Is it safe to travel in Afghanistan?

As of May 2023 the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against travel to the whole of Afghanistan.

Following the pull-out of all American troops in August 2021, the Afghan security forces and government immediately collapsed and the Taliban returned to power. Since then, harsh religious restrictions have been reimposed that particularly affect women and girls, rolling back years of progress. Conflict persists in several areas as Taliban forces battle those of the Islamic State. And almost all humanitarian aid from Western countries has been suspended, in conjunction with a financial crisis, which has led to widespread food shortages and famine. In short, virtually every gain of the last two decades of war and rebuilding democratic institutions has now been erased.

This is a huge country however, and security issues vary widely from region to region. Our highly experienced vacation 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. Throughout the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan from 2004 to 2001, Westerners, defence and security forces, politicians and humanitarian workers were all frequently 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 vacations. Traveling 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.

Getting around

Traveling 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 traveling to Afghanistan independently. If you are considering a trip, you should seek out a trusted and well established vacation 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 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 vacation company should inform you about any laws and customs that could affect you during your stay. Currently the legal situation is in a state flux, but there are some areas we can be sure of. The consumption of alcohol is forbidden. Homosexuality is illegal in Afghanistan, so same sex couples should act discretely. Afghan women are prohibited from traveling around the country without a male relative, and must cover their heads and wear modest clothing that covers their entire bodies Ė itís likely the same would be expected of female travelers from other countries. 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 traveling 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 vacation 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 traveling here.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: DVIDSHUB] [Intro: DVIDSHUB] [Getting around: UR-SDV]