Afghanistan travel guide
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.
652,225 sq km (251,773 sq miles).
33,369,945 (UN estimate 2016).
49.9 per sq km.
President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.
President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Supplies may be seriously affected and powercuts frequent. European-style plugs with two round pins are most commonly used.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all or all but essential travel to different parts of the country according to provincial region:
the FCO advise against all travel to the Surobi district of Kabul province
the FCO advise against all but essential travel to the city of Kabul and the other remaining districts of Kabul province
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:
10 January 2017 – 2 explosions took place near the Parliament buildings in Kabul. The first was believed to be a body-borne suicide attack, followed shortly by a car bomb. The attacks took place at rush-hour killing about 50 and injuring more than 100.
28 December 2016 – an explosive device targeted a vehicle used by Bamyan MP Fakoori Behashti resulting in injuries to 3 people including the MP and the death of another passenger
21 December 2016 – a complex attack involving a number of attackers against the residence of Helmand MP, Mualim Mirwali Khan in Kabul; the death toll was 10, including 3 attackers; the Taliban claimed responsibility
27 November 2016 – an attack on the Shia Baqir-Ul-Olum Mosque in Kabul killing 27 civilians and injuring over 30 was claimed by Daesh
16 November 2016 – a suicide bomber attacked a National Defence Secretariat (NDS) bus carrying staff
11 October 2016 – a Kabul Shia Shrine was attacked by Daesh during the Ashura commemorations; 13 civilians were killed and more were injured alongside Afghan police; in another part of Kabul 2 suicide bombers were killed by Afghan forces at the Azrat Mosque where Shia civilians had been gathering; the group responsible for the second attack is unknown
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
the FCO advise against all travel to the provinces of Faryab, Jowzjan, Baghlan, Takhar, Kunduz, Badakhshan, the Sayad district and Sar-e-pul city in Sar-e-pul province and the following districts of Balkh province: Chaharbolak, Chamtal, Daulat Abad/Dawalatabad, Hairatan Port, Kaldar and Shortipa/Shur Tapa/Shor Tepah
the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Samangan province and the remainder of Balkh and Sar-e-Pul provinces
On 10 November 2016 there was an attack on the German Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh province. At least 4 civilians were killed and 120 injured. The Taliban were reported to have claimed responsibility for the attack.
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.
the FCO advise against all travel to Ghazni, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Wardak and Paktya provinces and most districts of Parwan province
the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Bamiyan, Panjshir and the Shekh Ali and Surkhi Parsa districts of Parwan province
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.
- the FCO advise against all travel to Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces
On 10 January 2017, an explosion took place in the Provincial Governor’s compound in Kandahar. The attack left eleven people dead, including the Deputy Provincial Governor, five Emirati diplomats, an Afghan MP and an Afghan official. An attacker also detonated a suicide vest in a guest house in Lashkar Gah used by the provincial National Security Directorate (NDS). Eight people were reportedly killed, including four members of the NDS.
the FCO advise against all travel to Badghis province, Farah province, the Shindand district of Herat province,the Du Layna/Dolina and Pasaband districts of Ghor province and the Gizab/Gesab and Kajran districts of Daikundi province
the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Dai Kundi, Ghor and the remaining districts of Herat and Daikundi provinces
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 (including 8 British nationals) in Herat. The group were on a tour organised by a company based in the UK. The Taliban claimed the attack on the vehicle, which involved small arms fire and an explosive device. The convoy was being escorted by the Afghan military. Five tourists and the driver were injured in the attack.
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.