Pakistan Tours & Holidays
Searching for a proper adventure? Pack your bags and your camera for Pakistan.
Imagine if you could click your fingers and forget everything you’ve heard about Pakistan. Well, this is your chance – just click your mouse and you’ll be on your way to discovering a country that’s not defined by the media. This is a land of soaring mountains, one whose terrain is as enrapturing as its history. From the capital of Islamabad to the mystical Hunza Valley, Pakistan has felt the subtle touch of the world’s greatest empires and the brute force of the world’s most complex conflicts. And through it all, the Pakistani people remain humble, hopeful and unconditionally hospitable – come and see it for yourself.
Our Pakistan trips
Articles on Pakistan
Pakistan at a glance
Islamabad (population approximately 1.1 million)
Approximately 213 million
Pakistani rupee (PKR)
Urdu, English, provincial languages
(GMT +05:00) Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi
Type C (European 2-pin), Type D (compatible with Type C)
Learn more about Pakistan
Culture and customs
Pakistan – officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – must be one of the least-understood countries in the world. It has suffered from a serious image issue for years, particularly since September 2011, and people can be quick to cast it aside as a backwards, troubled nation. And yes, there are problems regarding economics, rebel groups and international relations, but there are also hundreds of millions of welcoming people hoping to cast aside Pakistan’s damaged reputation.
The majority of Pakistanis practice Islam though their ethnicity is extremely diverse. Thanks to the myriad religions, cultures and empires that have gained prominence in the region at one time or another, Pakistan is a melting pot of Indian, Central Asian and Persian influences to name just a few. There are over 70 different languages and the northern Pakistanis of the Karakoram ranges have more in common with, say, their northern Indian or Afghan neighbours than those living in Karachi or Hyderabad.
That said, there are two things common to Pakistan wherever you travel and the first is cricket. The Pakistanis are mad for the sport with the current prime minister, Imran Kahn, having captained the national team to World Cup glory in 1992. The second is hospitality. A guest is a blessing from God, according to Islam, and you’ll find that the locals will go out of their way to share a cup of tea, a meal or a conversation – probably about cricket – with you.
Like many conservative countries, Pakistan takes a more traditional view when it comes to gender equality. Males are considered the head of the household and are generally responsible for providing for their family, with women often expected to stay hidden in private. This is slowly changing, however, with women across the country fighting for more independence against a long-standing patriarchy.
Pakistan has a long way to go in the eyes of many but that doesn’t discount what’s on offer right now: with a unconditionally welcoming population that loves to throw a party and host visitors, Pakistan may just be the best place you never thought you’d visit.
History and government
Human occupation of the area we know as Pakistan dates back some 300,000 years, with evidence of stone-age communities found in the northern Punjab region. These evolved into farming and herding communities that cultivated large areas of land, though it was the Indus Valley civilisation that really flourished in the basins of the Indus River. It’s not known why this civilisation collapsed, but they were eventually replaced by the Persian Achaemenid Empire until Alexander the Great rolled into town with his Macedonian army in 327 BC. When Alexander died, he left behind an enormous empire stretching from Greece to the Indus River, which was split among his generals.
Conquest after conquest
Pakistan continued to be a highly sought-after territory. Buddhism and Hinduism both prevailed in the area until the first Muslim foothold was achieved with Muhammad bin Qasim’s conquest in 711 AD. Islam spread throughout the region, culminating in the creation of the Mughal Empire, which covered modern-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh. The Mughals were descendants of the Turks and their leader, Babur, was said to descend from Genghis Kahn himself . The Mughals were renowned for their architecture (think the Taj Mahal and Red Fort in India), as well as their interest in the arts, which blended Persian, Indian and European influences. The empire started to crack in the early 1700s and by the end of the century a Sikh Empire had taken control of the Punjab region.
The British Raj ruled the Indian subcontinent, including much of Pakistan, from 1858–1947 after several confrontations with the Sikh armies. After victory in the Anglo-Sikh wars, and as a result of the influence of the East India Company, the British dominated the region though a national Muslim identity was slowly emerging. One of the key figures in this movement was Muhammad Iqbal, a writer and poet, who felt that a Muslim state was necessary in a Hindu-dominated region, though some argue that he advocated for a Muslim province rather than a partition of country.
The name ‘Pakistan’ was created in 1933 by Choudhry Rahmat Ali, a political science student, as an acronym for the five northern regions of British India: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan. ‘PAKSTAN’ became ‘Pakistan’ for pronunciation purposes, and this led to the birth of the Pakistan Movement.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was granted independence from the British in 1947 (as was India). Once the borders were drawn, an unforseen issue arose in the Punjab region between Hindu minorities in Pakistan and Muslim minorities in India. A population exchanged was agreed upon but it was far from peaceful. It’s estimated that over ten million people migrated across the borders and that 1–2 million people died as a result of violence between the two religions. This clash was the basis of the still unresolved Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India. It’s worth noting, too, that Bangladesh was formerly known as East Pakistan and had a Bengali Muslim majority. In 1971, however, the Bengali Muslims split from their western family because of discrimination and a lack of attention from the government in Pakistan proper.
Pakistan is a regional (and nuclear) power with one of the world’s fastest-growing middle class. The problems are many, including corruption, terrorism and poverty, but the country is tipped to become a large and important economy. Imran Kahn, Pakistan’s current prime minister and former cricket captain, has prioritised tourism as an important source of future wealth.
Eating and drinking
Pakistan’s cuisine is a result of its myriad influences throughout history. Take your subcontinental staples, add some Middle Eastern flavours, mix in some Central Asia seasoning and you’ve got a seriously tasty variety of dishes – think everything from a spicy curry to the perfect shish kebab. These are a few dishes to look out for:
A hugely popular and traditional Muslim dish found across the Indian subcontinent. Take a slow-cooked shank of lamb, goat or chicken and stew it with some 50 spices including garam masala, cardamom and cumin. Serve with naan or roti and you’re laughing (and most likely napping too).
Originating in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, sajji is a simple, tasty meat dish. Take a whole lamb or chicken, marinate it in salt, skewer the entire thing and roast it over coals. Sometimes it’s covered in green papaya paste, sometimes it’s stuffed with rice, but one thing is for certain: it’s always delicious.
- Halwa poori
This dish has become a popular breakfast for the people of southern Pakistan. Take some deep-fried bread – that’s the poori – and serve with halwa (a traditional sweet), yoghurt and a chickpea or potato curry. It’s light and oh so right.
This traditional dessert is a rice pudding combined with almonds, pistachios, cashews and saffron and cardamom. Look for it in terracotta bowls from a restaurant or street stand and savour the sweet sensation once you break the skin with your spoon.
Travelling as a vegetarian in Pakistan can sometimes be difficult. Meat is considered the highlight of a meal and while some classic vegetarian dishes like dahl can easily be found, they may sometimes be served with shredded chicken, for example. It’s important to be clear that you don’t eat meat and that includes fish and chicken. That said, there’s plenty of paratha and piping-hot roti to be had, you just need to be patient to find something more substantial.
Vegans will encounter quite a bit of difficulty as veganism just isn’t really a concept in Pakistan. Everyone except the poorest people enjoy a heavy meat-based diet and a lot of meals are cooked in either meat stock or ghee butter. Be sure to ask that your dish is prepared in a separate pot and without any animal products, but be understanding if this causes some confusion.
Of course, this is all a lot easier when you’re travelling with a local, someone who knows the language and the culture. If you travel with Intrepid, you’ll have a local leader who can help you decipher menus and recommend good plant-based choices.
Geography and environment
Pakistan has the dubious honour of hosting some of the most disputed borders in the world. The country is bordered by four countries – Iran, India, Afghanistan and China – with disagreements over the Kashmir region (India and China) and the Durand Line (Afghanistan). Pakistan stretches from the Arabian Sea in the south to the mighty Karakoram mountains in the north and can be split into three geographical regions.
Pakistan’s north is incredibly mountainous and includes the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalaya mountain ranges. It’s home to the world’s second-largest peak K2 (8611 m) as well as more than 50 mountains rising above 6500 metres. It is an undeniably beautiful area but given the challenging terrain, the northern highlands have a sparse population with remote villages scattered throughout the valleys. The winters here are severe, as you’d imagine, with freezing temperatures and much snowfall. The Hunza Valley, through which the Karakoram Highway runs, sees temperatures between -5/-15°C (23/5°F) during winter though it can reach the low thirties (86°F) in the summer period.
Pakistan’s southwest area is known as Balochistan, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan. It accounts for 44% of Pakistan’s land mass but less than 10% of the population, most of whom are concentrated in the city of Quetta. Poverty is rife here despite untapped reserves of natural gas and much of the landscape is dry and unable to be cultivated. The summers are hot and the winters can be freezing, though rainfall is relatively low compared to the rest of Pakistan.
Much of Pakistan’s population and economy are focused on the areas surrounding the mighty River Indus. All of Pakistan’s rivers flow into the Indus and its fertile plains are responsible for most of the country’s food production and industry. The river shelters several endemic creatures including the Indus River dolphin, which is close to extinction, but is also the cause of devastating floods. Each year Pakistan sees heavy rain from mid-July through till September and the Indus will often flood a huge area of land, affecting millions of people across Pakistan.
Pakistan is home to shawls, spice and everything nice. Much like India, Pakistan’s markets are an experience in their own right and even if you don’t plan on bringing something home, you’re unlikely to forget the bustle and banter as you make your way through the throngs. But if you do have space for souvenirs, the following may make some nice mementos:
There’s a long tradition of carpet weaving in Pakistan, dating way back to the Indus Valley civilisation. This continued through the Mughal Empire and the carpets made in Pakistan and Afghanistan were in high demand across the world, with Lahore being particularly famous for its rugs.
Pakistan is known for its onyx marble and while many think of onyx as being a black gem, you’ll find that Pakistani onyx comes in a range of colours. You may well find jewellery and handicrafts with streaks of gold, green and brown in specialist and market shops across the country.
The disputed region of Kashmir is known for its woven shawls – cashmere is an anglicisation of Kashmir. Story has it that Napoleon gave one to both his wives, so if you’re after a gift to get you out of trouble, one of these (or two) may just be the perfect purchase.
The city of Multan is located in southern Punjab and famous for its blue pottery, which was introduced by Arab artisans after Muhammad Bin Qasim conquered the region in the 8th century. The best places to purchase a vase or similar vessel are Multan and Lahore, otherwise you may not be getting the real deal.
Festivals and events
The people in Pakistan love a party and will go all out for birthdays, weddings and religious celebrations. You can expect a lot of noise and colour and a smorgasbord of distractions everywhere you look.
The 14th of August commemorates the independence of Pakistan and is celebrated nation-wide. Official celebrations include speeches and a gun salute, as well as cultural programs in the cities, while the people of Pakistan adorn their shops and homes in flags, bunting and banners. It’s a day for friends and family, with people taking to parks and other public places to celebrate their country.
Welcome to the highest polo match on the planet. Sitting at 3700 metres (12,139 feet), Shandur’s polo ground hosts a festival every July at the Shandur Pass, with teams from Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan facing off in an extremely aesthetic arena. It’s a shoutout to the equestrian traditions of Central Asia and the festival also hosts traditional folk music and dancing.
This Punjabi festival used to be held in February to celebrate the coming of spring by flying kites across the city. The sky was filled with colourful kites but make no mistake, this was no leisure activity. The kites were flown on special, glass-embedded strings in order to sever the strings of competitor kites and Basant was eventually banned because people were being killed by stray strings. In 2019 the government decided against lifting the 10-year ban on Basant, though many hope that the tradition will be reinstituted sometime soon.
For inspiring stories to prepare you for your Pakistan adventure, check out these books:
Moth Smoke – Mohsin Hamid
The Ice-Candy Man – Bapsi Sidwha
The Buddha of Suburbia – Hanif Kureishi
My Feudal Lord – Tehmina Durrani
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush – Eric Newby
Kartography – Kamila Shamsie
A Case of Exploding Mangoes –Mohammed Hanif
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain – Ed Viesturs, David Roberts
Pakistan travel FAQs
Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards
From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travellers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises).
However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travellers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.
Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.
Pakistan’s climate is difficult to pin down as a single entity. It ranges from tropical and subtropical to semi-arid and desert, and then up north you’ve got the ridiculously beautiful – and ridiculously cold – mountainous areas incorporating the Karakoram, Himalaya and Hindu Kush ranges.
In the north, the mountainous region of Gilgit-Baltistan sees desert-level rainfall, but snow is quite frequent in winter. The trekking season runs from April to October and the area is generally sheltered from the monsoon rains experienced further south, though there may well be some showers, thunderstorms and possibly snowfall at higher altitudes.
The region of Punjab, which incorporates the cities of Islamabad and Lahore, has a sub-tropical climate with very hot summers. July and August see the southwest monsoon bring heavy rains, while September, October and November tend to be drier with a more manageable temperature range of 10–34°C (50–93°F), depending on where you are. Given Islamabad’s higher altitude and location at the foot of the mountains, it tends to be a little wetter than, say, Peshawar or Lahore, but if you wish to avoid the rain, your best bet is to avoid spending too much time in Punjab from July until September.
Pakistan is one of those countries that sets off alarm bells in the minds of friends and family – you're going where? Their reaction is understandable, given the news coverage of Pakistan over the past 20 years, and there's no doubt that some areas just aren't worth the risk. That said, you can rest assured that Intrepid would not take you anywhere unless we were convinced it was safe and trust us, there's more – so much more – to Pakistan than the media would have you believe.
Yes, you'll need a visa to travel to Pakistan. This must be obtained in advance of your arrival and Intrepid recommends applying for an online tourist visa, which is available for selected nationalities including (but not limited to) Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, the UK and the US. The visa usually takes four working weeks and can be applied for by following the instructions on this website.
You will need a Letter of Invitation to assist you in applying for your visa. This will be issued at the time of booking and if you do not receive this, please contact us with your booking number and trip details.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. Entry requirements can change at any time, so it's important that you check for the latest information. Pakistan's only official visa website is visa.nadra.gov.pk and there are other mirror sites run by visa service companies or scammers that may not be reliable. Please check the Essential Trip Information section of your tour itinerary for more information.
While gratuities aren't compulsory on this trip, they can make a big difference to locals employed in the tourism industry. If you are happy with the services provided, a tip is an appropriate way to say thanks.
Most restaurants in Pakistan will not include a service charge on the bill so a tip can be added to the total amount. There's no strict rule, but 8–10 per cent is generally recommended.
Over the years we have found that many of our travellers find the need for tipping local guides and operators to be both tiresome and embarrassing, especially if they don't have the correct small change. To overcome this, your leader might raise the idea of a group tipping kitty. At your group meeting, your tour leader may discuss the idea of running this kitty, whereby everybody contributes an equal amount and then your tour leader pays the tips as you go. The leader will keep a running record of all monies spent (except restaurant tips). The record can be checked at any time and any money remaining at the end of the tour returned to group members. This kitty does not include any tips you wish to give your leader and crew.
If you’re planning to use your mobile phone in Pakistan (with either global roaming activated or by using a local SIM) you’ll find that the internet in major cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi is quick and free wi-fi is often available through hotspots. Travellers will be able to find internet cafes in Pakistan's larger cities but internet access might be patchy or non-existent in more remote areas like the Hunza Valley. There have been instances of the government restricting connectivity and social media during periods of protest or religious celebration.
Mobile phone coverage is generally good in the cities of Pakistan, although coverage may not be available in remote areas. If you want to use your mobile phone, ensure global roaming is activated before you arrive (but be aware of the fees this may incur).
Most mid- to high-range hotels in Pakistan will be equipped with Western-style, flushable toilets. You may well encounter squat toilets at restaurants and in public areas, and while these can take some getting used to, they become part of the experience once you’ve nailed your technique.
Pakistan’s unit of currency is the rupee. Prices here are approximate and shown in US dollars for ease of comparison.
- Can of domestic beer = USD 2–3
- Meal at a local restaurant = USD 3-8
- Local bus ticket = USD 0.20
- Cup of coffee (cappuccino or similar) = USD 1–2
Drinking tap water isn’t recommended in Pakistan. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water and fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead. Ask your leader where filtered water can be found; some hotels we stay in may have drinking water available, often boiled to use for tea. It's also advisable to avoid ice in drinks and to peel fruit and vegetables before eating.
Credits cards are not widely accepted in Pakistan, which remains a primarily cash-based society. You may be able to use a credit card in hotels and higher-end shops in cities like Islamabad and Lahore, but make sure you have enough cash available when leaving the cities.
Pakistan lays claim to the world’s highest ATM, located at 4687 metres (15,379 feet) at the Khunjerab Pass. You’ll be able to find ATMs in most cities and towns, but be sure to take enough cash when travelling to more remote villages, particularly in the mountains.
The weather in Pakistan falls into four seasons.
June–September sees monsoonal rains, with June being the hottest month of the year and reaching upwards of 45 °C (113 °F). The rains are notoriously unpredictable, with the monsoon sometimes skipping the Pubjab region altogether and sometimes causing widespread damaging floods.
The post-monsoon season of October/November sees both temperatures and rainfall reducing. While the days can warm and hot, the nights begin to cool with temperatures ranging from 10–30°C (50–86°F) and rain falling sporadically.
The winter months of December, January and February see fine weather across most of the country with a large variation in temperatures. The daytime is generally quite pleasant, with temperatures usually topping out at 20°C (68°F), though it can drop down to 3 or 4°C at night (37–39°F). The northern mountains are another story, with precipitation falling as snow and temperatures well below freezing.
The hot, dry season comes in March, April and May with averages in the mid-30s (95°F) in the low-lying areas, though it gets hotter up north until you reach the northern mountains.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
- 5 February Kashmir Solidarity Day
- 23 March Pakistan Day
- 1 May Labour Day
- Varies Eid-ul-Fitr
- Varies Eid al-Adha
- 14 August Independence Day
- Varies Ashura
- Varies Eid Milad
- December 25 Quaid-e-Azam’s Birthday
Given Pakistan is a Muslim country, their public holidays follow the Islamic calendar, which is based off lunar dates.
For a current list of public holidays Pakistan, including those with moveable dates, go to: timeanddate.com/holidays
We recommend LGBTQIA+ travellers exercise complete discretion when travelling in Pakistan.
Pakistan is not a safe destination for LGBTQIA+ travellers who wish to openly express sexuality outside of a very rigid, heterosexual binary. In fact, we do not recommend any public expressions of sexuality given Pakistan’s conservative values.
Openly LGBTQIA+ people can face stigma, harassment and violence in their everyday lives, with homosexuality technically punishable by life in prison or death. That said, Pakistan does recognise a third gender with transgender citizens afforded broad protections.
For more detailed and up-to-date advice, we recommend visiting Equaldex or ILGA before you travel.
If you are travelling solo on an Intrepid group tour, you will share accommodation with a passenger of the same gender as per your passport information. If you don’t identify with the gender assigned on your passport, please let us know at time of booking and we’ll arrange the rooming configuration accordingly. A single supplement is available on some tours for travellers who do not wish to share a room.
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and, where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.
Pakistan can be a difficult destination to explore for travellers with disabilities. Even in large cities like Lahore and Islamabad, differently abled people – travellers and locals alike – are often overlooked in terms of infrastructure and policy.
While international chain hotels are often built with the needs of accessible travellers in mind, homestays, guesthouses and locally run hotels are generally not fitted with ramps, elevators, shower rails etc.
If you have a battery-operated hearing aid, it’s a good idea to bring extra batteries.
If you do live with a visual, hearing or other impairment, let your booking agent or group leader know early on so they’re aware and suitable arrangements can be made. As a general rule, knowing some common words in the local language, carrying a written itinerary with you and taking to the streets in a group, rather than solo, can help make your travel experience the best it can be.
What you wear in Pakistan will depend on what time of the year you’re travelling and where you are going. The autumn, summer and spring are generally quite hot across the low-lying areas and cool, loose-fitting clothing that is culturally sensitive, like a light shirt and trouser combo, is best. The northern highlands can get very cold, even in the warmer months, so be sure to pack a warm jacket, thermals, sturdy waterproof shoes and a windbreaker. Clothes that can be easily layered are best.
When entering mosques, women must have their heads, arms, legs and shoulders covered, and all people should dress conservatively. Please avoid shorts and if you’re in any doubt, we recommend playing it safe.
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/
Go to: https://travel.gc.ca/
From the UK?
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/
From the US?
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
The World Health Organisation also provides useful health information.