Iran is one of my favourite destinations. It’s simply beautiful.
I love the coloured mosaics on the mosques in Esfahan; I love the sights, sounds and smells of the bustling bazaars; I love the incredible sweet shops, the bridges all lit up at night, the dirt-cheap, street-side falafels.
And I love the people. In fact, in my role as Intrepid’s Regional Product Manager for the Middle East and Africa, I’ve found the biggest misconception travellers have about Iran is about the people themselves. But that barely scratches the surface of misconceptions about this misunderstood country, a destination that’s all too often neglected by tourists.
So, to encourage more people to visit Iran – a place of startling beauty and unfailing friendliness – I’ve listed a few common misconceptions people often have about travel in Iran.
6. Foreigners are not welcome
This couldn’t be any further than the truth. I’ve travelled pretty extensively and I cannot recall a single destination where the people are more welcoming. I was genuinely blown away by the kindness, generosity and genuine curiosity that Iranians have for foreign travellers.
I had people approach me on the subway, restaurants, buses and shops. The moment they know you’re a traveller they want to know; ‘What do you think of Iran?’, ‘Are you enjoying it?’, ‘But are you really enjoying it’?, ‘What can we do better?’. They want to know how long you’re here for, where else you might be visiting, and they are never without their recommendations. ‘Please. You must go to xxx’.
I had people give up their seats on public transport, give gifts, share homemade sweets and biscuits, and invite me into their homes for dinner with their family.
It’s worth noting that this hospitality is not nationality specific either. Travellers of all nationalities return from Iran with the same stories and experiences of their time here.
5. Visas are impossible
Iran’s visa process has definitely earned itself a pretty awful reputation. But it’s not as bad as you think, and Intrepid Travel are here to help you through it!
Here’s what you need to know:
Obtaining an Iran visa is a two-step process.
- An authorisation code for your visa must be issued by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- A visa for your passport must then be obtained at an Iranian Embassy once the authorisation code has been issued.
The process varies dependent on your nationality (or the passport you’re travelling on). If you are UK, US or Canadian – sorry guys, you can expect the process to take a little longer and a be a little bit more complicated (we’ll still help you, though!).
Fortunately for Australians, New Zealanders, Irish and most other nationalities you can opt to obtain a visa on arrival once you have your authorisation code, which is a much simpler process.
If you’re confused already, don’t be. The great news is that all of our Iran visa information and application forms all live in one handy place. Simply select the relevant nationality in the drop down list to access detailed visa information and our online application form.
4. It’s unsafe
The first thing people say when you tell them you’re travelling to Iran is.. “Are you sure it’s safe?”. The reality is that nowadays, there is a degree of risk wherever you’re travelling, or living for that matter.
During my three weeks in Iran I never once felt unsafe. In fact I have never travelled to any country where the people so genuinely and enthusiastically want to ensure you are looked after. This anecdote sums it all up:
One evening we decided we wanted to check out a tea house that came recommended in the Lonely Planet. We asked a cafe worker if he knew the address. He didn’t, but his friend did and he soon returned with a small piece of paper in both English and Farsi.
We jumped on the subway and travelled to what we thought was the closest stop. On arrival we showed the address to a gentlemen working there. After stopping and consulting with two complete strangers he walked us out of the station. Here, he hailed a cub and proceeded to give the driver directions to the restaurant.
The driver, bless his heart, couldn’t find the restaurant and after two laps around a chaotic roundabout hailed down two other drivers to ask for directions, stopping in the middle of traffic to do so. (Iranian taxi drivers are both incredibly skilled and fearlessly crazy all at once.)
He made a phone call while skilfully negotiating the manic traffic and asked someone else if they knew where this place was, and still no luck. The only words of English he knew were “very good!”. Which he repeated with a grin on his face but despite his charming enthusiasm it was clear he had no idea where this restaurant was.
Finally, he pulled up at taxi rank and jumped out, car running, double parked and again asked for directions. Turns out the restaurant was right next door. Hooray! But even after paying him he insisted on taking us into the restaurant, handing us over to the manager like precious cargo.
My time in Iran was full of stories just like this!
3. It’s no place for women
Many travellers arrive in Iran with a perception of Iranian women that’s way off compass. In short, they think it’s going to be just like Saudi Arabia. That women are not allowed to drive, they can’t work, or get an education, they are highly conservative and religious.
And there’s no doubt during your time in Iran you will see super conservative, religious women dressed top-to-toe in the ‘Chador’ (meaning ‘tent’ in Farsi). But, with half of Iran’s population under 35 years old, you’ll find far more young Iranian women with head scarfs pushed back low on the head, bright coloured clothing (some of it figure-hugging), high heels, immaculately made-up with red lipstick and nails.
Women in Iran are no different to you or I, or your sister, or your mother; they go to the gym, stay on top of the latest fashions, get their nails done and more!
At Intrepid, we have a largely female team of leaders and they are representative of a large percentage of Iranian women. They are fully integrated into the workforce, young, modern, independent, and they are highly educated (most young Iranians have one if not two university degrees).
2. Iran has 1 climate – HOT
Similar to many Middle Eastern destinations, Iran conjures up images of sandy desserts and hot, balmy nights. However, it’s one of the few countries in the world that has a four season climate and depending on the time of year (and region), you can experience all extremes of weather.
The high season of March-May offers ideal mild spring temperatures and clear weather in most of Iran. June and July are characteristically hot, while the shoulder season mirrors autumn and kicks in from September through to November.
Winters are from Dec-Feb and temperatures average around 10°C or 50°F. This is typically the ‘off-season’ but offers a great opportunity to travel during the cooler, but incredibly stunning winter months.
Check out our new 9-day ‘Iran Express’ itinerary for great off-season departures (plus a cooking class in Shiraz, home-cooked meal in Esfahan, mosque visits, city tours and more!).
Regardless of what time of year you travel, you can expect to see a range of stunning landscapes. Tips: pack layers as the nights can get cool, even in summer.
1. Iranians don’t know how to have fun
Thanks to media coverage, Iran is often portrayed as a dour regime. On the contrary, it’s full of lively, friendly people who love to socialise and have fun – just like anybody else!
There may not be bars and nightclubs but there are plenty of other ways that locals spend time together, let off some steam, have a good time. Want proof? Here are some favourite local activities:
- Beauty salons. Apparently local women go 2-3 times a week!
- Board game cafés. In lieu of bars and nightclubs, these are a popular haunt for locals to spend evenings with friends and are actually a lot of fun!
- Picnics. Iranians love a picnic. Grass or no grass they will set up roadside on the weekend and simply enjoy being outdoors, eating, and spending time with loved ones.
- Long meals. Iranians eat late. You can expect dinner to be around 10pm and the feasting can easily go into the wee hours. It’s also worth noting that Iran is a ‘home cooking culture’. Unlike western countries, where people usually go out for a good meal, in Iran it’s the opposite. You go out for a quick meal for convenience or fast food.
(Note: for cooking classes, bakery tours, farm visits and home-cooked meals, check out Intrepid’s new 10-day Iran Real Food Adventure!)
- Skiing. In winter it’s not uncommon for locals to head to the slopes for a weekend away.
Tempted to pay this dazzling country a visit? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures in Iran.
All images c/o Intrepid Travel.