Backpacking in Pakistan is a one of a kind adventure, this is a country which will raise many an eyebrow and steal many a heart… The only danger with backpacking Pakistan is not wanting to leave.
I’ve now traveled to Pakistan four times, most recently in August 2019. Pakistan IS my favourite country for real adventures… There is nowhere else like this on earth. Motorcycling along the Karakoram Highway, flanked by mountain giants on either side. Hiking across epic glaciers in search of the perfect shepherds hut in which to camp. Swaying suspension bridges of wood and stone, endless cups of chai, smiles and friendly hellos… Traveling in Pakistan is like stepping into a past age of travel, a better ago many would argue. A time which forced you out of your comfort zone and into nature. Traveling in Pakistan is to disconnect from social media and to forge real connections. I can honestly say that I have more Pakistani friends than any other nationality – Pakistani people are often awesome.
So stoked am I on Pakistan that for two years now we’ve been using our unique contacts and insider knowledge to put together Epic Backpacker Tours in Pakistan – if you want to see the best that Pakistan has to offer and don’t have a month to spend backpacking independently, come with us.
The visa situation has JUST changed in Pakistan – tourism in the country is going to explode, be one of the first to discover this incredible place before the masses arrive!
Before I went backpacking in Pakistan for the first time in February 2016, I was unsure what to expect. Pakistan travel advice from my government was basically one gigantic red X. The media had painted the country in an unfortunate light, a fact most Pakistanis are painfully aware of. Wherever I went, I was greeted by friendly faces and incredibly helpful people. Pakistanis will always help you out if you get stuck or break down on the side of the road, plus many Pakistanis speak some English.
Combine that with relatively cheap travel costs, stunning trekking, gorgeous and varied landscapes, the alive and well Couchsurfing scene, artisanal hashish, the ancient silk road, epic off road motorbiking trails, an embryonic white water rafting scene, unclimbed peaks, some of the world’s largest glaciers, alpine valleys, glacial lakes and pretty good food and BOOM! – You have the greatest backpacking country of all time… For real adventurers wanting to do something epic; Pakistan is the holy grail.
The security situation in Pakistan has been under control since 2015 and has gotten safer with each passing year. With the exception of the Afghanistan border regions, most of the country is perfectly safe to visit. It is not however possible to visit some parts of the country such as Balochistan or Kashmir unless you have special permits. In the past around Hunza, you used to be assigned a free police escort – read about my experience trekking with mine – to keep an eye on you but these guys are almost always super friendly and mean well. In some places in Pakistan the police will still want to escort foreigners but this will likely continue to reduce over the next few years.
Sometimes, when arriving into a new town or area, police will insist that you stay in a certain hotel. Hotels in Pakistan are relatively expensive and to be avoided if possible; I couchsurfed my way around the country, with the help of friends from The Karakoram Club, and had a blast. Please be aware that although The Karakoram Club is full of super helpful people it is a ‘free to join’ Facebook group which means that some hotel groups, trying to sell shit to backpackers, are now in the group and will eagerly contact you.
To connect with other backpackers travelling to Pakistan, join the Backpacking Pakistan facebook group. This group is moderated by me and a friend and is the place to find a travel buddy for Pakistan if you want to travel with an amigo. Pakistan Traveller is the most comprehensive travel guide book to Pakistan, recently published by my good friend Tim and well worth picking up before you go.
Check out this video from my first trip (in February 2016) backpacking Pakistan…
Sorry about the video quality; I filmed the whole thing on my phone!
The Pakistani people are very generous and you will be plied with ridiculous amounts of free food and chai. The friends I made in Pakistan remain some of the best I have made on this trip; Pakistanis have a great sense of humour and many of them are real adventure travel enthusiasts.
And BOOM! We now have an epic video of our adventures in Pakistan, where we were the first people to film some areas with a drone… Check out this awesome footage and get stoked to travel to Pakistan…
Table of Contents
- Solo Travel v.s. Group Tours in Pakistan
- Backpacking Pakistan Travel Costs
- Visa requirements for Pakistan
- Buying an LOI Without Booking a Tour – Update January 2020
- Transport in Pakistan
- Accommodation in Pakistan
- Activities in Pakistan
- Staying connected in Pakistan
- Backpacking Pakistan Travel Guide – Where to go
- Being a Responsible Backpacker in Pakistan
- What to Pack for Pakistan
- Pakistan Travel Guide – FAQs
- How can I rent a vehicle in Pakistan?
- How can I get a letter of invitation for my Pakistani visa application?
- Can I extend my visa in Pakistan?
- When is the best time of year to visit Pakistan?
- What the fuck is a NOC and do I need one?
- Can I get into Pakistani Kashmir?
- What should I wear in Pakistan?
- Is Pakistan safe for women?
- Can I travel solo in Pakistan?
- What are the Pakistani people like?
- Should I tip in Pakistan?
- Should I Volunteer in Pakistan?
- Can I fly in Pakistan?
- Is Pakistan safe?
- Books to read on Pakistan?
- Top Tips for Broke Backpackers in Pakistan
- Sex, drugs & rock n roll!
- How to stay safe in Pakistan
- Useful apps to download before backpacking Pakistan
- Pakistan Travel Guide – Getting in and out of the country
Solo Travel v.s. Group Tours in Pakistan
Travelling solo in Pakistan is an incredible experience but for many, it can be daunting. Pakistan is a country where it helps to have connections and if you are short on time, it’s very challenging to see the best that Pakistan has to offer as the distances and transport links are a hurdle.
Our first tour was an awesome success and since then we’ve explored even more in Pakistan so that we can run three different adventure itineraries. In 2020, we are running a K2 Basecamp Trek as well as two other epic itineraries in different parts of Pakistan – check the EBT site for details.
Want to find out more – you can read a full review of a guest’s experience here.
If you want to go on an adventure tour in Pakistan and EBT tours are either full or our dates do not work for you (check out the EBT custom tours page), talk to my buddy Komail at Find My Adventure Pakistan.
TBB readers get 10% off FMA services with the coupon code: TBBT10
Check out our guide on the best tours in Pakistan for more information.
Backpacking Pakistan Travel Costs
So, how much does it cost to travel to Pakistan? Find all the details in their respective sections.
Visa requirements for Pakistan
If there’s one thing that sucks about Pakistan, it’s getting hold of a visa. For most nationalities, visas can only be obtained from the embassy in your country of origin – this means that you can’t get a visa on the road. – Reading this? You’re lucky my friend… You missed out on the days of complicated visas to Pakistan! The situation is now much better, you can get an eVisa online no matter where you are in the world.
Visas are pretty expensive, for British nationals they are a whopping £100, and before you can even apply you need to get a letter of invitation (LOI) from a Pakistani tour company stating that, basically, they will accept responsibility for you.
Update 3rd April: It is getting harder for tour companies to issue LOIs to independent travelers on account of one backpacker getting in trouble with the police by wandering well off the beaten track (*cough* stay out of the tribal areas!) and not being on a tour – despite his visa application saying he was on a tour.
Update 15th August 2019: eVisa now working! Huzzah! You do however currently STILL need an LOI to apply for the eVisa online.
Buying an LOI Without Booking a Tour – Update January 2020
It is still possible to obtain an LOI as an independent traveler, despite the fact that most companies are not doing this anymore as previously mentioned.
Our good friends at Adventure Planners can likely sort you out depending on your nationality. Please contact our good friend Haris Ali Shah for the details regarding purchasing a Letter of Invitation without booking a tour. The cost is USD.
They do offer free LOI’s if someone books an actual tour with them as well. Other Adventure Planner services include motorbike rentals for epic Karakoram Highway journeys!
In addition, they also own and operate two backpacker hostels; one is in Islamabad (Backpackers Hostel Islamabad) and one in Gilgit (Backpackers Hostel Gilgit Ex(Madina Hotel 2).
When you reach out to Adventure Planner’s don’t forget to mention that the Broke Backpacker sent you as they may be able to offer you a special discount! Good luck indy backpackers!!
Transport in Pakistan
There is a HUGE variety of transport options in Pakistan; the local NATCO buses are usually the
best value cheapest but if you want to splash out on something more comfortable go with Daewoo – I caught a ride inside a Daewoo minibus and it was ridiculously plush. Hitchhiking in Pakistan is possible but you may encounter problems at police checkpoints. Whenever travelling any distance in Pakistan, you should have multiple photocopies of your passport and visa to hand over at checkpoints – on one journey, from Islamabad to Gilgit, I had to hand over a total of eleven photocopies. If you do not have the photocopies at the checkpoint, this will cause delays.
Sometimes, you may need to hire a car and driver to explore an area; cars are expensive in Pakistan. To rent a car and driver for a whole day of gallivanting in Hunza, or to drive up to the China border area, costs around fifty to eighty dollars. Flights in Pakistan are relatively cheap – around eighty dollars from Islamabad to Gilgit – and a good way to skip some truly horrific bus journeys.
You can rent a motorbike for about a day – I highly recommend arranging your motorbike through my friends Shah and Lizzy at Karakoram Bikers. You can pickup your bike in either Lahore or Gilgit.
With a few exceptions, much of the accommodation in Pakistan is fairly expensive and not particularly well set up for budget backpackers. However, this is now changing and better accomodation options are coming… There is some backpacker friendly accommodation around and, during low-season anyway, it’s possible to score a room for around 500 rupees (five dollars). I recommend Couchsurfing in Pakistan wherever possible, you’ll meet some amazing people, and bringing a tent or camping hammock for trekking.
Below is a list of cheap backpacker style accommodation options in Pakistan… I highly recommend downloading the free app, maps.me, it works in Pakistan and you can use it without phone signal as long as you have previously downloaded the region you are exploring. You can then type in the GPS codes listed below and find the accommodation with less hassle – we have tried to make the GPS codes as accurate as possible but it has all been done through Google maps and memory.
|Lahore||Lahore Backpackers||If you're not Couchsurfing, you'll probably end up in Lahore Backpackers - The owners speak good English and there's a KFC nearby if you are craving western food!||GPS: 31.561763, 74.318469 (Lahore backpackers)|
|Islamabad||Harvey's Guest House||3000 rupees with WiFi and breakfast, this is one of the cheaper options in Islamabad itself.|
|Rawalpindi||Hotel Al - Jamal||Some hotels in Rawalpindi won't take foreigners. ls in Rawalpindi won't accept foreigners, Al Jamal does accept foreigners but is not so great - you're better off staying in Islamabad itself.||GPS: 33.611931, 73.066033
|Gilgit||Pak China Gateway Hotel||Pak-China is right next to Gilgit South/East Bus station. Good for a night, NATCO bus stops here if coming from Islamabad/Rawalpindi. Also good if you want to catch the bus back South or head up to Hunza. Taxis get expensive in Gilgit so it's a good option if you're on a tight budget. Hotel has WiFi and there's a couple of basic shpps around.||GPS: 35.899276, 74.369235, If wanting to go west to Chitral via Shandur Pass, NATCO tickets can be bought from this bus station: GPS: 35.923883, 74.302709|
|Medina Guest House,||Foreigner friendly place, down an alleyway. Owner speaks good English. OK WiFi.||GPS: 35.922304, 74.313923|
|Medina II Hotel||Cheap, reliable, English-speaking owner. OK WiFi.||GPS: 35.920523, 74.328940|
|Fairy Meadows||Greenland Hotel||Operated by Gul Muhammad Ph. No. : 03555124070||GPS: 35.384597, 74.580365
|Shangrila Hotel||All visitors to The Fairy Meadows begin their trip at Raikot Bridge - Shangrila is the only hotel here.||GPS: 35.491526, 74.591979|
|Karimabad||Old Hunza Inn||Has (slow) WiFi, nice landlord who speaks OK english. Can organise Treks. Here is their Facebook .||GPS: 36.318915 74.666178|
|Karimabad Inn||Another cheap option, basic but good backpacker vibe and great views of the valley. My number one budget choice for Karimabad.||GPS: 36.318776, 74.667137|
|World Roof Hotel||Personally didn't stay here but was recommended as a cheap hotel option.||GPS: 36.323045, 74.669675|
|Ghulkin||Rehman’s Backpacker Hostel||No visit to Pakistan is complete without visiting Rehman’s hostel in Ghulkin and exploring this magical part of Hunza. Contact Rehman here .||GPS: 36.409336, 74.877045
Near Yazyopk, Hunza Nagar
|Passu||Borith Lake Hotel||Basic accommodation and restaurant on the lake, there's also a camping area.||GPS: 36.428057, 74.864054|
|Naltar Valley||Mehmaan Resort||The best views in all of Nalter with friendly staff, clean rooms and good views. Highly recommended.||GPS: 36.164046, 74.179436
|Skardu||Diwan-E-Khas Restaurant and Hotel||Great food, good location, great price, helpful owner||GPS: 35°17'51.2"N 75°38'09.2"E
Phone: +92 58154 55494
|Mashabrum Hotel||Expensive and dirty but some rooms are blessed with absolutely stunning views that make it worthwhile.||Coming soon!|
|Shangrila Resort||Many folks rave about the views at Shangrila Resort but, to be honest, I was underwhelmed. An expensive option.||Coming soon!|
|Astore||PTDC hotel||You can camp outside the PTDC hotel in Rama for free.||Coming soon!|
|Peshawar||Hidayat Hotel||Rooms for 600PKR, near the Bala Hisar fort, accepts foreigners, super friendly staff.||GPS: 34.016041, 71.573489, Address: G.T. Road | Firdous Chowk, Peshawar 25000, Pakistan
|Chitral||Al-Farouq Hotel||Rooms available for 600PKR, friendly staff and very clean.||GPS: 35.855608, 71.787096, Address: Naya Bazaar, Chitral 54000, Pakistan|
|Kalash Valley||Engineer Khans Homestay/Guesthouse||Excellent English, good food.||GPS: 35.771545, 71.694037|
|Swat Valley||Swat Valley Backpackers||For contacts within SWAT VALLEY. Please message Swat Valley Backpackers on Facebook.|
Most places around Pakistan also have a PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) Motel and although these aren’t the cheapest, they are a solid bet for foreigners. A big thanks to veteran adventurer Olly Manson for doing a lot of the leg-work on this table.
Activities in Pakistan
Entrance to Pakistan’s most breathtaking sites, the mountains, is free. If you want to visit attractions in the cities then it usually costs foreigners 250 rupees to get in. For some treks, you may need to hire a trekking guide – be sure to haggle, a fair rate for a day’s work in Pakistan is probably around 500 – 1500 rupees a day depending on the area. I did not have to hire a trekking guide as I was lucky enough to make friends with locals along the way who showed me around for free.
Staying connected in Pakistan
Pakistan is a great place to unplug… partly because there’s very little wifi around and frequent power cuts in many of the mountain towns. Your best bet for staying connected is to buy a Pakistani sim card, I recommend Zong, and load it with as much data as possible. You will need to go to the Zong HQ in Lahore and not one of the franchises. Telenor works best in the Upper Hunza area. You can now also get SComm – a local sim card from a few shops in Hunza, it mostly works (sometimes).
Firstly, this map took about four hours to put together… so look at it!
The Paris of Pakistan and the starting point for many a Pakistan backpacking adventure, Lahore is one of my favourite cities in the world. The colours, the sounds, the smells, the vibrant-in-your-face-ness of it all is best experienced on the back of a motorbike; make friends with some locals and get them to show you around!
Be sure to visit Badshahi Mosque; One of the most impressive sites in Lahore and the seventh largest mosque in the world, the courtyard can accommodate 100,000 worshippers and the attached museum contains many holy relics belonging to the prophet Mohammed. The Grand Jamia Mosque is truly stunning, a quiet, peaceful place that is lit up at night; I recommend an evening stroll inside. Lahore Fort is impressive and worth a visit if you have time to spare. The best dinner view in town is from the impressive Haveli restaurant where you can watch the sun sink behind Badshahi Mosque and feast on traditional Mughal cuisine…
For a truly unique night out, be sure to track down a Sufi Dance Ceremony – there is one every Thursday at the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal. Lahore has everything, even underground raves and its very own Eiffel tower…
When it come’s to finding accommodation in Lahore; It’s easy to find a Couchsurfing host, a friend on The Karakoram Club Facebook Group or you could try your luck with Let’s Go To Pakistan; a homegrown Pakistani initiative launched off the back of Humans of New York. Lahore Backpacker Hostel is a friendly enough place where you can crash on the floor for a couple of hundred rupees; bargain hard. My good friend Hasham runs a local homestay with working AC, clean beds and a strategic location just fifteen minutes from the Old City – you can book a stay here. From Lahore, you can catch a five hour bus to Islamabad.
Visiting Rohtas Fort
The mammoth Rohtas Fortress is between Islamabad and Lahore and it is possible to hitch here in just a couple of hours. I was hoping to camp within the fort grounds but the Ak-wielding security guards point blank refused me despite me trying every trick in the book. Eventually, insisting I would be eaten by wild animals, they pretty much just marched me to the entrance and told me to go back to town. I managed to hitch a lift with a couple of locals who, in normal Pakistani fashion, then insisted on taking me for dinner and dropping me at a guesthouse. Rohtas Fort is pretty awesome (despite all the plastic litter sadly covering the site) and well worth a visit on your way to Islamabad if you have time.
The capital of Pakistan and a wonderfully clean and beautiful city, Islamabad has a few sites worth visiting but can be happily conquered in just a day. I found a Couchsurfing host with no problems. If you need a hotel, I recommend Harvey Guest House (3000RS with wifi and breakfast). Centaurus Shopping Mall represents your last chance to stock up on anything you may need in the mountains. If you fly into Islamabad, a taxi from the airport to the main city is 800RS. Just a stone’s throw away from Islamabad is some woody hills and nice picnic spots, best explored with the help of a Couchsurfer and a car…
From Islamabad, your best bet is to head North… Really, most of Pakistan’s most breathtaking sites and jaw-dropping backpacking treks are in the North and in the summer the South of the country is unbearably hot anyway. From Islamabad, the bus journey to Gilgit takes eighteen hours and costs around 1300 rupees. Be sure to have multiple photocopies of your passport and visa and, if possible, get a seat right at the front – the views from The Karakoram Highway are truly stunning. The bus station is in Rawalpindi, not Islamabad itself. Rawalpindi is a thirty minute drive from Islamabad. I strongly recommend traveling by Daewoo bus rather than Natco bus – this may require booking in advance.
Update: I haven’t stayed there but tourist hostel is apparently clean, cheap and well located.
Arriving into Gilgit, you may encounter the police who will want you to check into a specific hotel. I managed to get out of this and went to find my own hotel, taking a taxi (200rs) further into the main town and scoring a double room with passable wifi for 1000 rupees at Madina Two Guesthouse. There are cheaper options around, for about 800 rupees, but at the time I desperately needed wifi to make some Skype calls and try to sort my bitch of an Indian visa.
The nearby ‘OK restaurant’ is, indeed, OK and serves up tasty yak steaks. There is not a whole lot to do in Gilgit itself unless you have a local friend to show you around; it took me ten minutes to meet a friendly dude who showed me around all day and took me to hang out with his mates in the evening.
My good friends at The Karakoram Bikers have a comfortable homestay in Gilgit (find details here) and if you want to rent a bike or get some advice on off the beaten path places to visit along the KKH then you should definitely drop in and say hello.
From Gilgit, you can catch busses to multiple destinations within the mountains. It is likely that you will have to return to Gilgit more than once as this is the transport hub for the Hunza region. I’ll be honest… I dislike Gilgit, try to avoid staying here if possible and simply pass through. There is a visa office in Yadgar Chowk and you can get your visa extended here for one to three days; bring your passport, passport photocopies, 2 passport photos and a letter from your guesthouse stating you are staying there. Gilgit has an airport and as of 2019, flights are less frequently cancelled on account of the weather.
Qasim Ali speaks excellent English and is a great guide to backpacking the Gilgit area, he can also arrange onwards travel to Skardu. He charged me nothing for a day of adventuring around Gilgit. In this situation, I tend to try to buy my new friend’s dinner – it’s a polite way of saying thank you. It can sometimes be very hard in Pakistan as the people are so damn generous and hospitable that they simply won’t let you pay for anything. There are some Couchsurfers in the Gilgit area and now there are also more backpacker friendly options scattered around the place – some of my favourites: Five Giants in Gilgit, Mountain Story in Aliabad, Old Hunza Inn in Karimabad, Rehman Backpacker Hostel in Ghulkin, Mehmaan Resort in Nalter.
Mountain Story, located in the hills above Aliabad, is one of the coolest places you can stay in all of Pakistan. They have a beautiful dining room/common area to hang out in complete with a wood-top bar, plus a terrace to take in the views of Rakaposhi…and the wifi actually works well here! The rooms are these yurt-like cottages featuring private bathrooms and clever craftsmanship details. The whole property is a work of art! The owners Atif Khan and Asma are good friends of ours and are bound to show you a good time. Mention The Broke Backpacker or Epic Backpacker Tours and maybe they will give you a good deal.
Backpacking Fairy Meadows
To reach Fairy Meadows catch a two and a half hour minibus from Gilgit to Raikot Bridge (going towards Chillas City) for 200 rupees and check in with the police at the outpost there where you will have to hand over your passport details. You will then need to arrange a jeep to take you to the trailhead, the price of the jeep is an eye watering 7000 rupees so it helps if you can fill it – six passengers would be ideal. The jeep owners will INSIST that foreigners cannot share with Pakistanis but this is all part of the racket; after getting the friendly police to intervene I was able to share a jeep. Try to sit on the left hand side as this has the most adventurous views…
From the trail head, it’s a two to three hour hike to The Fairy Meadows. Anybody with reasonable fitness can do the hike but it’s also possible to rent a horse for 1000 rupees – bargain hard.
The Fairy Meadows is one of the most stunning places in all of Pakistan and you can camp here relatively cheap (but you need your own tent). Rooms are available here but are expensive – starting at 2000 rupees a night and rising all the way to 7000 rupees. Despite the expense, it is well worth it to view Nanga Parbat; the ninth highest mountain in the world. You can trek to Nanga Parbat’s base camp and do plenty of other awesome treks in the area. I strongly recommend making the effort to trek to (and maybe even stay at) Bilal camp – less people and more awesome views…
Gull Muhammad – available at 05811484687 – can arrange a jeep and rents out log cabins at The Greenland Hotel which is where I recommend staying (rooms start at 2000 rupees). You can buy food in the Fairy Meadows but the most basic of meals will set you back 500 rupees… If possible, bring a camping stove, a tent and supplies. You could easily spend a few days up there. I visited during February, which is definitely the wrong time of year to go, it was fucking freezing although totally gorgeous; the best time of year to travel in Pakistan is between March and November. There is, apparently, sometimes electricity in the Fairy Meadows; it did not make an appearance whilst I was there. There is phone signal in one specific spot; get the local guys to show you.
There is a good chance that one of the local police officers will come along for the ride. If they like you, they may even guide you around The Fairy Meadows – they expect nothing in return but a tip of 500 rupees at the end (of the total Fairy Meadows trip) is fair if they have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
UPDATE: I visited The Fairy Meadows again recently, I highly recommend hiking to Nanga Parbat basecamp. Keen photographers should consider staying at Bial Camp; a one hour hike from The Fairy Meadows and a quieter place to camp. I strongly recommend taking a tent to the Fairy Meadows if you are on a budget – here’s a breakdown of some of the best tents to take backpacking.
The jewel of Hunza and the jumping off point for more fantastic treks, Karimabad is about two and a half hours away from Gilgit by bus. The Old Hunza Inn is a fantastic place to stay with friendly vibes, gorgeous views, knowledgeable staff and occasional power. A double room (in low season) cost me 1000 rupees. There are many fantastic things to do in Karimabad and you should definitely check out both Altit Fort and Baltit Fort for some stunning views of the ancient Silk Road leading to China. You could easily spend a few days wandering around the cobblestone streets and going on day hikes. You can arrange treks from one of the many outdoor shops that line the town.
If you have a motorbike, I highly recommend an EPIC day trip to Hooper Glacier and Nagar Valley. The roads are gravel and bumpy so make sure you are comfortable on your bike and know what you are doing but the payoff is huge – stunning views and epic off road riding! You could also arrange a 4×4 jeep to do this but it’s a lot of fun on a motorbike!
Visiting The Eagles Nest
For some of the most stunning views in all of Hunza, get a taxi to drive you up to The Eagles Nest and pitch your tent, or rent one (around 2000RS) there, to spend a night – it is well worth it. It’s a twenty five minute drive and a return trip costs 1500RS. If short on time, simply make a short trip up for sunset or sunrise.
I strongly recommend staying with a local friend of mine, Rehman, in the very small village of Ghulkin, a wonderfully traditional place just a stone’s throw away from many incredible treks, glaciers, camping spots and backpacking adventures… Ghulkin is a three hour journey from Gilgit and you will pass the stunning Attabad lake, one of the bluest lakes in the world.
To read up on my full experience staying in Ghulkin, check out my homestay in Pakistan article which includes Rehman’s contact details. This is hands down, the best way to see the area and was a highlight of my Pakistan backpacking adventure.
Rehman’s dream has for a long time been to open a backpacker hostel and I’m delighted to tell you that in August 2019, ‘Rehman Backpacker Hostel’ is open for business. The hostel is right next to the air conditioned bridge outside of Ghulkin and is in a solid spot along the Karakoram Highway. You can drive here on a motorbike from Karimabad in 90 minutes and it’s a gorgeous drive. Stay a couple of days in the hostel and explore the nearby Passu suspension bridge, white glacier, Borit lake and other truly stunning places. Rehman is a real mountain man and able to arrange ambitious treks in the surrounding area as well.
Rehman’s family will provide you with a clean, comfy place to stay, a home cooked breakfast and can show you around the village and surrounding areas. Rehman’s family is awesome and Rehman has been at the forefront of promoting tourism in Hunza so please support them and visit this awesome hostel. If you can, bring a postcard or something cool from home to put on the walls – we are just getting started there with turning it into a true backpacker mecca 😉
There is WiFi, hot water, beautiful vibes and it’s on a beautiful spot along the KKH. There are double rooms, twin rooms and dorm rooms (being built). Beds start at 1500 RS, up to 4500 RS for a double.
The best way to contact Rehman is over Facebook, tell him you found him through The Broke Backpacker and please only get in touch with him if you can definitely meet up – Do not waste my friend’s time. You can also reach him over Whatsapp at +92 3555120343
Visiting Khunjerab Pass
The highest border in the world and an incredible feat of human engineering, the road to the Pakistani-Chinese borders is full of stunning peaks and makes for a great day trip. It’s expensive to rent a car for the return trip – 8000RS – and there is no public transport that I could find.
This is an adventure best attempted if you have your own transport. I highly recommend skipping Sost (although there is an immigration office here that might be helpful for travelers heading to China) and making time to stop at Hussaini Bridge, Passu Bridge and the stunning Passu Glacier. I recently drove the length of the Karakoram Highway from Gilgit to Khunjerab on a motorbike and it was absolutely awesome…
Passu Basecamp Trek
A stunning six day trek that can be done without any permits, Passu Basecamp is just one of many incredible hikes available in the area. Take a guide. More information coming soon.
Backpacking Naltar Valley
The stunning Naltar Valley is, right now, one of Hunza’s best kept secrets but with the completion of the new road they are building (should be finished early 2020), that will soon change. Halfway along the Karakoram Highway between Gilgit and Karimabad is Nomal – turn off the KKH here and then either drive by motorbike or take a 4 x 4 jeep along the challenging gravel mountain road to Nalter itself – this will take a couple of hours.
Nalter Valley is truly beautiful with stunning forests, snow capped peaks, beautiful lakes and atmospheric weather conditions. You’ll definitely want to spend at least one night in the town of Naltar and the beautiful views from Mehmaan Resort make this the place you want to be. There’s good service, good food and rooms start at 4000 rupees which is the best price we found in town. The next day you can continue to head further into the valley to visit the stunning great lakes of Naltar.
Driving to these lakes by motorbike is possible but REALLY FUCKING HARD…. in some places the roads are simply made up of huge piles of boulders, in others you have to cross fast flowing rivers. I consider myself an experienced rider and I can say with authority that this was the most challenging riding I’ve ever done. Here is a video of me crossing a river for your amusement…
For more amusing videos, check out the motorbike highlights on my Instagram.
PLEASE NOTE: Nalter Valley has a single use plastic problem – the locals are devising ways to deal with this but please do not add a single scrap of plastic to the problem. In Pakistan I highly recommend using a Grayl Geopress so that you can drink water wherever you find it without having to buy plastic bottles and without having to worry about your health.
The town of Skardu is a popular backpacking hub and many travelers in Pakistan will find themselves here. It’s a six-eighteen hour (depending on the road conditions) rough drive from Gilgit (expect to be thrown from side to side) by local transport (500RS) departing Gilgit’s main bus station at 9 am – arrive earlier to get your ticket. Skardu also has an airport but flights can be unreliable.
The prices in Skardu, especially during high season, are on the high side as this is the traditional focal point of tourism in Pakistan. Some people feel like the locals are just trying to get money out of them but I think that this isn’t entirely the case. Being the beginning of many of the greatest treks in the world, prices are obviously higher and so expectations/demands are different . The people of Skardu aren’t particularly greedy; they’re just used to a different standard.
In all honesty; I recommend spending as little time as possible in Skardu itself as it’s a dusty place devoid of many attractions. There are a few points of interest in Skardu like Skardu Fort, the Mathal Buddha Rock, the Katpana Desert, and the Sarfa Ranga Desert but you only need a few hours or minutes even to visit these.
I highly recommend staying and eating, in the Diwan-e-Khas eRstaurant and Hotel (rooms from 1800RS) when visiting Skardu. The food is delicious (never got sick once!) and the owner, Mr. Ayub, was very helpful. He connected me with a local guide, Mr. Hanif of the legendary Little Karim Adventure Tours (phone: +92 3129900508), and was overall very enthusiastic about backpackers. Definitely one of the best options in town.
There are some other hotels in Skardu to consider as well. Mashabrum Hotel is expensive and dirty but some rooms are blessed with absolutely stunning views that make it worthwhile. Many folks rave about the views at Shangrila Resort but, to be honest, I was underwhelmed. Mr Ayub will be opening a brand new hotel, called the Mountain Lodge, in 2019 and it will aim to provide excellent services as well as some of the best views in town.
It’s worth taking a look at Khaplu Fort and Upper Kachura Lake where you can swim in the lake and dine in a local restaurant on fresh-caught trout. Skardu is famous for its gemstones and crystal mines; I have heard it is possible to trek to some of these mines and get very cheap rates on precious stones – an enterprising backpacker may consider filling their backpack…
Hushe is (metaphorically speaking) the end of the line in the Skardu region. This small village is the last place on the tourist trail that offers any sort of attraction. The potential adventures found in the Hushe Valley though are among the most thrilling in the country.
Hushe is the starting points for many of Pakistan’s greatest treks including Gondogoro La, Concordia, and the Charakus Valley. Taking part in any of these will surely prove to be among the finest moments in your life.
Much of the areas north of Hushe – including the ones mentioned previously – lie in the restricted zone of the Karakoram so you’ll need to organize a permit, a liaison officer, and the proper guide to begin any of these treks. Acquiring these things will be expensive. Note that you cannot receive a permit or authorization to visit the restricted zones in Hushe itself – you’ll need to organize such things in Skardu or Islamabad.
There are several treks in and around Hushe that don’t lie in a restricted zone that are still worth visiting. Some of the most popular non-permitted hikes in the area include the Nangma Valley (which features Aminn Brakk of rock climbing fame), the Humbrock Valley, and Masherbrum Base Camp/Aling Glacier.
If you’re looking for a guide in the area, I again cannot recommend Mr. Hanif of Little Karim Adventure Tours enough. He is very knowledgable, invested in the community, and is an all around sick dude. His number is +92 3129900508.
Hushe itself is a sleepy little town. There’s even less do inside the village than Skardu but, in defense of Hushe, it’s at least cleaner. To arrive in Hushe, you can hire an expensive private car or catch the local bus, which runs every other day from Khaplu. Be sure to inquire with the locals or with your hotel manager about bus departures.
For accommodation, I recommend staying with Little Karim at his new hotel in the village, which was funded with help of Spanish climbers. While staying there, definitely ask Little Karim about his lifelong accomplishments as they’re quite extraordinary. The man is a local legend and has even met international celebrities like Ronaldo! You can reach out to Little Karim at +92 3555336936 or get in touch with his manager, Mr. Azam, at +92 3554161209
K2 Base Camp Trek
An eighteen day trek (doable in fourteen days if you are super fit) leading to the base camp of the second highest mountain in the world. Epic Backpacker Tours co-founder Chris Lininger recently did the K2 trek and we are taking a group tour there in 2020 so if you’re interested, reach out 🙂
Backpacking Deosai National Park
The best time to visit Deosai is between July and mid-August when the entire plain is covered in a blanket of stunning wildflowers. This is one of the best spots in the world to view the stars and I highly recommend camping for a night. Be careful where you pitch your tent – I was awakened by four bears a mere three meters from my camp. It costs 800RS to enter Deosai and unless you have your own transport, you will need to hire a jeep. Jeeps are very expensive but, if you haggle, it is possible to get an OK rate…
I managed to negotiate a jeep and driver for two nights and three days, with camping and fishing equipment thrown in, for 18,000RS. We drove from Skardu to Deosai (three hours), camped a night, and then drove to Rama Lake (four hours) where we camped again. The next day our driver dropped us in Astore and we caught a local bus to Raikot Bridge (three hours) where we caught a jeep to the trailhead for the Fairy Meadows. You could also connect from Astore directly to Gilgit.
Backpacking The Astore Valley
With rolling hills and herds of horses, The Astore Valley kind of reminds me of Switzerland… There are many fantastic hikes to be had here and I highly recommend visiting Rama Lake where you can view Nanga Parbat, one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. You can camp outside the PTDC hotel in Rama for free and, from the PTDC, it’s a four kilometre journey to Rama – depending on road conditions it is sometimes possible to do two kilometres of this by jeep; my jeep became stuck for two hours, I wouldn’t recommend trying it if the roads are a river of mud… Read up about my friend Joan’s experience hiking in Astore.
Chitral and The Kalash peoples
The Kalash people are Pakistan’s smallest religious community and, every year, they hold a series of incredibly colourful festivals. From Gilgit, it is possible to catch a 14 hour Natco bus, crossing the stunning Shandur Pass, to Mastuj. From Mastuj, you must then take a four hour jeep to Chitral where you can visit the Kalash Valleys and stay with Engineer Khan at the Kalash Guesthouse. The Kalash people retain many of their traditional beliefs and a visit to the valleys is a unique opportunity to see this small community, said to be descended from the armies of Alexander the Great. To find out more, check out this article. If you want to visit the Bumbaret and Kalash Valleys, you must first register at the Foreigner Reigstration Office in Chitral Police Station. In Bumbaret, Kalash Continental Guesthouse comes recommended as a place to stay. It is now possible to get to Chitral from Swat by Jeep or from Gilgit via NATCO bus.
Check out this awesome post for more info on exploring the Kalash valley!
04/08/2017 Trip Report from Felix Lenzing: The bus ride to Chitral from Gilgit is about 14 hours (scenic ride). The bus is NOT GOING TO CHITRAL OR EVEN MAJUD! In Gilgit you buy a ticket for Majud, but they will write down a small village 25km before Majud as the final destination. It’s written in Urdu so it’s not understandable for most foreigners. They won’t explain this… my host in Gilgit bought the ticket for me and told me the bus will ride to Majud as this is what he was told by the bus company. A few kilometers before Majud there are two landslides which are not crossable for the NATCO-bus. So the bus will just stop at the last police checkpoint before Majud and that’s it. Then the game starts… the police won’t let you through and so there are two options available: Either waiting for a “special car” coming from Majud or staying overnight at the Guesthouse which is right next to the checkpoint… What a coincidence
Most of the people in the bus decided to start walking since one of the police officers said it’s roughly an hour walk till we are on the other side of the landslide. There would be cars waiting for us on the other side, we were told. After three and a half hours walking (fully equipped) in the dark we finally crossed two landslides and the police picked me up from there to escort me to a hotel. These two points are definitely not crossable for any vehicles at the moment!
I arrived at the TPDC motel in Mastuj and could stay for free (at the phone the owner offered me a room for 2150, I declined and asked if he can offer me a place to camp). I think he just offered to stay for free because he knew that my bus to Chitral is leaving at 5am. From Majud jeeps (150 Rps) are not going straight to Chitral, they’re going to Booni where you have to change to a van (130) going to Chitral.
Before leaving Gilgit, buy enough water for at least one and a half days. I forgot to buy water the day before I left from Gilgit and this was a big mistake. There’s no shop in Gilgit which is open at 6am. There’s only one stop on the way where you can buy something. Use this! If you don’t have water at Shandur Pass you will feel the altitude. Shandur pass has “sleeping facilities”. There are two tent hotels along the way. Don’t expect anything special. Sit on the left side of the bus, you’ll see more of the beautiful scenery on the way. Al Farooq hotel offers great single rooms for 600Rps a night – Wifi is the best I had in Pakistan so far.
Backpacking The Swat Valley
One of the most conservative places in Pakistan and a must-visit for keen hikers, Swat is a very interesting place indeed…. All of the women here are in full-clad Burkahs and many of the men are not used to seeing a women’s face. The main towns are Mingora and Saidu Sharif but the real beauty of Swat is to be found in the forests….
Swat Valley was once the cradle of Buddhism and is still littered with important Buddhist monuments and relics. The Taliban invaded in 2009 and did their best to destroy the statues in the brief period they occupied the valley. They were kicked out after six months with a huge loss of life to both Pakistani and Taliban forces, the area now has a very heavy military presence but is largely considered safe, I encountered no problems. The most impressive of the Buddhist monuments is the towering Jehanabad Statue, try to catch it for sunset.
Whilst around Mingora, be sure to visit Udegram, an ancient Mosque, as well as Malam Jabba; the best place in all of Pakistan to catch some powder and strap on your skis. You will need your own transport whilst in Swat or to make friends with a local couchsurfer; taxis are insanely expensive and there are not many public transport options.
Swat offers adventurous backpackers many opportunities to trek into valleys that have probably never been visited by foreigners before; I spent an incredible, yet arduous, couple of days trekking around Beshigram Lake where I stayed for free with local shepherds. The best treks in Swat are supposed to be around Kalam and Daral Lake but sadly I did not make it up that far as I was unable to find affordable transport and the heavy army presence makes hitching impossible. Multi-day rafting and trekking expeditions are possible in Swat, I met one local who had built a raft and headed down the river…
I have heard that Aslam Khan is THE man to hang out with if you are heading to Kalam – you can reach him on 03411914522 – he is a famous hiker and can take you on some epic treks.
Not many travelers backpacking in Pakistan make it to Swat; officially you need a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to get in although some Pakistani locals may tell you different. One thing that does seem to be clear is that you definitely need a Pakistani friend in the region. Security is tight and you will notice the increase in machine guns and army personnel – don’t photograph them. Ihsan, my host in Swat, is trying to bring tourism to the region and puts up backpackers in a room attached to his house – it’s basic but homely and if you are visiting Swat, you will need a contact. Ihsan is reliable, speaks good English, has the most up to date intel on the Swat NOC situation and is a keen hiker.
Ihsan has now set up a facebook page – Swat Valley Backpackers and can assist with your NOC and provide backpackers with a place to stay; I couchsurfed with him for four days. Ihsan is a keen hiker and a conservative Muslim. Please make a donation of $15 – $20 per person per day to cover your food, accommodation, transport and activities whilst staying with Ihsan. Once you are into Swat Valley you will have an incredible opportunity to meet with the local people and to explore the stunning scenery of lush green fields, glacial lakes and cloud-cropped peaks.
It’s a six hour Daewoo bus from Islamabad to Swat, 600RS, and it is also possible to get to Chitral from Swat via Kalam (ten hours) by jeep (I, unfortunately, had to give this a miss as the cheapest price I found was 20,000RS). If you want to head up north to Gilgit do not go back to Islamabad – instead, travel from Mingora to Besham and then catch a bus from Besham to Gilgit – this will save you nearly ten hours.
In some parts of Pakistan, especially Swat, it pays to dress a little more conservatively. Women should keep their hair covered and their body shapes hidden and men should buy a salwar kameez; a super comfortable set of loose pyjama-like robes. Note; this only really applies to Swat…
Being a Responsible Backpacker in Pakistan
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.
Or, even better – do what I do when I travel in Pakistan and use the Grayl Geopress – this allows me to filter dirty water and make it crystal clear. I can drink Lahori tap water, muddy puddle water – whatever is necessary and it’s fine; this means I am not contributing to the massive plastic problem in Pakistan. Do your part, don’t buy plastic bottles.
Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.
Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.
Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.
Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.
Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
When buying a local craft, do not haggle so low that the price is unfair to the person who spent countless hours crafting it. Pay people what they are worth and contribute to the local economies as much as possible.
I know it can be hard, but do your best to use the least amount of plastic water bottles that you can. Refill the ones that you do buy! Use a Grayl Geopress. Refill at your hostel!
In Pakistan hash can be abundant at times. Don’t smoke so much that you make a fool out of yourself.
Backpacking Pakistan or any region for that matter often illuminates some of the great socio-economic inequalities of the world. Never take it for granted that you are healthy and financially able to go traveling. Show the world around you some gratitude and help to make a positive impact on it. Most of all have the time of your life and spread the love in Pakistan!
On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without:
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my 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. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. 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.
4. Headtorch: Every backpacker should have a head torch! 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. Currently, I’m using the Petzl Actik Core rechargeable headlamp – an awesome piece of kit! Because it’s USB chargeable I never have to buy earth polluting batteries.
5.Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.
6. Toiletry Bag: I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super efficient way to organise your bathroom stuff. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Pakistan Travel Guide – FAQs
How can I rent a vehicle in Pakistan?
Karakoram Bikers, based in Lahore and Gilgit, hire out motorbikes with insurance for about $15 a day. Having your own transport for Pakistan is definitely the way to go as long-distance bus services are pretty uncomfortable, taxis are expensive and hitchhikers can encounter issues with curious police and army personnel. At some points, you will probably have no choice but to hire a jeep – be sure to agree in advance that fuel is included in the cost.
How can I get a letter of invitation for my Pakistani visa application?
To apply for your Pakistani visa, you will need a letter of invitation (LOI). You can attain an LOI from anybody living in Pakistan, however, there have been numerous reports of complications and even some visas being rejected when the LOI is not from an official tour company. My friends Lizzy and Shah run a registered tour company in Pakistan and are able to provide LOI’s cheaper than anybody else – you can submit your application for an LOI on this page. I receive a small commission from this so if you’ve found this guide useful, please do arrange your LOI through this page.
Can I extend my visa in Pakistan?
It is possible to get a free two week visa extension in many places in Pakistan; I sorted mine out in just four hours in Gilgit. Skardu and Lahore also have visa offices. You can very easily extend visas by up to six months according to sources. By all reports, Gilgit is the easiest place to extend your Pakistani visa.
Update: August 2019: It is possible to overstay your visa for under two weeks with no penalty, financial or otherwise. You can get your “extension” sorted at the airport in Islamabad or Lahore. I don’t know if this same rule applies for land borders at this time. Beyond overstaying for two weeks, there is a fine to pay. To avoid complications when exiting Pakistan, it’s beter to keep your overstay time under two weeks (and you also will not have to pay anything to do so).
When is the best time of year to visit Pakistan?
September is the best month to visit Pakistan, August is absolutely rammed full of local tourists and prices go up.
March – April is also good and Karimabad is simply gorgeous early March. It’s possible, but tough, to get into the Fairy Meadows even when they are snowed under if you call Gul Mohammed. If you make it up there, you will almost certainly be the only people there.
|Spring||Brisk in the valleys, warming up, mountains still have snow||Quiet time of year to visit (especially during Ramadan), beautiful flowers in lower valleys, cheap||Alpine trails still closed, snowfall always possible, some mountain roads still closed||🙂|
|Summer||hot during the day, comfortable at night, some occasional rainstorms||weather is stable, trails are open and mountains are visible, mountain roads are accessible||busiest time of the year, crowded in places, higher prices, can be very hot||🙂|
|Fall||Warm during the day, cold at night, snow returns by late-October||magnificent fall foliage, harvest season in September, some trails still open, quiet again||Weather beginning to worsen, can be very cold at night||😀|
|Winter||Very cold, short days but still plentiful sunshine||lots of snowy landscapes, zero tourists, skiing in the Swat Valley||Most businesses and lodgings are closed, seriously cold, not much to do||😐|
|Spring||temperatures are still bearable, some rain in the form of a "little monsoon" preseason, mostly clear skies||nice breeze on the coast, mostly clear days, shoulder-season so better prices||really short season, it pours when it rains, average temperature rises quickly in May||🙂|
|Summer||monsoon season, scorching, Karachi and Lahore are getting dumped on||Honestly...can't think of any, run away to the north||Karachi is frequently flooded, heat is hard to escape, extreme weather and windstorms in Balochistan||🙁|
|Fall||the monsoon ends at the end of September, dry afterward, high heat still||Rain begins to subside, Quetta gets fall foliage||Heat still intense, Quetta gets crazy climatic swings (20 degree drops in a single day)||😐|
|Winter||The driest time of the year, coast is a comfortable temperature, Northern Balochistan is really cold||Perfect weather for the beach, Karachi and Lahore are bustling with festivals, snow in Quetta if you want to see it!||Quetta can be seriously cold and rainy, beaches are super busy, Lahore gets some serious fog||😀|
What the fuck is a NOC and do I need one?
Most backpackers travelling to Pakistan will not need a No-Objection-Certificate (NOC). NOC’s are only required in areas with heavy military control – such as Kashmir, the Afghan border area and Balochistan. I required an NOC to enter Swat but word on the street is that it’s now possible to enter Swat without an NOC – talk to Ihsan, he will know the latest about NOCs in Swat.
Can I get into Pakistani Kashmir?
I entered Kashmir on public transport, hidden at the back of the bus. I was spotted at the second military checkpoint and hastily turned around. You could only enter Kashmir with the relevant NOC but despite many backpackers trying, nobody has yet been issued a NOC for Kashmir.
What should I wear in Pakistan?
In most of Pakistan, you can dress pretty much as you would at home although I recommend keeping tattoos covered and a tank top is an obvious mistake. Women should have a headscarf with them but will not have to wear it most of the time. Swat is a different story – be conservative in Swat. Men should buy a Salwar Kameez; they are super comfy…
Is Pakistan safe for women?
In general, foreign women travelling around Pakistan will be treated with the utmost respect. If you encounter any issues simply slap and make a scene; nearby Pakistanis will rush to your aid. I will be releasing an article soon comprised of interviews with female explorers in Pakistan packed with lots of useful info; stay tuned. I have been getting a lot of requests from solo female travellers heading to Pakistan for more info so I have set up the Backpacking Pakistan facebook group. If you are interested in connecting with other backpackers heading to Pakistan, this is the place to do it. Check out this post for in-depth interviews with four female travellers in Pakistan.
Can I travel solo in Pakistan?
If you’re travelling to Pakistan on a solo trip and want to meet up with other backpackers heading that way, or are keen to pick the brains of myself and other Pakistan backpacking veterans – join this Facebook Group: Backpacking Pakistan and feel free to fire away with questions!
What are the Pakistani people like?
Pakistanis are a lovely bunch and are usually falling over each other to make sure you have enough chai, food and hash to keep you happy. Make an effort to get to know the locals; some of my best friends are Pakistani. I quickly learnt that everything is possible in Pakistan; even totally insane underground raves.
Should I tip in Pakistan?
Tipping is not expected but if you encounter amazing service or want to tip a guide then go for it – just keep the amount reasonable so other backpackers are not hit by guides expecting heavy tips. Five to ten percent is plenty.
Should I Volunteer in Pakistan?
If done properly, volunteering is an excellent way to cut down your costs on the road and really get to know a country. I strongly recommend Workaway – you pay just $29 for the year and then have access to literally thousands of projects all around the world where you can help out in exchange for food and board.
Can I fly in Pakistan?
Several cities have airports and flights are a good way to get around and to catch some stunning mountain views. Note that flights are frequently cancelled in Gilgit and Skardu due to bad weather – the pilots operate using sight and not fancy AI equipment.
Pakistan is one of the safest countries I have ever visited and is packed with friendly and inquisitive individuals who are always happy to meet somebody backpacking in Pakistan. The extremely helpful army and the sometimes helpful police will always keep an eye out for foreigners and they are absolutely everywhere. If you encounter any problems I suggest finding the nearest soldier; most of the officers speak some English.
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Pakistan Traveller – The most comprehensive travel guide book to Pakistan, recently published by my good friend Tim.
Whisky Tango Foxtrot- From tea with warlords in the countryside to parties with drunken foreign correspondents in the “dry” city of Kabul, journalist Kim Barker captures the humor and heartbreak of life in post-9/11 Afghanistan and Pakistan in this profound and darkly comic memoir.
Three Cups of Tea– The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his humanitarian campaign to use education to combat terrorism in the Taliban’s backyard. Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school.
In Other Rooms- A collection of stories that make up a vivid portrait of feudal Pakistan, describing the advantages and constraints of social station, the dissolution of old ways, and the shock of change. Refined, sensuous, by turn humorous, elegiac, and tragic, Mueenuddin evokes the complexities of the Pakistani feudal order as it is undermined and transformed.
Magnificent Delusions- Husain Haqqani has a unique insight into Pakistan, his homeland, and America, where he was ambassador and is now a professor at Boston University. His life has mapped the relationship of the two countries and he has found himself often close to the heart of it, sometimes in very confrontational circumstances, and this has allowed him to write the story of a misbegotten diplomatic love affair, here memorably laid bare.
Pakistan- A Hard Country- With almost 200 million people, a 500,000-man army, nuclear weapons, and a large diaspora in Britain and North America, Pakistan is central to the hopes of jihadis and the fears of their enemies. Yet the greatest short-term threat to Pakistan is not Islamist insurgency as such, but the actions of the United States, and the greatest longterm threat is ecological change.
To keep your spending to an absolute minimum whilst traveling in South America I recommend sticking to these basic rules of budget adventuring….
Camp: With plenty of gorgeous natural, untouched places to camp, Pakistan is an excellent place to take a tent. Check out this post for a breakdown of the best tents to take backpacking.
Cook your own food: I took a small gas cooker with me to Pakistan and cooked a lot of my own meals and made my own coffee whilst hitching and camping, I saved a fortune – check out this post for info on the best backpacking stoves.
Haggle: Haggle as much as you can. You can always get a better price for things especially while in local markets.
Sex, drugs & rock n roll!
Pakistan is typically a dry country, however, you’re permitted to purchase alcohol if you’re a non-Muslim tourist with a permit. You can find home brewed alcohol around, but only if you’re looking in the right places. Imported alcohol is also available if you are connected. It’s possible to find ecstasy if you are at raves outside Lahore or Karachi but you’ll have to be well connected.
In the north of Pakistan Marijuana plants grow wild, so it’s super easy to find something to smoke. Pakistan’s opium trade is flourishing, so it’s pretty easy to find. Chances are, your guide will offer your something to smoke while you’re backpacking Pakistan. Most Pakistanis have never smoked weed but smoke hash frequently. Check out my article, Blazed Backpackers 101 on how to stay safe whilst partying.
Check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking.
Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road.
Check out this post for plenty of ideas on ingenious ways to hide your money when travelling.
I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp whilst in Pakistan (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.
Do I need insurance for Pakistan?
Whenever you hit the road and go travelling, you need insurance. I have been backpacking for nine years and have had to claim a total of three times; if I didn’t have backpacker insurance I would have been utterly screwed on all three occasions.
There are only a handful of options available for Pakistan. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
Useful apps to download before backpacking Pakistan
Be warned, it’s often hard to download new apps on the move in Pakistan so I suggest downloading the following before you travel to Pakistan.
Maps.me – My favourite offline maps app.
VPN – I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
Pakistan Travel Guide – Getting in and out of the country
Pakistan has four land borders; India, Iran, China and Afghanistan.
I’ll give you a quick run-down of what I know, please note this info changes frequently…
Border crossings between India and Pakistan are easy enough; I used the Wagah Border crossing. Getting my Indian visa whilst in Pakistan was a total god-damn nightmare and despite asking for six months (the standard Indian tourist visa) I was only granted six weeks. It took three days of hanging around the embassy to get my passport back – technically, you have to apply in Lahore and they then send your passport to Islamabad. You cannot apply in Islamabad but you can turn up at the embassy and make a fuss… I strongly recommend getting your Indian visa before your enter Pakistan as the Indian embassy in Pakistan is staffed entirely by fucktards.
Border crossings between China and Pakistan are simple as long as you have your Chinese visa pre-sorted. I do not know how easy it is to arrange a Chinese visa within Pakistan but the two countries have good relations so I imagine it should be doable.
Border crossings between Afghanistan and Pakistan are not advised. I looked into this for weeks but everybody I met told me that the border guards are not currently letting foreigners across and even if you do get across you will find yourself in a part of Afghanistan which is not famed for its stability. Better to enter Afghanistan from Tajikistan… that’s my plan anyway.
For more information I recommend you guys head to Caravanistan; when I myself am researching border crossings and visas, this is the site I use.
Pakistan travel information is frequently changing; I’ve traveled to the country in both 2016 and 2017 and will continue to keep this page up to date.
Still not convinced? Here are ten reasons you should travel to Pakistan!
Have you recently travelled to Pakistan? Got anything to add to this post? Email me at [email protected]
Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible for FREE!
Need More Inspiration?
- Going to a Rave in Pakistan
- Meeting the Kalash People
- Going on a Paksitan Adventure Tour with EBT
- Dancing with Sufis
- A Female’s Guide for Exploring Pakistan
- Is Pakistan Safe?
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Writer and hustler. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will has been on the road for nine years, travelling to far-flung lands on a budget. Today, he runs a number of online ventures. He is passionate about teaching others how to ditch their desks, hit the road and achieve real freedom by earning money online. Currently, Will is based in Bali where he plans to open his first Tribal Hostel in 2019.