So you’ve decided to take the jump and travel to Afghanistan. It can be quite scary, I know, I’ve been there too and remember my first time crossing the land border from Uzbekistan. I started questioning whether I was making the right decision, and in all honesty if you’re not a little bit concerned then you’re either one of the bravest people to have ever lived or you haven’t been paying attention to the news for the previous 40 years. Having a little bit of apprehension is probably quite healthy actually – not enough to stop you doing it, but you do need to remember where you are. After all, Afghanistan does present certain risks and that’s why choosing to go with someone that has been taking guests to Afghanistan for years should be your first priority in booking.
I’ve been organising trips to Afghanistan since 2016 and have travelled the breadth of this amazing country. We’ve never had a single problem on any of our trips and this comes down to the myriad of tours and the amazing local staff I’ve found to work with. Experienced guiding can make or break a trip and with Afghanistan it’s more important than anything.
I’m not going to claim that SAIGA tours is the only company taking people here, that we were the first or that we’ve been where no one has ever been before, but experience really matters, and we definitely have that.
It’s in the nature of any company to be reassuring, but it’s also important you know what’s happening as it happens, and we make sure that you stay informed. Travelling to Afghanistan poses its own complications. On one tour a few years ago, I was explaining to my group about an incident that had happened in Kabul that very morning, how we would avoid it and the measures we were taking. At the same time another group was at the hotel completely oblivious. They say that ignorance is bliss, but with Afghanistan knowledge is safety.
We take safety seriously and it’s the little differences – how to spot issues and understanding how incidents occur. On a trip in 2019 we were in a restaurant in Mazar when I noticed two men who would never usually be in this kind of restaurant. Their ordering was strange and their behaviour unusual. Of course, no one on the trip noticed and even our drivers were blissfully enjoying their Uzbeki plov. We then left to head to an ice cream shop down the road and strangely these two same men arrived. At this point I quickly moved the group to the vehicles and instructed the drivers to drive quickly, taking an unorthodox route. The group was a bit surprised at being rushed away from their still full bowls of ice cream, but all knew that they needed to just follow the instructions quickly and without a fuss. We’ll never know if it was just a coincidence, or even just a couple of busy bodies, and that’s the point, we never need to know.
No matter where you go in Afghanistan, you’re going to have an amazing time. Even if you only went to Kabul and saw the few main tourist attractions, you’ll have a life changing experience. However, after years of travelling there, knowing how to take a trip up a notch turns amazing into phenomenal. After every tour we change our itineraries, add in new great finds and make each trip better than the last. I go on every tour, so I also want to see unique new things rather than just sticking to the classic itineraries. Of course classic itineraries are classic for a reason, but knowing the exact places where a great photo opportunity will be coming up or a side street full of surprises takes your trip to the next level.
We genuinely want everyone to have the chance to travel to Afghanistan. There is a reason I love it so much and I want everyone else to enjoy it as much as I do. That’s why we make our trips as affordable as possible. Afghanistan can be an expensive country to travel to and a lot of the costs make sense. When paying local drivers and guides you want them to have your best interests at heart and paying them fairly means you’re going to get loyal proud individuals who are going to look out for you. We work with the same people over and over again, and not only do we want them to be loyal to us, but we also care about and respect them and believe that they should earn decent wages too.