Useful tips for traveling around Central Asia
Make sure to sort your visas out
Although most of the countries in Central Asia offer visa free stays, you need a visa to enter Tajikistan for example. If you already know which date you want to enter Tajikistan, apply for a visa as soon as you can. Although most people usually don’t have a problem with the visa, and the normal waiting time is between 1-2 business days, I had to wait for more than 10 business days to get my visa. I underestimated the time to get the visa so I planned to go to Tajikistan within 4 days after I had applied for the visa. Was that possible? No. Instead, I was stuck in Uzbekistan in a small city, just sitting and waiting for my visa. Apparently a lot more people experienced having issues with this so it could be wise to sort out your visas in good time.
If you’re going to hike a lot in Central Asia, bring good equipment with you. Although you can almost always rent equipment such as hiking poles, tents and sleeping bags, it’s always wise to have a pair of really good hiking shoes (don’t come with sneakers), rain jacket (since it will guaranteed be raining) and thicker clothes that will keep you warm at night. You should also pack more modest clothes with you since it’s a bit more conservative in some places in Central Asia such as Uzbekistan for example. I brought more long pants, long sleeve shirts, etc., instead of shorts and tops. I didn’t use my shorts until I got to Almaty and Bishkek.
Don’t bring MasterCard
Believe it or not, but this was one of my main problems in Central Asia. I read somewhere that it was best to travel with a Visa card, but since I didn’t have time to sort it out, I decided to just let it be. But I really regret not sorting that out before I left because it’s quite hard to find an ATM in Central Asia that accepts Mastercard, especially in Uzbekistan. There were times when we were walking for 2 hours looking for an ATM that accepted Mastercard. It’s not impossible to find one, but it’ll save you so much time and effort if you travel with a Visa card.
Learn a bit of Russian or local language
Although no one expects you to be an expert in Russian, it’s quite useful if you learn a bit of the language. If you’re haggling for prices for example, it could be good to know numbers and asking “how much?” or simply be able to say “thank you” in the local language. You’ll come far with body language, but the locals really appreciate it when you learn a bit of the local language. Besides that, it could be really useful if you comprehend the cyrillic alphabet.