If you’re at all familiar with what makes blogs grow, then you’ll know a thing or two about SEO and keywords. And if you’re not, it’s okay. It basically just means that you need to write about certain things in your niche, and use specific phrases over and over in order to bring more traffic to your blog or your site.
Why am I opening a blog about traveling Pakistan with information about SEO and keywords?
I’m doing this as a sentiment to just how important this post is to me. Because, I think it goes without saying that writing about Pakistan isn’t exactly “on brand” for me, and the keywords I’m usually focusing on here.
Well, I guess I’m also about marching to the beat of my own drum- which might have been the reason I ended up in Pakistan in the first place. So maybe it is on brand, after all.
So, let’s dive into it, shall we?
Why Travel to Pakistan?
I went to Pakistan in 2018 for 6 weeks. Over the years, countless people have asked me:
And my answer tends to surprise them.
Anyone else a Homeland fan? I was obsessed with that show back then, and when I saw season 4 (I think it was) take place in Pakistan- something just went off in me, and I knew I needed to go there.
Did I look into if it was actually even filmed in Pakistan?
Did the show paint Pakistan in a positive light?
Not at all.
This is why people usually give me a strange look when I say watching Homeland made me want to go to Pakistan, but that’s just the truth of it.
How to Travel Pakistan as an American Tourist
The seed was planted in 2017, and once it was in there- I couldn’t let it go.
I started furiously googling, trying to figure out how to make it work. Like the show, many articles online weren’t exactly encouraging US tourists to travel to Pakistan.
But the blogger world was a different story.
In the bloggosphere I found the off-beat travelers who had been to Pakistan multiple times, who had moved there, who had fallen in love with the country the way I knew I would, too.
All of them said the same thing:
It’s not easy to get here. But it’s well worth the trouble.
I don’t need to go over my logistics in excruciating detail, because a quick Google search just told me that Pakistan now accepts tourist visas for Americans through a fully online system. So, going over the ins and outs of my process won’t be super helpful for you anymore (sorry, I’m about 5 years late with this info, btw).
What I will say is this, you’re damn lucky that it’s all online now. Especially for travelers such as myself who don’t live in the States anymore.
Because I had to travel back to the US to go to the Pakistan consulate in my region (Los Angeles), which was a pretty far trek from the tiny island in the Philippines where I was currently living. Plus, pretty dang expensive, too (the flight plus lodging and a rental car in LA).
I had to have an appointment with the Pakistan consulate well in advance for an in-person interview to see if I could get a visa granted. I interviewed with the guy for TWO HOURS, and still ended up just begging for it in the end, because he really didn’t want to give it to me.
I can’t remember how much the visa cost, but I want to say it was between $250-$300, which is also quite pricey for a visa (especially for a travel on a shoestring budget, such as myself).
But I didn’t care. I was determined. And if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that my mind can have the same lockjaw of a Pitbull. Once I latch onto something, I won’t let it go until the plan is in motion.
I’d saved and researched for this trip endlessly. I wasn’t going to let some dude in an office deny my visa.
The main reason he didn’t want me to have it was because I was a single woman traveling. However, I wasn’t traveling alone. My boyfriend at the time was going to meet me in Pakistan, but he’s Australian- so he wasn’t with me in the office. The consulate couldn’t seem to understand this even though I told him time and time again.
I know you’re wondering if I would’ve gone to Pakistan alone as a single, White female traveler. The answer is yes. That was my original plan.
My boyfriend had no desire to go to Pakistan at all.
And when I told him I wanted to go, he just gave me a strange stare.
“I’m going with or without you,” I told him matter of factly.
He knew about the whole Pitbull mind thing, so he knew how serious I was.
“I’m not letting you go alone,” he said.
To which I promptly rolled my eyes in response.
It’s not that I didn’t want to go with him. It was more that I didn’t think I needed him in order to go, ya know?
Regardless, he was coming.
And the trip planning commenced.
He had his whole process of getting an application through his Australian government (which required a few hoops to jump through, although not as bad as mine). And I planned the entire trip.
Lonely Planet didn’t even have a Pakistan book at the time (they do now), so I bought some travel blogger guy’s book from his site. And, I will say, it was a huge help.
I organized a motorbike rental for us, as the majority of our time there we’d be traveling by motorbike through the mountains.
I booked a few hotels through the phone numbers listed in the book. And it was a good thing I did! Because the few times I didn’t, we were stranded in the rain for hours.
Him and I were both easy travelers, and fine flying by the seat of our pants. But in Pakistan, it was different. We needed to have plans and bookings, and a really good understanding of our surroundings, as we knew we wouldn’t have much service there- so we’d have to rely on books, maps, and screenshots.
What to Pack Traveling Pakistan
It really depends where you’re going, and the season you’re going. We went in July, and spent most of our time up North in the mountains.
When you’re lower than the Northern region, it’s going to be hot as Hades (especially Karachi), which means you’ll want light, fully covered clothing.
You will absolutely need to wear loose pants. Ditch the yoga leggings, unless you’re hiking in a pretty remote area and you can get by.
Shoulders need to be covered at all times, preferably full sleeves to the wrists.
However, a great hack for coverage is to come with a few sarongs, or large, lightweight scarves. I would drape them over my shoulders to more fully cover my arms, or tie them around my waist like a skirt if I had leggings on during a hike.
What else to pack:
Good hiking shoes
Sun hat & beanie
Poncho (especially if you’re traveling by bike)
Layers (weather changes drastically in the mountains!)
Tampons or feminine care products
Do I need to cover my hair?
Again, it totally depends on the region. There are some conservative areas that you absolutely need to cover your hair. The same goes if you plan on entering any mosques.
However, in most places, you do not.
Best Places To Visit in Pakistan
There wasn’t one area we went that I didn’t like. Truly.
And I still feel like after 6 weeks, and many stops, we only scratched the surface of what this country has to offer.
We didn’t go anywhere south of Lahore, so I can’t speak to that region.
This city is intoxicating. You’ll definitely want to pass through on your way in or out.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a big city person, so I’m good with just a few nights on either end of my trip. This is where we flew in and out of, and made the most of the city while we were there.
Definitely visit the Badshahi Mosque. It’s stunning.
This is the jumping off point for the mountain region. There’s an airport here where you can take a flight from Lahore or Islamabad (highly recommend the flight). On the way there, we traveled Lahore to Islamabad, Islamabad to Gilgit all overland, and it was A LOT.
Gilgit is also where you can rent a motorbike with Karakoram Bikers (this is who we used), as well as a few other companies who have popped up more recently. Make sure you get a good bike! It will inevitably break down throughout your travels, so try to get the best quality as possible to start.
The town itself is more of a place to pass through, and suit up before heading into the mountains.
Karimabad, Hunza Valley
Driving from Gilgit to Karimabad is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Well, I guess that can be said about the entire Karakoram Highway (which we drove all the way up to the Chinese border).
Karimabad is stunning. So quaint, and quiet, with the kindest people. There’s also great shopping there for all things jewels, scarves, and textiles.
I wish I could remember the name of the hotel where we stayed, but all I remember are all of the apricot trees everywhere, and the hotel manager telling us we could have as many as we wanted during our stay.
As two vegans in a meat-happy country, this was like music to our ears. We probably ate about 10 apricots a day for the entire time we were there.
Highly recommend visiting Attabad Lake while you’re in Karimabad. Definitely take your own boat onto the lake. It’s gorgeous. Hot tip: try to go on a weekday to avoid crowds of local tourists escaping the heat.
We fell in love with Passu, plain and simple. So much so, we ended up extending our stay time and time again, because we didn’t want to leave.
This time I can actually give you a hotel recommendation (I looked in my email for reference, otherwise I wouldn’t have remembered it).
Passu Ambassador Hotel
Not only is it a great location, but the family who owns it is so incredibly kind. They take great care of the guests, and hook you up with local tips for hiking.
Highly recommend the Passu glacier hike, Hussaini Bridge hike, Glacier Batura, and Shimshal village. Most of all, one of the things we loved most about Passu was just wandering out into the wilderness to explore on our own.
You could go out for hours and hours, and only see a few wild goats. No people. Nothing.
Just make sure to bring plenty of water. You won’t have cell service, so also make sure you know where you’re going (we got lost a few times). Bring snacks, too. Although there are a lot of apricots along the way, you really shouldn’t take them if they’re not offered to you.
We were honestly a bit gutted to leave Passu, but we also knew we wanted to see more of the country- so we finally decided to head to Astor.
This was the scariest part of the trip for us, and it was only because of road conditions and rain.
The drive took 6 or 7 hours, instead of the estimated 4. And we slipped and slid all over narrow mountain roads with mud up to knees. It was scary at times. And we were frozen to the bone by the time we arrived. But it was so worth it.
This is a place you’ll want to book a hotel in advance, because there aren’t a ton of options. It’s a lot more remote up there, and there’s few places to stay. We stayed somewhere just outside of the main park, because we had the bike.
My greatest memories of Astore were walking the streets of the village where we stayed, and being stopped every five seconds by locals insisting we come to their house for chai. They were so kind, and so hospitable.
And the landscape was incredible. Highly recommend:
Mini Rama Lake
Deosai National Park
All in all, I have to say that my time in Pakistan goes down as my favorite place in the world. And I’ve traveled a lot.
When people ask me why, the thing that comes to mind is the majesty of the mountains, and the kindness of the people. Pakistan, like many countries, has a complicated history (and present moment). And maybe that’s why it sneaks up and surprises you the way that it does.
I will never forget driving hundreds of miles along the Karakoram Highway on a motorbike for 6 weeks straight. My colorful bag, and well-used yoga mat were strapped to the back of the bike- inevitably speckled with mud, matching my toes…and my face.
I love being surprised. I love challenging myself. I love adventure.
These are all things Pakistan.