Visiting Pakistan is one of the most rewarding adventure travel experiences you can have. The country has had its up and downs recently so understandably many people have concerns about visiting. Wild Frontiers has been offering tours, including mountain escapes, ancient cities, trekking adventures, and summer tours to this wonderful country for 15 years. In this article, we offer some practical tips and try to answer any concerns people may have about visiting. This is your guide to traveling to Pakistan.
Ultimate Pakistan Travel Guide
We genuinely feel Pakistan is on the verge of re-entering the mainstream adventure travel market. Pakistan offers an incredible adventure for tourists, travelers, and backpackers. Back in the ’90s, it was a hugely popular destination, with people visiting for trekking, horse riding, rafting, mountain climbing , and cycling opportunities, and to take part in cultural tours. Sadly, post 9/11, tourist numbers fell away sharply leaving this magnificent region almost totally bereft of tourists.
However, in the last 18 months, Pakistan has seen something of a revival and it won’t be long until tourist numbers start to surge. Get there now before everyone else!
Is Pakistan safe?
In general, the Pakistani population is one of the most welcoming, hospitable, and friendly people you are ever likely to encounter.
The simple answer to this question is, yes, Pakistan is safe for travel. While 9/11 caused severe unrest, and Pakistan has definitely had ups and downs as far as security, we like to say that these rumors are often fueled by negative media. The country itself is as safe as any other.
Historically, there has been a number of notable incidents occurring, particularly in the south and centre of the country - and particularly concerning secretarial issues between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The terrible terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar in December 2014 was something of a tipping point; this was universally condemned and heralded a strengthening of the collective resolve to oppose terrorism from politicians, the army and the general public. Since then security has improved dramatically.
As far as the North, near the Afghanistan border, is concerned security has rarely been an issue and in the 20 years Wild Frontiers have been running tours to Pakistan, taking well over 1,000 clients to the country, we have never experienced any problems or dangers. As with any country, travelers should take caution when traveling alone and research destinations ahead of time, but overall people are friendly and there are some areas where the Pakistani people speak English.
Travelling Visas for Pakistan
In light of improvements to security within the country, as of 2019, Pakistan changed its visa restrictions to encourage more tourists to visit. Citizens from 175 nationalities are able to obtain an electronic visa online and visitors from 50 countries are able to get a visa on arrival, when previously, you had to apply for a visa from within your home country and it could potentially involve several embassy visits.
This isn’t just restricted to airport entry but also via land borders, which means that tourists can get a visa in a smaller time frame and at a reduced cost. Visiting Pakistan just got a whole lot easier.
What should I wear?
Pakistan is a conservative country.
Travellers to Pakistan are, therefore, advised to dress conservatively. Headscarfs are not mandatory, but you will often discover that in more metropolitan and densely populated areas, women wear a headdress. Both men and women should cover their legs and women should also cover their arms. In built-up areas women should have a veil or light scarf to drape loosely over their heads, but when in more rural areas, particularly when trekking, western clothing is fine.
What is the infrastructure like in Pakistan?
In the last 20 years, the infrastructure in North Pakistan has seen big improvements. The road network which takes people from the capital Islamabad up along the frontier over the Lowari Pass to Chitral and on to Hunza has been modernised; there is even a tunnel now under the Lowari pass for when conditions mean the pass is closed.
Hotels have also improved dramatically with Ayun Fort now having five more rooms, the Hindu Kush Heights now sporting a beautiful swimming pool and the two Serena hotels in Baltistan renovated to form two royal palaces of Tibetan style, which are among the most beautiful hotels you will witness in the whole of the subcontinent. Overall, hotel accommodations are fairly pricey and most you may visit have a common motel part of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC).
As far as air travel goes, Pakistan International Airlines have taken on a new fleet of domestic planes which give access to the more remote parts of the country more regularly.
How does Pakistan compare with other destinations?
Pakistan has landscapes unique to several different areas of the world, and one of the few mountain ranges with some of the world’s highest peaks. This is a beautiful place for mountaineering.
Pakistan is unique in many ways. First and foremost is the extraordinary mountain landscapes of the north. There can be few if any regions in the world where you can so easily access some of the world’s highest mountains. From our hotel in Hunza situated 500m above the valley floor, you can see views of seven 7,000m peaks climbing all around you. If you are prepared to trek you can travel to what is locally known as ‘the throne room of the gods’ to see K2 and three other 8,000m peaks.
As well as the landscape, there is an astonishing history dating back to the Indus civilisations of the 2nd millennia BC, through branches of the Silk Road, the Mughals of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and the British era of the 19thcentury – illustrated by all of the fabulous architecture that they created.
Finally, there are the people of Pakistan, whose cultural differences make for a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable journey through the country. Probably the most dramatic of these are the Kalash which are the last of the pagan tribes to inhabit the Hindu Kush. Many who travel to Pakistan will also vouch for its friendly hospitality. It’s not uncommon to encounter a stranger who will invite you for tea and conversation.
What is the food like in Pakistan?
Important things of note: the drinking age is 21. Tea, sweetened with milk, is usually served throughout the day, as is Roh, the region's sugarcane juice.
Typically the food of Northern Pakistan is what one would associate with Indian cuisine in the UK – rogan josh, jalfrezi, and tandoori chicken. Pakistani dishes often feature masala (hot and spicy) sauces accompanying different proteins including chicken, lamb, prawns, and different vegetables. However, as you travel further north the influence of China starts to creep in – noodles, dumplings and chicken and sweetcorn soup.
In general, Pakistani cuisine features a lot of meat like kababs. But the food is generally excellent. Additionally, only upscale restaurants serve wine and it’s usually expensive. Similarly, Pakistan has its own brewed beer and carbonated drinks.
What are the highlights?
Although we have just released our new Southern Pakistan tour travelling from Karachi to Lahore that includes three ancient sites of the civilisation - Mohenjo-Daro, Sukkur and Multan - and the Mughal splendours of Lahore, the real highlights of a trip to Pakistan lie in the north. The incredible Hindu ranges and Himalayas all collide here and are surely the most magnificent mountain spectacle anywhere on earth. The forts of Hunza and Altit, the whole of the Hunza valley and finally the Kalash - as previously mentioned a pagan tribe who claim to be descendants from Alexander the Great - and to witness one of their great festivals is something you will remember for a very long time.