Packed with over 5,000 years of history, Iran is a destination everyone must experience at least once in their lifetime. From the ancient Persian Empire to the Zoroastrians temples, the countless mosques, and even the modern cities like Tehran, there is so much to see that one visit will not be enough.
After traveling to Iran on Intrepid Travel’s 14-day Iran Adventure trip, I shared my experience with many of my friends. Most of them replied with a similar response, “I’d love to go to Iran!”
This is a common response among travelers, yet not many actually plan a trip to the country due to misinformation, lack of information, or fear.
To encourage you to plan a trip to this wonderful destination, I’ll share with you a few reasons why you should travel to Iran as an American, debunk a few myths, and tell you what to expect there.
No, they don’t hate Americans
Contrary to what you see in the media, Iran is one of the friendliest and culturally-rich countries you’ll ever visit. And no, they do not hate Americans or any other Western nation. That’s just fear-mongering and it is far from reality.
When I arrived, I debated how open I wanted to be about my nationality. But as soon as I met Nadia, our Intrepid Travel guide, she put to rest any mild concerns I had about sharing openly that I’m American. No one has an issue with it.
As we traveled the country, countless locals approached me and my other tour companions to chat with us. They were all curious to know about us, our life in our respective countries, and how we were enjoying Iran. On our part, we were just as curious to learn about them, so we fed each other’s curiosities over tea and casual chatting.
One of my favorite random encounters happened just before leaving Iran. I spent my last few hours in the country visiting the Azadi Tower, where I met a few early 20-something local guys. As soon as one of them learned I was American, he expressed with joy how much he’d love to visit the US and shared his vast knowledge of the country. In fact, he was wearing an American flag bandana.
Everywhere you go, you always feel that warm welcome Iranians are known for.
The visa process is extensive, but worth it in the end
Yes, the visa process is more complicated than in many other countries, but it should not be a deterrent to visiting Iran. Due to the current political environment, Americans are having a tougher time to get their tourist visas approved, but still, it is possible to get them. Thankfully, Intrepid Travel helps you get your visa by guiding you every step of the way with their visa application form.
Once you get the visa, set foot in the country, and experience everything it has to offer, you’ll see that that the extra process was all worth it.
There’s so much history to be learned and experienced
As the host to one of the oldest civilizations in history, Iran has no lack of ancient ruins and historical sites. Everywhere you go, you’ll be surrounded in hundreds, if not thousands of years of history.
From the Elamite Kingdoms, to the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great’s conquest, the Arab invasion, and even the 1979 revolution, each city you visit will show you a piece of the historical puzzle and how they played a part in the development of Iran as we know it, its neighboring countries, and even the rest of the world.
One of my favorite experiences on this trip was spending a night at the Zein-o-din Caravanserai. A caravanserai is an ancient fortress-like facility used by merchants traveling along the silk road around 450 years ago. They would spend the night there to rest, feed their camels, and trade goods before continuing their journey. Today, this one caravanserai is open for us to spend the night right where merchants used to sleep.
You’ll experience a positive culture shock
I think some of the best travel destinations are the ones that teach you something new through experiences, and Iran has no shortage of that. The level of culture shock in the country is significant, but in a positive way. You’ll see how, despite their current economic and political status, Iranians still welcome you with a smile and the warmest hospitality you could hope for.
You’ll see how women are proud of their trendy fashion, how their carpet artistry is among the finest in the world, how the nomadic culture is still alive, how their local markets are the center of activity, and how families gather at parks and squares to picnic at night until well past midnight (it can get too hot to picnic during the day).
You’ll also see how religion is deeply tied to their society and the many intricate details that make their culture unique. You’ll see all kinds of people, from the most conservative to the most liberal, and the beauty of all of them coexisting in one place.
It’s good to be ambassadors of our country
As I mentioned previously, locals will talk to you and ask you about life in the US or your country. This is our opportunity to show them who we really are not only as a Western nation but also as humans. There is no better way to learn about a country than by talking firsthand with locals, the people who live and breathe their country every day. They will share with you their proudest moments, their struggles, and their desires.
It is safe
Another fear-mongering myth is that Iran is not safe. But again, it is the opposite. Locals aren’t looking to harm, kidnap, or threaten Americans. I never felt in danger, not even when I walked on my own in the city of Esfahan past midnight.
Traveling solo is safe, but as Americans, you will be traveling on a tour (since it is required), so that’s even another safety layer.
There’s no alcohol, pork, and no American/Western chains
For good or for bad, alcohol has been banned in the country since the revolution in 1979. Pork isn’t found either, but this is more because of Islamic customs. American and Western chains are not found in the country due to economic sanctions and the complicated political relationship Iran has had with the Western world for decades now.
What you will find, though, are knock-off versions of popular fast foods like McFood, a different KFC, Burger Queen, and so on. It’s fun to see how they reinterpret and adopt the Western culture not only on their food but also on their fashion and entertainment too.
There is so much more to be discovered and experienced in Iran and no post will compare to the beauty of seeing it all firsthand. If you are as intrigued by the country as I was before I went there, I’ll tell you, it will impress you and possibly even surpass your expectations. At least, it surpassed mine.
Ready to visit this incredible destination for yourself? Check out Intrepid’s small group tours in Iran.
(All images courtesy of the writer, Norbert, and taken on Intrepid Travel’s Iran Adventure trip.)