We get a lot of messages both on Instagram as well as submitted directly through this website to our email, asking us for general information for people planning their own trips. While we are not in the business of making free itineraries for everyone, we thought the least we could do is put some of the most commonly sought after information here so that you know how to get your travels to the North started.
Get Updates Before You Travel
While most of our itineraries avoid the 16-18 hour ground transfers from Islamabad to the North, we realise a lot of you might want to drive with your own group to see what all Pakistan has to offer as well as make it more economical. Keep in mind that roads are not always clear, at times closed for construction and/or landslides might have shut section(s) down and you may have to wait 30 minutes to, at times, a day for repair crews to come and clear your path. Flights are only 60 minutes long and avoid all that hassle.
First and foremost, call ahead of your travels and get important updates on road conditions and weather in the area(s) you will be visiting, as well as driving through to get there. For instance, if you are heading to Hunza via the Babusar Pass, you'd want to speak to officials at Abbottabad, Kaghan, Naran, Chilas and Gilgit to make sure roads are open and that you can drive through without any issues. This helps especially if you are, or have a foreign citizen traveling with you. Below you will find a list of all important government offices and their contact information.
Pakistan Country Code:
+92 (or 0092)
For a complete list of government and police official contact information, please click here
If you're driving via the Naran-Babusar route and want a quiet, clean and picturesque place to stop along the way, we recommend the Arcadian in Khanian. This property is probably the most expensive in the entire area but we feel like it's well worth the price tag. For bookings dial
Although it's always crowded, if you plan your travels ahead of time you can get one of the isolated cabins by the river. Minus the crowds, this is a beautiful place to stay. All PTDC bookings are made in advance and at their physical office in F6 Islamabad (next to Total fuel station) and their contact info is (051) 9208949
If you haven't taken a break up till this point and looking for a clean and picturesque place to get a good night sleep before continuing your adventure, this is a great option before you enter Hunza.
Affordable, clean and at times quiet (but usually pretty busy with larger groups), this is a great place to stop for the night especially if you have to get to the Gilgit airport early the next morning. All PTDC bookings are made in advance and at their physical office in F6 Islamabad (next to Total fuel station) and their contact info is (051) 9208949
Serena Gilgit is not for the budget traveler, it's pricey and usually requires a reservation way ahead of time. It's super clean and comes with almost all the perks of being in a proper hotel. Our suggestion, if you're going to be using Serena hotels more than once, become a member of the Prestige Club and get great discounts and rewards to use at any Serena anywhere in the world.
Serena Hunza: +925813457660
Serena Gilgit: +925811455895
Serena Khaplu Palace: +925816450891
Serena Shigar Fort: +925815467108
More than a hotel, this place feels like home. Family owned and operated, the Passu Ambassador Hotel is very clean, the food is great, the prices are more than fair and you get as much history lessons and regional information from the brothers Karim and Gadheer who run this place. We highly recommend you stay here. This place also happens to be central when exploring anything in Gojal (aka upper Hunza) and has magnificent views of the Passu Peaks directly in front of the hotel.
Cell: +923555692651 / 751
Most telephone networks still do not work in the Gilgit-Baltistan region and if you do not wish to be completely off-grid during your travels, not something we would recommend because accidents do happen, we suggest your first stop as you enter the North should be at the local SCOM franchise. They have a system where if you get the data package, you will not have any minutes added on it for making calls. Remember to ask the representative to add at least 100 - 300 Rupees worth of call time and to help you add settings for their network/data to work on your device. Also make sure you leave this new number with your emergency points of contact in case there's a reason they have to absolutely get in touch with you.
If you're flying into Gilgit or Skardu and you haven't already reserved a vehicle, the good news is that both these airports have at least a dozen car rental vendors standing around looking for you. The bad news is you may be overcharged. Shop around, talk to more than one driver and more importantly, go and physically inspect the vehicle. Make sure it's clean, turn on the AC/Heating to see if it actually works, and make sure there's an emergency repair kit in the back with a solid looking spare tire. Other places to look for reliable vehicle rental is at the Serena Gilgit rental desk and if you're headed to Baltistan, call the Serena Shigar Fort and ask them to put you in touch with their preferred vendor.
Speaking to a few guides is essential before selecting one that will work best for you and your group. But you also need to know what questions to ask. Well that depends on what you want out of your experience in the North. Is it a sightseeing trip where you just want vehicle transfers and epic Instagrammable selfies? Because most any guide can do that without any issues. But if it is a bespoke adventure you are looking for, if you've come to the North to actually experience the wild and rugged beauty of the mountain, then you need to get out of the vehicle and away from the highways.
In the second case, you'll need to be more careful with who you select to guide you. If you're a non-Pakistani traveller and don't speak any Urdu, you'll need someone who can clearly communicate with you in at least English. On a trail in this region, it is crucial for the guide and the trekker to be able to understand each other in order to avoid issues later. Second thing you should be looking for is if he has a guide's permit and that it is valid. Ask him how long he has been doing it, give him your expectations and ask him to give you at least three options to choose from. Ask him if he can help you with camping logistics and arrange a chef to come along and cook meals for you while you're at the campsites.
We've had experiences where a lot of our clients have shown up without the proper clothing or gear for their time in the mountains. Unfortunately, the Pakistani North is still not as developed as some other major mountain destinations of the world and it is not easy to arrive and go shopping for reliable trekking footwear or a down jacket or be able to walk into a store and choose from a variety of sleeping bags and camping equipment.
If you happen to find yourself in a situation where you need clothing/equipment and you're already in the North, there's a few shops in Gilgit (you'll have to ask your driver to find you one) and then there's a shop I love and trust in Karimabad (Hunza) that has a lot of great quality down jackets, cold weather pants, footwear (but mostly men's sizes) and a good enough selection of sleeping bags and other camping equipment to choose from. Some of these items are only available to purchase (but they're at a fraction of the retail cost) and some you can even rent such as tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, etc. You can even ask the owner of this shop to help you with your trek or if he's busy, he would find you the best most reliable local guide.
This shop is called 'The Mountain Equipment' and you can reach the owner at +923454865707
For the Baltistan region, once you have your vehicle selected, ask your driver to take you to main Skardu city where all the gear/clothing shops are and there's literally two dozen to select from.
Some of you may be new to the adventure lifestyle, here's a few SOPs to help you understand how to conduct yourselves in the mountains as well as what to expect:
- Be polite, people of the mountains are very hard but also with a very warm and generous hearts. If you have a problem with a service, talk to them instead of screaming or throwing a tantrum because that will never help.
- Keep quiet places quiet - we've experienced a few of our favourite places that we loved for how beautifully quiet they were, have stopped being warm and welcoming to new groups and after investigating why, we found out that they got sick of loud groups destroying their peaceful vibes. Don't show up blasting your music or loud conversations where every second word is an insult. Be soft spoken, let sounds of nature be the loudest things you hear.
- PLEASE don't leave your trash behind! If it came with you make sure it leaves with you. Tell your driver/guide the same if you see them throwing trash as a lot of drivers would empty out all the trash from their cars every time they stop the car for more than two minutes. Wait to get back to your hotel where you can bag your trash and leave it inside a bin.
- Bargaining for better rates should have it's limits - if you're a group of guys traveling together, and you're expecting for five or six of you to be put up in one room (believe me, I've seen it), that's just wrong! It's not fair to the hotels, it's not a great experience because you don't have any privacy, but most importantly, these days with COVID lurking around, please keep it no more than two persons to a room.
All that you've read above is just a fraction of what goes into our planning a journey for you. So if you still think it's a great idea to plan it yourself, go for it! I've done most of my travelling solo and have had many great, but some not so great experiences. But if you'd rather focus on your journey and not have to deal with a lot of logistical challenges, why don't you select the budget traveller package and let us worry about some of these headaches for you? Get in touch with us on how we can help.
Onwards and upwards!!