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    Backpacking Iran: All you need to know

    Iran - Backpacking Iran: All you need to know

    Overview:

    Salam! Iran is experiencing a boom in travel these days. Although there are so many false prejudices, the country surprises visitors with a huge variety of stunning nature, culture and architecture. After two trips to various regions of the country, from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf, I’ve now compiled this handy guide to Backpacking Iran.

     

    1. Arrival

    You can enter the country overland via Turkey, either on the old Orient Express route by train or even by motorcycle or bicycle. But from Europe, the easiest way to get to Iran is still by plane, for example with Turkish Airlines (via IST), Austrian Airlines (via VIE), Emirates (vie DXB), Alitalia (via FCO), Pegasus Airlines, Iran Air or Germania. Most flights go to Tehran (IKA), but now there are also direct flights to other parts of the country.

     

    Backpacking Iran arrival
    Backpacking Iran: Most tourists arrive in Tehran at Imam Khomeini Airport.

     

    Imam Khomeini International Airport:
    The Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) is located 30 kilometres southwest of Tehran and is the largest airport in the capital. As a subway line to the city centre is planned but not built yet, it is advisable to take a taxi. The new fixed rate is IRR 500,000, which is about 17 euros, 12 GBP or 18 USD. Payment is possible only in Rial or US dollars.

    Mehrabad International Airport:
    The Mehrabad International Airport (THR) is closer to the city. Here, however, hardly any international flights are handled. A taxi costs about 8 euros depending on the destination.

    2. Public Transport in Iran

    The infrastructure in Iran is good. In addition to a good rail network, there are some excellent connections in partially comfortable buses and also cheap domestic flights.

     

    Backpacking Iran by bus
    Backpacking Iran: The old  buses are still in use.

     

    Backpacking Iran Transport
    Backpacking Iran: By bus from Tehran to Kashan.

     

    By bus: There are many domestic bus routes. Some of the buses are even better than those of most European bus operators. The so-called VIP buses have about as wide and comfortable seats, like in a good airlines business class. On long haul they are therefore a real alternative to the domestic airlines, which are not necessarily the safest ones (e.g. Iran Air, Mahan Air, Caspian Airlines).

    By train: Between the larger cities such as Shiraz, Tehran or Isfahan there are also rail links that I have never tried. Nevertheless they are considered as a good alternative to the long-distance buses.

     

    Backpacking Iran by Bus
    Backpacking Iran: Bus or donkey? I’m not sure.

     

    By domestic flight: There is a well-developed flight route network in Iran. Flights are cheap (e.g. Shiraz to Tehran costs about 40 euros one way) and prices are regulated by the government, so there are no significant price fluctuations between airlines. The best part is that you get refunded the full fare up to 24 hours before flight departure, if you decide not to use the ticket. However, often only in the travel agency where you originally booked the flight.

    By car: Please just forget the idea of driving a car in Iran. The traffic is fatal. If you are not en route to India with your own car and have to pass Iran anyway, just don’t do it.

    By metro: In Tehran, there are several lines of a quite modern subway, which is a great alternative to a taxi, especially in the endless rush hour. The metro has separate compartments for women.

     

    3. Entry requirements

     

    Backpacking Iran Visa
    For tours or backpacking Iran: the Iran visa is issued for a specific length of stay.

     

    Getting a visa for Iran can take you two to three weeks. As rules change from time to time, please check with a consulate in your country (if it has one).

    Who needs an Iranian visa?
    There is visa on arrival for passport-holders from half-a-dozen countries. If you are not a resident of one of these, the best thing to do is to arrange a visa in advance or take the risk of applying for a 15-day visa on arrival at the airport in Iran.

    Visa for US citizens:
    It’s possible for US Americans to get an Iran Visa. But you are not allowed to do backpacking in Iran. On the contrary, you need to pre-arrange a private guide or a tour operator, or be sponsored by a friend or relative in Iran who will take legal responsibility for you.

    Visa for Israeli citizens:
    Israeli passport holders as well as anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport will not get a visa. Although I know one German traveler who got the Iran visa with an Israeli stamp in her passport.

    Which Iranian visa type do I need? Iran has three visa types for travellers:

    The tourist visa is the best option. It is issued for up to 30 days, but extendable (valid for 90 days.) You have to get this visa before traveling to Iran.

    Tourist visa on arrival (VOA) is issued to people from 65 countries for a max. of 15 days on arrival at any Iranian international airport but only with an onward air ticket.

    This still seems to be risky, although I haven’t heard of someone lately who was denied entry. The VOA is available for example for most European, ASEAN, countries in the Persian Gulf Region, Central Asian countries, some South American countries, China, Australia, Japan, India, New Zealand or South Korea.

    Transit visa is another option. If you are en route to another country, you can get an Iranian transit visa for a max. of 7 days. This option is only available for non-US passport holders.

    After deciding for a visa type you can get the visa yourself or pay an agency.

     

    4. Hotels & accommodations

    In every major city you can find at least two hotels, which are well prepared for backpackers and independent travellers. Staying in these often traditional houses is mostly affordable. Reservations can be made either through the hotel’s website or via phone.
     

    Backpacking Iran: Hotels
    Backpacking Iran: This is what a traditional guesthouse looks like.

     

    5. Food: Persian cuisine

    Besides the fact that one can find lots of cheap fast food like pizza and burgers in bigger cities, the Iranian cuisine offers some real highlights. For example, Dizi, a traditional lamb based stew with beans, chickpeas, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, turmeric and dried limes.

     

    Backpacking im Iran
    No backpacking Iran without the national dish: Kabab with steamed rice.

     

    Backpacking Iran market
    When backpacking Iran you will enjoy delicious dates, figs and nuts on the bazaar in Tehran.

     

    But the Iranian national dish is Tschelo Kabab – steamed rice with grilled lamb or beef on a skewer that is usually enjoyed with a Dugh, the Persian version of the Turkish drink Ayran. I also found Ash (or asch) very yummy, a thick soup of noodles, lentils, beans, vegetables, mint, onions and yogurt.

    Tip: Good restaurants are often located on the 1st floor or in the basement. So it is always worth keeping your eyes open. The best restaurants are mostly small, inconspicuous, where the boys serve the guests while mom prepares the meal for decades.

     

    Backpacking Iran eating Ash soup
    A delicious experiences when backpacking Ian: Ash, a thick soup of noodles, lentils & beans.

     

    Vegetarians in Iran: Don’t worry, because many young Persians are vegetarians, too. There are usually a few dishes to choose from. If not, it is common to ask before ordering it, if they could just leave out the meat.

    Drinks: Tap water is drinkable in many places, but often with very high mineral content. In summer there are free water dispensers. The best alternative everywhere in Iran, of course, is always a tea – coffee is rather unusual.

    Alcohol in Iran: Alcohol is strictly forbidden and as a tourist, it is better to stay away from weird procurement methods. It is also forbidden to bring alcohol to Iran.

    6. Backpacking in Iran

    Solo travel vs. group travel
    For Germans and some other passport holders, it’s easy to travel individually and on your own in Iran. Travel in Iran for Americans is only allowed in the form of a well-organized group tour and not in the form of backpacking Iran. Individual tours are completely denied. Since February 2014 British and Canadian citizens must also be a part of a tour or travel with a privately hired guide.

     

    Backpacking Iran in Rayen
    Backpacking Iran feels like being the Prince of Persia.

     

    Solo travel in Iran
    As a man that’s no problem. As a woman… Well, everyone needs to decide for herself. Indeed, also foreign women in Iran must adopt specific rules like wearing a headscarf the entire time and covering the body with loose clothing.

    Maybe you will be able to meet other solo travellers in hotels with whom you could travel on together at some point. I personally believe that Iran, as compared to some countries of the Arab world for example, is relatively harmless in terms of sexual assault. Eventually every individual must decide for herself, how to behave in certain situations, whether it is necessary to walk into this dark street all alone, or whether it might be too late to take a walk around the block. Simply try to listen to your instinct.

    Hotels & CouchSurfing in Iran
    Although CouchSurfing in Iran is very popular, it is officially prohibited. If you might have a try anyway when backpacking Iran, it’s an affordable alternative to hotels.

    Group tours in Iran
    If you don’t need a proper tour guide and want more freedom of decision instead, traveling individually should be the better option. However, in my opinion both backpacking Iran and group tours have their raison d’être.

    7. Currency: One currency, two names

    In Iran, no international credit cards, debit cards and travellers checks are accepted. Visa and MasterCard do not work because these are American companies that are subjected to the penalties. Bring money in cash – euros or US dollars – for any expenditure on round trips or while backpacking Iran. Then you can change cash to Rial on arrival at the airport, at exchange offices or in major hotels on the daily rate.

     

    Backpacking Iran
    You will have millions of Rial when backpacking Iran.

     

    And there is something else that you have get used to: the Rial itself. The currency in Iran has not only tens of zeros (300,000 Rials are about 10 euros/7 GBP/11 USD), so that you can quickly become a millionaire, there is also a fake currency that is called Tuman or Toman. You won’t find it on any coin or bill, but in the people’s language.

    How it works: The Tuman is just a tenth of the Rial price. So don’t be surprised if the lunch occurs cheaper than it might be. The trick is adding an imaginary zero to get the right amount in Rial.
    Most prices are in Tuman, because that is the market price, both in stores and on the bazaar.

    Here it should be mentioned that there no Persian has ever cheated me these zero, although he had the chance to do so. It would be so easy to rip off tourists with this. Many hotels also accept US dollars and euros. But you mostly get away cheaper with local currency.

     

    8. Dress Code: As a woman in Iran (and as a man)

    All tourists must adhere to the Islamic dress code. To make it short: women may show no hair and legs, and generally do not wear form-fitting clothing. The feet must be hidden with opaque stockings.

     

    Backpacking Iran as a woman
    No one has to completely disguise himself in Iran, also when backpacking Iran.

     

    In fact, many young women in Iran know how to dress individually and stylish and always find a little escape from the rules, like a bright pink headscarf instead of the staid black or by wearing it kind of loose on the bun. Fashion is a statement. And for some, rebellion begins with a little step, especially in Iran.

     

    Backpacking Iran as a woman
    When backpacking Iran one will see many well dressed ladies.

     

    There is a “Morality Police” in bigger Iranian cities, but they concentrate more on young Iranians than tourists. The only thing that could happen to you is that someone gives you a subtle hint on the street. You can always play the tourist card.

     

    Backpacking Iran as a man
    Backpacking Iran: The Scheich Lotfollah Moschee in Isfahan.

     

    In fact, men also have to adhere to the dress code when backpacking Iran: no shorts, tank tops or short T-shirts.

     

    9. Security

    Almost everything we think we know about Iran is the work of overzealous Western journalists. In Iran, no woman has to wear a burka, Iranians are no terrorists, not everyone has nuclear weapons in the basement and the Islamic Republic does not mean Islamic State. Iranians do not hate America.

    While backpacking Iran you will soon notice that the issue of security in the country is overstated from many sides. I felt safer in Iran than in so many dark corners of European cities. And I know more stories of travellers who were victim of theft in Italy or brutally robbed in Argentina. But not in Iran. On the contrary, according to an annually updated Risk Map, the Iran ranks higher in the internal security for tourists than some usual tourist destinations. However, you should try to avoid the unstable border regions to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

    Since the election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 international connections are also better and national rules have even been improved a bit. However, it does not hurt to report your own arrival in advance at your embassy, if they offer that possibility. The German Embassy for example has a form on its site.

    Photography and filming: This is also critical. In and round many public buildings photography is strictly prohibited and may result in having to delete the photo in front of a policeman. If you want to take photos of the locals, please be ask.

     

    10. Travel costs in Iran:

    Iran is a medium-priced travel destination, depending of course on your own way to travel. In my opinion one can do backpacking Iran at 25 euros a day. The most expensive part is the hotels depending on your choice.

    Double room in a traditional Guest House (mostly with breakfast) pp: 10-15 euros
    Food in a traditional restaurant: 4-9 euros
    Food in a Fast Food restaurant: 2-5 euros
    Bus Tehran-Isfahan (about 350 km): 8 euros one way
    Flight Shiraz–Tehran: 40 euros one way
    Entrance fees: € 2-3. UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Arc-e Bam, Persepolis or the Golestan Palace in Tehran cost btw. 6 and 10 euros.

     

    11. Persian hospitality

    Despite all the media reports, travellers to Old Persia will recognize one thing very fast: the open, courteous and hospitable people of Iran. I have never met so many nice people in any other country. I was never more often invited to tea or a meal, was taken to a private city tour or a tour of the bazaar so many times.

     

    Backpacking Iran: Persians
    Backpacking Iran: You will make best friends on the road. 

     

    The Iranians know about the bad reputation of their country and do everything they can to oppose their kindness. The phrase “Welcome to Iran” still echoes in my ears whenever someone said it to me on the road with an incredibly honest euphoria. This kindness is anything else but fake. Persians are also very polite and respectful to each other.

     

    12. Best time to travel to Iran

    As a good Persian friend once said: Iran is a country of four seasons. In fact, in January I first survived a snowball fight at the Caspian Sea and two days later stood in the Dasht-e Kavir desert at 30 degrees feeding some camels. True story!

     

    Backpacking Iran: desert
    Backpacking Iran: Only 2 days between desert and snow.

     

    The best time to visit Iran depends on what you want to do. Skiing in the Elburz Mountains is only possible in winter, while in the central Iranian deserts it can get incredibly hot with over 70 degrees in summer. If there is something like a best time to travel to Iran, then that would be from March to May and September to November.

     

    13. Internet in Iran – Facebook, Google and Co.

    Yes, there is Internet in Iran and almost every hotel has Wi-Fi, although often very slow. Some sites like Facebook and Twitter are completely blocked (Instagram & WhatsApp are not.) The same is true for the apps that just show an error message in Iran.

     

    Backpacking Iran with internet
    Backpacking information Iran: For websites like Facebook & Twitter you need VPN or the Open Door App.

     

    For everyone who does not want to give up certain news portals and social media sites, I can recommend the browser Open Door for smartphones & tablet. It allows access to all Internet sites. For laptops using a VPN server is recommended, but I honestly had no good experiences.

    Also as a European, you don’t need an adapter, as the European plug (Euro plug) fits into the sockets. For others you will, of course, need an adapter.

     

    14. Language: Farsi for beginners

    Iranians are generally well educated. So many young Persians also speak relatively good English and the really love to talk to tourists.
    If languages are not your forté all you need to start in Farsi is this: Salam (Hi), Baleh (Yes), Kheyr (No) Lotfan (Please) and Beh salomaty (Cheers). These couple of words are a pretty good start. The Persians will be so happy for every single word in Farsi that you try to use.

    It is also useful to remember the spelling of the numbers from 0-10, so you can read the price on your receipt or ticket.

    ۰ 0    ۱  1     ۲  2     ۳  3     ۴  4     ۵ 5     ۶ 6     ۷ 7      ۸ 8     ۹ 9    ۱۰ 10

     

    Backpacking Iran

    Backpacking Iran: lost in translation in in Isfahan.

     

    source: Anekdotique Journeytelling stories

     

     


    About Us

    The word Persia gives the image of a magical and mysterious land of far away and long ago, of ancient monuments and beautiful works of art – carpets, tiles, fine ceramics and miniatures. It also reminds us of legendary and tragic love stories and epic poems about great wars. And Persia is indeed a world ancient and contemporary, a bridge between heaven and earth. We want to show you around. Discover things to do on your next trip to Iran and plan a trip of your lifetime. Yes, it is that easy! This website gives you the tools to plan your trip to Iran: detailed information on destinations; inspiring ideas on what to see and do in each city; where to stay; where to eat; travel guides and let’s say everything you need so you can dream up a trip to Iran.

    Patrimonito

    This workshop is designed according to the UNESCO World Heritage Education Programme in order to give young people a chance to voice their concerns and to become involved in the protection of our common cultural and natural heritage. It seeks to encourage and enable tomorrow’s decision-makers to participate in heritage conservation and to respond to the continuing threats facing our World Heritage. The idea of involving young people in World Heritage preservation and promotion came as a response to Article 27 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention). Furthermore, Patrimonito means 'small heritage' in Spanish and the character represents a young heritage guardian. Patrimonito has been widely adopted as the international mascot of the World Heritage Education Programme.
    Date: 29th December
    Number of trainees: 7
    Duration: 3 hours

    The workshop of "Patrimonito" was held on 29th of December. Participants arrived around 10:30 and they were welcomed by hot chocolate and Persian cup cakes. After a little introduction by trainers and trainees, the process started by making two groups and letting them choose a name for their group, each group was accompanied by a mentor then each group was given some images of world heritage sites in Iran and some descriptions, each group was asked to match images and descriptions, the mentor was guiding them throughout the activity. All trainees were participating actively and trying to remember their experiences about their travels to these places. When they were done with the activity, the mentors started giving the answers and a brief explanation about each site; mentors were using trainees’ ideas and experiences to complete their tasks.

    Shortly after that, the second part started which was a presentation done by two of mentors. The aim of this presentation was to define the value of these world heritage sites and duties of each person as a "Patrimonito", and what happens if there is no "Patrimonito" and nobody cares about our tangible or intangible heritage. In this part trainees started questioning and understanding the whole concept of being a "Patrimonito", they also added their own suggestions on how to protect our heritage and by the end of this part, they were completely aware about their role as a "Patrimonito".
    Now it was a best time to have a short break, during the break trainees were introduced to some of intangible heritages as they were served by traditional food and snacks and even they way of serving was according to traditions and everyone had this opportunity to discuss about intangible heritage while enjoying some traditional food and snacks.
    When the break was done, everyone was asked to choose a heritage either tangible or intangible and they had to introduce their chosen heritage to a tourist by making a postcard using what they have learnt. They were given all of necessary tools such as color papers, color pencils, glue, scissors, images of heritage and a mentor was with them in order to help them completing the task.

    When they were done, they handed out their postcards and with the mentors they sat together and spent a few minutes asking and answering about what they have learnt. Then they were told to say their vows for protecting their heritage and caring about it, the mentor said the vow and the trainees repeated after her and they officially became a "Patrimonito".

    The last but the best part was when they were given the certificates, and they were told that since they are aware of the value of the heritage and they know how to protect it, they are chosen as "Patrimonito" and they should continue their mission by introducing the value of heritage to others. They were granted certificates and labels and the workshop of "Patrimonito" was finished by taking some memorial photos.