Afghanistan used to be a booming tourism destination in the region of Central Asia in the 1970’s, when it annually received about one hundred thousand tourists from various world countries. War and unrest, as well as direct threats to tourists in form of killings, kidnappings and robberies discouraged the foreigner from all but essential travel to the country.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan, the country has an active interest in promoting tourism industry. It encourages the its private sector as well as foreigners to make such investments that would develop the Afghan tourism beyond its current condition.
GETTING AROUND THE COUNTRY
It is possible to travel by plane or by road in Afghanistan. There are several airports in the country which operate domestic flights. It is therefore comfortable to travel by plane to cover long distance. For example, there are flights from the capital, Kabul to Kandahar, Herat and Mazari Sharif. Most domestic flights are operated on daily basis, while their departures tend to be early in the morning. Likewise, for security reasons, no passenger aircraft is allowed to operate their flights after the sunset.
Road connection between the cities in Afghanistan has undergone modernization recently. There is a new highway between Kabul and Mazari Sharif, which goes through Salang Mountains and Hindu Kush mountain range. The trip takes about six hours in one direction. Another highway connection exists between Kabul and Kandahar, with roughly the same travel time of six hours. While this highway is also new and in a good shape, unlike the one between Kabul and Mazari Sharif, it cannot be considered completely safe to travel on. A highway connecting Kabul and Bagram is mostly used for military purposes.
Besides major cities, there are only few paved roads in Afghanistan, and they are often in very poor condition. Most of the country is thus interconnected by dirt roads that are difficult to ride on during rainy season and when the snow melts.
MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION
There is a network of public transportation between individual cities of Afghanistan. Buses, as well as minivans and taxis are the most common transportation means. A poor standard of driving should be taken into consideration when using the public transportation.
Taxis and minivans can be rented for more comfort. These are mostly Toyota Hiace and Toyota Corolla as vehicles. While to taxis have meters, the price needs to be established beforehand.
Another possibility is to hire a Jeep or Land Cruiser along with a driver. These only rarely speak any English and can be hired through tour operators in major cities. It is also possible to hire them at the Kabul airport, alongside with a guide.
TOURS TO AFGHANISTAN
As an alternative to independent travel, there are several travel agencies with an offer of tours of Afghanistan. An advantage in contracting one of them is their guarantee of security during the travels, as well as their expertise in logistics and itineraries. Knowledge of history, geography and local customs is another reason why this option should be considered. Above all however, it is the knowledge of local languages and understanding of the present situation which is the most valuable in joining a package tour. Since tourism in Afghanistan is scarce, there is a good chance that even group tours will have a very low number of participants.
Most of the travel agencies provide all the services that tourists require when traveling abroad – transportation in comfortable Toyotas, itineraries which can be custom-made, guiding services of an English-speaking guide, accommodation booking, airport pick-ups and drop-offs, food and beverage provisions during the tours, etc. Most of the time, these services come as a package with all of them being included.
There are several types of packages that can be purchased via travel agency: historical and heritage tours of the country, which aim at visiting historic sites of the country. Sport events are another type of package tours. They are focused on athletes or other sportsmen who are participating in events held by Afghanistan on an international level. Such visitors are provided with accommodation and transportation services while additional trips around the place of their sport events can be realized as well. Among the sport events which Afghanistan conducts internationally are marathons and ski competitions.
ROUND TRIP ITINERARY
While sport events will likely focus on smaller number of visited places in the country, historical tours give visitors a change to experience different regions and cultures of Afghanistan in form of a round trip. Such trips are most likely to commence in the nation capital, Kabul, with the visit of its landmarks, such as the National museum, Babur gardens and Great Mosque. While Kabul still belongs on the list of rather dangerous places in the country, it also boasts of the best hotels and restaurants, so it is unlikely to be missed on a tour.
From Kabul, the trip then continues to the other regions of the country. Airplane is very likely the means of transportation from one region to another. Round trips include the Northern Planes with the city of Mazari Sharif and its remarkable Blue Mosque as well as historic city Balkh. Very often then tourists continue to Herat, a city on the border with Iran, to see its Great Friday mosque, ancient citadel and colourful souks.
Round trip of Afghanistan is more than likely to include the central Afghani regions, especially Bamiyan, home of the famous Buddha statues, destroyed in 2001 by Taliban. Besides the remaining cave paintings and impressive rock formations, Bamiyan is also home of the Bande Amir national park with its six travertine lakes.
Round trips of Afghanistan are often part of a greater journey in the region, including neighbouring Iran, Pakistan or Uzbekistan. Trekking in Tajikistan might include incursion into Afghan northern provinces as well.