Hiking in Afghanistan!

Update 01.09.21: Due to the withrawl of US and allied troops, and the subsequent takeover by the Taliban, we no longer recommend travelling to Afghanistan.

One of the most unlikely places that you would consider going to for a hiking holiday must be Afghanistan. Plagued by conflict and totalitarian governments for the past 35 years, Afghanistan is not likely to be on your top 10 places to visit. However, the now democratic government have started taking steps to make Afghanistan a tourist destination. The creation of the Band-e-Amir National Park could open the way to adventure travel and hiking holidays in the spectacular and remote countryside of central Afghanistan. Additionally, through International Mountain Day the United Nations is seeking to bring sustainable tourism to many mountain communities worldwide. This in turn will help to stabilise mountain regions where there is conflict.

Stunning scenery in the Band-e-Amir National Park.
Stunning scenery in the Band-e-Amir National Park. Photo credit: Alex Dehgan/Wildlife Conservation Society

Band-e-Amir National Park Afghanistan

With the help of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency is setting up the Band-e-Amir National Park. The park will protect the beautiful landscape, lakes and wildlife in the region of the Bamiyan Valley, in Central Afghanistan. The Bamiyan valley is famous for the caves and huge Bhuddist statues which were destroyed by the Taliban.

At its core, Band-e-Amir is an Afghan initiative supported by the international community. It is a park created for Afghans, by Afghans, for the new Afghanistan

said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, WCS President and CEO.

The Band-e-Amir region was once home to many species including snow leopards. Wildlife that still survives in the region include a species of wild goat called the ibex, a type of wild sheep called the urial, wolves, foxes, smaller mammals and fish. Bird species living in the national park include the Afghan snow finch which it is thought, does not exist outside Afghanistan.

Thousands of Afghan tourists visit the Band-e-Amir and so to do foreigners currently living in Afghanistan. The Band-e-Amir was a popular destination for foreign travellers between the 1950s and 1970s.

The scenery of the Band-e-Amir national park consists of remote mountainous regions, plateaux and six deep blue lakes, making it an excellent place to travel for an adventure hiking holiday. The countryside is not that dissimilar to that of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, where is it possible go on hiking holidays.

Adventure Travel in Afghanistan

Adventure holidays in Afghanistan are now a possibility. A 17 day tour is available from ResponsibleTravel.com. The tour will take you to many interesting places, including Kabul, the country’s capital, Herat in the extreme West of Afghanistan, Mazar-I-Sharif in the North, which is the home of the magnificent Shrine of Hazrat Ali (Blue Mosque), and of course the impressive Bamiyan Valley.

Responsible Travel work with independent Afghan nationals who provide vehicles and are tour guides, as well as supporting organisations such as Adopt-A-Minefield, who clear land mines, and Climate Care, who invest in projects which will reduce carbon emissions.

  • The Blue Mosque at Mazar-I-Sharif
    The beautiful Blue Mosque at Mazar-I-Sharif. Source: ResponsibleTravel.com
  • Landmine warning sign. A stark reminder of the dangerous situation in Afghanistan.
    Landmine warning sign. A stark reminder of the dangerous situation in Afghanistan. Source: Flickr by Oleg1975.

Advice on planning expeditions to the Wakhan Corridor in the North East of Afghanistan is available from Mountain Unity International, who specialise in mountaineering and climbing in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Facts

Afghanistan is possibly most famous for being the country at the top of the drop down list when you have to select your country on websites. Some interesting facts about Afghanistan, courtesy of the CIA World Factbook, are as follows:

  • Afghanistan is located in southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, east of Iran.
  • The total area of Afghanistan is 647,500 sq km, about the same size as France.
  • Independence from British control was gained in 1919. Afghanistan was a democracy until 1973.
  • The Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan for 10 years from 1979 to 1989.
  • The Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001.
  • Hamid Karzai was democratically elected president of Afghanistan in December 2004.
  • The population of Afghanistan is estimated at 33.6 million. We are not sure if this figure includes Osama Bin Laden.
  • The Average life expectancy for an Afghan is only 44.6 years.
  • The estimated number of internet users in 2007 was 580,000 and the top level domain for Afghanistan is .af.
  • Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient for heroin.
  • Afghanistan is a mountainous country with the highest peaks in the Pamirs and Hindu Kush rising to more than 6,600 m.

With high mountains in the north and semi-arid or desert regions in the south west, Afghanistan is country with extremes of temperature. The climate is effected by the Mediterranean sea and therefore is similar to the continental climate system. So don’t forget to pack your shorts, sunblock, insulated jacket and waterproofs!

  • Afghanistan Countryside.
    Afghanistan Countryside. Source: Flickr by Afghan LORD.
  • Earthy Coloured Mountains in Afghanistan. Source: ResponsibleTravel.com
    Earthy Coloured Mountains in Afghanistan. Source: ResponsibleTravel.com

Whilst there is obviously lots of adventure and excitement to be had in Afghanistan, the benefits of wild camping in the UK should not be over looked, and nor should a good hike in the Lake District!

It is also worth noting that at the time of writing this post, 5th May 2009, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advise against travel to Afghanistan and state that:

Visitors travelling to Afghanistan do so at their own risk and without protection from HMG [Her Majesty’s Government].

However, in the future Afghanistan may well become a popular choice for adventurous hikers!


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