Afghanistan Travel Guide

Afghanistan Travel Guide

Main street of Iskashim - Afghanistan

The main street of Iskashim – Afghanistan

There is not a lot of available information on travel to Afghanistan. The following is based on personal experiences within the country. This Afghanistan Travel Guide will provide you with an overview of what to expect when you are in the country, mostly in the Wakhan Corridor.

Visas: Obtaining a visa is necessary for all visitors before entering Afghanistan, and you will likely need a Letter of Introduction from an accredited travel provider. Visa requirements can differ with the embassy or consulate. In Khorog, Tajikistan, visas are provided in 30 minutes, whereas in Dubai, the process took four hours. In Western countries, the process can take weeks and is more expensive, so try to obtain your visa when you get closer to Afghanistan.

Accommodation: Best to manage your expectations before travelling to the Wakhan area of Afghanistan. Journeying through here is purely in the realm of adventure travel. Guesthouses are the standard accommodation where you sleep in a large common room and are provided with blankets, pillows and meals. Showers are from buckets (hot water can be boiled), and toilets are always of the squat variety with no toilet paper – so bring your own.

Food: Food is basic, and mostly consists of rice, beans and other vegetables. Flatbread is always served, and so is tea – either black or a lovely milky variety. Meat is sometimes offered, but this is rare. There are no restaurants in the Wakhan Corridor, so all meals will be provided in your guest house. If you want to bring snacks, stock up in Ishkashim, and the same applies for bottled water – either purchase it in Ishkashim or carry a water purifier.

Dirt Road in the Wakhan Corridor - Afghanistan

Dirt Road in the Wakhan Corridor – Afghanistan

Transport: Public transport along the Wakhan Corridor is almost non-existent. Thus you will have to bring your transport from Tajikistan (but you must obtain the official paperwork detailing your vehicle and driver details from the Afghan consulate in Khorog), or you will need to organise a vehicle and driver. The roads are incredibly tough, so ensure that the vehicle you are using is in sound mechanical condition and carries the correct papers. Do not rely on taking public transport in the Wakhan Corridor unless you have a lot of time and patience. People have hitched along that route, but you may be lucky to secure a lift in a short amount of time, or you could wait days.

Climate: It is only feasible to visit Afghanistan in the period around summer (May-September). The winters here are long and harsh, and moving around the country can be very difficult to impassable roads. Even when visiting in late May (a few days before summer), I experienced snow, so you could imagine what was happen in winter.

Health: Isolation from health facilities is your main health concern. Bring all medications with you, including the usual for travellers (such as medication for cuts, scrapes, and traveller’s diarrhoea). Be aware that if you have a medical emergency, you are likely to face it on your own. Ensure you have good travel insurance if it is possible for you to obtain (see below).

Communication: Internet facilities are sparse and slow in the north-east of Afghanistan. If coming from Tajikistan, assume that Khorog is the last place you will find a reliable connection. If you intend using Social Media (such as Facebook) I strongly recommend you install the ‘Lite’ versions they have on offer for both Facebook and Messenger – they are better suited to places with poor connections. Also, if using browsers in this area, try those that offer a ‘turbo’ (or similar option) such as Opera Mini. Even for those with an Afghan SIM card, there can be no connection in the Wakhan Corridor – so you may need to rely on a satellite phone if you need a phone line at all times.

Read more: Things to do in the Wakhan Corridor

Electricity: You should travel with the assumption you may be without electricity for a period of time – and this could be days.  If you carry a camera, bring extra batteries in case many days pass without the ability to charge them. As usual, bring a universal power plug adapter for those times you do find an electricity supply. If you have space, perhaps bring a small solar panel for charging items.

Culture & Customs: Islam is the main religion of Afghanistan. Because of this, the norms of segregation of the genders apply. Men and women should refrain from any physical contact – even shaking hands. Hospitality is greatly valued here, and when entering a village, you will be given a seat in the village’s common room directly opposite the door – the most important position in the room. A jug with water will be brought to you to wash your hands, so please do not ignore this vital ritual. It is extremely rare for Afghan women to travel alone – and if you are a solo female traveller, be aware that you will cause some interest and discussion – and this may be unwanted attention. My advice is that if you are a female, do not travel alone.

Language: Afghanistan has two official languages – one is ‘Dari’, that is also known as ‘Afghan Persian’, and the other is ‘Pastho’.  English is not widely spoken, and when it is spoken, it is in a basic form on most occasions.  You will either need to know one of these two languages or have interpreter travel with you.

Currency: The local currency is the ‘Afghani’ (note that a person from Afghanistan is called ‘Afghan’ so please don’t call them ‘Afghani’). In the north-east of the country, ATMs are non-existent, thus bring enough cash on you (US dollars preferred) for your entire journey.

Shop interior in Ishkashim - Afghanistan

Shop interior in Ishkashim – Afghanistan

Insurance: The importance of insurance in remote parts of Afghanistan is vital as there is unlikely to be a lot of medical facilities nearby in case you need them. Be aware that many insurers will not insure you for any travel to Afghanistan, especially if you are a citizen of a nation that deems the country ‘unsafe to travel’. If this applies to you, please research to find what options (if any) you have.

What to Wear: Afghanistan is a conservative country, so be suitably attired. This means women should wear long, loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf. It is not necessary to cover your face. Men should also dress conservatively – thus, long sleeves and pants are the norms. Jackets are considered a status symbol, so wearing one will increase your authority. Be aware that it can get very cold in this part of the world, so having some thermal clothing on you will be very useful. Note that Afghanistan can be very dusty, so wearing sunglasses will protect your eyes from the dust that flies around.

Permits: To travel to the Wakhan Corridor, you will need to obtain a permit, that involves visits to the local government administration office, and signatures from the military and police. Unless you speak Afghan Persian (also known as Dari) this could be a frustrating process. Best to pay the money to organise a local guide to assist with this process. This pass must be surrendered at either the government office or the border upon leaving the area. My suggestion is to do so at the border.

See more: Afghanistan Photo Gallery

Safety: You need to research carefully before any visit to Afghanistan. The situation is complex and volatile. However, there are certain areas which are considered safe. The Badakhshan Province in the north-east is home to the famous Wakhan Corridor and the Big and Little Pamirs. The safest way to enter here is via the Tajik town of Ishkahsim (border open from 0900-1200, but currently closed on Sundays).

As of June 2013, the road west to Faizabad is considered unsafe by both locals and police (thus you are not advised to use the border crossing from Khorog in Tajikistan). Heed this advice. However, the town of Ishkashim and eastwards is much safer and has been for some time. The Taliban are despised here, so they harbour no friends in this part of the world.

There are two dangers to tourists who travel the Wakhan Corridor. Firstly, the roads are in terrible condition with some dangerous corners that threaten to throw the unwary driver off a precipice. The second danger is the isolation once you reach Little Pamir. There is little or no medical facilities to assist you in case of an accident or illness, and you are days away from such assistance. It is no surprise infant mortality rates are over 40% here. Ensure you bring a well-stocked medical kit when travelling into Afghanistan.

I have heard personal reports about the cities of Herat (near the Iranian border in western Afghanistan) and Mazar e-Sharif in the province Balkh (in the north near the Uzbekistan border) as being both safe with numerous historical sites. Unfortunately, I cannot comment more due to having never travelled there.

Read more: A Visit to Kizkut

If you wish to visit Afghanistan, it is important to read the following information:

Lonely Planet  Tripadvisor  UK FCO