First guidebook published on a place you’ve likely not heard of


Bradt Guides are publishing the first dedicated guide to Karakalpakstan.

Where, you may ask? It’s ok, I was headed straight to Google, too.

Well, Karakalpakstan is an autonomous region of Uzbekistan, with a population just under 2 million. In terms of area, it’s about a third of the entire country of Uzbekistan.

Authors and Central Asia experts Sophie Ibbotson and Stephanie Adams said: “Karakalpakstan is not just the Aral Sea; it is not just a disaster tourism destination. This book shows the destination in all its complicated, fascinating glory.

“Karakalpakstan will appeal to adventurous tourists of all types and particularly those with special interests in ecology and the environment, archaeology and geology, ethnography and history, astronomy and wildlife.”

Karakalpakstan borders Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It was, until recently, dominated by the Aral Sea. As the sea water has retreated, the Aralkum (the world’s newest desert) and numerous lakes have formed in its place. Ecotourism is developing rapidly, as local people recognise the need to protect and restore ecosystems while creating meaningful employment opportunities.

Amid Karakalpakstan’s remote wildernesses, the intrepid traveller will find unique geology (such as the Ustyurt Plateau), rare wildlife (including a substantial population of the critically endangered saiga antelope, whose bulbous nose helps filter desert dust and regulate the animal’s temperature), and star gazing.

The region also boasts a long history and rich culture. Scattered through the Kyzylkum, the ruins of the 50-plus desert fortresses of Ancient Khorezm (some proposed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites) attest to region’s former strategic importance. You can explore ancient settlements (such as the necropolis of Mizdarkhan, said to include the grave of Adam), and see caravanserais, mausolea and even Chilpik Dakhma, a Zoroastrian ‘tower of silence’. There is also Russian avant garde art alongside the archaeological and ethnographic collections of Savitsky Museum in the autonomous republic’s capital, Nukus, justifiably known as the ‘Louvre of the Steppe.’

Other potential highlights include Muynak’s ship graveyard on the remains of the Aral Sea, the former Soviet bioweapons lab Aralsk 7 on Vozrozdeniye (Resurrection Island), or the Important Bird and Biodiversity Area of Sudochye Lake (where 230 types of birds have been recorded).

Karakalpakstan by Sophie Ibbotson and Stephanie Adams will be published on 2 June 2023 by Bradt Guides. The paperback retails for £19.99.