If you are reading this blog post, you are either curious or (hopefully) truly interested in visiting Pakistan! For the latter ones, let me start by saying that you have taken the right decision! The country is absolutely stunning and has a true potential to grow as a TOP touristic destination.
But let’s get it straight from the very beginning. Pakistan is a country that has been experiencing turbulence, violence and political unrest for most of its existence. That being said, its reputation has suffered excessively around the globe, remaining black listed as a travel destination for many years. In recent times/days, a lot of efforts have been done by the PAK government to eliminate terrorism with positive acceptance internationally. Nowadays, certain regions are reported as absolutely safe, while others (where tensions still exist) remain restricted to foreigners.
Should you like to read more about Safety in Pakistan, please revert to the dedicated post (“How Safe is Traveling to Pakistan?”) I have created for this purpose.
What is There to Do in Pakistan?
A WHOLE LOT!
Pakistan is characterized as an unexplored hidden gem and for a very good reason. It can offer plenty of exploration opportunities depending on your liking. Are you into nature, adventure, culture, mysterious ancient tribes, friendly people, and mouthwatering food? Then Pakistan is your place!
But… don’t take me wrong. Travelling in Pakistan can get demanding, exhausting and frustrating at times. Though, in the end, I can assure you that your trip will be exciting, fulfilling and what more… life-changing.
Where To Go?
This is an excellent question, since the country is literally vast and commuting from one place to another will take up much of your travel time. That said, try to be flexible with your itinerary as unexpected delays might happen along the way. Obviously the most important factor to take into account is the weather, always in combination with the (already known) bad road conditions in Pakistan. Day to day changes are likely to happen, so do acknowledge a level of uncertainty.
Depending on the number of days one can plan for such a trip, I have tried to prioritize the places that are worth visiting. I will also indicate the minimum time needed in each area, as well as possible roadblocks.
- Northern Pakistan
- Kalash Valley
- Lahore / Multan
- Karachi / Balochistan
Northern Pakistan | Gilgit Baltistan (10-14 days at the very minimum)
It’s a no-brainer nor a hidden secret that Gilgit-Baltistan (an autonomous territory of Northern Pakistan) is the most mesmerizing region across the entire country! As a visitor, you should expect one of the most diverse landscapes consisted of mountain tops, pristine lakes, valleys, rivers, glaciers, waterfalls, deserts, all in one place. No wonder why this is the most popular destination amongst international tourists and locals alike. Hence, if there is one place you simply should NOT miss while traveling to Pakistan this is the Northern part of the country.
Gilgit-Baltistan is home to some of the highest peaks in the world, making trekking and mountaineering expeditions quite popular amongst experienced alpinists. From the one side, lies the notorious K2, the world’s second-highest peak after Mount Everest in Nepal, and, also, the deadliest summit to climb. From the other side, Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest peak in the world, yet with difficulty and fatality level close to that of mount K2.
Did all that sound scary and rather discouraging, thinking that ordinary people like us stand no chance of engaging in such kind of adventurous activities? By no means, should you let yourself get disappointed! There are still many hikes in Northern Pakistan that are safe, easily accessible and require much less effort. The treks to Fairy Meadows, as well as, the nearby Beyal and Nanga Parbat basecamps, are very good alternatives. The Rakaposhi basecamp is also a great option. These short treks require 1-2 days to complete. Depending on how far you want to go, you should plan your overnight stays accordingly.
However, you don’t need to hike a mountain peak to really enjoy the beauty of Northern Pakistan. You can simply roam around its various valleys, spot a variety of rare wildlife in protected National Park areas, get to know the local culture, chill, relax, and enjoy the views!
Weather-wise, the best months for visiting Pakistan are June to September. We were there early April and found many areas closed due to heavy snow (Naran Valley, Nanga Prabat basecamp, Babusar Pass, Khunjerab Pass, Deosai National Park). However, depending on the places of your personal interest, you might find May and October being great options, as well. Overall, it is worth mentioning that during summertime the area can get pretty crowded by both local and international tourists.
Hopefully, the dedicated post I have created for “The Ideal Route To The North” will help you plan and organize your Northern Pakistan trip accordingly.
North West Pakistan | Kalash Valley (4-5 days including commuting time)
Visiting the ancient tribe of Kalash (inside or outside their annual festivals) is a once in a lifetime experience. This mysterious light-skinned ethnic community of unknown origins, forms a small paganist minority (of around 4,000 members) within the grounds of the Islamic State of Pakistan. Despite the fact that Kalashas are surrounded by another dominant religious ethnic group, they have yet managed to maintain their own identity, language, religion, unique culture, and way of living.
Location-wise, the Kalash people live in three remote valleys in the broader Chitral area, not too far from the border with Afghanistan. Having said that, you will need quite some time to get here. It can take up to 2 days to reach the Kalash Valleys by road, another 1-2 to explore the area, and possibly another 2 to get back to Islamabad.
You can get more info about Kalash people, their traditions, annual festivals, how to reach the place, accommodation options, costs, and so much more on the dedicated post “Kalash Valley – The Land of the non-Believers” I have created on the topic.
I would highly recommend to anyone traveling this direction to add one extra day for heading to the old city of Peshawar. Peshawar is not only a city of historical importance for Pakistan, but also a foodies’ heaven. From Peshawar, you can easily connect with Islamabad in around 3 hours.
North East Pakistan | Lahore & Multan (4-5 days including commuting time)
Lahore’s name and reputation as the cultural capital of Pakistan speaks for itself. If you want to deep dive into the rich history and valuable heritage of the country, then by no means should you miss Lahore.
The city itself is like an open museum! You can spend as much time as you please strolling around the old city walls, the busy bazaars, the food streets, the fortified palaces, gardens, and mosques. At the time of our visit, and due to the current pandemic conditions, a strict lockdown was imposed with all touristic sites, attractions, and even some bazaars remaining closed. With the kind intervention of the Greek consulate in Lahore, we were allowed entrance into a couple of historical sites and managed to get a short glimpse of Lahore’s old splendor.
As a rough estimation, and with the city in full operation mode, we would definitely need 2 full days to cover all major sites. Time permitting and if you fancy staying in Lahore a bit longer, you can consider a 3rd day and head to some pretty interesting sites that worth visiting outside the city.
Here below you can find a summary of the most important points of interest in Lahore:
- The Old Walled City
- Lahore Fort
- Delhi Gate Market
- Masjid Wazir Khan
- Badshasi Mosque
- Fort Road Food Street
- Shalamar Gardens
- Hiran Minar (located outside Lahore)
- Wagah border ceremony (taking place every afternoon on the border between Pakistan and India)
Another place of historical importance within the Punjab Province is the city of Multan. It will take you around 5-6 hours to get here from Lahore. If you are planning to head south to Karachi, then making a stop in Multan makes absolute sense. One full day seemed quite fine to us for exploring Multan. Yet, once again, all historical sites were closed due to lockdown restrictions, and we could only visit them from the outside.
Likewise Lahore, Multan can serve as a good base for making a one-day trip in the Punjabi desert (the landscape here is like no other dry land you have ever seen). We personally opted to visit the Derawar Fort, the Abbasi Jamia Mosque, and the Noor Mahal in Bahawalpur.
Weather-wise, it is worth mentioning that even in mid-April the temperatures in both Lahore and Multan were close to 38° Celsius! That said, summer seems like a no-go season for this particular area and all the way down to the country’s extreme south.
South & South West Pakistan | Karachi & Balochistan
The main reason why someone should head all the way down to Karachi is for exploring the beauty of the nearby Balochistan area. I sincerely hope that the people of Karachi will not get me wrong on this! Karachi itself has a cultural and architectural interest of its own, however, considering the long distance from all the other places of interest within the country, it will most probably not worth going so far off for exploring the city alone.
On the other side, there are certain limitations for entering and freely moving around Balochistan. Due to the constant unrest and terrorist attacks in the broader area, access to foreigners has been strictly restricted. Therefore, before scheduling a visit to Balochistan, make sure you have obtained a special permission via the -so called- NOC document. NOC stands for No Objection Certificate and it’s a legal document issued by the government through a specific (quite complex and lengthy) procedure.
You can apply for this document either individually or through a tour operator. It seems that the most appropriate office to raise your request is the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad. A period of six (6) weeks is needed to get your application processed until security clearance is granted. As the whole process lies on security grounds, chances are that your request will be rejected. And that is exactly why the beauty of Balochistan remains hidden from the eyes of foreigners/tourists, with only limited exceptions.
To stand some chances, you can try reaching out on a local tour operator. This operator will take the responsibility for accompanying you in Balochistan, and will subsequently take the lead in applying for the NOC document on your behalf (usually under an extra fee). Alternatively, if you have any local acquaintance/sponsor that can support your individual application, I highly urge you to also ask for their help.