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Explore These Wondrous Islands That You’ve Never Heard Of

PHOTO: Grigvovan / Shutterstock

The Persian Gulf is home to all kinds of undiscovered natural beauty.

Islands are not something usually associated with the desert land of Iran. But in this vast and beautiful country, there is a bit of everything. The islands of the Persian Gulf are home to a plethora of geographical wonders, they’re easy to get to, cheap to visit, and have great weather. Yet most people don’t even know they exist.

Just a short 40-minute ferry trip from the south of Iran lie Qeshm and Hormuz islands. Between them, they boast an impressive array of sights and activities that you won’t find in many guidebooks. Qeshm Island has recently been announced as a visa-free zone for all countries, meaning even those who need a tour or special visa for mainland Iran can visit here independently with daily flights from Dubai. So if you love nature, history, culture, camels, and getting off the beaten path, Iran’s islands should be on your radar.

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PHOTO: Rohan Cahill-Fleury
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Chakooh Canyon

WHERE: Qeshm Island, Iran

This incredible feat of nature is one of Iran’s hidden gems. Swirling patterns and curved holes created in the rock by wind, water, and erosion make for a surreal scene as you wander through the canyon. Water wells have been dug into the stone and were used by local shepherds as a method of storing rainwater for the long, dry Qeshm summers.

INSIDER TIPTime your visit for the late afternoon and climb through the canyon to watch the sunset from the top.

 

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Ancient Ship Building Yard

WHERE: Qeshm Island, Iran

All around the harbors of southern Iran, you can see the beautiful wooden ships mainly used for transporting goods to and from the United Arab Emirates. On Qeshm Island, you can see where all the action happens at the shipbuilding yard. (Although “action” may be a bit of a strong word as one of these ships takes three years to complete! )

Depending on when you visit, you can see the ships at different stages of completion, and if they happen to be finished, you can watch the grueling one-week process of rolling the ship over logs and into the ocean.

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PHOTO: Grigvovan / Shutterstock
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Rainbow Mountains

WHERE: Hormuz Island, Iran

Hormuz Island is also given the name Rainbow Island because of the incredible colors of sand and rock visible all over the island. A walk through the Rainbow Valley to see the colorful waves through the mountains is a psychedelic experience. Shades of red, orange, and purple you didn’t think possible in rocks spiral together and blast the landscape with a mishmash of color.

So is this beautiful place packed with other tourists trying to get that perfect Insta-image? Not at all; it’s likely you’ll have the place to yourself, making the vibrant landscape feel even more surreal.

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Wind Towers of Laft Village

WHERE: Qeshm Island, Iran

Wind towers were a traditional method of cooling houses in the desert towns of Iran. The tall, intricate structures stand high over the mud roofs of the town, catching the air and venting it down into the house. Wind towers used to be visible in every village on the island, but Laft is now the only place to see them.

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Portuguese Castle

WHERE: Hormuz Island, Iran

Yes, the Portuguese made it to the Persian Gulf too. Built in the 1500s during the time of Portuguese colonization in the Gulf, Our Lady of the Conception (or the Portuguese Castle) was constructed from the vividly red sand found on Hormuz Island. The roof has collapsed, but the outer walls are still standing and visitors can enter the castle to explore. While the castle architecture isn’t mind-blowing, it is an awesome color and it’s interesting to see the European influence on Iran’s history.

INSIDER TIPThe entrance fee is normally 150,000 IRR, but they will often give discounts to groups or students.

 

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PHOTO: Grigvovan / Shutterstock
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Red Sand Beach

WHERE: Hormuz Island, Iran

The beaches of Hormuz Island are beautiful spots for chilling out, enjoying the sunset, and even camping for the night. Every beach has its own special quality, but one of the most impressive beaches is the one surrounded by deep red sand. The crimson path leading to the beach is an unbelievable color, and looking out onto the bay reveals a reddish pink ocean washing against the shore. True to its red wine color, this sand will stain your feet red for a few days.

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PHOTO: Monikamonia | Dreamstime.com
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The Traditional Bandari Clothing

WHERE: Southern Iran

Like the rest of Iran, women in the south adhere to the Islamic dress code, and most wear a chador outside the house. But unlike the rest of Iran, these outfits are a celebration of color. The brightly patterned chadors are coupled with dazzling leggings in all colors of the rainbow. The women decorate their leggings themselves and each pair is a display of their artistic ability with sequins, swirls, and intricate designs showcasing their talents. Less common these days is the traditional masks which resemble a burka but also cover the nose and are often decorated in a similar way to the leggings.

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PHOTO: Tatiana Veselova / Shutterstock
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Camels of the Beach

WHERE: Qeshm Island, Iran

Through mainland Iran and the Middle East, camels are an everyday sighting in desert areas. But on Qeshm Island, the local camel hangout is next to the sea. If you visit the beaches on Qeshm island, and you should, you’ll most likely be joined by a few of these majestic creatures vying for the best spot to get a tan. On some of the more touristy beaches, you can ride camels along the shore.

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PHOTO: robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
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Namakdan Salt Cave

WHERE: Qeshm Island, Iran

At 6 kilometers long, this salt cave holds the title for the largest salt cave in the world! The interior of the cave is spectacular, with rippling colors along the walls and bright white salt crystals hanging from the ceiling. Walking through the first part is easy and beautiful, but the real sight requires a bit more courage. By crawling through a small gap at the end of the cave, you can reach the grand salt dome. It’s an incredible sight to see, but not recommended for anyone suffering from claustrophobia.

INSIDER TIPEntrance is free, but make sure you bring a flashlight or headlamp as there is no lighting inside the cave.

 

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PHOTO: M.Khebra | Shutterstock
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Naz Island

WHERE: Persian Gulf, Iran

This little island isn’t so much an attraction as the phenomenon which surrounds it, literally. At low tide, from one the nicest white sand beaches of Qeshm, you can walk or even drive across a sandy strip to explore this tiny, rocky island. Enjoy some peaceful moments watching the clear blue waters, but stay too long and you’ll be stranded as the tide rolls in and Naz Island becomes disconnected from the mainland. Make sure you time your visit to get out and back before high tide.

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PHOTO: daniyal62/Flickr, [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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Mangrove Forest

WHERE: Qeshm Island, Iran

Known as “Hara Forest” by the locals, this expansive, tree-filled area is not your average forest. All of the trees are firmly rooted in the shallow salt waters on the north coast of Qeshm Island. The bark extracts the salt and allows the tree to feed on the freshwater, meaning these trees are some of the few that can survive in the hot, dry climate of Southern Iran. The mangrove forest is a bird lover’s paradise and taking a boat trip through the narrow canals is a great way to spot some wildlife.

INSIDER TIPMake sure you visit at high tide.

 

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PHOTO: Ninara/Flickr, [CC BY 2.0]
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Hengam Island and Dolphin Watching

A boat tour to Hengam Island is a great way to spot some of the many pods of dolphins living in the Persian Gulf, especially in the early morning. The tours then continue on to the small town on Hengam Island to see the local life and some souvenir stalls before heading back to the mainland.