Pakistan is one of the most adventurous countries I have experienced in 2018. I spent almost a month traveling around Pakistan independently, starting my journey in Lahore and traversed the entire Karakoram Highway all the way to the border of China and back.
In that month alone, I was able to witness an 8,000 m peak, have a close encounter with the Himalayan wildlife and see where the 3 highest mountain ranges in the world meet. It was invigorating, to say the least, and with this guide, you will find all the information you need to independently travel through Pakistan in one month as I did and see why Pakistan is nothing like what the media has painted it to be.
Pakistan Itinerary Map
Why Visit Pakistan
Pakistan is not your typical travel destination. Looking from the outside, you may wonder "What is there to see in Pakistan?". Turns out, there are tons of stunning places that are begging for you to explore. From Lahore, the cultural capital city of the Punjab province, to the pristine snowy peaks of the Himalayas, the Karakoram, and the Hindu Kush mountain ranges, you will be surprised that these places existed in Pakistan.
Other than the sceneries, the hospitality of the Pakistani people is unmatched by anyone. The friendliness and kindness of its people are one of the highlights of traveling in Pakistan. Strangers will come up to you, strike a random conversation and help you out as best they can, while expecting nothing in return. I got to tell you, it is such a breath of fresh air when a taxi driver pays for your lunch!
From the mountains of Gilgit Baltistan to the cultural heritage of Punjab, Pakistan has everything for a grand adventure unlike any country you have been before.
When to Go to Pakistan
The best time to go to Pakistan is during the months of May to October where the weather is not too cold in the north, and not too hot in cities like Lahore and Islamabad.
In my opinion, September and October are the best time to visit as the valleys of North Pakistan are turning orange, and popular destinations are free from the local crowds. Accommodations in places like Fairy Meadows becomes cheaper as well.
Where to Stay in Pakistan
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.
Skardu - Hotel DewaneKhas Skardu - 11 USD/Night (Double Room)
Astore (City) - Kamran Hotel - Contact the Hotel for Prices
Astore (Rama) - PTDC Rama - Contact the Hotel for Prices
This place is quite cheap compare to all the other countries in the world. If you are planning a trip here, you can expect to pay around 25 - 45 USD per day per person and that should include accommodation and 3 meals.
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 in Pakistan
The reliability of the internet in Pakistan will depend on where you are but I would recommend you get a local sim card first thing first when you arrive in Lahore. For a foreigner to buy a sim card, you will have to go to a franchise office and register there. Do not buy it from the airport or any shop that claimed they can do it! They are all scams.
The process may seem like a hassle but once you know where to go, it only takes 5 minutes to get your sim activated. I would recommend you get a ZONG sim card from the Zong franchise customer care in Lahore shown in the map below:
To buy a local sim card in Lahore, simply tell a rickshaw driver to take you to "Liberty Market" (do not pay more than 200 PKR) and make sure you have your passport with you.
Once you are there, you can choose whether you want a data sim card only (1,500 PKR for 12 GB) or the one with calls (~2500 PKR). I would recommend the one with calls if you are planning to go up north as the data connection becomes unreliable up there and you might need to call some places to book. The entire process took me less than 5 minutes.
For Zong's reception, in cities like Islamabad and Lahore, you should have no problem getting LTE speed from your sim card.
In Gilgit, the internet becomes slower but still manageable, but once you go beyond Gilgit, you will only get unreliable EDGE connection on your phone and only a few places are equipped with WIFI and they are painfully slow. The only place with reliable wifi beyond Gilgit that I know of is at the Cafe de Hunza in Karimabad, so be sure to say goodbye to the outside world before leaving Gilgit.
There are no WIFI or phone signal in Fairy Meadows, Passu, and Astore.
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.
Visa for Pakistan
Pakistan is very strict when it comes to who gets into their country and that is why they will not issue tourist visa from the embassies that are not in your home country unless there is none. If you live in a country that has a Pakistan embassy, you will have to get it from there prior to your trip. If not, then you will have to get it from the nearest country with the embassy. The process can take from 3 weeks to a month depending on your embassy so prepare way ahead of time.
Almost every country that wants to apply for a tourist visa are required to have a letter of invitation from either someone you personally know in Pakistan or from a legally registered tour company. Many tour companies will require you to buy a tour with them but I found a few that will offer letter of invitation to an independent traveler without having to buy a tour.
I have a personal experience with Lost Horizon tour company and I can recommend them. They charged 100 USD per person and all you have to do is provide them with your info and a rough itinerary of your trip and they will get all the documents you need within a few days.
Another great option is to get your LOI through Caravanistan.com. They charge only 65 USD which is considerably less than from Lost Horizon and they are responsive and can provide you with extra information about your itinerary.
When you are applying for the visa, be sure that you have all these documents with you:
- 1 x complete Pakistan visa form from the embassy website you will be applying to.
- 1 x copy of your passport.
- 1 x photo of you
- 1 x rough Pakistan itinerary
- 1 x copy of your roundtrip flight details
- 1 x proof of all booked accommodations (only where applicable) (just book something on Booking.com and cancel it once approved).
- 1 x bank statement from the last 3 months.
- 1 x proof of your residence.
- 1 x letter of invitation, company license, and identification (provided by the tour company).
- 1 x proof of your employment.
Keep in mind that the documents required may differ depending on the embassy you are applying in so please consult your embassy website for more detail.
If you have all the documents they asked for, the process should be straightforward and they should give you a date on when your visa will be done.
Relevent reading: How to Travel the World on a Third-World Passport.
How to Get to Pakistan
There are several major airlines that fly to Lahore. One of the best ones are Emirates, Qatar, THAI and Etihad airways. If you are looking for a flight from where you are, I would recommend you browse through Momondo or Skyscanner to find the best and cheapest deal possible.
How to Get Around Pakistan
Within big cities like Lahore and Islamabad, Uber is the cheapest and most convenient ways to travel around the city. A rickshaw is also a good option in Lahore if you haggle hard. Beyond Islamabad, taxis or hired jeeps are sometimes required to get to remote places around the area.
From Lahore to Islamabad, you can take a Daewoo express bus (search for Rawalpindi as a destination instead of Islamabad as the bus station is located in Rawalpindi, a twin city next to Islamabad) that connects the 2 cities together. From Islamabad to Gilgit, you can either fly or take a NATCO overnight bus that will take you around 18 hours to reach the destination. Be sure to check out our detail guide on traveling to Gilgit from Islamabad as there are certain things you need to prepare before you get on the bus.
Beyond Gilgit, you will either have to flag down a bus from the Karakoram Highway yourself or hitchhike, which is the most effective way to traverse the Karakoram Highway as the bus are often full and does not come on time. Besides, the locals are more than happy to drive a guest to their country around and they will try to help you as best as they can so that you will have a great time in their country.
For more info: A Guide on How to Travel the Karakoram Highway
From Sost to Skardu, you can get a bus leaving for Gilgit at 5 AM and when you arrive in Gilgit by 9 AM, you can get on the next bus that is bound for Skardu. As of writing this, the S-1 highway that connects Gilgit to Skardu is still under construction and it will take you around 7 hours to reach Skardu so you should arrive by 6 PM if you leave Gilgit by 9 AM.
From Skardu to Astore, you will have to rent a jeep to go through the unpaved road in Deosai National Park and it will take around 7 hours to Astore.
One Month Travel Itinerary for Pakistan
Lahore (3 nights)
Lahore is the cultural capital of the Punjab province of Pakistan. It is the place to be if you are looking to learn about the history of Pakistan, and you enjoy exploring stunning architectures that were built during the colonial time.
You can spend your first day exploring the old town by going to the Badshahi mosque in the morning, and then spend the rest of the day exploring Lahore Fort, Wazir Khan mosque and many more.
You can also spend another day getting your local sim card sorted out following the guide I wrote above or hop on a taxi in the evening and go to the Wagha border, a town bordering India, to witness a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony where soldiers from both countries participate in a rapid dance-like parade to symbolize the rivalry, brotherhood, and cooperation the 2 countries share.
For more info: 7 Amazing Things to Do in Lahore.
Islamabad (2 nights)
Islamabad is the capital city of Pakistan and it is the blueprint city built according to the vision of what the government thinks modern Pakistan city should look like. It is also the greenest city in Pakistan with plenty of parks and viewpoints for you to explore.
The Pakistan monument, the Daman-e-Koh viewpoint, and Faisal Mosque are a few things you can do during your time in Islamabad. If you are a photographer, the best time to visit the Faisal Mosque is during the sunset when the sky turns purple and the artificial illuminates the main building.
For more info: The Ultimate Guide on Things to Do in Islamabad.
Islamabad to Gilgit (1 night)
To travel from Islamabad to Gilgit, you will have to take an overnight bus that leaves at 9 PM from the NATCO terminal in sector I-11. The bus will take you 18 hours and it cost around 2,500 PKR and you will have to prepare at least 10 copies of your passport because the bus will pass through at least 7 police checkpoints and to avoid the police waking you up every hour, the bus driver can manage it for you if you give them the copies before you get on the bus.
I have written an extensive guide here if you want to know more about how to travel to Gilgit by bus: How to Get to Gilgit from Islamabad.
Gilgit (1 night)
One of the best things to do in Gilgit is to go hike around Fairy Meadows which begins at the Raikot bridge 80 km before arriving in Gilgit but since you are probably carrying a lot of stuff, I would recommend you go directly to Gilgit first, spend a night and leave unimportant stuff at the guesthouse so you don't have to carry everything up a mountain.
After a night in Gilgit, you can get either a bus heading towards Chilas or hire a taxi to drive you to Raikot bridge and begin your journey up to Fairy Meadows.
Fairy Meadows (3 nights)
Fairy Meadows is one of the most beautiful places in Pakistan where you will be able to see an unobstructed view of Nanga Parbat, the 8th highest mountain in the world. It is probably one of the most accessible 8,000+ m mountain in the world where you can see its peak all the way from the Karakoram Highway.
In order to get to Fairy Meadows, you will have to get a local jeep up from the Raikot bridge and from there, you will have to hike for 2 hours before arriving in Fairy Meadows.
Fairy Meadows is a great place to spend a day hiking to and sleeping at Behal camp and proceed on to Nanga Parbat base camp the next day to witness the mighty mountain up close.
For the second day, you can spend some time exploring Fairy Meadows itself and hike up to one of the many viewpoints around the area or just enjoy a nice cup of coffee and mingle with the locals.
For more info: A Detail Guide on How To Hike The Fairy Meadows.
Gilgit (1 night)
After a few days in the mountains, it is always nice to come back to a city and relax. Enjoy a nice warm shower, comfortable bed in Gilgit for a night before moving onward to Minapin for another hike.
Minapin & Rakaposhi Base Camp (2 nights)
Minapin is a base town for the Rakaposhi Base Camp trail and that is what you are going to do for an entire day you have there. To get to Minapin, you can either take a bus or hitchhike from Gilgit and when you arrive, spend the day preparing a lunchbox, water, and snacks for the upcoming epic 7 hours hike you are about to embark on.
The next day, start the hike at 8:30 AM or earlier and walk towards the mountain. It should take you around 4 hours to reach the top of the ridge where you will be able to see the psychedelic Minapin glacier and Rakaposhi mountain in its entirety.
For more info: How to Hike the Rakaposhi Base Camp in One Day.
Karimabad (3 nights)
You are probably tired from all the hikes you just did, right? If so, then you are in luck as we will be taking it slow in Karimabad and spend most of the time relaxing in a cafe, and walking around town.
Baltit and Altit forts are a must-see when you are in Karimabad. From the Baltit fort, you will also have a clear view of Rakaposhi, the mountain you just hiked the day before. You can also go on a day hike to Ultar base camp if you are not exhausted from before.
Cafe de Hunza is a gathering place that serves western style coffee, have the best walnut cake and best of all, the only place in Hunza to have a reliable internet. This is your chance to reconnect to the outside world!
For more info on what to do in Karimabad: 5 Awesome Things To Do In Karimabad.
Passu (2 nights)
Passu is another great stop before you reach the end of the Karakoram Highway. It is also a place where you can see the iconic jagged peaks of Passu peak and Hussaini bridge, the old suspension bridge that crosses the raging Hunza river. Spend the day walking around the valley or walk up to the ridge where you can see Passu glacier and Passu Sar.
Sost & Khunjerab Pass (2 nights)
Finally, you have reached the frontier town of Sost, the last big town before China. There isn't much to do in Sost itself so I would recommend you to find a taxi to drive you through Khunjerab national park and up the Khunjerab Pass, the highest point on the Karakoram Highway. The taxi should cost you around 3,000 PKR whereas if it snowed, you might need a jeep which will set you back around 7,000 PKR.
If you are lucky, you might be able to spot some wildlife on your way to the pass. We saw hundreds of ibex and one blue sheep. Unfortunately, we didn't see any Marco Polo sheep.
For more info about traveling along the Karakoram Highway: The Ultimate Guide To Traveling The Karakoram Highway.
Skardu (2 nights)
From Sost, it's a long way to Skardu but luckily you can do it in one day by taking the bus from Sost to Gilgit at 5 AM and you should arrive in Gilgit by 9 AM where you can take another bus to Skardu. It should take you another 7 hours so you will be arriving late on your first day. Keep in mind that the S-1 highway that connects Gilgit to Skardu is still under construction as of 2018 and so expect a lot of roadblocks and delays.
Spend your first day exploring Skardu and check out places like the Kharpocho Fort, the Buddha Rock Carvings or if you are into mountaineering, drop by the K2 museum to learn the history of K2.
The next day, hire a jeep to drive you to Astore through the Deosai national park. The Deosai National Park is home to the elusive brown bears and since the area mostly consists of plains and snowy hills, it is nothing like all the mountains we have seen so far.
Astore (3 nights)
Photos by Mohib Baig
The jeep to Astore will cost you around 8,000 - 10,000 PKR depending on how hard you haggle so it is best to share with someone. I was able to find some people to share with on Facebook group, Backpacking Pakistan, so I would recommend you join the group and ask someone there. The entire trip should take you at least 7 hours, so start the trip early.
Once you are in Astore, spend a night there and either organize another taxi or hitchhike with other travelers to Rama Meadows. The trip should take around 30 minutes and when you arrive, you will be rewarded with the view of Rama lake and several snowy peaks.
Spend your last day in the mountains of Pakistan enjoying the view of Rama Meadows or you can hike to Rama lake which should take you no more than 2 hours round-trip.
The next day, make your way back to Gilgit and either take the next flight back to Islamabad or spend another night there and get on the next flight.
For more info about Astore, check out a great guide written by Against The Compass blog: The Astore Valley: A historical paradise in Pakistan.
Islamabad (1 night)
Spend your last night in Pakistan in Islamabad and indulge yourself in the basic amenities such as having access to a hot shower, comfortable bed and the internet before taking your flight back home the next day.
And that is it for the perfect one-month itinerary for Pakistan. Are you interested in backpacking Pakistan? If so, what are you most anticipated to see in Pakistan? Let me know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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