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Best places to visit in Iran
Iran’s nature is breathtaking. Who knew? Among the best places to visit in Iran you’ll find deserts and islands, and you’ll discover a whole new world. Travel to the Lut desert, the hottest place on earth, and visit Hormuz island, a tiny place with more diversity than you could dream of!
Read the other parts of this post here:
Part 1: First stop and my impressions on the country
Part 3: The picture-perfect architecture
Part 4: Iran’s greatest treasure, its people
My plan was to go from Tehran to Shiraz, but there were terrible floods that made me adjust the itinerary. Plans changed and many great things followed. I took an overnight bus from Tehran to Yazd (570.000 rials, about 8 hours) and I woke up in the desert. It was like being in a different world. It was early morning, and the streets were empty. The mud houses match the soil perfectly, and the small dirt roads give an evocative look to this strange place. What a great first impression! I was taken. The place was unique and charming. I got to my hostel and I met Vincent and Phillip from the Netherlands, and Vanessa from Bolivia (the only other crazy solo female traveler from Latin America I met in the whole trip!), who quickly became friends. We went out to explore and the spell was over. The city was so crowded it was impossible to enjoy sightseeing. One day was enough for me. I’ve read that Yazd was the center of Zoroastrianism (although later I learnt that it’s actually Kerman), so a visit to the Fire Temple and the Tower of Silence seemed like the things to do before escaping. The first one was horrible. I had a quick glimpse at the fire, and I was moved out by the ever growing crowd. Was every Tehrani in Yazd?
The Tower of Silence, on the other hand, was remarkable. By far my best memory of Yazd. Zoroastrians built round, tall structures in the outskirts of the cities for excarnation, which means for the dead bodies to be eaten by vultures. It sounds horrifying, I know, but it was quite interesting. For Zoroastrian earth and fire are sacred, so the dead could not be in contact with those elements. The most fascinating thing is that they were in use until the 1970s, when the practice was prohibited by law.
After a morning exploring this earie place, I rushed to the bus station, I had a wedding to attend.
The bus from Yazd (about 5 hours, 230.000 rials) reached Kerman just in time for me to drop my backpack, change, and get a Snapp to the wedding. For this story I need to go back a bit. To the planning of the trip stage. I read a lot to decide where to go. The country is so big than I thought that with limited time I needed to be super organized to be able to see as much of what I wanted as possible. One of those sights was the Lut desert. I looked into how to get there, but since I read the stories of a blogger that camped in the desert, I got obsessed. I found a girl that organizes camping trips and we stayed in touch. She told me that she was getting married, so I wrote a message wishing her and her future husband a lifetime of happiness. I don’t know if Iranians are not used to foreigners being nice, or if they are much nicer than I can grasp, but that got me an invitation. In Iran taarof is a normal practice. This is the art of refusing out of politeness. You’ll see it even at shops when you go to pay –the seller will refuse you money! But it’s also part of the tradition to insist. It’s usually a long dance. Anyways, I thought she was taarofing me, so I refused, praying to all the gods that she would ask again, and she did! That time I said yes immediately.
This led to another predicament. I tend to over pack. I’m the queen of “what if”. But for this trip I only had 8 kilos allowed, so I was really specific. I didn’t pack an extra needle. Everything in my backpack was going to be used. Little did I know that life had a ton of surprises in store for me. Less than a week in the country and I got invited to a wedding! I was so happy and honored. I couldn’t believe the amazing heart of the bride and groom that wanted me to be part of their special day. I was really touched. But before I was even able to understand what was going on, the scariest of thoughts went through my head: ‘I have nothing to wear!’. So there I was, the morning of the wedding, looking to buy shoes. Kat, a lovely Belgian girl that was staying at the same hostel, lend me some leggings, and I had a nice-ish blouse, but hiking shoes were not gonna cut it. Early in the morning I went to the bazaar and I ended up haggling like a master. After being given the price in a calculator, I erased it and typed 30% less. The girl looked at me and said ‘ok’. Outfit done! Or so I though.
I got to the venue. It was gorgeous, and everybody there was more dressed up that I ever was in my life. Beautiful dresses, some short, some with cleavage, some with transparent fabric, some with all the above. High heels all around. Every girl was wearing a ton of make-up, and their hair was perfectly done. I officially looked like a dirty hippie. Damn. But it didn’t stop me from having the time of my life. I danced the night away, I met the loveliest people that went over backwards to make me feel comfortable, and I was treated to amazing Iranian food. Nilou and Ali, I can’t thank you more for letting me share the happiest day of your lives with you! ❤️
After a few hours of sleep, it was time for the desert. I convinced Vanessa, Phillip and Vincent to come along, so at midday Nilou and Ali, and their friend Mohsen, picked us up. The Lut is the place where the hottest temperature on earth was recorded, and for sure is one of the best places to visit in Iran! Its formations, known as ‘sand castles’, are stunning. We arrived there for sunset, to see them change colors and being reshaped by their own shades. Before it was dark, we set our tents and welcomed the night over dinner and a hot cup of tea. It was everything I expected! I was only sorry it was Ali and Nilou’s first day as a married couple, although they reassured me that they were happy to be there.
After watching a magnificent sunrise from the tent, we headed to an ecolodge nearby to get breakfast. We met Nadia, Mohsen’s wife, who joined us for the rest of the day. We went to Shahdad, visited the Emam Zade Zeyd shrine, stopped to learn about qanats (a system of underground aqueducts to transport water for drinking and irrigation in the desert), and spent most of the day in a tiny oasis village. In this place the doors are always opened and foreigners are hardly ever seen. We went up a little hill to get a view from above, and then enjoyed home-cooked kookoo in the house of one of the locals. Another superb day!
Bam, Rayen & Shahzadeh garden
From Kerman a very recommended day trip is to Bam citadel or to Rayen castle. Both are medieval mudbrick cities, although they’re believed to be at least a thousand years old. Bam is huge, so it’s the one Iranians will proudly recommend. But an earthquake tore it apart, so what you see now is a reconstruction. I’m happy I saw it, but considering it’s almost 200 km away, I’d strongly recommend visiting Rayen instead. It was inhabited until 150 years ago, and it’s in amazing condition, so here you’ll see the real thing. From Bam we (I was still with Vanessa, Phillip and Vincent) got a Snapp back, and asked him to stop in Rayen, and in Mahan to see the Shahzadeh garden –the most beautiful Persian garden you’ll ever see. It was getting late and suddenly the driver stopped. He didn’t speak any English, so we watched him go away without understanding what was going on. A little while later he came back with bowls of ash (a vegetable and noodle soup) for all of us. Seriously, can Iranians be any nicer?
The last day in Kerman was to see… Kerman! There’s not much about the city in the guides, bloggers will only mention it as the hub to visit the Lut desert, but I actually liked it. It was a nice change from Yazd. Way less crowded, less touristy, more authentic. The day was spent strolling around the bazaar, visiting the mosques, and having tea in a lovely, traditional tea house. The last stop was the Zoroastrian museum. Everything was only in Farsi, so I didn’t learn a thing. But on the way out a guy stopped us to see if we needed any help. I told him how disappointing it was not understanding, so he gave us a 2 seconds explanation of the religion, followed by a speech on how even though Zoroastrians have representation in the Parliament, the Parliament is a joke (his words!).
Kerman was great, even the politically incorrect statements. But it was time to head south.
The Persian Gulf Islands
An overnight bus took us to Bandar Abbas (about 7 hours, 480.000 rials). From the bus terminal we went straight to the ferry port to get the 8 o’clock to Hormuz (30 minutes, 300.000 rials). I have to admit that the island didn’t give me a good first impression. It looked a bit dirty, it was fairly crowded, and the clouds in the sky made the sea look grey. We explored the Portuguese castle and stared at the women wearing colorful masks that cover their entire faces.
We met Mohammed, a local with a truck who took us around the island. It can be explored by bike since circling it is only 22 km, but after a night of no sleep, I wanted to be driven. We were Mohammed’s first foreign tourists, so he was on a mission to make sure we had a great time. And we sure did! The island is gorgeous, scrap all my initial thoughts. It’s absolutely one of the best places to visit in Iran. For nature lovers, this is a must. There’re not enough words to describe the wonderful sights, so see the photos below. And if you visit Hormuz, give Mohammed a call –he’s the kind of guy that drove to 5 different places to find me vegetarian food (+989367059535).
Next stop was Qeshm (50 minutes, 300.000 rials). We had breakfast at a small eatery, run by the most picturesque couple ever. The food is delicious, and the bill is added in front of you using an abacus. Just adorable! After food I met my first Iranian Couchsurfing host, Manoo. He immediately welcomed me as part of his family. It was Sizdah Bedar –the last day of Nowruz, known as Nature Day, which is celebrated by picnicking outdoors. He’s family was visiting, and he was also hosting a German couple, Clara and Adrian, so he took all of us to a lovely picnic in a park by the beach. We had fruits, nuts, cookies and sekanjabin, a traditional drink eaten dipping iceberg lettuce in it.
After the ‘I completely under-packed’ feeling I got at the wedding, I thought nothing else could surprise me. Well, guess who got invited to go snorkeling? I know, I’m so lucky! But I had my optic glasses and my prescription sunglasses with me, and not even one pair of contact lenses (just for the record, without them I can’t see beyond my hands)… It was still nice to spend some time by the beach imagining all the corals and fishes 🙂
Manoo and his family were joking about how lazy Shirazi men are. The puns were something like: “men think about why they do things that they’ll regret tomorrow, Shirazis think about why they do things, period”. That night a friend of his came over and immediately states “I’m so tired”, we all asked “from what?”, to which he said “from resting”. Everyone quickly looked at me and said “he’s from Shiraz!”
The next day Phillip and Vincent arranged for their host to drive us around Qeshm. Another amazing island! There’re many beautiful sights, but the Chahkooh canyon was my favorite by far. The everchanging shapes as you go deeper into it, and the different shades the earth gets at different sun angles are stunning. Hiking around it was the perfect way to say goodbye to the Persian Gulf.