Numerous public transportation options exist for traveling around Pakistan. Budget travelers can take advantage of cheap rates on buses, economy class train tickets and minivans, while those who prefer to travel more comfortably can opt for privately hired vehicles or quick flights between far-flung destinations.
Buses connect most cities in Pakistan and are an economical way to travel. Information on tickets, fares and schedules can be accessed at city bus stands, although larger companies like Daewoo, Skyways and NATCO also have websites and customer service offices where you can get information and reserve seats. Buses are air-conditioned or non air-conditioned, and some travel by motorway while others travel by local roads and stop at multiple villages. If you’re traveling between major cities, make sure to purchase a seat on a motorway route.
If you’re willing to spend more for punctuality and service, Daewoo is the way to go. Daewoo stations are located in more suburban areas of cities as opposed to the general, more hectic bus stations. All buses are accompanied by at least one female hostess, and the rate includes refreshments. Daewoo buses stop at nicer roadside service stations instead of small, dingy hotels.
Pros: Bus is an inexpensive way to travel between cities.
Cons: General bus stands can be confusing; you need to make sure you’re buying a ticket on the type of bus you want to travel by and for the correct route. Female travelers may be refused a ticket if no “lady seats” (seats next to another lady) are available, although you can usually get around this by asking a married couple to swap seats so you can sit with the wife and the husband can sit with another male passenger.
The extensive Pakistan rail network connects the major cities of Karachi, Quetta, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Multan, Hyderabad and many smaller cities in between. Six passenger classes exist to cater to different budgets, although not all train routes have all classes.
Most trains have (in order from most expensive to least expensive) AC sleeper, Business class and Economy. Sample fares from Rawalpindi to Lahore Cant. as of 2011 are 1130 rupees for AC sleeper class, 440 rupees for Business class, and 230 rupees for Economy class.
Pros: If you’re willing to pony up the dough for a nicer seat, traveling by train is often more comfortable than by bus. Business class is about the same price as traveling by air-conditioned bus, and economy class train tickets are cheaper than most bus tickets.
Cons: Pakistani trains don’t have the best safety record and often run late. Buying tickets at larger stations can be a hectic affair.
Two airlines operate domestic flights in Pakistan: Pakistan International Airlines and Air Blue.
Pros: For long-distance travel, you’ll get to your destination much faster. A 24-hour train ride from Lahore to Karachi is only 2.5 hours by plane.
Cons: Air travel can cost ten times as much as land transport. Flights to and from the Northern Areas are often cancelled due to inclement weather, and it can takes days or weeks to rebook passengers. The recent deadly crash of AirBlue flight 152 has brought Pakistan air safety under scrutiny.
4. Minibus, Van or Suzuki
Between smaller villages the only transportation options are often minibuses, vans or Suzuki trucks converted into tiny buses by putting a waterproof cover over the pick-up bed. This transport is what most locals use; you’ll need to show up at a bus stand or flag one down to inquire about routes, fares and schedules.
The vehicles usually wait around at bus stations until they are filled to capacity. Passengers pay per seat for the route they want to travel; drivers may be hesitant to take passengers not planning to travel the entire route.
Pros: Taking these shared vehicles ends up being much cheaper than a taxi, jeep or other privately hired vehicle. In mountain areas, these smaller vehicles can navigate washouts and slide areas better than full-size buses.
Cons: Expect cramped conditions unless you’re willing to buy multiple seats. In warm weather, you’ll be up close and personal with other passengers who may or may not be wearing deodorant, and on mountain roads you could end up with somebody else’s vomit in your lap.
In Suzuki trucks, women are expected to sit in the innermost seats where the airflow is limited, whereas male passengers have the option of standing on the back instead of sitting.
5. Taxis and Jeeps
Most Pakistanis don’t use taxis to go between cities where bus routes are established, but if you want to take a day trip to a specific attraction or get dropped off at a certain point or trailhead, a privately hired taxi or jeep may be the only option. In major cities you can contact Metro Cab, a reputable service operating in and around Karachi, Hyderabad, Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore. You may pay a little bit more, but taxis are metered and drivers are accountable to a central office. This option is recommended for female passengers, especially those traveling alone after dark.
Jeeps serve as mountain taxis in the Northern Areas and many parts of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (formerly NWFP). You can hire jeeps through hotels, travel agencies, and hiking/trekking companies.
Pros: Traveling by taxi or jeep is more flexible since you don’t have to wait for other passengers. You’ll have more space to sit comfortably and will often get a better view than in a minibus, van or Suzuki. You can also ask your driver to stop whenever you’d like to eat, drink, get out or take photographs.
Cons: Hiring a private vehicle is more expensive than buying a seat on a shared vehicle.
For more on transportation in Pakistan:
Getting Around in Islamabad, Pakistan
Lahore Transportation Guide: City Bus, Minivan and Donkey Cart
Lahore Transportation Guide: Taxi, Rickshaw and Qingqi
Pakistan International Airlines