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The Ultimate Guide to Traveling the Karakoram Highway
Some call it the 8th wonders of the world, the Karakoram Highway (KKH) is an ancient Silk Road turned international highway that connects Pakistan and the entire Indian subcontinent to China. It has been traversed by traders and curious travelers alike for many centuries as the route goes through the 3 highest and most beautiful mountain ranges in the world, the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush.
With this guide, you can be one of those curious travelers to travel one of the most beautiful roads in the world. Here is everything you need to know to travel the Karakoram Highway in 2 weeks.Table of Contents
- Karakoram Highway Itinerary Map
- Pakistan Travel Video
- Why Travel to the Karakoram Highway
- When to Travel to Karakoram Highway
- Where to Stay Along the Karakoram Highway
- Internet Along the Karakoram Highway
- Travel Insurance
- How to Get to the Karakoram Highway
- Transportation Along the Karakoram Highway
- 2 Weeks Karakoram Highway Itinerary
- Further Reading for Pakistan
Karakoram Highway Itinerary Map
Pakistan Travel Video
Why Travel to the Karakoram Highway
It is the world's greatest road and one of the highest in the world with the highest point (Khunjerab Pass) at 4,880 m above sea level. Along both sides of the road, you will constantly be bombarded with unobstructed views of the stunning valleys and colossal mountains such as Nanga Parbat and Rakaposhi throughout the 800+ km stretch.
You will also go through many villages with different ethnic groups and cultures, allowing you to see how diverse of the people of Pakistan is.
If you are looking to go on a road trip in a really off the beaten path places, Karakoram Highway should be at the top of your bucket list!
When to Travel to Karakoram Highway
Karakoram Highway is one of the highest international highways in the world with the highest point of 4,880 m and so some parts of the highway are often closed off during winter due to snow. Planning on when to go is essential if you want to traverse the entire highway and so I would recommend visiting during the months of May to October.
I was there in early October and the weather was moderate during the day and a bit chilly at night but the sky was clear 90% of the time. To avoid the crowds (local tourists), I would recommend visiting outside of the midsummer months of June to August.
Where to Stay Along the Karakoram Highway
Islamabad - Jasmine Inn - 25 USD/Night (Double Room)
Gilgit - Madina Hotel 2 - 11 USD/Night (Double Room) - Located in the quiet area of Gilgit. They have beautiful courtyard where you can sit and enjoy your breakfast. Clean rooms with hot shower and air-conditioning.
Fairy Meadows - Greenland Resort - 11 USD/Night (Double Room)
Minapin - Diran Guesthouse - 15 USD/Night (Double Room + Hot Shower)
Karimabad - Old Hunza inn - 11 USD/Night (Double Room)
Passu - Passu Tourist Lodge - 17 USD/Night (Double Room) - Do not book it online as the price listed is more expensive than actually going to the hotel and negotiate. I got 2,500 PKR which I considered still quite expensive but they provide free breakfast and they have the best view of the Passu peak.
Sost - Tibet Motel Sost - 11 USD/Night (Double Room) - Delicious food at their restaurant. Try the Manchurian chicken with rice.
This place is cheaper than most countries but not dirt cheap. Expect to pay around 30 - 50 USD per day per person including accommodation and food.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
Internet Along the Karakoram Highway
Do not expect to have a reliable internet anywhere on the Karakoram Highway except in Islamabad so prepare your clients, friends or family that you will be offline most of the time.
Even if you have a sim card as I did, you will only have unreliable EDGE connection from Gilgit onward. The only way to stay connected to the outside world is to rely on the WIFI of your accommodation or restaurants which is as unreliable as the cell signal.
The only few reliable connections I found along the Karakoram Highway are at Madina Hotel 2 in Gilgit and at Cafe de Hunza in Karimabad.
There are no internet and cell connection in Fairy Meadows, Passu and Rakaposhi Base Camp.
The only reliable internet I found is from Cafe de Hunza. They have fast internet and are often available even during the power outage so if you want to stay in contact with your friends and families, buy a cup of coffee there and ask for their WIFI.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Pakistan, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
How to Get to the Karakoram Highway
In reality, the Karakoram Highway begins from Hasan Abdal which is a few kilometers away from Islamabad but most people start their journey from Islamabad and head northward towards China.
In order to get to Islamabad, you will have to fly to the Islamabad new international airport located a bit outside of the city. Do not mistake the old airport near Rawalpindi as they have recently switched to the new airport but Google Maps still haven't updated its location.
From the US, you can fly middle eastern airlines like Etihad, Qatar or Turkish airlines or if you are coming from the east, Thai and Air China is also a great option. I always look up prices on Momondo or Skyscanner and compare the best price and route combination to find the right flight for me. Give them a go and you might be able to find great deals on flights to Pakistan.
Transportation Along the Karakoram Highway
Ever since the Chinese helped paved the Karakoram roads in 2015, traveling the Karakoram Highway has been much more convenient and efficient. Back then, you were required to have a 4WD jeep to traverse the road but now, a regular sedan car can travel all the way through the highway, which is unlike its sister road, the Pamir Highway on the Tajikistan side which is mostly unpaved and much more remote.
By Public Transportation
From Islamabad to Gilgit, I would recommend taking an overnight bus from Islamabad as there are several police checkpoints that require foreigners to register. Some parts of the Karakoram Highway are also close to foreigners at certain times of day (traveling overnight through Chilas as a foreigner is prohibited for example) so in order to eliminate unnecessary headaches, taking the bus and all will be managed by the driver with no problems.
From Gilgit onward, you will have to flag a public bus or a van from the road yourself and ask them to drop you off in places you are planning to go. There are no strict schedule to these buses and so you will have to wait for them to drive pass and ask the driver if they are going to the places you are going or not.
This can be time-consuming as sometimes, the bus leaves later in the day and so if you are looking for a more efficient and free way to travel the Karakoram Highway, believe it or not, hitchhiking is the most reliable way to travel from Gilgit northward.
Traveling back from Sost to Islamabad, there is a direct bus to Gilgit which leaves at 5 AM at the NATCO terminal and you should be back in Gilgit by 9 AM.
This is the best way to travel the Karakoram Highway beyond Gilgit as the road is quite busy and there will be plenty of friendly locals that are more than happy to let you tag along with them for free. I never have to stand more than 1 hour to get to somewhere by hitchhiking.
One time, a guy, who is a manager of one an energy company in Lahore, picked me up and took me all the way to Passu even though he was supposed to go to Ghulkin and he even recommended me a place to stay for the best view of the Passu peak. Hitchhiking is almost too easy in Pakistan but that just shows how friendly they are.
Another way to travel through the Karakoram Highway is via taxi. It is the most expensive option but some parts of the Karakoram Highway requires me to get a taxi.
From Sost to Khunjerab Pass, I had to rent a jeep for 8,000 PKR to take me through Khunjerab National Park and to the pass and back. It was expensive but we spotted some ibex and blue sheep and my driver was happy to stop for me to take some photos.
Other than from Sost to Khunjerab Pass, I would recommend hitchhiking instead at it is as effective but it cost nothing.
You can also hire a driver to drive you through the Karakoram Highway all the way to the end and back if you do not have a lot of time or you don't feel comfortable hitchhiking or taking public transportation, but it will be very expensive, almost like buying a tour package.
If you decided to go this route, I would recommend you organize it from Islamabad or Gilgit before traveling.
2 Weeks Karakoram Highway Itinerary
Islamabad (2 nights)
Spend your first day in Islamabad to prepare you for the Karakoram Highway. If you are planning to go hiking along the Karakoram Highway, the Centaurus Mall in sector F8 is a great place to do some last shopping to stock up some snacks and food before your trip to the mountains.
There are also several places that are worth seeing in Islamabad such as the Pakistan Monument, the Faisal Mosque (best seen at sunset), Daman-e-Koh and Pir Sohawa.
Overnight Bus to Gilgit (1 night)
From Islamabad, you can take an overnight bus that leaves for Gilgit and 9 PM at the NATCO terminal as shown in the map below.
Before you take the bus, you will need to prepare at least 10 copies of your passport so that you can give it to the driver and you can sleep peacefully on the bus through the 7+ police checkpoints along the Karakoram Highway.
If not, then they will wake you up and ask you to show the passport at every checkpoint which is not ideal. For more information on what to expect on the overnight trip, click the link below:
Fairy Meadows & Nanga Parbat Base Camp (2 - 3 nights)
To get to Fairy Meadows, you will either have to stop at Raikot Bridge before arriving to Gilgit via your overnight bus (in case you don't have a lot of luggage) or you can simply go to Gilgit first, first a guesthouse that will let you drop off your stuff and get to the Raikot Bridge via a bus heading towards Chilas or a taxi. It will take around an hour to backtrack your way from Gilgit to Raikot Bridge.
From the Raikot bridge, you will have to get on one of the local jeep waiting near the Shangri-la Resort Hotel. For an entire jeep, it will cost you around 7,600 PKR round-trip so if you are traveling with someone, you can share the cost together. If you are traveling alone, you can wait for others to arrive and ask to share or you can bite the bullet and pay it all yourself.
From there, it is an hour drive up one of the bumpiest roads in the world, and then you will have to hike for 2 hours before you arrive in Fairy Meadows.
Spend at least 2 nights in Fairy Meadows so you can enjoy a view of one of the deadliest mountain in the world, the Nanga Parbat, or as they are infamously known among mountaineers, the Killer mountain.
You can do a day hike to Beyal camp or if you are fit, go straight to Nanga Parbat Base Camp and admire the mighty Nanga Parbat up close. It is really beautiful up there, so do not hesitate to spend a few more days if you have the time.
Gilgit (1 Night)
After staying in the mountains for a few days, take the jeep back down and hitchhike or get a taxi to Gilgit, and spend the day relaxing in the courtyard of Madina Hotel 2, and have a nice warm shower before we go deeper in the mountains.
Minapin & Rakaposhi Base Camp (2 nights)
From Gilgit, you can either hitchhike or take a bus from the Nagar Valley bus stop to Minapin. The bus leaves at 3 PM and it will take you around 2 hours to get to Minapin. Spend your first night there and prepare a lunchbox for a hike you will be doing tomorrow.
Start hiking to the Rakaposhi Base Camp as early as you can as it will take you around 4 hours (non-stop) to reach the base camp. When you arrive on the ridge, you will be greeted with a panoramic view of one of the most beautiful and psychedelic glacier I have ever seen.
You will also be directly facing all the snowy peaks of the Rakaposhi mountain. It was quite a sight to behold.
Start heading down by 2 PM and it should take you around 2.5 hours to get back to Minapin and enjoy a nice warm shower and sleep in for the night.
Karimabad (2 nights)
Karimabad is the Shangri-la everyone is looking for. In order to get here, you will have to walk from Minapin to the Karakoram Highway and flag a car that is going northward. Most people will be passing through Ali Abad which is close to Karimabad so you can take the car and from Ali Abad, you can either walk uphill to Karimabad or take a taxi up.
There are plenty of things to do in Karimabad such as the Baltit and Altit forts, or if you still can't get enough of hiking in Pakistan, you can do a day hike up to the Ultar base camp.
Passu (1 night)
Only an hour drive away, Passu is a great place for a short stop before heading to Sost, the last town before you are in China. You can easily hitchhike from Karimabad to Passu as Karimabad is near the Karakoram Highway.
The highlight of Passu is the iconic jagged peaks of Passu peak. I have seen many photos of a road leading up to Passu peaks so many times that it felt pretty surreal to see it with my own eyes.
If you are staying at the Passu Tourist Lodge, you will have the best view of the Karakoram Highway with the peak in the background. If you have more time, be sure to check out Husseini bridge, Passu and Batura glaciers also.
Sost & Khunjerab (2 nights)
Last but not least, we have finally arrived at the frontier town of Sost, the final destination for this Pakistan Karakoram Highway trip. From Passu, you can easily hitchhike Sost as any car that is going that way will likely stop at Sost.
From Sost, you will have to arrange a car (3,000 PKR) or a jeep (7,000 PKR) (depending on how much snow there is on the road) to go to Khunjerab Pass.
The Khunjerab Pass itself is nothing impressive other than the fact that it is the highest border crossing in the world, with the highest ATM located there as well.
The highlight for this trip is the national park surrounding it which is a great place to spot wild animals such as the Himalayan ibex, blue sheep and if you are lucky, Marco Polo sheep. We saw hundreds of ibex on our way to the pass.
If you are planning to cross to China, make sure that you have the visa prior to your trip to Pakistan and that you are not traveling on weekends and in winter as the border is closed during these times.
You can read more on how to cross to China via the Karakoram Highway from this guide by Against the Compass: Pakistan – China border crossing at Khunjerab Pass.
If you are not planning to cross the border, there is a bus from Sost directly to Gilgit which leaves from NATCO bus terminal at 5 AM and you will be in Gilgit by 9 AM. From Gilgit, I would recommend taking a flight back so you can see the region from the air, which I believe is another great way to see how beautiful Gilgit Baltistan is.
Islamabad (1 night)
When you arrive in Islamabad, spend a night there and enjoy the luxury of being able to access the internet before flying back home.
Further Reading for Pakistan
I hope this guide will help you plan your trip to Pakistan. I have written a ton more of articles about Pakistan and here’s a selection of them to help you plan your Pakistan trip further:
- Looking for a complete itinerary and travel guide for Pakistan? One Month Travel Itinerary for Pakistan.
- Lahore is a beautiful city full of stunning Mughal and British architectures that has stood the test of time. If you are looking for things to do in Lahore, here’s 7 amazing things to do in Lahore.
- Islamabad is a new capital city of Pakistan, built with the modern mindset in mind and it shows. Here’s 6 best things to do in Islamabad.
- Are you ready to go hiking in Pakistan? First, you will have to get to Gilgit-Baltistan and here’s a complete travel guide on how to get to Gilgit from Islamabad.
- Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat. the 8th highest mountain in the world is probably the most accessible 8000+ mountain out there. Here’s a complete hiking guide to Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat Base Camp.
- Another great hike you can do is the Rakaposhi Base Camp hike that will take you up atop Nagar Valley with an unbeatable view of the Minapin Glacier. Here’s a complete hiking guide to Rakaposhi Base Camp in one day.
- The Hunza Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys in Pakistan. The capital city of the Hunza Valley is Karimabad which is a perfect base for you to explore the Valley. Here’s 5 awesome things to do in Karimabad, Hunza Valley.
- You can also watch my travel videos about South Asia here: Sri Lanka travel video, Nepal travel video and Pakistan travel video.
- Want to know where to go after Pakistan? How about exploring the Golden Triangle in India, do some trekking in Nepal or go off-the-beaten-path or explore Sri Lanka by train?
- For all articles about Pakistan, visit Pakistan Travel Guide page.
- Looking for more travel guides for the South Asia? You can find more on my South Asia Travel Guide page.
- For more of my travel guides, visit my Destinations page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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