Band-e Amir National Park

Band-e Amir National Park is a series of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit. It’s been called Afghanistan’s Grand Canyon; 370 square kilometers of soaring cliffs and cascading lakes on the edge of the Hindu Kush Mountains that sits high at an altitude of 2900 m.

Band-e Amir National Park is the first national park of Afghanistan. It is a stunning group of turquoise lakes in Yakawlang district. You can camp. You can picnic. You can even rent swan-shaped paddle boats to navigate one of six deep blue lakes that shimmer high in the Hindu Kush mountains, amid picturesque red-hued cliffs and rocky natural dams.

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“This park serves as an icon for the identity of the Afghan people for essentially a beacon of stability for three decades of chaos that they went through,” says Alex Dehgan, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Afghanistan country director from 2006 to 2008.

The WCS, along with a number of international agencies and funding partners including USAID and the United Nations Development Programme, assisted the local Afghan government in helping to establish and manage the park.

Despite being one of the country’s poorest and least developed regions, Bamiyan remains one of the safest areas of Afghanistan today and also noted for employing the country’s first-ever female park rangers, who assist with the growing number of local Afghan visitors and families who have been attracted to the park in recent years.

s first national park back in 2009 after decades of delay due to war. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
It was established as Afghanistan's first national park back in 2009 after decades of delay due to war. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

“Every time we take people [to Band-e-Amir], they have a great day,” says James Willcox, founder of UK-based tour company. “Most people’s impression of Afghanistan is that it’s dry desert, full of just war and terror and misery and fundamentalism. Whereas all those things exist, but lots of other things exist as well…The general sort of banality of life doesn’t happen on the news, but it goes on all around us.”

Willcox, who has been visiting Band-e-Amir since before it was a national park, says improved road surface conditions and increased use of social media by local Afghans who are now more exposed to the beauty of the park have helped contribute to a “vast increase” in Afghan visitors over the past three years.

Only 375 international tourists visited the park in 2018, according to the Afghan government.

One of those aspects of everyday life is the annual Marathon of Afghanistan, the country’s only mixed-gender sporting event, the third edition of which was held in 2018 in Band-e-Amir National Park with 420 runners, half of whom were women.

s Grand Canyon.
The stunning park has been described as Afghanistan's Grand Canyon.

Walking is pretty much the only way to get around the area once you arrive, unless you were to befriend the owner of a donkey or horse. There are 5 lakes, all worth seeing and in close proximity.

If possible (and provided that you’ve stayed the night) try to be up on the road at the top of Band-e Haibat at sunrise (in October the ideal time was 06:00) for some great views and, if the water is calm, some gorgeous reflections of the surrounding mountains in the lake.

A trail from behind Hotel de Reves leads up the hill, and a 20-minute walk brings you to some stunning views of 2 more of the lakes.

The small mosque-like tomb of Amir looks over Band-e Haibat, and unfortunately there are swan peddle boats available for rent here… a good opportunity to ruin the beautiful reflections in the lake.

Behind the tomb of Amir is a women’s beach, with a hut built half into the water, allowing women to enjoy a bath in the lake covered from curious views. Taking a bath in the lake is said to cure from diseases.

CNN: How Band-e-Amir National Park became Afghanistan’s oasis of peace

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