. However, technical failures of the card handling equipment may occur, so it is advisable to always have enough cash on you.
  4. What is the difference between GMT and Uzbekistan time?
    It is GMT plus 5 hours in Uzbekistan.
  5. Can foreigners to Uzbekistan use the services of a local mobile network operator during their stays in the country?
    Yes, they can if they have a stay permit to show.
  6. Can I bring alcoholic beverages into Uzbekistan?
    A person is permitted to bring a maximum of 2 liters of alcoholic drink(s) into the country.
  7. What maximum amount of cash can I bring into Uzbekistan?
    There is no limit on the amount of cash in a currency that is foreign to Uzbekistan a person can bring into the country. If you bring in over 5,000 USD (or the equivalent in other currencies), you will be given a ТС-28 certificate. If you bring in over 10,000 USD, you will have to pay a 1% duty on this sum.
  8. What maximum amount of cash can I take out of Uzbekistan?
    The amount of cash (in a currency foreign to Uzbekistan) you can take out of the country must not exceed the sum you brought in as per your arrival customs declaration. Taking out the amount exceeding the sum you brought in is possible if permitted by Uzbekistan’s Central Bank or another Uzbekistan’s authorized bank. Note that taking out Uzbekistan soms is not permitted unless they are several souvenir coins or banknotes.
  9. Can I use a photo / video camera at the tourist sites?
    Photographing and videoing at the tourist sites is allowed unless a site has a prohibition sign. They charge fees for using cameras at most tourist attractions though. Photographing and videoing is prohibited in Tashkent metro, at the airports and railway stations. Using a camera at the functioning mosques is possible if allowed by the worshippers there.
  10. What kind of clothes should I wear in Uzbekistan? Are there any clothing requirements for women in the country?
    Clothes made of cotton and other natural textiles will be the best choice in warm and hot weather. Both men and women will feel best in T-shirts and shorts. Your footwear must be comfortable, light and strong, since you will have to walk a lot. Have sunglasses, a light headwear and sunblock lotion.
    If you travel early in spring (March to the beginning of April) or at the end of autumn (October to November), it is advisable to take a windbreaker, a sweater or a similar garment. In winter the temperature may fall to minus 10°С or so, so a raincoat, a warm coat and headwear will be necessary.
    There are no strict limits on women’s clothing in the country. However, you should be considerate towards the local traditions, culture and religion. While visiting religious places women should wear loose garments covering most of their arms and legs, and of course the cleavage. Headscarves will also be advisable to put on. Note that you will have to take off your shoes while entering some of the sacred places.
  11. What languages do people in Uzbekistan speak?
    The official language is Uzbek; it is spoken by a majority of the population. Russian is spoken by the country’s largest Slavic minority and is still used widely in business and as a lingua franca, especially in Tashkent and other major cities. Tajik is widespread in Samarkand and Bukhara for their large Tajik ethnic minorities. Karakalpak is spoken in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan where it is an official language besides Uzbek. English is popular as a foreign language to study but there is little chance of coming across a good English speaker in the street. However, in the historic cities of Bukhara and Samarkand many young souvenir sellers dealing with foreigners speak elementary English.

Photos of the tour:

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