Iran may well be rising in popularity as the rest of the world clues-up about its immense cache of delights – yet this is still very much a country of incredible surprises
No matter how much you’ve travelled the world, there’s nothing that can prepare you for your first tour of Iran. Not for the insane hospitality, the sensational food, the overwhelming history and the jaw-dropping wilderness – the country of 1001 surprises always managing to utterly mesmerize even the most ardent of explorers.
What’s so special about Iran?
Aside from the renowned hospitality and friendliness of the locals (epic to say the least), what stands out most about Iran is the fact that it truly offers something for the lover of anything. Love history and culture? Oh my, you’ll have your hands full just trying to decide what to keep out of your itinerary. Iran is chock-full of UNESCO-listed historical treasures that rival any in Europe, the Middle East or South America yet here, you’re likely to have them all to yourself. Are you an avid hiker? Then the spectacular Kalut Desert awaits. A keen photographer? You’ll find it near impossible to ever put your camera down, between the ornate palaces, temples and mosques and the jaw-dropping scenery of the countryside. Are you an avid foodie? Best head here with a voracious appetite!
A visual feast and sensory overload: that’s the best way to describe Iran and even when you’ve done the research, booked the tour and hopped on that plane, you can still expect to be surprised.
Before we go on to unveil a few of Iran’s magical surprises, it may help you to read our Insider’s Guide to Iran to gain a better understanding of what you can expect from a visit and the most famous highlights you shouldn’t miss. Once you’ve got your visit-planning juices flowing with the most celebrated hot-spots, it’s time to pin those lesser-known gems.
Here are some more incredible things you can do in Iran:
Spot Asian leopards and bears in the Golestan National Park…and then some
Golestan is Iran’s unrivalled wildlife haven, the oldest national park in the country and one of the world’s foremost wilderness reserves. This destination is a delight on many levels, not only because it is exceptionally biodiverse and home to an array of wildlife and stunning (and quite dramatic) landscapes, but it’s also found in the north-western corner of the country, right by the border with Turkmenistan, a corner of Iran most visitors simply never get to visit.
Almost a quarter of Iran– its very core – is made up of two salt deserts that are a photographer’s dream yet in the north, around Golestan, luscious jungles thrive with life. Bird watchers, animal lovers and anyone who simply cherishes unspoilt nature will fall head over heels in love with this place, where you can hike, horseback ride or simply take a wildlife safari trip right through the heart of it. The best part of Golestan is the seasonal highlights, which means you can include a few days’ stay no matter what time of year you’re planning to visit Iran.
Head off on a hiking journey through shifting desert dunes – The Kalouts of Dasht-e Lut
When it comes to unique wilderness, the Dasht-e Lut Desert scores all the magazine covers thanks to it being exceptionally harsh yet unabashedly gorgeous. This is the reputed ‘hottest and driest place on earth’ where not a single lifeform can thrive – amazing then, given it looks so amazingly beautiful.
You may have seen challenging multi-week trekking trips through Dasht-e Lut advertised for hard-core explorers, but on its southern fringes, in the Kalouts, there’s a multitude of hiking options for those who prefer daylong excursions instead. A land of otherworldly desert formations and dizzying sand dunes (some of the tallest on earth, in fact) the Kalouts showcase a multitude of the wind-formed dunes that have pinned the Lut on the world map for explorers and, if you’ve ever dreamt on walking on the moon, you’ll certainly get the next best thing right here.
Feast on dizi
Not to leave our foodie explorers wanting, we’ll include this stunning Iranian highlight on our list. Because taste buds! There’s no doubt that the culinary experiences you’ll have in Iran will threaten to outshine anything else you’ll see in the country – especially if you get off the tourist trail and have the enviable bonus of enjoying a home-made meal. Dizi, one of the most traditional dishes in the country, is an experience you should absolutely seek out.
At first sight, a spread of dizi looks like a 10-step programme for overeaters anonymous but with a bit of patience and advice from your guide, we guarantee it will become one of the absolute highlights of your entire trip. There’s a bit of elbow grease involved in scoring a mouthful of the delicious and very aromatic meat, chickpeas and vegie delight (you’ll have to literally mash your own concoction) but this really adds to the fun. Some of Tehran’s high-end restaurants offer a full-course dizi extravaganza complete with waiter’s instructions but you’ll find a host of dedicated dizi restaurants. Just make sure to ask your private tour guide for a personal recommendation – Iranians are very fussy and proud about their dizi so with a knowledgeable local at hand you’ll surely find the best spot to feast. While you’re at it, you may also want to include a Persian food tour excursion when you’re in Tehran – this is one of the most rewarding foodie highlights of all and combines plenty of cultural enlightenment to boot.
Cast your eyes on the bright pink sands and white cliffs of Hormuz
Floating happily in the Persian Gulf, Hormuz Island showcases one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular colour palettes, its pink sandy beaches, deep blue seas and multi-hued rocky hills of its interior creating a canvas that’s simply surreal. One of the most dramatic and wild hubs in the world, Hormuz is about as photogenic as any island could ever get – steep white rocky cliffs plunging to the seas below, hidden caves coming into view only as you near the coast and a maze of totally trippy rock formations in what’s known as Statue Valley. A hub for artists the world over (hardly surprising), Hormuz is also home to underground chapels and one of the last remnants of colonial rule in the Gulf, an alluring red-rock Portuguese Fort.
We have a host of new itinerary inspiration for you on our Iran Tours page, including dedicated hiking and photography tours and even a unique Women’s Expedition that opens up a whole new cultural world that’s simply not accessible to our mixed-gender groups. Whether you’re into nature, history, culture, cuisine, architecture or archaeology, trust that your tour of Iran will be utterly unforgettable. Contact us today to know more.
Author: Laura Pattara
“After spending years taking short vacations in Asia, Laura finally managed her dream, travelling extensively through Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia on a 3-year-long overlanding adventure that she describes as “SIMPLY EPIC”. Following in the footsteps of ancient traders, Laura meandered along the famed Silk Road through the Stans, delighted her tastebuds for 8000km across China (no mean feat) visited an insane number of temples in Southeast Asia, all the while snorkelling, diving and beach-bumming along the way. Tickled pink by history and culture, Laura loves off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asia and anything that isn’t gift-wrapped for tourists”