If you ever decide to travel to Pakistan, I promise you that you will have the adventure of your lifetime.
From hitchhiking on tractors and psychedelic trucks to driving over extremely narrow mountain roads built on a cliff 1,500 meters high, soldiers who voluntarily give you their AK-47 for taking a photo, the most striking landscape and the fact that you can camp in the middle of a paradise completely by yourself.
Traveling to Pakistan is, definitely, the ultimate experience and adventure.
However, this isn’t particularly an easy place to travel in.
Going on a trip to Pakistan requires a little bit of preparation, as well as quite a lot of things to know beforehand.
This Pakistan travel guide contains everything you need to know, including all travel information regarding visas, transportation, cultural etiquette, cultural behavior, costs and more!
In this Pakistan travel guide you will find:
Best time to visit
How to get in
Cultural behavior and facts
Security & safety
Solo female travel
Bureaucracy and permits
Prices and money
Internet and calling
Food, alcohol & chai
Do you know what a VPN is? A Virtual Private Network allows you to access blocked sites when you travel, as well as it lets you access content only available in your home country (like Netflix), plus it prevents hackers from stealing your personal data. Learn here why you should always use a VPN when you travel
How to get a visa for visiting Pakistan
Here you have the most updated information
Before May 2019 – Getting a visa on the road was not possible, but you could only get it from your home country or country of residence.
After May 2019 – They have finally introduced an e-visa system and up to 176 nationalities can now apply for a Pakistani visa online.
How to apply for a Pakistani e-visa
You can apply through this portal.
Things you need to know about the e-visa:
- Visa length – Officially, you can get a visa for up to 3 months. The application says that you can get up to 12 months but so far, there aren’t any reports from tourists who have been able to get one.
- Multi-entry – You can also apply for a multi-entry visa valid for up to 1 year.
- Price – I believe it depends on nationality and the length of your trip, but I hold a Spanish passport and a single entry 2-month visa cost me 35USD. Then, I tried to apply for a multi-entry visa and it cost 52USD.
- Timing – The application says the process may take up to 7 days but it also may depend on your embassy. One traveler claimed that he got it in one day, while others say it takes several days. It is recommended to apply in advance.
- Letter of Invitation – For most nationalities, an LOI is not required anymore. Alternatively, the system allows you to upload a hotel booking confirmation (instead of the LOI). They just require a booking for the first few days and then you can cancel it immediately. In the hypothetical case you need an LOI, contact a tour operator.
- It can be used to enter through any port of entry, both airport and land borders.
After submitting your application, your embassy has the right to call you for an interview, which means that you would need to be in your home country. However, this only happens in rare cases.
For more information, Marco from Monkey Rock World has written a comprehensive guide/tutorial about how to get a Pakistani e-visa.
How to make a visa extension
Would you like to spend more time in Pakistan? No problem.
Extending your visa while traveling in Pakistan used to be a confusing process, as everybody has different experiences and rules were constantly changing but, finally, you can get your visa extension through the regular e-visa portal, as long as you are already in Pakistan and in possession of an e-visa.
If you traveled to Pakistan with a regular visa, you can only extend it at the passport office of any major city, including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Chitral, Gilgit, and Skardu but, apparently, the easiest place is Lahore.
Travel insurance for traveling in Pakistan
Traveling in Pakistan is a pretty wild, adventurous experience so getting proper travel insurance is a must.
World Nomads covers Pakistan and I recommend it for the following reasons:
- It covers trekking up to 6,000 meters (note that, in Gilgit-Baltistan, it is very easy to reach 4,000-meter base camps.
- They provide with unlimited medical expenses (and Pakistan can be wild)
If you want to know more options, read: how to find the right travel insurance for Pakistan.
Best time to visit Pakistan
Pakistan has many different regions, ranging from sea-level, flat deserts to 8,000-meter peaks, so each season will present its own peculiarities.
Winter (mid-November to February) – The best time to visit the south part of the country, especially Sindh province. Those lands may not have the mountains Pakistan is famous for but this is the most religiously diverse region in Pakistan. On the other hand, most mountains in northern Pakistan remain totally inaccessible in the wintertime. You can still get to the Northern Areas through the Karakoram Highway, but you won’t be able to visit any side valley.
Summer (June to September) – The best season for visiting the Northern Areas, especially if you like trekking in high altitude mountains.
Spring & Autumn – I personally traveled to Pakistan in April and May and the mountains were at their best, as the weather was gorgeous (most days), plus they weren’t busy with domestic tourism. However, if you travel to Pakistan in early spring, late autumn, the mountains may not be that accessible.
Traveling in Pakistan during Ramadan – A topic by itself, with its pros & cons. Lost with Purpose traveled in Pakistan during Ramadan and wrote this insightful post.
How to visit Pakistan
By air – Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad have international airports connecting with many Middle Eastern cities, especially Doha and Dubai.
By land – Pakistan shares a border with Iran, Afghanistan, India, and China. You can’t use the Afghan border to cross but the rest are open:
- China – The highest border crossing in the world. Read my report.
- India – An easy one, despite the diplomatic relationship between both countries. Read this report
- Iran – It goes through Baluchistan and it is quite an adventure. Read this report
What’s like to travel in Pakistan today
Before 9/11, Pakistan used to be a touristic country.
Well, not that touristic, but its breathtaking mountains were a popular stopover for backpackers going along the famous Hippie Trail.
In fact, in the Northern Areas, you can find a few backpacker hostels which somehow, are the remains of what used to be a popular destination for intrepid backpackers.
The 9/11 attacks, however, along with a big bunch of unfortunate events, usually involving Taliban activity and loads of violence, put an end to the emerging tourism industry.
Fortunately, things have changed.
In the last couple of years, the security situation in Pakistan has dramatically improved and the Northern Areas of Pakistan are, once again, filled with intrepid backpackers who want to visit some of the most jaw-dropping mountain scenery you will ever see, and experience the hospitality Pakistan is famous for.
Nevertheless, despite this massive tourism increase, Pakistan still remains raw, authentic, and genuine, and it will stay like that for a very long time, especially because it is not an easy country to travel to: tourist infrastructure is in an embryonic stage, it is difficult to move around and you won’t meet many foreigners, so that’s why I personally believe that only experienced travelers should go to Pakistan.
However, traveling in Pakistan is one of the most rewarding traveling experiences one can ever have.
Cultural behavior and facts when traveling in Pakistan
Urdu, which is like Hindi, is the official language – However, each region has its own (or several) local languages, so different from each other. English is widely spoken among educated people, like in India.
Pakistan is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries – From the South Asian looking people of Punjab and Sindh; to the people of the Pashtun areas, closer to Iran or Afghanistan; the pagan culture of Kalash; the Shias from Gilgit and Nagar; the Ismailis of lower Hunza and the Wakhis (and also Ismailis) of upper Hunza. Traveling in Pakistan is like traveling in several, different tiny countries. It’s fascinating.
Remember, you are the guest – People tend to say that, in Iran, Sudan and Iraqi Kurdistan, you find the most hospitable people in the world. Well, clearly, they haven’t visited Pakistan. Whereas it’s true that these countries are very hospitable, Pakistanis bring it to the next level. In this country, you are the guest, which means that the locals strive for you to have the best possible time in their country or region.
The hospitality can even be overwhelming – During your trip to Pakistan, you’ll be invited for lunch, dinner and even to stay at people’s houses so many times that, on many occasions, you will have to refuse.
After your refusal, they will insist once again, over and over. They will also insist on carrying your bag and offering you food one hundred times even if you say that you are full. These are their cultural rules and you are the guest.
So overwhelming but just don’t get angry – One day, some random men who I had never seen before came to my hotel at 7:30 am in the morning, knocking at the door of my room, waking me up from a very good sleep.
Apparently, they heard that there was a foreigner in the village, so they just wanted to hang out with me. I got a little bit angry, continued sleeping but then I kind of felt bad, as all they wanted was to show me around the village.
Paying for meals – For some reason, Pakistanis always want to pay for your meals to the extent that it gets awkward. I personally didn’t like it, especially when I could see that the local people didn’t have much money. If possible, try to back them up.
Wearing a Shalwar Kameez – The traditional Pakistani dress, which 80% or 90% of Pakistanis wear, is called shalwar kameez. Should you wear it? It’s not compulsory but, if you do, the locals will really appreciate it, especially in the Pashtun areas.
Islam – Pakistan is the most conservative country I’ve ever been to. You should be careful and always respect their rules. If you do, they will also respect you and you will have the best time in their country.
Useful books for traveling to Pakistan
This is just a selection of the best 3 books but, if you want to know all the options, remember to check this list containing the best books on Pakistan, classified into history, politics, novels and travelogues.
Pakistan travel guide
Pakistan Traveller – This is the most up-to-date and ultimate guidebook about Pakistan. 256 pages full of maps and endless travel tips. The author, Tim, is an Australian man who has visited Pakistan 10 times since 2006. A must-have for anyone who visits Pakistan.
To know about the culture
Pakistan – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture – Culture Smart! is a well-known collection of books that provide deep introductions to the culture and customs of many countries. In this book, they give a great analysis of the complexity of the culture and sub-cultures in Pakistan, so you will have a great understanding of the cultural etiquette beforehand!
For more political background
Pakistan, a hard country – This award-winning book will give you a deep understanding of the situation in Pakistan nowadays.
Security and safety when you travel in Pakistan
Pakistan is not dangerous but you should be cautious. You might have read from other blogs that Pakistan is one of the safest countries in the world. Personally, I wouldn’t say that. Whereas I think that Pakistan is not a dangerous country, in some areas, it’s better to be cautious, especially in the region bordering Afghanistan.
However, the situation is only getting better and better – Seriously, safety in Pakistan has improved exponentially.
Police are there to help you. Throughout your Pakistan travels, you’ll be continuously interrogated by dozens of different policemen and people from the army. Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you going? Unlike in other countries, in Pakistan, the police and military are pretty cool and, for your own security, they are commanded to ask you these questions.
You will have to register at more than 100 security check posts. I am not kidding. During my 56-day trip to Pakistan, I had to register more than 100 times at different army and police check posts. Sometimes, to get from one destination to another, I had to register more than 10 times! At each check post, you have to get off the car or bus and write down all your personal information in a notebook. This will slow down your journey considerably.
Bring one thousand passport & visa photocopies. It’s good to bring loads of photocopies because, at some check posts, if you have a passport copy, you don’t have to get out of the car. Otherwise, you are going to waste your time.
Occasionally, you get a personal guard, for free – Again, not kidding. For security purposes, in some areas, you will get a personal armed guard. Sometimes, you might have to pay for his meals but, according to the police, you are not forced to. It’s up to you. For more information, read my post: Is Pakistan safe?
Having a personal armed guard seems kind of cool but, to be honest, it’s not that much – The first time you get an armed guard you get kind of excited. However, after half an hour, you might start hating him because he will put you under a lot of restrictions.
Pakistani intelligence is one of the best secret services in the world – One of the reasons why Pakistan is not a dangerous country is thanks to the Pakistani intelligence, which is considered the best intelligence corps in the world, even better than the CIA.
Be aware that they are watching your steps and they will always know where you are. I remember that, while hiking around a remote area in the Astore Valley, a man wearing a salwar kameez (the traditional Pakistani clothes), came to me and said, ”You are the Spanish, right?” Yes, he was from Pakistani intelligence.
For further information on safety, including which areas are the safest, read my post: Is Pakistan safe?
Solo female travel in Pakistan
Women traveling solo is more common and safer than you think – Women tell wonderful things about their experiences during their journeys through Pakistan, but they also say that this is a particularly challenging destination, home to a very conservative, patriarchal society who don’t really know how to deal with foreign women.
I’m not the most qualified person to talk about this topic, however, but Spanish traveler Leti Lagarda backpacked in Pakistan solo for 2 months, and has written a compelling guide about it, which will tell you everything you need to know about solo female travel in Pakistan, including:
- Interaction with men
- Safety tips
- Cultural etiquette
- What to wear
- And much more
Read the ultimate guide to solo women travel in Pakistan
Bureaucracy and permits for your trip in Pakistan
Don’t trust any source of bureaucracy information, not even Against the Compass – In Pakistan, rules are not written and things are constantly changing. Places that no longer require a permit, might require it overnight, by the next day it was changing it back again.
A military guy told me once that, when this happens, it’s because they are suspicious of some Taliban or terrorist activity.
This information doesn’t flow throughout the country, so you will see that everyone (including national police, local police, the Army, the locals, travelers, and blogs) will always have a different opinion. Don’t trust anyone. Check it yourself, once you’re on the ground.
In Pakistan everything is possible – If there is something valuable I learnt during my trip to Pakistan, it is that, as in any corrupt country, everything is possible and it all depends on your contacts. If you know the right people, you can do absolutely everything you want, including visiting forbidden areas without a permit.
What you need to know about NOC
- What is it? A No Objection Certificate, which is basically, a permit required for certain restricted areas.
- How to get? – The best way to get it is through a local with contacts. If you don’t know any local, contact your embassy, but it can take up to 4 or 5 working days to proceed.
- When do you need it? – As I said before, don’t trust any source of bureaucracy information. During my trip to Pakistan, a friend of mine was required to get an NOC to use the road between Timargara and Chitral. One day later, I tried to use that road but the NOC was not required anymore. However, officially, you would need an NOC to visit Balochistan, the Khyber Pass, Tribal Areas and Kashmir (some areas of Kashmir).
Money in Pakistan
In Pakistan, they use the Pakistani Rupee (PKR) and, approximately, 1USD = 160PKR
Cash & ATMs – Pakistan is a cash economy, so better bring cash, especially in the Northern Areas, where. Of course, you can find ATMs in all big cities but not all of them will accept foreign cards.
How much does it cost to travel to Pakistan
But before, a few things you need to know:
- In Pakistan, everything is negotiable: Everything can be bargained for, especially the hotel rooms. Expect to pay different amounts from other guests.
- Always come with a reference: When you travel in Pakistan, contacts are very important and that’s why in either hotels or trekking tour companies if you come referenced by a local, you will get a better price.
In any case, this is a pretty cheap country and I think you can easily travel to Pakistan for less than 20 a day, sleeping in private rooms and eating 3 meals outside. These are the (approximate) prices of the most typical things:
- Local meal – 150PKR
- Local meal in a mid-range restaurant – 250-500PKR
- Meal in a fancy restaurant of Lahore – from 1500PKR
- Private room in a budget hotel – Up to 1500PKR
- Private room in a mid-range hotel – Around 3,000PKR
- Long bus rides (Islamabad to Gilgit) – Around 2,500PKR for a VIP ticket (you want to get a VIP, trust me)
Internet and calling
Except in Gilgit-Baltistan, the internet works reasonably well throughout the country.
In the Northern Areas, the connectivity is awful or non-existent depending on where you go.
I got a SIM Card from a Chinese company called ZONG which is supposed to be the best for pretty much anywhere in the country. In the Northern Areas, however, it barely worked and, apparently, you need to get a company named SCOM, which you can find in Gilgit,
Pro-tip: Tell a local to get a SIM Card for you – The downside of ZONG is that, as a foreigner, you need to go to the central office and pay quite a lot of money to sign up for it (20 or 30USD). Tell a local to sign up for you, so you’ll just pay the local price and get it very quickly.
Transportation for traveling around Pakistan
You’ll get used to the mountain roads – Most mountain roads are very scary as they are extremely narrow and built on insanely high cliffs. Don’t panic. You’ll just get used to them!
You will learn to be patient – In absolutely almost every long bus journey I took, we had a breakdown. Sometimes, we were stopped for two hours! And one day, we stopped because the bus ran out of gas! Can you believe it?
Psychedelic trucks are a way of life – Everybody falls in love with the trucks in Pakistan, as they are so particularly decorated that they are a blessing to your lens.
Ways of moving around when you travel in Pakistan
Public buses & minivans go everywhere – Like in most developing countries where most people can’t afford to buy a car, buses and minivans travel to even the remotest areas in the country. In Sindh and Punjab provinces, Daewoo is the most luxury bus. For traveling to Gilgit from Islamabad, you should definitely take NATCO VIP Bus ( around 17USD). Don’t worry, is not that VIP.
Train – In Sindh, Punjab, and Peshawar, you can move around by train. There are different train companies but you should always take the private ones, as they are more punctual. Use AC standard, as it is the one used by the Pakistani middle class. It’s not expensive, not smelly and comfortable enough. For more information, check this train guide to Pakistan.
Hitchhiking is too easy – It’s so easy, that sometimes, it’s faster and easier than taking public transport, especially on the Karakoram Highway (from Gilgit to Khunjerab Pass). Everybody will want to pick you up! As a general rule, on the KKH, I didn’t hitchhike on motorbikes (there are so many accidents) and cars with women inside.
Plane is pretty convenient – Traveling by bus from Islamabad to the northern areas, including Chitral, Gilgit and Skardu takes ages (from 15 to 20 hours). There are flights connecting Islamabad with all these cities. Book your flights here. Please note that, for flying to and from Gilgit, you must book several days (even weeks) in advance. Also, bear in mind that many flights get canceled due to the weather condition.
Food, drinks, and alcohol
Food is extremely oily – Pakistanis love oil too much. They put tons of it in absolutely every meal, including in the steamed rice, which they will always fry afterwards. When you are in a restaurant, always ask for half fried.
It’s almost dry – In the Sindh province and Islamabad, you can find liquor stores. In the rest of the country, alcohol is only available on the black market, but most locals (who drink) can get it for you easily.
Expect to have ten cups of chai a day – Chai, which is tea with milk, is a way of life in Pakistan and a sign of hospitality.
Tap water, watch out! – Don’t dare drink tap water. In the northern part of the country, the locals will tell you that the tap water is good, as it comes from the mountains and glaciers. This may be true, but I still got sick when I drank from a mountain fountain. Always use a water purifier.
You’ll get sick – I don’t know anyone who didn’t get sick in his stomach when traveling in Pakistan. Try to avoid salad, food stalls with flies (they are hard to find) and don’t drink tap water.
Accommodation when you are traveling to Pakistan
There are all types of hotels across the country, from budget rooms to a few hostels and luxury hotels.
If you want to stay in a budget hotel or local guesthouse, you may have to read blogs or ask anyone online. In my Pakistan Itinerary, I give some options.
Anyway, there are a few things you need to know about accommodation in Pakistan:
Prices can be negotiated to the extreme – Whenever they tell you the price, ask if they have a cheaper room. Seriously, on many occasions, I managed to get half of the initial price.
If you are on a budget, always ask if they have a dorm – Surprisingly, many hotels have dorms and they don’t tell you until the end of the negotiation. The good thing is that, since there are not many backpackers, you are most likely to get the dorm just for yourself!
In most of Pakistan, you are covered – In Pakistan, there is a lot of domestic tourism, so most touristic areas are filled with hotels for absolutely every budget, from hostel to mid-range and luxury rooms.
But it may be harder to find decent accommodation in the rest of the country – In cities like Peshawar, Karachi, Multan, and basically anywhere outside of Swat Valley, Chitral, Northern areas, Islamabad and Lahore, finding decent (budget) accommodation may be challenging.
Couchsurfing is quite popular! – There are loads of profiles, especially in big cities.
If you want to know all my hotel recommendation per city, read my Pakistan Itinerary
More information for traveling to Pakistan
Sign up to the Backpacking Pakistan Facebook Group– If you want to get up-to-date traveling information from travelers who have been there recently, this group is quite useful, plus it is also a great place to meet other travelers who are traveling in Pakistan at the same time as you.
Sign up to The Karakoram Club Facebook Group – This is an awesome forum to meet locals, who will provide you with local tips, as well as a chance to meet up with them. Thanks to this group, I’ve made a couple of very good local friends! One note: ignore the people from this group who wants to sell you rubbish.
Remember that in Pakistan you need friends – Pakistan is not an easy place to travel around. From booking buses to getting permits, friends are crucial for a country where rules are not written. The Karakoram Club is a great place to make local friends. In big cities, especially in Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi, Couchsurfing is also a big deal. Both sites helped me immensely.
Here you can read all my guides and articles about Pakistan
Check here the best books and novels on Pakistan!
Are you traveling to Iran? Here you can also see all my articles and guides to Iran
And if you are traveling to Central Asia, don’t forget to check all my guides to the Stans
That’s everything you need to know! If you think I forgot something, please let me know! Ah, Ah, and remember that, in Pakistan, you shouldn’t plan too much! Welcome to the country of unexpected events.
From endless bus breakdowns to time-consuming check posts, new local friends and paradises where you want to spend ages, during your Pakistan travels, you will realize that nothing will go according to your plan.