Update 2018: As security in the country improves, tourism in Pakistan increases. For the first time since 9/11, Pakistan is really starting to be on the radar of the most adventurous travelers

Since I came back from my 2-month journey in Pakistan, I have been strongly promoting the country through tens of pictures, stories, and detailed traveling information. To be honest, very few people are aware of the potential of this country, so everybody gets particularly surprised when they hear my tales of Pakistani hospitality or take a look at my photos:

Really? Is that Pakistan?

However, whenever I convince any of my friends and readers of the outstanding landscape and great people that comprise Pakistan, inevitably, they ask me:

But, is Pakistan safe?

That’s a very valid question but, unfortunately, there is no short answer to it. Pakistan is such a huge country, which comprises countless different regions, ethnicities, and sub-cultures, that it would be a big mistake to consider it as a whole.

For this reason, I decided to write an analysis which, from a traveling perspective, will show you what the situation is nowadays for travelers going to Pakistan, including which regions are safe and why they are, plus a couple of extra tips which, hopefully, will help you to stay safe during your visit in Pakistan. 

Please note that I am not a journalist but just a very curious, observant traveler who asks locals a lot of questions. If you think there is something wrong or any misleading information, kindly post your concern in the comments section.

For practical information and tips, read 70 Things to know before traveling to Pakistan

is Pakistan safe?

 

Is Pakistan safe? Everything you need to know

Here you will find:

Why do people think it’s not safe to travel to Pakistan?
Which areas in Pakistan are not safe for travel?
Relatively safe areas in Pakistan which are safe for tourists, but where you should be careful
Which areas in Pakistan are safe to visit?
Travel Insurance for Pakistan
More information on how to travel safely in Pakistan

Unlike many Westerners who have been to Pakistan, I will not come and tell you that Pakistan is one of the safest countries in the world.

Trust me, it’s not.

And if there is anyone who is telling you the contrary, perhaps, they should be more well-informed. Pakistan has some really dangerous places and, even in some touristic areas, the police may assign you an armed escort, for free. They are not giving this service to a random foreigner just for fun but because, potentially, there might be a real threat. 

Nevertheless, controversially, some areas of Pakistan are safe for tourists and, if you travel with an extra, tiny bit of caution, you will, definitely, have one of your greatest experiences ever.

Pakistan safe

 

Is it safe to travel to Pakistan? Why are we afraid?

Every time the Western media talks about Pakistan, it is not to show you how great its Himalayan mountains are. Instead, they only mention it when something really awful is going on and, by awful, I mean any negative event caused by Islamist terrorists.

From countless terrorist attacks to the place where, supposedly, Bin Laden was killed; and the birth-country of Malala, the Nobel prize girl who was shot by the Taliban when they took over her region in Pakistan; since the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan hasn’t really got a good reputation in the Western world. Not really. 

However, while it’s true that many of these events happened, you should also know that Pakistan is a massive country,  with a population of 200 million, composed of several provinces with many political, cultural, and social differences. 

That’s what the media doesn’t tell us and what makes us question whether Pakistan is safe or not.

Let’s take a look at the safety situation by area in Pakistan.

Read: The ultimate travel itinerary to Pakistan

is Pakistan safe to travel
This is the image of Pakistan we have in the Western world – Is Pakistan safe to travel

 

Which areas in Pakistan are not safe for travel?

Balochistan

Bordering Iran and Afghanistan, the mainly deserted southwestern province of Pakistan is the most dangerous and unstable region in the country, the main reason being the fact that the border with Afghanistan is out of control, hence many Taliban cross it freely. In Balochistan, there is a real kidnapping danger and the capital Quetta is continuously witnessing terrorist attacks.

This province should be avoided but, guess what: visiting Balochistan requires a special permit which is extremely complicated to obtain. Your only chance to enter this region is if you plan to cross the Pakistan-Iran border, which is actually open but, even then, you will be escorted by armed police until you exit Balochistan. 

 

Tribal Areas 

A province in northwestern Pakistan which borders Afghanistan and Balochistan. The Tribal Areas is a semi-autonomous province which is mainly inhabited by Pashtuns, an ethnic group with very strong fundamentalist ideas about Islam.

This is the least developed province in Pakistan and a region where the Pakistani Government has very little control. On top of this, due to the proximity with the Taliban-Afghanistan, the Tribal Areas is dangerous for even Pakistanis themselves. However, like neighboring Balochistan, you need a special permit which is very hard to get. Good luck!

Is Pakistan safe for tourists
Is Pakistan safe for tourists?

 

Relatively safe areas in Pakistan which are safe for tourists, but where you should be careful

Peshawar

Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, a province also inhabited by Pashtuns, the most conservative people in Pakistan. In Peshawar, terrorist attacks do happen but they are rare. In addition, there is a significant community of people from the Tribal Areas but you can easily avoid the areas where they live.

Here, it’s best to dress like a local, in a salwar kameez and, if possible, to hang out and walk around with local friends. I met people through Couchsurfing and everything went really well and smoothly.

is it safe to visit Pakistan?
A Pashtun in the bazaar of Peshawar

 

Swat Valley

For a long time, the beautiful Swat Valley was in the eye of the Western media because, in 2007, the Taliban took control of the region, originating a bloody war and killing thousands of innocent people. Today, the Swat Valley is a peaceful region but you should always keep your eyes open, as it is an extremely conservative place.

In Swat, you may be assigned an armed guard but it depends on the day and the mood of the police. Actually, I didn’t get one but I know other travelers who did. Also, you should know that, occasionally, the area is restricted to tourism without previous notice, requiring a travel permit called NOC. My friend Ihsan from Swat Backpackers is a trekking guide who can arrange it for you. 

 

Chitral and the Kalash Valleys

The Kalash Valleys are home to an ethnic community who don’t follow Islam but an ancient Pagan culture called Kalash. Due to their proximity to the Taliban-controlled area of Nuristan, in Afghanistan, this small region has always been under Taliban threat. In fact, in 2009, a group of insurgent Taliban managed to cross the border and killed tens of people.

Since then, security has highly improved and the Kalash Valleys have lived in peace. However, just try to be careful about where you go, especially if you are hiking near the border. Most likely, at your arrival in Chitral, you will be assigned an armed guard. If you want to know more about the area close to the border, read my story from the day I sneaked into an Afghan village.

Moreover, if you want to learn about the Kalash people read this post I wrote for The Broke Backpacker: Exploring the Kalash Valleys in Pakistan

is it safe to go to Pakista?n
Swat Valley – Is it safe to go to Pakistan?

 

Karachi 

Despite being home to a large expat community, the largest city in Pakistan is a well-known place for its violent crime. In fact, Karachi has one of the highest crime rates in the whole of Asia. However, in the last couple of years, the situation has relatively improved but crime can still happen. Don’t bring valuable belongings with you at night and, if you are alone, ask trust-worthy locals which areas should be avoided. 

 

Kashmir

Very little is known about Pakistani Kashmir, as foreigners are not allowed to get in. Being a region which has been disputed between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947, for decades, Kashmir has been a troubled place. I don’t know about any foreigner who has been there but, according to local friends, it’s not a dangerous place anymore.

safe Pakistan

 

Which areas in Pakistan are safe to visit?

Islamabad

The relatively new capital of the country is, definitely, the safest city in Pakistan. With plenty of checkpoints everywhere, the Government has invested so many resources in security, as this is where the Pakistani elite lives, as well as plenty of foreigners.

 

Lahore

You may have heard of some terrorist attacks happening in Lahore but, to be honest, there were only a few and they always targeted specific places and people. In fact, these attacks were no worse than the ones which happened in European capitals, such as Paris or London. The likelihood of being affected by one of these incidents is extremely low. Other than that, Lahore is a safe city filled with plenty of welcoming people and happiness.

is Pakistan safe to visit
Lahore mosque – Is Pakistan safe to visit

 

Gilgit-Baltistan 

Fortunately, the most beautiful province in Pakistan is also the safest one. Home to the Karakoram Highway and some of the highest mountains on Earth, Gilgit-Baltistan is where you will spend most of your time. Most of its inhabitants are Shia, a more liberal branch of Islam and, perhaps, one of the reasons why there are no Islamist radicals.

Nevertheless, Gilgit-Baltistan witnessed quite a critical incident back in 2013, when a group of radical Islamists opened fire and killed 10-20 tourist climbers in Nanga Parbat. This was the first and last incident that ever happened in Gilgit-Baltistan and, to be honest, the authors were Pashtuns from KPK province, not Gilgit. Please keep in mind that this incident was an exception and, after that, security has drastically improved.

 

The rest of Sindh and Punjab provinces

The two provinces where Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi belong to are the least visited safe areas in Pakistan. Here, almost no real incidents that could have affected foreigners have been reported and, actually, you can move around freely, without any restriction. In this area, the train is the easiest and most comfortable way of transportation. I didn’t spend much time here but, regarding security, I didn’t find any major issues. I only found that, in many cities, most budget hotels are not allowed to host foreigners.

Remember to read my backpacking guide and travel itinerary to Pakistan to learn more about all these safe regions

Pakistan safe to travel
Multan – Is Pakistan safe to travel

 

Travel insurance for Pakistan

Consider getting an insurance for high-risk countries

You should be aware that the international community considers Pakistan a dangerous destination, so most governments would advise against all travel to this beautiful country.

This means that regular travel insurance companies such as World Nomads, will not cover you if you get into any sort of travel for not following their advice. Canadian citizens and a few others won’t be covered at all and other nationalities won’t be covered in some specific regions, such as the road from Islamabad to Gilgit, Sindh Province, the Kalash Valleys and many others.

If you want to be fully covered you should consider buying a travel insurance for high-risk countries such as First Allied, an insurance specialized in dangerous destinations. With them, you will be fully covered.

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE QUOTE FROM FIRST ALLIED

For more information about this topic, you should read my article: How to choose the right insurance for high-risk countries

If you like this website and found the post useful, please consider buying your insurance through any of my links, as I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you! These small earnings help me keep Against the Compass on! Thanks 🙂

is Pakistan safe
Is Pakistan safe?

 

Is it safe to travel to Pakistan? More things you should know

Checkpoints and Pakistani police

I’ve never been through so many police controls as in Pakistan. From Islamabad to Gilgit along the Karakoram Highway, I passed ten different checkpoints in one single day, and at each one I had to give a passport copy and register. The police were continuously interrogating me: Why are you here? Where are you going? They are actually pretty cool and their only objective is to check for your personal security.

Personal armed guards

In some areas of Pakistan like Swat Valley, Kalash region and even for the Fairy Meadows trek, you get a personal armed guard, for free. Don’t be afraid. In these areas, there has been some real trouble in the past, so they just don’t want to expose you to any kind of danger.

Pakistani intelligence

The Pakistani Intelligence is one of the best secret services in the world. No matter where you go, they will know who you are and where you are. One day, while trekking around the Astore Valley, one random local guy in salwar kameez approached me and said: You are the Spanish, right? He was a member of the Pakistani Intelligence and, for three days, they had been following me and looking after my safety. Actually, the Pakistani Intelligence is one of the reasons why Pakistan has not become a failed state like Afghanistan.

Kidnappings

Except for the dangerous areas, I’ve never heard of any tourist kidnappings in Pakistan. However, just be careful when you travel in KPK province, including Peshawar and Swat Valley. Dress like the locals and, depending on the place, don’t go out alone at night.

Terrorist attacks

In the safe areas, terrorist attacks are very rare and you are unlikely to be affected by one. Remember that terrorist attacks occur at one place at a very precise moment. You are more likely to be run over a car in your home country than to be killed by a bomb in Pakistan.

Roads in Pakistan

For me, this is the only real danger. In Pakistan, people drive like crazy and accidents do happen frequently. If you travel by cheap, public transportation, the risk is obviously higher. If you are worried about this, your best bet is to hire a private tour.

Dress like a local

Like I said on numerous occasions, it’s highly recommended to wear a salwar kameez, the typical Pakistani dress, especially in KPK province. This way, you won’t call much attention to yourself. 

Couchsurfing

In Pakistan, Couchsurfing is a big deal and a great way to meet trustworthy, hospitable locals who will try to help you immensely on your journey.

Women traveling in Pakistan

I am not an expert on this topic as I am a man who traveled there alone. However, my friend Alex has written a very comprehensive guide for women traveling in Pakistan: Is Pakistan safe for women?

 

Conclusion

So, is it safe to travel to Pakistan? The shortest answer I could give you is that it really depends on where you go. Some areas of Pakistan are extremely dangerous whereas other are absolutely safe for tourists. It’s important to do some proper research beforehand and, if you go to a sensitive area like Peshawar or the Swat Valley, just travel with caution. If you do, Pakistan will reward you with your best experience ever. 

 

is it safe to travel to Pakistan

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13 comments

  1. I am EXTREMELY tempted, to say the least. Pakistan looks amazing. Although I usually travel solo, I still think I’ll go with a guide/local group tour in this case, just to have my mind at ease. Hopefully I’ll be able to go this fall! Thanks for sharing your experiences and lots of travel inspiration!

    1. Hey Rentate, don’t worry, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going on a tour, especially in countries like Pakistan where traveling independently can be quite hard!

    2. I grew up in up in Pakistan in the 70-80’s it was real safe then. It truly is an amazing place. It is truly worth going as the people are amazing. My brother went back recently. I last went in 93. I want to take my wife there.

  2. Barbara Rehman

    I been Pakistan 2016 im married to Pakistan man. But now i have to go Nowhere. Him and his familey keep saying its safe for me and thay think it is .but i cant get any info please help ill be going one week before ramadan finished

  3. Barbara Rehman

    My husband is from Kalanjar district. Nowshera.pushto speaking. As i said thay keep saying no one will touch me. Ill be safe.

  4. John McCarroll

    Just got back from Swat Valley and Northern Areas of Pakistan – still missing these truly fantastic valleys and regions. Recent security issues have left a mark of concern for those who may wish to go back to these natural and historical locations. However, for the last 4/5 years it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say peace and tranquillity is reigning again in this region. I personally found people of Swat valley extremely hospitable and eager to show you around the kind of places not many have yet experienced. Food is quite fresh but make sure to drink bottle water (plenty available in local shops) or if you’re mountain trekking then spring water is even better and quite fresh. Can’t wait to go back soon!!
    John McCarroll
    London, UK

    1. Hi John, thanks for your feedback man! I am glad you enjoyed Swat Valley! Yes, I also found Swat Valley to be very peaceful and pleasant to travel around. However, for some unknown reasons, still today and, all of a sudden, they don’t allow people to enter the valley or they just assign you security. I think it is a slightly volatile region and that is why I decided to classify it as sensitive. Actually, when I went there in April 2017, they would not allow me to get in unless I had the phone number of a friend.

  5. I am from Pakistani Kashmir.
    Never knew foreigners weren’t allowed here.
    To be honest Pakistani kashmir is safer than even Islamabad. I don’t even remember a terrorist attack ever happening here. Secondly Gilgit undoubtedly is beautiful but nothing can match beauty of Kashmir.
    Just search google. Mughal Emperor Jahangir called it paradise on earth in verses of persian poetry. Ask any Pakistani tourist about Neelum Valley,Ratti Gali lake.
    I don’t understand why you put Kashmir in unsafe area because there has never been a terrorist attack in kashmir. Gilgit infact is historically a part of Kashmir.

    1. Hi Adees, thanks for sharing your opinion but can I ask if did you even read the post? Literally, what I say about Kashmir is: ”according to local friends, it’s not a dangerous place anymore”. So I don’t know why you say this. I put it in the sensitive section because, it is actually a sensitive region, which doesn’t mean it is dangerous.

  6. EveryCountry Is Good In My Opnion Bad’s or good’s peoples is everywhere available btw pakistan is heavan on earth Pakistan Zindabad❤

  7. yes pakistan is really a wonderful place specially the people of pakistan are very nice and their hospitality is amazing

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