11 Things to Know Before Visiting Pakistan

The incredible Lake Saif-ul-Malook in Pakistan
The incredible Lake Saif-ul-Malook in Pakistan | © Shahzaib Qureshi / WikiCommons
Photo of Aamna Saiyid
15 July 2018

All set to explore Pakistan? Take a quick look at these valuable tips first. Whether you’re travelling to Pakistan for the mountains in the north, the sea to the south, the historical sites dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization or the stunning Mughal architecture, some preparation beforehand can certainly make your trip more memorable.

Getting around the country

Planning ahead is strongly recommended for two reasons. Firstly, if you try to arrange basic needs, such as transport and accommodation, at the last minute, you might have to deal with unnecessary inconvenience and delays. Secondly, you should probably create an itinerary – even if it’s a tentative one – to make the most of your trip, and giving it some thought is a good idea. Dedicated online travel groups, such as The Karakoram Club, are a treasure trove of information, and acquiring the services of a local guide can be really advantageous (check Travel Guides Pakistan for more information). Also, some locations require foreigners to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) before visiting, so be sure to look that up.

En route to Chilas, Pakistan | © umairadeeb / Flickr

Learn some Urdu phrases

Most urban dwellers in Pakistan speak, write and understand varying degrees of English, but it is recommended that visitors acquire a smattering of stock phrases in Urdu to make their journey smoother. While the multi-ethnic country is home to a diverse range of regional languages, and many Pakistanis don’t actually speak Urdu fluently, foreigners attempting to communicate in the national language will instantly make them more endearing to the locals.

Take note of cultural sensitivities

Punjabi, Pashtun, Sindhi, Hazara, Baloch and the ‘Urdu speaking’ form the major ethnic groups in Pakistan (there are many others as well). Each group has its own languages, customs, food, traditions and distinct cultural practices and beliefs. However, there are a couple of points that apply to almost all; for instance, a significant percentage of Pakistanis still encourage cautious interaction between men and women and generally favour modest attire.

Be prepared and pack accordingly

In a single trip, you can experience polar opposites in terms of weather, depending on which regions you visit and when. In the summer, almost the entire country deals with relentless heat, with the exception of the northern areas, which offer a blissful retreat from the scorching weather. During the winter, the southern half experiences pleasantly nippy weather, and it gets colder and colder as you travel up north (there are, after all, even glaciers up there). Be sure to pack accordingly!

All packed | © F Delventhal / Flickr

Carry some cash with you at all times

Pakistan is still catching up on paperless transactions and relies heavily on cash, so while you should have your bank cards, do keep a reasonable amount of cash handy at all times. Get your currency exchanged before flying out or do some research on the best money changers to get good rates.

Pakistani currency | © Aamna Saiyid

Pakistanis are known for their hospitality

Pakistanis are some of the most hospitable people in the world and will go to great lengths to welcome foreigners and put them at ease. If you are hosted by a family for a meal, a day, or even a lengthened stay, try not to feel overwhelmed if you see them prioritising your comfort before their own. Tact is the keyword if you wish to dissuade them from any planned extravagance.

Don’t forget to bargain

Barring upscale shopping centres, Pakistan is a haven for bargain shopping and most of the vendors are open to haggling, so be ready to spend some time at each stop if you want to score really cool things at reduced prices. A local acquaintance or guide can be a big help for such shopping sprees. Handicrafts are the most popular takeaways from these bazaars, followed by traditional clothes, shoes, shawls, dried fruits, nuts, jewellery and more.

Dried fruit vendor, Pakistan | © Umair Mohsin / Flickr

Carry photocopies of all your documents

Make sure that you carry all necessary travel and identification documents and bring as many photocopies as you can, because visitors are often required to register at a number of check posts for their own safety. The personnel in charge are usually courteous, and while frequent questions can be irksome, just remember that all the precautions are for your own good.

Food, water and alcohol

The typical Pakistani palate favours spicy food, drinking water is best if bottled, and alcohol is frowned upon as the country is an Islamic republic. Many restaurants do feature milder options and foreign cuisines, but these are harder to find in smaller cities and towns. Don’t miss out on the delicious local dishes, and the fruits in Pakistan are among the best in the world!

Chapli kebab | © Aamna Saiyid

Safety first

As is the case with most developing countries, visitors are advised to remain vigilant, obtain information about preferred timings to visit certain locations beforehand, and heed warnings. It’s also prudent to carry valuables inconspicuously and divide cash into two to three portions and keep it in your pockets and wallet separately.

Staying connected

Before leaving for Pakistan, do your homework online to find the best option for the SIM card you will be using here. This way, you can avoid costly roaming charges. You can choose your service provider based on your needs: area coverage, data volume and call frequency. As soon as you touch down, make your way to the nearest sales and service centre of the company you’ve finalised and follow the procedure to acquire your local SIM card.

Stay connected | © zhrefch / Flickr

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