Friends and I will be traveling to Uzbekistan as a group of 4 in April of 2020. We are planning to do an Aral Sea / Karakalpakstan tour. Ayimtour seems like a great company, but there are some constraints that concern me. I am wondering if they are unfounded and/or if there are other companies without those constraints.
The issues are the size of the off-road vehicle and the fact that the drivers are not guides. If you want a guide along, 2 seats are occupied by them, apparently only leaving room for 3 passengers. So, they are telling us that we either need to hire another car ($500 for a 3-day/2-night tour) and split the group, with one car having the guide and 2 passengers and the other car 2 passengers without a guide. If we go without a guide, they offered to have us meet with a guide either before or after the trip. Since I told them that we can't afford another $500 for a second car, they offered to try to find 2-3 people to share the guide/car expenses, which is a nice offer. But, this would still mean that one car has no guide, and we would be traveling with strangers (which could be great or not).
From my experience, the difference between having a guide and not is a huge factor in the enjoyment and appreciation of exploring, especially since much of what we will see is desert wasteland, ruins, etc, which will not be self-explanatory. Another concern (and this is probably considered by many to be overly picky, but I'll say it anyway) is having 3 people sharing the back seat. I always prefer to hire a vehicle that has enough seats so nobody is in a middle seat. I am surprised that Ayimtour doesn't have larger SUVs, with 3 rows of seats, which would accommodate driver, guide, and 4 passengers, all without anybody in a center seat.
We are also going to do the Five Khorezm Fortresses tour (on the way from Nukus to Khiva) with them, and they suggested a minivan for that ride, which will accomplish everything. But, a minivan won't work in the Aral Sea terrain.
With all that said, does anyone know of an excellent tour company with larger vehicles and/or where the drivers are also guides. (I get that not all drivers can be guides, but I don't understand why at least some guides can't also drive.)
Any comments or input? Thanks!