Afghanistan


Overview

Afghanistan travel guide, including map of Afghanistan, Afghanistan travel advice and when to go to Afghanistan

Slap bang at the crossroads between Central Asia, India and Persia, Afghanistan’s location has guaranteed it a starring role in the Silk Road trade, the hippie trail and, sadly, a string of bloody conflicts.

Unfortunately much of the country’s wildlife, architecture and infrastructure have been decimated by war, and the security situation remains highly volatile. Nevertheless, it’s no coincidence that tie-dye clad travellers once flocked to this ancient land of craggy mountains and poppy fields.

There are many draws: rugged scenery, spirited, hospitable people and an idiosyncratic culture where a perfect weekend involves flying bright kites and watching the traditional sport of buzkashi – polo played with a headless goat.

Although tourism is extremely small-scale, a handful of tour operators (including Wild Frontiers) do cater for expats, NGO workers and curious visitors. If you're considering a visit, monitor the security situation closely and ensure you are travelling with a knowledgeable and responsible operator.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Explore the Wakhan Corridor – This slender panhandle in the northeast is currently the most viable and secure region for travellers, offering rugged treks, Silk Road ruins, diverse wildlife and the fascinating cultures of the Wakhi and Kyrgyz peoples
  2. Step out into the tranquil Panjshir Valley – Littered with Soviet tanks and a rich source of emeralds, the Panjshir Valley is one of Afghanistan's most infamous regions and a must visit for travellers
  3. Gaze at multi-coloured kites in Kabul – Kites are out in force on the Kabul skyline during the winter months and there’s a no holds barred kite fighting festival during Nauroz, the Afghan New Year
  4. Watch a wild game of buzkashi – Where polo is played using a goat carcass as the ball. You’ll need a strong stomach but it makes for a thrilling few hours
  5. Wander around the Ka Faroshi Bird Market – Imagine what ancient Afghanistan might have been like
  6. Picnic at the Band-e-Amir mineral lakes – Called the 'Lakes of Jewels', the five lakes  at Band-e-Amir glitter and seem to change colour during the day

 

Further Reading

Travel in Afghanistan vital stats

Capital of Afghanistan: Kabul
Population of Afghanistan: 28 million
Languages in Afghanistan: Afghan Persian, Dari, Pashto
Time in Afghanistan: GMT+4.30
International dialling code in Afghanistan: +93
Voltage in Afghanistan: 220 AC, 50 Hz
Visas for Afghanistan: Afghanistan visa
Money in Afghanistan: The afghani. US dollars are widely accepted. There are some ATMs in Kabul. Credit cards are virtually redundant everywhere but a handful of hotels and travel agents. A two-tier pricing system operates for tourists and locals.
Afghanistan travel advice:
Foreign & Commonwealth Office

When to go to Afghanistan

Summers are ferociously hot with temperatures of up to 40ºC and frequent sandstorms. Winters can be harsh and snow is common, rendering certain areas off limits.

Your best bet is to go in autumn or spring when the weather is milder. In spring the northern landscape is transformed as desert gives way to green fields and flowers but rain and melting snow at this time can cause flooding and transport problems. Autumn is dry with an abundance of fruit.

Ramazan (Ramadan) is best avoided as most eateries are closed.

International airport

Kabul International Airport (KBL) 16 km from Kabul.

Getting around in Afghanistan

Minibuses are cheap and routes operate to most destinations. Shared taxis are also in plentiful supply and are faster but more expensive than minibuses. Private taxis can be arranged to reach more remote areas. Cars with drivers can be hired but roads are poor, accidents commonplace and driving off road is risky due to the prevalence of landmines and unexploded ordnances.     

Afghanistan accommodation

Accommodation is a mixed bag and options include yurts, guesthouses, hotels and the basic chaikhana (teahouse). Rooms are more expensive than those of neighbouring countries.

If you’re venturing off the beaten track then a stay in a chaikhana, where you bed down on the floor of a communal room, may be your only option. It’s not socially acceptable for female travellers to sleep communally but women might be able to get an attached private room.

In budget hotels expect broken electricity, no hot water and squat toilets. Splash a little more cash in an upmarket hotel and you should get air conditioning, a more reliable electricity supply, TV and internet access (depending on political circumstances).         

Afghanistan food & drink

Food is simple and cheap but lacks variety. The national dish is qabli pulao (steamed rice with grated carrots, raisins and almonds) and lamb kebabs, soups, and rice dishes are common. Nan bread is a staple of the Afghan diet and nuts and fruit are popular (especially home grown grapes, pomegranates, melons and oranges).

If you’re feeling brave, skewered sheep testicles are reputed to have Viagra-like powers. Food is usually washed down with sugary chai (tea).

Vegetarianism is not understood but it is possible to seek out dishes that don’t contain meat. Alcohol is illegal but is available on the black market.    

Health & safety in Afghanistan

Due to the political situation large parts of the country remain perilous. The main safety risks are from insurgency, the threat of kidnapping, and the risks of encountering mines and UXOs (this is one of the world’s most landmine-riddled countries). Overseas aid workers continue to be targets.

Check the FCO Travel Advice for Afghanistan for regular safety updates.  

Lonely Planet's Afghanistan (2007, by Paul Clammer) is the most up to date guide.