While the wealthy winter on St. Barth’s and in St. Tropez, the adventurous need something a little different. Instead of settling for the mundane, invest in the time of your life. Go to Afghanistan. For those with an addiction to thrill, the definition of “luxury” is changing. Conspicuous consumption, a taste for exclusivity and bragging rights crystallize when you step onto the dusty Kabul turf. As a traveler, you are among the elite. Now, watch your back.
Let’s be just a tad realistic: Afghanistan can be pretty hairy. While several flights land in Kabul every day, you need to be aware that you are flying into a war zone. There’s no other way to describe it. Bullets are flying, and the government’s control over what happens inside the country’s borders is precarious at best. Pockets of lawlessness could bring your excursion to an unfortunate conclusion. Afghanistan, unsurprisingly, is on the list of countries that the U.S. State Department suggests you avoid-the Defense Department tells a different story, but that’s only for people in uniform.
If you are a true adrenaline junkie, however, who cannot be talked out of doing anything stupid, Kabul should hold the top spot on your list of places to visit. Airline access is uneven. In the past, Air India and Air Arabia have flown into this hot spot, but both have suspended travel to this destination, at least temporarily. For now, your best bet is Ariana Afghan Airlines, which services both Kabul and Kandahar from Moscow, India, Pakistan and much of the Middle East. Fares tend to be below $1,000, but remember that this is on top of another flight to your Ariana connection city. Other alternatives are limited.
You have a choice. Flights by Air Arabia, Pakistan International Airlines, Indian Airlines and others bring passengers into Kabul regularly. If actually flying into this hot zone makes you a bit skittish, catch a flight to neighboring Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, and hire a driver. You’ll spend a lot more time traveling to your destination, though. From the Pakistan border, Kabul is a six-hour drive. But, you’ll get to see the historic Khyber Pass!
While you’re in country, work with an experienced tour operator for the best results. Afghan Logistics and Tours offers several packages to put your boots on the ground and show you as much of the country as possible. You can even rent a car and a guide/translator through this company. It’s definitely full service. The longest program (which lasts 16 days) takes you all over Afghanistan by car. Mazar-i-Sharif, Bamiyan, Taloqan and other cities you’ve seen mentioned on CNN are on the list. Custom tours are available, as well.
The other major travel provider for Kabul is The Great Game Travel Company Afghanistan. Itineraries range from four days to 15. Prices start at $1,800 for preexisting trips, though the bargain alternatives do not allow for custom itineraries. Of course, you’ll have to pick up the flight on your own. Security is of paramount concern to Great Game, as it is to Afghan Logistics and Tours. Both companies commit to keeping you safe while you explore one of the most remote places on Earth. Kabul Guide has a great page on security, and you’d be an idiot not to read it before booking your travel.
While your travel to and from Afghanistan will be pricey, your time on the ground will be fairly cheap. Kabul is among the most expensive cities in the country, with hotel rooms starting at $100 a night. Among the hotels where reservations can be made (online) are:
- Hotel Inter-Continental
- Kabul Serana (a bit pricey, at above $200 a night)
- Safi Landmark Hotel (seems to be a popular pick)
- Kabul Hotel (tennis court on site!)
When you hunt around for a hotel, take a look at where they are located. The words “diplomatic enclave” and “five minutes from the American Embassy” (such as the Heetal Plaza Hotel) are as important as they sound. Kabul Wazir Akber Khan is where the diplomatic enclave is located. Of course, gettign a room may not be easy. Some formerly open-minded hotels, like the Jamil and Zarnegar, now turn foreigners away. Don’t blame xenophobia, they’re doing this for your (and their) safety.
If cost is a concern (unlike your well-being), dash over to Jalalabad or Kandahar instead. Rooms in the former are only around $25 a night, and you can shack up in the latter for under $20.These deals come and go, as do the websites where you can book them. The smart move is to enter the planning process with a boatload of cash and no expectations. Even smarter: book your travel with an organizer (like those mentioned above); they’ll take care of the hotel.
Get a sense of what Kabul looks like here. Also, take a look at Kabul Guide. Though this site hasn’t been updated in several years, the photos do paint a pretty interesting picture of this unusual destination.