Pakistan travel guide, including map of Pakistan, top Pakistan travel experiences, tips for travel in Pakistan, plus the best Himalayan treks
Pakistan is a land of travel legend. Firmly on the old Silk Road, traders have been passing through Pakistan’s dramatic interior for centuries; the Karakoram Highway (KKH) is one of the world’s greatest thoroughfares. Sadly, Pakistan is also the stuff of negative news headlines, suffering from volatile neighbours (Afghanistan, Iran) and terrorist overspill. You need to do your research before travelling to Pakistan (safety first), but if you do visit you’ll be rewarded with an incredibly warm welcome, awe-inspiring scenery – the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges collide here – and world-class remnants of ancient Indus Valley civilisations (try those at Moenjodaro), while rubbing shoulders with only a few other tourists.
Offer and accept food with your right hand. Be culturally considerate – both sexes should cover their legs and shoulders at all times; ladies should carry a headscarf to pull on if necessary (eg in mosques). If venturing into the mountains, acclimatise gradually and stay well hydrated.
The north of Pakistan (North-West Frontier Province and the Northern Areas) is best visited from April/May to October – snow can close roads and passes over winter. Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, is hot and sticky in peak summer; further south, around Karachi, it’s hotter still. However, the mountains are much cooler at this time, and pleasant for trekking.
Benazir Bhutto International (ISB) is 8km from Islamabad. Allama Iqbal International (LHE) is 15km from Lahore. Jinnah International (KHI) is 16km from Karachi.
Internal flights in Pakistan link the main cities and more off-the-beaten track spots. They can save a lot of time, as road journeys can be long and arduous. Book domestic flights on arrival – they are cheaper in Pakistan. Note: flights in the mountain regions are prone to cancellation as the weather is so changeable; make sure you have a plan B. Buses in Pakistan are cheap and plentiful, if not overly comfortable. If you can, hire a car and driver for a more flexible and enjoyable option. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is an epic ride – the going is slow (potholes, traffic, landslides…) but the scenery spectacular. The intrepid make the journey by bicycle.
Pakistan’s big cities have chain and five-star hotels; out in the countryside the range is more limited, but often more characterful. Basic budget accommodation will probably have a squat toilet and a bucket instead of a shower. In the mid-range there are homestays, resthouses and lodges. Often meals will be eaten at your accommodation. The Pakistan Youth Hostels Association runs a number of hostels with sex-segregated dorms. If you’re trekking you’ll need to take or hire camping equipment.
In Pakistan expect vast buffet meals of rice, mutton or chicken curry, dhal (lentil curry) and roti or chapatis (flat breads). Pork is forbidden. Breakfast will involve more roti, eggs and honey. Apricots are a local specialty in the Northern Areas – see them drying on the rooftops. Desserts are very sweet and include kheer (a type of rice pudding) and kulfi (reduced milk and nuts). Pakistanis serve a lot of meat, but there are always plenty of vegetable side dishes (including ingredients such as okra, cauliflower, chickpeas and spinach) suitable for vegetarians, and hosts will happily make up more of these if asked. Pakistan is a dry country: alcohol is available only at a few Western hotels in big cities. Sweet milky tea is the drink of choice.
Drink only purified water. Consult your GP or travel health clinic before departure regarding jabs and malaria prophylaxis, which may not be necessary if you are travelling only to the mountainous regions. Dengue fever is also present in Pakistan. This is a volatile region: there is a high threat from terrorism throughout Pakistan. Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, and check Foreign Office advice before travelling.