Top events in Pakistan

April
01

Takes place annually in Lahore, Pakistan's cultural and fashion capital, and is organised by the Pakistan Fashion Design Council. Usually receives...

July
01

Ever since 1936, this lively event has taken place attracting tourists and fans of equestrian sports in equal numbers. Each July this polo...

July
17

This is a joyous festival at the end of Ramadan that lasts for two or three days. It is a public holiday and most of the population will celebrate...

Badshahi Mosque Lahore, Pakistan
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Badshahi Mosque Lahore, Pakistan

© iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Pakistan Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

796,095 sq km (307,374 sq miles).

Population

193.2 million (2013).

Population density

242.7 per sq km.

Capital

Islamabad.

Government

Federal Republic. Gained independence from the UK in 1947.

Head of state

President Mamnoon Hussain since 2013.

Head of government

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since 2013.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Round two- or three-pin plugs are in use.

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.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 31 March 2015

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.


Crime

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.

Avoid using street taxis. Only use taxis from reputable companies which are radio-controlled.

Much of Balochistan, rural Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Agencies, have a high level of lawlessness.

Political situation

Public demonstrations and civil disorder are common. Protests often occur with little warning and while most remain peaceful, they can turn violent quickly. Avoid getting caught up in demonstrations, large crowds of people and public events.

Local travel

In 2008, the Pakistan authorities advised 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.

Balochistan

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.

Border areas

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.

Gilgit-Baltistan

The FCO advise against all but essential travel to Gilgit-Baltistan following the attack on 22 June 2013, which targeted and killed foreign tourists at the Nanga Parbat base camp area. There have been occasional outbursts of sectarian violence in 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. Your travel insurance policies 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.

Islamabad

Public protests are common in Islamabad. In line with the safety and security advice in this travel advice, British High Commission staff are advised to avoid the area around the Lal-Masjid Mosque in Sector G/6 including Aabpara and Melody markets due to frequent large gatherings and demonstrations, and sectors G7 to G10 and F10 because of the threat from crime. British High Commission staff are also advised to avoid western retail and fast food outlets, coffee bars, shopping centres with concentrations of western style shops and eateries, sports venues and events, live music venues and Christian religious services outside the diplomatic enclave. British High Commission staff are advised not to dwell in market areas any longer than necessary, to remain vigilant for suspicious objects or activity and to avoid the cinema in the Centaurus Mall.

Karachi

There are high levels of violence in Karachi especially in the districts of Lyari and Orangi. The city is vulnerable to serious violent ethnic conflict between the Urdu and Pashtun 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. You should avoid the area around the US Consulate buildings in Saddar Town.

It is difficult to predict the safety of daily activity in the city. Any movement within the city should be carefully planned taking into account all the threats. FCO staff working outside Karachi are not allowed to travel there except on official business. Staff travel around the city is subject to strict security measures and movements on foot are not allowed.

In June the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised Karachi based diplomats to restrict their movements in the city and to avoid major shopping malls. This advice was reinforced in October 2014, highlighting threats to both foreigners and diplomats.

Karakoram Highway

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.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

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.

Punjab

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.

Sindh

There is a very high risk from crime and kidnapping in Interior Sindh. There are reports of increased criminality in Hyderabad.

Air travel

Security has 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 Karachi (Jinnah) International Airport was further enhanced in early January 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.

Rail travel

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.

Road travel

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.

Lock all doors and keep the windows up. Use well-travelled, well-lit routes where possible. Don’t buy anything from street vendors or make contact with beggars while travelling by car.

Sea travel

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 Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

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