Afghanistan has been a crossroads of civilizations for millennium. From Darius the Great to Alexander the Great, Marco Polo to George Bush, They have all been here and left their mark. It has been and still is a place of world interest whether it is from politicians or tourists. It is a place of legendary hospitality to guests and legendary hostility to invaders.
It is your responsibility to arrange visas. Visa requirements vary from embassy to embassy but we will provide letters of introduction and any other visa support that you may require.
If you are based in the UK or Australia then we can recommend using The Visa Machine as a visa agent. Visit the Untamed Borders page at their website – untamedborders.thevisamachine.com.
Afghanistan is 4hrs30min ahead of GMT
Health and vaccinations
Please consult your local GP about the necessary vaccinations for Afghanistan. Note that many of our trips involve journeys over high passes, whilst there is no real risk of severe altitude sickness if you have a history of heart problems it may well be worth contacting your doctor.
Insurance is your own responsibility and we will ask for a copy of your details at the beginning of the trip to ensure that we can take action in the unlikely event that anything happens. Please ensure that your insurance agent is aware of where and what you are doing. Many will state that they are worldwide policies but may not pay out in areas that the UK government does not deem as safe to visit.
If you have any concerns please contact us and we will send you a list of companies we and our guests have used in the past. They include companies who have years of experience insuring expeditions, journalists and ex-pats in some of the worlds wildest places. They will able to provide a number of comprehensive insurance options for Afghanistan.
Weather and climate
Afghanistan lies in the temperate zone meaning it has cool, dry winters and hot summers. In the mountainous Central areas of Afghanistan the winters are harsh and snowy. Even in the summer it can get chilly when at altitude, especially at night. It’s best to bring thermals and sun block, you’ll probably need both.
Cash is the best form of currency. In Kabul there are cash machines that take credit cards and even UK debit cards. However they are not always reliable. If you bring cash, dollars are probably best although Pounds Sterling and Euros will get easily change. Money changers in all Afghan cities will be able change almost any currency you give them. The unit of currency in Afghanistan it is the Afghani. It fluctuates a fair bit and the economy is in particular trouble at the moment. But hey, whose isn’t?
For up to date exchange rates please have a look at www.xchange.com
Electricity and Internet
Afghanistan has occasional problems with supplying a constant source of electricity. Sometimes there is plenty, sometimes there is none. We pack plenty of candles and torches but it is best to bring your own as well. Internet facilities are available in the larger cities but sometimes suffer from a lack of power. Some smaller parts of Afghanistan have reasonable facilities set up by NGOs, some have none. But it’s not reliable, so don’t assume that you will have access to internet outside the main cities.
Food and Alcohol
If you have any special dietary requirements or are a vegetarian please let us know ahead of time and we will do our best to accommodate. Food in rural Afghanistan is basic and the lack of variety can be a bit of a drag for gastronomes. During Ramadan all Muslims fast during daylight hours. Whilst this is undoubtedly an interesting time to visit and the evening fast breaking meal of Iftar is a great occasion, the lack of shops and restaurants open during the day can be difficult.
As an Islamic country alcohol is officially banned in Afghanistan although only sporadically enforced on foreigners. After riots in Kabul in 2006 protesting about the influx of western immorality, sale of alcohol and Chinese restaurants fronting as brothels, there was a clamp down. Bars can be found in Kabul however. Outside of Kabul the odd under the table bottle of Uzbek Vodka may be located but it is basically dry.
Language and Religion
The two official languages in Afghanistan are Pashto and Dari. Other regional languages include Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi Nuristani and Wakhi. Linguist Harold Haarmann estimates that the number of languages spoken in Afghanistan is more than 40. It is stating the obvious but Afghanistan is an Islamic country. More than 99% of the population are Muslim, with the majority following Sunni Islam (90%).
Some of areas we visit are particularly conservative and we have to ensure we respect the local traditions and customs. In our set itineraries we will provide some free tailored local clothing for you to wear if you like and to take back as a souvenir. Otherwise loose fitting long sleeve tops and loose trousers or long skirts are the order of the day.
Safety and security
That is the $64,000 question. We would not be visiting ourselves if we did not think so. Afghanistan whilst suffering an insurgency in the South is currently calm in the Northern and Central regions we visit. The risk of harm is very slim compared to the manic Afghan driving. The rule of law does not extend too far outside the main cities but we have many contacts in Afghanistan and we take advice from governments, tribal chiefs and people from the areas we visit before we begin any trip. Even so, in Afghanistan we do take extra precautions. In cities we often break into smaller groups so as not to offer as large or obvious a target. We ensure our itinerary is restricted to as few people as possible and when travelling between cities we always take more than one vehicle so that we are not left stranded in the case of a break down.
Please contact us if you have any further concerns or questions about how we work to ensure the safety of our guests.
This list is not comprehensive, in fact it is very subjective. It is stuff we like and think you may as well:
Great Game – Peter Hopkirk A rattling read about how Tsarist Russia and Victorian Britain fought a century long cloak and dagger battle over Central Asia. From Genghis Khan to Sir Francis Younghusband. Afghanistan is at the heart of this battle for power.
The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East – Robert Fisk Robert Fisk has been reporting on the Middle East plus Afghanistan since the 1970’s and this is his incredible account of the times on which he reported.
Road to Kandahar – Jason Burke The Observer journalist reviews his 10 years reporting from the “Islamic world” from Algeria and Iraq to Afghanistan and Indonesia. Shorter than Fisk’s epic above but enlightening nonetheless.
Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini A fictional novel based heavily on the authors experiences in pre-soviet Afghanistan. Whilst we feel the ending is a bit Hollywood his images of Kabul in the 1970’s are great.
Bookseller of Kabul – Asne Seierstad Norwegian journalist, Asne Seierstad spent 3 months living with a Kabuli family. Her book describing her experiences portrays a bullying, book-selling patriarch and has been both successful and controversial (see below) in equal measure.
Once upon a time there was a bookseller in Kabul – Shah Muhamed Rais Asne Seierstad’s book (see above) was controversial as the bookseller was unhappy with his portrayal, claiming that Asne could not have understood what was going on in his family as she cannot speak Dari. He still works in Kabul and has written his own book in which he tries to set the record straight. It is available in his bookshop so for fans of this book would be able to pick up a unique souvenir as well a chance to see the man himself.
The places in between – Rory Stewart Describing Rory Stewart’s epic walk across Central Afghanistan 2 weeks after the fall of the Taliban Government in 2001. Our trips to Bamian cover some of the same ground.
A short walk in the Hindu Kush – Eric Newby We hope our trips are a little more planned than Eric Newby’s attempt to climb a remote mountain in Nuristan, only to find neither he or his climbing partner have any climbing experience. A cracking read written in a hilarious 1950’s self deprecating style.
Return of a King – William Dalrymple The definitive account of the first Afghan war and the retreat from Kabul in 1841 that saw a British army of 16,000 massacred in the passes between Kabul and Jalalabad. For the first time Afghan and Sikh court records are used to give new insights into this infamous page in Afghan and British history.
We do not directly arrange international flights to Afghanistan. We can suggest routes and operators. You can also contact the Untamed Borders dedicated team at Flight Centre for suggested routes. Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: +44(0) 844 560 9966 They will match any price you find online.
Currently Emirates and Turkish Airways both offer flights from Europe which offer the most convenient way to get to Afghanistan. Alternatively fly to Dubai and connect with a local airline.