The Afghanistan travel guide.
Getting a visa for Afghanistan is usually relatively simple. Different embassies and consulates have different rules and procedures. For example, the Afghanistan embassy in Oslo has in the past required confirmation letters from every hotel, while no other diplomatic missions usually require this. Another odd one is that missions in Switzerland will only issue visas to Swiss residents/citizens, and so on. Almost all though, will require proof that you are going to be in the hands of someone capable while you’re in Afghanistan.
The biggest hurdle you’ll face is the sincere concern of the embassy staff who are genuinely concerned about your safety. A lot of the questioning will surround whether you realise where you are travelling to, and the dangers involved.
If you’re a female, they will usually want to know if you’re travelling with a male. Not because it’s legally necessary, but because it is a safety concern.
The only visa you’ll be able to get is a tourist visa as there are no other relevant options.
For more information on getting a visa you can read our blog. The other option is to contact us and we’ll explain any specific requirements for your particular consulate/embassy.
Getting In and Out
Most people arrive in Afghanistan by flying into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, and depart the same way. It’s not a very connected airport, but there are regular flights to and from Dubai, Istanbul, Islamabad, Delhi and a few other cities around the region. Emirates, flyDubai, Turkish Airlines and Kam Air are the main carriers providing these services.
There are also several land borders that it’s possible to cross at, although most land borders are too dangerous and not recommended. There are land border options with Uzbekistan, Iran and Tajikistan. It is currently not allowed for foreigners to cross from Pakistan (although it has been heard of). There are no border crossings with China.
Why visit Afghanistan?
Afghanistan is a country which has been in a constant state of upheaval for centuries. Located on the crossroads of some of the world’s major regions – the Middle East, the Subcontinent, East/South East Asia and Central Asia/Russia – Afghanistan has been fought over by almost every major power since the beginning of time. Yet even with a history of so many unwelcome foreigners, you’ll still experience some of the most amazing hospitality the world has to offer.
If you’re brave enough to take the plunge, you’ll see and experience a culture that few foreigners ever get to see – certainly not most foreigners who are in Afghanistan, either as part of a deployment or working for a foreign government or organisation.
Very few places are left on earth where your jaw drops the minute you arrive and doesn’t stop dragging along the ground until after you’ve left. At times you’ll be amazed at seeing practices and culture unchanged for centuries. There will be moments when you’re left in despair at some of the heartbreak which is an everyday occurrence, but most importantly you’ll be left with hope for the future of this amazing country and it’s even more amazing people.
There is of course the concern with what has been coined dark tourism, however to suggest Afghanistan only has that to offer is to sell the country and its people short.
For a more in-depth list of reasons to visit Afghanistan you can check out the following article.
Afghanistan travel guide – See and Do
As you would expect, a lot of the country is quite dangerous to travel to. There is still a lot of the country to see including some of the best parts. Here are the highlights from our Afghanistan travel guide.
Kabul: Kabul has more to offer than just somewhere to arrive and depart from. Not only are there some of the most famous sights such as the Babur Gardens, Kabul Museum, British Cemetery, the Bird Market, Chicken Street and several mosques. There is also an increasingly cosmopolitan feel as young people grow in confidence, reclaiming their city with hip cafes, modern fashion and trendy restaurants.
Mazar e Sharif: Mazar has always been a favourite for tourists visiting Afghanistan as it is one of the safest parts of the country. It also has the country’s most famous sight – the famous Blue Mosque, the Shrine of Ali. It’s also a great springboard for the ancient city of Balkh and the Buddhist caves at Samangan.
Herat: Herat is famous for its citadel. It is also in the part of the country where the culture, cuisine and architecture are mostly Persian influenced.
Panjshir: The most famous strong hold of the Mujahadeen during the war with the Soviet Union, the Panjshir is now most famous as an escape from the hustle and bustle of Kabul life. Fresh air, perennial snow-capped mountains, and a beautiful crystal clear river, driving through the Panjshir you’ll almost forget there’s a conflict going on in the rest of the country.
Bamiyan: Known for its natural beauty, Bamiyan was once home to the largest Buddha statues in the world, until they were blown up by the Taliban. Parts of the statues still remain, and the beauty of the sight more than makes up for the statues no longer being there.
Hotels in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has every type of accommodation from extreme opulence to lying on a rug on the ground.
We don’t recommend staying at the more upmarket hotels such as the Serena or the Intercontinental, as they are obviously targets and have both been attacked multiple times before. They’re even building a new Marriot hotel inside the grounds of the US embassy.
We stay in unmarked guesthouses which are extremely comfortable with amazing staff who know how to make you feel at home, but are usually unidentifiable from the outside and therefor don’t become targets.
What to eat in Afghanistan
Afghan food is simple and basic. It’s also heavily dependent on meat, so it’s not the greatest destination for vegetarians.
Mantu, kebab, and pilaf are the main dishes and you can read more on our food page.
Nightlife in Afghanistan
For a conservative, strict Islamic country, which has been in major conflict for about 40 years and on-going conflict for centuries, a country where alcohol is illegal, and the mixing of sexes is generally discouraged, you’d assume Afghanistan wouldn’t really have a night life. And you’d be correct. It doesn’t have a night life and it’s safest to be back in your guest house late at night anyway. The upside of this if you’ll be able to enjoy your fellow travellers’ company with a game of cards, a nice chat over tea or even get an early night’s sleep.
Shopping in Afghanistan
You won’t need much spending money as there generally isn’t much to buy. The most popular souvenirs are of course the famous Afghan rugs, which can be anything from USD$20-30 in to the thousands depending on the size and quality.
Other than rugs, local clothes and small handicrafts are also popular, but these are usually only a few dollars. There are also gemstones available, but you should probably make sure you know what you’re looking at before purchasing a ‘priceless’ gem.
When is the best time to visit Afghanistan?
We recommend travelling there in spring or autumn. Other than conflict, another thing that Afghanistan is famous for is extreme weather. Extremely hot summers and very cold winters. In spring and autumn you’ll still experience days in the 30s, but not the oppressive summer, whilst also avoiding the cold, rain and even snow of winter.
And that is our Afghanistan travel guide, for more indepth information please get in touch.