Iran is one of the most fascinating countries I have ever been to, and I have been to quite a few. The cradle of Persia, home to probably the most welcoming people in the world, with breathtaking nature, magnificent architecture and really undeserved poor reputation among those who know little about it.
Backpacking in Iran is easy, it is safe and it is probably the best mean to travel this vast country, at the end of the day it all comes down to the people of Iran, and to meet them you have to leave the beaten path. Luckily, almost all of Iran is still an unbeaten track!
First of all, Iran has recently introduced visa on arrival, which is absolutely great, as it saves you a lot of trouble, especially if there is no Iranian embassy in your country.
Transport all over the country is quite cheap and of great quality – e.g. a night VIP bus Tehran to Yazd will cost you about € 9, and that is something like 600 km. Buses run pretty much on schedule and on each bus ride you are given a small meal-pack. Flights inside the country are also relatively cheap, making them a great option if you have little time and big distance to cover. Only trains are difficult – I simply did not manage to get a ticket, as they have to be purchased in advance. Note, that many websites with timetables and prices are only in Farsi.
- An easy guide to Iran visa on arrival [infographic]
- A simple guide to traveling in Iran by bus
- Flying to and in Iran never been safer and more convenient
When it comes to accommodation it is somewhat upside down from what you would expect. Smaller cities have fantastic ‘caranvserais’, silk road style hotels with spacious courtyards and rooms around it, literally traveller’s inn. Usually very cozy, with hot meals, unique ancient rooms and very modestly priced.
Now the big cities have none of that. For 40-50 euro a night you will get a motel like double room. Do your research beforehand, so that you find the best quality and price match for the big cities on your route. Booking.com has very few and very pricey options, so you will have to do the research yourself. Lonely planet, Trip advisor and PersiaPort are a good starting point.
In order to book a room, simply drop an email to the hotel and once they confirm it, you have the booking. This is the only way, as no foreign cards are accepted, so no way to charge you any deposit.
Iran is cash world. At least for foreigners it is. You will have to bring all your money in cash, as no foreign cards are accepted in Iran. This means you have to bring 10-20% more than you plan to spend, just in case – what if your spirit breaks, you change your mind and decide to buy that Persian carpet after all?
Many hotels accept payment for accommodation in euros or dollars, therefore do not hurry to change all your money into Iranian rials.
Luckily Iran is rather safe place, especially pickpockets wise, yet in any case it is a good idea to use a belt pouch and to wrap your money with plastic so that it does not soak through – you will sweat if its warm.
Remember to leave your diet at home. Iran is crazy delicious, so loose clothes are a good idea, you will eat a lot and you will be very happy for all the tastes Iranian cuisine has to offer. Even plain bread – naan, not only it is absolutely delicious and can be eaten plain, it changes shape and texture from one region to another, so make sure to stop in a local bakery – a piece of naan costs cents, as bakeries are funded by government.
Finally, the key why Iran concurs so many hearts and makes people come back there over and over again is Iranians themselves. The moment you stop to look at the map a person will appear beside you asking how can he help you. Then the second one will stop to check if the first one is helping you well enough and will keep close distance just in case.
Prepare to write down many phone numbers of people you might even not know the name of, yet they will tell you to call if you need anything. So when Iranian asks you how do you like Iran, they take it very seriously and ask all the time, be very thoughtful. It is fine not to like something, but Iranians take it rather personally and become sad, like if it is something they did wrong, so make sure to say it as light as you can.
Unlike the countries with many tourist, Iranians do not approach you with an intention to earn from you, the only exception is Isfahan, yet even there sellers are not persistent and do not try to trick you, they say directly – come have a look at my shop with ‘no’ being an acceptable and respected answer. At least in the majority of cases.
So don’t hesitate, talk to people, tell them your story and listen to theirs in return. Iran is nothing without its people who make you feel safe and very welcome in their great country.
Interested to learn more about backpacking in Iran? Read ‘First time to Iran: the Essential Seven‘