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Lake Alovaddin, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan

Is Tajikistan Safe? Generally, Yes

Updated April 2020, Is Tajikistan Safe? was originally written in February 2019

Most people can’t point to Tajikistan on a map much less conjure up a single fact about the country. For the few that begin their research on visiting the country, many do stumble across my website and a common question I get is “Is Tajikistan safe?

So, Is Tajikistan Safe?

Mostly

Now, I’m not saying flaunt your wealth and get wildly drunk at bars (where they even exist). Shit does happen in Tajikistan, it’s not immune to thieves and scammers. That said, staying safe in Tajikistan is a relatively easy task.


Start here: The Tajikistan Travel Guide
Grab a copy of Bradt’s Tajikistan too to help start your planning


But What About The Terrorist Attack?

July 29, 2018, 8 cyclists were struck by a vehicle driven by 5 men that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (though Tajikistan’s government is pointing toward the ousted Islamic Resistance Party). They went on to stab the injured riders. In the end, 4 cyclists died. You can read more about the horrific story here.

Not to downplay what happened, but this is not a regular occurrence in Tajikistan. In fact, this was the first-ever terroristic attack carried out on western tourists in Tajikistan.

To give a little comparison figure: a terrorist in New York City in 2017 drove a car into a crowd of two dozen cyclists, killing 8. People’s buttholes don’t exactly pucker when they think about traveling to NYC, but when a country’s name ends in ‘stan, who’s people loosely practice Islam, and shares a border with a much more famous at-war ‘stan (hint: it’s Afghanistan) safety is seriously scrutinized.

In November 2019 another attack happened, claimed again by ISIS. There were no tourists involved, however, 17 were killed in the attack launched at a border post with Uzbekistan.

No article I’ve read states which crossing, but some describe it as “30 km southwest of Dushanbe”. Not much has been released on the border attack, but you can read an article here. I highly doubt much more information will come forth on this.

Now, I Know A Lot Of You Will Blindly Say I’m Naive: But Realize This

I read the comments on the articles about the terrorist attack. So many armchair experts putting in their two-cents that the cyclists were stupid, naive, on a suicide mission (blah fucking blah, cue deep eye roll).

Now I’d probably agree with those comments had the cyclists been attacked say, on the road from Kabul to Kandahar to Lashkargah (these are in Afghanistan if you have no clue what I’m talking about). But the attacked cyclists were hit in the Denghara District, where not much of anything exciting has happened since the Tajik Civil War concluded in 1997.

The hard fact that most people don’t want to realize is that many cities in the US and other wealthy and developed countries are much more dangerous than Tajikistan. I am exponentially more at risk at being stabbed, shot, raped, brutally beaten and or killed in Anchorage, Alaska (my home) than I am in Tajikistan.

Here’s A Face-Palm Example Of The Cluelessness Of Some About Tajikistan

I had one traveler interested in visiting Afghanistan and asking about safety. I replied that no, Afghanistan, in general, is not safe (I’ve traveled there too), however, there are precautions that can be taken to reduce the associated risks, but if safety is a huge concern they should consider visiting the Wakhan Corridor because it’s realistically the only “safe” region of Afghanistan. They replied that they did not want to visit the Wakhan Corridor because in their opinion traveling through Tajikistan to reach the Wakhan was “too dangerous”.

Oh honey, no.

If Tajikistan scares you but you think mainland Afghanistan is a good vacation plan, for fuck’s sake please stay home.

Maloye Allo, Zindon River, Zindon Valley, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan
Trekking solo in the Fann Mountains

But Is Tajikistan Safe For Women?

Generally? Yes.

Now, it typically won’t come without at least one proclamation of love by at least one local man. That said with typical precautions solo women in Tajikistan are safe to travel around.

I’ve traveled the country extensively, and the overwhelming majority of the time? Solo. Ironically the one time I was attacked by a man who was attempting to sexually assault me was the one time I visited Tajikistan with my husband.


Wanna learn more? Solo Female Travel In Tajikistan


But What If I’m American? Will I Be Safe In Tajikistan?

This is one thing I don’t understand (and guess what guys? I’m from the US too). Where does this idea come from? How has this idea been perpetuated for this long in the United States?

Why do I not see Aussies, French, Germans, and other nationalities asking this question?

In general, no one gives a single fuck about you being from the United States.

There, I said it.

I’ve traveled a lot (mostly thanks to being born into a country with a rather privileged passport). To many places that most people won’t dare to.

No one has ever tried to harm me based on my nationality. Nobody in these places has treated me poorly for being from the US (aside from some teasing about politics and whatnot). I’ve actually been the recipient of much more shit about my Americanness by other westerners (Kiwis, Brits, Europeans, and Australians), than I’ve ever encountered by Tajiks, Afghans, Yemenis or any other people’s that you may expect to have major beef with the good ol’ USA.

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Tajikistan Safety, What You Actually Need To Know

Tajikistan generally isn’t dangerous. Is it perfect? No, it still has its issues…

Food Poisoning

By and far the most likely culprit to a bad time in Tajikistan. It’s inevitable that you’ll probably get sick at some point. Hygienic standards are low and tap water can be lethal (maybe not lethal, but you’ll regret your poor decision pretty quickly).

Somehow, miraculously I spent a whole month in Tajikistan on my first trip and I didn’t get sick a single time (and I am not the most careful when it comes to food). Now skip to trip two and I had the joy of eating undercooked chicken (unknowingly until I saw a raw-ish hunk of meat when I went to pop the last bit of a shwarma in my mouth), and later catching a stomach bug about 25 kilometers deep into the absolute ass end of bumfucknowhereistan (Tsaxinkul Lake to be exact) that turned me back to conclude my trek a few days sooner than planned.

Short answer: Assume you’ll get sick, pray you won’t and for the love of Allah bring lots of Imodium and a broad spectrum antibiotic.

Baksheesh

Why do Tajik officials wear such big hats? So they have more space to hide baksheesh.

Tajikistan is was corrupt, as fuck (things are improving, for tourists anyway). Generally, improvements have been made to detour police, border officers, and other officials from bribing tourists. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t continue to happen.

Much like fat-bottomed girls make the rockin’ world go round, baksheesh makes the developing world continue to go round (not really, but it pads the incomes of many underpaid workers in official positions).

I’m not saying to pay the baksheesh either, do try to calmly argue your way out of it, but know that Tajiks face much more corruption than foreign tourists currently will when visiting the country.

But I Digress, While We’re On The Bribery Topic…

The place you will most likely encounter bribes is at GBAO* checkpoints and at security police checkpoints (most often on the outskirts of Dushanbe).

*GBAO checkpoints are found in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast and they will check to make sure you have a GBAO permit. You’ll need this if you plan to travel the Pamir Highway.

It’s not unheard of to be asked for a dollar (or a few) at these checkpoints. I’ve actually not been asked when I was face to face with officials checking my documents (though I’ve seen locals I’ve hitched rides with have to cough up a few Somoni to get past the police-troll-toll).

However, wearing a shit-eating grin and being polite is a great way to avoid it. Having simple gifts on hand (snacks, single vodka shooters, cigarettes…) can also help facilitate an expedient escape from paying old fashioned baksheesh.

But typically in my experience GBAO checkpoints more often than not resulted in a friendly conversation, being gifted a piece of fresh fruit and/or an invitation for a cup of chai.

Incidents At The Airport

In the past, there have been reports of passengers arriving at the Dushanbe and Khujand International Airports and being extorted of cash they carried into the country with them. One victim reported having $700 USD taken from them after declaring the amount on their immigration forms.

Now, I’m not usually a liar but, I wouldn’t declare a large sum of money on your forms when entering the country to avoid this happening (though I haven’t heard stories of this in a few years).

Ak Baital, Ak Baital Pass, White Horse Pass, Tajikistan, Eastern Pamir
The 4,655 meter Ak-Baital Pass along the Pamir Highway

Altitude Sickness

Tajikistan is over 93% mountains. Aside from Fergana Valley cities, Dushanbe, and parts of the Khatlon Oblast, much of Tajikistan is at higher altitudes. Taking time to acclimatize, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding exceeding the maximum recommended altitude change in a day are going to be your best protection against altitude sickness.

It may be wise to get a prescription of Diamox prior to your arrival to help fend off altitude sickness. Read more about altitude sickness & how to prevent it here.

Petty Theft

Until 2019 I had never had anything really stolen from me in all my travels, in Tajikistan and outside.

Well, my run of luck was finally up and 25 km into a 60 km trek a shepherd (the only culprits that would make logical sense given our location) stole my hiking boots from the vestibule of my tent while we slept.

There are reports of people having had money and other items stolen from them while traveling in Tajikistan, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that standard precautions here apply.

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A shared 4×4 going up the Bartang Highway

Driving

Driving can be a hair-raising experience. Tajik roads can range from good, potholed, jeep-tracks, horrifying, to non-existent. Some highways pass through high mountains teetering on terrifying sheer near-vertical cliff-sides.

Tajik drivers can drive like psychos, especially when using marshrutka/shared taxi services (think of this as Tajik public transport).

If you don’t want the added thrills of a highspeed, cliff-edge, packed-to-the-gills marshrutka ride, I highly advise hiring a good driver who can at least speak enough of your chosen language to know that you want him to slow down in scary spots.

Healthcare

Healthcare in Tajikistan is not of western standard. Hygienic conditions can be a concern and serious ailments and injuries will likely need attention outside the country. It is wise to carry a travel insurance plan that covers medivac service in the event you’ll need to seek treatment outside Tajikistan.

Travel Insurance

Healthcare in Tajikistan is abysmal. Options for treatment whether injured or ill are bleak.

This is why I really recommend travel insurance like that covers medical treatment as well as medivac coverage in the event you’ll need to be transported elsewhere for treatment.

Also worth noting that there are typically different plans depending on activities you’ll take part in. This is especially important for places such as Tajikistan where altitudes can get quite high. World Nomads basic plans cover activities up to 4,700 meters according to a friend of mine.

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The beautiful Lake Sarez whose creation was due to a natural disaster and it’s demise likely a deadly one

Natural Disasters

Tajikistan is no stranger to earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, and bad weather conditions.

A big draw for many coming to Tajikistan is trekking in beautiful mountainscapes. Given the remote nature in the country, lack of good rescue services, and earthquake-prone tendencies it’s smart to have an emergency beacon with you for these activities.

Check conditions the best you can with locals as well, spring and early summer are susceptible to landslides, and floods and winter months can bring avalanches.

Landmines

Areas near Tajikistan’s borders have been landmined in the past. Though there have been efforts to demine, the danger still exists in these areas.

It’s wise to stick to well-trodden paths, especially in border areas and if unsure hiring a knowledgeable local guide is a good idea.

Riots, Clashes & Protests

While protests and riots don’t happen with extreme frequency they are best avoided. On occasion, they have turned violent, such as the 2012 GBAO Clashes that resulted in the whole GBAO region being closed to foreigners that July, and any that were already there when it began were evacuated.

In the end, 47 were killed in clashes between the Tajik Military and Tolib Ayombekov’s Militia.

Most recently demonstrations took place in Khorog in September 2018 by Pamiris demanding better infrastructure and job opportunities from the central government. Dushanbe sent in the army to quash any violence and began a crackdown on dissent, resulting in the arrests of several prominent career-criminals in the Pamirs (it still has its police-statey tendencies).

Some fear that these events are the beginnings of much-feared instability in the country. In reality, only time will tell. Nevertheless, many residents are fed up displeased with Emomali Rahmon (the strong-browed forever president that most recently appointed his own son the mayor of Dushanbe).

Terrorism

Since there have been a couple incidents, one of which did target tourists, I’ll go ahead and throw this one in here.

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Tips To Stay Safe In Tajikistan

  • Keep cash and valuables hidden.
  • Try to only eat hot, fresh foods (though this isn’t a guarantee you won’t get sick.
  • Don’t drink tap water. Bring a purifier or drink bottled.
  • Carry Imodium and a broad-spectrum antibiotic.
  • Bring a small first aid kit.
  • If trekking in remote areas hire a local guide and/or carry an emergency beacon.
  • Plan out trekking routes prior to departing to the mountains and leave a plan and expected date of return with someone at home or a trusted individual in Tajikistan.
  • Avoid sleeping more than 300 meters higher than where you slept the night before to stave off altitude sickness. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water and carb up too.
  • Hire a local guide for treks and visiting areas you are uncertain about.
  • Hire a private driver if road and driving conditions are a concern for you.
  • Avoid protests and demonstrations.
  • Stay in the know about security situations by checking news sources and asking locals.

Have Any Questions About Staying Safe In Tajikistan?

Ask your Tajikistan safety questions in the comments below.

Need Travel Insurance for Tajikistan?

Start shopping plans over at battleface, my go-to travel insurance choice, or over at World Nomads (just don’t read World Nomad’s fear-mongering Tajikistan safety post written by some guy named Phil that I seriously doubt has ever stepped foot in the country).

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