Islamabad is usually the starting point for all trips going up north. The farther you can go, by following the scenic Karakoram Highway, is the Khunjerab Pass, the highest international border crossing in the world. Based on my personal experience, I have tried to prioritize on the places that worth visiting in North Pakistan and drafted the below travel itinerary. Depending on the number of days you can afford for such a trip, you can adjust the plan accordingly.
Day 1 | Naran Valley
Around 6-7 hours away from Islamabad. A very good option for your first overnight. Try to depart from Islamabad early so as to fully enjoy the area before it gets dark. Locals strongly advise spending more than one day here. If you are a nature lover and can afford the time, you will not regret it. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit Naran ourselves because the road was still closed at the time of our visit (April). As a general rule, please note that Naran is only accessible when snow has melted (from May onwards).
Day 2 | Chilas / Gilgit (overnight stop)
From Naran to your next stop (whatever this might be – Fairy Meadows or Hunza) you will need to plan a mandatory overnight either in Chilas or Gilgit. The direct road connection highlighted on the map with yellow color is only open during the summer months. With Babusar Pass remaining closed due to snow up until June, your only alternative is the full circle route, marked on the map in red color, through Besham. And believe me, that’s a looong drive!
Days 3-4 | Fairy Meadows
This is the perfect place to chill and unwind, enjoying unparalleled views over the infamous Nanga Parbat. For getting here, you will have to “survive” a crazy 1,5 hour jeep ride on one of the most dangerous roads we have experienced in the whole Pakistan, plus a moderately strenuous 3-4 hours hike (exact time needed depending on your fitness level). Considering that you will be arriving midday to early afternoon on the first day, 2 overnights here seem to be the ideal timing. On the second day, you can opt among several treks around the area, with the highlight being the hike to Nanga Parbat basecamp. Alternatively, you can simply relax and enjoy the mesmerizing beauty of this so-called fairy land!
Day 5 | Reaching Hunza
From Fairy Meadows or Gilgit you can head directly to Hunza Valley. This should take around 2-3 hours depending on your departure point. If you are coming from Fairy Meadows, then add a minimum of 3 (2+1.5) hours for the descending trek and jeep ride. An absolute must stop along the way is the Junction Point, close to the small town of Jaglot. This is the meeting place of the world’s three greatest mountain ranges, the Karakoram, the Hindukush, and the Himalayas. Expected arrival time in Hunza is the early afternoon.
You will most probably use Karimabad (the state capital of Hunza) as your base while taking day trips around the broader area. Indeed, there are plenty of things to do here and you should stay 2/3 days at the very minimum (depending on the exploration mood you are into).
On your first day you will most probably want to relax or take a stroll around the bazaar. But for sunset you absolutely need to head at Eagle’s Nest, a viewpoint on a mountain top, just half an hour drive from Karimabad. Here, you can enjoy the most spectacular panoramic views over the valley!
Day 6 | Hunza and Surroundings
Hunza Valley boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery in the whole world. As such, it takes the lion’s share of Pakistan’s domestic and international tourism and can get pretty crowded during the summer months. Hunza is particularly beautiful in spring time when almond, apricot, cherry, peach trees come in full blossom. However, the weather is still pretty cold and areas like Khunjerab Pass might not yet be accessible due to snow.
On your second day in Hunza, you should start by visiting Altit and Baltit Forts, two landmarks of significant importance. Not only have they served as the residence of the Hunza Kings, but, thanks to their location, they also offer majestic views over the Rakaposhi mountain and the entire Hunza Valley. You will be offered a guided tour (included in the price of your entry ticket) with many useful information shared on the history and evolution of the entire region.
Right after, head straight to Attabad Lake, the jewel of Hunza. The striking shade of the turquoise blue waters is simply dazzling. You might be taken aback by its beauty, but wait until you hear this… Attabad Lake is only 11 years old! It was formed back in 2010 as a consequence of a massive landslide that flooded the whole region, leaving five villages submerged and lots of people homeless. What a tragic contradiction looking at the beauty that was left back after such a natural disaster… Don’t leave the place without taking a boat ride; unforgettable experience!
Next stop is the legendary Hussaini Suspension Bridge. Crossing the bridge is not for the faint-hearted, but it is absolutely safe if you can stay calm! I suggest you give it a go! In the end, you only live once! And before calling it a day, you should make one last photo-stop at Passu Cones viewpoint. This particular spot can be found on the Karakorum Highway, right after crossing the village of Passu. No better place to admire this incredible series of cone-shaped mountains in the background. And once around the corner (i.e. Passu village), head to Glacier Breeze Café & Restaurant for tasting their delicious handmade Apricot Cake and Yak burger!
Day 7 | Day Trip to Khunjerab Pass from Hunza
On this day, you will be heading to Khunjerab Pass, the highest international border crossing in the world, connecting Pakistan and China. Even if there is not much to do up there, it is still considered an important landmark that (weather permitting) visitors should not miss! In order to reach the border you will have to drive through Khunjerab National Park, a very scenic route on the Karakoram Highway. If you are lucky enough, you might also be able to spot a variety of wildlife along the way, such as Ibexes, Yuks, Golden Eagles, and less likely Snow Leopards!
It will most probably take around 4 hours to reach Khunjerab Pass from Karimabad. Remember that the temperatures are generally very low all year round, so do dress-up accordingly.
We were not able to make it to Khunjerab as the road was closed with snow at the time of our visit (April). Instead, we decided to take a jeep ride to Borith Lake and walk towards the nearby Passu Glacier.
Days 8-9 | Leaving Hunza heading back to Islamabad
Similarly to the way up, you will need an additional 2 days drive to get back to Islamabad.
Day 8 | Trek to Rakaposhi Basecamp
If you are up to some more trekking, you can make a stop in the nearby village of Minapin. From there you can do a day’s trek to the Rakaposhi basecamp.
Days 9-10 | Heading back to Islamabad
Similarly to the way up, you will need an additional 2 days drive to get back to Islamabad.
Day 8 | Hunza to Skardu
OK, this is a challenging one, only for those who can afford extra travel time and are willing to take the risk. This is what we did, as well, and I can assure you that it was worth every minute of it! Let me start by saying that this is going to be a long and exhausting ride on bumpy and dangerous roads, with high chances of experiencing road closures, car accidents, and landslides that will delay your journey even more. Your final destination is Skardu. You will need to depart early in the morning and hope that by night you will have arrived (safely) to your destination!
Day 9 | Shangrila
After all this adventure that you have gone through, you definitely deserve to wake up at a heavenly place. Shangrila Skardu, exactly as its name indicates, is such a Heaven on Earth. Built on the banks of a dreamy heart-shaped lake, and surrounded by some of the world’s highest peaks, Shangrila Skardu Resort guarantees some of the most surreal landscapes you have ever laid your eyes on.
No wonder why Muhammad Aslam Khan, the army brigadier and commander, whose military operations proved instrumental to the liberation of Skardu, chose to settle here after his retirement. Having recognized the potential of tourism in the broader area, he gradually bought more acres of land and, within a few years, he managed to bring to life the first resort established in the whole of Pakistan. The resort is nowadays featuring within its grounds a unique Pagoda Restaurant, a duck pond, a bird zoo, a trout farm, boating facilities, as well as different types of tree fruit orchards. As a fine touch, an old aircraft that had crashed nearby was pulled over here and took its current prominent position within the resort. So far, it has been used as a café and restaurant, but there is a plan to convert it into a playground for kids pretty soon.
Every summer, the place boasts a high number of local and international tourists. You can opt between a single-day visit (under a small entrance fee) and/or several overnights. Truth be told, the resort is not a budget option, but don’t we all owe some pampering to ourselves every once in a while? Available to choose from are: fully furnished rooms, Lakeside or Swiss cottages, VIP Suites, or Presidential Suites! No matter your selection, you will be spoilt with your own balcony, overlooking the mesmerizing Shangrila Lake.
You can literally spend the whole day walking around the site, feeling blessed for setting your foot on this paradise on earth! By no means should you miss the viewpoint on top of the hill, for unparalleled panoramic views over the lake from high above! If you are up to some more exploration, then you can (and should) take a jeep ride to the nearby Upper Kachura Lake, which is equally beautiful and, the less explored by tourists, Soq Valley!
Day 10 | Shigar and Khaplu Valley
Depending on the month of your visit, you should plan a day-trip excursion towards the Valleys of Shigar and Khaplu. For making it to both sites in one day, you need to get up early and be ready for a full day behind the wheels! Apart from the incredible views, you will enjoy while driving through these majestic valleys, here are some famous historical sights you should not miss: Shigar Fort, Khaplu Palace, and Chaqchan Mosque.
On your way back, I highly recommend planning/making your overnight at a very special place, the Glamp Pakistan, in Katpana desert. Katpana is known as the highest cold desert in the world, and is located close by the city of Skardu. Upon our arrival, we were positively surprised by the sustainable methods used to prevent damaging the surrounding ecosystem. More specifically, the camp is using solar power for its operation, and a sophisticated waste management system for the conservation of the natural environment. Already for that, I would like to give a big thumbs up to the camp’s management and staff for their eco-friendly approach!
When it comes to the sleeping facilities, both Standard and Safari tents are furnished in a unique way that is instantly creating a homie atmosphere. The Safari tent, however, is by far the most luxurious! To top up the experience, each tent comes with panoramic windows offering breathtaking views over the valley, the night sky and stars!
Day 11 | Deosai National Park
Another day-trip, that ranks high on everyone’s list, while in Skardu, is the Deosai National Park. The park is the second-highest plateau in the world and particularly famous for its rich biodiversity. Deosai was designated as National Park back in 1993 with its primary objective the conservation of the Himalayan Brown Bear, which was critically endangered.
Nowadays, it has become the home of a wide variety of rare species, such as the Siberian ibex, the Snow leopard, the Himalayan wolf, the Golden Eagle, and many more. Unfortunately, the Park was not accessible while we were there (mid-April), so we do not have personal experience of this. Still, it remains an absolute must place in Pakistan and you should not miss it!
Days 12-14 | Heading back to Islamabad
From Skardu you will need one full-day to cross the challenging Skardu – Gilgit road. Then another 1,5 days until you get back to the capital city. This is clearly a “waste of time” but your other alternative (i.e. taking a flight), is (a) pretty expensive, and (b) not always guaranteed due to regular cancellations on domestic flights.