Afghanistan — Overview
Afghanistan is not a family destination, nor is it a proper place for soul searching or backpacking. What is does have is awe-inspiring mountain ranges so beautiful you won’t mind the altitude sickness. The need for caution cannot be stressed enough when visiting this landlocked warzone. What was once considered a must-see hippie trail is now slowly recovering from decades of unrest. Because of its ongoing political problems, Afghanistan is not a relaxing, carefree vacation destination, but if its hidden treasures intrigue you, then read on.
From sandstone cliffs to sacred shrines, stunning geological formations, and World Heritage sites, Afghanistan is rich in hidden gems masked by the casualties of war. Perhaps one of the biggest draws is the Hindu Kush mountain range. Now in ruins, the famed Buddha statues of Bamiyan in the peaceful valley of Hazarajat are also worth seeing.
The country also boasts stunning heritage sites and age-old monuments. Kabul Museum is home to important records of Central Asia’s past, from early manuscripts to art, weapons, royal collections, and even relics from early Islam, Buddhism and Kushan. Outside the capital city are numerous historic routes and iconic monuments such as the Minaret of Jam.
Traveling on impulse to Afghanistan is impossible as the country is still enslaved by hostility, preventing many visitors from uncovering its incredible jewels. It is essential to dedicate plenty of time researching safety and soliciting advice from experienced travelers who frequent the country, as well as getting insights from friends or colleagues who have stayed or worked in Afghanistan. Travel to this part of the Middle East is not for the faint-hearted, and all trips should be planned down to the tiniest detail. Guesthouses can be found in all the major cities along with some standard and upscale hotels, but don’t expect overly extravagant spa-resort type accommodations.
More than anything, Afghanistan is dominated by beautiful trekking areas and mountain passes. Scenic drives surround the countryside like Khyber Pass, but have become extremely dangerous with a history of kidnapping and murder threats. Today these areas are dominated by military convoys and Taliban insurgents. The stunning Panjshir Valley has some promising trekking leading to the famed Anjuman Pass. Altitude-seekers can try ascending Salang Pass, one of the highest mountain routes in the country. Those who have more time can visit the Lake of Jewels, Tora Bora and Samangan.
Getting into the country is not hard, provided that you have the proper documentation. Kabul International Airport is the principal point of entry, receiving international flights from Dubai. Public transport is available between cities, but hiring a taxi or a rental car (with a driver who speaks English) is the most convenient way to get around. Many tour operators can provide you with both a car and a guide for safer travel.
- See the ruins of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, monumental stone statues dating back to the 6th century, destroyed by the Taliban during a senseless act of cultural vandalism
- Admire the tiled Blue Mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif
- Explore the ancient city of Balkh
- Gaze upon the stunning Band-e-Amir Lakes (Lake of Jewels), decorating one of the most beautiful hidden gems in the country, not far from the city of Bamiyan
- Trek to the Panjshir Valley and the must-see Anjuman Pass
- Journey to the Minaret of Jam
- Take a scenic drive along the Salang Pass on the way to northern towns
- Get lost in the awe-inspiring Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan