Lunar like landscapes, Afghanistan
Pin This
Open Media Gallery

Lunar like landscapes, Afghanistan

© picassos / Thinkstock

Afghanistan Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

652,225 sq km (251,773 sq miles).

Population

32.6 million (2015).

Population density

49.9 per sq km.

Capital

Kabul.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.

Head of government

President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Supplies may be seriously affected and powercuts frequent. European-style plugs with two round pins are most commonly used.

An essential stop on the hippie trail in the 1960s, beautiful Afghanistan has been devastated by years of war. Renowned for its epic countryside and rugged mountains, travellers came to interact with local communities, breathe clear mountain air and explore ancient sites such as the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan. They were happy times.

Sadly, those days are gone. The Taliban destroyed most of the country’s monuments, while the US and its allies ruined what was left of Afghanistan’s creaking infrastructure. With thousands of peacekeeping troops still operating in the country and pockets of fighting continuing, it will be some time before Afghanistan is restored to its former glory.

Consequently, travellers are advised against visiting Afghanistan. Nevertheless, some adventurous tour companies are offering trips to the country, and there have been reports in some quarters of increased bookings and interest. Afghan authorities put tourist numbers at less than 20,000, though they claim it is slowly increasing.

Tending to take in the historic but war-ravaged city of Kabul, mountain villages, ancient fortifications and some surviving Buddhist sites, tours are generally conducted in small groups and tend to be expensive.

Guides make the point that for many ordinary Afghans, life has continued much the same as it has for centuries. Indeed of the few travellers that do make it to the country, they tell of the surprising normality of Kabul, with little signs of the instability reported by international media. The country also remains a fascinating melting pot of ethnic and tribal groups.

Despite hopes that tourism could return to this historic country, almost every area of Afghanistan remains dangerous as insurgents continue to threaten the fragile democracy. If you do decide to travel to Afghanistan, personal security is recommended, as is a reputable tour company and full travel insurance. Always check foreign office advice before travelling.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 27 September 2016

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Political situation

Afghanistan is undergoing a major transition in terms of politics, economy and security. Avoid large public gatherings and follow the local media for information on the security situation. It is difficult to categorise the country as a whole due to its diverse geography, ethnic, tribal and religious differences, and the ongoing insurgency. Large parts of the east, south east and south of the country are affected by conflict. Other areas have seen steady improvements in security, but are still prone to terrorist attacks and a high crime rate.

Road travel

Road travel is highly dangerous. Insurgents have set up false vehicle checkpoints from which violent attacks have been launched. In addition to the threat from terrorism and kidnapping, there is also a continuing criminal threat from car-jacking and robbery.

Public transport is dangerous. Taxis and long distance buses are often poorly maintained, uninsured and driven by unqualified drivers. Privately hired transport is often driven by uninsured, unqualified drivers. You should carry out long distance journeys by air where possible.

If you travel by road you should only travel in secure transport with close protection, using reputable local drivers and guides. Make sure doors are locked and windows closed. You should consider strongly the use of armoured vehicles. Most road surfaces are in a very poor condition. The overall standard of driving is poor and most local drivers are uninsured. Accidents may lead to confrontation and threatening behaviour.

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)

There have been a number of serious attacks on both western and Afghan NGOs and vehicles belonging to them, in which people have been killed or injured. NGO workers have been kidnapped near their places of work. Most attacks continue to occur in the east and south of Afghanistan with a recent increase in activity in the central areas. The International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) www.ngosafety.org issues regular security updates for NGOs.

There have been recent reports of sexual assault against females from EU countries working for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kabul.

Air travel

All airlines from Afghanistan have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because Afghanistan is unable to ensure that its airlines meet international safety standards. FCO staff are advised to use carriers which aren’t subject to the EU operating ban.

A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network. The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.

Transiting UAE

Flying to Dubai and then transferring is the most common route into Afghanistan. It’s illegal to transit the United Arab Emirates carrying unlicensed personal protection equipment. This includes, but is not limited to, body armour (including ballistic vests), weapon holsters and handcuffs. Other specialist technical equipment such as satellite phones, listening and recording devices, powerful cameras and binoculars, while freely available in the UK, may also require licences. Persons found carrying any such items without a licence may be subject to conviction resulting in imprisonment and substantial monetary fines in accordance with Emirati law.

Crime

Crime is a serious concern, particularly in rural areas. Foreigners have been the victims of violent attacks, including armed robbery and rape. Don’t display any obvious signs of wealth, or carry large sums of money. Don’t travel alone, especially on foot. Take particular care after dark.

Local travel

If you’re travelling around Afghanistan, including Kabul, you should seek professional security advice and continually reassess your personal security. The British Embassy in Kabul operates under strict security protocols and always uses armoured vehicles; staff receive regular security briefings to enable them to carry out their work in as safe an environment as possible.

Hotels and guesthouses used by foreign nationals and the government of Afghanistan are subject to regular threats. The British Embassy doesn’t allow official visitors to stay in a hotel overnight and has placed restaurants and other venues off limits to staff. Make sure your accommodation is secure and review your security measures regularly.

Only travel with reputable local guides and to fully protected workplaces. Take the greatest possible care and vary your routines. Don’t publicise your travel, including on social media. If possible, maintain radio or telephone communications to report your movements. Avoid any protests, demonstrations or large gatherings.

Regions

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all or all but essential travel to different parts of the country according to provincial region:
Kabul

  • the FCO advise against all travel to the Surobi, Paghman, Musayhi, Khak-e Jabbar and Chahar Asyab Districts of Kabul province

  • the FCO advise against all but essential travel to the city of Kabul

If you’re travelling in Kabul, take particular care on Airport road, Jalalabad road and Darulaman road. Avoid travelling on Jalalabad and Darulaman roads during commuter or other busy times (around 6am to 8am, 9am to 11am and 3pm to 4pm local time), when traffic can be heaviest and the risk of an attack against government and western people or interests is most likely. Avoid travel between cities at night time. Avoid travelling along Airport road except for essential movements as attacks are likely throughout the day.

There’s an ongoing threat from high-profile, large-scale attacks in Kabul. In recent months there have been a number of significant attacks in the capital, including:

5-6 September 2016 – a complex attack which began with a vehicle borne explosive in the centre of Kabul and a subsequent 11-hour siege of a building used by an international NGO before security forces cleared the building

5 September 2016 – co-ordinated explosions killed over 30 outside the Afghan Ministry of Defence with staggered detonations including the targeting of first responders to the initial blast

24 August 2016 – a vehicle bomb was detonated outside the American University of Afghanistan campus in Kabul, gunmen then entered the campus; several people were killed and many more injured

8 August 2016 - two foreign nationals were kidnapped in Kabul

23 July 2016 – at least 1 suicide bomber detonated among a crowd of Shia protestors in central Kabul, killing an estimated 81 in the largest single incident in the city since 2001

21 July 2016 - a foreign national was kidnapped in Kabul

20 June 2016 – a suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying Nepalese guards as they travelled through Kabul to work at the Canadian Embassy, killing 14 people

25 May 2016 – a minibus carrying members of the judiciary in the west of Kabul city was targeted by a suicide bomber, killing 10 people

18 April 2016 – a large truck bomb detonated in a car park belonging to an NDS department in central Kabul, killing over 20 people; 2 gunmen then entered and shot dead dozens more, leaving an eventual death toll of 64

Northern Afghanistan

  • the FCO advise against all travel to Balkh, Kunduz, Badakhshan and the Baghlan-e Jadid District of Baghlan

  • the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Takhar, Faryab, Jawzjan, Samangan, Sari Pul and the remainder of Baghlan

There have been a number of attacks against aid workers and military vehicles resulting in deaths and injuries, and there are ongoing military operations throughout the north. The FCO advice against all travel to Badakhshan includes travel to or climbing and trekking within the Wakhan Corridor.

Eastern Afghanistan

  • the FCO advise against all travel to Ghazni, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Wardak and Paktya

  • the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Bamiyan, Parwan and Panjshir

The eastern region has been extremely volatile for some time, with almost daily suicide and roadside bomb attacks, shootings and rocket attacks. The region close to the Pakistani border is extremely dangerous with a high number of insurgents operating freely.

There are regular, large military operations in this region. There have been numerous daily attacks against the Security Forces and US-led coalition forces. There are also daily incidents of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), suicide and rocket attacks, and direct fire attacks on security forces patrols, checkpoints and bases as well as on the local population.

Southern Afghanistan

  • the FCO advise against all travel to Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul

Western Afghanistan

  • the FCO advise against all travel to Badghis and Farah, and the Shindand and Gozarah Districts of Herat province

  • the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Dai Kundi, Ghor and remaining districts in Herat

The security situation throughout Afghanistan remains uncertain, and could change rapidly. You should monitor media reporting and make sure you have robust contingency plans in place. Be vigilant at all times, keep others informed of your travel plans and vary your routines. On 4 August 2016 there was an attack on a convoy of vehicles carrying tourists in Herat.

There have been roadside bombs, suicide attacks, rocket attacks and criminal kidnappings throughout the western provinces and increased lawlessness in Western Ghor. There is little security infrastructure in Dai Kundi and westerners have been kidnapped there.

Newsletter
test