Traveling in Pakistan

Traveling in Pakistan

While travelling to the northern parts of Pakistan, you’d be experiencing a remote region that’s hard to get to but full of incredible natural wonders. This region has wilderness, high altitudes, vivid blue skies during the day, night sky full of stars and milky-ways, and the quiet you’d feel is remarkable. However, such adventure travelling in Pakistan at times can have its fair share of sacrificing your comfort back home in terms of lack of proper infrastructure and facilities.

VISAS

Everyone except Pakistani nationals and overseas Pakistanis (those with a non-resident NICOP cards) need a letter of invitation for their Pakistan visa. If you require a LOI for your Pakistan visa, we’re here to help you get started.

Either apply for a Pakistan tourist visa in person or through a visa service at an embassy in your country (see a list) of Pakistani embassies around the world).

For your convenience, Pakistan has introduced new online e-visa facility, from the comfort of your home or office. Simply Log onto http://visa.nadra.gov.pk, which is currently available for citizens of over 175 countries.

You can also check out this blog for more information on how to apply for the Pakistani e-visa.

LOCAL NORMS

Be respectful of local religion, customs, traditions and practices.

MUSLIM CULTURE

Men and women are advised to cover their shoulders and legs in public. Women should cover their heads when entering mosques or other holy places, and when travelling in rural areas or crowded bazaars. Avoid physical contact between men and women in public. Avoid eating, drinking or smoking in public during daylight hours during Ramzan (muslim holy month of fasting).

WHAT TO WEAR

Pakistan is a conservative Islamic country, which means women need to take extra care with their dress.

Shirts with at least ¾ length sleeves that cover your butt are the norm. Looser shirts that hide your body’s figure are ideal—leave curve-hugging and cleavage-showing clothes at home. Long pants are a must, though tighter clothing like skinny jeans and leggings won’t get you too much attention so long as your butt is covered by your shirt. You can wear whatever you want once we’re back in the hotel, though we definitely do not recommend walking around in shorts (unless, you know, you want to have half of the male hotel staff stalking you).

In the mountains you can be a bit more flexible with your shirt as people are used to seeing tourists trekking in all kinds of clothes. We still recommend wearing long sleeves, but you can get away with wearing a t-shirt if walking for the day. Again, still no shorts please.

Covering your head isn’t necessary outside of mosques, but you should always carry a scarf with you. You can use it to cover your head in religious places, as well as cover your chest in more conservative areas such as bazaars if you’re feeling uncomfortable.

Shalwar kameez, the local dress/pants combination, is most ideal… and the most comfortable! If you arrive earlier and time permits, we might take interested women to go shopping for local clothes before the tour fully kicks off.

MEDICAL FACILITIES

Facilities at some clinics and hospitals in major cities are close to Western standards. In most towns, and especially in rural and remote areas these facilities are quite limited. We provide basic first aid facilities in case of minor injuries along with taking to the local clinics, however, in case of major medical emergency, we can arrange for transferring to the closest big hospital in the area. In an extremely rare case of a serious injury or sickness, you may need medical evacuation, please ensure that your travel insurance covers this.

VACCINATIONS FOR PAKISTAN

There are no official vaccination requirements for travel in Pakistan.

If you stay for more than 30 days in the country and exit through Khunjerab Pass into China, officials sometimes require you to take a polio booster before entering China.

WHO Recommended vaccinations include:

  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Typhoid
  • Cholera
  • Polio booster

But, of course, we’re no doctors—it’s best to ask your local physician or travel clinic about what your vaccination options are.

MEN

It is rare to see women in public spaces in Pakistan, so do not get intimidated by men who dominate the streets and love to stare. People in the north are usually more open-minded as they are used to seeing more tourists around.

DO I NEED TO HAVE A RELIGION IN PAKISTAN?

The short answer: yes. It goes on your forms, your applications, your everything official. Religion is stated on people’s ID cards, it’s that important.

The long answer: no, but you should pretend you are religious in some way even if you’re not. People are not used to the idea of atheists, and you could offend someone if you say you are an atheist. If you’re not religious, just pick whatever religion you’re most familiar with and say you’re non-practicing.

TRAVLEING IN PAKISTAN AS A LGBTQ

If you identify as LGBTQ+, it’s no issue with us, but we recommend being cautious about who you tell that to in Pakistan. In more educated, elite circles people are more accustomed to the idea, but as a whole, Pakistan is not very accepting of “non-standard” relationships.

If you have more questions about being LGBTQ in Pakistan, let us know and we can put you in touch with someone who can advise you from personal experience.

PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

Plan your trip keeping in mind the local and public holidays. Most of religious events such as Ramzan and Eid are subject to moon sightings, plus tourist destinations may be overcrowded during these public holidays.

LOCAL CURRENCY

Pakistan has a cash-based economy, especially in remote areas. The local currency is Pakistani Rupee (PKR). International hotels, large stores and some shops in urban centers usually accept credit cards. ATMs and money exchanges are easily available in urban cities, but can be difficult to find in the mountains and other remote areas. We advise to have enough cash to meet your all your requirements while on the tour before leaving the big cities.

TIPPING

You can tip the guides, drivers and other individuals who serve you on the trip as per your will. The amount can range from a few hundred to a few thousand rupees depending upon the service they provided. At the restaurants you can tip 5-10% of the bill amount.

CONTIGENCY FUNDS

It is advised to ensure you have an extra USD 500-1,000 for emergencies (such as extreme weather, natural disasters or political unrest) or other events that result in changes to the tour plan. The suggested amount is listed in USD for the relatability of international travelers; however, the local currency (Pakistani Rupees) is what you need while traveling in Pakistan.

DRIVING

You will have to acquire a driving license to be able to drive in Pakistan and get used to right-hand drive vehicles.

FLIGHTS

International airports in Pakistan are becoming more modern (especially in the major and tourist cities). To enter the airport, you must have a copy of your flight ticket and passport.

INTERNAL FLIGHTS

Domestic flights in Pakistan have strict weight limits – 20kg of check-in luggage. Flights between Islamabad and Gilgit/Skardu/Chitral are often delayed or canceled due to unpredictable weather. If your flight is cancelled, we will endeavor to get your group on the next available flight. Failing that, we will follow our contingency plan by road using a private vehicle.

EMERGENCY CONTACT INFORMATION

These numbers are for Islamabad and Lahore only. For local area emergency contact information our local guide will advise you.

Fire brigade and Rescue services

Call 1122 or 16. (Dial city code 051 for Islamabad and city code 042 for Lahore, for calling landlines).

Medical emergencies

Call 1122 or 115, or go to the nearest hospital.

Police

Emergency helpline 15, or visit the nearest police station. (Always get a police report when you report a crime)

TRAVEL GUIDE RESOURCES FOR PAKISTAN

Travel Blogs/ Vlogs, Facebook groups and travel guides are a good way of finding out further information about places, sites and point of interests to visit in Pakistan. Unfortunately, there aren’t many reliable resources available, online or otherwise, for travel to Pakistan. But there are some useful tidbits hidden away if you know where to look!

Travel guide: Pakistan Traveller by Tim Blight is the most comprehensive and recent travel guide on Pakistan. His blog, Urban Duniya, is full of stories and information from his cultural explorations of Pakistan.

Facebook groups: Female Pakistan Travelers, Backpacking Pakistan, and See You in Pakistan are good groups for travelers to get information and ask questions about traveling in Pakistan.

Travel blogs and vlogs: Alex’s Lost With Purpose blog is full of all kinds of information and stories about Pakistan. Against the Compass and the Broke Backpacker also cover Pakistan. As far as vlogs go, Polish female traveler Eva zu Beck has covered a variety of places in Pakistan in her vlogs. Our personal favorite, Migrationology, has a great series of videos on food in Pakistan, as does The Food Ranger.

Books about Pakistan: Sadat Hassan Manto’s work is excellent to get a bit of historical context about Pakistan. Beyond that, Mohsin Hamid is another excellent Pakistani author based in the UK, and William Dalrymple is a travel writer who has also covered Pakistan in his works comprehensively.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM

Responsible tourism is essential for us. Pakistan is only just developing as a tourist destination, and what we do now sets the groundwork for years to come. Let’s do things right!

As the famous saying goes, leave nothing but footprints, thus we must act as responsible travelers even if others do not.

We’ve already incorporated responsible and sustainable tourism practices into our itinerary, but there are some things that you, as a tourist, can and should keep in mind when going around Pakistan.

  • Try to minimize your waste, and always dispose of your waste in bins or other designated places, never on the ground. Waste management is a problem in Pakistan, and the best solution is to make as little waste as possible. Bring a reusable water bottle, we’ll help you fill it with clean water. Say no to plastic bags you don’t need, same goes for straws. We’ll look for snacks we can buy in bulk that use less wrapping, and aim to make sure our food and drinks are served on reusable plates and bowls rather than disposable ones.
  • Be respectful of local culture. Though some things may shock or concern you, remember that you’re a visitor and it’s not your culture to change. (You’re already breaking norms and challenging ideas by being a woman traveling around without men!) Especially if this is your first visit to Pakistan, just observe. Unless it’s a man being creepy or harassing you, in which case you have our permission to punch him in the face.
  • Don’t give to beggars, especially child beggars. There will be beggars in many places in the cities. Though they look desperate, please refrain from giving them any money. Doing so makes begging profitable for them, and discourages them from finding more gainful employment or staying in school. If we have food left over after meals in restaurants, we will pack the remaining food and give it to someone in need on the way out.
  • Ask permission before taking photos. Photos can be sensitive in Pakistan, especially photos of women. However, since we’re all female, you might be able to get away with more photos of women than a man could. Nevertheless, it’s important to ask permission before taking photos of people up close. Use discretion when sharing your photos afterwards – avoid sharing photos of children if possible, and think twice before sharing a photo if the subject was uncomfortable taking it. And of course, never, ever force someone to take a photo they don’t want to.

Be cautious with men. Men are likely going to try and flirt with you in some way, especially if you’re foreign. Often men are interested in finding a partner who can help them get a foreign residency or passport, though they won’t say so of course. Many men also think all foreign women are open to having sex with pretty much anyone. We’re not prudes who think men and women need to be separate and not touch each other until after marriage (that’s no fun!), but it is important to remember that your actions will affect perceptions of foreign women visiting Pakistan later on. Do what you will, but if something is going on between you and a local man please save business until after the tour is over.