Having spent decades in the news for all the wrong reasons, Afghanistan doesn’t look like stabilizing any time soon, and generally speaking you should probably think very seriously about where to travel at all. Visas are surprisingly easy to come by, though, and if you’re a true off-the-wall traveler, you’ll encounter a land of deserts and craggy peaks, relatively untouched natural sites and pock-marked cities suffering sanitation problems and destruction of heritage.
Capital Kabul is the most accessible destination, perched at 1,800 meters and guarded by a hillside citadel that’s slowly crumbled following decades of war. Kabul’s museum once housed many of Asia’s greatest treasures, but now hosts only the artifacts that were uninspiring enough for looters not to bother carrying them away. It’s not all gloom and doom though, with a colorful market scene, dozens of decorative mosques and the walled Gardens of Babur amongst Kabul’s surviving charms; not bad for a city forever in the headlines for its relentless destruction.
To the west, the turquoise lakes of Bande Amir are Afghanistan’s most infamous tourist attraction, and also fall at the heart of one of the country's most famous folk tales. The five eerily quiet mountainside pools – which sit under severe, flat-topped cliffs – are said to have been created when former leader Hazrat Ali built the damns that hold them up, a story that's almost certainly far from literal. Nearby Bamiyan, a tiny city sat under a soaring, dusty cliff side – was home to two huge stone Buddhas before the Taliban smashed them to pieces in 2001, leaving only ‘footprints’, as well as caves and a hilltop fortress to explore.
The notorious Khyber Pass to India is long closed to foreigners, and a serious death risk to attempt, but the beautiful Panjshir Valley does offer rugged hiking amongst snow-capped peaks. Newly accessible due to gemstone mining, yet sparse and littered with the simple traditional tombs of ethnic Tajiks, Panjshir makes a draw-dropping off-the-beaten-track hike.
As a volatile country rife with political difficulties and infrastructure problems, a visit to Afghanistan is not to be taken lightly (always check the latest safety updates regularly, both before leaving and once you arrive, and - wherever possible - carry several alternative communication methods). For travelers with an itch for the unusual and a taste for the wild, however, it might just satisfy the urge.