How to organize a trip to Iran

If until a few years ago in Iran we mainly went there by participating in an organized group trip, now the trend has changed and it is always easier to meet independent travelers who visit the country alone or accompanied. In recent years, Iran has been very open to tourism and this is confirmed by the fact that, since 2016, it is possible to obtain a visa directly upon arrival at the airport. Several sites were born, such as Persiaport, where it is possible to book accommodation and compare the various tours / services before leaving, buy internal flights, etc. 

Arrange a diy trip to Iran it's much easier than you might think! 

In this article, I talk to you about several aspects that must be taken into consideration in order to travel independently in this magnificent country. 

1. Security in Iran

When I started communicating to friends and relatives that I was going to Iran, in 90% of cases the answer was: “can you go there? Is it a safe country? ”. I was convinced of this even before leaving and now that I have been there I can confirm that Iran is one of the safest countries to travel to. I have never felt in danger, neither as a traveler nor as a woman, in any situation, both at night and during the day. In my travel experience in Iran, but also in other Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Israel or Jordan, I never had the impression of being in an unsafe country, quite the opposite! Don't let yourself be influenced by what you hear around (out of ignorance in most cases), Iran is indeed a safe country! There are probably problems in some places on the border with Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan, but there is no reason for a tourist to venture there. 

With respect to the question of women traveling alone I would like to say that Iran is a country where it is possible to do it without any problem, the important thing is to respect the codes of dress and behavior (see below).

The only security issue I've encountered is theirs driving style, but it is a problem common to many other countries (for example Morocco, Turkey, India, Lebanon, etc.). The Iranians do not have a safe drive, they talk and text on their mobile phones all the time (they are really mobile-dependent) and they have a guide that is an understatement to define "sporty". Obviously there are also good drivers, it all lies in relying on a good tour operator when you have to travel by car. 

2. Hospitality

The Iranians are an extremely friendly and hospitable people, they are always ready to help and to listen to the needs of the tourist. Traveling around the world, I have rarely met peoples as hospitable. Walking through the cities, you are constantly stopped for a greeting, for a welcome message to the country or to find out if you need help. I had the perception that the tourist is sacred in these parts. You will often be invited for lunch or dinner at the home of an Iranian family and it is one of the most beautiful experiences that can be done to really get in touch with the culture and customs of the place. Always accept, without fear! In the end, it will be these experiences that will make the trip to Iran one of the most exciting trips of your life. The Iranians will open their home and their hearts to you. 

3. When to go: intermediate seasons are better

The best times to travel to Iran are the intermediate seasons, spring and autumn. Iran is a very large country and temperatures change greatly when moving from north to south. Let's say that, if you consider doing the "classic" tour (Tehran, Ishafan, Yazd and Shiraz), it is better not to go beyond the end of April / May. Already in April, especially in Yadz and Shiraz (located in the desert) temperatures can exceed 35 degrees. In summer these places become unlivable. From a price point of view spring is the most expensive season: from March 21 to April 3 is Norouz (the Persian New Year) and all Iranians are on vacation, but this is also the period of greatest influx of foreign tourists. In September and October, temperatures are cooler and prices slightly lower. If, on the other hand, you are a fan of skiing, and you want to experience the thrill of ski in popular ski resorts around Tehran such as Dizin and Shemshak, the best time is January-February.

4. How to get a visa

A visa for Iran can be obtained directly upon arrival at the airport (it takes 1-2 hours on average) o before leavingby requesting it directly from the Iranian consulate in Rome or Milan. For more information, I refer you directly to the article How to obtain a visa for Iran. 

5. The money: rial or take?

First of all it must be said that, due to the embargo, Iran remained outside the international banking circuits and has its own banking system with a payment system that is not integrated with the international VISA, Mastercard, etc. Before leaving, you will therefore have to bring with you all the cash that you may need during the trip; to stay wide, indeed very wide, I recommend you calculate about 100 euros per day which you will then change as you go to Iran (many places actually accept euros or dollars too). For a change, you can do it both in the exchange offices that the black market: they will offer you to change inside the bazaars or near the most touristic places. I have personally used the black market more, it is safe and often has a more favorable exchange rate.

Iran is the classic country where, for 100 euros, you go out with a briefcase full of money in perfect drug trafficking style. Inflation is rampant and the exchange rate with the Euro or the dollar varies daily. At the time of my trip (April 2017) 1 euro was equivalent to 40000 Rials. The Iranian rial is the official currency, but almost everyone prefers to speak in terms of They takeBut don't worry, 1 Toman is simply equivalent to 10 Rials (just to make things easier!). It took me almost a week to figure out how much I paid for things, but oh well .. it's part of the trip. 

6. How much does a trip to Iran cost

Iran is a country definitely cheap, on average about 50-60 euros per day are spent including everything: transport (even with driver), food, accommodation and entrance fees to museums / tourist attractions. The prices of intercontinental flights to Tehran have also dropped significantly in the last 2 years and it is possible to find flights under 200 euros (by booking a few months in advance of course). A double room with private bathroom in a traditional hotel costs about 50/60 dollars, without a bathroom even 25/30 dollars. A meal in a typical restaurant costs around $ 10 and an entrance to a museum costs $ 5 (proportionally the most expensive thing). A long, full-day transfer with several intermediate stops costs around $ 150, to be shared between passengers (for example the transfer between Yazd and Shiraz, 500 kilometers, with intermediate stops in Persepolis, Pasargadae and the rock tombs of Naqsh-e Rostam). The same route by bus and without intermediate stops costs about 10 dollars. 

In conclusion, for a trip of about 10 days you will be able to stay well under 1000 euros, unless you buy some precious Persian carpets. 

7. How to get around

Beyond what one might imagine, Iran has some good infrastructure. roads are well maintained, there are highways and expressways, there is one railway network discreet with daytime and night trains, and one large network of buses and internal flights. Having time, the best solution is to travel by train and bus. I was only 8 days old and, in addition to the buses, I also used the taxi with driver and I took a domestic flight. The taxi with driver is especially convenient when there are at least 3 people (the price is fixed, regardless of the number of passengers) and you need to make long journeys with intermediate stops. For example, I used it both to move from Tehran to Isfahan (stopping in Kashan and in Abyane), and to move from Yazd to Shiraz (stopping in Persepolis, Pasargadae and the rock tombs of Naqsh-e Rostam). 

Both bus / train tickets and taxis can be booked directly through the hotels which almost always also work as agencies. I used the agency of a guy I met on Facebook group "See you in Iran": his name is Ha Kan and you can contact him via whatsup (+98 919 445 1036) or on his Facebook profile. I got along very well with him, he was always kind and punctual. In general, I recommend that you join this group before leaving because you will find a lot of information and sources of inspiration, as well as the help of many Iranians and other tourists who have already been there. 

Tehran is extremely busy so my advice is to move mainly by metro, especially during rush hours. Taxis are a good option but only for the evening. If you take the metro, remember that there are “women only” wagons, while on the buses the situation is less rigid and you can sit wherever you want. 

8. Where to sleep in Iran

Apart from Tehran, the best solution for sleeping is the traditional houses transformed into hotels. Traditional houses are located in Isfahan, in the historical center of Yazd and in Shiraz and they are really beautiful. They all have a central courtyard with a garden onto which the rooms open. If you are traveling in April, you should book a little in advance. 

The hotels / hostels that I recommend are the following:

    • Teheran: Gollestan Hotel - The hotel itself is nothing special, but it is in a good location close to the Gollestan Palace, the bazaar and the metro station and, above all, it has an absolutely kind staff. They will help you book anything anywhere in Iran. Absolutely recommended! 
    • Isfahan: Khalvat House - this location is a real gem, Amir's family home is a corner of paradise. The rooms are very large, the setting is beautiful, the house is in a great location for walking around the city and Amir is really nice. There is a common kitchen and it works like a hostel. There is no website, to book you will have to contact Amir on Instagram: the profile is khalvat_house.
    • Yazd: Vali Hotel - This traditional hotel is located in the historic center of Yazd and is very convenient for exploring the whole center on foot. The house is beautiful and the food is good. The owner is really nice and can organize half day or full day desert trips for you. 
  • Shiraz: Niayesh Boutique Hotel - This hotel consists of several traditional houses nearby. It is located in the heart of the historic center and has both private and shared rooms. It has a nice and good restaurant and the staff, needless to say, are extremely kind and cooperative. 

NOTE: you will not find hotels on Booking or on the other usual search engines. You can book a hotel from the Persiaport website (which is the main Iranian tourist portal) or by writing an email or a message directly to the hotel. 

9. Friends, couples, married, gay ... no problem!

I added this paragraph because I realized on these issues there is a discreet psychological terrorism on the guides (for example on the Lonely Planet itself). Probably a few years ago the situation was different, but today, entering the hotels, no one will ask you if you are married, if you are friends, if you are living together or anything else and no one will make a fuss about giving you a room regarding this factor. They may look at you inquisitively, but they won't ask. For example, I slept in a double room with a friend for a couple of nights and the others even in a triple room with a friend and a friend and no one has ever asked us any questions. If before it was difficult to have a single room, now it is certainly not the case anymore.

As for homosexuality, in Iran it is severely punished by the law but this must certainly not represent an insurmountable obstacle for those who want to travel to Iran. Just have a little common sense and do not express your feelings in public (by the way, the same thing is also true for heterosexual couples, you will never see an Iranian couple exchanging affections in public).

10. How to dress: the dress code

After the 1979 revolution, as soon as you get off the plane, women must implement the Iranian dress code. The main “rules” are: 1) cover your head and neck with a hejab (preferably a single-colored scarf); 2) wear a shapeless jacket / shirt up to the knees that conceals the shape of the body; 3) always have your arms and décolleté covered. In Tehran this code is applied in a milder way, while in other countries / villages you will see many women wearing the chador (a black cloak that covers everything from head to toe). Dressing like this with temperatures ranging between 30 and 40 degrees is not pleasant at all and this is also why it is advisable not to travel to Iran in the summer. Men don't have any particular rules, but you won't see any men in shorts. 

11. What we eat

Iranian cuisine is very similar to that of other Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Israel or Jordan. It is a cuisine based mainly on meat (lamb or chicken kebab), sui vegetable (especially chickpeas, but also lentils and beans), on vegetables (eggplant in the first place) and on saffron (they put it everywhere). Iranians are also big eaters of desserts. You will find many pastry shops and ice cream shops. THE ice creams the most famous are the saffron one with pistachio grains and the rose one. There are also many sweets similar to Turkish baklava filled with honey and dried fruit. Incredibly there is also excellent dark chocolate and the best espresso coffees worthy of the Gambrinus of Naples. You will see Cimbali coffee machines and Illy / Lavazza signs more or less everywhere. 

12. How many days do you need for a trip to Iran? The itinerary

Here we could open a parenthesis that never ends. Iran is a very large country and visiting it all could take months. The classic (and minimum) itinerary in my opinion to see "the best of Iran" is 8 days and this is what I did:

    1. Tehran 
    1. Kashan and Abyane arriving in Isfahan in the evening 
    1. Isfahan 
    1. transfer to Yazd (5h)
    1. Yazd (including half day desert trip)
    1. Pasargade -Persepolis- Naqsh-e Rostam and arrival in Shiraz in the evening
    1. Shiraz
  1. Shiraz and transfer to Tehran 

This itinerary is precisely the "minimum wage". The optimal situation would be to have at least 2 weeks if not 3 available to explore the south (Kerman, Bam, Kalut and the island of Qeshm) and especially the north (Kurdistan and the whole area overlooking the Caspian Sea. ). The only certainty is that I will be back as soon as possible!

13. What to buy

The most typical products of Iran are the famous ones leather carpets, bags and suitcases with fabric inserts, the dried fruit (especially pistachios and dates) and it saffron. Iran is the first producer in the world of this precious spice and you will find saffron of the highest quality at much lower prices than in Spain. 

14. Connectivity: internet and wifi

In Iran you can rest assured, the wi is found everywhere (hotels, restaurants, bars) and it works quite well, the only thing is the blocking of some social networks (such as Facebook or Twitter). In order to access everything and bypass the censorship imposed by the Iranian government you will have to download a app VNP before leaving (there are many and they cost from 5 to 10/15 euros for a month). The most used social media in Iran is Instagram: you will see it used 24 hours a day and everyone will ask you for your account name to keep in touch.  

15. Health insurance is required

In Iran our health coverage is not valid. My advice is to always take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip (country, duration, etc.) and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online.
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