April 10 to 23, 2020
Located at the crossroads of China and Mediterranean Europe, Afghanistan is rich in culture and history. It is a melting pot of cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity. With its rich past and its recent events, it still preserves a variety of architecture, paintings, music, poetry, art and relics of bygone civilizations. From ancient cities to spectacular nature and some of the highest mountains in the world, it remains unpredictable and continues to amaze visitors.
Afghanistan is home to some incredible treasures bound to leave you in awe. This journey will take you from bustling Kabul to the foothills of the Hindu-Kush. Follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo and Alexander the Great as you explore the country’s safest areas in the northern regions. Visit the fabulous city of Herat, which was once a great medieval center for Islamic learning and culture. Marvel at the legendary mountain caves of Bamyan and the spectacular lakes of Band-e-Amir. Join to tour the historical town of Mazar-i-Sharif, famous for its blue-tiled mosque and Balkh, the nearby ancient caravan town.
Tour cost per person in double occupancy (air and land): $7,495.00
Price from several east coast gateways is the same.
Single Supplement: $500.00
Credit for not using our included airfare $800.00
Price based on a group size minimum of 6 and maximum of 10 participants
Escorted by Professor Denise Schmandt - Besserat, Archaeologist, the University of Texas at Austin
Tour can be combined with Pakistan trip
Your tour does not include:
Airport taxes, security charges and fuel surcharges (estimated at $400.00 at time of printing).
Airfare from cities other than NYC (price differs depending on gateway city). One way ticket to Islamabad (if combining tours).
Afghanistan visa (currently $50.00, subject to change).
Passports should not have any Israeli stamps or visas.
Beverages with or without meals.
Trip surcharge to operate below required minimum participants.
Items of a personal nature (camera fees at Afghan sites, laundry, phone calls, emails, excess luggage, etc.).
Transfers if not arriving/departing on scheduled flights/tour dates.
Dayroom/overnights necessitated by changes in airline schedules.
Travel protection insurance (HIGHLY Recommended).
Your tour includes:
International airfare from New York.
Airport/hotel/airport transfers in every city.
Accommodation in hotels as per the itinerary (based on 3-4 star categories or best available in all cities out of Kabul).
Meals as mentioned in the itinerary.
Sightseeing in each city as per the itinerary.
Services of English speaking guides.
Armed security (when and if needed).
All domestic flights within country.
Visa support letter.
Porterage at overseas’ airports and hotels throughout program.
Entrance fees to all visited historical sites and museums.
Bottled water on the bus during touring days.
III Challenging – Parts of the trip are physically challenging, involve some hiking on unpaved terrain or in sand. There may be long drives on rough roads; weather conditions with high heat (in the 90’s). You may have simple picnic lunches, primitive bathroom facilities along the road and remoteness from modern towns or cities.
**Delightful: Comfortable yet on the Spartan side, usually small but always with private facilities. Some breakfasts are simple and basic but all hotels should have “working” A/C though not very reliable. (Average classification if you dare to compare to western style hotels is about 2 or 3 stars.
Trip notes and Trip Grade: Anyone wishing to join this trip must understand that in many places the tourist infrastructure is very primitive. Some days are long and hard and the level of services will not match those offered in more conventional tourist locations. The hotels are quite comfortable but lack the luxuries of the west. Security check points can be rather long on some days and we have to adhere to the instructions of our guards and escorts and have a flexible, patient attitude when delays happen. Many companies in Europe have been successfully running tours to Afghanistan since 2004 and we are using the top logistics and organizing agency in the country to handle our program. They are accustomed to managing foreign groups but participants should be aware that last minute changes and amendments to routing, modes of travel or overnight stops will happen if deemed prudent to do so. We also have the right to omit at short notice any destination due to security concerns. Food can be nondescript and alcohol is not allowed in the country. Women and men should keep their arms and legs covered while women may sometimes have to wear a lose head scarf when entering religious towns or sites. By signing up for this tour, participants are acknowledging their full understanding and acceptance of all terms and conditions and are admitting that they are in good physical and mental health and are equipped with an open mind, a sense of adventure and a tolerant and patient spirit to cope with the possible rigors of the tour.
Airline Note: The best airline choice would be Turkish Airways. We can also use Emirates Airline, but it will mean long layovers in Dubai and a possible forced overnight. Please discuss your options with our office staff.
About your lecturer...Professor Denise Schmandt-Besserat is professor emerita of Art History and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. A graduate of L’Ecole du Louvre in Paris, she is a renowned Near Eastern archaeologist. She has worked on archaeological collections in all the major museums of the Middle East, Europe and the US. She is the author of When Writing Met Art (2007), Before Writing (1992) and When Writing Came About, which was selected by American Scientist magazine as “one of the 100 books that shaped science in the 20th century”. Her work on the origins of writing and mathematics has been covered by Scientific American, Time, Life, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. She has appeared on television programs such as Out of the Past (Discovery Channel), the Nature of Things (CBC), Search for Solutions (PBS) and Tell the Truth (NBC). For many years Denise has led our tours to the Near East and Central Asia and her lectures and handouts will add to the enjoyment of your tour. You can get acquainted with her and her scholarly work on Wikipedia and by browsing her web site: http://sites.utexas.edu/dsb
View Tour Itinerary
Fri-Sat, April 10-11
USA - Kabul
Depart the U.S. in the afternoon/evening on a flight to Istanbul or Dubai connecting to Kabul.
Sunday, Apr 12
Arrival to Kabul
Morning arrival in Kabul’ international airport, transfer to your hotel for check in. Free day at leisure, to rest and prepare for your adventure. (D)
Monday, April 13
Following breakfast, we take you to see the major archaeological treasures of Afghanistan at the National Museum, which features artifacts that were hidden to escape the Taliban’s destruction. Then, you’ll visit the royal palace Darul Amann, which will provide a rare insight on Kabul’s splendor prior to the civil war. After enjoying your lunch, you’ll view the panorama of the Kabul skyline from the summit of Wazir Akbar hill. Next stop, the Military Museum, which houses an extensive collection of aircraft. The museum also forcefully presents the land mine problem of Afghanistan and the dire consequences for the population. Dinner at the hotel concludes your adventurous day, during which you will meet with Mr. Masude-- the former director of the Museum of Antiquities. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, Apr 14
Your morning begins with a visit to Istalif, a 50-minute drive out of Kabul. This village is a poignant reminder of the devastation caused by the bitter war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance over control of the area. Now mostly in ruins, Istalif is brought back to life by a group of gifted artists and artisans. Potters produce turquoise-colored bowls, plates, jugs and teacups in an attractive, rustic style. After your exploration of Istalif, you’ll return to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, Apr 15
Kabul - Bamyan
We fly you to Bamyan. After checking into Bamyan Royal Hotel, get ready to explore one of the most remarkable cities. Once located on a major trading route, the Bamyan Valley became an important center of Buddhism in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. The city offers 12,000 ancient Buddhist caves carved in the high cliffs flanking the valley. Cautiously preserved, the caves introduce you to the ancient world of Buddhist monasteries, Buddha’s niches, carvings and frescoes. Marvel at the gigantic, jaw-dropping niches of the two great Buddhas famously destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Feeling bold? You can climb a 38-meter niche. But be sure to grab some lunch after all that hiking. Then, you’ll head to the base of Shar-e Zohak (Red City) at the eastern end of the Bamyan Valley. Over the centuries, the fortified fortress protected the region from many aggressors. However, it is best remembered for defying the Mongol siege of 1222. Gholgola city (Scream Town) is the site of the infamous massacre of the population by Genghis Khan, who swore to avenge his grandson killed during the siege. Gholgola commands a splendid view over the fertile Bamyan Valley and its famous Buddhist heritage. You will travel back to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Apr 16
You begin your day with a 50-mile drive to Band-e Amir, where you’ll see a beautiful chain of lakes. According to the mineral composition, each lake is shown as a different color, stunning turquoise to a deep blue-black. It’s the hiking experience like no other. The magnificent landscape and its serenity are enjoyable for a quiet rest. You’ll return to Bamyan for lunch and drive to Dare Azhdar, the Valley of the Dragon. Climb your way to the top of the astonishing massive rock formation deemed to be the remains of a fierce dragon. According to legend, reminiscent of St. George, the monster tyrannized the local villagers, before finally being killed by Hazrat Ali, Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law. End your day at the bazaar for an opportunity to mingle with the Hazaras and bargain for the attractive handicrafts. Finally, return to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Friday, Apr 17
Bamyan - Kabul
You are free to relax in the morning. But after lunch, you will fly over the mountains back to Kabul. Late afternoon brings a trip to the renowned Chicken Street, a famous stop on the “hippy trail.” It is still home to some of the country’s best craft shops offering a great opportunity for souvenir shopping. Afterwards, check into your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Saturday, Apr 18
Kabul - Herat
Head to the airport for your morning flight to Herat. After a lunch at the hotel, you’ll tour the imposing and well-restored citadel of Qala-i-Ikhtiyaruddin with its precious, small museum then onwards to a traditional sesame oil factory. Next, you’ll get to visit several workshops, such as Khatera wood sculpture. Then, you’ll get to enjoy some of the most intricate tilework in the world at the Friday mosque (Masjid-i-Jami). This will lead you to the courtyard, where Tamerlane’s 14th century sherbet bowl is on display. You will also see the factory where tiles are still made in the traditional method where unique examples of the 12th century pieces are available for purchase. Afterward, you’ll return to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Sunday, Apr 19
You’ll begin your day with a tour of the Jahad Museum, where life-size models and paintings illustrate the Russian war and the heroism of thousands of Heratis who lost their lives for the liberation of Afghanistan. You’ll have the chance to visit the 15th century monuments, when Herat was the capital of the Mongol empire: the Musalla complex with the minarets and mausoleum of Gohar Shad, the brilliant wife of Shah Rukh, son of Tamerlane, and the Amir Sher Nawaye Mausoleum. This is also where you will have the opportunity to purchase a new or antique carpet. Afghans traditionally value carpets and view them as an expensive investment (comparable to a car in the West). In the late afternoon, you’ll visit the tomb of two princes, Qasim and Abdullah, before returning to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Monday, Apr 20
Herat - Mazar-I-Sharif
After breakfast, you’ll head to the airport for the morning flight to Mazar-i Sharif. If no direct flight is available, you may connect via Kabul. Later in the afternoon, you’ll visit the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, the most revered mosque for Afghanis and the small attached museum. The mosque is a typical architectural masterpiece in Central Asian style. If time permits, you will explore the markets for some souvenir shopping before heading to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, Apr 21
Samangan & Tashkurgan
Your day begins with a two-hour drive from Mazar-I-Sharif where Afghanistan’s most unexpected and rewarding sights lies: the 28-meter Buddhist stupa Takht-e Rostam. Carved out of rock, like the churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia, this complex sits high above the valley. It is one of the country’s most enduring legacies from the pre-Islamic era in present day. You’ll visit Baghe Jahan Noma, a palace built by King Abdul Rahman circa 1874. Then, you’ll depart for Tashkurgan, once a major crossroad on the trading route. The town is situated in a strategic location near the dramatic gorge that borders the northern fringes of the Hindu Kush foothills. Finally, you’ll return to your hotel in Mazar-i-Sharif for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, Apr 22
Mazar-I-Sharif - Balkh-Mazar i Sharif
You will travel for 30 minutes to the city of Balkh, named Bactria in ancient times. It was the spiritual center of Zoroastrianism. Currently, it is a delightful old walled city, approximately 55 miles from the Amo Darya River. You’ll visit Khowaja Parsa, the 17th century mosque. Afterward, you’ll visit the grave of Rabia Balkhe, the first poetess to write in Farsi. Then, you’ll continue visiting the remains of the Balkh city walls and you can easily walk to the top of one of the towers. Moreover, you’ll visit the Nogonbad Mosque, which dates back to 1350 AD before returning to the hotel in Mazar-i-Sharif for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Apr 23
Head to the airport for your flight back to the US.
We (STS) reserve the right to replace lecturers, change hotels or the order of activities if/as needed. The program is also subject to changes based on the schedule of internal flights within the country. We will do our best to ensure that any necessary changes when/if needed meet the needs of our clients.