My name is Alen and welcome to my Afghanistan travel guide. I guess I would call myself a filmmaker. Since I was a little kid, I had an interest in making videos. This passion came from my Dad who was always filming me and my sister playing outdoors with his VHS camcorder.
I used to film some funny (at least I thought they were funny) videos with my friends and post them on YouTube. Later on, I continued my love for video-making during high school when I tried learning new skills on the Internet. After college, I got a job as a video-editor for a guy that did weddings and that’s when my professional career kicked off.
I’m originally from Croatia and grew up in a small village. Success there was if you finished college or got a full-time job. I never felt like that would be enough for me. I tried and worked a few jobs and just didn’t feel inspired. The monotonous 9-5 routine made me feel trapped. Meanwhile, I was seeing awesome YouTube videos of people travelling the world.
These amazing visuals inspired me. One weekend I went to Rovinj and decided to film a video. I posted the video on YouTube and a few months later I got an email from an American journalist asking me to join her on a trip to China to film a documentary. I couldn’t believe it!
Inspiration to Visit Afghanistan
Visiting Afghanistan was a spontaneous adventure for me. This country was never high on my bucket list or anything like that but my friend – a famous Croatian travel blogger – wanted to go there for quite some time. Afghanistan was one of the few countries open for travellers. So he invited me there. I just said yes, not knowing what to expect.
The only things I knew were from what I heard on the news. That it was dangerous, full of the Taliban and those types of things. Usually when I go somewhere, I do some research beforehand but for Afghanistan I didn’t do much. We weren’t even sure that our visas would be approved. But after two days we got our visas and were flying there!
Basing Ourselves in the Capital
I landed in Kabul (the capital city of Afghanistan) on the 1st of November, 2020. That’s when my eight day trip through Afghanistan started. Firstly, we got to our incredible hotel and our guide bought us some local clothes to wear. It was important that we blend in and look like locals.
Of course, every local (when they see you) knows that you’re not from Afghanistan but that’s another reason why you wear these clothes. You show them respect for their culture. Very often, people would be happy to see us and they would complement us on our dress. It was one of the most comfortable pieces of clothing I have ever worn!
So our trip started with sightseeing around Kabul. Already, on the first day, we had a flight booked in the afternoon to Herat. Every city we visited in Afghanistan was reached by flight because it’s much safer that way. Around 60% of the country is still under Taliban control and they often create checkpoints on the roads between destinations.
Kabul was something like a “home base” for us. We would fly from the capital city, get back, sleep for a night and then jet off to another destination. We were in Herat and had almost a full day there to go exploring. Our first site was the Friday Mosque where we went on a tour.
We learned about the history and saw how the tiles on the mosque were made by hand. I witnessed the entire process – from making the tiles and clay, to the paint work and how the tiles were heated in an oven. The last part was a mosaic for the final design. That mosque was even more spectacular after knowing how everything is made.
After that we saw another amazing site – the Citadel of Herat which dates all the way back to 330 BC. It once served as the home of Alexander the Great. We did some more sightseeing and then at lunch it was time to catch a flight back to Kabul – our base for our Afghanistan trip.
Close Encounters with the Taliban
Waking up early the next day, we were supposed to fly to Bamyan but our flight got cancelled. Our guide was extremely nervous to tell us the news that Plan B would involve going by car to Mazar-e Sharif. Our immediate response was: Yes! This way we could see more of the countryside.
That road trip was one of the best experiences for me in Afghanistan. We spent eight hours driving 426 km. Most of the time we drove on gravel roads through the mountains. There was one part of the road trip where we had to change from our car to a different car which continued driving 15 minutes in front of us. This was about keeping us safe.
The Taliban control much of that area and are known for creating checkpoints. The car in front was on call and would report back to us if anything suspicious was happening – so we could stop and wait for everything to clear if need be. It was only a 10 minute drive through that area but to us in the car it felt more like an hour or two!
As we drove by, there were many trucks stopping and going far away into the fields where they would pay taxes to the Taliban. And what if you don’t pay the taxes? Well, you might get shot by an RPG-7! We saw some destroyed cars, trucks and military outposts along that road. Could you imagine driving two minutes away from the Taliban?!
When we passed that part of Taliban controlled road, we hopped back into our main car and continued driving. Our driver invited us into his home for dinner when we arrived in Mazar-e Sharif. This was a huge experience for us as we dined with a local family and enjoyed delicious food.
The next day we had a tour planned through Mazar-e Sharif. We visited the beautiful Blue Mosque (also known as the Shrine of Hazrat Ali) and ventured out of the city to see the 12th century gates between the mountains. We were supposed to visit Balkh too but we skipped it as that area was unsafe. Then we got back on a plane and returned to Kabul.
Beautiful Treasures of Bamyan
We woke up at 3am and caught our flight to Bamyan. This time around our flight wasn’t cancelled! This city is 240 km northwest from Kabul and is surrounded by impressive mountains with an elevation of 2550 metres above sea level. It was a lot different than any other place we visited so far in Afghanistan because we could roam freely around the city.
We could visit the markets and interact with locals freely. Bamyan hasn’t had any Taliban presence for 20 years. We visited the extraordinary Band-e Amir National Park with its six pristine blue lakes at 3000 metres. They look like Afghanistan’s version of the Grand Canyon in Arizona!
The city is also known for its standing Buddhas – the Buddhas of Bamiyan. They were once the tallest standing Buddhas in the world until they were tragically destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Other great sites we visited were Shahr-e Zuhak (The Red City) and Shahr-e Gholghola (The City of Screams) which were both destroyed by Genghis Khan.
Favourite Place in Afghanistan
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when visiting Afghanistan. When we landed in Kabul and went out onto the streets, I was so excited to be there. I was instantly impressed by the hospitality and generosity of the people – how everyone we met invited us for tea, wanted to take photos with us and how friendly they were. It was really a pleasant surprise.
My favourite place in Afghanistan was Bamyan. I’m a fan of mountains and that place had epic views. We spent half a day roaming around Band-e Amir National Park and found a cliff to stand on with mountains in the distance. This place made for one of my favourite photos. Even before we arrived, we could see a lake in the distance between sandy cliffs!
Top 5 Things To Do in Afghanistan
I think that eight days was quite a short time to stay and there is a lot more to be explored. I would suggest spending at least two weeks in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, I can recommend these 5 things to do:
1. Explore Band-e Amir National Park
Band-e Amir National Park is a place that has incredible pristine lakes and mountain views. You can enjoy a wonderful and peaceful walk around the park. And you can even rent a paddling boat if you want to explore the lake.
2. Discover the Treasures of Bamyan
The entire town of Bamyan was so amazing to see. From walking around the market, to roaming the streets and just people-watching. I was so happy when I got here – especially because it’s free of the Taliban.
3. Learn about the History of Herat Citadel
The Citadel of Herat is a fascinating and beautiful place with amazing history. Many empires used this citadel and it was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries. A great place to learn about history!
4. Visit the Stunning Friday Mosque in Herat
I loved seeing the architecture of the Friday Mosque (also known as Herat Central Blue Mosque). The best part was seeing how all the tiles and mosaics were actually made – all by hand which was incredible!
5. Hike to Shahr-e Zuhak (The Red City)
Shahr-e Zuhak (The Red City) is worth a hike for sure! From here you are offered amazing views across the whole valley. You are also standing where Ghengis Khan lost his favourite Grandchild which is why he laid waste to this whole area. Many people believe that the red colours of the citadel and mountains come from the blood of these deadly battles.
Meeting the Locals of Afghanistan
Luckily, I had the chance to meet some locals. I can say that Afghani people are incredibly hospitable. I can’t describe this in words because it’s just something you have to experience yourself. People were so kind and generous. In the markets they would offer us tea and talk with us.
Our driver even invited us to his house for dinner! We had the chance to try food that isn’t normally served in restaurants and also share a meal with his whole family. Later on, some of his friends came around and we had a fantastic night together. I will always cherish that moment.
We were also invited for tea by a local in a small village near Bamyan. There was a small village with houses built on the side of the mountain and his house was all the way on the top. It was another great chance to see how local people live and experience their warmth and hospitality.
Awesome Food of Afghanistan
The food of Afghanistan is so good! It mostly consists of kebabs and rice but in every city it was different. I was a big fan of the chicken kebabs. I also remember that there were at least three types of rice. My favourite rice dish was something with a baked crust and rice inside. Too bad I can’t remember the name. And my absolute favourite was Bolani.
Bolani is a fried flatbread with a filling. It has this epic crust which can be stuffed with potatoes, lentils and meat. My favourite was spring onion stuffing. It’s a type of street food and I ate way too much of it!
Accommodation with an Agency
If you travel to Afghanistan, it’s best to go with a local agency. Someone who knows all the safe places where you can go because it’s not a safe country in general. The Taliban still have a strong presence. You can’t just roam around wherever you want. Our guide sorted our hotels for us.
The most notable one was in Kabul. They didn’t have a sign anywhere that said “hotel”. You enter through a big steel door which is surrounded by huge stone walls. Then you go through another steel door. Next, you see armed guards and have to pass through a tunnel and enter a garden before the entrance. It was like a secret hotel. So cool!
Favourite Memory of Afghanistan
My favourite memory from Afghanistan was from the road trip we took to Mazar-e Sharif. Afterwards, I posted about that adventure on my Instagram Stories and got a lot of direct messages from soldiers who were there saying that we were brave or perhaps crazy for travelling in those areas!
Roads can get extremely dangerous. But for me it was an incredible experience to see. Especially the road through the mountains and tunnels that were filled with dust so you couldn’t see anything in front of you. I’m kind of glad that our flight was cancelled that day.
Need to Know Before you Go
If you decide to visit Afghanistan then be prepared! It’s not the safest country and I don’t recommend going solo. Of course, get in touch with a local travel agency and go with them. Remember that you are paying for safety. Your guide will know which places are safe and which ones aren’t. Listen to your guide at all times. They will take care of you.
Lastly, don’t search too much on the Internet because you will only find negative aspects about the country. Avoid reading news websites. You will get a totally different perspective when you arrive in Afghanistan. Thanks for reading and I hope you have a wonderful time here!