Afghanistan Travel Guide
Updated August 2021 The Afghanistan Travel Guide was originally written in September 2018
Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires and the epicenter of my curiosity for a few years. So much so that I’ve now visited the country not once, but three times. Learn everything you need to know from safety to where is possible to visit and more in this Afghanistan Travel Guide.
But Is It safe?
August 2021 Update: If you haven’t been keeping up on the news in Afghanistan following the US/NATO withdrawal proceedings, the security situation in Afghanistan is in a death spiral. As of August 15, the Taliban has claimed control of the country. With a future uncertain and a terrorist organization in control, visiting Afghanistan is not recommended for obvious reasons.
In general, no Afghanistan is not a safe country to visit. Visiting Afghanistan is possible, just be aware that Afghanistan travel comes with risks, and safety is not guaranteed.
The Taliban has long been involved in the havoc and chaos in the country along with regional warlords, outside countries, and now the new kid on the block- the Khorasaan Branch of the Islamic State.
I’ve never felt uncomfortable or in danger while I was traveling in Afghanistan. There are precautions you can take to make Afghanistan travel less dangerous, but the risk is always there. It goes without saying: Afghanistan is not a destination for the inexperienced. It’s not the next step after backpacking in Southeast Asia (despite that sentence sounding horribly elitist).
So if you’re ready, you’ve versed yourself on the landscape, cultures, religion, and you fully understand the risks involved with Afghanistan travel and visiting a country that’s been at war for nearly 50 years then read on to learn how you too can visit Afghanistan in this Afghanistan Travel Guide.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What To Wear
When To Visit
What To See & Do
Where To Go In Afghanistan
What To Wear
Band e Amir
Mazar e Sharif
Samangan/Takht e Rustam
Trekking In Afghanistan
Tour Operators & Guides
Internet & Mobile
Health & Safety
News & Information
The official currency of Afghanistan is the Afghani. As of August 2021, the current exchange rate is $1 USD = 79.82 AFS.
US dollars are widely accepted for larger payments. ATMs are available in the country in major cities, however, they may or may not work.
Afghanistan is a multilingual country. The two official languages of the country are Pashto and Dari (Dari is more or less a Persian dialect, along with Tajik spoken in Tajikistan and Farsi spoken in Iran).
Dari is spoken more widely in the north and center of the country while Pashto is the more commonly used language in the south.
Other languages found in the country are Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, and Nuristani, as well as Wakhi and Kyrgyz that are spoken in the remote Wakhan Corridor.
99% of Afghans are Muslim, with the majority being Sunni. Ismailism is widely practiced in the Wakhan Corridor.
Other Shia Muslims are found scattered throughout the country as well. Other religions are practiced in the country including Sikhism and Hinduism.
What To Wear In Afghanistan
Dressing in the local clothing styles is the best option while in Afghanistan. It’s always best to try to blend in, plus the Afghans really appreciate to see foreigners wearing their styles.
I highly recommend getting a shalwar kameez when you arrive. A shalwar kameez is basically a long shirt and baggy pants that both men and women wear. It’s seriously the most comfortable thing you’ll ever wear.
For Women Traveling Afghanistan
Women in Afghanistan must dress according to Islamic modest dress, also known as hijab. You should wear long sleeve tops at least mid-thigh in length paired with full-length trousers. Loose, floor-length, long-sleeve dresses are acceptable as well.
Headscarves should always be worn when out in public. Save yourself the hassle and grab a shalwar kameez and a headscarf after you arrive.
In some more conservative areas, you will see the majority of women wearing chadri, chador, or burqa over top of their shalwar kameez. It may be helpful to purchase a chador or chadri to blend in, especially if your travels will take you to more sensitive and conservative areas.
You can purchase ready-made shalwar kameez for 1,000-2,000 AFS on up depending on the quality and a blue chadri will normally cost about 1,000 AFS.
Bonus Tip: At the bazaar buy what looks like a shower-loofah superglued to a plastic hair clip– They usually only cost about 70 AFS. It’s like stuffing your headscarf– it makes it look better, but more importantly, it helps keep your headscarf in place so that it has something to ‘sit’ on the back of your head. They’re called headscarf volumizers.
For Men traveling Afghanistan
The shalwar kameez optionally with a vest, sports jacket, or a scarf is the usual get-up for most men. You can purchase premade shalwar kameez, but for the best fit have one tailored.
Fabric and tailoring should cost around 1,200 AFS. If you want to really blend in, pick up a pakol- the flat wool hat worn by many Afghan men. You’ll easily find them in bazaars.
In big cities, you will see men out and about dressed in western clothing like jeans and t-shirts, so western dress in this setting for men should be okay, however, do not wear shorts.
Best Time For Afghanistan Travel
When to visit is largely dependent on where you plan to go in Afghanistan.
The summer months of June-August can be boiling hot in most of the country, however, this is the best time to visit for those headed across the Tajik border into the Afghan Wakhan to trek in the Afghan Wakhan Corridor. Much of the rest of the country is most pleasant in the late spring and early fall.
There are two ways in which to enter Afghanistan and that is by flight or by road.
By Flight: Most flights will arrive at Kabul International Airport, with direct connections to the UAE, Turkey, India, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, and Russia.
By Road: Currently, the only widely-recommended land border crossings to use is the Ishkashim crossing with Tajikistan connecting the Tajik & Afghan Wakhan and the Hairatan-Termez crossing with Uzbekistan near Mazar e Sharif.
There are more border crossings with Turkmenistan (Toraghundi & Imam Nazar), Iran (Islam Qala & Zaranj), Tajikistan (several, all not recommended except Ishkashim), China (Wakhjir Pass, not open), and Pakistan (several, but Khyber Pass appears to be the only one open to foreigners).
These borders can be sporadically open and closed due to Taliban activity and outbreaks of disease and are typically not recommended. Check out this Afghan Border Crossings Post on Caravanistan and check the forums for updates.
Note that the Wakhan Corridor is only reachable (recommended) from the Tajik border at Ishkashim. It is possible to get between Ishkashim and the remainder of Afghanistan by car but is 100% not recommended at this time because of Taliban presence in the Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan Provinces.
Afghan Land Border Crossings From My Personal Experience
Please note that as of August 2021, the Taliban has seized control of many of Afghanistan’s border crossings (and some seem to toggle back and forth between Taliban and Afghan government control). This includes Islam Qala (Iran), Toraghundi (Turkmenistan), Shir Khan Bandar (Tajikistan), Ishkashim (Tajikistan), Torkham Pass (Pakistan), and others.
The most recent report I had seen was that Hairatan (Uzbekistan) was under Afghan government control- I have one friend who was able to cross from Uzbekistan into Afghanistan here in the third week of July and another that was unable to back in June, so it appears to be intermittently closed to foreigners.
If you are planning to enter or exit Afghanistan at this time via a land border you may want to rethink that and plan to fly in/out of the country. For the most up to date information on border crossings right now I’d suggest using local points of contact.
Afghanistan-Iran at Islam Qala: In late March 2019 I crossed from Afghanistan to Iran at the Islam Qala-Dogharoun crossing. Procedures exiting Afghanistan were straightforward, you go into a shipping container first for a body check and after completing walk out and over to the immigration building. There will be one line for men and another for women and children.
Your passport will be scanned, you’ll be fingerprinted and you may be asked some questions like where are coming from/going, etc. You will then be asked to show your Iranian visa and then be stamped out.
On the Iranian side, you will hand over your passport and visa and get stamped in. Next, you will put your bags through an X-ray and your electronics may be checked.
You will then put your bags back in the car and you’ll drive a little further up where you will go through customs. Here you will likely have to empty out all of your bags for the search. Read about my entire border crossing experience here.
Shared taxis depart from Herat daily. A seat will cost you 1,100 AFS. Ask your guesthouse or hotel to arrange one for you.
Tajikistan-Afghanistan at Ishkashim: In September 2017 I visited the Wakhan Corridor and the border crossing in both directions is pretty simple. From Tajikistan to Afghanistan you’ll go into the immigration building at the border post 3 km out of Ishkashim.
Here you’ll hand over your passport and Tajik e-visa (or not if you have a visa in your passport from an embassy). You will also need to show your Afghan visa. Here you’ll get stamped out and then walk through the fence gate and across the bridge into Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, you will enter the immigration building and get stamped in. The only way to get to Sultan Eshkashim on the Afghan side is by taxi for $20 USD, or to walk. If you have not arranged this previously the officers at the border will call a car for you.
Read about my entire border crossing experience in both directions here.
Leaving back to Afghanistan will be the same process only in reverse. Make sure you have a double-entry Tajik visa or another valid e-visa for your return.
Uzbekistan-Afghanistan at Hairatan: Crossing the border from Termez to Mazar e Sharif was quite simple and straightforward. From Termez, it’s possible to grab a taxi to the Hairatan border for about 30,000 UZS with some haggling.
You will be dropped off at a checkpoint about one kilometer before Uzbek border control and from here you’ll want to take a shuttle bus (sometimes it’s just a marshrutka) to the border office for 5,000 UZS. There will be hawkers at the checkpoint offering rides across the border for 400,000 UZS, ignore them.
Once you arrive at the border office you’ll put your luggage through a scanner and then you’ll have your passport stamped out of Uzbekistan. When you are finished and have officially exited the country, go outside. You can either walk the kilometer over the Friendship Bridge to Afghan border control, or you can wait for the marshrutka and pull 5,000 UZS to the other side.
Afghan border control is easy, you will first have your visa checked and be stamped into the country. Next, you’ll put your luggage through a scan.
Once finished, you will proceed to the parking lot outside where you can find money changers just across the street and shared taxis to Mazar e Sharif. If you’ve arranged someone to pick you up, or a guide they will be waiting in this lot. If taking the shared taxi, plan to pay about 200 AFS per person.
All visitors to Afghanistan are required to get a visa in advance before arriving in Afghanistan. Visas are typically given for 30 days within a 3 month window and are usually single entry.
Many embassies and consulates will no longer issue tourist visas to Afghanistan for obvious reasons. I can personally say that obtaining an Afghan Visa at the Afghan Consulate in Khorog, Tajikistan, and by mail from the Washington DC Consulate in the USA were painless and simple.
In 2017 I went to the Afghan Consulate in Khorog by myself at 9:30 am and walked out about 30 minutes later with the visa in my passport, you can read more about how to get an Afghan Visa in Khorog here.
In 2018 I applied via the online application system from the Washington DC Consulate and then mailed my required documents in and had no problems, the process took about 4 weeks (normally it only takes 2 weeks to complete but the consulate closed for over a week for the Eid al Qurban holiday). I applied for a visa again in 2019 and received it in about 3 days. Read embassy and consulate reports from other countries here.
In 2018 & 2019 I applied for visas using the online visa system through the Afghan Consulate in Washington DC. The process is simple and straightforward.
After completing the paperwork and payment online you will need to print it out and mail it in with your passport. Expect the process to take 1-2 weeks.
Update: As of 2021, most embassies/consulates are requiring LOI for visitors trying to get a visa.
What You Will Need To Apply
Filled in and signed visa application, 1 passport photo, 1 valid passport, visa application fee, and a letter stating that you take full responsibility for your safety in Afghanistan and planned itinerary. Some countries require a LOI (letter of invitation). LOI’s can be issued by tour operators in Afghanistan.
If applying in a third country, the consulate may require you to bring a letter from your own embassy clearing you to go.
Permits are needed to travel beyond Ishkashim into the Wakhan Corridor. Written permits can be arranged in Eshkashim and will typically take a day or two to get. Most fixers and guides in Ishkashim will charge a flat $50 USD to get the permits arranged.
The usual way to travel between cities in Afghanistan is by flight, however, there are public buses, shared taxis, and private taxis between most cities. Kabul, Mazar e Sharif, Herat, and Kandahar are all connected by daily flights. Since the spring of 2018 commercial flights going to Bamyan have been canceled for large chunks of time or intermittently, don’t expect to visit Bamyan by air.
Obviously the safest option for traveling between cities.
Kam Air serves Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Mazar e Sharif, Lashkargah (Bost), Farah, and Zaranj.
Ariana Afghan Airways serves Kabul, Herat, Mazar e Sharif and Kandahar.
Kam Air and Ariana are the main two airlines in the country, although Kam Air does tend to have fewer delays and cancellations (but they still have lots of delays and cancellations). Another small airline offering flights in Afghanistan is Safi Airlines.
Costs & Where To Buy Tickets
Most flights will range from $50-110 USD each way between cities. You can purchase tickets online for some airlines such as Kam Air, however, prices tend to be a bit cheaper if you book in a ticketing office. Plan to pay in cash if purchasing at an office.
Going To The Airport
Taking a flight usually involves going through at least two security checkpoints to enter the airport and a third to reach your gate. You can typically expect to be asked to place your bags on the floor in a line and told to wait after the second X-ray checkpoint where bomb-sniffing dogs will be brought out to inspect bags.
Men and women will have a full-body pat-down usually at the first security checkpoint, of course in separate areas. The women’s security will almost always be behind a curtain.
You’ll see many yellow taxis around Afghanistan, particularly in cities. Taxis almost never have meters so agree to a price before departing.
Typically rides within a city will come out to 50-250 AFS depending on the distance. These taxis can also be negotiated with for day trips as well. Prices will depend on where you are planning to go, but usually will range from $20-50 USD in most cases (you’ll find information on prices for day trips later on in this guide).
It is possible to hire taxis to transport you between cities such as Kabul, Mazar e Sharif and Bamyan, however, due to security reasons this is not recommended as a way to travel unless willing to take on the risks. It is highly recommended to hire a knowledgeable guide to do this.
By Public Bus & Shared Taxi
Public buses are available in most cities. You can expect most rides to cost no more than 10 AFS.
For longer distance trips between cities, there are usually buses and shared taxis available ranging in price depending on the distance. Traveling by public transport between cities, however, is not recommended at this time.
The Wakhan Corridor
Realistically the only way to travel the road in the Wakhan is by private taxi hire which can be quite expensive. Although I did read reports of one traveler that managed to hop in a shared taxi with locals headed along the valley, but got caught on the way and got held up with officers asking for bribes in the hundreds of dollars.
Best to try and find other travelers to cost-share on a Wakhan trip with. It is possible to go trekking by horseback and even yak. Donkeys are commonly used to porter gear and supplies on treks.
Read more about the Wakhan Corridor here
Afghanistan Travel Insurance
Not many insurers cover high-risk destinations such as Afghanistan. battleface is one of the travel insurance companies I’ve been using for high-risk destinations. Do research if the company you choose is going to cover Afghanistan as these policies seem to change quite frequently and with little notice.
Afghanistan is at the crux of food paradise with influences from Persia, South Asia, and Central Asia. The national dish of Afghanistan is Kabuli Pulao, and you can expect naan and chai to accompany most meals and snacks.
Afghan Dishes to try
- Qabuli Pulao: a fried rice dish that’s typically spiced and has a chunk of beef or mutton cooked in it
- Mantu: A delicious meat filled dumpling and covered with beans and yogurt
- Ashak: Similar to the mantu but stuffed with spinach
- Chicken Karahi: One of the most popular dishes throughout South Asia. The wok it’s cooked in is called a karahi. The dish usually includes chicken, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices
- Kebab: Skewers of meat, typically chicken, beef, or lamb. Koobideh (spiced ground meat) and chicken are my personal favorites
- Naan: The ubiquitous bread you’ll have with every meal
- Chai: Along with naan, chai will accompany almost every meal, bazaar sale, meeting with new strangers, etc
- Challow: White rice
- Shirbirinj: A common staple throughout Afghanistan. It translates out to milk rice. Usually served with a crater filled with butter on top and a bowl of sugar on the side
- Qorma sabzi: a mild curry dish of spinach and usually included beans and chunks of meat. Meat-based qormas exist too, qorma is very similar to curry
- Dooh: A salty, sour yogurt drink, typically served with chopped mint blended in it
What To See & Do
Afghanistan is a beautiful country with a rich history and diverse culture. Thanks to many years of instability and war many sights and activities are off-limits, but here are a few tourist draws within the county.
- Trekking in the Wakhan Corridor
- Meet Kyrgyz nomads and Wakhi people in the Little Pamir
- Sakhi Shrine in Kabul
- Shop on Chicken Street in Kabul
- Exploring in the Panjshir Valley
- See the caves and fortresses of Bamyan
- Get awestruck at the crystal clear 6 azure lakes of Band e Amir National Park
- Meet locals at the Shrine of Hazrat Ali in Mazar e Sharif
- Visit the Greco-Buddhist Caves in Samangan
- Explore the ancient Bactrian ruins in Old Balkh
- See the colorful mosques, mausoleums, and fortresses in Herat
- Visit the Mosque of the Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed in Kandahar, one of the holiest sites in all of Afghanistan
Where Travel In Afghanistan
Where you can visit in Afghanistan is highly dictated by the current security situation in the country. As of August 2021, the following areas seem to be possible to visit with some careful planning:
- Nowhere in Afghanistan is really possible to visit right now.
The following areas have been possible to visit in the recent past, but due to currently deteriorating security the following areas are either not recommended or not possible due to Taliban activity in or around the cities, or along main roads that allow access to them:
- Panjshir ValleyBamyan
- Band e Amir
- Mazar e Sharif
- Old Balkh
- Takht e Rustam
- Wakhan Corridor
Most travelers’ introduction to Afghanistan will be in Kabul. The city is famous for Kabulian hospitality and a long history, but with that said the city has seen much damage between 1979-2001.
August 2021 update: The entire nation of Afghanistan is under Taliban control. This includes Kabul, as well as the surrounding areas of Istalif, Panjshir Valley, Paghman, and Qargah. Visiting is not recommended at this time.
What To See In Kabul
- Shrine of Sakhi: A beautiful shrine located at the foot of TV Hill in West Kabul. It’s an important Shia Muslim site, believed to be where the cloak of Mohammed was kept until it was moved to Kandahar
- Shah do Shamshira Mosque: In what some call Afghan Baroque-style, Shah do Shamshira is quite unique from the smattering of mosques you’ll see around Afghanistan. Located in the south of the city, it is nearly impossible to miss
- Gardens of Babur: Dating back to 1528, this is the final resting place of Mughal Emperor Babur. Babur Gardens has undergone extensive restorations after being badly damaged during the Afghan Civil War
- Chicken Street: Good place to pick up souvenirs and trinkets to take home. Chicken Street was a staple along the 1960s Hippy Trail
- Qargah Lake: About 15 km west of Kabul on the way out to Paghman Valley, Qargah makes a great spot to escape the bustle and grab a lakeside meal, have a picnic, or relax. The lake is actually a reservoir
- Bibi Mahro Hill: A great spot to head for sunset over Kabul. There is an Olympic sized swimming pool up top, though it’s almost never been used for its intended purpose. The diving board was used during the Taliban reign for public hangings
- TV Tower Hill: Named because it’s where many channels are broadcasted from, but for a tourist TV Hill offers sweeping views of the city
- Ka Feroshi Bazaar & Bird Market: One of the oldest bazaars in Kabul where you can find just about anything. The Bird Market is one of the most photogenic places in the city, watching local buys and sellers haggle over doves, partridges, parrots, finches, canaries, chickens, and more. Be careful about belongings here as pickpocketing happens frequently. The area is also known for plenty of seedy characters that hang around it
- National Museum of Afghanistan & Landmine Museum: Both museums are worthy of a visit to learn a bit more about Afghanistan’s distant and more recent history
- Chehel Situn: A lovely garden of brick pathways lined with tall trees and roses. A nice spot to relax and picnic, meet locals, or play games.
*There is an 100 AFS entrance fee for the National Museum, and an 100 AFS entrance fee to enter the Gardens of Babur. Chehel Situn has a 100 AFS entry fee, plus 350 AFS additional for cameras.
Kabul Day Trips:
- Panjshir Valley: Located north of Kabul, you’ll find more details about it in the next section
- Istalif: Located about two hours north of Kabul by taxi. This scenic village is known for its impressive ceramic works. A taxi there and back should cost around 3,500 AFS
- Paghman: Unfortunately as of 2021 visiting Paghman isn’t recommended due to insecurity. Located west of Kabul beyond Qargah Lake, Paghman is a great place to relax for the day and have a picnic if safety improves.
Where To Sleep In Kabul
- Midrange: Baharistan Arya Guesthouse $40-45 USD per night, double
- Midrange: Ajmal Wali Guesthouse +93 7 0028 5843 $45 USD per night, double
- Splurge: Kabul Serena Hotel
Getting In & Out Of Kabul
Panjshir Valley: A hire of a taxi for the day to the Panjshir Vally and back to Kabul will cost around $45 USD.
Bamyan: At the time of writing (October 2018) and of my visit (September 2018), the only way to reach Bamyan is by road. If you are determined to visit despite there being no flights, I 100% recommend making the journey with a private car/local guide as the road passes very near to Taliban controlled areas– with the help of Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan we were able to make the journey without issue. There are shared vans that depart Kabul in the early mornings for 400 AFS to Bamyan as well but are not recommended at this time. If going by road, only use the route via Charikar and Ghorband, the shorter road via Wardak has stretches controlled by Taliban.
Mazar e Sharif: You can reach Mazar by flight for about $85 USD (one way) daily from Kabul. In the past it was possible to drive to Mazar e Sharif from Kabul, but as of 2021 there is instability around the city of Pul e Khumri in Baghlan Province with some Taliban checkpoints popping up. If things improve again, you can either hire a taxi or take the 600 AFS bus.
Herat: Currently traveling overland to Herat is not recommended via the Northern, Southern, or Central Route due to Taliban presence, making flying the only realistic option. Flights to Herat from Kabul start around $90 each way.
Kandahar: Flights are your best option to reach Kandahar with tickets running around $85 each way. There is a highway that connects Kabul and Kandahar in roughly 6 hours’ time but is not recommended to travel at this time.
Located only 30 km north of Kabul, Istalif makes for a nice day trip to escape the chaotic city traffic. Istalif is famous for its handmade glazed pottery and it’s pretty common for Afghans to come from far and wide to do shopping here. There is one main thoroughfare that you can find a number of pottery shops along where you can even see artisans at work on their wares.
By western standards the pottery here in Istalif is incredibly inexpensive- I managed to pick up a large platter for 150 AFS, a large bowl of 100 AFS, and a coffee mug for 70 AFS. You will need to be able to do some bargaining though and if sellers sniff out that you’re foreign you can expect to be quoted significantly higher prices.
Istalif is framed by gorgeous mountains, making it a great day trip. There are outdoor chaikhanas set up in the forest along the river too making for a nice place to grab lunch and relax.
In the earlier half of 2021, Istalif has had some occasional issues with Taliban members showing up. It is recommended to enquire locally in Kabul before setting off to check the situation. You can make arrangements with a taxi driver in Kabul to take you out here, wait and bring you back. Plan to pay around 1,500-2,000 AFS depending on your bargaining skills.
Panjshir Valley is usually visited as a day trip from Kabul but can be visited as an overnight trip as well. A taxi can be hired from Kabul for about $45 USD for a day trip to Panjshir.
What To Do & See In The Panjshir Valley
- Hike in mountains: Trekking is possible, though a local guide is recommended
- Visit Massoud’s Tomb: Sat high on a hill in Bazarak. You can also visit Massoud’s office nearby too
- Check out destroyed old military tanks: Sat around the tomb area
Plan your visit: The Panjshir Valley Guide
Where To Sleep In Panjshir Valley
- It is possible to camp in the Panjshir Valley, although do check with knowledgeable locals on whether it is a good idea or not when you are there. I can’t give any personal recommendations as I visited Panjshir as a day trip from Kabul.
As of August 2021 visiting Bamyan is not really a possibility. With the Taliban takeover of pretty much the entire country, visiting Bamyan is not recommended at this time.
Bamyan was once-upon-a-time a strategic trading point along the Silk Road and home to a large number of ethnic Hazaras. There are a number of caves, fortresses, and hikes to explore in the Bamyan area as well as great skiing opportunities for those visiting in winter.
If you’re in Bamyan you’re more than likely visiting Band e Amir National Park as well, see the section below for more information. Note that Bamyan was heavily landmined in the past, so do stick to well-beaten paths or hire a local guide. Don’t forget to check out my in-depth Bamyan travel guide.
Bamyan province is home to some epic trekking routes, from high-altitude summits such as Shah Foladi and other peaks in the Koh e Baba, village to village treks in the valleys just south Bamyan Town, beguiling canyons like that of Babur Valley, and countless other opportunities across the province. I won’t go into much detail on the possible treks in Bamyan in this post, but you can get detailed info and GPX files for many of them in my Bamyan Trekking Guide.
What To See In Bamyan
- Buddha Niches: It’s a shame that the Taliban succeeded in exploding these 6th century carved Buddhas in 2001, but the niches that remain are still wildly impressive. No journey to Bamyan would be complete without paying a visit
- Shahr e Zohak: Known as the Red City, Shahr e Zohak guarded the eastern and southern entrances to Bamyan. The Mongol Horde decimated the city in the 13th century
- Shahr e Gholghola: Suffering a similar fate as nearby Shahr e Zohak, Shahr e Gholghola means city of screams, taking its name from the haunting sounds of the inhabitants being slaughtered by the Mongol Horde in a wrath of fury
- Dara e Ajdahar Valley: Located about 7 kilometers from Bamyan town, the Dragon Valley is surrounded by legend. Ali was able to slay the terrorizing dragon with his trusty sword named Zulfiqar
- Buddbacha Cave: A small Buddha niche south of Bamyan town in Kakrak Valley. It’s also known for its Buddhist murals, though they are no longer there
- Foladi Ice Cave: Located on a steep mountainside between Qazan and Foladi Valleys, Foladi Ice Cave is best visited in March and April when you’ll find ice clung to the walls, ceiling, and floor of the cave
- Chehelburj: Meaning 40 towers, Chehelburj dates back to the 12-13th centuries and are fine ruins of Ghorid-era architecture. Located in the far northwest of Bamyan province Chehelburj makes for a good day trip, though a homestay exists in the village next to it
- Climbing Shah Foladi and other peaks in the Koh e Baba Range: Shah Foladi is Central Afghanistan’s highest peak. The Bamyan side is more difficult requiring crampons and ice axes to climb up and is best done in March-May, the Wardak side is less technical. The third highest peak of the range offers the best views and is more of just a hike
- Bamyan Plateau: A protected area and wildlife refuge located in the north of the province. It’s best visited April-June. Home to the rare Persian leopard and Afghan snowfinch
- Trekking village to village in the valleys south of Bamyan town: Several routes link the valleys south of Bamyan offering a lovely trekking that blends gorgeous landscapes and Hazara culture that encompasses Khushkak, Chapdara, Jowkhar, Qazan, Foladi, and Dukani valleys
- Babur Valley: This interesting canyon near Yakawlang is a popular picnic spot on Fridays. The valley eventually narrows into a beguiling slot canyon that requires wading through a thigh-deep gushing stream. Eventually the valley widens, and you’ll need to climb over a steep section of boulders to end up in an amphitheater of rock walls
- Climbing Koh e Mekh: Located in southern Bamyan province near the roadside village of Band e Kusa. We learned that this trek was possible through a couple police officers in nearby Waras who told us that we would need an escort to climb up and directed us to a nearby military post. Locals are weary of camera-toting foreigners as Koh e Mekh is allegedly ladened with minerals and gemstones and they think you may be surveying for prospects
*You will need an entrance ticket to visit Shahr e Zohak, Shahr e Gholghola, & the Buddha Niches. Admission is 300 AFS.
Read: The Bamyan Travel Guide
Where To Sleep In Bamyan
- Budget: You can sleep at the chaikhanas along the main street in Bamyan for about 300-500 AFS/night per person. Note that some do not have toilets and few have showers, so do ask
- Midrange: Caravanserai Hotel $30-40 USD/night, double
- Midrange: Noorband Qala Hotel $23 USD/night, single
- Splurge: Silk Road Hotel $100 USD/night, double
Getting To Sites Around Bamyan
Buddha Niches: Located about 1 km north of the Bamyan Bazaar, easily reached on foot.
Shahr e Gholghola: The City of Screams is located about 1.5 km from the Bamyan Bazaar and can be reached on foot, but a taxi shouldn’t cost more than a few AFS.
Shahr e Zohak: A taxi will cost about 500-1,000 AFS roundtrip to the Red City, but there is a shared taxi that does the journey for 150 AFS each way from the Bamyan Bazaar.
Dara e Ajdahar: Dara e Ajdahar is 7 km west of Bamyan Bazaar and can easily be visited on foot. Otherwise, you can hire a taxi for about 500 AFS roundtrip.
Band e Amir: It is possible to catch a shared taxi to Band e Amir for 250 AFS each way and hiring a taxi for the day will set you back about 1,500 AFS.
Chehelburj: Located in northwestern Bamyan province, about 3 hours drive from Bamyan town. Plan to pay about 3,500 AFS to hire a taxi there and back.
Read about the legend that terroized Bamyan: Dara a Ajdahar
Getting In & Out of Bamyan
At the time of writing, there were no commercial flights to Bamyan, so the only way to visit is by car from either Kabul or Mazar e Sharif. For those willing to take on the risks of this journey I recommend hiring a private car and guide.
Band e Amir
Band e Amir is Afghanistan’s first national park. Spend at least a day exploring the stunning lakes in the mountains. Most services only run between March and November.
You can usually hire a taxi roundtrip from Bamyan to Band e Amir for the day trip for around 1,500 AFS or may be able to hop on a shared taxi for 250 AFS. Check out this post about the lapis lazuli lakes of Band e Amir.
*There is a gate at the entrance of Band e Amir where you will need to pay 200 AFS per person.
What To Do In Band e Amir
- Stroll around the lakes
- Go swimming
- See the Band e Haibat Waterfall
- Visit Hazrat Ali Shrine
Where To Sleep In Band e Amir
- Free: Camping is possible in the Band e Amir area but most locals will recommend not to camp as a few foreigners were kidnapped here in the past
- Budget: Dir Chaikhana near Band e Haibat will let you sleep on the floor for 100 AFS/night per person
Read more about Band e Amir and how you can visit
For those that have a longer amount of time traveling around the Bamyan Province, Chehelburj is a wonderful option. Chehelburj, meaning 40 towers, is falling into ruin, but the remaining Ghorid era towers and Kushan-era Buddhist caves are well worth seeing.
It’s possible to visit Chehelburj as a day trip from Bamyan Town as it is located about a 3 hour drive to the west near the borders with Ghor and Sar e Pol Provinces. For those that want to spend the night out there, there is a family that operates a small homestay in the village just adjacent to Chehelburj.
The easiest way to get out here is to arrange your town transport from Bamyan Town. If traveling independently, it will be worth asking your accommodation to make arrangements with a driver for you.
August 2021 update: Daykundi is not recommended to visit right now due to the recent takeover of the country by Taliban.
Daykundi is a remote province at the heart of the Hazarajat, realistically only accessible from Bamyan Province that rarely sees foreign tourists. The area is full of mountain arid landscapes, some of the kindest and most welcoming people in the country, and countless adventures.
One of Afghanistan’s newest provinces established in 2004, Hazara-majority Daykundi was split from Uruzgan. For those looking to get truly off the beaten path in Afghanistan Daykundi has much to offer.
What to do & see in Daykundi
- Check out the provincial capital of Nili
- Visit the nearly 100 year old Qala Haji Yusefbek and meet the original owners descendants
- Make a day trip to oasis-like Lazir village from Nili
- Meet friendly locals in Shahristan
- Picnic under fruit trees along the Helmand River in the Shahristan area
- Trek into the craggy mountains around Takht e Sangin, Nili, Shahristan, Kiti, and Miromar Distructs
- Go stargazing (literally everywhere in Daykundi in amazing)
Where to stay in Daykundi
- Nili: The only western-style hotel in the province is in Nili near the airport. Rooms at Barg e Badam start at 2,500 AFS per night. Call +93778318318 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, though chances are you can just rock up and rent a room like I did.
- Everywhere else: In most towns you can sleep on chaikhana floors for a couple hundred AFS per night, or stay with locals. Daykundi locals are incredibly friendly, so don’t be surprised if you receive numerous invitations to stay in people’s homes each day.
Getting in & out of Daykundi
Realistically the only relatively safe way in and out of Daykundi is by road from Bamyan. Know that roads are in poor condition and are dusty and bumpy. The nearly 450 kilometer drive between Bamyan town and Nili takes about 14 hours for reference.
Mazar e Sharif
August 2021 update: Mazar e Sharif fell to the Taliban a few days before they gained control of Kabul and the remainder of the country. Visiting Mazar e Sharif including Charkent, Old Balkh, and Takht e Rustam in neighboring Samangan Province are not possible at this time either.
Colorful Mazar e Sharif is one of Afghanistan’s more liberal cities. Mazar e Sharif is one of the safer cities to visit in Afghanistan, but with that said explosions and attacks do happen at times here.
For those wanting to visit Old Balkh or Takht e Rustam you can hire taxis to take you on day trips if roads are safe for travel. If you’re planning to add Mazar e Sharif to your itinerary don’t miss my post Mazar e Sharif in photos & travel guide.
What To Do In Mazar-i-Sharif
- Shrine of Hazrat Ali: The famed Blue Mosque of Mazar e Sharif is the main attraction in the city. The shrine and mosque dates back to the 15th century and is laden with impressive tile work
- Abdul Ali Mazari Mausoleum: The tomb to the late Abdul Ali Mazari, a Hazara leader who was martyred by the Taliban in 1995
- Shop in the Mazar e Sharif Bazaars: The colorful main bazaar of the city is a great place to pick up carpets, scarves, clothing, etc.
Check out: Mazar e Sharif in Photos & Travel Guide
Where To Sleep In Mazar-i-Sharif
- Budget: Barg e Sabz Guesthouse $20 USD/night, double
- Midrange: Arsalan Hotel $40-60 USD/night, double
- Splurge: Royal Oak Hotel (Renaissance Hotel) $70 USD/night, double
Getting In & Out Of Mazar e Sharif
Old Balkh: Taxis to Old Balkh should cost about 1,500 AFS roundtrip to visit several sites around Balkh. (As of 2021, visiting Old Balkh is not recommended).
Samangan: Usually taxis can be hired for about 3,000 AFS for the trip to Takht e Rustam in Samangan.
Uzbekistan: If the road is safe you can travel to the Hairitan/Termiz border crossing with Uzbekistan by taxi for 1,100 AFS.
Kabul: Several flights per day travel between Kabul and Mazar e Sharif for around $85 each way.
Bamyan: As mentioned in the Bamyan and Kabul sections, Bamyan is only reachable by road at present. You should fly to Kabul and then drive Kabul to Bamyan. I highly recommend hiring a private car and guide for the Kabul to Bamyan journey.
Herat or Kandahar: Driving is without a doubt not recommended to either destination. You will need to fly via a stop in Kabul to reach either city.
A nice excursion from Mazar e Sharif is to the district of Charkent, just a short 30 minute drive south of the city. You will eventually arrive at an 800 year old gate sandwiched between barren crags. Beyond the gate, it’s worthwhile to go up and visit the small rural village of Talalei.
August 2021 update: See the warning under the Mazar e Sharif section for more info. Visiting Old Balkh is not recommended right now.
Balkh was an ancient Kingdom of Bactria and once a center of Sufism, Zoroastrianism & Buddhism. Several important sites in Persian history and literature date back to Balkh.
Home to the Haji Piyada– the oldest Mosque known in Afghanistan, Khoja Parsa Mausoleum & nearby Rabia Balkhi Mausoleum, and the ancient Bala Hisar that dates back to Alexander the Great. Read about my high day in Balkh here.
Visiting Old Balkh is an easy half-day trip from Mazar e Sharif. Taxis can be hired for about 1,500 AFS for the trip.
Note that due to Taliban activity that began in the fall of 2019 that visiting Old Balkh isn’t recommended at the moment.
What To See In Old Balkh
- Haji Piyada Mosque: Also known as Non Gonbad Mosque, Haji Piyada is one of Afghanistan’s oldest Islamic sites. Unfortunately the mosque is in disrepair owing to years of war and neglect
- Rabia Balkhi Mausoleum: The tomb of the late 10th century poetress, and possibly the first female writer in new Persian poetry.
- Khoja Parsa Mausoleum: A shrine to the 15th century theological lecturer and Naqshabani Sufi leader
- Bala Hisar: The old Bactrian walls of Balkh that back to the time of Alexander the Great
Ancient walls & hashish: Read more about visiting Old Balkh
Takht e Rustam
August 2021 update: See the warning under the Mazar e Sharif section for more info. Visiting Takht e Rustam is not recommended right now In Balkh, Samangan, and Baghlan Provinces.
Takht e Rustam is an unusual Buddhist Stupa located near the village of Aybek in the Samangan Province. This is the location of where the legendary figure in Persian literature, Rustam, marries Princess Takhmina.
The origins of the stupa date back to when Buddhism spread through Afghanistan and Central Asia. Just down the hill from the stupa are Buddhist caves and an ancient bazaar.
A visit to Takht e Rustam and the Buddhist Caves are an easy day trip from Mazar e Sharif. Don’t miss out on all the details and read my post on Takht e Rustam.
Read: A day trip to Takht e Rustam
What To See At Takht e Rustam
- The Takht e Rustam Buddhist Stupa: An interesting stupa sat on an island of rock
- Buddhist Caves & Ancient Bazaar: An old bazaar just down the hill from Takht e Rustam. Houses a Buddhist temple, though the murals have been removed
August 2021 update: Herat fell to the Taliban just a few days before the entire country fell under their control. Visiting is not recommended.
With over 3,000 years of eventful history, Herat is a cultural and historical center in Western Afghanistan. Given its proximity to the Iranian border, Herat bears quite a semblance to its neighboring country from architecture to Herat’s women’s preference for the black cloak-like chador over the ubiquitous blue Afghan burqa seen throughout much the rest of the country.
Herat is centered around the well-restored Herat Citadel with the Masjid i Jami (The Great Friday Mosque) situated nearby, along with a fascinating bazaar, caravanserais, and mausoleums.
What To See In Herat
- Masjid i Jami (Friday Mosque or Great Mosque of Herat) & Tile Workshop: The Friday Mosque is one of Afghanistan’s best pieces of Islamic architecture. The Tile Workshop is also a must-see to appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into the constant restoration required for the thousands of tiles that adorn the mosque
- Herat Citadel (Natural History Museum & Museum of Communications inside): Dating back to 330 BC, the citadel has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. The citadel also houses two museums
- Herat Bazaar: Great place to pick up odds and ends or souvenirs
- Chahar Suq Cistern: originally built as the cities water storage and used up until the 1970s. The cistern has fallen into disrepair, though restoration efforts are underway
- Yu Aw Synagogue: Herat once had four synagogues, though all have nearly fallen apart. The good news is that all are under restoration. Yu Aw is being restored and will be used as a primary school
- Gowar Shad Mausoleum, Alisher Navoi Mausoleum & Musallah Complex: Unfortunately the entire complex was badly damaged by the British during the 19th century. The minarets of Musallah feel like a skeleton of the great structure it once was. Gowar Shad Mausoleum and the Alisher Navoi Mausoleum are in the best shape of of the complex
- Shahzadeh Tomb of Two Princes: These two side by side tombs to Abdullah and Qasim house intricate Timurid-era tile work and beautifully painted domed ceilings
- Guzargah Mausoleum (Abdullah Ansar Mausoleum): A shrine to the 11th century Herati saint and Sufi mystic Khoja Abdullah Ansar, located outside the city in the village of Guzargah
- Pul e Malaan: South of the city this 22-arch bridge spans the Hari Rud River
- Jihad Museum: Next to Bagh e Mellat Park, the Jihad Museum pays homage to Herat and Afghanistan’s turbulent recent history
- Takht e Safar Park: Worth a stop, especially if you’re visiting Guzargah in late afternoon as it’s located only a couple kilometers away
*There is a 500 AFS entrance fee to enter the Herat Citadel and it is another 500 AFS to enter the Herat National Museum inside the Citadel. There was an entrance fee for the Jihad Museum is 750 AFS, plus 750 AFS additional for cameras.
Plan your time in Herat: Herat In Photos & Travel Guide
Where To Sleep In Herat
- Budget: Mowafaq Hotel $20/night, double
- Midrange: Kakh Hotel +93 79 982 8245
- Midrange: Herat Bustan Hotel +93 72 879 0132
- Splurge: Nazary Hotel Starting at $90/night, double
How To Get In & Out Of Herat
Kabul, Mazar e Sharif & Kandahar: The only realistic way is by flight which all will go via Kabul. A one-way flight will run $90 to Kabul, and to Mazar or Kandahar another $85.
Iran: The border at Islam Qala-Dougharoun is currently open to foreigners. This border crossing connects Herat with Mashhad, Iran. There are shared taxis making the run between Mashhad and Herat for 1,100 AFS per seat or 4,400 AFS for the entire car.
Mashhad is about 4 hours from the border and Herat is about 2 hours from the border. I crossed here in March 2019 and found it to be a straightforward process. Read a border crossing report here.
Turkmenistan: In the past, it has been possible to cross the border between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan at the Torghundi-Serkhetabat crossing, however, there is mixed information about whether or not foreigners can use this crossing in 2018 (some embassies reporting no, and some locals claiming yes).
There is another border crossing between the two countries, although quite remote at Imam Nazar-Aaqina. Open to foreigners, however, the road is a dirt track and from reports likely will need a 4wd to navigate.
August 2021 update: Kandahar has fallen to the Taliban, visiting is no longer recommended.
The predominantly Pashtun and largest city of Southern Afghanistan. In late March 2019, I finally visited Kandahar. The city itself is relatively secure in terms of Afghanistan however the remainder of the province is not.
It is generally recommended that you have someone with you that can understand and speak Pashto with you in Kandahar as Pashto is the predominant language spoken in the south of Afghanistan. Check out my post: Kandahar in photos & travel guide for more information on visiting southern Afghanistan’s largest city.
What To See In Kandahar
- Mosque of the Cloak of Prophet Mohammed: One of the holiest sites in all of Kandahar. It’s believed that the cloak worn by the Prophet Mohammed during the 621 Night Journey is housed here
- Ahmed Shah Durrani Mausoleum: Sat on the grounds as the Mosque of the Cloak, this is the tomb of Ahmed Shah Durrani, the founder of the nation of Afghanistan
- Chilzina: Meaning 40 steps, this massive staircase climbing up a rocky outcrop on the western outskirts of Kandahar was once attached to a citadel and served as a strategic lookout. Similarly today, it is currently being used as a security lookout. You’ll need to enquire with the commander posted there if he will allow you to climb up
- Mausoleum of Baba Wali: Built to honor a highly regarded tribesman, Baba Wali sits overlooking the Arghandab River. Unfortunately, the frontlines have crept closer to the city and are now only 2 kilometers from Baba Wali, so visiting isn’t recommended as of 2021. But do ask locally once you arrive if it’s safe or not to visit
- Mausoleum to Mirwas Khan Hotak: The tomb to influential Mirwas Khan Hotak, of the Ghilji Pashtun tribe. Don’t miss out on going inside, the colorful paintings on the interior are quite impressive
- Sra Jama: The Red Mosque as its commonly called was frequented by Mullah Omar. In 2021 the mosque has underwent extensive restoration
- Eid Gah Mosque: Located on the north side of the city, Eid Gah is one of the largest mosques in Afghanistan. Largely funded by Mullah Omar, the mosque can house thousands of worshippers at once
- Mosque of the Hair of the Prophet Mohammed: Located in the Old City, it’s believed that the hair of Mohammed is stored here
- Kandahar Museum: Learn more about the history of the city as well as the rest of the country
Check out: Kandahar in Photos & Travel Guide
Where To Sleep In Kandahar
- Budget: Armani Hotel $22 USD/night, dbl (email: email@example.com)
- Midrange: Continental Guesthouse $55 USD/night, double
Getting In & Out Of Kandahar
The best and safest choice is by flight. Kandahar is connected to other main cities throughout Afghanistan via Kabul.
August 2021 update: The Taliban claim that the entire Badakhshan Province has fallen under their control, thus making visiting the Wakhan Corridor impossible. The border crossing from Tajikistan is also closed at the moment. Visiting the Afghan Wakhan isn’t really possible, nor is it recommended at this time.
Most who come to the Wakhan Corridor will trek in the remote Pamir Mountains, many of which will go to meet Kyrgyz nomads that live beyond Sarhad e Broghil near Chaqmaqtin Lake in the Little Pamir. The Wakhan Corridor is the only safe region of Afghanistan with little risk to visitors (besides the Afghan colon cleanse or falling off a mountainside).
What To Do & See In The Wakhan Corridor
- Trekking: The Little Pamir, Great Pamir & Hindu Kush Mountains all offer prime trekking climbing
- Meet Kyrgyz Nomads: This small group of people live in the remote Little Pamir and around Chaqmaqtin Lake
- Visit Wakhi settlements: The Wakhi inhabit much of the Pamir Mountains and of course, the Wakhan Valley
- Trek in the Noshaq Valley or summit Mt. Noshaq: Noshaq is Afghanistan’s highest peak at a staggering 7,492 meters. It’s a technical climb. For those just wanting to trek in the area, it’s possible to make the journey to base camp
- Explore the towns and villages along the Wakhan Corridor Road: The Afghan Wakhan is dotted with villages, large and small along this extremity of Afghanistan
Where To Sleep In The Wakhan Corridor
Most will spend at least their first night in the Wakhan Corridor at Marco Polo Guesthouse as they wait for permits to be arranged. There are guesthouses available in Qazideh (Malang Darya’s Family Home), Khandood, Qala e Panja and Wuzed. Most will range from $15-30 USD per night including meals.
Most who visit the Wakhan come to trek, so plan to camp. I recommend bringing your own tent and sleeping bag at least, although guides can usually find one for rent for you if needed.
- Budget: Marco Polo Guesthouse $25 USD/night
Guides In The Wakhan Corridor
I personally recommend Malang Darya’s company Big Little Pamir Travel. You can contact Malang & his team via their new website Wakhan Adventure or by phone +93 794766067
More Posts On The Afghan Wakhan
- Photos From The Afghan Wakhan Corridor
- What It Was Like To Travel As A Solo Female Through the Afghan Wakhan
- Tajikistan-Afghanistan Border Crossing At Ishkashim
Trekking In Afghanistan
While Afghanistan has epic trekking potential, you are very limited to where you can realistically trek without the high likelihood of being kidnapped or killed.
Most trekkers should head over the Ishkashim border from Tajikistan to explore the Pamir and Hindu Kush Mountains in the Afghan Wakhan. Security concerns in the Wakhan are low, especially compared to the state of the rest of the country. Popular treks in the Wakhan include the trek from Sarhad e Broghil to the Little Pamir, treks into the Wakhi Great Pamir, and the trek into Noshaq Valley.
In the ‘Mainland’ of Afghanistan, your most likely areas to trek will be to the Shah Foladi area of Bamyan and in the Panjshir Valley. If wanting to trek around these areas you should definitely contact an experienced local guide to help plan and guide you there.
Check out all of the hiking possibilities in Bamyan Province
Afghan Holidays & Festivals
- Independence Day
- Ramadan & Eid al Fitr
- Mavleed al Nabi
- Eid al Qurban
Tour Operators & Guides
Mainland Afghanistan: Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan – Noor started the company in 2015 with his colleague Sakhi and guides along with his brother Mahdi. Noor, Sakhi & Mahdi are both knowledgable and professional.
Wakhan Corridor: Big Little Pamir Travel – Malang and his team are experts on the Wakhan, Hindu Kush, and Pamir region and will put together some unforgettable itineraries.
Afghanistan Travel Budget
Afghanistan isn’t necessarily that expensive once you’re there, but what really will hit you in the wallet is the flights you’ll need to take between cities at $50-100 USD a pop.
Afghanistan’s security situation is fairly unstable and things can change in an instant, so it is recommended to spend the extra cash to travel with a local guide or at very least know locals that can update you on the constantly changing situation.
$60 USD Per Day
Traveling independently, using public transport within cities, flights between cities, staying at guesthouses, and eating at local eateries
$110 USD Per Day
Traveling with a guide, car hire within cities, flights between cities, midrange accommodations, and a combination of local eateries and finer restaurants
$200 USD+ Per Day
Traveling by guided tour, private car hires within cities, flights between cities, higher-end accommodations, and eating at finer restaurants when available
- External battery pack– You never know when insurgents or suppliers will cut power in Afghanistan. Very handy in the Wakhan and places where electricity may be non-existent in areas
- Solar charger– To keep electronics charged in remote areas
- Comfortable Walking Shoes– I know some may opt for trainers, but my favorite shoe for milling about is the Isabella Flat that Crocs makes (don’t laugh)
- Hiking Boots– Necessary for those headed to the Wakhan Corridor or other trekking destinations. My personal favorite is the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX hiking boot
- Inreach Explorer+– GPS & SOS beacon, that can also send and receive text messages. Delorme/Garmin offers good monthly plans. Great for emergency situations and remote areas
- Water Purifier– I personally use the Katadyn water filter. Tap water in the entire country is unsafe for drinking and natural water sources can be contaminated.
- Headlamp– Useful for the intermittent power outages
- Sunscreen– The sun is pretty intense in summer
- Prescription & Over the counter medications
There are not many guidebooks on Afghanistan, let alone anything up to date. But here are a few that may prove insightful and interesting.
- Afghanistan: A Companion & Guide– Packed with info on Afghanistan and its history with photos.
- A Historical Guide to Afghanistan– Granted Nancy Dupree did write this book in the 70’s it’s still a fascinating read even if it’s not up-to-date as far as current events in Afghanistan go.
- Lonely Planet Afghanistan– LP hasn’t put out one of these bad boys since 2007, but handy nonetheless.
Internet & Mobile In Afghanistan
You’ll find that Afghanistan is surprising well-connected given its situation.
WiFi is available at many hotels in Afghanistan, though the speed and quality of your experience can vary widely. I was pleasantly surprised that every hotel and guesthouse we stayed at in Mainland Afghanistan had WiFi that functioned most of the time. With that said, don’t expect to find WiFi in the Wakhan Corridor.
SIM cards and top-up cards are available throughout the country and are cheap. Roshan, Afghan Wireless, Etisalat and MTN are the companies you’ll come across in Afghanistan.
I have a Roshan card and it’s worked all over the country, including some of the main villages in the Afghan Wakhan. Note that in the Wakhan Corridor that depending on where you’re at and if very close to the Tajik border you can sometimes get reception on Tajik T-Cell and MegaFone SIM cards.
Prices for SIMs with some credits on them are typically around 50 AFS. Prices for data can range from 150-350 AFS per GB. I’ve personally found Roshan and Afghan Wireless to typically be the cheapest options.
Health & Safety
As you guessed it, Afghanistan is neither a safe or ‘healthy’ destination to visit.
Not to be taken lightly, as Afghanistan is technically a war zone after all. In reality, Afghanistan is generally not a safe destination, but with that said there are precautions you can take to make Afghanistan travel a bit safer. Note that safety in the Wakhan is much more relaxed.
Consider Hiring A Guide
Hiring a local who’s in the know on security situations and can help you with the ins and outs of travel in Afghanistan is greatly helpful. I personally recommend Noor & Mahdi of Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan.
Avoid Traveling At Night
Definitely avoid traveling between cities past dark all together as this is when the Taliban is more apt to set up fake roadblocks for kidnappings. It’s also not recommended to travel in most cities at night. Though we did stay out until about 9 pm in Mazar e Sharif with no issues and were out in Herat past dark and we were okay.
Then the one time when I promised a tour group we’d visit the Blue Mosque in Mazar e Sharif and missed our flight from Kabul and had to drive. Long story short, we rolled in Mazar at 1:30 am and lived to tell about it, though I wouldn’t advise it.
Then there was that time that a tourist went M.I.A. in Band e Amir in the winter, which took some of our group on a manhunt (don’t worry, it was successful) but we had to make another night trip on the road back to Bamyan. It’s generally advised to stay inside past dark.
Dress Like An Afghan
Trying to look like a local is most definitely recommended to avoid standing out in a crowd. Afghans are a much more diverse lot than you may have expected– you will see some people with nearly every shade of hair color and eye color. Dressing the part will definitely help you blend in.
On the topic of blending in- do try to speak quietly if you’re speaking English or whatever native language you speak at home when out and about in public, especially on public transport. People do get paid by the Taliban to turn people in, so to avoid someone setting up troubles ahead it’s best to keep your foreignness cloaked well.
Don’t Tell People Where You’re Staying Or Where You’re Going
This goes along with the above mentioned speaking quietly. It’s best not to tell strangers where you’re staying or where you’re headed next, someone could arrange trouble for you ahead.
Afghans are curious in nature and many are just kind people– but it’s best to give vague answers I’ve found to not be rude but also not divulge any useful information.
Change Up Your Routine
I learned this one back when I was traveling in Yemen. Don’t have the same daily routines in any place you visit. Say you walk to the Blue Mosque each day when you’re in Mazar- take a different route each time.
Avoid going to the same places at the same times each day for the same reasons I’ve covered above.
Know Which Embassy or Consulate To Turn To
In the event that you need help know which consulate or embassy can help you. Some countries have representation in Afghanistan while others do not. If your country falls into the latter category, know which country can help you in the event you need it. Check out who has diplomatic representation in Afghanistan here.
Cooperate With Police
You’ll likely encounter police and/or military checkpoints traveling in Afghanistan, especially if any portion of your trip involves going overland. Sometimes they may not let you go into an area (and typically for good reason), and sometimes they will search your car and bags- just go with the flow and all will usually be fine.
Healthcare is pretty grim in Afghanistan aside from the couple of hospitals and complexes that cater to aid workers and NGOs. It’s highly recommended to take out an insurance policy that covers your travel in Afghanistan and can evacuate you to another country if medical treatment is needed.
Food & Water
Probably the most likely culprit to put a cramp in your Afghanistan travel. Hand washing is a huge deal in Afghanistan. Always wash your hands before meals.
However, sanitary conditions are not of the highest standard and tap water is as an Afghan friend put it ‘deadly’. Good rules to follow are: only drink bottled or purified water, only eat steaming hot foods and avoid ice. Do I personally follow them? Eh, not really.
I can say I did not get sick once on my second trip to Afghanistan. Even eating ice cream and literally every dish warm or cold that sat in front of me. On my first trip I did eat something that wreaked havoc on my insides for about a day.
No special vaccines outside the standard vaccines are recommended for Afghanistan travel. Make sure you are up to date on your vaccines prior to departing.
Afghanistan is a dusty place period no matter where in the country you are. Bring allergy meds with you to help cope with the generalized dustiness you’ll experience traveling Afghanistan.
News & Information
Wikitravel still provides some good information for Afghanistan travel, although some sections are out of date.
Have Any Questions Not Answered In This Afghanistan Travel Guide?
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