Is Kabul safe to travel?
That is probably the most important question for many travellers who are keen to visit Kabul. To be honest, it is very hard to find some useful information on the internet. I found some outdated post on the Lonely Planet forum but they haven't been really helpful.
I personally never felt that my life was at danger at any time though I have to admit that sometimes I felt uncomfortable passing armed securities in the street. I also didn't blend in and wore western clothes. I was never harassed and most of the time I wasn't actually noticed.
"Don't go to Afghanistan only because you wanna brag about travelling a war-zone"
Whether you explore the city by day or you need to get something from the shops during the night, Kabul is a safe place. Incidents can occur of course so always stay alert.
I have written a whole story about my experience in the streets of Kabul which explains the situation quite well.
Can I take photos and videos?
99% of the time nobody is going to say anything, people are cool with you taking photos. I have encountered a few woman who haven't been comfortable with me taking photos of them. Many people asked me to take photos of them as well. I have always been wearing my camera visibly to everyone.
"You have to get an official permission..."
If you are planning to take photos of Police forces or the military you have to get an official permission from the Ministry of Culture. This process can take a couple of days and will be very frustrating at times.
If you wanna know more about photography in Afghanistan please check out Jim Huylebroek's website and get in touch with him if you need some good tips and advice.
Can I travel Afghanistan as a woman?
Yes you can. I have met other western female travelers who toured around the country. You have to be more sensitive though.
"You should not be worried..."
Afghanistan is still a man's world and usually socialising between guys and woman doesn't really happen, especially in private homes if you plan to stay with locals. Otherwise you should not be worried too much because Afghan people are very welcoming towards foreigners despite of their gender.
You should read this article about a single woman travelling Afghanistan here.
Join these Facebook groups to stay updated!
It's always good to be updated on some possible safety issues. Therefor I highly recommend this Facebook groups which provides excellent and fast information about the current situation.
ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE
Do I need a Visa for Afghanistan?
Yes you definitely do. But since May 2015 you can also get a Visa on arrival. There are several ways to obtain your visa and I personally think that getting your Visa in Dubai or any neighbouring country is the easiest option. I created a whole guide to all Visa questions, just click here.
What is the best and easiest way to get to Kabul?
If you don't want to travel overland I would recommend you flying in from either Istanbul or Dubai. You have Emirates, FlyDubai, Safi Airways and KamAir operating daily flights between Dubai and Kabul starting from 100 dollars.
There are no directs flight from Europe to Afghanistan unless you fly with Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to either Kabul or Mazar-E-Sharif. All Afghan Airlines are currently banned from entering European air space. There might be changes soon since Safi Airways are negotiating with the European Aviation Safety Agency to gain landing rights again.
How to get to the city from Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul?
If you don't have a pick up arranged the only option is to take a taxi from the Airport to wherever you wanna go. Taxis are leaving from Parking C which is a 3 minute walk from the Terminal. There is also a bus commuting between the Terminal and the parking lot.
The usual rate from the Airport to the city varies between 150-200 AFN. They will offer you way higher prices than that but just try to negotiate a little bit and you will get a decent deal.
Find more information on the official website: www.hamidkarzaiairport.com
Do I have to register at the Airport upon arrival?
As a foreigner visiting Afghanistan you are required to register at the airport. You will receive a registration card which needs to be displayed upon your departure. However I found the registration counter unattended and was not able to register myself. Nor did I register myself during my stay in Kabul or Mazar-E-Sharif.
"You're required to register at the airport..."
I did not experience any problems while leaving the country and I was also not asked for a registration card. I have heard various stories and sometimes this can turn into a problem which results in a fine or a little bribe towards the officer.
What do I need to know before departing Kabul?
Kabul International Airport has one of the highest security measures in the world. Therefor you should arrive at least 4 hours prior departure. It took me an hour to even get inside the Terminal.
The airport itself is extremely small with no traveller lounges or restaurants. There is a little snack bar at the gate though.
SIM CARD AND INTERNET
Where can I buy a Sim Card in Kabul?
If you wanna get a local Sim Card you either buy one right at the airport or at any small stand located on almost every street corner. Those guys also sell top up cards for any provider. I went with Etisalat and I had great reception all over the city and almost everywhere in the country.
The other also very reliable provider is Rohsan. The phone network runs steady and without any problems, especially in Kabul.
More Information are available here:
Is there a 3G Network in Afghanistan?
You'll be surprised but Kabul has one of the best 3G Networks I have ever experienced. The Internet is fast and very reliable. I initially had problems getting my internet set up. Just visit an Etisalat outlet and they get it fixed for you and even help you choose a good plan.
The Etisalat Head Office is located in the center and working hours are from 8am to 8pm exluding Fridays. Address:
Haji Yaqoub square
Share-e-Now Ehsan Plaza Building
To find more Etisalat Offices in Kabul click here.
Are there many Internet Cafe's in Kabul?
There are quite a few internet cafe's around the city where you can print, scan and download. The computers are good enough for the basics but also very old and the internet can be a bit slow sometimes.
Public Cafe's or Restaurants with an open WiFi connection are not very common and according to locals not recommend since modern restaurants are often targeted by Taliban.
WHAT TO DO OR SEE?
The Darul Aman Palace
The most iconic sight is probably the Darul Aman Palace located 10km drive from the center of Kabul. Technically the Palace is closed to the public and there is no such thing like organised tours to get inside. But if you are lucky enough the guards will let you go inside the building. Most probably the will ask you for a little fee or to be more specific, a bribe.
You should really read that story: Inside the Darul Aman Palace.
The Kabul Bird Market
In the heart of the city you will find the local markets. There is nothing you can't get there. From clothes, seasonings, cows, chicken, all kind of food and many other things, you'll
probably also notice the Bird Market. I don't know where the obsession with birds came from but it's definitely a place you need to check out. It was quite a time travel and you should pay it a
Shah-Do Shamshira Mosque
Located just off the littered Kabul River the Shah-Do Shamshira Mosque shines in a sleepy yellow tone. It's a vibrant, dynamic place with a colony of pigeons watching over the holy building. When the sun starts to set the facade starts to change it's colour in the sunlight. It's really nice to see and the perfect time to take some stunning photos. Go and check it out!
On a nice sunny day you should definitely visit the Tamini Fortress located at the end of Sulh Road in the center of new Kabul. it's a little not too demanding hike up there but you'll be rewarded with a magnificent view.
You can literally overlook most of Kabul and the surrounding Hindu Kush Mountains. You will find 3 soldiers guarding the main gate which are willing to take you around the fort. Once your
tour is finish they will ask you for $10 which I refused to pay.
National Museum of Afghanistan
I had a chance to visit the National treasures of Afghanistan while exhibited in Melbourne in 2013. The National Museum is located opposite the Darul Aman Palace and open most days excluding weekends. Tickets are a 100 Afs and an additional 200 Afs if you wanna
More Information: www.nationalmuseum.af
Kabul Look Out
This one is a bit tricky to find and there is no real address to it but most of the locals know about. When driving from the center to the Darul Aman Palace you can either take the normal streets
or the short cut over the mountain in between. That's how you will find the place. It's an amazing drive and the view spectacular especially during sunset. A must see!
Wazir Akbar Hill
Another thing you'll notice is the big Afghan Flag, almost visible from everywhere. It's on top of Wazir Akbar Hill. It's a liveable place with kids playing football. There is also a swimming pool and some street art. Every year the celebrations of Afghanistan's Independence day take place here.
Ghazi National Stadium
You like football? How about a visit to Afghanistan's National Stadium for a game of one of the local teams? The stadium hosts a competitive match of the Kabul Premier League almost every day due to the lack of other stadiums.
Find the game fixtures here.
Very popular among local families, the rundown Kabul Zoo. It's actually a quite sad place to visit and most of the animals seem to be on a diet, forced or unforced, only god knows. The main attraction is Khanzir, the only pig in the whole country.
The Zoo was also known for it's famous lion Marjan which died in 2002. You should read the incredible story of this majestic animal here.
The Gardens of Babur
Paghman and Qargha Dam
A little bit located outside of Afghanistan's capital Kabul you can find the Qargha Dam which is a very popular destination for families to escape the concrete jungle for the weekend. You can boat, swim, and relax around the dam.
Just a five minutes drive away is Paghman. A little town with notable sights as the Victory Arch or the summer palace of the Afghan President.
An enjoyable hike with a rewarding view over Kabul. The wall starts from the Babar Gardens approx. 3km over to Bala Hissar.
GOOD TO KNOW!
Is there a nightlife in Kabul?
Afghanistan is officially an Islamic Republic and alcohol is prohibited. That doesn't prevent people from drinking though. While Iran for instance has a great underground drinking and party scene you most likely won't be able to find something similar in Kabul or elsewhere in the country.
"Those places were targeted by Taliban's..."
A few years back the amount of foreigners in Kabul was way higher then nowadays and you were even able to find some hidden "bars". Which were highly popular among NGO Staff or Journalist. Those places were targeted by Taliban's though. If you happen to work for an Embassy or you have access to Military Camps you'll also be able to get some alcohol there.
You should read this great article by the VICE magazine about the nightlife of Kabul here.
Can I go outside of Kabul?
Indeed you can. But it always depends on where you want to go and with whom and how. Jim, myself and three of our Afghan friends went on a road trip to Mazar-E-Sharif. A standard vehicle, only armed with cameras. No guns, no bulletproof wests, nothing.
"The drive is amazing..."
The highway from Afghanistan's capital to Mazar is in quite good conditions and you will have to cross the world famous Salang Pass on your way there. Which offers one of the most amazing views ever. There will be many checkpoints but we never really got into troubles. The drive is amazing and something really unique, especially the country side.
How is the food quality in Kabul?
I tried it all, street food, fast food, you name it! It was really great, especially kebabs and I loved it. Generally the food quality is satisfying but also on this matter I have heard mixed reviews. From my own experience I can say that I had no issues. The tap water is not from good quality and should be avoided or at least boiled before used.
WHERE TO STAY?
Kabul is not a cheap place if you don't have friends to stay with. Rooms are expensive due to security and generator costs. During my time in Kabul I have mainly Couchsurfed which turned out to be a great experience. I got to stay with local people which I personally enjoyed a lot.
You probably won't believe it but there is also AirBnB in Kabul. Starting from $20 a night. Definitely worth a try!
Here are a few options:
SALSAL GUESTHOUSE - It's about $10 a night and the owner happens to speak English. It's located downtown next to the Chelsea Supermarket. Phone: +93799734202
UNICA GUESTHOUSE - Room's starting from $25. Comes with a garden, swimming pool, and a bar. It's located in Ansari Wat. Phone: +93202201022
PETRA GUESTHOUSE - Wazir Akbhar Khan, Street 15. A lot of UN Staff stays there and the reviews are very good. In a quiet area close to the Flag. Phone: +93788411482
AFGHANS4TOMORROW GUESTHOUSE - $58 a night including Aiport pick up and drop off, Breakfast, Dinner, and Internet are also included. Find more Information: Afghans4tomorrow.org
As being mentioned above, accommodation will strain your budget. Hotels usually have higher security standards, are better protected, but also very often targeted by Taliban.
Here are the best Hotels to stay at:
THE SERENA HOTEL - The only 5 Star Hotel in Kabul with great restaurants. It's up to European Standards and very popular. It's literally a fortress and well protected. Located on Froshgah Street. Prices and more can be found on the website: www.Serenahotels.com
SAFI LANDMARK HOTEL - Great location, nice rooms and good internet. A shopping mall is attached to the building and the restaurants offer shisha and nice snacks. It's less of a struggle to get in but also well protected by security guards. You can make your bookings here: www.safilandmarkhotelsuite.com
GOLDEN STAR HOTEL - Nice little 4 star hotel in the heart of the new downtown area surrounded by good restaurants. It features a gym, high-speed internet and a restaurant. Make your booking here: www.goldenstarhotelkabul.com
ATM's in Kabul
There is surely no lack of Cash Machine's in Kabul. All international Credit Cards are accepted at the ATM's and to my surprise also European Maestro Cards (Only tried the ATM at the Afghanistan International Bank). You can either withdraw Afghanis or US Dollars.
100 AFN Afghan Afghani = € 1,54 | U$ 1,66 | AED 6,12 | AU$ 2,26 | £ 1,06
To transfer money from and into Afghanistan Wester Union seems to be the fastest and most safest option. Almost every Bank in town supports WU Money transfers.
GET IN TOUCH WITH LOCALS
Whether you are in Kabul or somewhere in Helmand, smart phones are everywhere and widely used in Afghanistan and the network coverage is outstanding. You wanna check your Facebook on the Hindu Kush? No problem!
Afghans like to be updated on recent events as much as we do and they are very active on social media such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
"The response was amazing..."
Before travelling to Afghanistan I made sure that I'm going to meet as many locals as I can to get the full experience and to share some stories. I got in touch with local journalists and politicians, and the response was amazing. People were really keen to meet me and invited me over for dinner where I got the chance to meet some really unique individuals. You should try the same!
You can even take it a step further and stay with locals. That's what I did and I really loved it. Many locals offer their "Couch" on the hospitality network CouchSurfing. Give it a try, I'm sure you are going to love it.
CS also gives you the opportunity to meet locals by simply posting in the respective groups without staying at peoples home.
Read more about CouchSurfing here.
AMERICAN EMBASSY IN KABUL
Great Massoud Road near Kabul Airport
Phone: (+93) 700 10 8001
AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY IN KABUL
Address not publicised for security reasons.
Phone: (+93) 799 724 8752
CANADIAN EMBASSY IN KABUL
Street No. 15, House No. 256 in Wazir Akbar Khan, Kabul
Phone: (+93) 799 742 800
CHINESE EMBASSY IN KABUL
Sardar Shah Mahmoud Ghazi Wai, Kabul
Phone: (+93) 202 102 545
GERMAN EMBASSY IN KABUL
Street No. 6 in Wazir Akbar Khan, Kabul
Phone: (+93) 202 1015 12
JAPANESE EMBASSY IN KABUL
Street No. 15 in Wazir Akbar Khan, Kabul
Phone: (+87) 0 762-853-777
UNITED KINGDOMS EMBASSY IN KABUL
Street No. 15 in Wazir Akbar Khan, Kabul
Phone: (+93) 700 102 000
MEDICAL PROVIDERS IN KABUL
The Kabul Ambulance Service is staffed and administrated by Afghan employees who have been trained and equipped by a Norwegian NGO. To access the ambulance service in an emergency, call 112 from a land line or 020-112 from a cell phone.
Hospitals in Kabul
CURE INTERNATIONAL HOSPITAL
Location: Dar-ul-aman Road, near the former palace.
Departments include OB-GYN, pediatric and neonatology, family and internal medicine, general and reconstructive surgery, as well as histo-pathology. Clinical support services include laboratory, pysiotherapy, pharmacy, telemedicine, x-ray, vaccinations, ultrasound, and EKG.
Mr. Aziz Jallal, Patient Services Manger
KAISHA HEALTH CARE
Location: Charrahi Sar Sabzi, near Sham e-Paris Restaurant, Taimani.
The facility has 52 inpatient beds, a 4 bed ICU, CT scan, multi-specialty diagnostic services, and surgery. The staff of the hospital includes Indian trained physicians in orthopedics, gynecology, psychiatry, and diabetology. The facility has ambulances for patient transport.
Telephone: 0799-111-711; 0786-600-700
KIA ISAF ROLE 3 HOSPITAL
Location: Kabul International Airport ISAF compound.
The hospital is staffed by French and other NATO military medical personnel. The hospital offers trauma care, emergency services, and intensive care. Please note that prior arrangements by telephone are required for access. No ambulance service is offered off-compound. with prior arrangement, the ISAF ambulance may meet a local ambulance at the ISAF entry gate for patient transfer.
AMERICAN MEDICAL CENTER AFGHANISTAN
Location: 14th Street, Lane 3C, Wazir Akbar Khan, Behind Norwegian
Diagnosis, Physical Exams DOD, NATO, Class A), Full Dental Services, Radiology Department, Procedure Room, Vaccinations, Laboratory, Hematology & Biochemistry, Pharmacy (90% U.S. Pharmaceuticals), HIV and Drug Testing, Medevac, Medical Escort and 24 Hours for Emergencies.
Telephone: 020-231-0123; 079-555-7000
DK-GERMAN MEDICAL CENTER
Location: Street 66, House 138, District 4, Zone 1 of Kabul.
A deposit of $100 is requested prior to treatment.
Services: ECG, ultrasounds, pharmacy, x-ray, laboratory. Internet
Christian Diering, Chief Medical Coordinator
Telephone: 0708 883-651