We’ll just go right ahead and say it: Pretty much any city in Afghanistan could rank among the most dangerous cities in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban takeover in early 2021, the entire country has been thrown into a state of chaos and disarray. Right now, everywhere from small villages to major metropolises suffers from social injustices right up to warring factional violence in the streets. It is not – we repeat: NOT – the destination for a chilled vacation.
This guide will drill down into the detail a little more. The aim? To outline a handful of what we think are the absolute worst of the worst cities within the country and reveal exactly why we’d say that they’re the spots to avoid.
The list makes for some sobering reading. There are cities here that have long and enthralling histories that go back millennia, others that were founded by Alexander the Great, no less, and others still that are enthralling hubs of Pashtun and Islamic culture. For now, they’re best avoided, but perhaps someday travel will be on the cards once again. Fingers crossed.
No list of the most dangerous cities in Afghanistan could possibly skip out on Kabul. Ranked with Mogadishu and Bagdhad as one of the three most dangerous cities on the whole of planet Earth, this one certainly isn’t the option for café hopping, nightlife adventures, and art galleries in 2023. We can’t think of a single foreign office or state department anywhere in the West that would be a-okay with citizens heading across to the Afghan capital, and there’s certainly no travel insurance firm that would be willing to underwrite a trip to these parts. Here’s a little look at why…
As the economic and political hub of Afghanistan, Kabul found itself at the center of the power struggles between the Taliban and the occupying American forces when the Afghan War came to an abrupt end in 2021. It was from here that all those harrowing scenes of families and people crowding onto the last evacuation planes emerged. This was also the site of the brutal 2021 Kabul airport attack perpetrated by an offshoot of Islamic State, which killed 182 people including 13 US servicepeople.
And that’s not even getting into the most recent history. After the takeover of the Taliban, Kabul once more became the hub of their extreme conservative crackdown, one which was to spread right across the nation. Even small protests were quickly put down with violence. Thousands of people deemed enemy of the state started to disappear, with rumors of state-sponsored torture in abundance. Women were banned from educational institutions, public spaces, and more.
Today, the British FCO sums up the situation by saying that the “security situation in Afghanistan remains extremely volatile.” There’s a heightened risk of terror-related violence across the board, regular abductions of foreign nationals by extremist splinter groups, and little to no regular police presence. On top of that, you can add a growing humanitarian crisis that’s led to soaring hunger levels and poverty in the city. It’s not good. Not good at all.
Mazar-i-Sharif, also known as just Mazar, has been in the wars. Literally. The town was among the first major urban areas to fall under US and Allied control during the initial invasions of Afghanistan back in 2001. Taliban forces were routed within months of the arrival of troops from the west, and the surrounding region quickly became a stronghold for the Afghan National Army, utilized as a major base for actions throughout northern Afghanistan.
The whole Afghan War was hard for the people of Mazar-i-Sharif. Reports of massacres joined with political assassinations to render the whole place pretty darn unstable from beginning to end. And that’s hardly changed an iota today because there have been awful suicide attacks even after the reclamation of the nation by the Taliban, most notably a bombing by Islamic State on a local Shia mosque in April 2022.
Making matters even worse, Mazar-i-Sharif has scorching hot summers that can see temperatures exceed a whopping 110 degrees, matched by potentially freezing winters that have seen record lows of -22 C (-8 F). Oh, and the whole town is smack dab atop an area of high geological activity, which ups the risk of earthquakes beyond the norm.
Herat sits just a stone’s throw (or 72 miles to be more precise) from the Iranian border in the far northwest of Afghanistan. That puts it far from the political upheavals that have occurred in Kabul (which is in the distant northeast of the country). Plus, it puts it in the middle of one of the more affluent provinces in the nation; a place that has relatively high levels of literacy, learning, and professionals with a degree.
But don’t let that fool you. Herat remains extremely dangerous, even if it is one of the least dangerous of the most dangerous cities in Afghanistan. There are still regular terrorist attacks here – most recently a brutal suicide bombing at the Gazargah Mosque back in early September 2022, killing 18 people including the local imam. And the locals are known to solve personal disputes with violence right in the open – think regular gun duels on the streets in broad daylight.
On top of all that, you’ll also have to deal with the discriminatory reforms imposed country-wide by the Taliban since their accession to power in the last year. That means you won’t be able to work if you’re a woman, and you’ll have to don a full niqab or meshed burqa whenever you venture into public. It means amputations for people found guilty of thieving. And it means that being gay is, simply, illegal, punishable by death.
In another world, Herat would be a wonderful travel destination. It’s nicknamed the Pearl of Khorasan province and boasts 2,000 years of religious history. It’s home to the amazing Qala Ikhtyaruddin or Arg citadel, the royal tomb of the Timurid Dynasty at the Gawhar Shad Mausoleum, and a series of gorgeous minarets. It was all enough to put the town on the prestigious tentative list to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kandahar – mystical, amazing Kandahar at 1,000 meters above sea level on the side of the Sharak Ghar massif – certainly deserves a place on this list of the most dangerous cities in Afghanistan. You see, this town is known as the long-time stronghold of the Taliban, and the birthplace of their erstwhile leader Mulla Omar. Yep, he’s the same one who famously refused to extradite a certain Osama Bin Laden to the USA, sparking off one of the most brutal wars of the modern age.
The success of the organization who once grew from this city means that the Kandahar of today now labors under all the same authoritarian rules as everywhere else on this list. There’s a potential you’ll come across public executions in the squares, public floggings are normal, and human rights are virtually nonexistent, as are women’s rights and rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
Again, it’s a sad reality for a city that can trace its lineage back some 2,000 years. None other than Alexander the Great is thought to have founded this town at the height of his empire in the Greek Hellenistic Age. After that, it became a home to Pashtun culture, which brought crafting, weaving, and paper making. Oh, and Kandahar has a ridiculously gorgeous setting under the mountains of central-east Afghanistan, with dusty desert plains and empty river valleys erupting on all sides.
Just like Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar before it, Jalalabad has suffered greatly at the hands of the Taliban and other extremist groups in the last 20 years, but especially in the last year since the departure of US GIs. However, this particular town on the Kabul River, between the snowy tops of the Spin Ghar mountain range, has another danger trump card up its sleeve: Seismology.
Yep, putting the political troubles and soaring rates of violent crime to one side for just a moment, Jalalabad also reigns as the town that’s at perhaps the highest-risk of earthquakes in this corner of Asia. Stats show that there’s something like two quakes per week on average, while studies have revealed that the city sits close to the convergence of key tectonic plates. Making all that worse is the lack of basic infrastructure and proper building regulations under the Taliban government. AKA – it’s not a great place to be if the ground does start shaking!
Now, to the crime and terror side of things… Jalalabad ranks an unsavory 100/100 for danger on ALL of the metrics measured by travel stat collator Numbeo, bar the risk of seeing people trading drugs. That’s borne out by a recent history that’s included brutal attacks on the prison system and suicide attacks that targeted the local Sikh community.
The most dangerous cities in Afghanistan – our conclusion
There’s no such thing as a safe city in Afghanistan these days. Sorry, but that’s just the plain old truth. Foreign Office and State Department warnings abound for the towns of this mountain-shrouded nation in Central Asia, all following the brutal takeover of the country by the Taliban back in 2021. From the big capital in Kabul to the lesser-known provincial hubs of Herat and Kandahar, all the urban areas here have their issues and should be avoided until the situation fundamentally changes on the ground.