Even though still a war zone, always more people have been wondering and inquiring about how to travel to Afghanistan. After our experience of both traveling and living there, in this article we strive to make it as easy as possible to organize such a difficult trip including tips on how to get to Afghanistan, Afghan visa requirements, what to pack, important security measures, and when is the best time to book your flights to Afghanistan. In a nutshell, a complete travel guide to Afghanistan.
Last April 19th, the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, designated the Ministry of Tourism for the first time after decades, giving hope that the local government is finally making plans to work on Afghanistan tourism industry.
Admittedly, it did come as a surprise when so many people started showing curiosity about Afghanistan and are longing to visit despite the lack of security and the many historical sites that were destroyed in the last few decades of ongoing war. If you are one of those curious people interested in visiting this country and want to know how to plan a trip to Afghanistan, keep reading this article as we will cover pretty much everything you need to know.
Unlike other countries you might have visited, the majority of Afghans are very conservative. They are the people who invented the Burqa, after all (the blue sack with little bars to see the world through it that women started wearing a long time ago). Before I went to Afghanistan, I thought it was going to be similar to Iran at least in what concerned the dress code, but I quickly realized I was very wrong: Afghans are way more conservative. I had to buy different clothes to become invisible otherwise they stared at me as if I was an alien, and since I was going to live there for a few months I felt nor comfortable neither safe to attract so much attention as a foreigner. I went to one of the markets in Herat and bought a long Afghan tunic and a chador. The next day we went out and I felt completely invisible, no one noticed I was there.
Traveling to Afghanistan is no easy choice to make, and admittedly also not an easy trip to plan. This is why here we are providing you with as much information as we can.[toc]
Travel to Afghanistan, a definitive guide
Where is Afghanistan located?
Afghanistan, 652.000 square kilometers in size and with a population of 30 million, is located in Asia. It has 2400 kilometers border with Pakistan, 930 kilometers border with Iran, 744 kilometers with Turkmenistan, 137 kilometers with Uzbekistan, 1200 kilometers with Tajikistan and 75 kilometers with China. The geographical position where Afghanistan is located is one of the main reasons why it has been constantly invaded and occupied throughout history.
Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces and has much to see, but due to the lack of security, there are only 6 provinces relatively safe for tourists. However, even within these six provinces, not everywhere is safe as Taliban and other armed groups are active, at present controlling some 60 percent of the whole country. This Afghanistan travel guide aims at giving you the information required for visiting those places we consider relatively “safe”.
Religion of Afghans
In Afghanistan, the main religion is Islam, with 99 percent of followers, 70 percent of which are Sunni and 25 percent Shia, while the remaining one percent are followers of other religions (Sikh).
So, the official religion in Afghanistan is Sunni (Hanafi). The majority of Shias are from the Hazara tribe and they live mainly in central Afghanistan, in provinces such as Bamiyan, Daikondi (also spelled Daykundi), Ghor and Ghazni. Throughout the history, Hazaras proved to be the most peaceful tribe in Afghanistan, even though constantly persecuted.
Is it safe to travel to Afghanistan?
Not really, the country is still a war zone and got worse in the last two years since the foreign troops pulled out and Khorasan branch of ISIS announced its presence in the country. Although, if you take proper security precautions, you will be able to travel to few province. Read on to see where is safe in Afghanistan to visit.
I have also been asked if Afghanistan is safe for solo female travelers. When I asked my husband he almost choked on his tea. His answer is a big, fat NO. We don’t recommend solo female travelers to travel to Afghanistan for safety reasons. It’s a male-oriented country and without a man, everything is harder. So, if you have the heart to visit the country, go with a male friend.
⇒ For more information, read our post entirely devoted to the security situation in Afghanistan including tips to travel safely.
Flights to Afghanistan
There are many airlines that provide flights to Afghanistan in different solutions. From Europe and the US, you won’t find direct flights, and you will always have a stopover in hubs such as Istanbul, Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi. Some cheap flights to Afghanistan with companies such as Pegasus and FlyDubai, but usually with long layovers that will make the whole journey some 20-30 hours long. Turkish Airlines, too, travel to Afghanistan, providing shorter and more expensive flights.
How to get to Afghanistan
Travel to Afghanistan, your options by land (we recommend none of them for security reasons)
1. From Uzbekistan to Hayratan, Mazar Sharif
2. From Tajikistan to Shir Khan port in Kunduz Province and to Ishkashim port town to visit the Wakhan Corridor in Badakhshan Province. Once you arrive in Ishkashim town, you need a hand-written permit in addition to your Afghan visa to get to the Wakhan Corridor.
3. From Turkmenistan to Tourghondi port in Herat Province and Aqina port in Faryab Province
4. From Iran to Islam Qala port in Herat Province and to Zaranje port in Nimrooz Province
5. From Pakistan to Turkham port in Nangarhar Province, Espin Boldak port in Kandahar Province and Gholam Khan port in Khost Province.
Travel to Afghanistan, your options by air (recommended)
There are international airports in a few Afghan cities, and this is the safest way to arrive in the country.
The flights to Afghanistan usually land in:
1. Kabul airport
2. Herat airport (now mainly from Iran and with Afghan and Iranian airlines)
3. Mazar-e-Sharif airport
4. Kandahar airport
As you can see there are many ways to travel to Afghanistan, both by land and air. What option you choose depends on where you are and where in Afghanistan you want to visit. For example, if you want to visit the Wakhan Corridor in Badakhshan, you can only enter from Tajikistan by land because there is no airport and the road from Kabul, Mazar Sharif or Kunduz is currently too dangerous, as Taliban often establish their checkpoints and ask for everyone’s papers and check the passengers in search for government officials or security forces. For obvious reasons, foreigners would be at great risk.
Herat Province has a border with Iran at 110 kilometers west of Herat City and one with Turkmenistan, 110 kilometers north of the city. Balkh Province has a border with Uzbekistan connected with a bridge 80 kilometers north of Mazar-e-Sharif City. The borders of these two provinces are relatively safer and you have the options to enter Afghanistan through them, even though, as mentioned before, we don’t recommend arriving by land as some merchants were kidnapped on the highways and sometimes Taliban establish checkpoints on the main roads.
On arrival at Afghanistan airports, you need two photos, passport size. They will issue you an arrival/immigration card and you are due to carry it with you while in Afghanistan. Keep it until you leave the Afghan soil as they will ask for it when you leave the country.
How to apply for Afghan visa
Like for every other country, you need to apply for a visa if you want to visit Afghanistan.
Kabul airport issues visas on arrival but ONLY to those who are officially invited by companies, or officials of other countries, but not tourists. To receive an Afghan tourist visa you first need to fill out the form that can be found on the Afghan foreign ministry and Afghan embassies websites.
Keep in mind that for tourists they can only issue a one-month visa but this can be extended up to three months in Afghanistan at the Interior Ministry office in Kabul or at police headquarters at the main cities of other provinces.
If you are not sure about the process and still have questions, contact the embassy directly, I found them very friendly and helpful.
Afghan visa requirements
To get your Afghan visa, these are the documents you need to take to the embassy:
Visa form to fill out, you can download it from the website of the Afghan embassy you are referring to
Passport with validity of at least 6 months
Two passport-size photos taken against white background
Copy of your national ID
Visa fee. An Afghan tourist visa usually costs 100€ but prices vary depending on your nationality and country you are applying from.
Sometimes they ask for an invitation letter. If you need one, let us know and we will put you in touch with someone who can help. From the date of the visa issue, you have 3 months to enter the country with the visa.
What to pack for Afghanistan
USB Power Bank. It’s a 120% must-have in Afghanistan, you never know when the electricity cuts off either by Insurgents or countries that sell electricity to Afghanistan. The AUKEY 30000mAh Portable Charger we recommend is probably one of the best in the market with also a built-in flashlight which is a must-have in Afghanistan.
Mosquito repellent and mosquito net. I don’t believe you are going to need vaccines but it’s a good idea to carry a mosquito repellent and a mosquito net with you to prevent unwanted surprises. They are easy to use and come in handy especially in summer and fall.Click here for more details and the current prices of a good mosquito repellent.
Water purifier. If you need to drink tap water, we strongly recommend you use a water purifier because the well water is not drinkable in many provinces due to digging a big number of toilet and waste water wells too close that they contaminate each other. Our recommendation is to drink only bottled water that you buy from shops, not from the street vendors, but in case you can’t avoid drinking tap water, use a water purifier.
Comfortable shoes. Infrastructure and roads are really bad, streets are dusty and dirty, so if you decide to travel to Afghanistan, we recommend you forget about elegance and fashion and pack a pair of covered comfortable shoes (preferably runners). Our favorite shoes have been either New Balance runners for both men and women. For women, I also loved my old pair of Puma runners. They might be out of stock but there still are good options.
Modest clothes. Women who travel to Afghanistan need to wear a long manto/tunic and a chador. A tunic like this one will do in pretty much every city, while in Herat to attract less attention a chador might be needed, you will decide by yourself if you feel uncomfortable. If you can’t find it in your country, you can buy one in any major Afghan city, but still, make sure you arrive with some pretty modest/conservative clothes otherwise you will be very easy to spot.
Shawl/scarf. By law, you don’t have to wear either shawl or scarf as you will see in the local TV some Afghan female singers or announcers without a headscarf. However, it’s definitely better that you blend in with the locals, especially for your safety, so, by all means, do wear a headscarf.
Sunscreen. A sunblock is very much needed when traveling to Afghanistan, from spring to fall as it is very sunny and dry in most regions. Last year I was there end of the summer and fall and the sun was very strong, in Italy I don’t really use much sunscreen, but for Afghanistan I would even suggest a sunblock with SPF 50.
Hydrating lotion. Afghanistan is not connected with any sea or ocean and is mainly mountainous and located at a very high altitude, so the weather is extremely dry. I knew it so I brought my hydrating lotion but after a couple of months there, I looked some 50 years older. OK, maybe that’s an overstatement, but it did take me quite a few weeks to get back to my original skin texture. Since during the day you are wearing the sunscreen, I suggest a rich and nourishing night cream.
Universal power plug adapter and the voltage converter. In Afghanistan, the power sockets used are type C and F and the standard voltage is 220. So, for when you travel to Afghanistan we recommend you have a universal power adapter and a voltage converter. The electricity sometimes can kick off to even 300 voltage and blow off the power supply of your device.
A pillowcase. You never know how bed sheets were washed or who used them before, which is why it’s better to have at least a clean personal pillowcase with you. Pack a bigger size cover because the pillows in Afghanistan are slightly bigger than normal pillows. They will look something like this.
Activated charcoal. In Afghanistan, if you are a little careful of what and where you eat, you are going to be fine and won’t have to spend hours vomiting your guts, unlike some other countries I have been to. Although, we still recommend you carry some activated charcoal with you as it can help with nausea and food poisoning.
English-Farsi/Dari travel phrase book. It’s not easy to find someone who can speak English and that is why we recommend this handy Farsi (Persian) Phrasebook & Dictionary with useful practical expressions to anyone who plans to travel to Afghanistan.
What language do they speak in Afghanistan?
In Afghanistan, there are many tribes, and each of them has its own language, although Tajiks and Pashtuns are the biggest ethnic groups. Pashtuns speak Pashtu and Tajiks speak Farsi/Dari but what makes Farsi the most spoken language in the country is that except for some Pashtuns the rest of the tribes such as Hazara, Uzbeki, Turkmani, etc. speak Farsi. Not many can speak English which is why among the tips on how to plan a trip to Afghanistan, learning some practical Farsi phrases and carrying a little English-Farsi travel book is important.
You can also read the following articles we wrote with Farsi tips:
Afghan traditional clothes
Afghani dress for women can vary both in price and style. It depends on many factors, including which tribe the Afghani dress you choose belongs to. Afghan clothes for men are quite the same for all the tribes and can be bought already made or can be ordered from a tailor for your exact size. It takes a day or two before it’s ready, both the fabric and the tailor fee can cost around 15$ and usually the tailor sells also the fabric.
We recommend Shahr Now in Herat City for Afghan clothes gift shopping, you will find Afghan clothes and a pakol, typical Afghan hat. It’s something to consider as a gift or for yourself when you are in Afghanistan. After all, you don’t know when is the next time you will travel to Afghanistan.
What is Afghan currency?
That is a very common question and I’m sure you won’t forget the Afghan currency.
The Afghan currency is the AFGHANI. 1 US$ has been between 65-69 Afghani in the last three years.
I recommend you don’t carry too much cash as your ATM cards work in Afghanistan and you can withdraw 250$ per day from the ATM with a fee of 4 US $. If you need to exchange your Dollars to Afghani, you can do it at the airport you land and in the bigger cities. In the city center of all provinces, you will see the boys holding money and phone charges and they give good exchange rate usually.
Cash is the only way to pay in Afghanistan as shops don’t have a POS, so you can’t use your bank card.
Best time to visit Afghanistan
Afghanistan is a mountainous dry and windy country and has four seasons. Winters are very cold while summers are hot and dry. Lack of proper electricity and gas infrastructure makes cold winters and hot summers pretty unbearable. On top of that, women need to cover quite a lot, so in summer this becomes even harder.
This is why we recommend you visit Afghanistan in spring and fall when both the worst cold and heat are over.
From March to June (spring), the weather can range from 10 to 35 degrees Celsius.
In summer the weather in Afghanistan can be 35-45 degrees °C.
From September to December (fall), temperatures go from 10 degrees °C to 30 degrees Celsius.
In winter the weather in Afghanistan often goes below zero, some -5 to -15 degrees °C.
The weather is harsh in most parts of Afghanistan and this is one of the reasons why Afghans age quickly.
Internet and Sim cards in Afghanistan
When you travel to Afghanistan, you might want to use a local Sim card for both calls and internet, instead of paying extra international roaming charge.
In Afghanistan, there are five main companies providing Sim cards and 3G internet throughout the country: Etisalat, Roshan, Afghan Wireless, MTN, and Salam.
Sim cards are sold registered everywhere for as little as 60-100 Afs. If you are two people, we recommend an Etisalat and a Roshan because in places where one doesn’t work the other one does.
The prices for 3G internet
10 GBs of internet are 1100 Afghani;
3 GBs of internet, 600 Afs;
1 GB of internet, 275 Afs.
All the mentioned internet packages have one-month validation date. To make a call inside the country you will be charged 2-5 Afs per minute depending on which companies you are calling to. International calls are some 10-15 Afs unless you activate one of the international call offers.
You can find more information on www.roshan.af. and www.etisalat.af websites.
The Afghan government collects taxes from the citizens through phone Sim cards and automatically cuts 10% off the amount you add to the Sim. For example, if you top up 50 Afs, 5 Afs (10%) go to the government, so you get only 45 Afs credit on your phone.
Where to buy Sim card and top-up scratch cards
You can buy your Sim card either in the waiting hall of Kabul Airport before to the Taxi station or in the city from many street vendors. Already registered Sim cards cost 50-100 Afs.
Roshan customer service number is 333 and you will be asked to choose your preferred language (Farsi, Pashtu, and English).
Etisalat Customer service number is 888 and you will be asked to choose your preferred language (Farsi, Pashtu, and English). Press 3 for English.
Privacy and safety, protect your data
When you are out and away from home, you will use public WiFi, be it in hotels, bars or restaurants and that is why it’s important to keep your data safe from hackers. You can do so with a good anti-virus and VPN that encrypt your connections and keep valuable information such as passwords, bank account details and credit card info safe. Click here to find out the latest prices and information about VPN
Things to do and not to do in Afghanistan
Don’t get sick in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has one of the worst health systems, locals go to Pakistan, Iran, and India for medical cares. Medicines and drugs are very low quality and diagnosis is the worst. If you have to visit Afghan doctors, be ready to be prescribed lots of medicines (mostly antibiotics) for all the possible diseases because they can’t diagnose the exact sickness. Your health insurance won’t be useful in most parts of Afghanistan, they all accept only cash. Eat healthy, drink bottled water and avoid street foods.
Keep your foreign small notes and use them in your country. If you buy something for 60 Afghani but instead give them one Dollar note, they won’t accept it or even if they do accept it, they will take it very cheap, for some 30-40 Afghani and not the full worth, because it’s a small note.
Tipping in Afghanistan. Tipping is not mandatory nor expected, and they will not charge you for services in the restaurants, although, some 10-50 Afghani (depending on how much you spend) is very much appreciated.
Bargaining in Afghanistan. It’s easy for Afghans to identify non-Afghans and give crazy prices. Use your bargaining skills for everything, including taxi fares and hotel prices. In touristy areas such as Chicken Street, you can bargain more while in non-touristy areas you don’t need to bargain as much.
Couples of foreigners can rent and stay in the same hotel room without proof of marriage. Locals can’t and need to provide the proof of marriage to share the same room.
Don’t travel from city to another city or province by bus. Local buses travel to all the provinces and cities but long drives are not safe due to both bad roads and Taliban checkpoints. Inside the country prefer traveling by plane.
Don’t give your passport to anyone. We recommend you keep your passport safe and always close to you. Make some copies both black and white and color to give to the hotels and airports when needed.
Take off your shoes. If you are visiting Afghans in their homes or going to a mosque, take off your shoes on the rugs. You are not supposed to walk with shoes where they pray. Sometimes you will have to take off your shoes in offices, too.
Don’t try to shake hand with opposite sex. Afghanistan is a very conservative country and it’s not common to shake hands even among relatives and families with opposite sex. To greet someone put your right hand on your heart and say “As-Salaam-Alaikum”.
Alcohol and ham. Don’t look for pork nor tell Afghans what they are missing by not eating pork, they hate it. Alcohol is illegal in Afghanistan and if you are caught with it, you can end up paying a huge bribe or in an Afghan jail (some of the worst jails in the world, you don’t want to experience it).
Don’t talk about Taliban. Some Afghans (mainly Pashtun) sympathize with them.
Don’t show off your expensive photography gears. The economy is bad in the country and there are people who would do anything for a $500 camera. If you need to use your phone in public, don’t stand close to the street because criminals using motorcycle can steal it from you.
Don’t buy electronics in Afghanistan. It’s cheap and not good quality, don’t be fooled by the price. It’s even common to find fake chargers and earphones with used refurbished and partially broken electronic devices in sealed boxes. I bought a “sealed” Galaxy S6 but the full battery lasted an hour. When I took it back to the guy he said I needed to pay extra to get a Galaxy S7, but we had to change it twice before getting a good one, and yet even the last one had a fake charger.
Military bases and security forces. Afghan soldiers and their bases are constantly under attack and it’s never recommended to stop for taking pictures anywhere close to them. Taking picture of their checkpoints and posts is also not allowed.
Couch-surfing in Afghanistan. It’s strongly recommended NOT to do it because the armed terrorist groups and criminals can use the program to kidnap for money or do a prisoner exchange.
Places to visit in Afghanistan
With thousands of years of history, Afghanistan is rich in places to visit. A former region of the Persian empire and important stop along the silk roads, here are caravanserais, ancient bazaars, citadels and forts, palaces, royal gardens and obviously a stunning mountainous landscape.
Unfortunately, nearly four decades of uninterrupted war caused the destruction of many places, or even those that are still there can’t be accessed because either in areas still heavily controlled by Taliban and other armed groups, or turned into military posts by the Afghan Army.
Here we mention the places that are still safe to visit in Afghanistan. For some, we suggest you go with a local. If you don’t know one and need a reliable and trustworthy English-speaking guide, contact us and we will give you their details privately.
What to visit in Kabul, Afghanistan
One of the cities where you can sense the war the most is Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. Yet, this may be the reason why it’s impossible to travel to Afghanistan and not visit it.
The Garden of Babur. “Bagh-e-Baburباغ بابر” was built in the 16th century and is the resting place of the Mughal emperor Babur. Many Kabul residents come to this park with their families to picnic under the shades of trees and on the greenery or for the afternoon tea.
Entrance admission fee: 150 Afghani
Cameras: Allowed, 100 extra Afghani admission fee
Timings: Every day from morning to evening, mornings are recommended
How to get there. By taxi, the fare is 150-200 Afghani from Shahr-e Now.
Koche-e-kah froshi “کوچه کاه فروشی کابل”. Literally, it means straw selling alley, even though there is hardly any shop selling such goods. Instead, all shops are full of beautiful birds sadly in cages. It is one of the historical allies of Kabul city connected to Nadir Pashtun Road.
Timings. Visit weekdays, on weekends (Fridays) most shops are closed.
How to get there. By taxi, the fare is 100-150 from Shahr-e Now.
Note: If you visit this place, make sure you don’t show any money nor expensive photography gears as there are pickpockets.
Chicken Street. “کوچه مرغ ها” also known as the antique selling street “کوچه انتیک فروش ی”. It is a relatively safe area located in the heart of Kabul where you will probably end up staying in a hotel (Shahr-e Now). The street is packed with Afghan handmade rugs, some traditional jewelry, gems, and stones. To spoil yourself with some Afghan jewelry and stones such as Lapis Lazuli, you can totally visit Chicken Street.
How to get there. If you are in Shahr-e Now, you can walk there, one end of the Chicken Street is right across the Gul Frooshi Road (Flower Street) and the other end is connected to the Ministry of Interior.
Note: Use your bargaining skills, cut their initial price in half or even less, walk away and they will call you. You can always come back with a slightly higher price and will be able to buy it. I was able to buy a full set of beautiful blue Afghan Lapis Lazuli for 200 USD although I was initially told 300 USD.
Darul Aman Palace “قصر دارال امان”. It’s under renovation and it is planned to be fully restored by 2019. For now, there is nothing but a ruined war-torn palace to see, hopefully, more to see soon.
How to get there. By taxi, the fare is about 250 Afghani from Shahr-e Now.
Paghman Valley “دره پغمان”. It’s located in Paghman District, some 25 kilometers from Shahr-e Now Kabul. Paghman valley is considered one of the major picnic spots for residents of Kabul and it gets pretty packed during weekends. The famous picture of Afghan women in mini-skirt in the 70s was taken right there in Paghman Garden. You can visit the Paghman Valley in the morning, and for lunch stop at Qargha Dam on your way back to Kabul.
How to get there. You need to go by taxi, the fare is around 400-500 Afghani from Shahr-e-Now.
Qargha Dam “بند قرغه”. Leave Paghman Valley early and on your way back to Kabul city stop at Qargha Dam. It’s a nice big lake where mostly people from Kabul come on the weekend with their families. There are nice restaurants both to eat and relax. Try Spozhmai Restaurant, it’s the best in the area.
Where to eat and drink in Kabul
Shahr-e Now in Kabul is your best option for finding different food than just rice and meat. There are many restaurants but we didn’t try them all which is why we recommend the four we tried. They are all on the same street and only in 2-5 minutes walking distance from each other.
Herat restaurant “هرات رستورانت”, the food is traditional Afghan and lovely, even though not many options are offered. Prices are good and it has a beautiful outdoor area with benches to have your meal and smoke a hookah.
Address: Shahr-e-Now, on Sulh Road, 300 meters from Haji Yaghoob intersection “چهار راهی حاجی یعقوب” toward Park Shahr-e-Now.
Barg Continental restaurant “رستوانت برگ کانتیننتل”. Here the food is delicious and there are many options, we tried both their buffet and normal menu and both were good. The buffet is 10 USD/650 Afghani per person.
Address: Shahr-e Now, Sulh Road, 500 meters from Haji Yaghoob intersection “چهار راهی حاجی یعقوب” toward Park Shahr-e Now.
Turkish Family Restaurant and Cafe. Located on the top floor of Majeed Mall, it serves both buffet and normal à la carte menu, and obviously tea and coffee. We found it a bit overpriced for their portions and quality. They have free WIFI.
Address: Shahr-e Now, Sulh Road, 700 meters from Haji Yaghoob intersection “چهار راهی حاجی یعقوب” toward Park Shahr-e Now.
Slice Bakery: For coffee, espresso and other types of warm drinks and delicious pastries head to Slice Bakery, a westernized coffee shop with English speaking staff and really tasty.
Address: Shahr-e Now, Sulh Road, 650 meters from Haji Yaghoob intersection “چهار راهی حاجی یعقوب” toward Park Shahr-e Now.
Khyber Shinwari: If you want fresh lamb or goat, by all means, go there. You can order which part of the animal you want, they will cut and cook it for you while you sit and have a glass of tea. A kilo of cooked meat with fresh bread and tea is 500 Afghani.
Address: Shahr-e Now, Shinwari Street, 30 meters from Haji Yaghoob intersection “چهار راهی حاجی یعقوب” toward Park Shahr-e Now.
Boolani snacks: You can find the best pumpkin and potato boolani in many bread bakery shops in Kabul, it makes a perfect snack for morning or evening. They are pretty big and for me, one was enough for dinner. You can find them either fried or baked, we preferred the baked ones as they were lighter, but also the fried are worth trying. They are truly delicious, make sure you don’t miss them.
Address: The bakery where we usually took boolani from was in Shahr-e Now, Sulh Road, 20 meters from Haji Yaghoob intersection “چهار راهی حاجی یعقوب” toward Park Shahr-e Now.
What to visit in Herat, Afghanistan
If you travel to Afghanistan for the first time, you can’t possibly miss the historical city of Herat.
People call it city of knowledge and civilization and you might hear the local officials address it as Ancient Herat. After all, this province boasts thousands of years of history, before and after the invasion of Alexander the Great, up to the rule of Ekhamanshi Emperor. Even after decades of war, there are many things to do in Herat, crucial stop of the Silk Road and hub for artists and kings for centuries.
Herat City enshrines many of Afghanistan’s tourist attractions, so you shouldn’t miss it.
What to visit in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan
The capital of Balkh Province, Mazar-e Sharif is a pretty safe city, so it’s definitely one of the things to visit if you decide to travel to Afghanistan.
The blue mosque of Mazar-e Sharif is the main place to visit in the city. It’s known also as the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, or as locals refer to it, Zeyarat Sakhi Jan. Ali is the son in law of the Prophet Mohammad, and Shias consider him Mohammad’s successor. This belief is one of the reasons that divided the Muslim believers into the two main sects of Sunnis and Shias. Sunnis believe Ali was the fourth and final Khulafaih Rashedin (or Hazrat, like Imam but higher position).
Most Muslims agree that Hazrat-e-Ali was buried in Najaf Ashraf Iraq, but some Afghans claim he was brought to Afghanistan and is now buried in the Blue Mosque of Mazar-e Sharif. Some say that after the death of Ali they had to make some 40 graves in the region to confuse Ali’s enemies because they wanted to pull him out of the grave.
Mazar-e Sharif Blue Mosque is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Afghanistan. The architecture of the blue mosque is well preserved and the people are very friendly and welcoming. There are hundreds of white pigeons in the park of the mosque where you can go and buy some grains and they will come all over you. It’s a perfect spot to take some nice pictures because people from across the country gather to feed the birds.
When to visit Blue Mosque
I recommend mornings as it’s less crowded and nicer for taking pictures. Avoid the noon prayer time (12-1:30) and Fridays because it’s packed.
Shrine of Hazrat Ali admission fee: Free
Blue mosque dress code: No shorts for men but T-shirts are okay and women should dress modestly. Women don’t have to wear Chador or Burqa but pants, long sleeve shirts, Rosary/shawl and a dress to cover your hips is a must.
Note: Non-Muslims are not allowed in the main building of the shrine but you can have a good walk all around the building and enjoy the blue and white view of sophisticated mosaic work. Donations are very welcome.
Where to eat in Mazar-e-Sharif
Around the Shrine of Hazrat-e-Ali, there are many restaurants. We recommend Kefayat Turkish Restaurant, they offer nice Turkish and local food. A very relaxed and friendly environment to have your lunch or dinner.
Address: Close to Kefayat Square “میدان کفایت”, by taxi the fare is some 80 Afghani.
What to visit in Bamyan, Afghanistan
UNESCO-listed Bamyan Valley is in its namesake province mainly inhabited by Hazara so very safe. Bamyan Province is pretty poor, badly connected with the national electrical system and only recently was provided with a public hospital.
Now this beautiful valley is one of the must-sees in Afghanistan as it offers a great view of the cultural and historical heritage of the area with both examples of Buddhist art and Islamic architecture.
Below are some of the things to do in Bamiyan Province.
Band-e Amir (Amir dam)
Some 80 kilometers northwest of the Bamyan province, Band-e Amir is also Afghanistan’s first National Park. With 75000 hectares, this is a must see. There are six lakes along the valley next to each other with beautiful crystal clear blue water collected from rain and snow.
In the national Park, there is the resting place (shrine) of some elders of the area, the locals consider the shrine holy and believe it’s where Hazrat Ali walked. Some locals also believe the water of Band e Amir cures diseases and sicknesses. They say the Berber king tried many times to close one end of the dam but always failed until Hazrat e Ali came and closed the dam with his sword “Shamshir Zolfaqar”.
How to get to Band-e-Amir national park. You can go to Band-e-Amir with Taxi, its one hour drive from the city. The road from Bamiyan to Band-e Amir is in a good condition, for the most part.
Visiting time. You can go anytime, but if you go there in the summer, you can do some hiking around the lakes, men can also swim. We recommend visiting Band-e Amir in the morning.
Note: Hotels in Bamyan provide guides for your day out for some extra charge.
Remains of Buddha statues
The Buddha statues were destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban a few months before the U.S. invasion. The alcoves in which they were carved remain and Japan is trying to restore as much of the Buddha statues as possible. Around the Buddhas, there are many caves being used as homes by some locals. The local officials control the access to the road to the area.
The road on the west of Buddhas leads to Zahak City, also known Red City due to its rocks and valleys. They say in the 13th century, the city was demolished and all its residents were executed by Genghis Khan after his grandson was killed by the Red City guardians. There are many stories locals tell about this historical city. They say Zahak was the name of a powerful king who kept two snakes on his shoulders to protect him from his enemies, and he fed them with the human brain, so the locals had to bring one of the residents for his snakes from time to time until one of the snakes attacked the same king, Zahak, and ate his brain.
Where to eat in Bamyan
Bamyan restaurants are not impressive at all, use the restaurants of the hotels you stay in. They are your best options.
What to visit in Panjshir
To get to the valley of the Five Lions (apt transliteration from the Persian “panjshir”, پنجشیر), you need to book a taxi as you have to go past Parwan and Kapisa provinces. The Panjshir Valley has always been the only place Taliban never managed to set foot in, not even during the five years they were controlling the whole country from 1996 to 2001. This is the province and the resting place of Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Read more about Panjshir in the article we wrote after our experience in the valley of the Five Lions.
Booking hotels in Afghanistan (plus our suggestions)
When you travel to Afghanistan you need to pick your hotels carefully among those that provide the basic services and proper security measures. The big hotels of the main cities usually have websites, so you can book your room online, while if you would rather stay in more affordable places, you can also book by going there personally. Just rent a taxi from the airport and show the driver the address of your hotel. Below are some of our hotel suggestions.
Our hotel recommendations in Kabul, Afghanistan
Golden Star. It’s on Chahar Rahi Haji Yaghoob/Haji Yaghoob intersection in Shahr-e Now (چهار راهی حاجی یغوب). Their rates for a double bedroom are 60-70 USD per night.
Kabul Serena Hotel. A beautiful 5-star resort with prices starting from 200 USD per night for a double bedroom. Modern amenities including sauna, in-house spa, outdoor pool and fitness center, 24h front desk, WIFI and flat-screen TV included.
Safi Landmark Hotel & Suites. Located in Kabul city center, Shahr-e Now, on top of a shopping mall. This is a very high-end hotel, great room service, heavy security measures and all the modern facilities.
Sarvistan hotel. If you are traveling on a budget, we recommend Sarvistan hotel on Shinwari Street (سرک شینواری), right next to the Shahr-e Now Park, 15-20$ per night for the double bed, basic facilities, breakfast, and WIFI included.
Hotel recommendations for Herat, Afghanistan
Nazari Hotel. A 4-star hotel on Cinema Square (چوک سینما, Chowk Cinema). Their rates range between 120 and 150 USD for a double bedroom per night.
Hotel Marco Polo. We recommend Hotel Marco Polo on Taher Fushanji Avenue, close to Darb-e-Khoshk. Their rates are 30-35 USD per night for a double bedroom.
Hotel recommendations for Bamyan, Afghanistan
Gholghola Hotel. It’s located in the city of Bamiyan, Foladi Road, and is considered a very good hotel. Their rate is some 70 USD per night per double bedroom, WIFI and breakfast included. They have their own restaurant. Their website is www.gholgholahotel.com.
Bamiyan Royal Hotel. It’s located in the city of Bamiyan close to Shahr-e Gholghola and offers a beautiful view of the Buddha. Among their facilities are the airport pick-up and drop, room service, TV, WIFI, and breakfast. Their website is bamyanroyalhotel.com.
Hotel recommendations for Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan
Kefayat Hotel. It’s a little pricey, around 80-100 USD per night for a double bedroom, but the place is better than many cheap city hotels.
Address: Close to Kefayat Square “میدان کفایت” above Kefayat supermarket.
Baran Imperatory Hotel. The hotel is not bad for Mazar-e Sharif standards and not far from the Shrine of Hazrat Ali. For prices and information, contact them directly.
Address: Close to Alkozay square “چهار راهی الکوزی”. Website: www.baranhotel.com
For all hotels, feel free to bargain over the price if you think they give you too high rates.
Taxi fares from Afghanistan airports to the city
From Herat airport to the city: 350-400 Afs
From Kabul airport to Shahr-e-Now: 200-250 Afs
From Mazar-e Sharif to the city: 250-300 Afs
From Bamyan Airport to the city: 200-250 Afs.
Individual tour guides in every city
When it comes to Afghanistan, you want someone reliable to be your guide. Email us and we will put you in contact with individual guides in the main cities of Afghanistan. They work for as little as 25-30$ per day. They also have vehicles for an extra fee.
Note: If you can’t book your hotels online, you can ask the guide to book it for you before you travel to Afghanistan (without advanced payment).
Book your tour in Afghanistan
We are aware that Afghanistan is not an easy travel destination. If you need more information or you want to get an organized tour of Afghanistan, contact us privately and we will arrange things for you and put you in touch with reliable tour companies.
Full itinerary of the Afghanistan tour
Day 1: Pick up from Kabul Airport
Stay in Kabul and visit:
The Garden of Babur
Day 2: Trip to the Panjshir Valley
Visit the tomb of Ahmad Shah Massoud and the high mountains of Hindukush.
Day 3: Travel from Kabul to Bamyan
Visit the Buddhas and Qolghola city
Day 4: Second day in Bamyan, visit Band-e Amir
Visit the city and experience local life
Day 5: Travel to Kabul and from Kabul Airport travel to Mazar-e Sharif
Day 6: Visit the Blue Mosque and the city
Day 7: Travel to Herat by plane from Mazar-e Sharif
Three days in Herat City visiting the many historical places and the bazaars.
Day 10: Travel to Kabul and visit:
visit Darul Aman Palace
Day 11: Drop off at the Kabul International Airport.
What is included in the package:
Airport pick up and drop off
English-Farsi speaking tour guide
All domestic airfares
All domestic land transportation by air-conditioned non-armor vehicles
Accommodation in 3-star hotels with proper security standards and located in the city centers
Sim cards with credits and 3G data.
All entry tickets to historical places
Afghan clothes for men, Muntoo and Roosary for women
What is not included in the package:
Lunch and dinner
Body size for making Afghan clothes:
We take necessary security measures and would like to blend in with the society as much as possible. Therefore, we ask our male and female tourists for the sizes below to have Afghan clothes ready for them:
Height from the shoulder to the knee
Full arm length
Note: The provinces that are currently relatively safe and where we can organize tours for foreigners are:
Balkh (Mazar Sharif)
The organization will take care also of the necessary security measures. We are flexible and if you have a different travel itinerary or want armed guards and armor vehicles in Afghanistan, please let us know and we will evaluate your personal itinerary. For prices and availability, email us directly and we will give you more detailed information privately.