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Pakistan ought to be one of the most treasured destinations in the world with diverse culture, history and a fascinating landscape. Once on the historic hippie trail and crowded with tourists it is now a real off the beaten track destination (since the last two decades). Only the most hardened explorers & intrepid travelers are currently visiting the country in South Asia.
I am trying to make this post the most comprehensive guide for tourists and I will be continuously improving the content. Here is a sneak peak of what to expect in this post.
- Pakistan:History & Culture
- Languages spoken in Pakistan
- Pakistan’s Currency, ATM’s & Banks
- Best time to explore Pakistan
- Everything about Pakistan’s visa
- Getting in and out of the country
- Recommended tourist attractions
- Our recommended hotels, hostels and homestays
- Our recommended tours
- Staying Safe in Pakistan
- Is Pakistan safe for women?
Pakistan: History & Culture
Pakistan or Islamic Republic of Pakistan got it’s independence from British rule on 14th August, 1947. Pakistan is a country in South Asia. It is the world’s fifth-most populous country, with a population of almost 227 million, and has the world’s second-largest Muslim population, after Indonesia. Pakistan is the 33rd-largest country by area, spanning 881,913 square kilometres (340,509 square miles). It has a 1,046-kilometre (650-mile) coastline along the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman in the south, and is bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest, and China to the northeast. It is separated narrowly from Tajikistan by Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor in the north, and also shares a maritime border with Oman.
Pakistan is the site of several ancient cultures, including the 8,500-year-old Neolithic site of Mehrgarh in Balochistan, and the Indus Valley Civilization of the Bronze Age, the most extensive of the civilizations of the Afro-Eurasia.The region that comprises the modern state of Pakistan was the realm of multiple empires and dynasties, including the Achaemenid; briefly that of Alexander the Great; the Seleucid, the Maurya, the Kushan, the Gupta; the Umayyad Caliphate in its southern regions, the Hindu Shahi, the Ghaznavids, the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals, the Durranis, the Sikh Empire, British East India Company rule, and most recently, the British Indian Empire from 1858 to 1947.
Spurred by the Pakistan Movement, which sought a homeland for the Muslims of British India, and election victories by Muslims, Pakistan gained independence in 1947 after the Partition of the British Indian Empire, which awarded separate statehood to its Muslim-majority regions and was accompanied by an unparalleled mass migration and loss of life. Initially a Dominion of the British Commonwealth, Pakistan officially drafted its constitution in 1956, and emerged as a declared Islamic republic. In 1971, East Pakistan seceded as the new country of Bangladesh after a nine-month-long civil war. In the following four decades.
Pakistan is a regional and middle power nation, and has the world’s sixth-largest standing armed forces. It is a declared nuclear-weapons state, and is ranked among the emerging and growth-leading economies, with a large and rapidly-growing middle class.
It is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country, with similarly diverse cultures, heritage, landscape, geography and wildlife.
Languages spoken in Pakistan
More than sixty languages are spoken in Pakistan, including a number of provincial languages. Urdu—the lingua franca and a symbol of Muslim identity and national unity—is the national language and understood by over 75% of Pakistanis. It is the main medium of communication in the country, but the primary language of only 7% of the population. Urdu and English are the official languages of Pakistan. English is primarily used in official business and government, and in legal contracts. Punjabi, the most common language & is mostly spoken in the Punjab. Saraiki is mainly spoken in South Punjab, and Hindko is predominant in the Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pashto is the provincial language of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Sindhi is commonly spoken in Sindh, while Balochi is dominant in Balochistan. Brahui, a Dravidian language, is spoken by the Brahui people who live in Balochistan. There are also speakers of Gujarati in Karachi. Marwari, a Rajasthani language, is also spoken in parts of Sindh. Various languages such as Shina, Balti, and Burushaski are spoken in Gilgit-Baltistan, whilst languages such as Pahari, Gojri, and Kashmiri are spoken by many in Azad Kashmir.
You should learn some basic urdu to easily comunicate with basically everyone in Pakistan. Here are some most common words of Urdu for you:
Assalam o Alaikum Greetings
Aap Kese hain? How are you?
Me theek hun I am fine
Khuda Hafiz Good Bye
Shukriya Thank you
Pakistan’s Currency, ATM’s & Banks
The official currency of Pakistan is the Pakistani Rupee. As of May 2022, 1 USD will get you about 183 rupees. Pakistan is a VERY cash-based economy – almost everything needs to be paid for with rupees.
In the cities, like Lahore and Islamabad, credit cards are more widely accepted at shops and restaurants but still, you consider it a rare exception. Especially if you’re backpacking on a budget, expect to pay for virtually everything in cash.
Outside of the cities, the chances of a credit card being accepted are much lower, National Bank of Pakistan ATMs (which are often the only option in rural regions) notoriously do not accept foreign cards.
ATM’s, although commonplace in Pakistan, are very unreliable. Many ATM’s will not accept Western bank cards; MasterCard in particular is very hard to use.
Only a select few Pakistani banks seem to work well with Western cards. MCB usually works. Allied Bank has also proved reliable for a Visa debit card.
It is HIGHLY recommended that you bring cash with you before visiting Pakistan, because trust me, you will run out in a place without an accessible ATM. Foreign cash is good to have because once you’re in the country you can exchange it. Don’t go to the banks either (you’ll get a shit deal). Instead, go to one of the many private currency changers.
Best time to explore Pakistan
Pakistan is a country that has all four seasons, and there is definitely a best time to travel to different parts of it. You definitely don’t want to be arriving in Lahore when it’s bordering on 47 degrees celsius with 80% humidity.
Winters in Pakistan
Pakistan’s “winter” runs from roughly mid November until mid March depending on where you are. This is undoubtedly the best time to visit the Punjab and Sindh provinces as well as Peshawar. It’s a whole new experience to explore these cities without feeling like you’re going to melt. You can expect temperatures between 17-25 C depending on the month and location.
Winter is the worst time of the year to visit Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan as the thin air becomes freezing and heating systems are minimal. All treks and passes will be closed during this time as temperatures remain between -30 to -5 C.
Spring Season in Pakistan
Mid March until April is Pakistan’s spring and is the best time to visit the beautiful Makran Coast in Balochistan as temperatures are usually around 26-28 C. Karachi also has similar temperatures during this time.
These are also the last two months where visiting Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad will be pleasant before insane heat moves in for months. You can expect temperatures around 24- 32 C depending on how late in this time frame you go.
While temperatures will barely be above 0 C in Gilgit Baltistan & Chitral at this time, the first two weeks of April are the best time to see the amazing cherry blossoms that explode all over the region.
Summers in Pakistan
May through September is Pakistan’s summer, and you should avoid visiting the cities during this time if you actually want to enjoy them.
Trust me when I say visiting during this time will cause you to spend more time in front of your hotel AC than exploring.
Think temperatures NEAR OR ABOVE 40 C and a level of humidity you might not have thought was possible.
However, this is the absolutely perfect time to enjoy the valleys of Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral. With days hot enough for swimming and plenty of sunshine, it’s paradise.
Autumn/Fall in Pakistan
October until Mid November is considered fall in Pakistan and is a decent time to visit the cities as temperatures generally won’t be higher than 28 C.
And while it might be a bit chilly, this is the ULTIMATE time to visit Gilgit-Baltistan, and Hunza Valley in particular as the entire landscape becomes a kaleidoscope of fall colors.
Temperatures will be cold, usually around 5 C or less.
Pakistan’s Visa & LOI
Let’s start with Pakistan’s visa. Everyone needs a valid visa to enter Pakistan. To get a tourists’ visa, you should have at least a six months of expiry Passport from your date of departure from Pakistan. You can either apply for the visa by visiting your nearest consulate or via the online portal for an e-visa. In both cases you need a Letter of Invitation (LOI) from a registered tour operator from Pakistan. We recommend us (obviously) for the LOI. Just book at least a one day tour and have an LOI from us.
We recommend getting an LOI even if it isn’t stated by your embassy to avoid any mishaps later on. Also, the LOI is valid for only three months, which means apply within three months of getting a LOI. Attach the LOI and submit it to the Pakistan’s embassy or consulate in your home country. The fees for a tourist visa are different for each nationality. You can find the fees here. We have some clients who got their visas within a day and some got it within two weeks. This all depends on your consulate or embassy and the application. Or you can apply here for an e-visa.
Getting in & out of Pakistan
You can use this visa to enter Pakistan from any entry point including border crossings as well as the airports. Their are three major international airports:
- Liaqat Ali Khan International Airport at Islamabad
- Allama Iqbal International Airport at Lahore
- Quaid-e-Azam International Airport at Karachi
Also, there are three major border crossings from Iran, China & India. You can use any of these six locations to get into Pakistan. Getting out of Pakistan is fairly easy unless you overstayed your visa duration. For an overstay, you have to visit the nearest visa office for an extension with a surcharge. The surcharge for visa extension are (as of Feb, 2022)
- For a duration up to two weeks – No surcharge
- From two weeks to one month – $50
- From one month to three months – $200
- Beyond three months – $400 per year
You can visit regional passport offices in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi & Peshawer for visa extensions. In some cases, they will ask you to visit the office of the Interior Ministry in Islamabad for visa complications. The easiest guys to deal with are at Lahore, where in most of the cases you get an extension immediately or in some cases up to three working days.
Our Recommended Tourist Attractions in Pakistan
Pakistan is rich in history, culture and landscape. You can find fascinating destinations from the length and breadth of the country. Here are the top (and completely safe) destinations for you to explore (in no particular order or preference):
- Fairy Meadows
- Naltar Valley
- Soon Valley
- Kumrat Valley
Our recommended Hotels, Hostels & Homestays
We are constantly updating this list. We only recommend people & places we personally know. This means we are sharing the information only on our personal connection with the owners or managers. So feel free to try any of these as all of these are already known among foreigners in Pakistan. As for now(Feb, 2022), we recommend these places:
- Five Giants Lahore
- Islamabad Backpackers
- Madina Hotel 2
- Five Giants Danyor
- Marcopolo Hotel
- Naltar Valley
- Old Hunza Inn
- Passu Tourist Lodge
- Dream Island Camping Site, Phander Valley
- Fort Hotel Yasin Valley
- Fairy Meadows
- Fairy Meadows Cottages
Our recommended Tours
We organize a number of small group tailor-made tours each year to explore the landscape, history & culture of Pakistan. You can find our recommended tours here or contact us for a tailor-made tour for you & your family and friends.
Is Pakistan Safe?
Pakistan is one of the safest countries in the world and is packed with friendly and inquisitive individuals who are always happy to meet somebody backpacking in Pakistan.
Of course, you should stick to the general backpacking safety tips, but Pakistan is really quite welcoming to backpackers.
With the exception of the Afghanistan border regions, most of the country is perfectly safe to visit. It is not however possible to visit some parts of the country such as Balochistan or Kashmir unless you have special permits.
You’ll only encounter security escorts when hiking to Nanga Parbat Basecamp and in Interior Sindh and South Punjab.
Unfortunately, security check-ins in the completely peaceful Upper Chitral region have returned. Security is not mandatory though and you can sign a short letter saying you don’t want it. It is also not unsafe – in fact, there is virtually zero crime in region.
Personally, I don’t feel security is necessary for ANY of the places tourists will be backpacking in Pakistan. They simply create more attention and hanging out with dudes with guns is not a vibe.
Is Pakistan safe for women?
Female travel in Pakistan is becoming more and more popular these days. Pakistan is an absolutely amazing country. And while it gets a bad rap, it’s really not that hard to travel here as a woman, especially if you have a bit of backpacking experience in the region.
We do believe Pakistan is safe for solo female travel, as long as you do your research and take general safety precautions.
Foreign women are not expected to stay in the home like many local women (generally) are, and it’s completely okay to take part in “male” activities such as drinking and enjoying cheeky smokes.
There are significant regional differences in how your experience with local men will be. In cities like Lahore, expect loads of staring, possible catcalls, and requests for selfies, which you can (and should) absolutely deny. Selfie culture is dumb, anyway.
Staring is also pretty intense in Sindh, though Karachi is a pretty chill city to walk around in.
Hunza is like another world altogether. The region is very accustomed to foreigners – solo female travellers or otherwise – and thus you can find almost no harassment of any kind.
Meeting local women is difficult outside of upper-class city circles. However, as a woman by yourself, you’ll receive tons of invitations. I’ve met tons of women in rural areas by accepting invitations into homes.
Frequently Asked Questions
We have answered some FAQ’s here for you. If you have any other question, please feel free to ask us in the email or on whatsapp.