Khiva is an absolute must-visit! Situated in the heart of a desert oasis in the western part of the country, this place is a true hidden gem.
Khiva in a nutshell
Situated in the western part of Uzbekistan, amidst a desert oasis, Khiva (also known as ‘Xiva‘ in Uzbek) is one of Captain Ulysses’ favorites in the country!
Despite its dark past as a hub for the brutal slave trade along the Silk Road, this small town has transformed into a peaceful and enchanting city.
While some criticize Khiva for becoming a ‘tourist trap’ (with the old town closed to vehicles and most shops catering to tourists), it still remains a true gem and is definitely worth a visit!
Brief history of Khiva
Legend has it that Khiva was founded by Sem, son of Noah, at the location where he discovered a well known as the Keivah well.
Until the 16th century, Khiva was a secondary city on the Silk Road. Despite being a cultural hub that attracted scholars, including Avicenna (a renowned Muslim physician and philosopher from the Middle Ages), the city was plagued with political and military instability and fell prey to many conquerors such as Persians, Greeks, Arabs, and Mongols.
In the 16th century, Khiva became the capital of the new Khanate of Khiva, a kingdom ruled by a khan, and was home to one of the most prosperous slave markets on the Silk Road. Itchan Kala, the old town of Khiva (meaning ‘inner city’ in Turkish), was the last stop for caravan traders before crossing the desert to Persia.
By the end of the 19th century, the Khanate of Khiva fell to the Russians and became a protectorate. Half a century later, it was replaced by the People’s Republic of Khorezm, which was eventually absorbed into the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924.
Since 1990, Itchan Qala, the inner city of Khiva, has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How long should you stay in Khiva?
Despite being less well-known than Samarkand or Bukhara, Khiva is one of Captain Ulysses’ top picks in Uzbekistan. He strongly recommends taking some time to explore this city. A day and a half is enough to see the main sites and monuments in Itchan-Qala, Khiva’s old town.
However, the Captain suggests extending your stay to explore the fortresses of Elliq-Qala in the Republic of Karakalpakstan (an autonomous region within Uzbekistan), which are easily accessible by car from Khiva. A half-day excursion is enough to see the main remains in the area.
Getting to Khiva
To get to Khiva, there are several options:
- If you’re coming from Tashkent, the easiest way is to take a flight to Urgench airport, which is about a 45-minute taxi ride from Khiva (expect to pay around 10,000 soms for the ride). Flights to Urgench depart from Tashkent several times a week. With a bit of advance planning, you can find offers for around fifty euros per person. To check flights, click here.
👉 To learn more about the capital of Uzbekistan, check out Captain Ulysses’ article on Tashkent.
- From Urgench, you can take a shared taxi (the stop is located south of the Dekhon bazaar on Al-Beruni in Urgench) or a private taxi to Khiva.
- From Bukhara, Khiva is also accessible by shared taxi (meeting point at the Karvon bazaar) or private taxi.
👉 To learn more, check out Captain Ulysses’ article on Bukhara.
💡 Practical tip 💡
In Uzbekistan, private taxis are an affordable option for transportation. If you’re traveling with at least four people, it’s easier and not much more expensive to hire a private taxi instead of taking a shared one.
Your hotel can assist you in booking a taxi, and some hotels in Uzbekistan, particularly in Khiva, can also help connect you with other travelers to form groups for sharing private taxis. It’s worth exploring this option to save some money and have a more comfortable ride.
Hotels in Khiva: the Captain’s top picks
On a budget
If you’re on a tight budget, Captain Ulysse recommends:
Qosha Darvosa hotel is Captain Ulysse’s top pick in Khiva. The rooms are tastefully decorated and arranged around a beautiful inner courtyard. The hotel is located in a quiet area, just a 5-minute walk from Itchan-Qala.
If this hotel is unfortunately fully booked, the Captain recommends three other addresses:
For a more luxurious address, the Captain suggests choosing Muso To’ra Hotel, a historic hotel located in the heart of the city center.
More hotels in Khiva
Restaurants in Khiva: Captain Ulysses’ top picks
Located just a stone’s throw away from the Kalta Minor Minaret, this small restaurant offers delicious Uzbek dishes at very affordable prices.
With its lovely shaded terrace and traditional tapchans, the Café Kheivak is an ideal spot for a drink or a bite to eat just a stone’s throw away from the monuments of Itchan-Qala.
The Terrassa Café, as its name suggests, boasts a panoramic terrace that offers stunning views of Khiva at sunset. And to top it off, the restaurant serves mouth-watering kebabs that will delight any food lover.
But be warned, the Terrassa Café is very popular, so it’s best to stop by early afternoon to make a reservation and secure a spot on the terrace for dinner!
Getting around in Khiva
If you’re wondering how to get around Khiva, the historic center of the city, Itchan-Qala, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is actually quite compact and can be easily explored on foot.
However, it’s worth noting that during summer, temperatures can soar up to 45°C (113°F). Therefore, it’s important to bring plenty of water with you and stay hydrated while walking around.
Withdrawing money in Khiva
In Khiva, withdrawing money can be a challenge, as is the case throughout Uzbekistan. Although there is an ATM at the foot of the West gate, there is no guarantee that it will be operational.
Another ATM can be found in the lobby of the Arkanchi Hotel.
In any case, Captain Ulysses recommends withdrawing money before arriving in Khiva to avoid running out of cash. If possible, it is also advisable to bring euros that can be exchanged locally.
Visiting Itchan-Qala, the old town of Khiva
Itchan-Qala, the old town of Khiva, is a true feast for the eyes, with its stunning fortress, enchanting palaces, marvelous mosques, and sumptuous madrasas.
To explore the town’s landmarks, you’ll need to purchase a bundled ticket from the ticket office located just outside the West gate. The cost is 100,000 soums per person, and an additional 20,000 soums are required to climb to the top of the watchtower in the fortress.
While this may seem like a steep price by Uzbek standards, Captain Ulysses assures you that it’s worth every penny, especially since the ticket grants access to dozens of breathtaking sites and monuments!
It’s difficult for the Captain to describe each one in detail, so below is a list of the most notable landmarks that you absolutely shouldn’t miss. J
The walls and gates of Itchan-Qala
Itchan-Qala, the historic center of Khiva, is separated from the rest of the city by high ramparts punctuated by four gates located at the four cardinal points: the North Gate (Bogcha-Darvosa, the “Garden Gate”), the South Gate (Tosh-Darvosa, the “Stone Gate”), the East Gate (Polvon-Darvosa, the “Strong Man Gate”), and the West Gate (Ota Darvosa, the “Father Gate”), where the ticket office is located.
The ramparts, built of rammed earth, are 2.5 km long. They were completely rebuilt in the 18th century after being destroyed by the Persians.
The Koukhna Ark fortress
Just next to the West gate, the Koukhna Ark fortress is one of the most impressive buildings in Khiva, if only for its monumental size. While its construction started in the 12th century, it took its current appearance only in the early 19th century.
The fortress served as a residence for the Khans (lords) of Khiva until the end of the 1910s. The throne room and its spectacular iwan/aivan, clad in white and blue ceramics, are among Captain Ulysses’ highlights in Khiva.
Access to the fortress watchtower is not included in the Itchan-Qala entrance ticket. You will need to buy a billet spécifique à la billetterie de la porte Ouest (20 000 soums specific ticket at the West gate ticket office (20,000 soums per person).
Captain Ulysses strongly recommends taking it: from the top of the tower, the view of the city is absolutely magnificent, especially at sunset. A tip: visit the fortress in the late afternoon to enjoy the panorama in the light of the setting sun. You won’t be disappointed!
Kalta Minor Minaret
The Kalta Minor Minaret, located along the main axis of Khiva that connects the East and West gates, is undoubtedly one of the most iconic monuments of the city.
Despite its grandeur, however, this imposing structure was never completed, hence its name: “Kalta Minor” means “short minaret” in Uzbek.
Construction began in 1851 on the orders of Mohammed Amin Khan but abruptly ended upon his death. The current minaret, which is 29 meters high and more than 14 meters wide, is less than half the originally planned size. The Khan had demanded a height of 70 to 80 meters so that it could be seen from Bukhara, but that was perhaps a bit too ambitious!
The minaret is also famous for its unique turquoise color, as it is entirely covered with glazed bricks and tiles.
The Juma Mosque
The Juma Mosque, also known as the Friday Mosque, is one of Captain Ulysses’ top picks in Khiva. And what’s not to love about its stunning forest of 218 carved wooden columns arranged in 13 rows of 17 columns on average?
Although the mosque itself was built in 1789, some of its columns have a much longer history. In fact, they were salvaged from buildings dating as far back as the 10th, 11th, 19th, and 15th centuries!
Sadly, visitors are no longer allowed to climb the Juma Minaret, which leans at a precarious angle.
The Madrasa and the Islam Kodja Minaret
Located just a few steps from the East gate, the Madrasa and Islam Kodja Minaret, standing at an impressive 45 meters, offer a picturesque view reminiscent of a postcard.
These two structures, constructed in 1908 and 1910, respectively, represent the most recent Islamic landmarks in Khiva. Both are named after Islam Kodja, the former father-in-law and grand vizier of the khan (lord) during that period. Islam Kodja was tragically assassinated for his progressive beliefs, which were deemed too liberal by the khan and the clergy.
Nowadays, the Islam Kodja Madrasa serves as the Museum of Decorative Arts in Khiva.
The mausoleum of Pahlavon Mahmoud
Just one minute away from the Islam Kodja Minaret, the mausoleum of Pahlavon Mahmoud is a true wonder straight out of the Arabian Nights.
Pahlavon Mahmoud (1247-1325), a legendary poet, warrior, and philosopher, became a patron saint of Khiva after his death. He requested to be buried in his workshop, which was transformed into a mausoleum in accordance with his wishes in 1326.
In the 19th century, the tomb was completely reconstructed in a lavish Persian style, before being requisitioned in 1913 by the khan, who wanted to turn it into a family mausoleum. The mausoleum of Pahlavon Mahmoud then became a funerary complex housing several tombs.
The Tach Khaouli Palace
The Tach Khaouli Palace (also known as Tach Hovli) was constructed in the early 1800s at the behest of Alla Kouli Khan. This sprawling palace, which features two entrances, was designed to compete with the Ark fortress.
It’s safe to say that the Tach Khaouli Palace, also known as the “House of Stone,” is nothing short of monumental. It boasts between 150 and 260 rooms (the estimates vary!) that are arranged around three primary courtyards, each with its own distinct function: the harem, the reception hall, and the court of justice.
It’s important to note that this palace is referred to by two names, Tach Khaouli and Tach Hovli, which can cause confusion!
The Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa
The Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrasa was constructed in 1871 by the order of Mohammed Rakhim Khan II, who ceded the city to the Russians two years later in 1873. Nowadays, the madrasa serves as the Museum of the History of Khiva’s Khans.
The Mohammed Amin Khan Madrasa
The Mohammed Amin Khan Madrasa has been repurposed into a hotel, specifically the Orient Star Khiva Hotel. This madrasa was the largest one in Khiva, capable of hosting up to 250 students.
Exploring the Surroundings of Khiva: the Fortresses of Elliq-Qala
While a visit to Khiva is certainly worth a few days, the surrounding areas of the city are also well worth a visit.
To that end, Captain Ulysses recommends extending your stay in Khiva for a little while longer so that you can take the time to explore the Elliq-Qala fortresses. These ancient ruins, located approximately 1.5 hours away from Khiva, consist of a collection of ten fortified cities that are around two thousand years old.
A Quick Overview of the Fortresses of Elliq-Qala
Elliq-Qala, which translates to “fifty fortresses,” is a complex of ancient ruins that are approximately two thousand years old. These ruins are located in the semi-desert region of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous entity within Uzbekistan.
Visitors are able to explore around ten of the fortified cities, which are open for tours. The excursion is definitely worth it, not only for the ruins themselves, which are sure to captivate history buffs, but also for the breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape that they offer.
Getting to the Fortresses of Elliq-Qala
The fortresses of Elliq-Qala can be easily accessed by car from Khiva, with a travel time of approximately 1.5 to 1.75 hours. Unfortunately, there is no public transportation available to reach the site.
Captain Ulysses recommends that you check with your hotel to book a day trip to Elliq-Qala, which can cost around $35 per car.
Exploring the Fortresses of Elliq-Qala
While there are around ten fortresses open to the public, visiting just three is enough to get a good sense of the region and enjoy the stunning views.
Some of the most popular citadels to visit include
- Koi Krylgan-Qala,
- and Guldursun-Qala.
Note that admission to the fortresses is not typically included in the cost of the excursion, and visitors can expect to pay around 5000 soums per person per fortress.
Staying at a Yurt Camp in the Fortresses of Elliq-Qala
If a half-day excursion is enough to explore some of the fortresses in Elliq-Qala, you can also extend your adventure by spending the night at one of the yurt camps in the region, such as Ayaz-Qala.
If you’re interested in spending a night or two in a yurt while in Uzbekistan, Captain Ulysses suggests checking out Lake Aydar Kul, which is located between Bukhara and Samarkand.
💡 More Travel Tips and Recommendations for Uzbekistan 💡
If you’re looking for additional tips and advice on planning your trip to Uzbekistan, be sure to check out all of Captain Ulysses’ articles for more recommendations and insider tips.
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are Captain Ulysses’ Recommendations for Khiva!
🛏️ Accommodation: To find the perfect place to stay in Khiva (and throughout Uzbekistan), Captain Ulysses suggests using Booking.com. Whether you’re looking for budget-friendly options or luxurious boutique hotels, there’s something for everyone.
Some of his top picks for budget options in Khiva include Hostel Laliopa, KHIVA ABDULLA Guest House, and Khiva Tosh Darvoza.
For mid-range budgets, he recommends Qosha Darvosa, Caravan Hotel, Zukhro Boutique Hotel, and Arkanchi Hotel.
And for those seeking a more lavish experience, he suggests the Muso To’ra Hotel.
🎟️ Activities: For tours and activities in Uzbekistan, Captain Ulysses recommends checking out Civitatis and Viator. With a wide range of guided tours, treks, yurt stays, and more, you’re sure to find something that suits your interests.
📍 Tours: If you’re looking for a travel agency to organize your trip to Uzbekistan, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Evaneos. They offer a variety of tours, including some that are exclusively in Uzbekistan and others that combine visits to neighboring countries like Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
✈️ Flights: To find the best deals on flights to Uzbekistan, Captain Ulysses suggests using Skyscanner. Uzbekistan Airways and Air Astana offer direct and indirect flights from Paris CDG to Tashkent International Airport. And if you’re planning on traveling within Uzbekistan, you can also use Skyscanner to book domestic flights between major cities like Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva.
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