Pakistan annually attracts a large number of tourists from across the world. Most of the tourist to the country are keen to explore the Northern Areas, as the beauty of this region is unsurpassed and offers some unique opportunities for hiking, trekking and mountaineering.
With some of the highest mountain ranges in the world like the Himalayas, Karakorams and Hindukush Pakitan is a home to a number of highest peaks in the world.
While travelling in Pakistan international tourist need to keep in mind the number of things to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. With a vast cultural diversity across regions, the foreigners are expected to be respectful of local cultural norms and values. People of Pakistan are generally very hospitable and are very helpful towards foreigners in the country. Here are some of the tips to help you maximize your journey through Pakistan:
1. Visa Requirements for Pakistan
Most foreigners require Visa to enter Pakistan. The visa must be applied from the country of Residence. The Visa fee varies from country to country. The Visa Fee from the UK is 100 Pounds, fee from Sydney Australia is $70 for single entry and $140 for multiple entries within a year. The normal processing time is two weeks or earlier. You will generally be required to provide photographs, letter from employer if employed, bank statement and purpose of travel along with LOI (letter of invitation). This letter can be provided by a Pakistan national if you are visiting a Pakistani family or friends. The letter can also be obtained from the travel company that book your tours.
It will be difficult to obtain a visit visa for a single person. If you are travelling with a group, the tour organizers can provide you with the LOI and travel itinerary. It is recommended to travel with a reputed travel company. This will ensure that your travel plan and itinerary is available to Pakistan Embassy. Also, some remote areas in Northern Pakistan will require special permission and reporting to the nearest police station. Tour organizers will help provide with all the documentation which does not take much time. Your security is of utmost importance when travelling in Pakistan as some locations are very isolated, therefore, travelling with a group is recommended. However, there is no security concern as such if you are a foreigner travelling through the country as foreigners are welcomed in most places and treated with respect and courtesy.
2. What place to visit in Pakistan
For your safety it is recommended to stick to the main tourist destinations as most areas in inner Punjab, Baluchistan or Sind are very remote and isolated. Bigger cities are absolutely safe to travel and well connected with road, rail and air links.
The most tourist visiting the country travel to KPK (Khyber Pukhtun Kawa) are in northern Pakistan which is an absolutely beautiful part of the thew world. Northern Pakistan has attracted hikers and climbers from the world as K2 and Gashabrum, the second and third highest peak in the world is in Pakistan. This area is also a heaven for seasoned hunters who come to Pakistan on annual trophy hunting for Ibex and mountain goats.
For backpackers and solo travellers, the country offers much to explore. Cities like Lahore has been the hub of culture and civilization for over 1000 years. You can wader through beautiful forts and building constructed during the Mughal period in 16 to 17 century. The colonial rule has a significant impact on the architecture of Lahore where civil courts, cathedral and post office building are restored to their original plans from the mid-nineteenth century.
3. What to wear in Pakistan
Pakistan is a Muslim country with 97% Muslim population. The bigger cities are quite modern. As you travel away from the cities, the provincial life is more conservative. Women cover their head with dupatta (shawl) or chaddar. As a foreigner, you are expected to value and respect the norms of the country and dress appropriately. The women are expected to cover their body, where covering your head is not essential in most parts of the country. Some places in northern areas you will be expected to cover your head.
4. When to travel to Pakistan
The temperature in the most parts of the country peaks around 45c in the middle of summers. The summers start around early May and last till August when the monsoon rains rolls in. This season is a great time to travel to the Northern Areas of Pakistan where the temperature is much cooler and most of the locations are accessible after ice starts melting in late April.
August is very humid throughout the country as this is the rainy season. Some plain areas also get flooded due to overflowing of the river. September marks the beginning of Autumn and it starts getting a bit colder. Most destinations north of Naran are not easily accessible after mid-October. Abbottabad and Galiyat (Nathiagali - Murree) experience dry cold till the snowfall sets in. The weather has been quite warm in the last couple of years with winter snow delayed till early December.
December and January bring some chilly winds from Quetta and Central Asia and the temperature can dip below 0c. Most Pakistan living overseas tend to travel to Pakistan in December as this is the wedding season in the country and coincides with Christmas in Western World.
5. Where to stay while travelling in Pakistan
Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation has a number of guest houses around the country. An exhaustive list of location is available on PTDC.
These guest houses provide secure premises and trained staff at quite reasonable restaurants. Most of these locations have restaurants on the premises where local and continental food is available.
A number of youth hostels provide accommodation exclusively to foreigners. The rates are quite reasonable ranging from Rs.3000 ( $30 a day). Accommodation cheap than this is also available in bigger and smaller cities. It is recommended to stay in reputable hotels to avoid unwanted situations.
Most popular hill stations in Pakistan have 4 to 5-star hotels where average rooms are available around $70/night. These hotels can be booked using booking.com, Agoda or through local travel agents. The best is to contact hotels directly to get the daily special rates.
Second and more reasonable option to book a private guest house. You can find a number of guest houses across the country.