Pakistan travel guide
From the ancient Mughal city of Lahore to the snow-capped peaks of the Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan is a diverse nation defined not just by its natural beauty and architectural splendours, but by its friendly inhabitants, varied wildlife and rich culinary traditions.
Shame then, that political instability and sectarian violence has made large parts of the country a no-go for tourists, and prevented Pakistan from realising its potential as a top travel destination.
However, those daring enough to take a punt on Pakistan will be richly rewarded for their endeavours – particularly those with a penchant for the great outdoors. The North-West Frontier Province and Gilgit-Baltistan region are home to some of the world’s most famous mountain ranges, including Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush.
That explorers will have these sights more or less to themselves is another boon; gone are the well-marked routes and tea houses of India and Nepal, here lies real adventure.
From jaw-dropping mountain scenery to bustling conurbations, Pakistan’s vibrant cities each have their own distinct flavour. The super-sleek capital, Islamabad, is a modern metropolis bristling with contemporary architecture, world-class cultural attractions and some of the country’s finest restaurants.
Lahore is the very antithesis to Islamabad. Pakistan’s cultural capital, this ancient city abounds with UNESCO listed attractions, stunning shrines and ornate Mughal architecture. Its old town is a maze of bustling bazaars, which harbour mosques, museums and manicured gardens.
Karachi, the former capital and the economic powerhouse of the country, is a mega-city in every sense of the word, cramming 15 million or so into its boundaries. Meanwhile, Peshawar, in the North-West Frontier Province, remains a frontier town, sometimes dangerous and always intriguing.
Those seeking sun and seclusion, should explore Pakistan’s glorious coastline, which is home to some of the most pristine, crowd-free beaches in South Asia. While those looking to evoke the spirit a Kipling-style adventure should follow the ancient trade routes of the Khyber Pass, Grand Trunk Road and Karakoram Highway.
All of this and more lies in Pakistan, and all remains accessible to the more adventurous tourist.
796,095 sq km (307,374 sq miles).
192,826,502 (UN estimate 2016).
250.1 per sq km.
President Mamnoon Hussain since 2013.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since 2013.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two or three round pins are most common.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
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.
Be aware of the risk of street crime and take sensible measures to protect yourself and your belongings. Take particular care of your passport, bankcards, bags, jewellery, laptop and mobile, especially on public transport, when travelling to and from the airport and in crowded areas including markets. There is an active black market in forged and stolen passports. Credit card fraud is common.
British nationals of Pakistani origin have been targeted by criminals, including kidnappers, as they are often perceived as being wealthier than locals.
Much of Balochistan, rural Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Agencies, have a high level of lawlessness.
Public demonstrations and civil disorder are common in Pakistan. Protests can occur with little warning and while most remain peaceful, they can turn violent quickly. You should avoid getting caught up in demonstrations, large crowds of people and public events.
The Pakistan authorities currently advise that “all foreigners, including diplomats may not move out of their city of residence without proper security and without prior co-ordination with the law enforcement agency”. This requirement has not been rigorously enforced, but you should consider informing local authorities of any travel plans, and be prepared to be stopped and challenged by officials, who may instruct you to turn around.
If you travel to any of the regions listed below, you or your travel company should contact the local authorities in advance to check the local security situation. They may arrange police protection as necessary and will advise whether you need a No Objection Certificate issued by the Pakistani Ministry of Interior.
There is a heightened risk from kidnapping and militant activity in much of Balochistan. There are frequent sectarian attacks in and around Quetta. If you intend to visit these areas, make sure you have the necessary permission from the authorities and proper security arrangements in place.
Except for official border crossing points, foreigners are not allowed to travel within 10 miles of Pakistan’s international borders and the Kashmir Line of Control, or within 30 miles of the Afghan border in Gilgit-Baltistan.
On 22 June 2013, 10 foreign climbers and their Pakistani guide were killed in a terrorist attack at the Nanga Parbat base camp area. The terrain in Gilgit-Baltistan is mountainous, with remote and isolated locations that are difficult to police effectively. You are strongly advised to obtain and follow local security advice and make appropriate personal security arrangements in advance of any visit. There are also occasional outbursts of sectarian violence in and around Gilgit.
All foreign nationals must register with the local authorities when visiting Gilgit-Baltistan. You may need a permit for mountaineering or trekking, in particular for mountains over 6,000 metres. The process can take up to 2 months and is best organised through a travel company. The validity of your travel insurance policy may be affected if you don’t have the correct permits.
Use reputable trekking agencies, stay on established routes, and always walk in groups. Don’t trek alone. Be aware of the risks of altitude sickness.
In view of the current heightened security situation, the following areas remain out of bounds to British High Commission staff:
- Kohsar Market
Due to the current heightened security risk, the Deputy High Commission in Karachi has advised staff to avoid the areas of the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine, Clifton police station, Sindh High Court, Sindh Assembly, Empress Market, Zainab Market, and markets at M A Jinnah Road and restaurants at Do Darya (Sea View).
There are high levels of violence in Karachi. The city is vulnerable to serious violent ethnic conflict between different communities. Criminal and political violence is also common including armed carjacking, robbery, kidnap and murder. Strikes called by various religious and political parties cripple the city and regularly produce violent civil unrest.
It’s difficult to predict the safety of daily activity. The districts of Clifton and Defence, and the parts of Saddar which include government offices, major hotels and the financial district are generally regarded as more stable (although see above), though there remains a risk of violence. All other districts, and the areas of Saddar immediately around and to the north of the US Consulate General, are at greater risk of violence. You should carefully plan any travel within the city taking into account all the threats. If you intend to move outside the more stable areas you should take advice from hosts or trusted contacts and be prepared to cancel or curtail your plans.
In addition to taking comprehensive security measures for all moves around the city, British Deputy High Commission staff are advised to avoid:
- areas where vaccination programmes are taking place, especially in the Orangi Town area where 7 policemen protecting polio workers were shot dead on 20 April 2016.
The Karakoram Highway runs from Hasan Abdal in north Punjab towards Gilgit and the Chinese border. The FCO advise against travel on the Highway between Islamabad and Gilgit. You should avoid travelling on the Highway at night – the road can be narrow with sudden steep drops. All sections of the Highway north of Batagram up to the Chinese border have experienced landslides.
There is regular military or militant activity in the districts of Swat, Buner, Malakand, Nowshera, Swabi and Lower Dir. Localised curfews may be imposed at short notice.
The Kalesh Valley, Bamoboret Valley and Arandu District to the south and west of Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have seen an increase in militant activity, which has included abductions, violent armed robbery and murder.
Pakistan Administered Kashmir
Make sure you have the necessary permissions to travel. Specific requirements can change and you should check the latest requirements before travelling. A No Objection Certificate is always required for foreign nationals to travel within 10 miles of the Line of Control or to enter Kashmir via Muzaffarabad.
On 27 March 2016 a suspected suicide bomb killed a large number of people in the Gulshan Iqbal Park area of Lahore.
If you travel to southern Punjab take advice about the local security situation in advance. There are frequent reports of criminality and public order incidents.
There is a very high risk from crime and kidnapping in Interior Sindh. There are reports of increased criminality in Hyderabad.
From 15 February 2017, Shaheen Air International will no longer operate flights between Manchester and Islamabad. You should contact Shaheen Air International or your travel agent for further information.
Security was been tightened at Pakistan’s airports following a number of terrorist attacks on key airports/aircraft in 2014. In Karachi vehicles aren’t allowed access to pick-up and drop-off areas. Security at all airports was enhanced in 2015. Allow yourself enough time to get through enhanced security checks, but don’t linger unnecessarily at airports. Be vigilant, follow instructions from security and airport personnel, and contact your airline in the event of any disruption.
On 1 July 2015, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority attempted to suspend the operations of local airline Indus Air for safety and security reasons. The airline is still flying after challenging the suspension on legal grounds.
Avoid using the railway network, which has been subject to frequent attacks and derailments. There have been attacks on railway stations in Punjab, and militants have planted bombs on the rail network in Balochistan and Sindh.
Take particular care on long road journeys and when travelling cross-country. Local driving standards are erratic, especially at night. Road conditions are poor and there is a risk of carjacking.
Avoid using street taxis. Only use taxis from reputable companies which are radio-controlled.
For security reasons, you should avoid using public transport, including the Metro Bus which operates between Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
The threat from piracy within 12 nautical miles of the Pakistani coastline is low, but you should be aware of the significant threat piracy poses in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.