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Trip Report 2 Weeks In Iran: So Far Away From The Clichés!

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Hi,
we just spent two weeks in Iran. Here is our experience.
If you want more information: http://www.oneyearoff.net/countries-visited/asia/iran
A short Video about this trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jOyDJ54-wA
Cheers, Gilles
Itinerary And Time Of The Visit

We spent two weeks in Iran in April 2014, and covered the cultural heartland of Iran: Shiraz, Isfahan, Na’In, Yazd, Kashan, Qom & last but not least Teheran. Due to the lack of time, we did not travel the north of the country, nor did we go to the deserts.

Why Travel To Iran?
Iran is one of the cradles of our civilizations and this was our main focus, to meet one of the oldest cultures in the world. The Persian Empire shaped the early history of mankind. It is famous for its craftsmanship, its architecture, tile work, its unparalleled Persian carpets and literature to name a few areas. No wonder, that nowadays the level of education is so high.

Is It Safe & Is It Morally Justifiable To Travel To Iran?
Like so often when we talk about our travelling plans, the question “Isn’t it dangerous to travel there?” pops up. Iran was no exception, on the contrary! Iran has a reputation of supporting terrorism, the land of fanatic ayatollahs where women are forced under the chador, not to mention the endless media coverage about Iran’s nuclear program.
We did not believe a minute that it would be dangerous, just the opposite. And it proved to be one of the safest countries we have traveled so far. Like always, our minds are manipulated by our daily diet of western media. During a presentation by “Rückenwind” - Anita said, “If you have prejudices about a country, then travel it”. We couldn’t agree more!
Besides, several times we were confronted with the question whether it is morally justifiable to travel to “such countries”. Do not be mistaken - our enthusiasm for Iran does not mean we support (in any way) a brutal and suppressive regime. Human Rights abuses are wide spread in Iran, corruption also as described in our article on Esfahan’s dried river. Elections seem to have little relevance, since who can run is decided by a closed circle. The “Council of the Guardians of the Constitution” control the country’s legislation and most of the oil production.
In our opinion, one should make a difference between the (amazing) people and culture of Iran and its regime. While traveling independently, you can ensure that your money will mainly go to a middle class being wiped out by the embargo and who deserves better than what is currently happening.

Challenges In The Organization Of The Trip
All in all, this trip was fairly easy to organize, especially considering how few people travel to Iran individually. The vast majority of tourists travel with an organized tour.
Organizing the visa was straightforward.
The Iranian Embassy recommended an agency to get us the required Visa Reference Number. Once you have this number you can to apply for the visa. The agency recommended never replied, so we used Gashttour Travel & Tour Agency. The very responsive and flexible staff got us the Visa Reference Number within ten days (35 € per person). Getting the visa was then a straightforward, uncomplicated process at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna.
Besides, Iran is very easy to travel.
We never booked ahead although we traveled during Easter, when most European tourists arrive in Iran. Accommodation and transport is overcrowded when you travel during Norooz, the spring festivities, where literally all Iranians are on holiday, traveling their country.
We were told that traveling might be challenging during Ramadan, due to the fact that many shops and almost all restaurants are closed during the day.
The main question that arose before departure was what kind of clothes should Heidi take?
Actually, as it turned out we spent way too many thoughts on this subject. All the female tourists we talked to had worried about what to wear in Iran. Quite easy actually: baggy pants, a shirt that cover your hips and bum, very little cleavage, short scarf - otherwise most of it is wrapped around your neck and drives you crazy, especially in the heat. You are set, not matter where, in rural areas or in urban areas!

What Would We Have Wished To Know?
There are three things you should be aware of when traveling to Iran:
The sanctions imposed on Iran are tight. Once you entered the country, you will have no access to cash. Forget your credit card! You have to take all the money you need with you in cash. This affects individual travellers the most, since you need to pay hotels, restaurants, bus, train & plane tickets as you travel, and not beforehand when using a tour operator. On top of that, there are tons of things you might want to buy, beautiful souvenirs, and of course astonishing carpets (we traded our Camera for one of them). So bring enough cash! Some of the more tourist-orientated and more expensive carpet shops in major cities have bank accounts in Europe, which makes it possible to pay by credit card.
The currency is devaluating fast, so keep an eye on the exchange rate. We experienced a drop of 7,5% over a period of 2 weeks.
Toman, Rial / Rial, Toman… This is extremely confusing in the beginning. Always double check that the prices indicated or discussed are in Toman, and when looking at your bank notes, multiply the price by 10. Toman actually do not exist, but everyone quotes prices in Toman - 1 Toman is 10 Rials.

Highlights Of The Trip
The people - Iranians simply redefine friendliness and hospitality!
Esfahan - with it great Islamic architecture, Maydan-e Imam, the string of leavy parks and Julfa, the Armenian Quarter, that invites for strolls, day and night
Qom, Iran’s (second) Vatican - Both Fatima’s Holy Shrine and Jamkaran Mosque are spectacular. And no, this city is not THAT conservative…
Persepolis and the tombs of the Achaemenidean Kings Cyrius, Darius & Xerxes
The diversity of highlights in and around Yazd, a place where you should plan enough time
Visiting traditional houses in Kashan
The Bazaar of Shiraz
Amazing opportunities for photographers: Iranians are eager to pose for photos, even with complete strangers; astonishing architecture; illuminated buildings in the evening…

How To Go Off The Beaten Track?
Read more on: http://www.oneyearoff.net/countries-visited/asia/iran/report/article/travel-guides-to-iran-friendliness-culture-modernity-so-far-away-from-the-cliches

Budget:
http://www.oneyearoff.net/countries-visited/asia/iran/report/article/budget-travel-guide-to-iran-easy-to-travel-on-a-budget

Photography in Iran:
http://www.oneyearoff.net/countries-visited/asia/iran/report/article/photography-travel-guide-to-iran-a-travel-photographers-dream

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