Isfahan is arguably the most popular destination in Iran, and for good reason: It’s modern but hasn’t forgotten its history.
If you’re staying in Isfahan for more than a few days, preferably a week, then you will have time to travel outside the city. As beautiful as Isfahan is, the city is surrounded by mesmerizing desert landscapes that beckon not only adventurous tourists, but even leisure travellers.
This article lists 5 destinations around Isfahan where you can easily spend a day and experience things you may not have before.
If you love desert terrain, then look no further than the village of Abyaneh!
You’re greeted by the desert vista when you get on the long windy road connecting Isfahan to Abyaneh; a promising start to a day-long tour of the village.
Located on Karkas Mountains, Abyaneh is the most elevated village in Iran. When you enter the village, it’s as though you’ve turned back in time: red-mud houses, wooden balconies, and the locals’ traditional attire (men wearing wide-legged pants, women donning long, floral headscarves) all help evoke the feeling that time has stood still in the tiny village.
The presence of an old fire temple and historic mosques are a testament to Abyaneh’s 1,500-year history, making the central Iranian village one of the eldest settlements in the country.
The village also has an old monastery, but arguably its top attraction is annual Rose Water Festival, held from mid-April to early June.
Abyaneh is about a 2.5-hour drive from Isfahan, meaning the commute there and back alone takes almost a quarter of your day. So plan accordingly!
Unfortunately, the village is not located on a main road, therefore there are no buses or mini-buses but you can find taxis available in front of Kaveh Bus Terminal, especially during Rose Water Festival.
The best way to go to Abyaneh from Isfahan is renting a car – or a hiring a taxi – and taking the Natanz road in northern Isfahan. If you intend to stay for more than a day, you can spend the night at a hotel or even some local houses.
While not deep in the heart of the desert, Matin Abad is far enough from the city to give you the sweet sense of solitude – but that doesn’t mean you’ll be alone all the time as there is always a chance to run into local people around.
Matin Abad is a popular area, and most tourists end up spending a night under a starry sky, so make sure to be well equipped before you set off. Of course, hiring a tour guide will make things infinitely easier!
If you want to stay in Matin Abad and aren’t fond of sleeping outdoors, you can spend the night at Matin Abad Resort.
From desert treks to riding camels, there are a whole host of activities to be done in Matin Abad, but you’re unlikely to need more than a day to do everything.
Matin Abad is about a 3-hour drive from Isfahan. As it was the case with Abyaneh, the easiest way to get there is by either renting a car or hiring a taxi. However, there are also mini-buses available in front of Jey Terminal in Isfahan.
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Whether you’re looking to blow off some steam and go paragliding, or you’re in search of a serene location to meditate, you’d be hard pressed to find a place more suited to your needs than Varzaneh.
Located about 105 km southeast of Isfahan, Varzaneh’s clean air and clear skies as well as its ease of access have turned the small city into a popular destination, particularly for stargazers.
An eye-catching feature of Varzaneh is the women’s attire. Whereas most religious women in Iran wear black chador (a sort of open cloak covering head to toe), ladies in Varzaneh wear white.
Traveling to Varzaneh is easy: You can drive, hire a taxi, or get on a minibus in Isfahan’s Jey Terminal.
Gavkhouni Wetland, a Ramsar site, is a popular spot for birdwatchers. The wetland, the terminal basin of Zayandehroud river, roars to life when it hosts thousands of migratory birds.
Sadly, Iran’s struggle with drought has taken a toll on Gavkhouni’s tributary, Zayandehroud, which in turn has turned the lagoon into a mostly dry patch of land. However, occasional rainfall and biennial opening of Zayandehroud Dam’s floodgates help replenish Gavkhouni.
Despite its problems, the wetland still boasts a rich wildlife. Birds like geese, storks and flamingos as well as other animals, including the Iranian zebra, deer and reptiles can be found in the area.
A dark-looking mountain, aptly called Black Mountain, can be seen due north of the wetland. Trekking up the mountain, turned black as a result of magma, is not particularly difficult and those who brave it are rewarded with an unparalleled view of Gavkhouni and its surrounding area. Oh, and we don’t need to mention the amazing sunset, do we?
You can get to the wetland by minibus from Jey Terminal. Alternatively, you can hire a taxi or drive. Since you will need to go through Varzaneh, you might as well take a couple of days to check out both Varzaneh and Gavkhouni Wetland.
Maranjab is a curious place that can best be described as a sandy desert with a diverse flora. Intrigued? You should be!
Maranjab Desert is one of the most popular deserts in Iran, not least for its magnificent sceneries. Sandy hills cover large swathes of the desert, but that hasn’t stopped halophyte (salt-loving) plants such as Tamarisk tree, zygophyllum, haloxylon from flourishing.
The desert is also home to a variety of animal species, including wolf, sand cat, ruppell’s fox, monitor lizard, chameleon, snake, scorpion, eagle and falcon.
Explore Isfahan Tourist Attractions
Aside from its natural attractions, Maranjab has something to offer history buffs too. Maranjab Caravanserai, an ancient site in the heart of the desert, is a must-see. It dates back to the Safavid Dynasty that ruled Persia from 1501 to 1722. It has its own freshwater supply thanks to an underground water canal (qanat). The caravanserai was mostly used by travelling merchants on the Silk Road.
The cool thing is that you can actually spend a night there! Both rooms and tents are available.
Maranjab is 275 km from Isfahan, which is a four-hour drive.