One of the fascinating things when backpacking Iran is how many new places you will stumble upon absolutely unexpectedly. In Iran there is probably only one place in the whole country that can be labeled touristy and yet still, Isfahan needs so much more until it becomes the really “beaten” track.
Our trip to Iran was way too short, yet it was so easy to travel and we managed to see and experience so many great things that now we are totally hooked and looking forward to return and see some more.
Season: End of February – Beginning of March
Status: Unmarried couple
What a start!
Azerbaijanian airlines landed us in Tehran, where we got our Visas On Arrival. Since Imam Khomeini International airport is about an hours drive from the city, just like us, you will need a transfer.
After 3 flights, a hassle with visa at some 2 a.m. it was absolutely great to be met with a big warm smile. Amir greeted us like if we were old friends, he helped us change money, answered all the questions we had about backpacking Iran, while his friend, also called Amir, safely drove us to our hostel and waited with us until we were let in by a sleepy manager. An absolutely perfect start for our trip!
Airport transfer? Call Amir
So if you are looking for an airport transfer, Amir is your guy (whatsapp +98 935 426 9838 or search for Amir Hosein Azizi on Facebook). He also helped us get bus tickets for next day ride to Yazd.
Go for a VIP bus
Our idea was to go all the way south and make our way back to Tehran. After a night in Tehran, we spent the day exploring the city and jumped on a night bus to Yazd. A VIP bus with broad comfortable seats takes about 8 hours to cover this approx. 600 km distance for around 10 euro per person. From what I have seen, none have toilets, but they make a occasional stop in a gas station and make for a great mode of transport for backpacking Iran.
Wonder in Yazd
Arriving to Yazd absolutely blew my mind, its a mud brick labyrinth (seriously, like in Aladdin! ) with wind catching chimneys, genius water system and stunning rooftop views. Read about these in advance, so that you can appreciate how incredible it all is! While February in Yazd is perfect, with sunny days and temperatures reaching 20 degrees – priceless when you come from a long dark and cold Lithuanian winter.
From Yazd we took a day’s trip to Kharanaq, Chak Chak and Meybod. The hostel we stayed in recommended a driver for some 30 USD (whole day, 2 ppl).
How about an ancient abandoned Iranian village?
I read about Kharanaq, yet it took a trip there to understand how incredible this sight it. Lonely planet undersells it! There is a caravanserai, which was closed and looked somewhat polished and new, but the impressive part is the abandoned village. There is no ticket office and no guards. It is some 1000 years old of authenticity all over you. Everything is open for you to explore, so its easy to spend there an hour or two just wandering round, entering old ruined houses, climbing the rooftops and enjoying the beautiful scenery. There is a small mosque and an ancient aqueduct nearby.
Take a road trip to the desert
Chak Chak, a sacred Zoroastrianism pilgrimage signt, was why we took the whole trip in the first place. Frankly, it was a slight disappointment, the cave is pretty empty inside (maybe we did not know what to look for) and the whole mountain village looks relatively recent with new constructions undergoing. But the road there and the scenery from the mountain side do make the trip worth it! If you fancy mountains and desert, it is absolutely stunning! We took off the main stairs and climbed the rock on the right side of the cave, which has a great view. Its pretty steep and there is no path, so if you do that, be very careful! From what I grasped it is not forbidden, but maybe because nobody does it. Our driver looked worried and relieved when we climbed down. Do observe how people react, as when backpacking Iran you will experience not many will forbid or stop you from doing something.
Iran's big city troubles
After 3 nights in Yazd, we took a bus to Isfahan (some 4 hours ride). After the calm and quiet Yazd, Isfahan felt too noisy and too crowded. Our accommodation was quite bad, but as we were later told it is a common problem of big cities in Iran, accommodation is rather poor even if you willing to pay more.
We spent one night there, visited what we wanted in one day and took an evening bus to Kashan, which is about 3 hours ride.
Kashan is a relatively small town with beautiful bathhouses, rooftops and delicious traditional dishes with camel meat. I had a huge and intense inner conflict about eating camel, but curiosity won. One must indulge the local experience, right?
Grab some salt home
From Kashan we took a half day trip, again the driver was recommended by hostel manager, to the desert. Restaurants and hotels have a certain package of some 6-8 sights included, with an option to spend a night in a dessert or caravanserai. We did not have enough time, and were told that e.g. underground city is not as large and interesting as it appears to be, so we went to see the sand dunes and salt lake. Check out our Youtube's Iran playlist for some videos. Salt from the salt lake is really salty and free, so makes for a great souvenir.
Our driver, Hossein, had tea and cookies, so we simply chilled on a big sand dune. Desert there is quite different from the one in Yazd. It’s a great ride through it and we even met a herd of curious, friendly and super cute camels (and yes, I did feel bad about eating camel meat the day before).
Eat, eat & eat!
Back in Tehran, which is again some 3 hours ride from Kashan, we stayed with some friends. In Iran, they say, if you want to try really good Iranian food, you have to accept an invite to eat at somebody’s home – Iranians go out to eat if they want to grab a bite, the real Iranian cuisine happens at home. And that’s what we did! When backpacking Iran use every opportunity to try home cooking!
Give Tehran a chance
Teheran is enormous, yet it does not feel like it, especially in the northern part, make sure to visit one of the royal palaces, and go up the mountains. You will need to walk off all that food! There are also plenty of hipster places and bazaars, where you can buy some spices to bring home with you.