No matter what kind of traveler you are, Pakistan will make sure to fully serve your needs (yet, with certain limitations)! Read below for detailed info on the various standard costs that you have to take into account while working on your travel budget. I have not included air ticket costs, as this will very much depend on the season that you are planning to travel to Pakistan, the airline that you will select for your flight, as well as if you are going to book your tickets well in advance or in a short-notice.
Hopefully, the recommendations I am also providing (based on my personal experience) will give you some inspiration and help you get some parts of your trip in the right direction!
Undoubtedly, accommodation is the most important factor while traveling. A good or a bad hotel experience can either make your day or entirely ruin your trip. With that being said, where you stay does matter!
During our trip to Pakistan, we had the chance to stay in a great variety of lodgings; hotels, guest houses, camping sites, resorts. You name it. What we came to realize is that the accommodation standards in Pakistan are not yet at the same level as in western countries. Sure, you will find several high-end resorts and luxury hotels in the country, if that’s your thing, but not in all locations. So, sometimes, you may have to compromise to something slightly more basic (meaning no warm water, no heating, experiencing electricity cuts, etc). As a visitor, it is important to acknowledge and embrace this reality. Essentially, hotels worth staying in can be too expensive, while the cheaper options may have quality issues.
Personally, we feel lucky enough for having selected LOKAL Rooms for our stay in the 3 big cities, namely Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. “LOKAL Rooms” is a local start-up with a fresh idea of uplifting selective mid-level budget hotels by utilizing existing rooms and fully refurbishing them onto a brand new concept. They are aiming at the best hospitality experience for their guests by carefully selecting properties at the hippiest and safest locations in each city.
All LOKAL rooms we stayed at were spacious enough and had a modern and distinctive design, with the most popular city landmarks being beautifully featured in different decor details. We were also positively surprised by the small “hidden” gifts added as a fine touch in our rooms. More specifically:
- The paper tag of the bottled water was transformed into a bookmark for our notebooks!
- An illustrated city postcard, which we could either send to our friends back home (I did) or keep as our own personal souvenir (I did, as well)!
- An “insider’s” card with a list of out-of-the-beaten-track recommendations for LOKAL explorers, just because local knowledge makes a world of difference!
To top up the experience, a LOKAL captain was serving as our local interface for any question we had or support we needed throughout our stay. And all that at such an affordable price!
Moving out of the cities, for a basic, yet decent budget accommodation expect to pay at around 2.500-4000 PKR (15-20€) for a double room. If you are on an extremely low budget, you can get even lower, but in this case the rule “what you pay is what you get” fully applies. Taking into account the kindness and hospitality of the Pakistani people we have met throughout our trip, I would strongly advise budget travelers to also look out for a Couchsurfing host.
Car / Driver / Petrol
From personal experience, I would definitely recommend that you hire an experienced local driver for moving around, especially in the Northern part of Pakistan. Having your own driver/car, not only gives you full flexibility to go wherever you want, whenever you want, and stay as long as you want, but most importantly helps you save on time.
If you have read my dedicated article on “The Ideal Route To The North” you will see that you need an absolute minimum of 9-14 tight days for just that part of the country. The proposed itinerary, on the indicated time schedule, is only feasible if you have your own driver, and are determined to follow such a heavy itinerary. Obviously, budget travelers that will opt to use public transportation or hitchhike, will require extra time and effort to move around.
A fair daily cost for a private driver with his car is 7.000 PKR (37€). This amount includes driver’s accommodation and food expenses but does not include petrol. However, you can agree on a higher daily rate that will include petrol and tolls (if applicable on the route you have selected). We felt that it was better to have full control (and get a clear indication) on petrol costs by agreeing to pay separately. Eventually, for the “Islamabad – Gilgit (via Besham) – Hunza (Khunjerab Pass not included) – Skardu – Shigar – Chilas – Chitral (via Besham) – Peshawar – Islamabad” route we paid for petrol/tolls around 150€ on a hybrid car.
Another important element to take into consideration is whether your driver speaks (or not) good English. Even if you can survive with basic (to no) communication with him, it helps to be able to have a proper interaction. Keep in mind that he will be the person who will facilitate your registration process at the various police checkpoints, he will make suggestions on places to sleep or eat along the way, he will be your translator in your interactions with locals, etc. So, unless you get an additional English-speaking guide with you (extra cost), you should target a driver who can communicate sufficiently in English.
We were lucky enough to find the “ideal” driver, by total coincidence and I would like to highly recommend him to everyone that is reading this post! Rehman is one of those persons that might formally get introduced as your driver, but at the end of the trip will greet you goodbye as a true friend! To start with, he speaks English fluently (he has lived and worked abroad for a number of years), and has extensive knowledge about his country. We enjoyed great talks during our long car rides about life in Pakistan, and he was a great source of information. He gave us so many valuable insights about the country, the people, the culture, and its traditions. Throughout our trip, he was extremely responsible and took such good care of us. Normally a driver is just a driver. Rehman was more like our guardian angel!
It is worth mentioning that he also had a lot of acquaintances in nearly all the places we visited. He was, therefore, able to negotiate better prices for our overnight stays. In addition, whenever we needed special filming permissions, he stepped in and helped us in getting what we needed promptly and without much hustle.
If you are planning a trip to Pakistan and are looking for a driver, I strongly urge you to get in touch with Rehman. I am sharing his contact details here below, for this purpose:
Rehman Ullah Khattak
There are certain places around Pakistan that are accessible only by jeep. Having said that, this will be an additional cost for you to consider. Here below, you will find a list of places that require such a jeep, including the respective cost (if known):
- Fairy Meadows: 8.500 PKR (45€) for a return ride. You can share the ride (and cost) with other passengers if more people are heading to the same direction on the same day/time. 5 people can comfortably fit in the jeep, but we have seen jeeps loading way more!
- Kalash Valley: 8.000 PKR (43€) for a return ride on a safari-style jeep. We managed to find an old-style jeep for 5.000 PKR (27€). Once again, you can share the ride (and cost) with other passengers, if you are lucky enough to find others heading in the same direction with you. On these specific jeeps, I think the maximum capacity is 3-4 passengers!
- Borith Lake / Passu Glacier: 3.000 PKR (16€) for a return ride. Not a very popular destination, so I am not sure if you can find other people to share the ride with.
- Hoppar Glacier / Nagar Valley: We didn’t manage to visit the site ourselves, but it is said to be a top destination close by to Karimabad/Hunza. Cost not known.
There are certain routes between big cities that you can easily and comfortably travel by public transportation. These routes are very well connected by frequent buses, including VIP services (yet, not at the same standards as we would call a VIP bus in western countries).
You can see here below the ticket cost per route, for your information. I am also indicating in brackets the bus company we have used. If we were to compare these two companies, we would definitely recommend Faisal Movers.
- Islamabad – Lahore (Faisal Movers): 1.650 PKR (8,5€)
- Lahore – Multan (Daewoo): 1.200 PKR (6,5€)
- Multan – Karachi (Daewoo): 2.850 PKR (15€)
Entrance Tickets / Touristic Sites
Some entrance tickets I can recall we paid during our trip, are the following:
- Hussaini Bridge: 100 PKR
- Attabad Boat Ride: Starting from 1.800 PKR for a 30’ ride
- Altit Fort: 1.200 PKR
- Baltit Fort: 1.200 PKR
- Kalash Valley: 600 PKR
- Derawar Fort: 400 PKR
- Noor Majal: 75 PKR (outside entrance only – the museum was closed)
Expect to pay for a meal from 200-500 PKR (1-2,5 €) in standard local restaurants, or around 1.000 PKR (5€) if you go for a more expensive one. Street food is even cheaper, so you have quite a variety of options to choose from without hurting your wallet!
Depending on the areas that you want to visit, you might need to buy separate SIM Cards. Northern Pakistan, as an example, is only served by SCOM. In the rest of the country you can use ZONG.
As a foreigner, you can only purchase your SIM card at franchise stores in the cities. However, activation is not instant but can take from few hours to a couple of… days!
Indicative cost: 1.200-1.500 PKR (6.5-8€)