Trip to the Aral Sea: essential tips

Our Aral Sea day trip might have been the most memorable part of our Uzbekistan trip. Once the fourth largest lake in the world. In a 50 year period, it lost 90% of its total size which makes it one of the biggest man-made ecological disasters in history. It was a long day (18 hours to be exact) with well over half of the time spent travelling but it was worth it (and that’s coming from two people who suffer from car sickness). We’ve written down all you need to know about your Aral Sea day trip from Nukus so you don’t have to waste hours trying to find the information yourself – which is what we did. You can thank us later. 

Aral Sea Day Trip Schedule

This is a general idea of what you can expect your day trip to look like. Quick reminder, we took this trip from Nukus, not Khiva. 

The Drive

Moynaq Town is considered the start of your tour. Decades ago, the lake was on this town’s doorstep whereas now, there’s nothing but dust and sand.

From Moynaq, expect the journey to the Aral Sea to take around 3 and a half hours by jeep. Drivers will happily stop off along the way. The shipwreck cemetery is one of the stops: rusted, derelict ships which are an echo of where the lake once was. You’ll also have a chance to check out some ‘viewpoints’ as you get closer to the lake. Viewpoint is a word we’ll use loosely – they’re spots where you can see the sheer breadth of the destruction. Areas once filled with water now are now crumbling canyons. It’s simultaneously haunting and breathtaking.

The ride is a bumpy one – we’re talking rollercoaster level in some places. If you’re prone to travel sickness it may be worth bringing a plastic bag with you to prepare for the worst case scenario.

The Lake

It’s a sight that will stay with us and we’ll try to describe it as best we can but it’s better for you to check out reels to get an idea of what awaits.

The shore has a fine, solidified dusting of salt all across it. In places, the land beneath you will crunch underfoot and in others, it’ll send you slipping (several times if you’re Sara).

For people who are doing a 2D1N package, you’ll be staying in one of the nearby yurts dotted around. 

Take a salty swim in the lake and feel the clay like texture squelch in between your toes like we did. After, we sat on what was once the shore and watched the sunset with our picnic (bread, raisins and nuts – an interesting combination).

The Return Journey

We drove back the way we came, wincing from the bumpy road and taking a few stops to admire the stars. In all of these hours of driving, you can’t help but dwell on the fact that this wasteland was the fourth-largest lake in the world six decades ago. Now, there’s barely anything left.

You’ll need to buy a tour

There’s no getting around it. You’ll need to hire a driver or book with a company to do this trip. After all, you’ll be travelling in the desert for 7-8 hours so you need a guide who knows their way around and who has a 4X4 jeep.

Price wise, a three person package can cost anything between 400USD to 600USD if you’re departing from Nukus to the Aral Sea. From a Khiva, it’s even more expensive. We managed to get a package for 180USD. Yep, we were pretty pleased with ourselves for saving this amount of money, and we’re kind enough to let you in on the secret of how we did it. 

Aral Sea Day Trip: For Cheap

We took the bus from Nukus to Moynaq. Packaged tours include a pick up from Nukus, but at a hefty extra cost. Why pay for this service when we can make our own way to Moynaq using public transport and for a fraction of the price?  

We left Nukus bus station at 10:00 am, arrived in Moynaq by 1:40 pm and paid 20,000 so’m (1,6 euro) each. Bring water and snacks with you for the bus ride. And make sure to go to the bathroom beforehand too. The bus only stops once at a road side ‘store’. The sparse metal shelves look post-apocalyptic and the toilet (i.e a literal hole in the ground) is something we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. You can also travel by marshrutka (a shared van) if you’d prefer. From Nukus bus station, you’ll travel to Qo’ngirot where you’ll transfer to Moynaq.

Unable to find a cheap trip to the Aral Sea, we initially planned to go to the ship cemetery in Moynaq and then head back to Nukus. Lucky for us, we found a hotel in Moynaq that organised cheap trips. 2,000,000 so’m (160 euro) for three people. Our driver knew the roads like the back of his hand. Being local, he was able to tell us a lot about the disaster too. And most importantly, he drove a pretty hefty 4X4 which had aircon. 

We left Moynaq at 3:10 pm , and reached the Aral Sea (what’s left of it) at 6:50 pm and stayed there for a couple of hours. We arrived back into Moynaq at 11:30 pm where we transferred from our 4X4 ride to a taxi and continued our journey to Nukus. Our heads hit the pillow at 3:00 am.

How notwanderulusts are helping

There’s not a lot of information about day trips to Aral sea. We spent hours searching on the internet and making calls about prices- nothing. When we did get a reply, we were given a 400USD-600USD price which was way out of budget.

To help you guys get a cheap deal too we’ve partnered up with some local drivers, so you don’t have to pay the extortionate rates that other sites are offering. Instead, you’ll be paying around half of that price – just like we did. Enter the stage: Uzbek Heritage Tours – our little side project.

Cheap transport does exist, but the trick is knowing the right local drivers. Fortunately for us, we were travelling with Uzbek locals who knew exactly who the right drivers were. The four of us have partnered up so more people can pay a fair price for transport to the Aral Sea.

Take a look at our Uzbek Heritage Tours website and the transport packages we’re offering, decide the one that’s right for you and then reach out to us. We’ll message one of our local driver contacts who won’t charge you a ridiculous amount. Easy.

Wrap Up

And there you have it, our day trip to the Aral Sea. Fitting it all into a day makes for an early start and a late finish. Using Nukus as a base to reach Moynaq and the Aral Sea will cut down time and money compared to Khiva, which is something you should definitely consider if you’re not doing an overnight stay.

Remember, if you want to connect with some local drivers and get a cheaper price then check out our partnered website: Uzbek Heritage Tours which makes travelling from Nukus to the Aral Sea all that easier.

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