We are very excited to have Joseph of Travelscapism, back on ThePlanetD to showcase the beauty of Iran. His last guest piece for us was a fascinating photography journey through Bhutan, and now we are captivated once again by his account of travel to Iran through photography and his tips and advice. But more importantly, he answers the question, is it safe to visit Iran? After reading this article, you too will want to visit.
Is it Safe to Visit Iran?
The first question people asked me when I told them I was visiting Iran was “why?” The second was “Is it safe to visit Iran?”. Let me tell you right from the start – yes, it is safe for Americans and women to visit Iran. (but bring your head scarf).
I spent fifteen days in Iran touring the main cultural sites of the country with a small group. We started in Shiraz and worked are way back to Tehran. We visited the ancient city of Persepolis, the desert town of Yazd, the shopping mecca of Esfahan and ended our road trip in Tehran.
The people were friendly, the food delicious, the country beautiful, and the mosques intoxicating. So don't let friends or family stop you from visiting this beautiful country.
It is Safe to Visit Iran
Iran is a wonderful country for all to visit, whether you're interested in food, culture, history, shopping, religion, architecture or politics. It all blends together to make for one incredible experience.
What are the major tourist sites to see in Iran?
The must-see sites to visit are Shiraz, the cultural heart of the country known for it’s poets and gardens.
Persepolis (just outside of Shiraz), a world heritage site that was burned to the ground rumored to be by a drunken Alexander the Great.
See another less visited country at: Travel to Bhutan
The desert city of Yazd, with it’s unique architecture, mud cites and ancient Zoroastrian religion and people.
Esfahan, the home of the majestic Naqsh-e Jahan Square with the blue tiled Masjed-e Shah mosque and often photographed Khaju bridge. Of course, don’t miss out on the shopping.
In Tehran, the tiled masterpiece of the Golestan Palace, the old U.S. embassy with it’s muraled walls and the many tea houses and coffee shops.
You should also plan on spending time with some local families or the Nomads of Zagros. Visit the Mausoleum of Khomeini outside of Tehran to understand the scope of his influence even after death.
Also make room in your stomach for the amazing food from herb stews to kebabs to die for. You must also try the dizi, a meat and bean stew that is served in a stone pot. Pour out the broth in a bowl then dip flat bread in it. Then mash up the stew with a pestle in the pot and eat with the flat bread.
Do I need a Visa for Iran? And how hard is to get a Visa?
Yes, you will need a visa and it is the most complicated for US and UK citizens. For most other countries, you can get a fifteen-day visa on arrival in Tehran. It is still recommended for tourists to get the visa in advance through their local tour agency.
For U.S. citizens, you must obtain a visa in advance, this requires you to hire an Iranian authorized tour company or guide. Once the trip is confirmed and booked, you will have to fill out a form to get a tourist travel code. This usually is processed and sent to you two months before departure.
That code is then sent to your local embassy – please note that in the US, it is via Pakistan’s embassy. Once the code is sent, you can fill out the visa paperwork, attach your photo and send or hand deliver your passport. It will take about two weeks to process.
Is it safe to Visit Iran as a woman?
Yes, it is safe. Several of my travel mates were females and had a wonderful time. Not once were they harassed or stopped. They enjoyed the new experience of shopping for head scarfs at the bazaars – but, still removed them the first chance they got.
Tips for Visiting Iran
If you do decide to go – you should be prepared for several things. Bring clothes that are loose and will cover your arms, legs, and ankles. Bring your headscarf with you… it will need to be deployed on the plane upon landing in Tehran.
Lastly, bring an open mind. The women of Tehran are more progressive than you may think. Tehran is one of the top cities in the world for plastic surgery and consumption of beauty products. It is not surprising to see females walking around with bandages on their noses!
Iran Politics and religion – What if I do not agree?
These subjects are sensitive even with close family and friends – I can guarantee you if you are coming from a Western country you will not agree with the politics and laws. Do not argue, do not share your opinion… it makes for a messy situation and rising tempers.
It is a great opportunity to learn about the culture, religion, and people. I learned about the rules for adultery and why woman are stoned. I had discussions on international relations and nuclear weapons. But I also talked with families about their lives, loves, and dreams.
One tip… Iranians consider it bad taste to make you feel unwelcome. If at any point you feel someone is being too harsh, mention how ashamed and upset you are. Let them know you thought Iran was a hospitable country with a warm and welcoming people. That will usually change the conversation – deep down, they all want you to love their country and tell your friends about it.
Can I drink liquor and eat pork in Iran?
Basically no… It is a Muslim country and you cannot buy or import these items. If you are found at the airport with liquor you will be sent back on the next flight.
Now having said this, what happens in the privacy of homes or clubs can be different. Many Iranians have their own liquor stashes that they either make or import on the black market. I assume the government knows but decides not enforce. Let's just put it this way, on our last night we got a bottle of an Italian red wine to celebrate the journey.
Is it safe to take pictures of mosques and people?
Yes, you can take all kinds of photographs except for police, government buildings, airports, trains and nuclear facilities. A good guide will steer you clear of making any of these photo mistakes. The worst thing that could happen is you would be pulled aside for questioning, disrupting your travel day.
If you want to photograph the locals it is always a good idea to ask permission. Usually they are very willing especially, if you have purchased something from them.
Can I buy souvenirs like Persian rugs or silver?
For most everyone yes, but there are severe limitations if you are a U.S. citizen. You are only allowed to bring back about $100 worth of Iranian goods. You should retain your receipts after purchase. If it is more than a $100, the merchant can give you a second receipt for less. After all, they do want to help you make a wonderfully expensive purchase.
If you are looking to shop, I would wait until you visit the city of Esfahan, the shopping capital of the country. The Bazaar and local stores are filled with helpful sales people that will educate you and drive a hard deal. You can learn in detail about all of the beautiful souvenirs in my article “The Decorative Arts, Silver and Rugs in the Bazaars of Iran“.
Now is the time to visit Iran
Modern day Iran is a country in transition, with the middle class in the large cities lusting after the freedoms of the West and the small town holding on to the conservative past. Learn more about the country and planning your trip read my Iran Travel Tips & Overview Page.
Bring a sense of adventure, an open mind, a hungry stomach and lot's of Euros or Dollars – your credit cards (especially for Americans) can be useless there!
Bio: Joseph Kiely
I was born with wanderlust. It comes first from my Parisian mother, who moved from Europe to find love in Los Angeles, California. The doors to travel opened to me on my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, when they travelled back to Paris and brought me along. I caught the travel bug and was soon backpacking all over the world—from Western Europe to the remote Tibetan plateau. I now love to share my journeys through my blog and inspire others to escape through travel and culture.
Joseph Kiely is a graphic designer and art director who travels the world looking for creative inspiration and cultural insight. View his art, design and photography on his blog . Follow Him on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus