October 05 to 16, 2020
Afghanistan is a country that is rich in culture and history, due to its geographic position, which made it a crossroad between China and the Mediterranean world and Europe. It is a melting pot of cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity. With its rich past and its recent events, it still preserved a spectrum 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 stun visitors.
Afghanistan contains some incredible treasures. This journey will take you from bustling Kabul to the foothills of the Hindu-Kush. Follow the footsteps of Marco Polo and Alexander the Great as we span the country’s safest areas in the northern regions. Visit the fabulous city of Herat, 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. Tour the historical town of Mazar-i-Sharif, famous for its blue-tiled mosque, and Balkh the nearby ancient caravan town.
This trip can be combined with Pakistan (North & South): October 14 to November 06, 2020
Tour cost per person in double occupancy (air and land): $7,995.00
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 14 participants
Escorted by Elena Dak, writer and anthropologist
Your tour does not include:
Airport taxes, security charges and fuel surcharges (estimated at $500.00 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 $160.00, 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: Elena Dak.. Elena was born in Venice in 1970 and has been working for more than 20 years leading tours in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. She enjoys tremendously leading people to meet and learn about the ethnic groups in many parts of the world. She is deeply interested about nomadic peoples and was involved in many research projects related to a variety of nomadic people such as the Touaregs in Niger, the Wodaabe in Tchad and the Rabari in India. She graduated from the University of Ca’ Foscari in Venice in Conservation of cultural heritage with ethnographic orientation. Now she is studying in Bicocca University to get her PhD in cultural anthropology. She wrote 3 books on the nomadic lives of various tribes and still contributes to Africa Magazine and Erodoto108. She was also nominated to give Ted Talk in Milan in October 2018, which is a very prestigious venue for learned minds.
View Tour Itinerary
Mon/Tue, Oct 05/06
USA to Mazar-i-Sharif
Depart USA in the afternoon/evening on flight to Istanbul or Dubai then connecting to Mazar-i-Sharif.
Wednesday, Oct 07
Mazar-i-Sharif - Balkh
Very early arrival to Mazar-i-Sharif international airport, transfer to your hotel for check in, afterwards, there will be an introduction, review of the itinerary, and answering the group’s questions. After late breakfast, visit the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, the most revered mosque for Afghanis and the small-attached museum. The mosque is a masterpiece of typical central Asian architecture. After lunch, we drive to city of Balkh (half hour). Balkh was called Bactria in ancient times. It was the spiritual center of Zoroastrianism and currently a delightful old walled city which is about 55 miles from Amo Darya River. Visit of Khowaja Parsa 17th century mosque followed by the grave of Rabia Balkhe the first poetess in Farsi with a fabled love story. Visit the remains of Balkh city walls and an easy walk to the top to one of the towers. Visit of Nogonbad Mosque dating to 1350 AD before returning to Mazar-i-Sharif for dinner. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Oct 08
Samangan – Tashkurgan
About two hours’ drive from Mazar lies one of Afghanistan’s most unexpected and rewarding sights, the 28m high Buddhist stupa of Takht-e Rostam. Carved out of the rock, in similar fashion to the churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia, this complex sits high above the valley and is today one of the country’s most enduring legacies from the pre-Islamic era. About 3600 years old, Visit of Baghe Jahan Noma a palace built by King Abdul Rahman in about 1874, then we’ll return to the town of Tashkurgan, which lies in a key strategic location just north of a dramatic gorge on the northern fringes of the Hindu Kush foothills, once a major crossroads. Return to Mazar-i-Sharif for lunch. Afternoon some time for shopping at the antiques, jewelry and carpet market (B,L,D)
Friday, Oct 09
Mazar-i-Sharif - Kabul
After breakfast, early flight will take you to Kabul and on arrival, start your exploration of the capital by visiting the National Museum, housing the best relics and treasures of Afghanistan’s archaeological sites and many of the pieces that were saved from destruction by Taliban. Afterwards, head to visit the Darul Amann royal palace from distance, which destroyed as result of the civil war but still providing a fascinating glimpse into the riches and splendor that Kabul once embraced. Lunch followed by a drive to beautiful Wazir Akbar Khan Hill and walk to see from the hill the skyline of Kabul. Afterwards transfer to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Saturday, Oct 10
Kabul - Herat
Morning flight to Herat arriving at approx. 11:00hrs, then transfer to Tejarat or Nazare Hotel and have lunch. Afternoon start your tour including the imposing and well-restored Citadel of Qala-I-Ikhtiyaruddin), housing a beautiful small museum then stop at a very classical traditional production of Sesame oil in a small factory. Visit to the Friday Mosque (Masjid-I-Jami). This is one of the finest examples of Ghorid and Timurid tiling to be found anywhere in the world. Continue to see a famous 14th Century bronze cauldron, alleged to be Tamurlane’s sherbet bowl, in the courtyard. You will also be able to see the tile factory and purchase some unique tiles which claim to be the oldest in the world and probably date back to the 12th century, where tiles are still made in the traditional manner. Afterwards transfer to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Sunday, Oct 11
Herat - Kabul
Visit of Jahad Museum which depicts the times of the Russian war and the thousands of Heratis who lost their lives to liberate Afghanistan. Visit the 15th century Musalla complex that includes the Minarets of Gohar Shad and her Mausoleum. Gohar Shad was the wife of Shah Rukh, son of Tamurlane. Visit of Amir Sher Nawaye Mausoleum; here you will have an opportunity to purchase both new and antique carpets for most Afghans, carpets are a major purchase; equivalent to a westerner buying a car and the negotiation may take a number of visits. In the late afternoon, visit the tomb of the two princes, Qasim and Abdullah before heading to the airport for our flight back to Kabul at 6.30 PM. Transfer to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Monday, Oct 12
Start your morning with visiting Istalif village. This village 50 minutes’ drive out of Kabul is a terrible reminder of the devastation caused by the bitter war fought for the area by the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. It was ruins but people returned and rebuilt their village and homes reopened their pottery businesses, after the Taliban had left. The small handful of craftsmen is mostly potters and their creations have a compelling rustic beauty. The colors they use are mostly royal blue and deep turquoise. The merchandise ranges from salad bowls and plates to jugs and teacups and saucers. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, Oct 13
Kabul - Bamyan
Transfer to the airport for flight to Bamyan and on arrival, we will check in Bamyan Royal Hotel. Bamyan is undoubtedly one of the country’s highlights; Bamyan Valley was once on a major trading route and was an important center for Buddhism. Although the Taliban famously destroyed the giant Buddha in 2001 (Shamama – Salsal and Bot Bacha Buddha’s ) there is still much to see in the area, not least the Buddha niches, which are still an awesome sight to behold. We also plan to explore the surrounding cliffs that are riddled with caves that contain carvings and frescos - caves of 4 and 5th century even though by the time many caves destroyed but still about 12000 caves remained and some of the caves has still the paints and art decoration of that time ,If you want you can claim up around Shamama Buddha’s which is about 38 meters high , – Lunch and after we drive the short distance to the base of Shar-e Zohak (Red City) This imposing fortress at the eastern entrance to the Bamyan Valley has been used by various commanders over the past two millennia and although largely destroyed by Genghis Khan’s forces, it is still a great place to explore on foot. In particular, the summit gives destroyed Gholgola city (Scream town) in revenge. Today its ruined remains overlook the central Bamyan valley and provide super views over the Buddha niches and the surrounding countryside. Later we’ll head for the Shahr-e Gholgola, another fortress that saw its glory destroyed in the face of the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. History tells us that in 1221 Genghis had destroyed Balkh and sent his teenage grandson with an army to capture Bamiyan. The people of Bamiyan resisted and Genghis’s grandson was killed. Genghis besieged and destroyed Gholgola in revenge. Today its ruined remains overlook the central Baiyan valley and provide superb views over the Buddha niches and the surrounding countryside. Then Return to hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, Oct 14
About 50 miles’ journey west of Bamyan takes us to the extraordinary chain of lakes at Band-e Amir. Set in the middle of a barren mountain landscape, the lakes are astonishingly beautiful with the water color varying from turquoise to deep blue-black from lake to lake. The lakes colors are tinted by the mineral salts in the springs that feed them. For those who are feeling active, there is the opportunity to do a good walk around the cliff edge for those after a more relaxed day; it is simply a great spot to take in this natural wonder, which in any other country would be teeming with visitors. It is truly a word-class destination and a highlight of any trip to the region. We’ll return to Bamyan for lunch. Then we will drive to visit of nearby Dare Azhdar, called Valley of the Dragon – walk from bottom to the top of the Dragon - Here there is a massive rock formation which is alleged to be the remains of a dragon that persecuted the villagers until Hazrat Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, killed it. The story is reminiscent of St George and the Dragon. Visit of the bazaar to mingle and meet the local Hazaras and bargain for their handicrafts production. Return to your hotel for overnight and dinner. (B,L,D)
Thursday, Oct 15
Bamyan - Kabul
Morning, meeting with an Afghan high level women: Dr . Soraya Sobhran, from human rights organization. She studied law as well, if she was not in the country, we will meet another person from the organization instead to share general information and to answer the group’s questions. Also, visit National Archive and Babur Garden. Afterwards transfer to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Friday, Oct 16
Departure from Kabul
Departure in the morning flight from Kabul to either back to USA or connect to Islamabad for the Post-tour to Pakistan. (B)
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.