Considering the tense atmosphere that dominates the country since 2001, there are few people who have the courage to think about going to Afghanistan for their vacation.
Although Afghanistan has some amazing tourist attractions, like Band-e-Amir National Park, Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (both of them included on UNESCO World Heritage List) and the Blue Mosque, people are strongly advised to avoid traveling there.
However, if you still dream of visiting this country in spite of the war and of the huge potential to be badly injured, this article aims to present you some tips to come back home alive.
So, supposing you care about your life at least 10%, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office says you should stay far from all the following provinces: Jowzjan; Kunar; Nangahar; Laghman; Ghazni; Paktika; Paktiya; Logar Wardak; Kandahar; Uruzgan; Laghman; Zabul; Helmand; Nimroz; Badghis; Nuristan; Farah; Faryab; Badakhshan; Baghlan; Kapisa; Kunduz; Khost and Takhar.
Also, these specific districts should be erased from your list of "places to see in Afghanistan" : Surobi district in Kabul; Charikar City, Bagram, Ghorband/Siaghird, Jabal Saraj, Kohi Saraj, Salang, Sayed Khel and Shinwari districts in Parwan; Gizab and Kajran districts in Daikundi; Dolina/ Du Layna and Pasaband districts in Ghor; Shindand district in Herat; Chaharbolak, Chamtal/Chimtal, Daulat Abad/Dawalatabad, Hairatan Port, Kaldar and Shortipa/Shur Tapa/Shor Tepah districts in Balkh and Sar-e-Pul City, Sayad districts in Sar-e-Pul.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Afghanistan
Overall Risks in Afghanistan: EXTRA HIGH
Travel.State.Gov (the official site of the U.S Department of State- Bureau of Consular Affairs) places Afghanistan on the fourth (the highest) level of the scale of the general danger at which a person is exposed when visiting a foreign country.
In more simple words, they want to draw potential tourists’ attention to the fact that they should not travel there due to the extremely large number of crimes, terrorist attacks and armed conflicts.
In the areas reminded above (and not only) people are daily kidnapped, taken hostage, killed by bombs, grenades or other improvised explosive devices.
Foreigners (peculiarly westerners) are more exposed to these dangers. The embassies, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, schools, airports and all crowded places are targeted by terrorist groups.
The worst thing is that they usually attack without any warning. Despite the government's efforts to protect the spaces frequented by many people such as markets/shopping malls, important tourist locations and transportation hubs, nobody can guarantee your safety.
Just to make an idea, more than 2000 people were killed monthly in the first part of 2018, and their number increases as we approach the present.
As a potential tourist, you should know that on 20 January this year there has been an elaborate attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul which ended up with the death of around 20 persons. Also, just a few months ago, on 2 August, 3 foreigners were kidnapped and assassinated in the capital.
Taking into account this information, you should do the following things before leaving your home:
- If you have a family, but you plan to travel alone (which would be the best idea), talk (just in case) with your life partner about the care/ custody of children, pets, property, belongings and other valuable items and also about your funeral wishes.
- Give your relatives/ close friends data about important documents, bank accounts, login information to different sites etc. so that if you don't return on time (or eventually you never return), they can manage your work projects and affairs.
- If you are a public figure, present your travel itinerary to a loyal, trusted person who can verify from time to time your current state. Try not to talk about your movement plans with strangers.
- Procure yourself a travel health insurance from a company which operates in Afghanistan.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in Afghanistan: HIGH
Hoping you will not be shot or injured in any other way, there are still huge chances to be robbed. Petty theft and pickpocketing happen all around the country, having a higher frequency in Kabul.
Don't expect to ever see your stolen goods again, as the local police have enough trouble with more serious problems like assassinations, bomb attacks and so on.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Afghanistan?
Unless you don't want to be a perfect target for thieves, try to keep your valuables, money, acts hidden in secret pockets under your clothes. If your hotel has a safe, leave most of your important stuff there and take only the bare essentials with you.
Don't keep your jewelry, money, devices exposed.
Avoid crowded places and trust your instincts. Every time you feel someone is looking suspiciously at you, try to leave the area as quick as you can.
Remember that in Afghanistan thieves and pickpockets don't act "gently" like in other states. They are armed and ready to kill in case you try to stop them. Thus, if you feel somebody pickpocketing you or you're sure you are on the point to be robbed and you know you don't have enough time to run in a safe place, better just let the thief do his job, this way you have more chances to not be hurt.
Scam Risk in Afghanistan: LOW
The good news is that there are not many scammers in this country. The bad news is that this happens not because Afghanistan is a safe place, but on the contrary, its situation is so bad that offenders do not strive to fool you with complicated techniques.
If they want your money or your goods they simply steal them. As I have already mentioned, they are often armed and if you try to oppose their intention, you risk to be badly wounded.
However, there is a famous scam used by the (very few) ones who don't like the idea of hurting somebody. Usually, these guys speak English extremely well and they pretend to be US soldiers who need money to return home. They ask people for financial support, promising them that as soon as they arrive at their home they will return them to you. Obviously, this never happens.
- How to avoid getting scammed in Afghanistan?
Ideally, you'd want to avoid anyone that is trying to approach you - just by politely refusing them, and hoping that they don't have criminal intentions, you can easily get out of trouble. If you engage with someone into a conversation, it is better if you don't let your compassion/ empathy get the best of you and donate/ offer money to them.
As mentioned, just ignore anyone that's trying to either sell you something or approach you for a specific thing. Still, scamming is not something you should worry about too much as there are not too many people in Afghanistan that engage in such activities, so to say.
Kidnapping Risk: MEDIUM to HIGH
Especially when it comes to people who are central figures in the journalistic/ business fields, the risk of being kidnapped while traveling in Afghanistan is huge, as the Taliban want to underline their power for the whole world.
Anyway, all tourists are exposed to the possibility of being kidnapped, as the plans of the terrorists are unpredictable. Since 2001, more than one hundred westerners have been kidnapped in this country.
The biggest number of foreigner kidnappings was recorded in the country's capital, Kabul.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in Afghanistan?
If you know yourself as being an important figure for your country and you're sure you want to take the risks and visit Afghanistan, maybe you should think about employing a security guard to protect you.
Don't talk in public about your plans. Stay far from routine movements.
Don't walk alone in suspicious areas.
Terrorism Risk in Afghanistan: EXTRA HIGH
Afghanistan is known around the world as a war zone, where a lot of terrorist attacks happen extremely often. Despite the NATO's efforts to keep the terrorist activity under control, the country is still affected by the violent actions of the members of Taliban movement and of ISIS.
Though recent news announces that the U.S. forces have killed the head of the Afghan branch of ISIS, it's hard to believe that the terrorist activity of this group in this country will end. And still remain the Taliban.
Daily, multiple threats are launched.
Terrorists frequently conduct deadly attacks against Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and also against most foreigners, especially against westerners, who are main targets. They don't even respect the Green Zone from Kabul. The capital is by far one of the most unsafe places in the whole country.
Terrorist attacks include bombing, indirect and direct fires, violent crime and kidnappings.
- How to avoid terrorism in Afghanistan?
Avoid visiting the capital and, in particular, avoid crowded areas from there. Also stay away from public gathers, hotels frequented by the western ministers or military establishments.
Don't spend too much time at the airport. That's one of the favorite places of terrorists.
Buy what you need from stalls and small shops.
Use clothes similar to the locals' and try to stay close to Muslim tourist groups if you have the opportunity to do so.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in Afghanistan: HIGH
As you probably know, Afghanistan is an ultra-conservative country dominated by the Islamic law. Generally, women have little rights in this country.
Many females don't even report the fact they have been physically abused because they are afraid of being stigmatized. Usually, when a woman is raped, it is considered that it was her fault.
In the light of the status occupied by females in the Afghan society, it's not hard to imagine how foreign solo women are treated. Walking on your own in the most part of the country, it's like searching for trouble, as you will be extremely vulnerable to theft and rape.
The only area which is a little bit safer is Wakhan Corridor.
Widely, Afghanistan is not safe for women traveling alone.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in Afghanistan?
Never ever walk outside after the sunset. This gesture will be interpreted like asking for rape.
Use camouflage. Dress exactly like the local women. Cover your head and your body.
Don't do your makeup and don’t wear jewelry, as they will draw people's attention to you.
Rape Risk in Afghanistan: MEDIUM
Rape in Afghanistan can be seen as a serious issue, but only in the case of the locals, especially those from remote areas. There are little to no reports of foreigners/ tourists being sexually assaulted and most statistics tell only of such incidents taking place in the country's rural areas. For example, there have been 160 cases of rape in 2012 in Afghanistan, with most of them occurring in rural areas.
Naturally, local women are mostly targeted and, in many cases, they are forced to marry their attacker in order to restore honor to their family.
In short, while the risks for foreigners are not that high, you still risk being raped while in Afghanistan, especially if you don't comply with the local laws and customs. Obviously, you also have to take some basic protection measures in order to avoid and prevent such things from happening to you.
- How to avoid getting raped in Afghanistan?
As mentioned before, it is important that you approach a decent dress code and that you do not travel alone in the evening and during the night. In terms of dress code, we recommend outfits that resemble as close as possible the usual ones the women in Afghanistan wear. Be simple and humble - have a simple outfit with no jewelry or make up on you; keep all of your belongings in a backpack or a purse and avoid flashing them if you are not accompanied or in a small group.
Risks for People Traveling with Children in Afghanistan: HIGH
Depending on the lows in your country, you may not be allowed to take your children with you in Afghanistan. Moreover, if you intend to travel without the other parent, you have to bring documentary evidence that you are a responsible parent.
In general, it's pretty hard to obtain a visa for Afghanistan for your kids. And this doesn't happen randomly.
Assuming that you have all your documents done, you still should think twice before exposing your children to such high risks.
Besides the danger presented by the terrorist attacks, you shall know that in Afghanistan medical facilities are very limited.
In a statistic study effectuated by United Nations Development Programme, Afghanistan occupies the 16th place on the list of countries with a low human development, being annually affected by a huge number of infant and childhood deaths.
In other words, the last 40 years of almost continuous war have ruined the healthcare infrastructure.
Many hospitals on the territory of the country are poorly equipped and have a lack of equipment and doctors, so if your child is hurt, there are little chances he will get the same medical care as in a developed, modern country.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
You are strongly advised to take a wide range of medicines with you for the period you'll be visiting Afghanistan. Disinfectant and bandages should have their place in your luggage. Teach your kids the basic rules in case of a terrorist attack. Also, make sure you know them well.
Natural Disaster Risks in Afghanistan: HIGH
Afghanistan is placed in a zone with a high potential for seismic activity. During the last 18 years, around nine earthquakes have affected the country.
More than half of the people who annually die because of natural disasters are killed by earthquakes. Other frequent natural disasters are flooding, landslides, extreme temperatures, storms and avalanches. However, as earthquakes are unpredictable, you should learn the main safely procedures for this kind of unwanted events.
To avoid floods and extreme temperatures, plan your vacation for the first part of autumn. This is the best season to travel in Afghanistan (from the weather perspective).
If you are unlucky a natural disaster occurs while you are there, you should closely follow the instructions of the local authorities.
In conclusion, there is no place in Afghanistan you can be totally safe. However, the tips above may be of great help.
If you are an adventurer and you enjoy risky travels, then visiting this country might be a good idea for you. Otherwise, maybe it's time to change your mind.
Transportation Risks in Afghanistan: HIGH
Road travel is considered to be very dangerous in Afghanistan, mostly because insurgents are known to set up false checkpoints and carry out rather violent attacks from them. Because of this, the number of fatal roadside bombings as well as of attacks on both civilian and military vehicles keeps in rising.
When traveling, you also risk being robbed or carjacked, especially during the night and on the roads that connect major cities.
In terms of public transport, this is considered dangerous too. Long distance buses, as well as taxis, are mostly poorly maintained, driven by drivers that are not properly qualified, and uninsured. Even private transport usually comes with drivers that are neither insured nor qualified. It is recommended that any long distance journeys are carried out by air whenever possible.
Moreover, given the fact that you risk being attacked by criminals and insurgents in almost any location, it is recommended that you employ secure transport that comes with close protection as well. You should rely on only reputable guides and local drivers if you want to engage in any trips outside of the city you are accommodated in. Depending on the areas you want to visit, you may want to consider using armored vehicles.
Driving is not recommended in Afghanistan as a tourist. The roads here are in a very poor condition and, given that most drivers are uninsured and unqualified, the risk of road accidents is quite high. There is also the risk that, after a collision - even a minor one -, the other driver may threaten or attack you.
Traveling around Afghanistan should be done based only on professional security advice. A team of personal security is almost mandatory, depending on the number of areas you want to visit as well as their average risk. In case of any type of trip, you should maintain telephone or radio contact in order to report your movements and avoid posting your schedule on social media or such. Large gatherings and protests are to be avoided at all costs.
Also, probably the most important reason why you should avoid driving and traveling at all throughout Afghanistan is the presence of large amounts of un-exploded land mines and bombs.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in Afghanistan: HIGH
If you are traveling to Afghanistan, you might want to avoid any type of night-clubs, pubs, and bars - entirely! These will be frequented mostly by locals which are not keen on meeting foreigners, so to say. Moreover, you might not be able to find a night-club/ bar that is on par with the ones you have back home - actually, you might not find such facilities at all, depending on the area you are accommodated in.
Naturally, drink spiking or any other mischievous ways people could try take advantage of you should be the least of your worries. In Afghanistan it is most likely that someone that wants to rob you will just approach and assault you.
If you do manage to find such locations, we recommend you to visit them only accompanied by either fellow travelers or a trusted guide. Also, when returning to your accommodation, rely only on reputed transport companies - rather than hailing down a taxi on the street, you should call for one using a phone number provided by your accommodation or by trusted sources.
Health Risks in Afghanistan
When it comes to health risks, you have to be aware of the fact that diarrhoeal diseases, gastrointestinal infections, respiratory tuberculosis, and malaria are present in Afghanistan. There's also the risk of irritation during winter and summer, mainly due to the dry dusty conditions - it is recommended that you protect your eyes, mouth/ throat, nose, and skin in dusty environment.
Malaria is present in almost all regions but the high mountainous regions of Afghanistan and during the winter.
Now, in terms of medical facilities, it is said that they are very limited and that cannot provide patients with certain types of treatment. It is recommended that, before visiting Afghanistan, you make sure to bring with you all the medication you might need during your trip, as supplies are most likely unavailable here.
Naturally, we recommend you to travel with proper travel health insurance and with enough funds to cover the costs of any medicine or treatment that you might have to take/ be subject to. The emergency medical assistance number is 112 and 020 112 (available only in Kabul, from mobile). If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment or such, it is advised that you contact your insurance company as soon as possible.
List of Vaccines You Need in Afghanistan
Naturally, before traveling to any foreign country, it is important that you inform yourself as to which vaccines you need to take - each country comes with its own diseases, viruses that you need to protect yourself form. Also, it is recommended that, with at least eight weeks before your trip, you visit your doctor and check the country-specific health advice so that you know exactly which protection measures you'll need to take as well as if there are any changes to the vaccines you need to get.
Here is a list of the vaccines that you currently need to get before traveling to Afghanistan:
- Routine Vaccines
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow Fever
Most Dangerous Areas in Afghanistan
- Kapisa; Nangahar; Kunar; Nuristan; Khost; Laghman.
- Kabul's Surobi District
- Ghor; Salang; Sayed Khel; Balkh.
This map showcases exactly which areas you should avoid visiting. In short, most of Afghanistan should be avoided, especially if you travel in small groups and for pleasure only. It is highly advised that you stick to the tourist-designated areas and that you don't explore the country on your own.
Concluding Remarks: Is Afghanistan Safe to Visit?
Well, as you may have noticed so far, Afghanistan can be quite the challenge for any tourist, be them experienced or novice. It is important that, before you travel to this country, you take your time and assess the risks that come with it - under no circumstances should you travel alone and, if you do, a personal protection security group is highly recommended.
If you are aiming for a trip for pleasure, then Afghanistan is not the country you want to find yourself in. We recommend you to either reconsider your destination or wait until the country's situation gets more stable.