Iran has been at the top of my bucket list for years. At the beginning of 2018 I decided that a trip to Iran should immediately become my New Year’s resolution and so I booked a ticket together with a friend.
Of course it was exciting, especially since Trump had already announced his withdrawal from the nuclear deal. That had and still has a lot of impact on the country. But we went anyway, too curious about this country and its people. Because everyone who has ever been to Iran, embraces these friendly people. Knowing more? I would like to tell you more about my experience and my travel route through Iran.
Iran itinerary – 3 weeks
My trip through Iran lasted three weeks. In those three weeks we were able to see a lot of the country and get to know the people and the culture. Many travelers follow a travel route through Iran that goes from Tehran to Shiraz. You will then pass many historical places. We decided to deviate from that route, because we also wanted to see the mountains in the north and were guided by the Iranians we met along the way.
Somaye lives in Anidmeshk. Not a city that attracts a lot of tourists, but very cool to experience. We stayed at her place for a week and had a fantastic time. We drank liters of tea, met her family, had real beauty evenings and learned real Iranian dancing.
We also made a few trips. For example, the family took us for a real Iranian picnic in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. In the middle of the mountains, which reminded me of the mountains I saw from the plane after traveling through Sri Lanka. When I saw it, I decided that one day I had to go to Iran and now we were suddenly there with these lovely people. The picnic was no ordinary one either. Large skewers of meat and vegetables were prepared, and a fire was lit to roast them. There was bread, there was rice and various salads. After dinner there was dancing and singing. Tired but terribly satisfied, we went home again.
A few days later we also went camping with the family. Again the car was loaded with food and drink and with enough sleeping gear. We had to drive a long way for it, but it was again a very beautiful route and on the way we went to see caves and a nomad family. They were shepherds and moved through the mountains with the animals.
The campsite was very different than in the Netherlands. The camping site consisted of a kind of terraces of stone with some tents here and there. There was a toilet block on the camping site, but there was no other manager. Again it was a lot of fun, to top it off we also drank a smuggled beer hidden in the tent.
After a few days in Tehran we decided to move on. Somaye took us to the Caspian coast, because Iranians like to vacation here. We didn’t see much of the coast, also because we weren’t allowed to wear bikinis, but it was an adventure in itself. The bus trip through the mountains was beautiful and we were amazed. I always really like bus trips when backpacking because you sit in the middle of the locals and watch everyday life pass you by. This bus trip was no different. What was different for the locals, were two of those western girls on the bus, who were also looking for a place to sleep.
We wanted to use Couchsurfing, but in the mountains our range was lost and so we couldn’t arrange anything. Soon the man sitting behind us on the bus got everyone to work trying to find a place to sleep. Relatives were called and plans were changed and eventually the man decided to invite us to his home himself. He and his wives were incredibly friendly, cooked elaborate Iranian food and showed us around the neighborhood. It’s a pity that smells are impossible to capture, I will never forget the sweet smell of roses and citrus fruits in the air.
After a fantastic week with Somaye and her family, we said goodbye again to see some more of the country. The first stop was Isfahan, arguably the most beautiful city in Iran.
Here we found a place to sleep through couchsurfing and the host turned out to be a true guide. The most famous and central point in Isfahan is Naqsh-e Jahan Square. You can’t wait to see your eyes on this square alone. Around the square is a palace, a mosque and a bazaar and you can enjoy yourself for a long time. Just off the main square you will find Hasht Behesht Palace which is also worth a visit. The garden that goes with it is also very beautiful.
Be sure to take a look at the Si-o-Se Bridge and the Khajou Bridge. At the latter, many people gather in the evening to sing. This sounds beautiful and gives a lot of fraternization. Especially because in Iran it is officially forbidden to sing in the street. Our guide also took us to the Sofeh Mountain. When the sun has set, here you have a beautiful view of the lights of the city.
After this night we said goodbye to Somaye. She missed her daughter and we wanted to experience what it was like to travel through Iran without help. We traveled on to the mountain village of Masuleh. This village is very unique and very beautiful. The houses here are built into the mountain and the roof of one house is the footpath from the street above. As a result, no vehicles are allowed in the streets and you can stroll here.
There are many restaurants, tea houses and stalls on the street to have something to eat or drink. There are also a number of small hotels, but we arranged a place to sleep through couchsurfing. There are quite a lot of Iranian tourists in the village, but we were the only non-Iranians.
Initially, our plan was to travel further north. We changed that plan because we also wanted to visit Somaye’s home. To get there, we made a stopover in the town of Qazvin. This city is a bit more conservative and we noticed that in the atmosphere on the street. Fortunately, there were also many friendly people and a young man offered his help as a guide. This often means when backpacking that you have to pay a lot for it, but he didn’t want anything for it.
He took us to the Caravanserai of Sa’d al-Saltaneh, Bist Sotoun and Imamzadeh Shahzadeh Hossein, a very large mosque. He also took us to the doctor. I had a bad cold for a few days. A number of people had already said that I had to get an injection, but for a common cold that is not very common with us. Because I was so fed up, I decided to vote anyway. Another whole experience in itself. The doctor wanted to talk about Johan Cruijff in particular. Eventually I had to lie down in a separate room where I got an injection in both buttocks. Immediately afterwards I was in great shape again!
We flew via Istanbul to Tehran , the capital of Iran. Check here flights to Iran. We arrived early in the morning and ended up right in the morning rush hour. Fortunately, a taxi managed to slalom us through the crowds and we were able to take a nap in the hostel. We stayed in the Seven Hostel. When we woke up, there was a surprise waiting for us.
We had already come into contact with a number of Iranians in the Netherlands. When we woke up it turned out that one of these women was on the plane from her hometown to Tehran to be our guide. We had not counted on that at all and it was overwhelming to immediately notice how terribly friendly the Iranians are.
Somaye took us to Golestan Palace, to the bazaar, the Tabiat Bridge, Negarestan Garden and the most delicious restaurants. We also came into contact with a carpet seller through her. He invited us to a tea house and together we drank a lot of tea and laughed. In retrospect it was a sales trick, but a carpet did not fit in the backpack, so we kindly thanked him for the tea and the fun.
Our host in Isfahan likes to go the extra mile for his guests. He regularly organizes trips to see more of the area. One of those trips is camping in the desert. We also wanted to do that. We loaded the car again with sleeping gear and food.
Unfortunately, we had only just arrived in the desert when the sky burst open. There was also a lot of thunder. We watched the flashes for a while, but after a while we decided that camping was not going to be him. He took us to a friend of his, where we could just sleep in a house.
This man again provided a lot of new adventures. For example, he and his son organized a football match on the edge of the desert. As women, we were not allowed to enter the sports hall, so we had to go to the desert. Because of the heat of the day, we were already playing football at 8 o’clock in the morning. We also brought sandboards to surf off the dunes. They also took us to some castle ruins and a huge salt flat.
The two men also took us to Yazd . We drove there via the desert roads, where we were allowed to drive ourselves. We were amazed again in Yazd. This really felt like a fairy tale from a thousand and one nights. The center of Yazd consists only of mud houses and the roads are narrow alleys. There are a number of mosques to visit and many tea houses with a roof terrace where you have a nice view over the roofs. You will also see the many high wind towers that protrude above the city everywhere. There is also a fire temple in Yazd dedicated to the Zoroastrian faith. This one is definitely worth a visit.
From Yazd we took the night train back to Tehran. Here we went to visit the people with whom we slept on the Caspian Coast. Then the trip was unfortunately over.
Good to Know for Your Trip to Iran
Iran is not just any destination. You can travel on the spec and be surprised by the things you encounter along the way. However, there are some things you should keep in mind.
In Iran his state and religion are not separated. As a result, alcohol is prohibited, for example. It also has a lot of influence on the clothes you have to wear. For men, the rules are mild, but wearing shorts is not allowed. As a woman you should always wear long pants because your ankles should not be exposed.
In addition, you should wear an unfitted tunic with long sleeves. This should fall over your buttocks. The headscarf is also mandatory. Many Iranian women wear increasingly tighter clothes or let their headscarves fall loosely around their heads.
Despite the fact that as a guest you naturally respect the rules, we were sometimes tired of the headscarf and we also let it hang slightly. However, you have to be careful with this. We were once approached by the vice squad and that is not very relaxed.
We were in Iran during Ramadan. We never thought of that when booking the tickets and we only found out in Iran. You can easily travel through the country during Ramadan. The only thing is that restaurants should be officially closed. Now quite a lot of restaurants are open and have the doors and curtains closed. You then have to search for it a bit longer and that’s pretty bad when you’re hangry. A quick meal on the street isn’t easy either. You can quickly put some food in your mouth, but do this as inconspicuously as possible. You can also be held accountable for this.
In Iran you cannot simply pay with your Dutch bank card. So you should bring enough cash with you. It is best to take dollars with you and exchange them there for Iranian money. We took a total of $1000 with us and that was more than enough with our way of travelling. Iran is now even cheaper, so you could get by with it.
As you can see, our travel route through Iran was partly very off the beaten track. If you like that, you can do it very well here. If you would rather travel in a different way, you can also join a group tour through Iran, for example.