Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, rewards people with its unique beauty — at least, it rewards the few people who are brave enough to visit.
Due to the decades of conflict that have enveloped Afghanistan, Kabul has unfortunately seen few foreign visitors, although it was a popular destination for hippies in the 1960s.
Those who visit Kabul rave about the beautiful architecture and historic buildings that have managed to survive Afghanistan’s wars, such as the tomb of Babur and Pul-e Kheshti Mosque.
Others are taken in by Kabul’s culture, with amazing crafts at the market, delicious food, and wonderful hospitality. However, many travelers are hesitant to visit Kabul, especially those that have been following current events in Afghanistan.
All the beautiful buildings in the world are not worth risking your safety, after all.
We know you’re intrigued by Kabul but are wondering if it is safe to visit; that’s why our travel experts have rounded up everything you need to know about visiting this city. Let us be your guide!
Is Kabul Safe to Visit in 2023?
Kabul is not safe to visit, and you should not go there under any circumstances. The city suffered from high rates of crime, especially violent terrorist incidents, even in years prior.
Ever since the Taliban took over the city, it is now even more dangerous. Foreign governments are united in their advice — do not go to Kabul or to any part of Afghanistan.
Almost every single country has the country of Afghanistan under a Level Four travel advisory, telling people not to travel there under any circumstances.
The UK government tells people not to travel to Afghanistan under any circumstances and to try and keep a low profile if they do, as risks for foreign citizens are high and there is no consular presence in the country to intervene.
These warnings are echoed in pretty much every single other travel advisory for Afghanistan. To understand why Kabul is so unsafe now, you need to understand Afghanistan’s recent history.
Afghanistan has been engulfed in conflict since 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded, a war which led to the formation of guerrilla groups such as al-Qaeda. Afghanistan became independent again in 1992, but the Taliban, a newly formed radical Islamic militia, took power in 1995.
That rule only lasted until 2001, when the United States and United Kingdom invaded, overthrew the Taliban, and installed a friendly president.
The Taliban maintained control over parts of Afghan territory and fighting was continuous for decades, with constant terrorist attacks rocking Kabul. After two decades, the United States pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, creating a power vacuum.
In August 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul and retained control over the country. Nearly two years after the Taliban takeover of Kabul and the situation in the city is deteriorating.
97% of Afghans are living in poverty. Women’s rights are severely restricted, and girls are not even allowed to attend school. The Taliban rules Kabul harshly and common punishments include floggings and public executions.
The risk of running afoul of their regime and committing a crime is high, and you don’t want to face the consequences. Some travelers are still going to Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan, and there are a few organized tours for danger travelers.
However, foreign citizens are often targeted by the Taliban because they can use them for leverage as hostages. Recently, famous British “danger tourist” Miles Routledge was captured by the Taliban and as of early April 2023, his whereabouts were still unknown.
Many Afghans who have been displaced by the Taliban takeover are also telling people not to visit Kabul.
They say that when you visit Kabul now, you are giving money to the Taliban government and helping it with positive publicity, which is offensive to local people who are suffering under its rule.
Thus, traveling to Kabul is not just a question of safety but also of moral boundaries. To summarize, the dangers of traveling to Kabul include:
- Arbitrary detention
With so many dangers at hand, it’s probably best to go somewhere else and wait for the political and security situation in Kabul to calm down.
Crime in Kabul
As mentioned above, crime in Kabul is probably the least of your worries as you have to worry about the fundamentalist terrorist group that currently holds power in the city.
However, you should also know about the elevated risk of crime in the capital, which makes sense as the collapse of the already-fragile social order prior to the Taliban invasion is making crime relevant.
According to travel advisories issued by foreign governments, such as Australia, all of Afghanistan has high levels of violent crime. The situation is worse in rural areas where there is less government control, but Kabul as well suffers from crime.
Like any big city, Kabul has pickpockets, but those are the least of your worries. Far more concerning is the high rate of violent crime, including armed robbery, rape, and carjacking.
The problem in Kabul is that you can’t turn to the authorities for help because the authorities that are in place now are often in cahoots with the criminals. For example, kidnapping is an elevated risk for Western travelers.
Terrorist groups often kidnap travelers — including the Taliban. Involuntary detention is a form of kidnapping, you can argue, but it’s hard to argue when you are in a jail cell.
Finding accurate crime statistics in Kabul is difficult due to the turmoil that has engulfed the city for decades, as well as the lack of transparency by city authorities.
The most recent homicide statistics for Afghanistan available to the World Bank come from 2018, when the value was reported at 6.66 incidents per 100,000 people but might have been higher.
According to Numbeo, Kabul scores an 84.96 out of 100 on the site’s crime index, which is very high. The city scores very high values for almost all sorts of crime, including carjacking, assault, property crime, violent crime, and especially corruption and bribery.
Although the security situation in Kabul has been tenuous for decades, things have gotten worse ever since the Taliban took over.
Although the Taliban promised to bring order to the city with their strict rule, crime rates have risen all over Afghanistan, including Kabul. The destroyed economic prospects of most Kabul residents mean that crime is the only option many have.
The Taliban are directly responsible for the elevated crime rate in Kabul. In many respects, the group operates like a mafia-style organization according to the Global Organized Crime Index.
For decades, it has been behind the heroin trade and other illegal activities, which is especially troubling considering that drug addiction is a serious societal problem in Afghanistan and often drives crime.
Besides violence from the government, the biggest threat to visitors in Kabul is still terrorism. The rate of terror attacks has obviously declined now that one of the main groups responsible for prior terror attacks is in power.
However, other groups such as ISIS-K are rising in Afghanistan and the city. While Afghanistan has seen a sharp drop in terrorism deaths since the Taliban takeover, incidents are still common.
Kabul is a primary target for terrorists in Afghanistan since it is the capital of the country. Terrorist attacks in Kabul either target the remaining foreign presence in the city or the Taliban government.
Recent attacks have included a suicide bomb outside the foreign ministry in January 2023 that killed at least 20 people, an armed gunman storming a hotel popular with Chinese visitors in December 2022 and killing several people, and an attack on the Russian embassy in September 2022 that killed at least six people.
The Taliban often downplays the prevalence of terrorist attacks in the country to try and make it seem as if it has better control of the security situation than it does, but it is clear that terrorism is still a problem in Kabul.
Common targets are the airport, foreign embassies, and hotels and restaurants where the few foreigners left in Kabul congregate.
The second-best way to minimize your risk of being the victim of a terrorist attack in Kabul is to avoid likely targets such as crowds, religious festivals, and foreign businesses. Of course, the best way to avoid being a victim is to not go to Kabul.
Even if you avoid being the victim of a terrorist attack, you run the risk of being the victim of a more mundane violent crime such as armed robbery. The Canadian government warns in its travel advisory that although exact statistics are hard to find, armed robbery is very common.
The past few decades of conflict mean that there are a lot of weapons floating around Afghanistan, so if someone stops to rob you on the street, there is a high chance of an armed conflict.
There are a few precautions you can take to minimize your chances of robbery such as keeping a low profile, traveling with security when possible, and not going out in Kabul at night. That is still no guarantee of your safety, and it is probably best that you skip Kabul for now.
Avoiding Bad Areas
It’s hard to single out any areas to avoid in Kabul as the whole city is dangerous for visitors right now. Terrorist attacks are most common around diplomatic areas, government buildings, and the airport, so be careful when you are in those areas.
The highway from Kabul is also very dangerous as there are frequent road bombs, carjackings, and other terrorist attacks.
Things to Consider
Are you still thinking of going to Kabul? Here are some other facts to keep in mind (and that might change your mind):
- Due to widespread poverty and international isolation after the Taliban took over, there are frequent shortages, including of vital goods such as medicine.
- Women should not travel to Kabul under any circumstances, as the Taliban have strict restrictions on their freedoms.
- Religious minorities such as the Shia are often targeted both for terrorist attacks and for government retribution, so be careful when visiting Shia sites or festivals.
- Be careful that your trip to Kabul doesn’t put any locals you meet in danger as the Taliban heavily monitor people for signs of illicit activity, including speaking English or interacting too closely with foreigners.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions fellow travelers interested in Kabul wanted to ask:
Is Kabul open for tourists?
Kabul is technically open for tourists as both the airport and Afghan land crossings are open, and there are hotels and restaurants catering to foreigners. However, whether it is safe to go to Kabul is a different question.
How safe is it to travel to Afghanistan?
You might think that if you can’t visit Kabul, you can stop into different parts of Afghanistan. However, the whole country is unsafe to travel to due to Taliban rule as well as the prevalence of terrorist and bandit groups, especially outside of the major cities.
Are hotels safe in Kabul?
Hotels in Kabul are technically open, but they are not safe for visitors. Terrorist groups often target hotels because they are home to foreigners. An example is the terrorist attack of December 2022 when several Chinese nationals were killed.
Can you drink in Kabul?
The Taliban are a radical Islamist group, which means that they enforce Sharia law principles, including the banning of alcohol. You cannot drink in Kabul and it’s better not to risk it.
Why are there no flights over Kabul?
After the Taliban solidified control over Kabul and most of the country, flights to Kabul actually reopened. However, they only fly from a few regional airports and hubs such as Dubai and major airlines are still avoiding Afghan airspace for security reasons.
So, Should You Travel to Kabul?
Kabul is not safe to visit at all. As long as the Taliban controls the city, Westerners are at risk of arbitrary detention. Plus, despite the Taliban’s strict rule, there are frequent violent crimes ranging from terrorism to armed robbery that often target foreigners.
While you’ll want to avoid Kabul at all costs, the good news is that we’ve made guides on more than a thousand other places that are safe to visit. Check them out now to get inspired for your next trip!