Introducing Iran: The Up & Coming Travel Destination
Hushed whispers about Iran’s friendly people, intriguing history and stunning historical sites are finally starting to penetrate through these once secluded borders. The closer you travel to Iran, the more you’ll hear about what an amazing travel destination it is.
But what makes Iran so special? Why are so many people talking about the Persian Islamic Republic? This post will attempt to shed some light on this amazing travel destination, while putting to rest some of the misconceptions about the nation, its motives and its people.
Iran has a deep and compelling history. This is where religions have been born, empires have risen and fallen and kings and queens have come and gone, leaving thousands of myths, legends and tales in their historical wake. Experiencing Iran first-hand is like stepping back into time. Ttravelers have the opportunity to walk into temples that have stood for thousands of years, observe ancient cities that have crumbled to ruins with little remnants of their triumphant past, and get lost in a labyrinth of back roads and alleyways in the mud towns of Yazd and Karnaq. Iran’s history is forever present and makes any visit to the country one of learning and exploration.
Without a doubt, Iran’s most endearing quality is its friendly, welcoming and hospitable people. Trtravelers always claim to have been to countries with “the friendliest people” but anyone who has been to Iran will unanimously agree that the Iranian people are on a whole different level.
Just try to walk down a street, take a bus or enjoy lunch in Iran without a smiling local coming by to have a chat. It’s almost guaranteed that your new friend will ask three questions:
1) Where are you from?
2) Why did you decide to come to Iran?
3) What do you think of Iran?
From there the conversation will likely move onto religion, friends, family, politics and life in general, and within a few minutes you’ll have a new phone number in your contact list and a new friend in your life.
Most of the time, your conversation won’t stop there. Your new friend will likely invite you to his home to eat dinner with his family and enjoy a night of chai and qalyoon (Iranian tobacco water pipe).
Being invited into a stranger’s home is all part of traveling here and it’s something you should definitely experience at least once. You’ll likely spend multiple nights at different hosts’ homes and they won’t ever want you to leave! When you finally do bid farewell, many of them will offer you gifts and pray for your return. This is how friendly the people of Iran are. No exaggerations. They just want to make sure that you leave Iran with a new outlook on the country and its people.
After seeing images of chador covered women screaming “death to America” on your local news, you may think that there is no culture left in Iran. Stories of book burnings and religious censorship still find their way onto western newscasts, but in reality, Iran is an incredibly cultured nation.
Poetry is read or sung in the streets, people enjoy music and dance and the entire country is alive into the wee hours of the night. Despite the fact that alcohol has been illegal here since 1979, it is still possible to enjoy a delicious glass of Shiraz wine in confined quarters with friends.
What is seen outside on the streets is a facade and once you’re invited into a home, you’ll see that the women dress very similar to those in the Western world, men enjoy the odd drink and a puff from the hookah pipe, and everyone enjoys good company and pleasant conversations. It feels as if the streets of Iran are one place, and inside the walls of a family home are a completely different world.
You may not have heard much about Iranian cuisine in the past, but you’ll be in for a delicious surprise when you start sampling some of the country’s many national dishes. Rich stews, roasted meats and delicious breads are accompanied by fresh rice and a wide variety of delicately sprinkled spices. The use of fruits like plum and pomegranate give dishes like fesenjān a sweet balance, while aromatic Persian spices like saffron, cinnamon and parsley add a punch of flavor to grilled lamb and kebab plates.
The food in Iran is rich, flavorful and unique, and you’ll likely leave with a new appreciation for this underrated cuisine. Oh, and don’t forget to wash all of your meals down with a delicious date milkshake, possibly the best beverage on earth.
While not all of Iran’s festivals are a time for celebration, each of them is unique and interesting in its own way. The largest ceremony observed throughout the country is Ashura, which isn’t a time to party and be happy. Instead, it’s a time to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the first Imam of Shia Islam.
While scenes of self-flagellation, grief and crying in the streets may not be your idea of a good time to visit Iran, Ashura is a great insight into the country’s deep connection with their religion and their heroes of the past. To see people sobbing and striking themselves to honor a man who died nearly 1,500 years ago is an eye-opening experience and one that gives you a better understanding of Iran and its beliefs.
For a more upbeat Iranian experience, try to time your visit for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which is all about enjoying time with friends and family, eating good food and singing in the streets. The 13-day celebration culminates in Sizdah Bedar, where people meet in parks and meadows to enjoy the beauty of nature together.
Off The Beaten Path
No matter where you go in Iran, you’re already off the beaten path, but there are a few places far from tourists that are definitely worth a visit. The desert village of Garmeh should feature prominently on your Iranian itinerary. Here you’ll find a fertile, date palm oasis with rivers, waterfalls and mud houses. Stay with Maxiar, a true desert man who has built a beautiful home for travelers to stay in. Evenings in Garmeh can be spent under the countless stars while Maxiar plays a wide variety of unique instruments. This is what travel is all about!
Given Iran’s current economic position, everything is of good value for travelers using foreign currency. At the time of writing, the exchange rate had reached an incredible 31,850 to the American dollar, meaning that you can afford to stay wherever you want, eat what you want and get around how you want. Iran boasts beautiful hotels, guest houses and home stays and also has a great transport system. For just a few dollars, you can take a five-hour VIP bus with more leg room than a first-class flight and the service to match.
Iran is a great value, but things are about to change so get here fast. Much to the delight of the Iranian people, a well deserved easing of U.S. government sanctions means that the Iranian Rial is finally starting to strengthen. Good for Iranians, but not so good for a traveler’s budget.
Note: Make sure you exchange your currency at street exchangers, not at the banks. This is completely legal and you will get a much better exchange rate (currently $1 = 31,850 in the streets, or $1 = 26,627 in banks).
The Time To Go Is Now!
Iran is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated travel destinations on the planet. There are hundreds of reasons why this country should feature on your future travel plans, but you’ll just have to go there to see for yourself. The friends, memories and connections you’ll make in Iran will stay with you for a lifetime. But hurry, things are changing fast and soon the secret will be out that Iran is the next up and coming travel destination.
Nick and Dariece are the couple behind Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially sustainable, location-independent lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad and turning their travels into a way of life, they’ve been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth, finding adventure wherever they go. They’re also full-time contributors at Travel Pulse and Credit Walk where they share their stories and expertise of long-term travel. Check them out at Goats On The Road and follow them on Twitter, Facebook & Google+.