Picture this; a crisp, refreshing wind whips around you as you coast along an immaculately paved road. Your engine purrs, seemingly as delighted as you are by the surreal, screensaver-esque scenery. Dozens of 6000 and 7000 meter peaks surround you, and an icy blue river snakes into the horizon in the valley far below beneath an absolutely massive right-side drop.
You can see glaciers and alpine lakes from the road, and if you’ve come at the right time, this entire scene will be set on fire with the most glorious autumn colours you could ever imagine.
This my friends, is motorcycle travel in Pakistan.
Travelling in Pakistan is freaking awesome no matter how you do it, but in my opinion, there’s no better way to see this country (which truly wins the best mountains contest) than on two wheels.
But seeing as the Karakoram Mountain range is still a very offbeat place to travel, you’re going to have to do a bit of research before heading off into the sunset on your Suzuki 150 or Honda 125.
And that’s where I come in.
I’ve been to Pakistan many times, as far as I know I was the first travel blogger in the country in 2015, and the first to lead expeditions after founding a company leading tours to Pakistan , I’m here to arm you with all the info you could possibly need to hit these majestic high-altitude roads.
So let’s get right to it – it’s time to learn how to travel Pakistan like a pro, and cruise these insane highways with confidence.
Why Travel by Motorcycle in Pakistan?
To put it simply, there is but no better way to explore the glorious mountain ranges of Pakistan’s North than on two wheels. My first trip to the country consisted of hitchhiking and public transport, and while I freaking LOVE hitchhiking, it’s biking below the snowcapped peaks of Pakistan that really made me really fall in love.
The freedom to be able to move from place to place quickly is incredibly important in Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral – AKA the North and the unmatched highlight – as public transport doesn’t EXACTLY go everywhere.
Car rentals aren’t really a thing, and having a driver (even a chill one) will chip away at your freedom and independence on the road. So that is where motorcycle travel comes in.
Having travelled through Pakistan in virtually all ways – including by way of minibus as a tour leader and on the infamous city-bound trains – I can ASSURE you that there’s nothing quite like the feeling of illustrious mountain air whipping past you as some of the world’s tallest snow-capped peaks completely surround you.
While it may not be the easiest place to get acquainted, I even know several backpackers who learned to ride here. Perhaps the notoriously beautiful Karakoram Highway isn’t the best place to do so, but you can always start in an empty city field and world your way up.
Armed with a desire for true adventure and a good helmet (yes, you absolutely NEED a fucking helmet), some of the world’s best motorbiking awaits once you reach the mountains.
Best Motorbikes in Pakistan
So assuming I’ve already convinced you to go motorbiking in Pakistan’s majestic mountains, now we need to talk bikes. Because what works best here may not be what you’re used to.
Unless you’re rolling in overland with your own wheels, you need to think small: the best motorbikes in Pakistan are not what you think.
Plus a major pro tip and disclaimer: you may be tempted by the cheap prices of the Honda 70cc. And while this bike may LOOK the same as a 125, trust and believe that you will struggle on the well-paved Karakoram Highway, and any offroad will be out of the question entirely.
So onward with your best options…
- Honda CG 125: the most classic of Pakistani bikes, and the one you’ll find easiest to repair virtually anywhere. A good 125 can go just about anywhere, but is a bit of a challenge if you’re traveling as a pair. Still, don’t underestimate it – this is an ideal choice for beginners.
Price: 3000 PKR/day ($10 USD)
- Suzuki GS 150: My personal bike of choice when I ascend upon the mountains, as that extra bit of power is important when riding through the off-roads of the Karakoram. It’s still easy to repair, and its larger frame means it can hold more luggage.
Price: 4000-5000 PKR/day ($13-$16)
A few rental companies offer up to 250s, but I personally do not find them necessary. First off, you’ll have a hard time picking it up off the ground, and finding replacement parts won’t be the easiest.
A friend of mine has even taken a 125 (with two people and a massive bag) up the Yarkhun Valley road, arguably one of the absolute worst in the country, so take that as proof that bigger is not always better when it comes to motorbiking in Pakistan.
To rent or to buy?
This largely depends upon your particular itinerary. For a trip lasting just a few weeks, renting is of course the way to go, and if you pair your rental with a solid camp setup, it still won’t break the bank.
But let’s just say you plan to really dive deep into Pakistan travel and intend to stay a few months, or even longer.
That’s when buying will absolutely be cheaper. As rental prices generally range from $10-$15 per day, you would certainly be cheating yourself – a used Honda 125 can go for around $250-$300 whereas the 150 is somewhere in the $450-$600 range.
The only catch: foreigners on tourist visas cannot buy motorbikes in their names. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Many have made it work through trusted friends or Couchsurfing hosts, or even from small garages like one of my personal favorites in Aliabad in Central Hunza.
In Pakistan, anything is possible. The country truly exemplifies the saying “If there’s a will, there’s a way” – so rest assured that if you are determined to skirt around the Karakorams, Himalayas, and Hindu Kush for an indefinite amount of time, you can do so on your own wheels.
Where to Rent Motorbikes
My tried and true recommendation for motorbike rental on your backpacking Pakistan adventures is Karakoram Bikers.
Long-term friends of mine, they offer fantastic rentals right out of Gilgit, which is the ideal place to begin your Northern Pakistan adventure.
If you’d like to start your trip from Islamabad, Pakistan Bikers is ready and waiting with multiple models on offer, including the much more expensive Tekken and Rx-3 Cyclone 250 ccs.
The only thing to note is that the ride from Islamabad to Gilgit Baltistan is NOT for the faint of heart and is something I only really recommend during summer (May-early October) when the stunning Babusar Pass is open.
The alternative route – the entirety of the Karakoram Highway – is filled with construction, roadblocks, landslides, and potential police escorts – not exactly my cup of chai.
Though you may feel you’ll be missing out, the thing is that you won’t – the true beauty of the KKH doesn’t begin until right after Chilas anyways (where the Babusar connects to), and the Babusar Pass is a beauty – lush green, fully paved, and reaching impressive altitudes of more than 13,300 ft.
Do I need a license to drive a motorcycle in Pakistan?
Unlike other countries like Thailand which will strictly check for both a motorcycle license AND an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), to be frank, Pakistani authorities simply do not care.
When stopped at checkpoints, you’ll really only be asked for your passport, visa, and possibly, your bike number. The vast and overwhelming majority of locals don’t have bike licenses, and this becomes even less important when you get to the mountains.
HOWEVER, while PAKISTAN may not care if you’re licensed, your travel insurance company certainly will. Many providers have specific clauses that they will not pay out in the event of an accident UNLESS you are properly licensed AND you have your IDP.
So it’s definitely something to think about before heading out…
Epic Itineraries for Motorbiking in Pakistan
By now, you should know that I’m very partial to the North of Pakistan, which primarily consists of Gilgit Baltistan and its fantastic neighbor Chitral.
While you certainly can start your driving adventure down south in Karachi, I personally wouldn’t.
Well, unfortunately, traveling on your own transport through Sindh (the country’s most Southern province) simply sucks. Police escorts (for reasons still unknown to me) are mandatory once you exit Karachi, and the majestic Makran Coastal Highway in nearby Balochistan is sadly not open for independent travel.
So you’ll basically be driving on dusty, super-hot link roads for hundreds of kilometers without the freedom to stop or wild camp. Not exactly the best way to get to know Pakistan…
While you’d be able to travel independently again once you reached Lahore, that too is not a fun time for bikers – especially bikers that aren’t used to the madness of South Asia.
So once again, I advise you to spend all your two-wheeled time in one of the many mountain wonderlands.
Here are a few routes to get your itinerary inspiration rolling:
- Karakoram Highway to Khunjerab: Precisely from Gilgit onwards is when the KKH shines bright and where you’ll get to see the very best sights in the world as you coast along the Hunza Valley. Glaciers that quite literally dash out to the road, Gatorade blue lakes, and more mountains than you could imagine are on the menu. Not to mention the incredible Burusho and Wakhi people, who are known for their huge hearts and unique traditions that are as awe-inspiring as the landscapes they live in. The route stretches about 194 km to Khunjerab, the highest international border crossing in the world, and is loaded with epic stops.
- Gilgit to Skardu: Completed in late 2021, the new Jaglot-Skardu Road connects Gilgit to the massive Baltistan region that borders India’s Ladakh. This paved highway is more challenging than the Karakoram Highway by a long shot, and you should never ride it if it’s recently rained or is currently raining. But once you arrive into Skardu, an entirely new landscape is yours for the taking – with dozens and dozens of valleys that can keep you busy for months.
- Shandur Pass: At 3,720 m, this absolutely mesmerizing mountain pass connects Gilgit Baltistan with Chitral and snakes through some of the country’s most stunning and untouched landscapes. Shandur gets quite muddy early in the season and when it rains, but in peak summer and early fall, it’s a glorious ride.
- Shimshal & Chapursan Valleys: While the Chapursan Valley road is fairly tame for bikers with some history behind them, Shimshal is absolutely terrifying. Truly death-defying, the 3-hour long, 56 km road is one of the world’s most dangerous – you’ll literally be teetering along a 100% dirt road hundreds of meters above a cliff. And no – don’t count on a SINGLE guard rail.
- Mastuj to Yarkhun Lasht: Very, very few foreigners have ever biked on this road (or even seen it for that matter) as it sits quite close to the Afghan Wakhan Corridor. As such, it’s difficult to access, but when there’s a Will, there’s a way. If you manage to get beyond Mastuj, some truly iconic dirt tracks await. Be prepared for rocks, water running through the road, and absolutely no modern highway development whatsoever. So in short – one hell of an adventure.
- Haramosh Valley: This road is listed last because it is absolutely NOT for beginners nor for the faint of heart. One of the most challenging off-road tracks in the country, I only recommend this side trip to folks who have several years of motorbiking experience. Its twin valley, Khaltoro, is even more hair-raising and should only be attempted by serious bikers who are well-outfitted with some super-serious gear. Both lead to idyllic village treks that are worth doing, as they’ve yet to become ruined by the perils of domestic tourism.
What to Expect While Motorbiking in Pakistan
Windy mountain roads of varying quality dot the massive mountains. From Chilas onwards, you can expect a fully paved Karakoram Highway, but that doesn’t mean it’s free from landslides.
In fact, landslides are something you MUST come to expect while riding a motorcycle in Pakistan – they’re simply a fact of life when it rains, and that’s why it’s essential to have some buffer days in your plans if you’re working with a fixed travel itinerary.
Here are but a few other things you’ll undoubtedly come across as you traverse the highways and dirt roads of Gilgit Baltistan and beyond:
- Left-side driving: Pakistan uses the LEFT side of the road to drive. For my fellow UK travelers, this will be exactly like home but Americans and others will be in for a bit of an adjustment.
- A ban on motorways: Another reason to start biking in Gilgit (which doesn’t have any motorways) is that motorcycles are banned from motorways all across Pakistan. Motorways in the country are actually pretty nice – think modern, Western-style highways. But as bikes are banned, that means you’ll have to deal with some incredibly shady alternatives, to say the least.
- Minimal street lights: While there are plenty in Islamabad, don’t expect to see any up in the mountains. Sometimes you’ll encounter traffic police manually guiding motorists, but that’s about it.
- Huge, colorful trucks: Pakistani trucks are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – we’re talking massively, vibrant rides that are just about the size of a house. Owners take great pride in their decor, but they’re also hazardous and often ply the Karakoram Highway en route to China. Watch out for them and avoid overtaking.
- Police checkpoints: Pakistan is simply infamous for police checkpoints, and while you won’t find that many of them in Hunza, the Karakoram Highway (particularly the Kohistan section I’ve already recommended you avoid) is plagued with them. Have multiple printed-out copies of your passport and visa, many of these guys can’t even read or write English despite being tasked to deal with foreigners, so this will save you a lot of time.
- Friendly folks: Pakistanis all over the country are incredibly helpful and respectful of foreigners. People of all walks of life will give you any assistance you may need, and offer you a million and one cups of chai. I have a fond memory deep in the Chapursan Valley of an incredible family not only fixing my broken headlights just as the sun fully set, but also inviting me in for a fantastic meal.
- Insane drivers: If you’re riding in the off or shoulder seasons, mountain roads will be fairly empty until the loaded domestic tourists drive up in their $50,000 cars come summer. This is absolutely a year-round thing in any city though. Another reason to avoid driving in the cities…
- Surreal views: Nothing compares to the Karakoram. Just nothing. And yes, I’ve been to India and Nepal. Neither come close to what you’re about to see here.
Is Motorbiking in Pakistan Safe?
While Pakistan is safe to visit, motorbiking in the country depends on your level of experience. Motorcyle travel isn’t 100% safe anywhere, and I don’t really think Pakistan is much different.
Pakistan’s road rules are certainly something you’ll have to get used to – this is NOT Europe, and there’a. set of unwritten pieces of etiquette that you’ll master with time.
That being said, people in Pakistan are so welcoming and helpful, it’s almost safer to bike here than in other mountain countries with less friendly populations. Mechanics will do their best to assist, as will average folks on the road.
If you’re keen on motorcycles, and you like mountains, I wouldn’t let any safety naysayers deter you.
Essential Tips for Motorbiking in Pakistan
A few tips and tricks to help make your Pakistan motorcycle adventure safe, sound, and second to none…
- Have a GOOD helmet: Once you leave Islamabad, I can tell you straight up that you simply will not be able to find quality helmets anywhere. And a quality helmet is an ESSENTIAL aspect of traveling by motorbike in Pakistan. There are a few stores in Islamabad and other major cities (Lahore, Karachi) that stock internationally certified helmets – they will only cost you about $75 USD and are absolutely worth the investment. If you already have your own from home, feel free to bring it along in your luggage.
- Keep passport and visa copies handy: There are several police checkpoints you’ll come across throughout the Northern Areas – it’s significantly faster and easier to move through these if you have printed-out copies of both your passport AND your visa. I recommend keeping at least a dozen, though you’ll find plenty of printing stores if you forget.
- Download offline maps: Maps.me is always a go-to, but having a downloaded Google Map can also come in handy.
- But be super cautious with Google Maps motorcycle mode: We once found ourselves on what can be best described as an animal path en route to a waterfall near Islamabad. In my opinion, stick to main roads and car directions.
- Get a SIM card: Motorbiking in the hinterlands of Pakistan is not the time to be disconnected. In Gilgit Baltistan, you’re going to want a SCOM SIM card as it’s the only one that has decent data connection. In Upper Chitral, only Telenor will work. A variety of other companies (Zong, Jazz, UFone) can be found in the major cities.
- Ride with basic extras: Having a second inner tube, tire and pump can go a long way, especially on truly crazy and offbeat roads like Shimshal or Yarkhun.
Motorbiking Gear in Pakistan
While I’ve already recommended that you start your trip up North, you should absolutely buy your gear down south… unless you’re entering with your own personal favourites, that is.
Motorcycle gear is pitiful in Gilgit Baltistan, and the only place you’ll find high-quality, international standard gear is in the cities. I’ve personally used crash-tested helmets bought in Islamabad, and let me tell you – they WORK.
I’ve taken several tumbles from my bike in Pakistan, and I was alright, thanks to my helmet. A friend of mine smacked her head HARD on the KKH once, which would have undoubtedly sent us straight to the hospital had she been helmet-free or wearing a cheap plastic one. But the LS2 (one of the most popular brands) model saved her head, and allowed us to go get a delicious yak burger for lunch instead of medical care.
I personally recommend Throttle Inspiration in Bahria Town, which isn’t too far from Islamabad. They have a wide variety of gear to choose from, and it’s all been internationally crash test certified.
An Average Budget for a Pakistan Motorcycle Trip
Traveling in Pakistan is damn CHEAP. The most expensive part of your budget will likely be accommodation, but that’s something that can always be assuaged with a lovely tent and comfortable sleeping system.
The food in Pakistan is bloody fantastic – and as backpacker-friendly as it gets. Think meals that will set you back no more than $2 MAXIMUM. Even a cheeky Western splurge will barely reach $5 at the current exchange rates.
Fuel is quite expensive in Pakistan these days – 297 PKR per liter as of August 2023 – but it goes a fairly long way in a bike as compared with cars and trucks. So if you’re camping, you can definitely get by on $10 a day minus bike rental fees.
Since most riders will be renting daily, a budget of $20-$35 is standard. This DOESN’T account for repairs though – but rest assured that most repairs in Pakistan are very budget-friendly, and rental companies do tend to keep their bikes in decent shape. But if you’re buying, you’ll absolutely want to go with a trustworthy source to make sure you’re not starting out with a dud.
Packing for a Motorcycle Trip Across Pakistan
The best type of motorcycle trip in Pakistan is a proper bike tour – so you better have a damn good tent ready. Here are some of my adventure-item go-tos that you should prepare before you head out.
Travel Security Belt
This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off.
Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must.
Forget about Poker! Monopoly Deal is the single best travel card game that we have ever played. Works with 2-5 players and guarantees happy days.
Hanging Laundry Bag
Trust us, this is an absolute game changer. Super compact, a hanging mesh laundry bag stops your dirty clothes from stinking, you don’t know how much you need one of these… so just get it, thank us later.
Getting Insured BEFORE Motorbiking Pakistan
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.
FAQs About Motorcycle Travel in Pakistan
A few questions people typically ask me when planning a bike journey in Pakistan…
Final Thoughts on Exploring Pakistan by Motorbike
I hope you now feel inspired to experience the Karakoram Mountains on your own trusty steed.
I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: there truly is nowhere else in the world with motorbiking vibes quite like what you’ll find in Pakistan. It’s almost as if the country runs on bikes, and it’s not every day that you get to drive along the greatest road in the world that also happens to be fully paved.
Thrill seekers will find the dirt tracks of their dreams, think “roads” that are better classified as piles of haphazard rocks complete with waterways running through them.
But whether you’re just learning, have never gotten on a bike before, or have spent the past 20 years two-wheeling it around the globe, I can assure you that you WILL be impressed with Pakistan, and that you WILL find yourself coming back.
Because motorcycle travel in Pakistan IS that damn special – and it’s one of the very few countries that keeps calling me back again and again and again.
So – buy those tickets and get your ass up to Gilgit Baltistan. The most surreal moments and vistas await, my friends. And the backpacker masses have still yet to discover it.
It’s the adventure of a lifetime, and all you have to do is get here for it to begin.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!