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In search of new, unusual destinations, I came across Iran. So far, I haven’t met anyone who’s been there. Pinterest pictures promised colorful mosques, ornate mosaics and ancient buildings. But architecture is just one of the many reasons to travel to Iran.
In the 12 days I traveled through Iran, I covered 5 big cities on the classic tourist route. Is it worth traveling to Iran? Is it safe and above all: How did I feel as a Western woman in an Islamic republic?
The following reasons summarize my experiences in those 12 days and impressions of this mysterious state. This blog post will resolve some of your questions and prejudices and hopefully also inspire you to travel to Iran yourself.
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Never in my life have I been treated so kindly in a country before. Taxi drivers, tourist guides and strangers all treated my sister and me with respect. Several times I was invited to Iranian homes – online and offline.
On Instagram, I received so many DMs from Iranians who wanted to invite me to their cities. Some even offered me a place to sleep for several days. Unfortunately, our strict schedule didn’t leave room for spontaneuous day trips. Otherwise I would have loved to follow up on the offers. The whole 12 days were carefully planned by our travel agency Iran Free Tours. In no country I have traveled to, I was invited to stay with people (who have never met me).
But that’s not all: Luckily, we found time twice during our trip to accept an invitation for dinner. What awaited us was literally the perfect dinner. Our host cooked all day, from morning to night, to prepare a feast. On request, all the food was vegan, although she usually cooks with meat. That evening, not only did I eat some of the tastiest vegan dishes of my life, but I also got to know the prime example of Iranian hospitality.
That brings us to the next reason: Persian food. What do Iranians eat and does the Iranian cuisine offer any vegan options?
Painfully, we had to learn that Iranians love meat. Fast food chains and kebab shops have become exremely popular in Iran. Our tour guide Mostafa explained to me: People go to restaurants to eat meat. Vegetarian dishes are more mostly consumed at home.
Despite the meat-based majoriy of dishes, we still think the Persian cuisine is terrific. It is spicy, tasty, low in fat and mostly very healthy. Rice and bread are always the basis, served with some raw and/or boiled vegetables, pickles and meat. Some dishes are vegetable based but include yogurt or other dairy products.
Our favorite vegan dishes are the following:
- Persian Rice
- Dal Adas
- Aash Reshteh (noodle soup with beans)
- Borani Bademjan (eggplant & tomato dish)
- Shirazi Salad
- Dolmeh Barg-e Mo (stuffed wine leaves)
- Spinach with beans
- Fresh Iranian bread
3. Experience a new culture
The cuisine of a country is only part of the eclectic culture. Other small customs and rituals make Iran a unique country with a unique culture.
Some fun habits and manners we found interesting:
- drinking Iranian tea multiple times a day (and get offered free tea constantly)
- Taroof (politely declining an offer before being offered again, rejecting it again and accepting it the third time or so)
- Sitting on the carpet instead of on the sofa or on chairs (even in restaurants)
In addition, there are countless details and characteristics, which can not be expressed in words. You just have to feel and experience the culture to understand it.
You hear so many negative things in the media and experience so much positive when you’re actually there. Iran is a land of controversy. This is definitely a reason for me to experience Iran and create an image for yourself.
If you are interested in history, a trip to Iran is indispensable. Persia was the first superpower 2500 years ago and the tracks are still visible in different parts of the country.
Persepolis is probably the most impressive building of its time. Although it was destroyed only about 250 years after the construction, a large part of the statues and walls are still in very good condition. This is because parts of Persepolis were partially buried in sand and thereby conserved until about 80 years ago. A research group discovered dishes, statues and elements of the impressive building in almost original condition. Some have been stolen, others are in the Louvre in Paris or the National Museum in Tehran. But even at the original location of Persepolis there is still much to see, making a visit worthwhile.
Qanat is another genius piece of engineering. Qanat technology is a 2000-year-old fresh water extraction system from Iran. A 80km tunnel was dug into the ground by hand to extract water from the nearby mountain to the desert city of Yazd. In addition, the historic city offers many other interesting sights with impressive background stories.
In addition, there are numerous palaces, interesting museums, historic houses, holy shrines, ancient mosques and well-preserved buildings such as the ancient bazaars or gardens. Before I traveled to Iran, I did not know that the country is historically so important. Whether you’re a history fan or not, the many attractions fascinate, inspire and encourage thought.
Even for nature-loving people, skiers, climbers and hikers Iran offers the right places. In Iran there are 4 seasons, forests, desert, sea and mountains. So it may happen that in some parts of the country there is snow, while the thermometer in the south reaches almost 30 degrees.
Near Kashan our first desert tour started – one of my absolute highlights. With an Iranian jeep-like car we went off-road in dangerous speed towards the desert, after we had to show our passports at a checkpoint. Past a sea of salt, honeycomb-shaped earth crusts and hords of wild black camels, we reached our first destination: A caravansary. Since camels can’t walk more than 30km a day, the caravans had to stop on the way through the desert after each stage. The caravansery is now being converted into a hotel.
In the Iranian desert, I climbed sand dunes for the first time in my life. The pristine desert gave me a feeling of freedom and liveliness. I have always imagined deserts to be hot and dry, but the sand was cold and the air temperature was 15 degrees.
On the way to the south we drove through snow-covered mountains 2500 meters above sea level. In the cities of Yazd and Tehran we were particularly impressed by the view of the mountains. Furthermore, there are beautiful forests, flowering meadows and babbling brooks in northern Iran. On my next visit, I will definitely include a nature program in my plan.
Even the shopping lovers among you will get your money worth. The many traditional bazaars offer a colorful selection of spices, medicinal plants, teas, jewelery, scarves and home furnishings. Shoppings malls with plagiarized Western brands exist especially in the larger cities.
Persian carpets have a good reputation all over the world. Especially handmade silk carpets can sometimes cost five-digit sums. In general, wool, silk and cotton are used and depending on the material and pattern, the price varies. For only € 280 I bought a new carpet for my room – of course without silk. So if you are looking for a new carpet, take the chance on your trip to Iran. The quality is good and the prices are low thanks to the exchange rate.
7. Cheap prices
This brings us to the topic of money. We were shocked to learn about the different exchange rates in the country. We had calculated with 47,000 rials per euro, but the actual rate was 135,000 Rial per euro. There are 2 official conversion rates: a central bank rate and a currency exchange rate. So we got 13.5 million Rial for our 100 €, almost 3 times as much as expected before our trip.
The best way to estimate prices is to compare them with prices in your own country. In Iran you get the following things for the following prices:
- a bottle of water – 10 cents
- a cup of tea – between 50 and 90 cents
- a taxi ride – between 80 cents and 2 €
- a vegetarian dish in the restaurant – between 1 € and 3 €
- a tourist guide and driver for the whole day – from 50 €
- entrance fees – between 80 cents and 3 €
- a pack of dates – 1 €
In total we spent only 185 € for 2 people in 12 days on food, souvenirs, taxi rides and admissions. The long-distance rides, tour guides and hotels are calculated on top. I can’t name an exact price for that because I received some complentary benefits in cooperation with Iran Free Tours. Overall, you get away much cheaper than in most travel countries.
Surely most of you would not expect this point. However, I really want to address safety, an important factor in choosing a travel destination for me. Before you book a trip, you should inform yourself about the political situation, crime and threats in each country.
The Foreign Office (online website) of your country provides numerous travel and security information that should be followed in Iran. I think it’s important to be well informed about a country you want to travel to. Especially in Iran, there are some laws that should not be broken. But please don’t panic.
During the 12 days in Iran, we never felt insecure. We have never even once heard of kidnapping, theft, rape, or other criminal acts. Of course their are crimes like in every other country but definitely not as often as our prejudices suggest. Many people confuse Iraq with Iran or put the country in one mental drawer with ISIS or war. The cities of Tehran, Kashan, Yazd, Shiraz and Isfahan seemed as safe to me as any city in Europe.
Even for families with children, travelers from the US, solo female travelers and homosexuals, traveling to Iran is no problem. As long as you respect the laws and rules, nothing happens to you. Besides, the police seem to be a bit more lenient with tourists. Nevertheless, I would of course advise against trying it out – just make sure (as a woman) that your headscarf is in place and do not put it on with the police. Nobody is after you. On the contrary, the country would like to promote tourism in order to strengthen the economy.
Surprisingly, the roads in Iran are excellent. In recent years, the motorway network has been expanded most cities have good street systems. Furthermore, the roads are much cleaner than you would imagine. In larger cities there are also metros.
For me, the infrastructure is a very important point when choosing a travel destination. After all, you want to get from A to B as pleasantly, safely and cheaply as possible. We mostly had private drivers or took taxis. Taxi rides are cheap because the oil reserves in Iran are very high and the gasoline prices are very low. City transfers and private drivers can be requested from Mostafas agency Iran Free Tours.
My tip: Get a taxi from the hotel or let a local call and arrange the price before the ride. Price barometers do not exist in Iran.
Does it really have to be Bali, Thailand or Australia every time? Why not try something new? When I had the opportunity to travel to Iran, I immediately seized it. I did not hesitate a second because who knows when this chance will come again?
The political situation is stable at the moment, the exchange rate is favorable and the country is not yet spoiled by tourism. The Iranians are happy about every foreigner they see. Tourists bring money and news into the country. You can also practice English with them and talk about other cultures. As an Iranian, traveling to distant countries is too expensive and often not possible because of the visa.
Iran is a big treasure filled with jewels waiting for travelers coming in the next few years. It is original and traditional like no other country. Due to sanctions, website closures and limited market activity, the ancient Persian culture continues to be cultivated and maintained in most parts of the country. Iran offers a unique opportunity to meet wonderful people and get to know a beautiful culture.
My next trip to Iran is will happen very soon. One thing is certain: 12 days are not enough to get to know this versatile country. It is best to plan 3 or 4 weeks for this adventure.
Thanks for reading!