Here’s what’s up with homestays in Pakistan

Homestays in Pakistan are the best way to experience local life behind doors… but they’re not common just yet. Here’s what you can expect, and how to find a homestay in Pakistan.

 

Pakistan’s hospitality is the stuff of legends: locals inviting tourists for a cup of chai before they’ve even said hello; families sharing meals with outsiders they met mere moments before; tourists invited to stay in the homes of strangers in buses and trains.

Throughout my years of travel in Pakistan, I’ve stayed in countless homes in every province or territory (except Balochistan, where foreigners can’t travel freely) ranging from simple mud and wood houses to city apartments to palatial mountainside abodes… but almost all of those stays happened by chance, not pre-planning.

Iftar meal with homestay hosts in Astore, Pakistan

Having iftar with hosts in Astore, Pakistan whom I met through a friend’s connections.

Staying in local homes is the best way to get a feel for the little details about local life in Pakistan, but I understand not everyone has the time or flexibility to simply hang out and see what happens.

Homestays are the best way for travelers to get a feel for local life in any country, and a great way to ensure locals benefit directly from tourism (clutch for sustainable tourism in Pakistan). Considering how forward and welcoming Pakistanis can be, you’d think homestays would be more common in Pakistan. Alas, not quite. Yet.

But don’t let that deter you! There are a few options for homestays in Pakistan—here’s what you need to know.

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Local home in Misgar, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

A local home in Misgar, a valley in Upper Hunza.

Why aren’t homestays in Pakistan more common?

Pakistan used to be an immensely popular tourist destination. Westerners rolled in in droves as they bopped along the hazy Hippie Trail to India back in the 60s and 70s. Mountaineers flocked to its peaks, some of the tallest in the world. Casual tourists snapped away at minarets in Lahore and Peshawar. All the while, homestays were there to welcome travelers and make them feel more comfortable.

… then came 9/11, an intensely conservative government, and years of struggles with terrorism. Goodbye tourism, RIP homestays.

Pakistan’s security situation is much better these days, but homestays have yet to make a real comeback. Though invitations to locals’ homes are commonplace, homestays aren’t common in Pakistan.

There’s no singular reason why, of course, but from in my experience there are a few factors that have made it difficult for homestays to establish themselves and grow:

Hosting foreign guests wasn’t/isn’t allowed.

For a long time, homestays were virtually impossible because Pakistanis needed special (and often unattainable) permits from local authorities to officially host foreign guests. For “security reasons”.

Tourism is now a top government priority, so laws are relaxing in some parts of the country, particularly in touristic Gilgit-Baltistan. However, it’s still the case that hosting foreign guests—whether in an official homestay or causal interaction—will attract the attention of the local police or intelligence agencies and can cause problems for the hosts if they don’t know how to properly inform the authorities that they have guests.

Hosts fear harassment, particularly with local tourists.

Domestic tourism is far more popular in Pakistan than it was before 9/11. Millions of Pakistanis travel within the country every year… and some in the hospitality industry are wary of them. Many people in more remote parts of the country told me they don’t want tourists into their homes because they fear Pakistani men will harass their female family members.

Privacy is a big concern.

We all know tourists can be invasive, obnoxious, and often culturally insensitive. There are many cultural norms regarding privacy—especially when it comes to women’s privacy—in Pakistan, and they’re far more likely to be disregarded if tourists are staying in people’s homes. Some locals are concerned about tourists not respecting their privacy, and resist the idea of homestays because of it.

These are some more common concerns, not reasons to avoid homestays. It’s important for us tourists to understand background context so we can be more mindful and respectful when we do have the honor of staying in people’s homes!

Mother in a Karachi homestay in Pakistan

The super sweet mother of my friend Aamish, whose home I stayed in while in Karachi in 2018.

Where is the best place for homestays in Pakistan?

It’s possible to stay in people’s homes all across the country, but tourist-friendly Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the best places to find an official homestay in Pakistan.

Home to the famous mountain ranges that draw most tourists to the country, Gilgit-Baltistan’s tourism industry has far more experience with foreign tourists than any other part of Pakistan. Much of Gilgit-Baltistan’s population—particularly in the Ismaili-majority Hunza and Ghizer Valleys—is also highly educated and thus more open-minded; important for running a successful homestay.

It’s possible to stay in homes in other parts of the country, but you’ll have to do so by meeting people or using platforms like Couchsurfing to find them. Note that staying in local homes in less-touristed/rural areas of Sindh, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) can lead to intelligence officers questioning your hosts.

Local home interior in Phander, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

The kitchen area of a local home in Phander Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan

How can I find homestays in Pakistan?

Though still not widespread by any means, there are several ways to find homestays in Pakistan, plus a variety of ways you can have homestay-like experiences in the country.

Use online platforms like Let’s Home and Chkar

Both platforms are creations of locals from Gilgit-Baltistan. Neither works flawlessly and both might require a little patience and back-and-forth, but they’re currently the best online options for finding homestays in Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Let’s Home is specifically for connecting tourists with local homestays. It’s run by a young female entrepreneur named Seema. I used Let’s Home in 2019 to stay with a local woman and her family in the heart of Altit village in Hunza. She had a website at some point, but I believe the best way to contact is through Facebook these days.

Chkar is an Airbnb-like platform co-founded by a woman and man from GB, Izzat and Aamir. They offer more than just homestays, but you can find a few homestays in the mix.

Stay in villages for homestay-like experiences

Many village guesthouses in rural parts of Pakistan are basically homestays, though not listed as such. Local families run their “guesthouses” out of spare rooms in their homes, women cook local food for tourists to enjoy in traditional kitchens or common rooms, and tourists sleep on floor mattresses as locals do.

Some areas where you can easily find village guesthouses with a home-like feel include:

Kalash woman dries walnuts at a homestay of sorts in Pakistan

Zamgulsa, the kind hostess of Engineer Khan’s guesthouse/homestay in the Kalash valley of Rumboor.

Use Couchsurfing to connect with locals in cities

Couchsurfing is a popular platform where travelers can connect with local travelers to either be hosted in their home or simply meet and hang out. Though you have to pay to join the platform, staying in people’s homes is free… though it’s good practice to bring them a gift, cook them a meal, or try to be helpful around the house while you’re there. If people let you, that is.

Pakistan’s Couchsurfing scene is thriving, especially in the big cities (Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi). Hosts range from young Pakistani backpackers to families happy to help out foreign travelers. Couchsurfing is by far the easiest way to stay in local homes while in Pakistan’s cities.

Note: Couchsurfing can be risky, especially for female travelers. Some Couchsurfers are only on the platform to try and get women into their homes. In Pakistan, some hosts like to “collect” foreign Couchsurfers to show off to their friends rather than actually connect and enjoy their company. Always use your discretion when choosing a host to stay with: read through reviews from other travelers, and don’t stay with anyone who has negative feedback. Personally, I only stay with female hosts or men who have good feedback from solo female surfers.

Homemade food in a homestay in Altit, Pakistan

A delicious homemade meal at the Altit homestay I stayed at with Let’s Home.

 A few official homestays do exist in Pakistan at the moment, and I’m sure there will be more sprouting up in the coming years. This list is by no means an end-all list, just homestays that I’m aware of and know travelers enjoy:

Lahore, Punjab – 5 Giants Homestay ($$)

Website: https://www.five-giants.com/lahore-homestay

5 Giants is a travel company run by an Australian-Pakistani couple. Their Lahore homestay is the upper floor of the flat of one of their team members, Hashaam. Though I’ve not stayed there, I’ve met Hashaam several times and he’s a chill dude. The flat is also in an awesome location close to Lahore’s Walled City—you’d have a hard time finding a more tourist-friendly spot in the city.

Ghulkin, Gilgit-Baltistan – Rehman’s Homestay ($)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Inn/Rehman-Homestay-270826306786633/

I’ve known Rehman and his family for years, and his home is probably the most popular homestay in all of Pakistan… but these days I hesitate to mention it as Rehman has constructed a hostel and now often directs homestay guests to it without telling them ahead of time. I believe some people do still stay in his home, but you’d have to clarify that ahead of time. I’ve also received several harassment complaints about male family from women, so be careful ladies.

Misgar, Gilgit-Baltistan – Niat Shah’s home

Phone: 0344 4588291 (Mobile), 058134 49112 (Home)

Niat Shah basically saved my sorry, frozen ass one fall day in Misgar in 2019 when my motorbike broke down and I had no idea where I was going to stay. He invited me to stay in his home in the last village in Misgar (there are only two, for the record), which I learned he hoped to turn into a sort of guesthouse. He was still constructing some extra rooms, but the rooms that are already there were beautiful, and his family’s kitchen area was cozy even in the freezing cold evenings. The pandemic might have foiled some of his plans, but I’m sure he’d be happy to see more guests coming to Misgar.

Homestay hosts in Misgar, Pakistan

Niat Shah and his wife—who I ran into totally by chance—in Misgar Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan.

Homestays in Pakistan you can book online immediately

Gulmit, Gilgit-Baltistan – Diwan House

This is a beautiful traditional house run by a quiet but helpful local man named Inayat. His family, the Diwan family, owns some of the oldest buildings in the entire village. Though it’s not a full-on homestay—it’s more of a guesthouse in a traditional house—it has amenities like hot water and renovated toilets that make it far more comfortable for guests. I use this homestay/guesthouse on my women’s tours of Pakistan, and I’ve stayed there with friends on my own time as well.

Book a room at Diwan House

Gulmit, Gilgit-Baltistan – Tara Homestay

I don’t have personal experience with this new homestay, but Gulmit is a beautiful village and this new homestay run by two friendly male hosts is in another beautiful traditional Hunzai home. Don’t worry about the lack of ratings for now, it has plenty of happy feedback on TripAdvisor.

Check prices for Tara Homestay

Female travelers at a homestay in Gulmit, pakistan

Our women’s tour group chowing down on breakfast in Diwan House, Gulmit.

Cultural tips for responsible homestay visits in Pakistan

Remember, homestays in Pakistan are still getting back on their feet. It’s important for guests to be polite and treat their hosts with respect, else homestays might not be encouraged in the future.

Presumably you already learned manners at some point in your life—please exercise them—but here are a few more tips to make your homestay experience more pleasant for everyone involved:

  • Ask before taking photos. Just because you’re in someone’s home doesn’t mean you can take photos of everyone and everything! Ask if it’s okay before taking pictures, especially of people. Sometimes women are sensitive about having their photo taken and shared online.
  • Take your shoes off before entering homes. It’s common practice across Pakistan.
  • If being hosted for “free”, consider leaving a gift or donation. Meat, fruits (if the hosts don’t have fruit trees already), or sweets make for good gifts that you can find locally. Many hosts will reject first attempts to give a bit of money (maybe 500-1000 Rs per night), but will accept after several attempts. Other common practices include giving money to the children as a gift, sharing photo prints, or bringing small trinkets from your home country.
  • Do NOT hit on/flirt with/harass female hosts. I can’t believe I have to say this, but men: please do not try and flirt with the local women in the home if you get to interact with them. Doing so can make things complicated and/or dangerous for the women after you leave.
  • Be polite, not demanding. You’re in someone’s home, not a hotel. Don’t expect hotel luxuries, or get angry if they’re not available.
Rehman's homestay in Ghulkin, Pakistan

Rehman’s homestay in Ghulkin back in 2017

More of my posts about travel in Pakistan

 

Have more homestay recommendations? Let me know in the comments!

Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

9 thoughts on “Here’s what’s up with homestays in Pakistan

    Lucas says:

    Awesome post, so timely, and exactly what I was hoping to find! I’m leaving to Pakistan (first trip) in less than a month, for 30 days, and will make sure to seek out this homestay. Many thanks for sharing!

    Brigid Budd says:

    Thank you for your comments about homestay or any type of stay in Pakistan. I plan to visit with my son and I cannot find anywhere authentic to stay. We rally wanted to visit the Kalash valleys, do you know of any homestays there? Rehman’s house sounds just what we are looking for. I am very interested in food!, culture and handicrafts and my son is a great walker and climber. You have given me some hope to keep looking. We would abandon plans for Kalash in order to stay with Rehman. Have you though of putting together a pack about places to stay (like Rehman’s) for visitors who don’t want the plush concrete horrors?

    Syed Harir Shah says:

    You will find a better facility at home stay in Kalash valley. Kalash is in the extreme north-west of Pakistan and far away from Rehman house in Northern Area. You come to Islamabad and travel to Chitral some 12 hours drive or can fly by air on Friday and Sunday only to Chitral. Chitral city it will take 2 hours drive to Kalash valley. Kalash culture is truly tourist friendly, where you can stay with Durdana, a Kalash girl guide at her home. She has the basic facilities at her home for a stay, cooking, bathing etc. If you are interested, please write to contact us

    Mumtaz Haider says:

    Love following you. Thanks for promoting our tourism of hunza on international level.

    ahmed says:

    One has to be at right place at right time that is what i remember from my childhood.
    My love affair with hunza is old.
    I am leaving for hunza in 3 days in my vintage mercedes 1971.This time it will be solo,it will be for myself and it will be wild.
    I was very much concerned about where to stay this time coz this time it will be wild rough n tough unplanned unorganised.
    Luckily i fall in local solo male category which rehman sometimes accepts depends on the case.Hope i will persuade him.
    Thanks dude for the direction.
    have a good one

    Amie Maciszewski says:

    Can’t wait to stay at Rehman’s home! I met him during my short visit to the area in November 2019, and he showed me and my driver around. We stayed in small hotels, which he arranged. I’m working on getting there for a longer stay later this year, insha’allah! Cheers!

    Ali says:

    Hello this is Ali from Canada it is good to listen that you have visited my hometown Ghulkin Hunza Khan Baig and his son Rehman we are from the same tribe and family branch. Hope you have enjoyed your stay with them. Thanks again hope to see you your family and friends will be visiting the beautiful valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan Hunza as well as my hometown Ghulkin best wishes

    Hunza-Homestay says:

    Thanks for the brief detail Alex.
    We have more than 700 host families across Gilgit Baltistan. You can check their details at http://www.chkar.com

    Happy to share 🙂 I hope business is going well (despite the pandemic).

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