Is it safe to travel in Afghanistan?

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against travel to the whole of Afghanistan. Although the Taliban no longer hold overall power here, they still control many provinces across the country, and the US-led war that began in 2001 is ongoing as of 2019, despite pledges to withdraw troops. However, this is a huge country and security issues vary widely from region to region. Our highly experienced holiday companies work closely with local people and can ensure that they are up to date with all developments. Itineraries are reviewed three months before departure, to establish whether amendments need to be made.

Terrorism in Afghanistan

Terrorist attacks and kidnappings of foreign nationals in Afghanistan can happen anywhere, but are concentrated on the capital, Kabul, to which the FCO advises against all but essential travel. Westerners, defence and security forces, politicians and humanitarian workers have all been targeted. While avoiding an attack is impossible anywhere in the world, in Afghanistan you can reduce risk by avoiding large gatherings, such as those found during religious holidays. Travelling in a small tour group, visiting markets at quieter times of day, avoiding driving during rush hour, and spending time in smaller villages can all help too. Ongoing conflicts affect the eastern and southern regions of the country, where we do not currently run tours.

Getting around

Travelling by road is considered dangerous; vehicles can be attacked, there have been roadside bombings and false checkpoints are common. For this reason, many of the longer journeys in our itineraries are carried out by plane Ė such as between Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat Ė and even some shorter routes, such as Kabul to Bamiyan.

We do not recommend travelling to Afghanistan independently. You should seek out a trusted and well established holiday company with several years of experience running tours, safely, in the region. Public transport as well as privately hired vehicles can be driven by unqualified and uninsured drivers, and the vehicles poorly maintained. Tour companies can verify driversí licences, ensure they are insured, and will have built up relationships with them over the years.

Marc Leaderman, from our Afghanistan specialists, Wild Frontiers:
ďOur local partner based in Kabul was responsible for handling logistics for the UN, so they know what they are doing. Theyíd never say itís 100 percent safe, because Afghanistan is never 100 percent safe, but they will very frankly say, Ďno, now is not the time to come.í And thatís what I want Ė I donít want to hear, Ďitíll all be fine.í I want someone whoís out there on to say that they are happy that they have sufficient information to be able to take sensible decisions with regards to managing risk, or that theyíre not in that position at the moment.Ē

Local laws

Your holiday company should inform you about any laws that could affect you during your stay. Homosexuality is illegal in Afghanistan, so same sex couples should act discretely. Alcohol was prohibited until recently; these days, there are some bars and hotels, particularly in Kabul, that will serve alcohol to foreigners. It is illegal to photograph government and military buildings, and in general it is always a good idea (as well as a sign of respect) to ask permission before photographing anyone. If in doubt, itís best to put your camera away.

Marc Leaderman, Wild Frontiers:
ďYou do have armed security with you, which sounds worrying but we have that in quite a few destinations, in Pakistan sometimes, in Ethiopia, so that in itself isnít worrying. Itís just the way things are in Afghanistan, you have a strong presence as youíre travelling around. Itís not the kind of trip where youíre just going to be able to have an afternoon free to go for a wander. When you go to Afghanistan you take a responsibility, itís not all about you. You canít say ĎI donít care if something happens to me,í because itís more complicated than that. If something bad happens to someone itís going to have ramifications for local people, for international relations. As a consequence we say to people that they need to be prepared to go out with the guide, with security, and to follow their instructions. You canít go out just by yourself. Youíre not banned from doing it, but those are the terms and conditions we have on those trips.Ē
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Afghanistan or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Travel insurance

If visiting any country where travel is not advised by the FCO, you will need to purchase special travel insurance. We work with Campbell Irvine Direct, who may be able to offer insurance for Afghanistan. This could cover accidents and sickness, for example, but not incidents relating to the travel warnings, such as kidnappings or terrorist attacks. Find out more about the FCO and travel insurance. Citizens of countries other than the UK will need to consult their own government advice and seek suitable insurance before travelling here.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: DVIDSHUB] [Intro: DVIDSHUB] [Getting around: UR-SDV]