Pakistan is my favorite country in the world. Its landscapes-which include many of the world’s highest mountains- are divine, its food delicious, its culture vibrant with centuries’ of history, and its people some of the most hospitable in the world.
While the media has painted this beautiful country in a very negative light, the reality couldn’t be more positive. A visit to this South Asian nation will undoubtedly change you forever- I know the many months I spent backpacking there surely changed me.
Though Pakistan is still considered very off-the-beaten-path as far as foreign tourism goes, domestic tourism is alive and well, which might surprise visitors who expect to show up to completely empty sights.
But fear not – though Pakistan has somewhat of a tourist trail already, it’s very easy to delve deeper if you know where to look. So without further ado, here are 10 incredible under-the-radar places to visit in Pakistan that will show you just how amazing this country is- sans all the other tourists!
Anyone who’s done even a bit of googling about Pakistan will come across its famous Gilgit-Baltistan territory- a mountainous wonderland that includes its most popular tourist destination–Hunza.
Tens of thousands of Pakistanis and foreign tourists alike make the long and arduous journey from capital Islamabad to Hunza each season… but far fewer venture to Astore, a beautiful valley some four hours from Gilgit City.
Astore is a very under-the-radar place to visit in Pakistan for a few reasons: its roads aren’t in great condition, there aren’t as many hotels, and cell phone service is virtually non-existent.
But if you can get past those slight inconveniences, you’ll be rewarded with a seemingly endless number of trekking opportunities- including Nanga Prabat Basecamp–the 9th highest mountain in the world–epic lakes such as Rama Lake as well as the very off-beat Riat Lake, and dozens of charming villages filled with the friendliest of faces.
While Peshawar is a widely-known city, it’s extremely underrated and often skipped by both foreign and domestic tourists alike. Yes, it might be extremely conservative, but the city is truly home to some of the kindest people in all of Pakistan- and trust me, that’s saying something.
Peshawar might seem like just another bustling metropolis at first glance, but a quick walk through its Old City will leave you amazed. The “City of Flowers” as it is known, is the oldest in all of Pakistan and its rich history can be felt at each and every turn. Stunning wooden havelis dating back centuries, along with beautiful old shrines and mosques will transport you back in time as you wander through this special piece of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province.
For history lovers and foodies alike, Peshawar is undoubtedly one of the best under-rated places to visit in all of Pakistan. Its culture is completely different from other Pakistani cities, and so is its signature tea, kahwa: you definitely won’t be able to leave the city without having a few too many cups.
Perhaps the most under-the-radar place to visit in Pakistan on this list, Misgar is the last valley before the Chinese border, and due to how difficult it is to reach, it’s almost completely ignored by any and all tourists. This means that you’ll likely get to enjoy the epic views and meet hospitable locals all by yourself.
Yes, it’s remote, but Misgar isn’t *that* hard to reach as far as places to visit in Pakistan are concerned. The valley, where some locals even look slightly Chinese, is about a 5-6 hour drive from Gilgit CIty, which is the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Like Astore, Misgar also boasts numerous trekking opportunities, as two trails of the former SIlk Road- the Kilik Pass and the Mintaka Pass- both begin in the valley. Another must-see is Qalandarchi, an old fort built by the British in the 1920’s.
The “City of Saints” as it’s known was one of the most important trading centers in the Subcontinent during Medieval times and attracted tons of Sufis (Islamic mystics) during the 11th and 12th centuries. As such, dozens of mesmerizingly beautiful tombs and shrines fill the city.
Despite being filled with history, Multan tends to be an underrated place to visit in Pakistan when compared to the country’s other cities like Lahore, Karachi or Islamabad.
The tomb of Shah Rukn e Alam-a prominent Sufi saint who died in 1335- is perhaps the most famous of all– its incredible Mughal-era design showcases a dome top that is said to be the second-largest in the world. A second famous tomb in the city is that of Baha ud-din Zakariya, yet another famous Sufi saint and poet whose teachings were revered across the subcontinent.
Aside from its rich history, Multan is also well known for a delicious sweet that has been produced in the city since Mughal times. Sohan halwa as its called is a sweet confection mixed with nuts that can be enjoyed at the Hafiz Halwa shop in the city.
It’s easy to think that Pakistan is all mountains, but in reality, the country is also blessed with hundreds of miles of coastline. Gwadar is one of these hamlets in the sea, and also happens to be one of the most offbeat places to visit in Pakistan.
Gwadar is located in Balochistan, a Pakistani province that has had some tumultuous times in the past no doubt but is currently being developed due to its huge potential.
Gwadar is a beautiful port city that is expected to become more and more popular with tourists in the coming years, meaning it’s absolutely ideal to visit right now. Gwadar’s beach resembles those that you find in nearby Oman–rocky cliffs fall into the ocean, sections of which are filled with colorful fishing boats. The unique Pakistani city is also known for its magnificent sunsets and fresh seafood.
Yes Gwadar is a slightly painful 8-hour drive from Karachi, but the magnificent Makran Coastal Highway that will take you there will keep you well-entertained as you pass through some of Pakistan’s most magnificent and under-the-radar landscapes.
Karambar Lake is one of the most remote places in all of Pakistan. At over 4 meters altitude, the lake is one of the highest in the country and can only be accessed via a multi-day trek.
Karambar is technically located in Ishkoman Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan, but the easiest route to it begins in Lashkargaz, the last village of Pakistan’s beautiful–yet very underrated– Broghil Valley. Broghil is located in the northern-most reaches of the KPK province and borders Afghanistan’s mountainous Wakhan Corridor.
Due to poor road conditions, few travelers actually make it to the lake. But those that do make the journey are rewarded by what I believe to be the most beautiful views in all of Pakistan. If you add just one place on this list to your Pakistani bucket list, make it Karambar!
Sheikhandeh is a true definition of a hidden gem The last village of Rumbur Valley, Sheikhandeh is not like its neighbors. Rumbur is one of the three Kalash Valleys, which are home to the minority Kalash people and remain one of Pakistan’s most popular tourist destinations.
Though Sheikhandeh is technically in Rumbur, it’s not Kalash. The locals who live there are actually Nuristani– the village moved from Nuristan, Afghanistan to the Pakistani side of the border several centuries ago.
Being some 7 km from the tourist area of Rumbur in a valley with virtually no transportation, Sheikhandeh is rarely visited by outsiders, especially foreign tourists. But if you’re willing to make the trek, the beautiful scenery and friendly folks that await you are absolutely worth the journey.
Visiting Tharparkar in some ways feels like stepping across the border to India. Most locals are Hindu themselves, and the area is known for its historic Jain temples that date back hundreds of years.
Landmarks aside, the landscape of Nagarparkar is unlike anything most tourists will see while visiting Pakistan. The nearby Karoonjhar Mountains that border India’s Gujarat state are specific to the region and definitely provide for some good treks and sweet views.
As beautiful as it is, Nagarparkar isn’t quite easy to get to… but that seems to be a theme amongst the best-underrated places to visit in Pakistan. Luckily, the views out your window will keep you occupied for hours. To make it to this unique place, you’ll first need to make it to Mithi, a small town just a couple of hours from Nagarparkar.
Located in the habitually ignored Pakistani province of Azad Kashmir, Neelum Valley looks like something straight out of a fairytale– literally.
Lush green forests and icy-blue rivers fill this magical valley, as do iconic wooden homes and alpine lakes. Despite its beauty, Neelum Valley somehow remains an unspoilt gem. The large valley lies parallel to the over-touristed Kaghan Valley, but has yet to attract the same numbers.
With some of the most pristine trekking in all of Pakistan, this valley is a paradise for nature lovers and mountaineers alike. And unlike Gilgit-Baltistan, it’s easy to reach for even a weekend trip. The valley itself is approximately 8 hours from Islamabad, but only 4 from Muzaffarabad- the provincial capital of Azad Kashmir, making it a great place to stop for a break as well as some famous Kashmiri chai.
This isn’t exactly a place, but rather a drive through some of the most underrated scenery in the entire country. The Badogai Pass is a mountainous route that connects Swat Valley with Upper Dir, Kohistan. It also acts a shortcut for those looking to move along further to Chitral, as the alternative would take many, many more hours.
This under-the-radar place of Pakistan is so underrated, it’s not even listed as a route on Google Maps! Luckily, local drivers are well aware of this epic mini-road trip, so it shouldn’t be hard to go if you simply ask around.
The most beautiful spot on the route is of course the summit, where travelers can even spend the night camping at over 11,000 feet. Utror and Thal villages which lie on each end of the mountainous road, and both are worth a visit. Utror is naturally blessed with numerous alpine lakes and forests, while Thal is home to a stunning wooden mosque and will give you a taste of Kohistani life, which is another very infrequently-visited hamlet of this endlessly beautiful country.
Samantha is a full-time backpacker who spends most of her time exploring South Asia. She runs the travel blog Intentional Detours where she shares tips, guides and tales to help others make it to these off-beat places too.