About this post: I had many questions on my mind before my trip to Iran. Why go to Iran? How is Iran as a country? Is it safe to visit Iran? What is Iranian culture like? A month in Iran later, I think it might be one of my favorite places in the world. This post is my humble attempt to show you why.
Most people think that now is a terrible time to visit Iran. The renewed US sanctions on the country mean that popular travel websites like Expedia, Airbnb and Booking.com don’t work in Iran. International debit and credit cards can’t be used to make payments or withdraw money from ATMs. Most travel insurance policies don’t cover Iran. And social networks like Twitter and Facebook are technically banned.
And yet, spending a month exploring Iran in Feb-March 2019 – thanks to the local all-women team of travel company Uppersia – filled me with immense wonder at its architecture and natural beauty. I fell in love with the country’s people, culture, poetry and language, and believe that NOW is the best time to visit Iran.
The renewed US sanctions have sent the Iranian Rial into a free fall, making it the most affordable time to explore the country – and contribute directly to ordinary citizens suffering the economic consequences. Tourism has been badly hit, which means you can have the exquisite Nasir-ol-Molk of Shiraz, the awe-inspiring Naqsh-e Jahan Square of Isfahan and the other-worldly Kaluts Desert, pretty much all to yourself. If you pick only one international travel destination this year, pick Iran, for this is a country where:
You’ll discover landscapes so unimaginable, you’d think you’ve landed on Mars
(like on Hormuz Island, with yellow rivers, white mineral peaks and red sand)
Yet human creations will leave you in greater awe
(Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, said to be created by the gods of art)
And compel you to reconnect with the poet in you
In an antique bookshop in Kerman, with works of great Persian poets S’aadi, Hafez and Rumi
As you walk amid 900-year-old Cypress trees
(at Bagh-e Eram in Shiraz)
Take in the awe-inspiring sight of a 12th century shrine
If you see only one thing in Iran, let it be Shah Cheragh in Shiraz by night
Hear a sufi mystic sing within a shrine’s ancient walls
(at Shah Nematollah Wali Shrine in Mahan)
And explore some of the world’s most incredible cities like Isfahan and Shiraz
Move over New York, London, Paris!
You’ll slowly forget everything the media told you about Iran…
Make an effort to speak a bit of Farsi
I highly recommend the Chai and Conversation podcast.
Because you’ll not only fall in love with the language
Persian calligraphy gift from a local friend
But also with the locals you meet along the way
You’ll learn to picnic in the outdoors like Iranians
(at the Naqsh-e Jahan Square of Isfahan)
Tuck into a “howzkhaneh” on a winter day
A sort of winter lounge in old Persian houses for cosy gatherings.
And let “taarof” surprise, confuse and amuse you!
Taarof is Persian etiquette where you put others first; read more about it here.
(with Assad and his family at Assad’s B&Bon Qeshm Island)
On a rainy afternoon, you’ll slip in to a hipster cafe with a Persian twist
(at Balo Persian Cuisine in Shiraz)
And warm up over “do pyaz alo” and dal adasi
Both accidentally vegan.
If you’re lucky, you’ll even connect with passionate vegan Iranians
(at Khalvat House, a vegan guesthouse in Isfahan)
And sample Persian food that will blow your mind
Vegan dizi, anyone?
On a VIP bus, you’ll traverse the ancient Silk Route
Sleep in a “Caravan Serai” to feel like a traveller of yore
Caravan Serais were inns built in the 16th century for travellers along the ancient Silk route.
Take in the sights and smells at a historic bazaar
The one in Tabriz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Taste the most incredible dates and nuts
And wonder what you’ve been eating all along…
Go back in time at an excavation site dating back to the second Iron Age
When women and men were buried with their pots and pans, and weapons. This one is in Tabriz.
And land up in a desert oasis bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan
(at Shefiabad near the Lut Desert)
To see the Kaluts, the most surreal desert formations
(and home to Gandom Beryan, the hottest place on earth)
And gaze at a star-studded night sky
The compulsory hijab might annoy or disturb you
But you’ll meet badass, independent, free-spirited women across the country
Come to empathize with your Iranian friends and their yearning for personal freedom
And when time comes to say goodbye, you’ll be glad you picked Iran
Because it’s only here that you’ll find Nesf-e Jahan – half the world!
Is Iran among your dream travel destinations? What are you most looking forward to?
*Note: I travelled to Iran in collaboration with Uppersia. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always mine!
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