The Aral Sea, what once was the fourth largest inland body of water in the world, and now more aptly dubbed Aralkum ("Aral Sands"), is in Central Asia, divided between Northern Uzbekistan (Qaraqalpakistan) and Southern Kazakhstan.
- Aral - its fishing economy was dependent on a sea that is now disappearing
- Moynoq - a former harbour town with health risks caused by pollution and unemployment
- Nukus - the closest major city to the Aral Sea, and a good place to start trips to the shore; has a ship graveyard 200 km from the sea
The Aral Sea is not a place for sunbathing or swimming. It is a disaster zone, a scar on the Earth, proof of the destruction humanity can wreak on nature.
The Aral Sea has two rivers that flow into it – Amu Darya and Sir Darya, known in ancient times as the Oxus and Jaxartes respectively. The Soviet Union dug channels from both rivers for the cotton fields; this was the beginning of the disaster.
Some time around 1960, the Aral Sea started shrinking. In 1986, with the falling sea level, the former sea divided into two separate parts: the North Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, and the South Aral Sea mainly in Uzbekistan. Thanks to a dyke built in 2005 between the two parts by the Kazakhs, who are more prosperous and less dependent on agricultural irrigation than their southern neighbours, the northern part somewhat stabilized, or even regained some of its lost territory as much as to allow some low-scale commercial fishing, but is still a far cry from its former self. The southern part is yet to receive such a helping hand, and will likely have to do without in the foreseeable future — or perhaps forever, as the Uzbek government, implicitly conceding that the sea will never return, started afforestration of parts of its former bed in the 2010s in an effort to subdue pesticide-laden dust storms. So the southern sea is far, far away from its former banks and, unless in an exceptional year with much precipitation, still receding.
The landscape is interesting, especially bearing in mind that you are walking on what used to be the bottom of the sea. There are sea shells all over the ground and dry sea plants. The places around are hilly and plain, as it is a deserty place. But it is beautiful to see.
Flora and fauna
Just desert plants.
In summer it is very hot and in winter very cold, so advisable to go there from March-May, September-November.
It is not so easy to get to the Aral Sea itself; it is a long and tough way through the desert, and your best bet is to arrange jeep tours from Nukus in the Uzbek side, or from Aral in the Kazakh side.
The journey from Nukus to the Aral Sea takes about 8 hours. Each jeep holds four people. You will camp there for one day. You can take your own camping gear or rent gear from the company. Travelers are responsible for cooking their own food; the driver will help with the fire and he has pots. Sharing the food with the driver is traditional. The drivers speak Russian.
A taxi from Nukus to Moynaq costs around US$70, and the asking price in hotels is around US$100. For a day trip, start early as it is 3-3½ hr one way. Marshrutkas also go to Moynaq via Kungrad.
Trying to get there without any guidance would not be a wise thing to do, because there is no road and no road signs.