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Afghanistan Travel Guide

Updated January 2021 The Afghanistan Travel Guide was originally written September 2018

Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires and the epicenter of my curiosity for a few years. So much so that I’ve now visited the country not once, but three times. Learn everything you need to know from safety to where is possible to visit and more in this Afghanistan Travel Guide.

But Is It safe?

In general, no Afghanistan is not a safe country to visit. Visiting Afghanistan is possible, just be aware that Afghanistan travel comes with risks, and safety is not guaranteed.

The Taliban has long been involved in the havoc and chaos in the country along with regional warlords, outside countries, and now the new kid on the block- the Khorasaan Branch of the Islamic State.

I’ve never felt uncomfortable or in danger while I was traveling in Afghanistan. There are precautions you can take to make Afghanistan travel less dangerous, but the risk is always there. It goes without saying: Afghanistan is not a destination for the inexperienced. It’s not the next step after backpacking in Southeast Asia (despite that sentence sounding horribly elitist).

So if you’re ready, you’ve versed yourself on the landscape, cultures, religion, and you fully understand the risks involved with Afghanistan travel and visiting a country that’s been at war for nearly 50 years then read on to learn how you too can visit Afghanistan in this Afghanistan Travel Guide.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Money
Language
Religion
What To Wear
When To Visit
Getting In
Visas
Getting Around
Travel Insurance
Food
What To See & Do
Where To Go In Afghanistan
Kabul
Panjshir Valley
Bamyan & Band e Amir
Mazar e Sharif, Balkh & Samangan
Herat
Kandahar
Wakhan Corridor
Trekking In Afghanistan
Afghan Festivals
Tour Operators & Guides
Travel Budget
Packing List
Guide Books
Internet & Mobile
Health & Safety
News & Information

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Mazar e Sharif

Money

The official currency of Afghanistan is the Afghani. As of January 2021 the current exchange rate is $1 USD = 77.15 AFS.

US dollars are widely accepted for larger payments. ATMs are available in the country in major cities, however, they may or may not work.

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Language

Afghanistan is a multilingual country. The two official languages of the country are Pashto and Dari (Dari is more or less a Persian dialect, along with Tajik spoken in Tajikistan and Farsi spoken in Iran).

Dari is spoken more widely in the north and center of the country while Pashto is the more commonly used language in the south.

Other languages found in the country are Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, and Nuristani, as well as Wakhi and Kyrgyz that are spoken in the remote Wakhan Corridor.

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Mosque of the Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed

Religion

99% of Afghans are Muslim, with the majority being Sunni. Ismailism is widely practiced in the Wakhan Corridor.

Other Shia Muslims are found scattered throughout out the country as well. Other religions are practiced in the country including Sikhism and Hinduism.

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What To Wear In Afghanistan

Dressing in the local clothing styles is the best option while in Afghanistan. It’s always best to try to blend in, plus the Afghans really appreciate to see foreigners wearing their styles.

I highly recommend getting a shalwar kameez when you arrive. A shalwar kameez is basically a long shirt and baggy pants that both men and women wear. It’s seriously the most comfortable thing you’ll ever wear.

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Wandering the halls of the Herat Citadel in acceptable garb

For Women Traveling Afghanistan

Women in Afghanistan must dress according to Islamic modest dress, also known as hijab. You should wear long sleeve tops at least mid-thigh in length paired with full-length trousers. Loose, floor-length, long-sleeve dressed are acceptable as well.

Headscarves should always be worn when out in public. Save yourself the hassle and grab a shalwar kameez and a headscarf after you arrive. 

In some more conservative areas, you will see the majority of women wearing chadri, chador, or burqa over top of their shalwar kameez. It may be helpful to purchase a chador or chadri to blend in, especially if your travels will take you to more sensitive and conservative areas.

You can purchase ready-made shalwar kameez for 1,000-2,000 AFS on up depending on the quality and a blue chadri will normally cost about 1,000 AFS.

Bonus Tip: At the bazaar buy what looks like a shower-loofah superglued to a plastic hair clip– They usually only cost about 70 AFS. It’s like stuffing your headscarf– it makes it look better, but more importantly it helps keep your head scarf in place so that it has something to ‘sit’ on on the back of your head. They’re called headscarf volumizers.

For Men traveling Afghanistan

The shalwar kameez optionally with a vest, sports jacket, or a scarf is the usual get-up for most men. You can purchase premade shalwar kameez, but for the best fit have one tailored.

Fabric and tailoring should cost around 1,200 AFS. If you want to really blend in, pick up a pakol- the flat wool hat worn by many Afghan men. You’ll easily find them in bazaars.

In big cities, you will see men out and about dressed in western clothing like jeans and t-shirts, so western dress in this setting for men should be okay, however, do not wear shorts.

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Best Time For Afghanistan Travel

When to visit is largely dependent on where you plan to go in Afghanistan.

The summer months of June-August can be boiling hot in most of the country, however, this is the best time to visit for those headed across the Tajik border into the Afghan Wakhan to trek in the Afghan Wakhan Corridor. Much of the rest of the country is most pleasant in the late spring and early fall.

The Afghan-Tajik border in Eshkashim

Getting In

There are two ways in which to enter Afghanistan and that is by flight or by road.

By Flight: Most flights will arrive at Kabul International Airport, with direct connections to the UAE, Turkey, India, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, and Russia.

By Road: Currently, the only widely-recommended land border crossings to use is the Ishkashim crossing with Tajikistan connecting the Tajik & Afghan Wakhan and the Hairatan-Termez crossing with Uzbekistan near Mazar e Sharif.

There are more border crossings with Turkmenistan (Toraghundi & Imam Nazar), Iran (Islam Qala & Zaranj), Tajikistan (several, all not recommended except Ishkashim), China (Wakhjir Pass, not open), and Pakistan (several, but Khyber Pass appears to be the only one open to foreigners).

I have personally crossed at both Ishkashim (Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan) and Islam Qala (Afghanistan-Iran) and can say that crossings at both these posts were simple and easy.

These borders can be sporadically open and closed due to Taliban activity and outbreaks of disease and are typically not recommended. Check out this Afghan Border Crossings Post on Caravanistan and check the forums for updates.

Note that the Wakhan Corridor is only reachable (recommended) from the Tajik border at Ishkashim. It is possible to get between Ishkashim and the remainder of Afghanistan by car but is 100% not recommended at this time because of Taliban presence in the Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan Provinces.

Afghan Land Border Crossings From My PersonalExperience

Afghanistan-Iran At Islam Qala: In late March 2019 I crossed from Afghanistan to Iran at the Islam Qala-Dogharoun crossing. Procedures exiting Afghanistan were straight forward, you go into a shipping container first for a body check and after completing walk out and over to the immigration building. There will be one line for men and another for women and children.

Your passport will be scanned, you’ll be fingerprinted and you may be asked some questions like where are coming from/going, etc. You will then be asked to show your Iranian visa and then be stamped out.

On the Iranian side, you will hand over your passport and visa and get stamped in. Next, you will put your bags through an X-ray and your electronics may be checked.

You will then put your bags back in the car and you’ll drive a little further up where you will go through customs. Here you will likely have to empty out all of your bags for the search. Read about my entire border crossing experience here.

Shared taxis depart from Herat daily. A seat will cost you 1,100 AFS. Ask your guesthouse or hotel to arrange one for you.

Tajikistan-Afghanistan At Ishkashim: In September 2017 I visited the Wakhan Corridor and the border crossing in both directions is pretty simple. From Tajikistan to Afghanistan you’ll go into the immigration building at the border post 3 km out of Ishkashim.

Here you’ll hand over your passport and Tajik e-visa (or not if you have a visa in your passport from an embassy). You will also need to show your Afghan visa. Here you’ll get stamped out and then walk through the fence gate and across the bridge into Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, you will enter the immigration building and get stamped in. The only way to get to Sultan Eshkashim on the Afghan side is by taxi for $20 USD, or to walk. If you have not arranged this previously the officers at the border will call a car for you.

Read about my entire border crossing experience in both directions here.

Leaving back to Afghanistan will be the same process only in reverse. Make sure you have a double entry Tajik visa or another valid e-visa for your return.

Visas

All visitors to Afghanistan are required to get a visa in advance before arriving in Afghanistan. Visas are typically given for 30 days within a 3 month window and are usually single entry.

Many embassies and consulates will no longer issue tourist visas to Afghanistan for obvious reasons. I can personally say that obtaining an Afghan Visa at the Afghan Consulate in Khorog, Tajikistan, and by mail from the Washington DC Consulate in the USA were painless and simple.

In 2017 I went to the Afghan Consulate in Khorog by myself at 9:30 am and walked out about 30 minutes later with the visa in my passport, you can read more about how to get an Afghan Visa in Khorog here.

In 2018 I applied via the online application system from the Washington DC Consulate and then mailed my required documents in and had no problems, the process took about 4 weeks (normally it only takes 2 weeks to complete but the consulate closed for over a week for the Eid al Qurban holiday). I applied for a visa again in 2019 and received it in about 3 days. Read embassy and consulate reports from other countries here.

In 2018 & 2019 I applied for visas using the online visa system through the Afghan Consulate in Washington DC. The process is simple and straightforward.

After completing the paperwork and payment online you will need to print it out and mail it in with your passport. Expect the process to take 1-2 weeks.

What You Will Need To Apply

Filled in and signed visa application, 1 passport photo, 1 valid passport, visa application fee, and a letter stating that you take full responsibility for your safety in Afghanistan and planned itinerary. Some countries require a LOI (letter of invitation). LOI’s can be issued by tour operators in Afghanistan.

If applying in a third country, the consulate may require you to bring a letter from your own embassy clearing you to go.

Permits

Permits are needed to travel beyond Ishkashim into the Wakhan Corridor. Written permits can be arranged in Eshkashim and will typically take a day or two to get. Most fixers and guides in Ishkashim will charge a flat $50 USD to get the permits arranged.

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Getting Around

The usual way to travel between cities in Afghanistan is by flight, however, there are public buses, shared taxis, and private taxis between most cities. Kabul, Mazar e Sharif, Herat, and Kandahar are all connected by daily flights. Since the spring of 2018 commercial flights going to Bamyan have been canceled for large chunks of time or intermittently, don’t expect to visit Bamyan by air.

By Flight

Obviously the safest option for traveling between cities.

Airlines

Kam Air serves Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Mazar e Sharif, Lashkargah (Bost), Farah, and Zaranj.

Ariana Afghan Airways serves Kabul, Herat, Mazar e Sharif and Kandahar.

Kam Air and Ariana are the main two airlines in the country, although Kam Air does tend to have fewer delays and cancellations (but they still have lots of delays and cancellations). Another small airline offering flights in Afghanistan is Safi Airlines.

Costs & Where To Buy Tickets

Most flights will range from $50-110 USD each way between cities. You can purchase tickets online for some airlines such as Kam Air, however, prices tend to be a bit cheaper if you book in a ticketing office. Plan to pay in cash if purchasing at an office.

Going To The Airport

Taking a flight usually involves going through at least two security checkpoints to enter the airport and a third to reach your gate. You can typically expect to be asked to place your bags on the floor in a line and told to wait after the second X-ray checkpoint where bomb-sniffing dogs will be brought out to inspect bags.

Men and women will have a full-body pat-down usually at the first security checkpoint, of course in separate areas. The women’s security will almost always be behind a curtain.

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By Taxi

You’ll see many yellow taxis around Afghanistan, particularly in cities. Taxis almost never have meters so agree to a price before departing.

Typically rides within a city will come out to 50-250 AFS depending on the distance. These taxis can also be negotiated with for day trips as well. Prices will depend on where you are planning to go, but usually will range from $20-50 USD in most cases (you’ll find information on prices for day trips later on in this guide).

It is possible to hire taxis to transport you between cities such as Kabul, Mazar e Sharif and Bamyan, however, due to security reasons this is not recommended as a way to travel unless willing to take on the risks. It is highly recommended to hire a knowledgeable guide to do this.

By Public Bus & Shared Taxi

Public buses are available in most cities. You can expect most rides to cost no more than 10 AFS.

For longer distance trips between cities, there are usually buses and shared taxis available ranging in price depending on the distance. Traveling by public transport between cities, however, is not recommended at this time.

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Pack animals are common in the Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan Corridor

Realistically the only way to travel the road in the Wakhan is by private taxi hire which can be quite expensive. Although I did read reports of one traveler that managed to hop in a shared taxi with locals headed along the valley, but got caught on the way and got held up with officers asking for bribes in the hundreds of dollars.

Best to try and find other travelers to cost-share on a Wakhan trip with. It is possible to go trekking by horseback and even yak. Donkeys are commonly used to porter gear and supplies on treks.

Read more about the Wakhan Corridor here

Afghanistan Travel Insurance

Not many insurers cover high-risk destinations such as Afghanistan. battleface is one of the travel insurance companies I’ve been using for high-risk destinations. Do research if the company you choose is going to cover Afghanistan as these policies seem to change quite frequently and with little notice.

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Pulao, Kebab, Salad and Mantoo

Food

Afghanistan is at the crux of food paradise with influences from Persia, South Asia, and Central Asia. The national dish of Afghanistan is Kabuli Pulao, and you can expect naan and chai to accompany most meals and snacks.

Afghan Dishes to try

  • Pulao
  • Mantu
  • Karahi
  • Kebab
  • Naan
  • Chai
  • Challow
  • Qorma
  • Doh
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What To See & Do

Afghanistan is a beautiful country with a rich history and diverse culture. Thanks to many years of instability and war many sights and activities are off-limits, but here are a few tourist draws within the county.

  • Trekking in the Wakhan Corridor
  • Meet Kyrgyz nomads and Wakhi people in the Little Pamir
  • Sakhi Shrine in Kabul
  • Shop on Chicken Street in Kabul
  • Exploring in the Panjshir Valley
  • See the caves and fortresses of Bamyan
  • Get awestruck at the crystal clear 6 azure lakes of Band e Amir National Park
  • Meet locals at the Shrine of Hazrat Ali in Mazar e Sharif
  • Visit the Greco-Buddhist Caves in Samangan
  • Explore the ancient Bactrian ruins in Old Balkh
  • See the colorful mosques, mausoleums, and fortresses in Herat
  • Visit the Mosque of the Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed in Kandahar, one of the holiest sites in all of Afghanistan

Where Travel In Afghanistan

Where you can visit in Afghanistan is highly dictated by the current security situation in the country. As of January 2021 the following areas were possible to visit:

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In the Gardens of Babur

Kabul

Most travelers’ introduction to Afghanistan will be in Kabul. The city is famous for Kabulian hospitality and a long history, but with that said the city has seen much damage between 1979-2001.

What To See In Kabul

  • Shrine of Sakhi
  • Shah-do-Shamshira Mosque
  • Gardens of Babur
  • Chicken Street
  • Qargah Lakes
  • Bibi Mahro Hill
  • TV Tower Hill
  • Ka Feroshi Bazaar & Bird Market
  • National Museum of Afghanistan & Landmine Museum
  • Western Cemetery

*There is an 100 AFS entrance fee for the National Museum, and an 100 AFS entrance fee to enter the Gardens of Babur.

Where To Sleep In Kabul

Getting In & Out Of Kabul

Panjshir Valley: A hire of a taxi for the day to the Panjshir Vally and back to Kabul will cost around $45 USD.

Bamyan: At the time of writing (October 2018) and of my visit (September 2018), the only way to reach Bamyan is by road. If you are determined to visit despite there being no flights, I 100% recommend making the journey with a private car/local guide as the road passes very near to Taliban controlled areas– with the help of Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan we were able to make the journey without issue. There are shared vans that depart Kabul in the early mornings for 400 AFS to Bamyan as well but are not recommended at this time.

Mazar e Sharif: You can reach Mazar by flight for about $85 USD (one way) daily from Kabul. It is also possible to drive but as with Bamyan, I would recommend a private car and local guide for the journey if you are adamant about overlanding. There is a bus in the morning and one overnight that connect the two cities for 600 AFS. The bus is not recommended at this time, especially not the overnight bus.

Herat: Currently traveling overland to Herat is not recommended via the Northern, Southern, or Central Route due to Taliban presence, making flying the only realistic option. Flights to Herat from Kabul start around $90 each way.

Kandahar: Flights are your best option to reach Kandahar with tickets running around $85 each way. There is a highway that connects Kabul and Kandahar in roughly 6 hours’ time but is not recommended to travel at this time.

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Panjshir Valley

Panjshir Valley is usually visited as a day trip from Kabul but can be visited as an overnight trip as well. A taxi can be hired from Kabul for about $45 USD for a day trip to Panjshir.

What To Do & See In The Panjshir Valley

  • Hike in mountains (local guide recommended)
  • Visit Massoud’s Tomb
  • Check out destroyed old military tanks

Plan your visit: The Panjshir Valley Guide


Mausoleum of Massoud, Bazarak, Panjshir, Panjshir Valley, Panjshir Province, Afghanistan

Where To Sleep In Panjshir Valley

  • It is possible to camp in the Panjshir Valley, although do check with knowledgeable locals on whether it is a good idea or not when you are there. I can’t give any personal recommendations as I visited Panjshir as a day trip from Kabul.
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The ruins of Shahr e Gholghola in Bamyan, nicknamed the City of Screams during the Siege of Bamyan as the Mongol Horde murdered the population of the city

Bamyan

Bamyan was once-upon-a-time a strategic trading point along the Silk Road and home to a large number of ethnic Hazaras. There are a number of caves, fortresses, and hikes to explore in the Bamyan area as well as great skiing opportunities for those visiting in winter.

If you’re in Bamyan you’re more than likely visiting Band e Amir National Park as well, see the section below for more information. Note that Bamyan was heavily landmined in the past, so do stick to well-beaten paths or hire a local guide. Don’t forget to check out my in-depth Bamyan travel guide.

What To See In Bamyan

*You will need an entrance ticket to visit Shahr e Zohak, Shahr e Gholghola, & the Buddha Niches. Admission is 300 AFS.


Read: The Bamyan Travel Guide


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Walking between the Buddha Niches of Shakhmama and Salsal. The Buddhas that once stood in Bamyan were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001

Where To Sleep In Bamyan

  • Budget: You can sleep at the chaikhanas along the main street in Bamyan for about 300-500 AFS/night per person. Note that some do not have toilets and few have showers, so do ask
  • Midrange: Caravanserai Hotel $30-40 USD/night, double
  • Midrange: Noorband Qala Hotel $40-60 USD/night, double
  • Splurge: Silk Road Hotel $100 USD/night, double
  • Budget: You can sleep at the chaikhanas along the main street in Bamyan for about 300-500 AFS/night per person. Note that some do not have toilets and few have showers, so do ask
  • Midrange: Caravanserai Hotel $30-40 USD/night, double
  • Midrange: Noorband Qala Hotel $40-60 USD/night, double
  • Splurge: Silk Road Hotel $100 USD/night, double

Don’t miss the ancient citadels of Shahr e Zohak and Shahr e Gholghola


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The remains of Shahr e Zohak, destroyed by Genghis Khan during the Siege of Bamyan

Getting To Sites Around Bamyan

Buddha Niches: Located about 1 km north of the Bamyan Bazaar, easily reached on foot.

Shahr e Gholghola: The City of Screams is located about 1.5 km from the Bamyan Bazaar and can be reached on foot, but a taxi shouldn’t cost more than a few AFS.

Shahr e Zohak: A taxi will cost about 500-1,000 AFS roundtrip to the Red City, but there is a shared taxi that does the journey for 150 AFS each way from the Bamyan Bazaar.

Dara e Ajdahar: Dara e Ajdahar is 7 km west of Bamyan Bazaar and can easily be visited on foot. Otherwise, you can hire a taxi for about 500 AFS roundtrip.

Band e Amir: It is possible to catch a shared taxi to Band e Amir for 250 AFS each way and hiring a taxi for the day will set you back about 1,500 AFS.


Read about the legend that terroized Bamyan: Dara a Ajdahar


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Sunset at Dara e Ajdahar

Getting In & Out of Bamyan

At the time of writing, there were no commercial flights to Bamyan, so the only way to visit is by car from either Kabul or Mazar e Sharif. For those willing to take on the risks of this journey I recommend hiring a private car and guide.

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Views of Band e Amir from above

Band e Amir

Band e Amir is Afghanistan’s first national park. Spend at least a day exploring the stunning lakes in the mountains. Most services only run between March and November.

You can usually hire a taxi roundtrip from Bamyan to Band e Amir for the day trip for around 1,500 AFS or may be able to hop on a shared taxi for 250 AFS. Check out this post about the lapis lazuli lakes of Band e Amir.

*There is a gate at the entrance of Band e Amir where you will need to pay 200 AFS per person.

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The infinity pool-like edge and waterfall of Band e Haibat

What To Do In Band e Amir

  • Stroll around the lakes
  • Go swimming
  • See the Band e Haibat Waterfall
  • Visit Hazrat Ali Shrine

Where To Sleep In Band e Amir

  • Free: Camping is possible in the Band e Amir area but most locals will recommend not to camp as a few foreigners were kidnapped here in the past
  • Budget: Dir Chaikhana near Band e Haibat will let you sleep on the floor for 100 AFS/night per person

Read more about Band e Amir and how you can visit


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The Shrine of Hazrat Ali in Mazar e Sharif

Mazar e Sharif

Colorful Mazar e Sharif is one of Afghanistan’s more liberal cities. Mazar e Sharif is one of the safer cities to visit in Afghanistan, but with that said explosions and attacks do happen at times here.

For those wanting to visit Old Balkh or Takht e Rustam you can hire taxis to take you on day trips if roads are safe for travel. If you’re planning to add Mazar e Sharif to your itinerary don’t miss my post Mazar e Sharif in photos & travel guide.

What To Do In Mazar-i-Sharif

  • Shrine of Hazrat Ali (Blue Mosque)
  • Abdul Ali Mazari Mausoleum
  • Shop for Afghan Carpets in the Mazar e Sharif Bazaars

Check out: Mazar e Sharif in Photos & Travel Guide


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Where To Sleep In Mazar-i-Sharif

Getting In & Out Of Mazar e Sharif

Old Balkh: Taxis to Old Balkh should cost about 1,500 AFS roundtrip to visit several sites around Balkh.

Samangan: Usually taxis can be hired for about 3,000 AFS for the trip to Takht e Rustam in Samangan.

Uzbekistan: If the road is safe you can travel to the Hairitan/Termiz border crossing with Uzbekistan by taxi for 1,100 AFS.

Kabul: Several flights per day travel between Kabul and Mazar e Sharif for around $85 each way. Otherwise, it is possible to make the journey by road between the two cities, in which I do recommend a guide and car hire for, but for those willing to take on even more risk there is a bus for 600 AFS.

Bamyan: As mentioned in the Bamyan and Kabul sections, Bamyan is only reachable by road at present. I highly recommend hiring a private car and guide for the Mazar e Sharif to Bamyan journey.

Herat or Kandahar: Driving is without a doubt not recommended to either destination. You will need to fly via a stop in Kabul to reach either city.

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The Great Wall Of Balkh

Old Balkh

Balkh was an ancient Kingdom of Bactria and once a center of Sufism, Zoroastrianism & Buddhism. Several important sites in Persian history and literature date back to Balkh.

Home to the Haji Piyada– the oldest Mosque known in Afghanistan, Khoja Parsa Mausoleum & nearby Rabia Balkhi Mausoleum, and the ancient Bala Hisar that dates back to Alexander the Great. Read about my high day in Balkh here.

Visiting Old Balkh is an easy half-day trip from Mazar e Sharif. Taxis can be hired for about 1,500 AFS for the trip.

Note that due to recent Taliban activity (as of December 2020) that visiting Old Balkh isn’t recommended at the moment.

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Khodja Parsa Mausoleum

What To See In Old Balkh

  • Haji Piyada Mosque
  • Rabia Balkhi Mausoleum
  • Khoja Parsa Mausoleum
  • Bala Hisar (Walls of Balkh)

Ancient walls & hashish: Read more about visiting Old Balkh


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Takht e Rustam

Takht e Rustam is an unusual Buddhist Stupa located near the village of Aybek in the Samangan Province. This is the location of where the legendary figure in Persian literature, Rustam, marries Princess Takhmina.

The origins of the stupa date back to when Buddhism spread through Afghanistan and Central Asia. Just down the hill from the stupa are Buddhist caves and an ancient bazaar.

A visit to Takht e Rustam and the Buddhist Caves are an easy day trip from Mazar e Sharif. Don’t miss out on all the details and read my post on Takht e Rustam.


Read: A day trip to Takht e Rustam


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What To See At Takht e Rustam

  • The Takht e Rustam Buddhist Stupa
  • Buddhist Caves & Ancient Bazaar
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The Friday Mosque in Herat

Herat

With over 3,000 years of eventful history, Herat is a cultural and historical center in Western Afghanistan. Given its proximity to the Iranian border, Herat bears quite a semblance to its neighboring country from architecture to Herat’s women’s preference for the black cloak-like chador over the ubiquitous blue Afghan burqa seen throughout much the rest of the country.

Herat is centered around the well-restored Herat Citadel with the Masjid i Jami (The Great Friday Mosque) situated nearby, along with a fascinating bazaar, caravanserais, and mausoleums.

What To See In Herat

  • Masjid i Jami (Friday Mosque)
  • Herat Citadel (Natural History Museum & Museum of Communications inside)
  • Herat Bazaar
  • Gowar shad Mausoleum & Musallah Complex
  • Guzargah Mausoleum (Abdullah Ansar Mausoleum)
  • Pul e Malaan
  • Mosque of the Cloak of Prophet Mohammed
  • Jihad Museum

*There is a 500 AFS entrance fee to enter the Herat Citadel and it is another 500 AFS to enter the Herat National Museum inside the Citadel. There was an entrance fee for the Jihad Museum, I believe it was 200-300 AFS.


Plan your time in Herat: Herat In Photos & Travel Guide


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Mosque of the Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed

Where To Sleep In Herat

  • Budget: Mowafaq Hotel $20/night, double
  • Midrange: Kakh Hotel +93 79 982 8245
  • Midrange: Herat Bustan Hotel +93 72 879 0132
  • Splurge: Nazary Hotel Starting at $90/night, double

How To Get In & Out Of Herat

Kabul, Mazar e Sharif & Kandahar: The only realistic way is by flight which all will go via Kabul. A one-way flight will run $90 to Kabul, and to Mazar or Kandahar another $85.

Iran: The border at Islam Qala-Dougharoun is currently open to foreigners. This border crossing connects Herat with Mashhad, Iran. There are shared taxis making the run between Mashhad and Herat for 1,100 AFS per seat or 4,400 AFS for the entire car.

Mashhad is about 4 hours from the border and Herat is about 2 hours from the border. I crossed here in March 2019 and found it to be a straightforward process. Read a border crossing report here.

Turkmenistan: In the past, it has been possible to cross the border between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan at the Torghundi-Serkhetabat crossing, however, there is mixed information about whether or not foreigners can use this crossing in 2018 (some embassies reporting no, and some locals claiming yes).

There is another border crossing between the two countries, although quite remote at Imam Nazar-Aaqina. Open to foreigners, however, the road is a dirt track and from reports likely will need a 4wd to navigate.

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Mosque of the Cloak and Ahmad Shah Durrani’s Shrine in the background, Kandahar

Kandahar

The predominantly Pashtun and largest city of Southern Afghanistan. In late March 2019, I finally visited Kandahar. The city itself is relatively secure in terms of Afghanistan however the remainder of the province is not.

It is generally recommended that you have someone with you that can understand and speak Pashto with you in Kandahar as Pashto is the predominant language spoken in the south of Afghanistan. Check out my post: Kandahar in photos & travel guide for more information on visiting southern Afghanistan’s largest city.

What To See In Kandahar

  • Mosque of the Cloak of Prophet Mohammed
  • Ahmed Shah Durrani Mausoleum
  • Chilzina (The Forty Steps Monument)
  • Mausoleum of Baba Wali
  • Mausoleum to Mirwas Khan Hotak
  • Eid Gah Mosque
  • Mosque of the Hair of the Prophet
  • Kandahar Museum

Check out: Kandahar in Photos & Travel Guide


Chilzinia, 40 steps Kandahar, chehelzina, Afghanistan
Chilzina

Where To Sleep In Kandahar

Getting In & Out Of Kandahar

The best and safest choice is by flight. Kandahar is connected to other main cities throughout Afghanistan via Kabul.

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Wakhan Corridor

Most who come to the Wakhan Corridor will trek in the remote Pamir Mountains, many of which will go to meet Kyrgyz nomads that live beyond Sarhad e Broghil near Chaqmaqtin Lake in the Little Pamir. The Wakhan Corridor is the only safe region of Afghanistan with little risk to visitors (besides the Afghan colon cleanse or falling off a mountainside).

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Evening yak milking at Wakhi settlement in the Great Pamir

What To Do & See In The Wakhan Corridor

  • Trek in the Little Pamir, Great Pamir & Hindu Kush Mountains
  • Meet Kyrgyz Nomads in the remote Pamir
  • Visit Wakhi settlements in the Pamir Mountains
  • Trek in the Noshaq Valley or summit Mt. Noshaq
  • Explore the towns and villages along the Wakhan Corridor Road
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Inside a family home in Qazideh

Where To Sleep In The Wakhan Corridor

Most will spend at least their first night in the Wakhan Corridor at Marco Polo Guesthouse as they wait for permits to be arranged. There are guesthouses available in Qazideh (Malang Darya’s Family Home), Khandood, Qala e Panja and Wuzed. Most will range from $15-30 USD per night including meals.

Most who visit the Wakhan come to trek, so plan to camp. I recommend bringing your own tent and sleeping bag at least, although guides can usually find one for rent for you if needed.

  • Budget: Marco Polo Guesthouse $25 USD/night
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A Wakhi man in Aksanktich, Great Pamir

Guides In The Wakhan Corridor

I personally recommend Malang Darya’s company Big Little Pamir Travel. You can contact Malang & his team via their new website Wakhan Adventure or by phone +93 794766067

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Wakhi horsemen

More Posts On The Afghan Wakhan

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Trekking in the Great Pamir

Trekking In Afghanistan

While Afghanistan has epic trekking potential, you are very limited to where you can realistically trek without the high likelihood of being kidnapped or killed.

Most trekkers should head over the Ishkashim border from Tajikistan to explore the Pamir and Hindu Kush Mountains in the Afghan Wakhan. Security concerns in the Wakhan are low, especially compared to the state of the rest of the country. Popular treks in the Wakhan include the trek from Sarhad e Broghil to the Little Pamir, treks into the Wakhi Great Pamir, and the trek into Noshaq Valley.

In the ‘Mainland’ of Afghanistan, your most likely areas to trek will be to the Shah Foladi area of Bamyan and in the Panjshir Valley. If wanting to trek around these areas you should definitely contact an experienced local guide to help plan and guide you there.

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Afghan Holidays & Festivals

  • Nowruz
  • Ashura
  • Independence Day
  • Ramadan & Eid al Fitr
  • Mavleed al Nabi
  • Eid al Qurban
Noor, our fearless leader in Bamyan

Tour Operators & Guides

Mainland AfghanistanLet’s Be Friends Afghanistan – Noor started the company in 2015 with his colleague Sakhi and guides along with his brother Mahdi. Noor, Sakhi & Mahdi are both knowledgable and professional.

Wakhan CorridorBig Little Pamir Travel – Malang and his team are experts on the Wakhan, Hindu Kush, and Pamir region and will put together some unforgettable itineraries.

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Afghanistan Travel Budget

Afghanistan isn’t necessarily that expensive once you’re there, but what really will hit you in the wallet is the flights you’ll need to take between cities at $50-100 USD a pop.

Afghanistan’s security situation is fairly unstable and things can change in an instant, so it is recommended to spend the extra cash to travel with a local guide or at very least know locals that can update you on the constantly changing situation.

$60 USD Per Day

Traveling independently, using public transport within cities, flights between cities, staying at guesthouses and eating at local eateries

$110 USD Per Day

Traveling with a guide, car hire within cities, flights between cities, midrange accommodations and a combination of local eateries and finer restaurants

$200 USD+ Per Day

Traveling by guided tour, private car hires within cities, flights between cities, higher-end accommodations and eating at finer restaurants when available

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Packing List

  • External battery pack– You never know when insurgents or suppliers will cut power in Afghanistan. Very handy in the Wakhan and places where electricity may be non-existent in areas
  • Solar charger– To keep electronics charged in remote areas
  • Comfortable Walking Shoes– I know some may opt for trainers, but my favorite shoe for milling about is the Isabella Flat that Crocs makes (don’t laugh)
  • Hiking Boots– Necessary for those headed to the Wakhan Corridor or other trekking destinations. My personal favorite is the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX hiking boot
  • Inreach Explorer+– GPS & SOS beacon, that can also send and receive text messages. Delorme/Garmin offers good monthly plans. Great for emergency situations and remote areas
  • Water Purifier– I personally use the Katadyn water filter. Tap water in the entire country is unsafe for drinking and natural water sources can be contaminated.
  • Headlamp– Useful for the intermittent power outages
  • Sunscreen– The sun is pretty intense in summer
  • Prescription & Over the counter medications
  • Toiletries
Guzargah Mausoleum, tomb to the Sufi saint Khwaja Abdullah Ansar, Guzargah, Khwaja Abdullah Ansar, Sufi, Herat, Afghanistan

Guidebooks

There are not many guidebooks on Afghanistan, let alone anything up to date. But here are a few that may prove insightful and interesting.

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Internet & Mobile In Afghanistan

You’ll find that Afghanistan is surprising well-connected given its situation.

WiFi

WiFi is available at many hotels in Afghanistan, though the speed and quality of your experience can vary widely. I was pleasantly surprised that every hotel and guesthouse we stayed at in Mainland Afghanistan had WiFi that functioned most of the time. With that said, don’t expect to find WiFi in the Wakhan Corridor.

Mobile

SIM cards and top-up cards are available throughout the country and are cheap. Roshan, Afghan Wireless, Etisalat and MTN are the companies you’ll come across in Afghanistan.

I have a Roshan card and it’s worked all over the country, including some of the main villages in the Afghan Wakhan. Note that in the Wakhan Corridor that depending on where you’re at and if very close to the Tajik border you can sometimes get reception on Tajik T-Cell and MegaFone SIM cards.

Prices for SIMs with some credits on them are typically around 50 AFS. Prices for data can range from 150-350 AFS per GB. I’ve personally found Roshan and Afghan Wireless to typically be the cheapest options.

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Fearless Sakhi dangling off the edge above Band e Haibat

Health & Safety

As you guessed it, Afghanistan is neither a safe or ‘healthy’ destination to visit.

Safety

Not to be taken lightly, as Afghanistan is technically a war zone after all. In reality, Afghanistan is generally not a safe destination, but with that said there are precautions you can take to make Afghanistan travel a bit safer. Note that safety in the Wakhan is much more relaxed.

Consider Hiring A Guide

Hiring a local who’s in the know on security situations and can help you with the ins and outs of travel in Afghanistan is greatly helpful. I personally recommend Noor & Mahdi of Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan.

Avoid Traveling At Night

Definitely avoid traveling between cities past dark all together as this is when the Taliban is more apt to set up fake roadblocks for kidnappings. It’s also not recommended to travel in most cities at night. Though we did stay out until about 9 pm in Mazar e Sharif with no issues and were out in Herat past dark and we were okay.

Then the one time when I promised a tour group we’d visit the Blue Mosque in Mazar e Sharif and missed our flight from Kabul and had to drive. Long story short, we rolled in Mazar at 1:30 am and lived to tell about it, though I wouldn’t advise it.

Then there was that time that a tourist went M.I.A. in Band e Amir in the winter, which took some of our group on a manhunt (don’t worry, it was successful) but we had to make another night trip on the road back to Bamyan. It’s generally advised to stay inside past dark.

Afghanistan, Mazar e Sharif, Mazar i Sharif, Balkh

Dress Like An Afghan

Trying to look like a local is most definitely recommended to avoid standing out in a crowd. Afghans are a much more diverse lot than you may have expected– you will see some people with nearly every shade of hair color and eye color. Dressing the part will definitely help you blend in.

On the topic of blending in- do try to speak quietly if you’re speaking English or whatever native language you speak at home when out and about in public, especially on public transport. People do get paid by the Taliban to turn people in, so to avoid someone setting up troubles ahead it’s best to keep your foreignness cloaked well.

Don’t Tell People Where You’re Staying Or Where You’re Going

This goes along with the above mentioned speaking quietly. It’s best not to tell strangers where you’re staying or where you’re headed next, someone could arrange trouble for you ahead.

Afghans are curious in nature and many are just kind people– but it’s best to give vague answers I’ve found to not be rude but also not divulge any useful information.

Change Up Your Routine

I learned this one back when I was traveling in Yemen. Don’t have the same daily routines in any place you visit. Say you walk to the Blue Mosque each day when you’re in Mazar- take a different route each time.

Avoid going to the same places at the same times each day for the same reasons I’ve covered above.

Know Which Embassy or Consulate To Turn To

In the event that you need help know which consulate or embassy can help you. Some countries have representation in Afghanistan while others do not. If your country falls into the latter category, know which country can help you in the event you need it. Check out who has diplomatic representation in Afghanistan here.

Guzargah Mausoleum, tomb to the Sufi saint Khwaja Abdullah Ansar, Guzargah, Khwaja Abdullah Ansar, Sufi, Herat, Afghanistan

Cooperate With Police

You’ll likely encounter police and/or military checkpoints traveling in Afghanistan, especially if any portion of your trip involves going overland. Sometimes they may not let you go into an area (and typically for good reason), and sometimes they will search your car and bags- just go with the flow and all will usually be fine.

Health

Healthcare is pretty grim in Afghanistan aside from the couple of hospitals and complexes that cater to aid workers and NGOs. It’s highly recommended to take out an insurance policy that covers your travel in Afghanistan and can evacuate you to another country if medical treatment is needed.

Food & Water

Probably the most likely culprit to put a cramp in your Afghanistan travel. Hand washing is a huge deal in Afghanistan. Always wash your hands before meals.

However, sanitary conditions are not of the highest standard and tap water is as an Afghan friend put it ‘deadly’. Good rules to follow are: only drink bottled or purified water, only eat steaming hot foods and avoid ice. Do I personally follow them? Eh, not really.

I can say I did not get sick once on my second trip to Afghanistan. Even eating ice cream and literally every dish warm or cold that sat in front of me. On my first trip I did eat something that wreaked havoc on my insides for about a day.

Vaccines

No special vaccines outside the standard vaccines are recommended for Afghanistan travel. Make sure you are up to date on your vaccines prior to departing.

Dust

Afghanistan is a dusty place period no matter where in the country you are. Bring allergy meds with you to help cope with the generalized dustiness you’ll experience traveling Afghanistan.

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Security is constantly changing, in fact I didn’t think we were going to be able to reach Bamyan on this trip because of it

News & Information

Situations are constantly changing for better and for worse in Afghanistan. Afghan news I recommend to follow is TOLO News and GandharaAl Jazeera is a good option for international news.

Wikitravel still provides some good information for Afghanistan travel, although some sections are out of date.

Have Any Questions Not Answered In This Afghanistan Travel Guide?

Ask any of your Afghanistan travel questions in the comments below!

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Need Afghanistan Travel Insurance?

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11 thoughts on “Afghanistan Travel Guide”

  1. Was fun reading seeing the pictures and reading about trip. I visited Afganistan for a short time in 1964.
    We were two young woman in our early 20’s travelling together. We visited Kabul and then by bus via Kandahar to Iran. Quite an adventure. Also I believe it was safer to travel then. We dressed in skirts and shirts and did not cover our heads…. We never had any trouble and as I remember, people were also very nice to us.

    1. Hey Julie,
      I bet that was an amazing whirlwind of a trip. When I’ve met people that were able to visit in the 60s and 70s I’m always a bit jealous that you got to see and experience what you did there! I do have a friend that I met a few years back that went on a similar trip in the late 60s or early 70s (I can’t remember off the top of my head at the moment) as part of her bus journey from London to Kathmandu. I just love listening to her stories. I bet you girls had some wild adventures on that trip. Hope all is well!

      Nicole

  2. Going to Visit Afganistan next week as I don’t know much about it so I was looking for a blog to know the best things to there thanks for this information. As Know I know What to do there.

  3. Wow Nicole, So many photos in this post that I’ve never seen on you Instagram where I first heard about you. I live in Iran and very much would like to go to Afghanistan one day.

    1. I hope you make it there one of these days! Afghanistan is such a special place… but the only bad part is I’ve found after visiting you just dream about it more than you did before you went! haha

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