I spent roughly the entire month of October and the beginning of November 2023 travelling around Afghanistan. Was it worth visiting? Absolutely! Was it stress-free? Certainly not. While I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for a family holiday, Afghanistan is possible to visit, and for the adventurous, it’s likely to be one of your most rewarding trips. But is Afghanistan safe to visit? After all, the Taliban now controls the country. What was my experience like with them? In this blog I hope to cover these topics.
“Now is the safest time to visit Afghanistan in the last 40 years!”
I stand by this statement. It certainly isn’t the safest country in the world. ISIS still has a rural presence and bombings still do occasionally occur. However, this is the safest Afghanistan has been to visit since the Soviet invasion in late 1970s. That’s because the war has finally ended. Before the Taliban takeover, coming across the Taliban in the country was one of the risks that a traveller might face. Many foreigners were kidnapped, killed etc. However, with the Taliban now in control and seeking international recognition, their motives have changed. They are the ones protecting you and, in fact, they are actually encouraging international tourism.
So, is Afghanistan safe? Well, it’s certainly safer than before.
How did the Taliban treat me?
In general, most Taliban members were respectful and on many occasions even hospitable with us, offering us food, tea and even accommodation (though we didn’t take up this offer). However, my travel partner, Anna, was mostly ignored by them, as she was a female. In one specific circumstance, when trying to get special approval for a female to visit Band E Amir lake (currently banned for women), the man in charge of giving permission even refused to meet with us, simply because he didn’t want to be in the room with a lady… at least that’s how it seemed!
However, I do believe that my interactions with the Taliban were made easier because I can speak intermediate Farsi. Dari (a dialect of Farsi) is the most widely spoken language in Afghanistan, and many Taliban members know how to speak it. As such, they tend to get quite happy simply at the prospect of being able to communicate with me. Furthermore, I learned some basic Pashto greetings (the native language of most Taliban members) which definitely made them feel more comfortable in my presence.
Did anything bad happen whilst you were there?
One incident with the Taliban occurred when Anna was feeling car sick and decided to sit on the front seat beside the driver. While this was not at all an issue at most Taliban checkpoints, one certain checkpoint did have an issue with it. It ridiculous to him that a woman was sitting in the front seat, and also sitting beside an unrelated man (the driver). Scandalous! So, he ended up calling Taliban intelligence. After a non-violent confrontation and rude behaviour with our Afghan friends, they let us go. It potentially could have ended up worse (temporary detention etc.). It’s important to keep in mind, though, that such experiences are the exception, rather than the norm.
Furthermore, two bombing attacks happened in the country whilst we were there, both in areas that we travelled to (though not at the time of bombing). Both attacks were directed towards the Shia Hazara people, with the first targeting a mosque in Pol e Khomri city, and another targeting a gym in Dasht e Barchi area of Kabul. I believe both attacks were attributed to ISIS. Such events do make you worry, but they are still so much more rare than they were before the Taliban takeover. Afghanistan is not 100% safe but it is getting so much better.
As annoying as Afghan bureaucracy is, it is essential to get permits for every province that you want to visit. It took us hours and hours to complete this process in Kabul (for free). You can learn about how to do that on this website. Travelling without the correct permits is risky and there are stories of travellers that have been detained by the Taliban for lengthy periods of time for this reason.
Officially, you should first obtain permits from the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kabul. Then, once you arrive in the province, you should register with their regional branch. However, in most cases, we didn’t register upon arrival in the provinces, and simply showing the permit from Kabul was sufficient. This doesn’t mean that I recommend this – just because we got away with it doesn’t mean that everybody will!
What can I do to minimize the risks?
Firstly, I believe it’s better to try to blend in. Or, if that’s not possible, at least try not to stick out toooo much. For men, this means buying Afghan clothes and perhaps limiting your time in public when walking around with a backpack. For women, this means wearing conservative clothing and letting your male travel companion take charge of most social interactions. This might not sound ideal, but it’s the done thing in Afghanistan.
Secondly, I believe it’s smart to register yourself with the Taliban’s Ministry of Culture and Information in every province you visit. This will ensure that you won’t get in trouble with local authorities. Furthermore, it will make Taliban security forces aware of your movements, so they can keep you safe if need be. The reason that we didn’t always register was because we were sick of the bureaucracy. Waiting in offices for hours on end isn’t so fun.
Thirdly, if you’re not experienced with dealing with such complicated and conservative societies and perhaps you don’t have any Persian/Pashto language skills, then it’s probably a good idea to get a guide. A good local guide will always ensure that you are safe. They will also make sure that interactions with the Taliban all go smoothly.
If you take these points into account, then I believe that for you, Afghanistan is safe.
I want a guide in Afghanistan. Who do you recommend?
I personally recommend Explore Afghanistan Tour Agency. I met with their owner and employees in Kabul, and they were very professional and knowledgeable. Oh, and also, super fun! Furthermore, visiting Afghanistan with them is safe.
You can contact them on their Facebook page by clicking this link, or by messaging them on WhatsApp on the following number:
Tell them that you read Xavi’s blog and I’m sure you’ll get a good price.
Don’t forget to follow my journey on Instagram! @travelling_the_unknown