Skardu is one of the most interesting areas to visit in Pakistan and these are the best things to do in Skardu when there.
This article covers the region around Skardu and not the city itself, as, to be honest, there isn’t much to do there and if you’re short on time it’s better to get out and see the areas nearby.
Having visited the Karakorum Highway area many times, taking a side trip to Skardu from Gilgit and the Hunza Valley is highly recommended, at least for a few nights to see the main sites of the region. Skardu is one of the most fascinating parts of Gilgit Baltistan.
This guide doesn’t cover everything in the region but covers the main highlights that you will want to see.
For a place to stay in Skardu, I highly recommend the Sehrish Guest House.
Deosai National Park
Deosai National Park is the best day trip you can do in the region and is easily one of the best things to do in Skardu.
The best way to experience Deosai National Park is to camp overnight up there so you don’t have to rush back to Skardu.
The Sheosar Lake is a popular spot for photos and can get busy with people. It’s a nice small lake area and if you’re there late in the day it will be a lot quieter to visit.
A 4wd tour to Deosai National Park with staying 1 night there will cost around 18-20000 rupees (summer 2022) and doesn’t include renting a tent if you need one. A basic tent will be a further 1500-2000 rupees to rent for the night from one of the campsites up there, which includes mattresses and blankets.
There are 2 high-altitude cold deserts near Skardu (the other being Katpana Desert) but it’s Sarfaranga Desert that you will want to visit.
Don’t expect to have the desert to yourself as it’s not that large and is a popular stop for people heading to the Shigar Valley, and it’s not a large desert so expect a few 4wd cars driving up to it.
The best area of the desert is where there is a small collection of sand dunes.
Visiting the Shigar Valley is one of the best things to do in Skardu as it’s not that far away, being around a 45-minute drive.
It’s worth visiting just for the Shigar Fort alone, which is one of the most impressive forts in north Pakistan. You can even stay in Shigar Fort for the night (book a room with that link)
The valley itself is beautiful and filled with small villages to explore. The Sarfaranga Desert is on the way to Shigar as I mentioned before so you can stop there for a while on the way.
Khamash Waterfall and Manthoka Waterfall
If you like waterfalls then there are 2 great ones to see a few hour’s drive from Skardu. The most popular one if the Manthoka Waterfall as it’s closer to the city and gets crowded with people, but the best waterfall near Skardu is the Khamash waterfall as it’s further away and is less busy, as well as being the more epic one to see.
You can see both waterfalls as Manthoka is just a short detour from the road that leads to Khamash, and you can visit both n a day trip. If you are short on time then just head to Manthoka as it will save a few hours of extra driving to reach Khamash.
A popular day trip from Skardu is to see Manthoka waterfall, then visit the Sarfaranga cold desert, followed by a trip to Shigar Valley.
Upper and Lower Kachura Lakes
The Kachura Lakes are popular to visit and are one of the ‘main things to do in Skardu’, but in my opinion, are way overrated. The Shangrila Resort at lower Kachura Lake is famous, but as far as I’m concerned is over-priced and not worth staying at. It costs 1000 rupees just to enter the grounds of the resort to have a look around and the lake is not that big.
The best thing to do is head to Upper Kachura Lake and on the way stop at a viewpoint where you can look down at the resort to get an idea of what it looks like.
At Upper Kachura Lake it’s busy with tourists taking boat rides on the lake but there is a pleasent wzlk to do doqn to the lake shore and you can walk around part of the lake and escape some of the crowd.
Khaplu is one of my favourite places in Pakistan due to its quiet location and epic views if you are staying higher in the mountains. Khaplu is around a 3-hour drive from Skardu and technically you could do it on a very long day trip, but the best thing to do is go there for a night or 2 so you don’t need to rush. You can reach there by local van for 700 rupees if you don’t have your own transport.
The main reason for visiting is to see the Khaplu Palace, which, along with Shigar Fort, is one of the most impressive architectural structures in the area. You have to pay to enter the palace but it’s definitely worth it. Just like at Shigar Fort, if you have the money to spare, you can stay inside the palace grounds at the Serena Hotel that is attached to the place.
Side note: If you need a fast wifi connection for whatever reason then grab a drink or some food at the Serena restaurant which is inside the palace grounds where they have a fast connection and a nice garden to relax in.
For a great place to stay in Khaplu for the night take a look at the K7 Guesthouse which is only a few minutes from Khaplu Palace and has great views across the valley to the mountains beyond and is run by a very friendly older man who also has a lovely garden at the place. It’s also reasonably priced at around 4-5000 rupees a night for a double room.
Climbing up to a mountain top behind Khaplu you get great views across to the Haldi Cones.
Manthal Buddha Rock
The Manthal Buddha Rock on the outskirts of Skardu city is a must-visit for anyone interested in the Buddhist history of the area. As it’s so close to the city it’s easy o stop for 10-minutes to take a look at it on the way to Deosai National Park, or other areas, when on a day trip.
If it’s a case of going out of your way to see it and you’re short on time, then maybe miss it out.
I enjoyed the vibe of being around such an ancient carving and Buddhism was in the Skardu region long before Islam and other beliefs came to the area.
I’ll be totally honest and say that I didn’t actually visit Kharpocho Fort, simply because I had seen many forts in the north of Pakistan already and from what I heard the Shigar Fort, which I did visit, was more impressive. However, visiting Kharpocho Fort is regarded as one of the best things to do in Skardu.
There is an organic farm that you can walk to from Skardu Fort as well.
Although we did not reach Basho Valley as we were seeing other places and didn’t hear about it properly until towards the end of the trip, it came highly recommended by local guides so I’m adding it here to give you the option to look into it.
The K2 Museum is a good option for an ‘indoor idea’ if you want to learn more about the history of the region and especially the mountaineering of K2 and other mountains.
Getting to Skardu
One of the best ways of getting to Skardu is to fly from Islamabad as it takes only 45 minutes and, depending on the weather, will give epic views of the mountains. Tip: sit on the right side of the plane when going from Islamabad to Skardu for views of Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s 2nd highest mountain.
The only problem with flying is the chance of the flight being cancelled as in any cloudy weather by Skardu they will cancel the flight. The probability of this is around 50%.
The other main way to reach there, if you don’t have your own transport, is to take a bus from Islamabad direst to Skardu which will take around 20 hours and costs roughly 4000 rupees.
If you are already in the Gilgit area then take a local van to Skardu from Gilgit which takes around 5 hours, as long as there is no landslide blockage on the road.
The Skardu area is definitely one of the most interesting destinations in Pakistan to visit and also makes a great add-on to any Karakorum Highway, or Hunza Valley trip.
I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.
For more n travel in Pakistan take a look at my travel guides to Pakistan.
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