Home > Random Travelling > Backpacking through Iran

Backpacking through Iran

The last 4 months has been a complete blur.  In July, I went to Rockwerchter in Leuven, Prague for a weekend, then backpacked for 16 days through Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia (only Dubrovnik) and Bosnia.  In August, I went for a wedding in Ireland, and finished off my last month at work in Belgium.  The day after my last work day, I was on a flight for Iran, and I travelled through Iran for 24 days.  I then got back to Belgium, and packed everything up in 6 days, and headed for Ottawa, where I was seeing and meeting friends daily.

It is only now that I am making the time to recount my thoughts on this amazing country.  Most people develop their view of Iran from Western media, or through preconceived notions.  My experiences in Iran definitely differ from popular opinion and views in the Western world.

I had decided to go to Iran after many conversations with fellow travellers.  Everyone who has been there cannot stop talking about this country.  People go on about the natural beauty, the history, the good value for money, and the lack of Western tourists.  The thought that is shared by all travellers to Iran is that the Iranis are most likely the nicest people you will ever meet.  It is mind boggling how friendly, selfless everyone I met was.

Several stories come to mind (I will leave names tied to cities out):

  • the family whom I met in Esfahan, who invited me up to a mountain village to stay with them after meeting them for 5 minutes.  I took the 7 hour bus ride to meet them, and stayed for two nights.  I enjoyed the home cooked meals, hospitality, home brewed vodka, and fresh chicken kebab.  I hiked through the mountains with a friend, and had one of my best days ever.  Returning to the house, I had my laundry done (after 2 weeks, it was long overdue), and a rest.  When I woke up, I realised that the family dog had taken my shoes and run off into the mountains.  The shoe was located the next day.
  • the friends I met in Yazd, whom I spent countless nights chatting, and smoking the water pipe (flavoured tobacco).  The nights never ended before 4am.  The next morning was always rough, especially if I had plans.
  • the family that let me stay with them in Tehran.  The conversations and interaction I had with them was just amazing.  Simply great people

I figured I would list the highlights of my trip.

Most impressive mosque:  Imman mosque in Esfahan.  Simply gorgeous that I went back a second time.  You can get lost in your thoughts there.

Imman Mosque in Esfahan, Iran

Imman Mosque in Esfahan, Iran

Most Impressive Sight:   Hafez Tomb in Shiraz.  Simply a great experience. Hundreds of people gathering around the shrine like tomb, music playing, great company, amazing pictures.
Hafez Tomb in Shiraz, Iran

Hafez Tomb in Shiraz, Iran

Surrounding Areas of Hafez Tomb, in Shiraz, Iran

Surrounding Areas of Hafez Tomb, in Shiraz, Iran

Scariest Experience:  climbing up a several century old “shaking minaret” in Kharanaq, Iran.  You had to climb up a big tower, then hoist yourself through a crack in the ceiling.  Then our Pakistani tour guide climbed up the minaret further and started shaking it.  We had about one foot around us, before a 4 story drop.  I seemed to be the only one scared though.  I have attached a picture below of something else in the village, as I was too scared to take a picture from the minaret, and too shaken to take one after.
Kharanaq, Iran

Kharanaq, Iran

 Most Surprising:  Tehran.  Most people described it as a dirty, unimpressive city.  But, I thought that the museums were great, and the company I met there was even better.
If you are to go to Iran, I would recomment that you go through a visa agency.  For Canadians, it is very difficult to get a tourist visa.  The process I went through is typical of most that get a visa into Iran.
  1. Send your details to a visa agency (I used iranianvisa.com, there are many different ones all with pros and cons)
  2. Send a payment to the visa agency via Western Union, or bank transfer.  The trick is that you need to have faith, as you need to send money to an account in Turkey, because of payment sanctions to Iran
  3. Once the money is received, the visa agency will contact the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Tehran, and they will hopefully send an approval number to the Embassy of your choice within 3 to 10 working days.
  4. Once the approval number is sent, you can go about getting the visa in the normal fashion.

It is actually easier and more straight forward than getting a Russian visa (my experience only).

The one pet peeve that I do have about Iran is that you need to carry your whole trip’s worth of cash with you, as bank machines do not work with foreign cards, but once you get over that, you will see what a great country it is.

Categories: Random Travelling
  1. Cat
    November 4, 2010 at 09:28

    Janine – I backpacked alone through Iran, as a single woman, and as Jon said it’s an incredibly safe country. You definitely get propositions, from sex through to marrying the son of every other taxi driver, but Iran’s certainly not unique in that! I was constantly surprised at how friendly and welcoming Iranian people are [I think every Iranian can say ‘Welcome to Iran’ and ‘Do you like Iran’ in a number of languages, if nothing else] and my best memories of the country are of the times I spent with local families…as well as on the hotel roof in Yazd smoking qalyon.

    • jon
      November 4, 2010 at 13:28

      Hey Cat…

      Glad to see you are still kicking around. How are things? and where are you now?

  2. Janine
    November 2, 2010 at 10:05

    Dear Jon,
    I enjoyed reading your story about backpacking through Iran. What did you learn about the role of women in this country? Would it be safe for me to do such a trip on my own? I really hope this doesn’t sound too narrow-minded 😉
    Best wishes from Germany!

    • jon
      November 2, 2010 at 12:10

      Hi Janine

      Thanks How are things on your end?

      I learned a great deal about the role of women in the country. From the outside, to the average Westerner it seems that they are oppressed due to the religious coverings they must wear. Women must have everything covered except their face, hands, and feet.

      Most women in less conservative cities such as Esfahan, and Tehran, will have the head scarf pulled back so far that you can see about 80% of the hair. They also wear tight fitting clothing in some less conservative places. Behind closed doors, many women will take the head scarf off and change into more “Western” clothing.

      I met many women travelling alone through Iran. None of them had any real concern, except for a few that were propositioned. This can happen in any country. If you travel with the same common sense as you would in any country in Europe, then you will be ok.

      I thought Iran was one of the safer countries that I have been to. Even though I was carrying all the cash I needed for 24 days, I did not feel in danger at any point.

      It is not narrow minded, but just a view developed through your environment. Once you get to Iran, your view will change, and you will not regret it.

      Let me know if you have any other questions, even specific ones, and I will try my best to help.

      Hope you are doing great


  3. Claudia
    November 2, 2010 at 10:01

    Hey Jon, really nice story and beautiful pictures! Glad to see that your are doing well!

    • jon
      November 2, 2010 at 10:07

      Hi Claudia

      Nice to hear from you. I hope everything is going well. Iran was absolutely amazing. I will try to best chronicle my Nicaraguan experiences everyday. Feel free to pass on the link of my blog to other colleagues, as not all are connected to me via social networks.


  4. Henk
    November 2, 2010 at 03:07

    Jon, I knew Iran people were not bad. Impressive story , thanks for sharing !

    • jon
      November 2, 2010 at 10:05

      Hi Henk

      Thanks for the kind words. I will try to insert some past travel stories every now and then into my blog, as I should have started doing this about 8 years ago 🙂

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