How to travel around Pakistan

So you’ve booked your ticket, you’ve got your visa, you’re ready to get away to Pakistan for the adventure of a lifetime. So how do you get around the country?

Pakistan is a medium-sized country, much smaller than Australia and the Canada but significantly larger than most European countries. Pakistan’s infrastructure works, but is of varying degrees of comfort and reliability, so how you’ll cover the distances once you’re there is an important consideration.

Bus and minivan

NATCO Bus at the Shandur Pass

If there’s a place in Pakistan that a bus doesn’t go to, then it’s probably not worth visiting. The country’s roads are plied by buses of various descriptions.

The most reliable option for travelling by bus is Daewoo Express – the Korean vehicle manufacturer operates a fleet of buses around the nation. At the moment they operate to all major cities in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa. Tickets can be booked by phone or online, or at their private stations which are cleaner and more orderly than the main city bus stations. They are significantly more expensive than other companies, but they almost always run on time, are reliably air conditioned, feature a bus attendant serving snacks and cold drinks, and have better security procedures than other companies.

A more comfortable option is Faisal Movers, but they are not quite as punctual or as far-reaching as Daewoo Express. They’re a great company with business class-style seats operating around Punjab, and are cheaper than Daewoo. Niazi Express and Skyways are second-string options which go to more places. You usually need to book Faisal, Niazi and Skyways at the city bus station you’re departing from.

If you’re going to be heading north to Gilgit-Baltistan, the largest company operating here is NATCO. You need to book NATCO tickets at the city or village station you’re departing from.

Minivans pull up at the Mastuj bus station

If your destination is not a major town or city, if you don’t mind roughing it to save money, or if the big companies are sold out, you’ll need to rely on local buses known by the company of manufacture (eg – ‘Daewoo’ service, ‘Volvo’ service). These services are operated by private owners, and usually leave once they’re full, stopping to let people off and pick passengers up along the way. Air conditioning and reclining seats are a bonus, if you’re offered them. You can only book tickets for these services at the station you’re departing from, normally from the door of the bus as it’s about to leave.

‘Coasters’ (minibuses) and minivans also operate on shorter routes, and as feeder services to places that don’t receive a major bus service. There’s rarely air conditioning, and usually twice as many passengers as there are seats. Ask the price before you get on, and you normally pay for your journey while you’re on the way.

At Lahore Station about to board the Karakoram Express to Karachi

Train

Train is a great way to cover long distances in Pakistan. There are various classes on offer, some air conditioned, with both sleeper and seat options on most services. Cheaper than air but more comfortable than bus, it’s my personal favourite option for travelling cross country (say Lahore to Karachi). I have recently posted a video explaining the basics of travel by train in Pakistan. See below;

Additionally, Alex and Sebastiaan from Lost with Purpose have an excellent article with tips on how foreigners can avail a discount on Pakistan Railway tickets.

Car

Even the cars in Pakistan miss the 90s!

Bringing your own car into Pakistan is a bureaucratic nightmare for first-timers, but for anyone who has been through the process in other countries in this part of the world, it’s not especially difficult – just have all your papers in order (carnet de passage, passport, visa etc). Check that the nationality of the car that you are bringing into Pakistan won’t be an issue – Pakistan has a few political issues with its neighbours.

Traffic in the Walled City of Lahore

If you arrive in Pakistan and want to rent a car, the best way to do this is through a local travel agency. Usually you will have the option to have a car with a driver which is an excellent option – it saves the uninitiated from the terror of driving on Pakistan roads, and absolves you of a fair bit of responsibility if, God forbid, anything was to go wrong. Additionally, your driver will speak the local language and know the best places to go, and allow you to sit back and enjoy the scenery while he battles the traffic. Expect to pay Rs. 2500 per day for a manual four seat car, and Rs. 3500 for a car with a driver. Remember you might need to pay for his lodging and food as you travel – check with the rental company first.

Air

PIA at Chitral Airport

Flying is the safest and fastest way of getting around Pakistan. While safety, maintenance and service standards are not as high as in many other countries, and flights are often delayed, its still the easiest and safest way of travelling. It’s a great way of crossing the country quickly, such as Karachi to the north. It’s also a safer way of getting to Quetta or Gwadar, rather than crossing Balochistan by road.

Some travellers also prefer to fly to the northern mountains as it cuts out up to 24 hours on a bus. There are three airports in the north; Chitral, Gilgit and Skardu. Flights operate from Peshawar to Chitral, and from Islamabad to all three.

The airline with the best network is Pakistan International Airlines, PIA. Unfortunately it also has a reputation for delays, but it covers the country like no other airline does.

Shaheen is a full service airline with a few international connections, AirBlue offer a basic onboard service. SereneAir is a new 2017 startup, while AirSial is a Sialkot-based airline due to launch in 2018.

Shaheen Air International at Lahore Airport (Image: Yousaf465, Andrew c, Wikimedia Commons)

I’m planning to post soon about how to navigate the cities of Pakistan using local transport – stay tuned!

What’s your favourite way of travelling? Comment below!

Comments (6)

  • Agness of Run Agness Run Reply

    Such a great suggestions and recommendations, Tim! I will bear these tips in mind to use when I decide to explore Pakistan! 😉

    January 25, 2018 at 9:00 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Thanks Agness! Can’t wait to see you there one day!

      January 26, 2018 at 10:50 am
  • Andrew Boland Reply

    Daewoo Express – this is what I took for the majority of the time. And it was great! so comfortable and professional. Love the trains too but Daewoo buses rock Pakistan!

    February 2, 2018 at 8:05 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      True! Thanks for reading, Andy 🙂

      February 5, 2018 at 9:20 pm
  • aftab khan Reply

    I saw your youtube channel about travel in Pakistan . I am from India but after watching your channel , all i can say is that now i want to go to Pakistan and see all those beautiful places . Thank You .

    February 22, 2018 at 3:27 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting! I hope you can visit Pakistan one day!!

      February 22, 2018 at 3:56 pm

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