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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan

Birding the Silk Road

Tour Information

Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for Tours to Central Asia. Its purpose is solely to give readers a sense of what might be involved if they take this tour. Although we do our best to make sure that what follows here is completely accurate, it should not be used as a replacement for the formal document which will be sent to all tour registrants, and whose contents supersedes any information contained here.

ENTERING UZBEKISTAN: United States citizens no longer need an invitation letter or any form of visa support, but do need a passport valid for six months after the date of entry and with at least one blank visa page, and a single-entry visa. 

You must complete the visa application online here: WINGS will send you all the necessary paperwork closer to departure. Should you need other information, the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan is located at 1746 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036; tel (202) 887-5300 or (202) 530-7282; fax (202) 293-6804; website:

ENTERING KAZAKHSTAN: At the time of this writing (May 2015), United States citizens do not need a visa for trips of up to 15 days, but will need a passport valid for six months after the date of entry and with at least one blank page for an entry stamp. Further visa details are available at the Consul’s website: .

Note:  It is essential that citizens of other countries contact their nearest embassies or consulates for both countries to see if they require official letters of invitation. If you do, please notify the WINGS office as soon as you book so that we can let you know what we need from you to have the letters of invitation issued. Note that some countries do not have either a Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan Embassy and people living in these countries will have to apply to alternate Embassies. However it is possible to obtain a visa for both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan on arrival in the country. We can advise you on this nearer the time.

COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information on Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan at

and respectively.

You can also review the CIA World Factbook background notes on Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan at and respectively. 

PACE OF TOUR:  Participants should have a reasonable degree of fitness and be prepared for the occasional discomfort. There will be some very early starts such as the day we visit the Kyzyl-Kum Desert as we need to be there very early to avoid the intense midday heat. During an average trip there are some departures at 5:00am or 5:30am but typically the day starts around 6:00am. We usually finish around 6:00pm although there may be longer days if we have a lot of travelling to return to our hotel or if we are taking a late domestic flight. 

Central Asia is a big place and as a result, we have to cover a lot of ground to get to all the various habitats. Consequently there are some long drives, the longest being from Bukhara to Samarkand and from Samarkand to Tashkent, each around four hours in duration, but the drives out east from Almaty, and north into the Taukum Desert are also drives of around three hours duration. One day in the steppe around Astana involves a long drive to get to the main areas, and back. In the mountains some uphill walking is inevitable but we do all we can to keep this to a minimum. 

Camping will obviously be simple (but fun…really) and you need to be prepared for that. Generally most people are surprised by just how comfortable the camping is. Everyone gets their own tent (see Accommodation below).
Tourism in Central Asia is still a low-key affair away from places like Samarkand and Bukhara and you should be prepared for the occasional hitch. Things tend not to happen quickly and patience is needed when dealing with things like hotel check-in and especially at the airports.

HEALTH:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. 

They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. 

Please contact your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure. 

The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations for Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan  can be found on the CDC’s  Travel Health website at and 

Elevation:  We will reach elevations of up to 10,800 feet during our time in the mountains. 

Smoking:  Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a non-smoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail. 

Miscellaneous:  The only place we may encounter a large number of day-flying insects is at Astana where there can occasionally be some large hatches of mosquitoes or lake flies. We recommend using insect repellents with a high concentration of DEET. C

Tap water is basically OK in the large hotels but to be safe, we recommend that you drink bottled water, which along with soft drinks and beer, are widely available. Upset stomachs are can be encountered in Central Asia. We suggest bringing anti-diarrheal medicine such as Imodium. Gatorade (in powder form) is also worth bringing as it replaces the vital salts and minerals lost during a bout of diarrhea. 

We will experience strong sun in several places so a good sun-screen is suggested. Sunglasses are also worth bringing, not only for the strong sunlight but also for the snowfields in the Tien Shan Mountains. 

CLIMATE: At this time of year the weather can be changeable and difficult to predict. We should experience generally uniform temperatures and weather conditions away from the mountains but in recent years there have been some wet and cold springs. In the mountains around Almaty the altitude alone will ensure that the nights and early mornings will be cool. However even here the sun will very quickly raise the temperatures and if there is no cloud cover it can get very hot, even at 10,000 feet.  As with any alpine environment the conditions can change quickly and you should come prepared for this. Away from the mountains we should experience dry and sunny weather with temperatures rising to the mid-80s in places. The hottest place will probably be the Kyzyl-Kum Desert and a good sun hat and adequate sunscreen will be needed here. It is not humid. The weather can be cool in the northern steppe up at Astana with rain a distinct possibility. You will need to be prepared for wet and cool weather almost anywhere in Kazakhstan, less so in Uzbekistan. 

ACCOMMODATION: In Almaty, Astana, Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara we stay in good quality modern hotels or small guesthouses with all the usual facilities. When we stay east of Almaty we use a basic but comfortable lodge. This has a limited number of bathrooms so some sharing may be inevitable depending on the number of singles we have. In the mountains we can no longer stay at the Astronomical Observatory. Instead we intend to use a small hotel a little way down the hill from the Observatory. This has a limited number of rooms, some of which have communal bathrooms, so if we have a large number of singles, some sharing may be inevitable for our two nights here, both of rooms and bathroom facilities. The only alternative is to stay right down almost in the town and travel up each time to visit the main birding areas. 

We’ll spend two nights camping in the Taukum Desert. The camp is very comfortable and uses reasonably sized tents, each with a low camp bed, and foam mattress. A sleeping bag is provided although you can bring your own if you wish. A sleeping bag liner is a good idea though. The camp has a separate kitchen and ‘mess’ tent where our (excellent) meals are served. Washing facilities while camping will be basic. There are simple taps for washing hands, brushing teeth etc. and two shower tents. The toilets are simple earth toilets with conventional toilet seats. We have found the camping to be surprisingly comfortable but if you have any queries about this aspect of the tour, please contact the WINGS office. Note that after our two nights at the camp, we stay in a comfortable hotel in Almaty. 

Internet Access:  An increasing number of the hotels we use have internet access although it can be painfully slow. The hotels in Uzbekistan will all have WiFi. In Kazakhstan, the hotels in Astana and Almaty have WiFi but away from there do not expect any sort of internet access. Mobile phone access is very good throughout both countries and most services seem to work there. 

FOOD: Central Asian cuisine is usually adequate and sometimes surprisingly good to excellent. Salads are ubiquitous and generally the meals are not too spicy although they can be in one or two places. Soups feature largely in the diet as does meat but vegetarians usually cope fairly well. There will be opportunities to try a few regional specialities. 

Food Allergies / Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.

WINGS tours are all-inclusive and no refunds can be issued for any missed tour meals. 

Drinks:  Bottled water, soft drinks or a beer (or local wine if available) are included at meals, as is coffee or tea. In addition, we keep a supply of bottled water on the tour vehicles. Bottled or filtered water may also be provided in some rooms where we stay. 

TRANSPORT: Transportation is by coach or minibus and three internal flights. There are a few long drives and these are broken by stops for birdwatching. In Uzbekistan, where the roads are good, we usually have a large luxury coach if we have a full or nearly full tour. In Kazakhstan we use a smaller vehicle to cope with the various off-road driving we need to do. Participants should be willing and able to ride in any seat in tour vehicles.

Updated: 14 August 2015