Iran is suddenly on the world map and everybody has something to say about it. Politicians are hopeful, media is turning it into a goldmine and travel publications are touting it as one of the hottest destinations of 2015. With all the recent developments, Iran is all set to welcome tourism in a big way and I hope this post gives an insight of what this beautiful country has to offer.

Visa – Most nationals, except for Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Syria, Bolivia, Azerbaijan, Syria and Venezuela (visa free) need to obtain a visa from the Iranian diplomatic missions before their arrival into the country. Indian passport holders are no longer eligible for visa on arrival (Iran Consulate in India and Iran visa forms can be downloaded from here.
(Source – Iran wikitravel)

Getting In – Most international flights arrive at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, although Shiraz, Esfahan, Mashad etc also cater to international flights. Visa on arrival is available at the above mentioned airports. Expect unprecedented delays and a long drawn visa on arrival process and the latest procedure (and fee) includes a travel insurance, which is in Farsi. Iran Air, Air Arabia, Mahan Air, Emirates, Etihad, Turkish Airlines, Alitalia, Aeroflot, Lufhthanse etc fly to Tehran.

Getting Around – Iran is well connected by domestic flights and there are plenty of comfortable long distance buses available. The inter state buses are ridiculously cheap and are excellent value for money transportation options. Some include dinner or lunch and they are best for overnight journeys. Train connectivity is also there in some sectors and there is a good metro system in Tehran. On my last visit in 2013, Shiraz was also undergoing a major construction overhaul to join the metro network. Iranian public buses are gender segregated and the men’s section is in the front, while the women use the rear end of the vehicle. Shared taxis or savaris are cheap ways of getting around the city and inter city distances and they are faster than buses. Iran is best explored by car and an English speaking driver and Iranian traffic can be quite maddening. Try to avoid visiting the country during national holidays, since the entire population seems to be on the move and all major destinations get overcrowded.

Language – Farsi is the official language of Iran and many urban Iranians speak English. In cities, road signs are in Farsi and English, but expect little or no English the moment you step outside the urban areas. Although, tolerant to practicing of most religions, Iran is a conservative Islamic country and even visitors are required to follow the imposed customs.

Currency – Iran has a dual currency system and it is quite confusing too. Although Iranian Rial is the official currency of Iran, Toman is widely used. Before confirming a price, it is important to decide whether it is quoted in rial or toman. It is most advisable to change money at the airport and due to international economic sanctions, Iran has an extremely high inflation rate. It is important to keep a currency check before visiting Iran. NOTE – Iran is a cash only country and foreign issued credit/debit cards DO NOT work there. It is important to bring wads of USD or Euros (preferably USD) before entering Iran. Very few business establishments and hotels accept credit card and they charge exceptionally high commission on each transaction. For more information click (here)

Travel Tips – The best way to experience Iran is through it’s people. Iranians set an unbeatable benchmark for hospitality and consider yourself lucky if you are invited as a guest into an Iranian household. Hotels in urban Iran are very modern and internet can be slow or fast depending on the kind of accommodation you choose. Many social media sites like Facebook etc are banned in Iran and it is important to keep those restrictions in mind, before visiting the country. Accommodation wise, Iranian traditional guesthouses provide the best option of enjoying the famed hospitality to the fullest and set in restored old Farsi houses, they are a delightful way of experiencing the Persian grandeur. Iranian food is meat heavy and the cuisine varies from province to province. Chelo kebab, kebab torsh or sour kebab, mirza ghasemi, jujeh kebab and biryani are some of the must try Iranian dishes. Most Iranian cities have great cheap eats like shawarma sandwiches, grilled chicken and delicious fruits and the country is also famous for its state of art medical facilities.

Travel Caution – Hijab is mandatory in Iran and women visitors are required to cover their heads with scarves. They are also expected to wear loose clothing which cover their bodies completely except for their hands, face, and feet. Loose trousers with long loose, full sleeved shirts with headscarves is the most appropriate dress code for women travelling to Iran. Men are not allowed to wear shorts in public. Women are required to wear a chador (long loose sheet) before entering mosques or any religious building and men are expected to wear long-sleeved shirts when visiting a mosque or holy shrine. Shoes need to be taken off before entering a prayer area of a mosque.

Shopping – Iran is a handicraft lovers paradise and shopping is most fun in one of the countries cavernous local markets. Polite, smooth bargaining is customary and Iranians, in their courteous way, make it seem like an art. Carpets, inlaid woodwork, silver, rugs, silk, dry fruits, honey, leather goods, table mats and ceramics are must buys in Iran and Esfahan is a wonderful city for shopping.

Things to Carry – In Iran you will need a UK 3 pin to type C/F travel adapter, loose fitting clothes, scarves, sandals, walking shoes, sunscreen, ski equipment and gear (if planning to ski), hiking boots, contraceptives and other medicines.

Best time to Visit – Iran is most visited during two periods – from the beginning of March to the end of May, and from the beginning of September to the end of November. A couple of weeks before or after each Iranian New Year (Nowruz) is also good and January and February are the best time to visit the south of Iran (like Persian Gulf islands and shorelines).

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Kurdish Man at Kermanshah province

Presenting a list of my Iran expenses, as a guideline. Please note that these expenses have been incurred in 2013 and Iran has undergone high inflation ever since.

Visa on Arrival fee along with mandatory travel insurance = (30 + 16 USD)

Taxi from Shiraz airport to city center = 70,000 Rials

Lunch at medium range restaurant = 9 USD

Water, Ice cream, bottle of doug, Eram Garden and Aliebnehamze Mosque visit = 2 USD

14 days road trip across Northern Iran (inclusive of car, driver, fuel and taxes, accommodation and all meals) = 900 USD

Nasir ol Molk Mosque Entrance fee = 30,000 Rials

Per day guiding fee in Shiraz = 20 USD

Esfahan Blue Mosque Entrance Fee = 10,000 Rials

Lunch for two at high end Zagros restaurant at Esfahan = 50,000 Rials

Entrance fee for offbeat attractions like Bisitoun Complex in Kermanshah = 15,000 Rials

Souvenir Handwoven doll at Masouleh = 80,000 Rials

Medium range hotel room at skiing destination of Chaloos = 700,000 Rials/night

For more of first hand traveler’s information click here