An exciting and unusual travel destination, Pakistan is known for its wild frontier regions, earthquakes, kebabs, covered women and bearded men. Home to friendly people and magnificent landscapes, Pakistan also offers profound cultural experiences. Its mighty mountain ranges give plenty of scope for mountaineering and trekking, while water sports and skiing are also available.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool: The Himalayas, the Karakoram Highway which traverses tough terrain, camel riding, friendly people, white water rafting, spice markets, white palaces, spicy food, mountain lakes, history and culture, northern glaciers, high mountain passes, yak safaris, cheap shopping and wild boar hunting.

What’s Not: Luggage carriers making off with your bags, traffic in Karachi, reckless driving, hustling rickshaw drivers, the hot season, cricket, corrupt officials, ‘Karachi’ belly and men with beards and bushy moustaches!

When to Go

Pakistan has some extreme variations in climate with three distinct seasons. Winter (November to March) is warm and chilled by sea breezes on the coast, and is the best time to visit the south.
Summer (April to July) brings extreme temperatures and is the best season for touring the north. Monsoon season (July to September) has the most rainfall in the hills.

Getting There & Away

The main airport is in Karachi and Pakistan International Airlines has a good network of domestic services, many offering spectacular views. The railway system stretching from Karachi to Peshawar in the north is a legacy of British colonial rule, and is slow but reliable. The roads are poorly maintained and trains are preferable to buses, which may blind you with their technicolored paintwork. Taxis usually have meters and are the best way to get around the cities, while auto-rickshaws spew noxious fumes and generally drive recklessly. Driving yourself is not recommended, as highway robbery is frequent.

Health & Safety

While Pakistan is generally a stable and welcoming country, it is advisable to seek advice before visiting remote areas. There is some resentment again westerners, and women should be aware that showing any skin may invite unwelcome advances (or worse) by bearded individuals. Never drink tap water, avoid posh but unfrequented restaurants and ask for mild food unless you want to breathe like a dragon.

Food & Hospitality

Modern hotels with western-style facilities can be found in most major towns, but establishments called ‘hotels’ are usually of a lower standard than ‘guesthouses’. Don’t be fooled by an impressive lobby; check out the room before checking in. Food is either mild or very spicy depending on location, and mainly consists of various kinds of kebabs eaten with either flatbread or rice. If you are a woman alone, you may prefer to buy your food take-away and eat in your room, as there can be some pretty intense staring otherwise!

Itineraries

Two weeks is the least you can get away with to enjoy some of the highlights.
Two or three days to see Karachi’s highlights and the southern coast.
Four or five days to see Lahore and the Punjab region.
A week to explore the northern mountains and do some trekking.

Extra time
Three days to see one or both of the southern national parks.
Two days to visit Islamabad, the capital city.
Another week to follow the Karakoram Highway or explore Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier province.

Highlights

Quaid-e-Azam’s Mazar Karachi: is the white marble mausoleum of the founder of Pakistan.

Lahore: is a historic, lively city with attractive pink and white marble buildings.

Kashmir: has some of the world’s highest peaks and most gorgeous scenery.

Rawalpindi: in Islamabad boasts impressive local architecture and narrow streets with bustling bazaars where craftspeople still use traditional methods.

Peshawar: is surrounded by high walls with 20 entry gates, and retains a colonial atmosphere.

Mohenjodaro: in the Sindh region dates back 5,000 years, and Thatta is famous for its mausoleums and mosques.

Activities

Cultural sightseeing: is a must, with all the pretty mosques and landmarks, beautiful scenery and intriguing ancient culture.

Trekking and camel rides: best done in the mountainous north while taking in the soaring Himalayan peaks. Watch out for farting humpbacks!

Rawal Lake: near the capital has plenty of leisure facilities for water sports and a picnic area.

Cricket and polo: matches can best be seen in the northern towns of Gilgit and Chitral.

Skiing: swoosh down the slopes at the Malam Jabba resort in the Karakoram Range.

White-water rafting and canoeing: offer thrills on the rivers in the north of the country.

Festivals & Events

Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and the dates given are approximations only. Here are some of the highlights.

September to October: Ramadan is observed by Muslims throughout the world as one of the ‘five pillars’ of Islam.
October: Lok Mela Folk Festival held at Islamabad offers folk music, songs music contests, folk dances, craftsmen at work, exhibitions and the sale of handicrafts.
November: National Horse and Cattle Show in Lahore offers cattle races and dances, a tattoo show, folk music, bands, cultural floats and folk games.
November: Shab-e-Barat, or the Night of the Tree of Extremity, when Allah is said to have descended to the lowest heaven above the earth, is celebrated.