Nukus is a desolate city of 300 000 people, located in the remote northwest part of Uzbekistan. The town lies near the Aral Sea next to the Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts, on the east bank of Amu Darya, not far from the Ustyurt plateau. Nukus is the capital of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic found within Uzbekistan. Karakalpakstan has its own Karakalpak language and the state is comprised primarily of ethnic Karakalpak, Uzbeks, and Kazakhs. Karakalpak language is more similar to the Kazakh language and the Karakalpak appearance is also closer to Kazakh rather than Uzbek. 

The area where modern Nukus is situated has been inhabited for a long time. A settlement called Shurcha was discovered in the area, and it was determined that  people have lived here at least from since the 4th century BC. and until the 4th century AD. This settlement was part of the Khorezm state and was its stronghold. The modern Nukus has existed since the 1860s, in 1932 it got the title of a city and the capital of the Karakalpak ASSR and finally in 1939, Nukus became the capital of Karakalpakstan. 

Sunset in Nukus by the Amu Darya

Nukus is a fairly quiet town far away from everything but it has an airport with straight flights from Tashkent and therefore many tourists use it as a base of operations in the Karakalpakstan area. Here one can find adequate restaurants and fairly inexpensive hotels or hostels. There are also some nice parks and museums in Nukus to check. 

There is also a Soviet style monumental center area worth a visit if you happen to have some spare time in Nukus. If you venture further eastwards from Nukus, you will face empty sand desert with some salty lakes. One can also walk along the Amu Darya river and the canals that pass through the city in several locations. 

Nukus sights

Nukus does not offer much but it has some Karakalpak state buildings and few parks that could maybe use some repairs. The best sight of Nukus is the Savitsky museum. It offers the second largest and most significant collection of Russian avant-garde in the world. 

There is also another significant museum in Nukus called the Berdakh Museum. It contains several exhibits that reflect the culture, history, ethnography of Karakalpakstan. The museum was opened in 1997, under the Karakalpak University, in honor of the 100th anniversary from the birth of the great poet, historian and thinker Berdakh, who is regarded as the first historian of the Karakalpak people. 

The museum building was specially designed and adorned with unusual design that has some mosque-like features as the dome structures of the roof combined with Soviet monumental style. Most of the exhibits of the Museum found during archaeological excavations at the ancient settlement Koykrylgan Kala (3rd century BC) and Tuprak Kala (6th century BC)

Therefore it is best combine visit to Nukus with Mounaq which is also known as the Aral Sea ship graveyard. It is the place where the Aral sea vanished and left its ships abandoned. The waters of the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, directed to irrigate the desert regions of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, ceased to reach the Aral Sea. The best place to understand the range of the issue is the former fishing port of Muynak, today at least hundred kilometers away from the shoreline.

Museum of Arts of the Republic of Karakalpakstan named after I.V. Savitsky

Museum of Arts in the Republic of Karakalpakstan named after I.V. Savitsky (The Savitsky museum) is one of the largest and most interesting museums in all Central Asia, especially for the art lovers. The museum has the status of a state museum, and the unique collection gathered here is recognized as the best art collection in the entire Asian region. The museum contains a complete collection of works by the Russian avant-garde. 

The founder of the museum is the famous Russian artist Igor Vitalievich Savitsky, who arrived in Karakalpakstan in 1950 and stayed here. He  personally collected art objects of Karakalpakstan, works of artists related to Asia, as well as Russian avant-garde art.

Savitsky museum
Savitsky museum with Russian avant garde

Savitsky museum is sometimes referred to as the second Louvre due to its collection being is the best art collection in the Central Asian region and has the second largest collection of works of the Russian avant-garde. In 2001, the English newspaper “The Guardian” called it one of the most beautiful museums in the world”.

Markaziy Bazar

The Central Bazaar of Nukus is also known as Markaziy Bazar and is a perfect place to get a flavor of local life and socialize with local people. The area of the bazaar tends to be a bit chaotic all day long though. The best place to park is at the side of the bazaar, next to the Berdaq Theatre. Like any Bazar in Uzbekistan, you can find almost anything here. Vendors are selling hot food, toiletries, CDs, televisions, textiles, clothing, shoes, and even wedding dresses. 

Dairy products, smoked sausage, biscuits, and chocolate are available in the covered section at the front of the market. At the very back there is a roofed section selling second-hand furniture and poor quality mostly Chinese bric-a-brac. 

Sights & Destinations Around Nukus

Visiting Karakalpakstan, you can see the incredible natural landscape filled with the ruins of ancient and medieval monuments and some consider Karakalpakstan a kind of “archaeological reserve”. There are about 400 archaeological sites, most of them being old fortresses but also settlements and temples alike. 

Earlier, the territory of Karakalpakstan, along with modern Khorezm and nearby regions of Turkmenistan, were part of the Ancient Khorezm state and it was the homeland to Zoroastrianism. If you are a nature lover you can find a lot of nature along the Amu Darya and also in the mostly salty lakes of the nearby deserts.

Travel to Nukus

Nukus by Plane

There are three flights a week flights to Nukus From Tashken taking 2 hours 15 mins with the cost being about 100 US dollars. During  the high summer season there are even daily flights from Tashkent. It is also possible to get to nukus from Moscow and St. Petersburg through Uzbekistan airlines and Ural airlines during the high season. 

Nukus Xalwaro Airport is located just at the Eastern side of the city itself less than 2 km from the center on Dosnazarov street. 

Nukus by Train

Nukus can be also reached by train from two directions. The main railway from Nukus goes all the way to Tashkent. You can also travel to or from Nukus to Atyrau in Kazakhstan and to Khiva where the railway station has been opened quite recently. Don’t believe the taxi drivers who tell that there is no other way to Khiva from Nukus. You can purchase tickets from the station or online

Train station is located in the Southeast part of the city, pretty close to the city center.  

Bus / Minibus / Taxi

From Tashkent, you can get to Nukus by bus that operates twice a day. They depart from the bus stop outside the Nukus hotel. In total the bus ride takes about 22h. From Samarkand bus station you can get to Nukus in about 14 hours via long-distance buses and the same from Bukhara. From Bukhara it takes about 8 hours and from Urgench 3 hours the distance being about 140 km. By car along A380 it takes two hours. Furthermore, frequent buses run to the nearest towns like Muynak and Beruni.

The main bus station in Nukus is the Yuzhnyi Avtovokzal (South Bus Station) located almost outside the city on the other side of the railway, behind the railway station. 

Sights & destinations to visit while in Nukus

Page updated 13.5.2023

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