Pakistan is a land of extremes – baking hot deserts, towering mountains and crushingly busy cities. Another extreme Pakistan lays claim to is seeing extremely few travellers each year, and being extremely underrated!
All these extremes make it the ultimate adventure travel destination. So what are you waiting for? Here, in no particular order, are Pakistan’s eleven most exciting adventure experiences!
1. Driving the Karakoram Highway on a motorbike
The Karakoram Highway is often called the eighth wonder of the world because of the terrain it traverses. In its 1,300 kilometres it crosses three mammoth mountain ranges, several raging rivers and one of the world’s highest national border crossings! It’s often called one of the world’s best road trips – but why do it in a car?
Grab a motorbike, a helmet and some friends and get ready to drive across the roof of the world!
2. Camping in the Karakoram National Park
Once you’ve reached the roof of the world, why not stay the night and admire the view? If you’re lucky you might even spot a marco polo sheep or a snow leopard.
You’ll need a permit, lots of gear and a local guide (the region is notoriously remote), but nothing quite stops a conversation like the phrase “I went camping in the Karakoram Range last month”.
3. Hiking to Ansu Lake from Lake Saif-ul-Malook
The alpine Lake Saif-ul-Malook is one of Pakistan’s hottest summer tourist spots, and it’s no doubt a stunner. But if you really want to escape the crowds you’ll need to hike a further 4 to 6 hours to reach Ansu Lake. Named Ansu (“teardrop”) for its distinctive shape, it’s perched high in the Himalays at 4,250m above sea level – a whole kilometre higher than Saif-ul-Malook!
The return hike can be done in a day, but don’t hike without a local guide.
4. Driving through the desert to the Derawar Fort
Pakistan is not all snow capped mountains and plunging canyons. Drive a couple of hours in a jeep or 4×4 from the desert city of Bahawalpur, out towards the Indian border, and you’ll come across the huge Derawar Fort in the middle of the Cholistan Desert.
Once a rampart for the local royal clan, it is now eerily quiet except for the chols (nomads) and their camels who give the desert its name.
5. Trekking along the Passu and Batura Glaciers
If a day’s hike to and from Ansu Lake wasn’t enough, then gear up for an expedition to Pakistan’s most remote corners. The 57 kilometre Batura Glacier is the world’s fifth longest non-polar glacier, and a magnet for serious trampers. The four day trek is no walk in the park though – this takes some serious preparation.
Nearby is the shorter, and arguably more beautiful Passu Glacier – you can reach its snout in just 20 minutes from the highway – maybe a more relaxing option!
6. Scuba diving near Charna Island
Scuba diving? In Pakistan? Betcha didn’t expect to see this one here. Charna Island is the most accessible of a bunch of spots along Pakistan’s coastline where the underwater world teems with sealife. It might not rival Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in terms of natural beauty, but it’s dramatically cheaper and just an hour from Karachi. You can learn to scuba dive here – Pakistan is definitely one of the world’s more unexpected places to get PADI certified.
7. Getting lost in the Walled City of Lahore
Who says all adventure has to be had in the wilderness? The Walled City of Lahore is a world unto itself – twisting alleyways and hidden gardens, exuberant locals and colourful traditions – this is Pakistani society in a nutshell!
Just don’t turn up with an agenda – there are plenty of diversions along the way, and lots of chai to be had with new found friends – and you will get lost at least once.
8. White Water Rafting down the Naran River
Back in the mountains, the main service town for Lake Saif-ul-Malook is Naran, situated next to the Naran River. A few kilometres up the road is the drop off point for the white water rafting trip of a lifetime! The rapids aren’t terrifying, but the views are unparalleled.
9. Negotiating the jeep track to Fairy Meadows
Fairy Meadows and the view of Nanga Parbat is an attraction of its own, but the only way to get there (other than hiking) is the precarious jeep ride along the side of a mountain.
Often referred to as one of the most dangerous roads in the world, most travellers spend the trip either cowering on one side of the jeep or gaping in awe as the skilful drivers master the unforgiving trail.
10. Exploring the far flung villages of the Chitral Valley
Chitral is not just any valley, it’s one of Pakistan’s least touristed yet most hospitable regions. You can walk into some villages and be the only foreign traveller that’s visited in years. The unique culture and stunning environs only add the the allure.
On arrival in Chitral you’ll be assigned a police guard (free of charge) to escort you around – just to smooth over any cultural misunderstandings that might arise in such an isolated place.
11. Crossing the Hussaini Bridge – and living to tell the tale!
Travellers call it a terrifying experience of a lifetime, locals call it the way to work. The iconic suspension bridge swings and sways in the mountain breeze as pedestrians dash (or stagger) from plank to narrow plank.
The waters of the Hunza Valley gush below while the Cathedral Range looms in the background – unforgettable!
And there you have it! Pakistan is off the beaten track, and it isn’t the ideal destination for everyone, but for those with an adventurous spirit, it might just be your next favourite hotspot!
Tim Blight is the founder of travel blog UrbanDuniya.com. He loves travelling (48 countries and counting), photography, city life and coffee. He splits his time between Australia and Pakistan, and has written two books, including the successful Pakistan Traveller – the world’s most comprehensive travel guidebook to Pakistan, and is now in its second edition. Fully updated for 2017, the book is available in two paperback and and two ebook formats through UrbanDuniya.