Afghanistan is home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world. Historically, the country has been at the crossroads of Asia and Europe.
Afghanistan’s central role as a middleman between the east and west means the country is home to some of the world’s most culturally significant archaeological sites. Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, is developed, but most of the country consists of small villages and towns.
Limited urbanization means Afghanistan’s awe-inspiring landscape has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Despite its negative portrayal in the media, Afghanistan is a beautiful country with a rich culture worth learning about and experiencing.
However, that doesn’t mean the country is safe to visit.
There are certainly places people do visit despite the danger, but an unstable government and a culture of violence fueled by extremist propaganda poses such an immediate risk to personal safety, that tourists should not consider traveling to Afghanistan.
Is Afghanistan Safe to Visit in 2023?
Generally speaking, Afghanistan is not safe to visit. Decades of conflict have left the country in turmoil. There is no stable government in Afghanistan. Recently, the Taliban has assumed control of the country.
Because of its history of violence and conservative cultural views, the Taliban is considered to be highly unpredictable and dangerous.
Decades of unsustainable farming practices have degraded the countryside to the point where flooding and landslides have become a pervasive problem. In short, Afghanistan is not safe to visit.
According to the same World Bank data, fewer intentional homicides occur in Afghanistan than in the British Virgin Islands, an improbable reality to say the least. The most common crimes in Afghanistan are linked to the opium trade.
Arms dealing, people trafficking, and money laundering are just a few illicit activities that prop up Afghanistan’s ailing economy and threaten the safety of residents and tourists alike.
Less severe crimes, like petty theft, scams, and vandalism, are common in Afghanistan. However, violent crimes, like terrorist bombings, are of more immediate concern.
Crime in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has the fourth highest crime rate in the world. The country ranks well above El Salvador and Honduras, two countries renowned for their gang violence and organized crime.
Accurate crime statistics about Afghanistan are virtually non-existent. Internally collected records on crime are incomplete. A lack of funding and adequate infrastructure precludes the government’s collection of accurate data.
Some third-party organizations, such as World Bank, have attempted to track Afghanistan’s crime statistics with varied success. The most recent World Bank data reports 7 intentional homicides per 100,000 people in Afghanistan.
The most common crimes in Afghanistan revolve around the farming, harvesting, and distribution of opium. Other common crimes include terrorism, unlawful assembly, kidnapping, corruption, and contract killings.
Although drug production may appear to be an auxiliary concern for tourists, it isn’t. According to the UN, Afghanistan’s cultivation and use of opium is at an all-time high.
This culture of drug consumption contributes to the social instability that power-hungry insurgent groups exploit to gain power and influence. This environment of fear, poverty, and extortion breeds violence that directly affects tourists.
Additionally, tourists are at increased risk of being kidnapped and used as bargaining chips in Afghanistan. Extremists capture and ransom tourists to extort physical and political resources from the government and embassies.
Unfortunately, the only way to avoid the mal-effects of Afghanistan’s drug economy is to stay away from the country. Terrorist attacks are another common concern in Afghanistan.
Although the Taliban has assumed control of the country since August 2021, many smaller insurgent groups exist within the country. These groups frequently conduct terrorist attacks in public or culturally significant areas to prevent the consolidation of power within the region.
Again, tourists may believe that terrorism is a domestic problem that does not affect tourism. The reality is that terrorist attacks are unpredictable and incur huge losses of innocent life.
Tourists are unlikely to survive roaming the Afghan countryside, meaning cities are the only feasible tourist destinations. Unfortunately, visiting an Afghan city puts tourists at an elevated risk of experiencing terrorism.
An ailing economy means all forms of theft are common in Afghanistan. No one can blame the Afghans who do steal.
There are few ways to make a living in the country, and tourists, if they are brave enough to visit the country, are prime targets for theft. The only way to avoid being robbed in Afghanistan is to avoid the country or blend in extremely well.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
The US Department of State advises that travel to all regions of Afghanistan is unsafe. That said, there are four areas of Afghanistan that people do visit with some frequency that are of interest to the adventurous (if not reckless) and curious: Bamyan, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kabul, and Herat.
Bamyan is a north-central city located in the Bamyan Province. The city attracts tourists because of its significant cultural artifacts. The city is home to a collection of the world’s oldest oil paintings as well as Buddhist statues carved into the sides of the nearby mountains circa 600 CE.
These ancient statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Today, the Taliban continues to suppress the Buddhist culture and history of Bamyan. Public records about crime rates in Bamyan are incomplete or non-existent.
However, the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist landmarks demonstrates Afghanistan’s hostile environment. If you are traveling to Bamyan to experience the Buddhist history there, observe the culture discreetly, avoiding any practice that would identify you as a Buddhist.
Mazar-i-Sharif is another north-central city in Afghanistan with irreplaceable religious and archaeological sites. The city is considered one of Afghanistan’s safest, and yet random violence between ethnic groups is still common.
The poverty situation in Mazar-i-Sharif is better than in other Afghan cities, but it means little for property crime rates.
Petty theft is still common, even though the penalty for being caught stealing is the removal of the thief’s hands. Any city where residents are threatened with mutilation should they attempt to meet their needs is certainly not safe for tourists.
Kabul is Afghanistan’s capital and largest city. Like most Afghan cities, Kabul features invaluable archaeological and religious sites. As the heart of Afghanistan, Kabul is a prime target for terrorist attacks.
Since the beginning of 2022, there have been 12 recorded terrorist attacks in Kabul, and the number will likely increase. Of these 12 recorded attacks, most have targeted schools and embassies, institutions insurgents believe threaten Afghanistan’s cultural fabric.
Herat is a cultural hub in the west of Afghanistan. Like many other Afghan cities of international interest, Herat is an ancient silk road city with a long, rich culture of learning and artistic expression.
Known as an oasis city, Herat’s cultural reservoirs have dried up under the Taliban. The Taliban actively represses the celebration of Herat’s non-Islamic history.
Herat is one of Afghanistan’s safer cities, but that isn’t saying much. Bombings and shootings are still common, and the city has a culturally repressive atmosphere intolerant of diversity.
Indeed, Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places for tourists visiting. There is no shortage of cultural arguments for why one would, or should, visit Afghanistan.
The chance to understand a culture different from your own is enough lure for any traveler smitten with wanderlust, but the country is simply too dangerous to visit. Because Afghanistan has been at the center of several conflicts for several decades, life in the country is difficult.
Few educational and economic opportunities exist in Afghanistan, meaning that many residents turn to illicit trades to survive. Of course, anyone dealing in illicit trades will likely encounter risk.
Innocent Afghans frequently find themselves as victims of criminal warlords that support the black market economy that allows people to survive and a culturally repressive government rife with corruption.
It follows that any country that brazenly limits the freedoms and opportunities of its citizens is hostile to outsiders, especially tourists. Geographically, Afghanistan is unsafe.
The country experiences extreme temperatures throughout the year. Widespread drought is also a serious concern in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is also located above several major tectonic plate fault lines, making earthquakes a common occurrence.
Things to Consider
Traveling to Afghanistan is a risky venture. Here are some additional considerations worth reviewing before your trip to Afghanistan:
- Afghanistan strictly observes religious laws that limit the autonomy of women. If you are a woman traveling to Afghanistan, you must understand that your rights and freedoms will be severely limited. Women traveling to Afghanistan must travel with a man or otherwise risk severe reprimands.
- Official reports do not accurately reflect the situation in Afghanistan. There is too much chaos and corruption in Afghanistan for accurate crime statistics to be recorded. Available information shows that Afghanistan is extremely dangerous. Unnervingly, the situation is likely much worse.
- Afghanistan’s informal power structures mean that tourists are frequently detained and persecuted without due process. Many countries inform their citizens that if they do travel to Afghanistan, they are not guaranteed protection by embassies, diplomats, or other government bodies.
- The official languages of Afghanistan are Pashto and Dari. Relatively few people speak any other language.
- Unstable socio-political conditions in Afghanistan mean that any stability achieved in the region is subject to rapid, if not instantaneous, deterioration. This means travel to and from the area is highly dangerous and unpredictable.
Disclaimer: As of July 2022, all NATO countries, as well as many other countries, advise against travel to Afghanistan.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Below are some frequently asked questions about visiting Afghanistan.
Is Afghanistan safe for tourists now?
No, Afghanistan is not safe for tourists. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August of 2021, no one expected the level-headed responses the insurgent group would deliver to international media outlets.
Although culturally and religiously conservative, it seems that the Taliban is, in its way, attempting to improve the life of its people.
Whether or not they are achieving their proposed goals is up for debate. Whatever the case, one thing remains certain: Afghanistan is not safe for tourists.
Which part of Afghanistan is safe?
Relatively speaking, Mazar-i Sharif & Balkh are considered two of the safest areas of Afghanistan. Still, even these areas experience above-average violence and civil unrest.
In general, no part of Afghanistan can be considered safe. Some consider the capital city of Kabul to be safe, but this is only a relative assessment. The truth is that Afghanistan is unsafe for tourists.
Unless you are a diplomat, native Afghan, or seasoned journalist, you will likely experience hostility when visiting Afghanistan. You want to strongly consider if putting yourself or your family in danger is worth visiting this region.
Will the Taliban allow tourists?
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, stated in a press release that Afghanistan is open for tourism. However, this comment needs context.
While anyone may have the right to visit Afghanistan, that doesn’t mean anyone should. Although the Taliban has not explicitly stated this, it is implied that tourists visiting Afghanistan must comply with every aspect of Taliban rule.
Because Afghanistan practices strict cultural practices and observes religious law, tourism in the country is realistically open to relatively few people.
Tourists that can travel freely to Afghanistan include devout Muslim males, and that’s about it. Americans and women should not consider traveling to Afghanistan.
Do the Taliban allow tattoos?
No, the Taliban does not allow tattoos. The Taliban doesn’t allow many things that are culturally acceptable in the west. Body piercings, consumption of alcohol, and flashy dress are all considered violations of Islamic law and are subject to punishment.
Punishments can range from jail time to death, so definitely do your research before traveling to Afghanistan. If you or someone you are traveling with have these adornments, it might be wise to remove them or cover them if you are seriously considering travelling to the area.
Are there any nice parts of Afghanistan?
There are many nice parts of Afghanistan, the capital of Kabul and the historic city of Jalalabad are two of the most beautiful cities in the middle east. However, that doesn’t mean tourists should visit them.
Afghanistan’s turbulent socio-political status makes it unsafe for 99% (maybe more) of tourists. Even within the “nice” parts of Afghanistan, extremist violence is commonplace. Abductions, assaults, and murders are not uncommon.
Is it a good idea to visit Afghanistan?
It is not a good idea to visit Afghanistan. Sure, the country is home to sublime mountain ranges and some of the oldest archaeological sites in the world, but it is also home to socially permissible intolerance and rampant terrorism.
Decades of conflict have created a volatile and unpredictable environment in Afghanistan. Violence of all kinds abounds in Afghanistan.
Several extremist groups have made Afghanistan unsafe for travel. Of course, Afghans are not inherently violent people. When peace is restored to the country, it will be safe to visit.
So, Is Afghanistan Safe to Visit in 2023?
Afghanistan is not safe. Anyone who is not an orthodox Muslim, male Afghan should not travel to Afghanistan. Even tourists that meet such strict prerequisites should exercise additional precautions when visiting Afghanistan.
While Afghanistan is culturally important, with a rich history, and a beautiful natural atmosphere, it is politically unstable and unsafe for tourists. Fortunately for you, we cover hundreds of other destinations that are safe to visit. Check them out today!