652,225 sq km (251,773 sq miles).
31.8 million (2014).
48.8 per sq km.
Head of state:
President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.
Head of government:
President Ashraf Ghani since 2014.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Supplies may be seriously affected and powercuts frequent. European-style plugs with two round pins are most commonly used.
An essential stop on the hippie trail in the 1960s, beautiful Afghanistan has been devastated by years of war. Renowned for its epic countryside and rugged mountains, travellers came to interact with local communities, breathe clear mountain air and explore ancient sites such as the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan. They were happy times.
Sadly, those days are gone. The Taliban destroyed most of the country’s monuments, while the US and its allies ruined what was left of Afghanistan’s creaking infrastructure. With thousands of peacekeeping troops still operating in the country and pockets of fighting continuing, it will be some time before Afghanistan is restored to its former glory.
Consequently, travellers are advised against visiting Afghanistan. Nevertheless, some adventurous tour companies are offering trips to the country, and there have been reports in some quarters of increased bookings and interest. Afghan authorities put tourist numbers at less than 20,000, though they claim it is slowly increasing.
Tending to take in the historic but war-ravaged city of Kabul, mountain villages, ancient fortifications and some surviving Buddhist sites, tours are generally conducted in small groups and tend to be expensive.
Guides make the point that for many ordinary Afghans, life has continued much the same as it has for centuries. Indeed of the few travellers that do make it to the country, they tell of the surprising normality of Kabul, with little signs of the instability reported by international media. The country also remains a fascinating melting pot of ethnic and tribal groups.
Despite hopes that tourism could return to this historic country, almost every area of Afghanistan remains dangerous as insurgents continue to threaten the fragile democracy. If you do decide to travel to Afghanistan, personal security is recommended, as is a reputable tour company and full travel insurance. Always check foreign office advice before travelling.
Last updated: 19 October 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
If you’re travelling around Afghanistan, particularly outside Kabul, you should seek professional security advice and continually reassess your personal security. The British Embassy in Kabul operates under strict security protocols and staff receive regular security briefings to enable them to carry out their work in as safe an environment as possible.
Hotels and guesthouses used by foreign nationals and the government of Afghanistan are subject to regular threats. The British embassy doesn’t allow official visitors to stay in a hotel overnight and has placed restaurants and other venues off limits to staff.
Only travel with reputable local guides and to fully protected workplaces. Take the utmost care and vary your routines. If possible maintain radio or telephone communications to report your movements. Avoid any protests, demonstrations or large gatherings.
There have been a number of attacks against aid workers and military vehicles resulting in deaths and injuries, and there are ongoing military operations throughout the north. The FCO advice against all travel to Badakhshan includes travel to or climbing and trekking within the Wakhan Corridor. This is due to the significant security risks in the region and the Wakhan Corridor’s geographical isolation.
The eastern region has been extremely volatile for some time, with almost daily suicide and roadside bomb attacks, shootings and rocket attacks. The region close to the Pakistani border is extremely dangerous with a high number of insurgents operating freely.
There are regular, large military operations in this region. There have been numerous daily attacks against the Security Forces and US-led coalition forces. There are also daily incidents of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), suicide and rocket attacks, and direct fire attacks on security forces patrols, checkpoints and bases as well as on the local population.
The southern region is unpredictable and extremely volatile. There are regular military operations throughout the region and there has been a significant increase in the number of incidents ranging from shootings and roadside bombs to suicide bombings that have targeted civilians and the military. Suicide and roadside bomb attacks in Helmand, Kandahar and Nimroz continue.
There has been a series of attacks on the Kabul-Kandahar-Herat road in Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand, Nimroz (and Farah) provinces and in Uruzgan province. Nimroz has seen an increasing number of suicide attacks.
There have been roadside bombs, suicide attacks, rocket attacks and criminal kidnappings throughout the western provinces and increased lawlessness in Western Ghor. There is little security infrastructure in Dai Kundi and westerners have been kidnapped there.
Road travel is highly dangerous. Insurgents have set up false vehicle checkpoints from which violent attacks have been launched. In addition to the threat from terrorism and kidnapping, there is also a continuing criminal threat from car-jacking and robbery.
If you travel by road you should only travel in secure transport with close protection, using reputable local drivers and guides. Make sure doors are locked and windows closed. In many areas you should consider the use of armoured vehicles. Most road surfaces are in a very poor condition. The overall standard of driving is poor and most local drivers are uninsured. Accidents may lead to confrontation and threatening behaviour.
Please see the Terrorism section for information on threats to road travel within Kabul.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
There have been a number of serious attacks on both western and Afghan NGOs and vehicles belonging to them, in which people have been killed or injured. Most attacks continue to occur in the east and south of Afghanistan with a recent increase in activity in the central areas. The International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) www.ngosafety.org issues regular security updates for NGOs.
There have been two recent reports of sexual assault against females from EU countries working for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kabul.
All airlines from Afghanistan have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because Afghanistan is unable to ensure that its airlines meet international safety standards.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network. We can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
You should avoid flying with airlines subject to the EU operating ban. FCO staff are advised to use carriers which are not subject to the EU operating ban.
Flying to Dubai and then transferring is the most common route into Afghanistan. It is illegal to transit the United Arab Emirates carrying unlicensed personal protection equipment. This includes, but is not limited to, body armour (including ballistic vests), weapon holsters and handcuffs. Other specialist technical equipment such as satellite phones, listening and recording devices, powerful cameras and binoculars, while freely available in the UK, may also require licenses. Persons found carrying any such items without a license may be subject to conviction resulting in imprisonment and substantial monetary fines in accordance with Emirati law.
Crime is a serious concern, particularly in rural areas. Foreigners have been the victims of violent attacks, including armed robbery and rape. Don’t display any obvious signs of wealth, or carry large sums of money. Don’t travel alone, especially on foot. Take particular care after dark.
Afghanistan is undergoing a major transition in terms of politics, economy and security. Avoid large public gatherings and follow the local media for information on the security situation. It is difficult to categorise the country as a whole due to its diverse geography, ethnic, tribal and religious differences, and the ongoing insurgency. Large parts of the east, south east and south of the country are affected by conflict. Other areas have seen steady improvements in security, but are still prone to terrorist attacks and a high crime rate.