When it comes to traveling to Pakistan, you might have witnessed or heard some very conflicting views or confusing reports. On the one hand, you see pictures of travelers posing in front of gigantically epic mountains, strolling in the vibrant and bustling bazaars, touring the imperially splendid mosques or shrines and eating some of the rich and colorful food in the world. On the contrary, you watch Pakistan news broadcasting brutal terrorist attacks, inter-border wars, and your friends sharing their experience of harassment at the hand of Pakistani men. The former wants you to immediately book a ticket, pack your bag and get on a plane to Pakistan while the latter raises a huge concern for your safety and well-being. If you have got your wires crossed on your travel to Pakistan, this comprehensive, realistic, and sugar-coating free travel guide will help you decide.
Before we begin this travel guide, let me give you a brief overview of its contents, i.e., we will start with the pros of travel to Pakistan covering what to do in Pakistan, and then we will proceed to the cons also giving tips and hacks on avoiding or tackling them.
Landscapes and Topography in Pakistan cover the full spectrum range from snowy and green mountains to fertile Indus plain, golden deserts, and the blue Arabian Sea. Geographically, it falls in the category of one of the luckiest places on this planet being home to some of the wildest travel destinations like;
Deosai National Park Naltar Valley Makran Coast Baltoro Glacier Neelum Valley Attabad Lake Shangrilla Valley Hingol National Park Thar Desert Ormara Beach Kund Malir
It will be rather unfair to talk about Pakistan's landscapes and not mention its peaking mountains prevailing in almost the entire region. A significant chunk of globally famous Himalayan mountain range passes through Pakistan in its Northern areas, including the world’s second-highest mountain peak K2. From the ivory peaks of Himalayas to glacial mountains in the Karakoram, the rocky mountain of Suleiman Range in Baluchistan to the vegetation-covered hills in KPK, Pakistan is blessed with all. One cannot help but fall in love and get lost in their splendor and magnificence.
In South Asian culture, guests are considered a gift from God, and they consider hosting someone an honor. In the words of an American traveler, Alex Reynolds, who has traveled to 3 continents, declared Pakistanis the most hospitable humans in the world in her blog "Lost with Purpose”. Examples of their generosity include but not limited to;
Homestay Invitation Countless Feeding of Homemade Food Spending time on showing their guests around Gifts including native souvenirs, food, and clothes Using their vehicles for commuting within the city Invitations to attend weddings and religious ceremonies
Whatever the cost, they will ensure that you get the proper taste of its loving culture and leave with lifelong cherishing memories before returning home. They warm your heart with their affection and leave the rest to its climate.
4. Mouth-Watering Food
The culinary scene in Pakistan is a diverse amalgam of its centuries' old rich culture and traditions. Pakistani cuisine is a direct projection of its geography, i.e., different at each turn yet full of wonderful surprises. Stroll around in Lahore's food street devouring fat and flavor-filled meat dishes, sipping on Lassi (buttermilk) to counter the spices and seal it with the sweetest loaded with dairy desserts or yummy traditional sweets. Don't worry about those few extra pounds as you don't want to miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity. Then if you head further up North, you will be experiencing a different palette of spices, ingredients, and taste.
Almost every major city here has a street food bustling with vendors and family-owned restaurants serving local street food. Karachi is considered its foodie capital because of its smoking hot BBQ joints and nihari (spicy beef stew cooked overnight) to high-end eateries serving international delicacies. Moreover, it might be heavier on your stomach but will be equally lighter on your budget. You can enjoy a full delicious meal in less than a dollar.
Apart from satisfying carnivores' needs, it has viable options for vegetarians from chickpea curries, to potato dishes, lentils, and vegetables. However, veganism is almost nonexistent in Pakistan, so you might not have a good time eating around here.
What language is spoken in Pakistan?
If you are from an English Speaking country or knows conversational English, then getting around this region might not be as tricky as commonly perceived. As a result of its colonial history, western values have somehow left an ever-lasting rather nasty imprint on the local values. Finding someone who can communicate in English, there might be very challenging in Pakistan. Almost everyone in its upper-middle and elite class knows basic conversational English. Although it’s national Language is Urdu so learning a few common Urdu phrases like greetings, pleasantries, introductions, and asking whether someone knows certain a Language or not, will surely be handy.
Before British colonization, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh were one nation known as the Indian subcontinent ruled by Mughals. Muslim rulers splurged fortunes on Mosques and Tombs to pay tribute to their religion and ancestors. They hired world-famous architects, sourced fanciest and priciest marbles, and commissioned artists to adorn these sentimental structures. With these intricately designed and sculpted marble tiles, you will be lost in their awe and wonder.
In addition to mosques, there are shrines of respected Sufi figures of Pakistan hosting annual festivals where people entranced in the mystic atmosphere dance to the Sufi music. So if you are little inclined towards Sufism and want to experience something out of this world, then make sure to visit in time for one of these festivals.
Shopping markets are a way to pay gratitude to a country's locals by paying for local crafts and providing business to the local vendors. Handicrafts are an indispensable part of Pakistani culture and a great option for buying cheap souvenirs for your friends like;
Spices Handwoven scarves and shawls Pottery Nuts and Dry Fruits Mangoes Embroidered Fabrics Camel skin and wooden art
9. Ideal for Backpackers
Pakistan is an ideal location for backpackers traveling on a budget as the food, stay, and transport are very cheap here and sometimes free. The tickets for sightseeing cost between 100-500 pkr only. Book the hotels before time during peak season, and you will be good to go. Avoid dining in high-end cafes and hotels. Use Airbnb and homestays for a more wholesome, local, and safe experience. You can also camp in Northern areas among mountains and under the starry sky, which costs no money. You can hire a bike or local auto-rickshaw for moving within a city and a minivan for intercity travel. This whole venture will cost you 600-650 dollars for 35 days backpacking trip.
Hmmmmm? So you have made up your mind yet? Bump if you are already looking for flights and planning travel to Pakistan! Now we will move on to discussing some of the dark realities for foreigners as we all know every coin has two sides.
1. Vendors Cost Extra to Foreigners
Foreign rate is the extra amount foreign travelers have to pay for small things like food, hotel rent, or camping site rent. Small business owners cost almost 3-4 times the original price to the tourists. You can avoid this if you know some Urdu to Haggle with them or take along some local for financial dealings. In some cases, a local might get you things for free or extra complimentary items. However, this is pretty rare as Pakistanis are often very welcoming and warm, but you cannot avoid it.
Connectivity and the internet will be very weak in offbeat and faraway places such as mountains or desserts. So if you are an Instagram addict or regular blogger, it is advised to organize your trips to visit a city in between rural or less developed areas. Buy a mobile sim card as soon as you step out of the airport for a handy internet connection.
Is it safe to travel to Pakistan?
Terrorism and street crime were prevalent in Pakistan a few years back, but these things are well under control thanks to the recent military operations. Although some Pakistan areas are not very safe, the law and order situation has improved significantly during the last few years. If you are worried about your security, you can always demand armed guards from the local police or your home country's embassy. Many international travelers have declared Pakistan safe for traveling after enjoying their tour and highly recommend it.
4. Female Travelers
Female solo travelers might have to encounter harassment or assault issues in Pakistan because of its citizens' somewhat conservative mindset. Men often consider friendliness from female tourists as flirtation because of the extreme segregation of both genders in Pakistan. Moreover, drugs and alcohol use is acceptable for men here but a taboo when women do it. That is why they deem females to be sexually lost because of substance use. Therefore, these are a few precautions to avoid these circumstances;
Only accept homestays if you know and trust someone. Avoid staying with men, only households, and prefer families. Always turn your phone’s location on and keep updating a friend timely. Establish boundaries with them. To keep them at bay, tell them you are married back home. Be cautious while booking shady hotels or Airbnb. Keep the door locked and call the police and foreign office in case of any suspicion.
These are a few steps that will ensure you enjoy a safe and secure stay while traveling anywhere in the world. Try going with a group if you can.
Since homosexuality is banned in Islam hence banned in the country too. There are some homosexuals in Pakistan, but they are not very open and cannot announce their relationships in public. If you belong to the LGBTQ community, it is advised to keep it a secret and only talk about it in close gathering among liberal friends.
Tip: Just don’t openly declare your sexuality and only share with someone you know is flexible enough to digest it.