Is Tajikistan Safe? 11 Things Travelers Should Know

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A traveler's guide to safety in Tajikistan, a landlocked off-the-beaten-path destination in Central Asia. From terrorism to etiquette and crime or scams, here's what you need to know.

Barchadiev village on the bank of Murghab river in Bartang valley in the Pamirs, Tajikistan Photo © Getty Images/Evgenii Zotov

Part of the Soviet Union before its independence in 1991, Tajikistan received few visitors. The 1990s, which might have brought hope and freedom, instead delivered a civil war for the people of Tajikistan, which wrought havoc and set the country back considerably.

The smallest, and poorest republic in Central Asia, Tajikistan is sandwiched between notorious Afghanistan and China, but also borders Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is 93% mountainous and has some of the most audacious trekking on the planet and one of the world's best road trips – the Pamir Highway - but is it safe?

The good news is, yes it is. With a low crime rate, a growing range of home-stay accommodation, a friendly population, and a slightly less daunting government than some neighboring countries, Tajikistan is keen to push forward and to welcome travelers. As a result, it is now easier to get around.

1. Terrorism

There is a small, but growing threat of terrorism in Tajikistan in certain areas of the country. Flashpoints are the Rasht (Gharm) Valley. It's a good idea to take a local guide in this region.

More worryingly are the minor, often unexplained, attacks that occasionally occur in the capital Dushanbe. As with many terror attacks, some have included places visited by expatriates and foreign travelers, such as nightclubs and restaurants – so far these have been small-scale but it is an increasing trend. As a response, the Tajik government sometimes carries out counter-terrorist operations on the outskirts of Dushanbe.

2. Border mines

Be aware that areas bordering the country – particularly along the Afghan, Uzbek and Kyrgyz borders – may have unexploded mines, although these are usually clearly marked. These areas should not be visited and it's worth keeping abreast of the news in Tajikistan as insurgency activity can affect the security situation. In some places, only a river divides two countries.

3. Crime

Dushanbe, the capital, is quite different at night to during the day. Strolling women, laughing children and old men sipping tea at pavement cafes set the scene in the morning, but after nightfall the streets are empty and boy racers (some who are most likely under the influence) race up the main drag, Rudaki, making crossing the road perilous.

The official level of criminal activity in Dushanbe is rated ‘moderate to high' – yet the emptiness of the streets and badly lit roads running off of the main road that runs through the city – Rudaki - add to the ‘feel' of unease at night. Official street crime figures are hard to come by.

Do not walk through Victory Park or Children's Park at night – you are significantly upping your chances of becoming a victim if you do.

Women travelers will find Tajikistan easier than countries such as India and Egypt where staring and groping are much more common. However, there have been a few traveler reports of over-amorous tour guides and inappropriate comments by drivers and guides which have made female travelers, especially solo ones, feel uncomfortable.

4. Police response

Low salaries, and inadequate training, often result in a lack of professionalism among the police (who are often more concerned with coercing bribes from drivers). The police do occasionally stop tourists and ask to see documents. Always carry a photocopy of your passport. It is best to leave your passport in an under-clothes money belt or in a safe at your hotel.

If you are approached by the police it goes without saying but always ask to see their ID and do not sign any paperwork that you cannot fully understand (if it is in Russian or Tajik).

5. Cultural etiquette

Tajikistan is an Islamic country, so dress conservatively and to obey the usual precautions. Many Tajik men may not have had much contact with western women and there is a sense that some are unsure how to behave – as usual, the mention of a husband is a good idea, even if fabricated.

6. Drug problems

Tajikistan is on the heroin highway from Afghanistan, where the drugs are then traveled onwards through Russia and into Europe. As a result, Tajikistan has quite a serious problem with the drugs and a subsequently growing HIV infection rate. Criminal gangs who operate the business are unlikely to target travelers, but it pays to be aware of the problem if traveling close to the Afghan border and to bear in mind that the temptation of making a fast buck has proved too much for many border guards and police who are often in on the trade

7. Taxi troubles

Taxis, often unlicensed, meet shared taxis (locally called marshrutkas) arriving in the dead of night to Dushanbe from other destinations in Tajikistan – do not allow the driver's friends into the car under any circumstances, even if this means getting out.

Men should be aware that at some of the cheaper hotels in Tajikistan that they may be targeted by prostitutes. Dior and Port Said nightclubs sometimes attract commercial sex workers looking for foreign clients.

8. Airport shakedown

Lastly, shake-downs at Dushanbe International Airport are not uncommon. One traveler reported being fined $700 US dollars for not having her paperwork in check (a missing permit in this instance), be very careful if you pass through the airport with a lot of cash and do not verbally confirm how much you're carrying or this can encourage a heavy ‘tip'.

9. Health issues

The number one health rule in Tajikistan, especially in the capital Dushanbe is - don't drink the water. Obvious perhaps, but there remains a serious risk of rust in the water as well as Typhoid – generally boiled water is okay.

If you become sick your best bet for western-style treatment and/or drugs is at the Prospekt clinic (on Sanoi Street) in Dushanbe, which has English speaking doctors.

As Tajikistan is 93% mountains, no doubt your trip will include some adventures amongst the peaks – be very aware that altitude sickness is a real threat if traveling above 4000m. Almost as bewildering and worrying are the state of the public ‘toilets'(filthy at best), carry your own toilet paper at all times as for sure it won't be provided, and a hand sanitizer.

There is a low risk of malaria in the southern border areas (particularly around the Khatlon region) and occasionally in some central areas, including the capital Dushanbe.

10. Getting around

Getting around is by far one of the biggest, and costliest challenges when traveling in Tajikistan. There is no train system to speak of, few public buses or coaches and very expensive petrol prices (the going rate at the time of writing this guide is 0.85 US cents per kilometer for a Toyota Land Cruiser), the plane that links the capital Dushanbe to the tourist gem of Khorog is a tiny Anatov 28 that literally skims through the mountains and only takes off if there is clear visibility.

Most travelers will hire a car and driver at some point during their time in the Pamirs. Tajikistan does not have a fully-operational public transport system in place yet, there are no properly timetabled buses, for example, between small villages and travelers are somewhat dependent on making their own way for now. Avalanches are common in Tajikistan's mountains during the winter months. In the summer, which is when many interior roads are open, they often get washed away by meltwater. Flexibility is key and always check the vehicle before signing up to hire a car and driver.

Take local advice in the Tavildara region of central Tajikistan as there are a few minefields dating from the civil war in the mountains. Local vehicles are poorly-maintained and driving standards are basic. Petrol stations are rare outside towns and there are no breakdown companies.

11. Local knowledge

Modern Tajikistan is a multi-ethnic state consisting of 14 different ethnic groups, and most Tajik citizens are Muslims- 95% Sunni and 3% Shia - while Pamiris, are almost all Ismaili Muslims. Dress appropriately for a Muslim country – shorts, vests and short skirts are all out.

Smoking is prohibited in many public places.

Do not be tempted to buy gems in Tajikistan. In the Pamirs, you may be offered ‘rubies' (these are more likely to be spinel from local mines) – anything, but especially gems, that are exported from Tajikistan (in luggage or otherwise) requires special permission. It is illegal to export or possess unprocessed stones and metals and jewelry without a hallmark (mark of authenticity). Even if travelers have a receipt confirming legal purchase of such items at a store in Tajikistan, the items must be declared upon departure.

Power cuts, badly lit roads, poorly lit buildings all mean it's wise to always carry a torch, worst of all is the occasional uncovered manholes in the capital, one resulted in a traveler recently badly breaking her leg, cutting her trip short as it had just begun – you have been warned!

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  • shaun ingledew said someone who has lived in Dushanbe for the last two years I have to ask...have you even been to Tajikistan?


  • Lukas said

    What do you mean ?


  • Aubrey Toenges said

    Tajikistan is a stunning place, and there is plenty to do, from the Silk Road mystique of places like Khujand and Istaravshan, to the stunning, untouched mountain scenery of the Pamirs and their accompanying allure of unclimbed peaks and virgin trekking routes.


  • imran arif said

    phil selvester bro u did good job and u giving us very good safety kies
    i am also traveler and u nt only for me as a guider u also the hole peoples they surch yor safty gide thnx once again.


  • Sand said

    People are more friendly maximum ladies are working. Most of the ladies are seperated by Talak. City dusanbe is really wonderful u will find all kind of facilities. Pub n Bar culture is growing day by day but be safe. Enjoy your trip.


  • Greg said

    I have to say, this is one of the most inaccurate, biased articles on otherwise wonderful country I have come to know and love.

    Risks are overblown, the problems with locals especially on the “shakedowns” and “ western women” sound like complete fabrication.

    You have more chances of unwanted advances in a NY club than in Tajikistan. Also you are far more likely to be shot in public in the US than be harmed in any way in Tajikistan.

    Clearly the author is clueless about what the country is all about and misses the point of what the country has to offer.

    This is fear-mongering at its best.

    Just check the lonely planet to see the difference.


  • Tim said

    Tajikistan is very beautiful country. I'm from Tajikistan now living in the US so the crime in our country very low and also in our country very very delicious food. While traveling in Tajikistan I recommended visiting Khujand city one of the ancient and beautiful city, visit our market "Panjshanbe" all foods are natural coming from people garden. For 1$ you can buy 5 bottle water so cheap.
    Visiting places:
    1) Khujand city.
    2) Panjakent city very ancient and beautiful places.
    3) Gisar city. Many museums and great chicken cooking places. Realy delicious teste.
    4) Khorog city. Highest mountains, who love hiking and fresh area.

    So if you are going to visit Tajikistan I think everybody will love Tajikistan.


  • Nicole said

    Could you let me, someone who has traveled Tajikistan extensively rewrite this article? From the sounds of it, the dude who wrote this has never stepped foot in the country and just regurgitated what he’s read on and the opening paragraph of Lonely Planet’s Tajikistan chapter.


  • Chad said

    What is up then about the 2 world trekking cyclists that just got intentionally mowed down in Tajikstan? WTF


  • John said

    I’ve been to Dushanbe, and a lot of what the author says is accurate. I look very Russia so did t get hassled walking around as I blended In. I walked around and travelled alone at night as well. But the taxis over charged because I was a foreigner and when me and my coworkers were leaving through the airport, they tried to shake us down for a couple thousand dollars. The hotel was nice and the food was amazing. The bars/night clubs were nice as well. People generally seemed friendly except some of the Russia. Guys not liking Americans being there.


  • Suzanne said

    I’m glad many people who commented set the record straight. Tajikistan sounds fascinating; the photographs of this mountainous country are truly stunning!
    As I understand the situation in Tajikistan, people are generally helpful and friendly, if a bit shy around Westerners. The problems appear to stem from government agencies where corruption causes major challenges for travelers.
    I appreciate Tim’s insight and recommendations. Thank you, Tim! It’s clear that Tajikistan is a country that’s worth a visit!


  • Frank said

    The author has no clue at all about Tajikistan. All my American friends who have been there said it is truely worth to visit places such as Pamir Highway, Fann mountains, seven lakes, Dushanbe city and other historical ancient places.


  • Sophia said

    Living in a place is very different than traveling to that place! Very separate things!
    Thanks for sharing, Mr. Author.
    (Just one point: I don't think there is a difference between being a "Western Woman" or a "Non-Western Woman". Women are treated as women, irrespective of where they come from, anywhere in the world. If I may add, probably "Western Women" have it easier Worldwide. Just a point to the "Non-Women" reading this article.


  • Firdavs said

    All the informations that were mentioned above are completely false.
    It’s not good to write smth about the country if u have never been there.
    Of course it’s not developed but it seeks to. And there are plenty places to visit.


  • Michael Hansen said

    I went to Tajikistan 2yrs ago and I agree with most of what Phil wrote .I was there for 3months working for a govt agency and although I was fortunate enough not to have come across any problems, many other people had. In many cases I believe it might just happen to be a case of being in the in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever country you visit there are always risks be it Western Europe or the US,


  • Anonymous said

    As a Tajik, I have to say that this is very misleading and flawed. Trust me, living in America is much more dangerous than walking in the night. Whoever wrote this has never been to Tajikistan, or is very unfamiliar with the country. And yes, I live in the states, right now, so I have a clear understanding of the safety of my homeland compared to the states.

    Flawed post, please fix or delete. Thanks


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