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Travel Guide

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IRAN

Iran also known as Persia until 1935, officially Islamic republic of Iran is a country on the Persian Gulf in western Asia with historical sites dating to the Persian Empire. Iran Comprising a land area of 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), it is the second-largest country in the Middle East and the 18th-largest in the world With 78.4 million inhabitants. It is the only country that has both a Caspian Sea and an Indian Ocean coastline. Iran has long been of geostrategic importance because of its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia. Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the Shah was forced into exile.

Tehran is the country’s capital and largest city, as well as its leading cultural and economic center. Iran is a major regional and middle power, exerting considerable influence in international energy security and the world economy through its large reserves of fossil fuels, which include the largest natural gas supply in the world and the fourth-largest proven oil reserves. Iran’s rich cultural legacy is reflected in part by its 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the fourth-largest number in Asia and 12th-largest in the world

PEOPLE

Iran is a diverse country, consisting of many religious and ethnic groups that are unified through a shared Persian language and culture, The majority of the population speaks the Persian language, which is also the official language of the country. Others include the rest of the Iranian languages within the greater Indo-European languages, and the languages of the other ethnicities in Iran. The northwestern region, Azerbaijan, is largely populated by Iranian Azeris, who are a Turkish people closely related to the people of Azerbaijan republic and Turkey.
Shia Islam is without a doubt the dominant religion in Iran, there also exists several religious minorities as well. there also exists several religious minorities as well. Sunni Islam in Iran is mainly practiced by ethnic minorities such as the Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. Other non-Islamic faiths also exist in smaller numbers, the most notable being Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Judaism, all three of which are recognized as minority religions by the Iranian constitution, and each of these are guaranteed representation in the Iranian parliament.

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HISTORY

Throughout history, Persia has generally been an empire, one whose fortunes varied enormously. In ancient times, Persia controlled most of what we now call the Middle East, and came close to conquering Greece. A few centuries later, Alexander the Great, conquered (among other things) the entire Persian Empire. Later, Persia was conquered by the Arabs in the expansion of Islam in the centuries immediately after the time of Muhammad; Persian and other languages of the region are still written with the Arabic alphabet. About 1250, Persia was overrun by the Mongols. Marco Polo passed through just after that, learned Persian, and wrote extensively of the region.

At other times, Persia conquered many of her neighbors. Her empire often included much of what we now call Central Asia (Polo counted Bukhara and Samarkand as Persian cities), and sometimes various other areas. A few generations after the Mongols took Persia, the dynasty they founded there took all of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and most of India. The Indian term “Moghul” for some of their rulers is from “Mongol”, via Persia. Even in periods when she did not rule them, Persia has always exerted a large cultural influence on her neighbors, especially Afghanistan and Central Asia.

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Iran has a diverse climate. In the northwest, winters are cold with heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures during December and January. Spring and fall are relatively mild, while summers are dry and hot. In the south, winters are mild and the summers are very hot, having average daily temperatures in July exceeding 38°C (100°F) and can hit 50°C in parts of the desert. On the Khuzestan plain, summer heat is accompanied by high humidity.

In general, Iran has an arid climate in which most of the relatively scant annual precipitation falls from October through April. In most of the country, yearly precipitation averages 25 centimeters or less. The major exceptions are the higher mountain valleys of the Zagros and the Caspian coastal plain, where precipitation averages at least 50cm annually. In the western part of the Caspian, rainfall exceeds 100cm annually and is distributed relatively evenly throughout the year.

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IRANIAN VISA TYPES AND REGULATIONS

Visa before your arrival in Iran

Getting a visa prior to your arrival in Iran is by far the safest way to avoid any kind of inconveniences, who could disturb your stay in Iran. Process is relatively simple, you will have to go through 2 main steps, more explanation beside. The duration of the visa is 30 days, against only 15 days if you get your visa at the airport. This option is heavily recommended for tourists who would like to stay in the country for a stay superior to one month, or for those who don’t want to take the risk of doing the Visa on Arrival (at the airport). It’s also the only option you have if you want to go to Iran via a border crossing.

As mentioned above, the process consists in two main steps:
First, you will have to obtain a visa authorization number from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
Secondly, once you got this authorization number, you must go to the embassy/consulate previously chosen to get your visa.

The only option you have to get this number is to contact an Iranian tour operator. You will have to fulfill a form about our personal details and your planned itinerary. This tour operator will contact the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on your behalf to request an authorization number. The average time for getting this number is around 10 days. Be careful, in this form you will have to specify in which embassy/consulate you would like to pick up your visa, please be informed that it will not possible to change this location after.
As an Iranian tour operator, we are offering this service for the bargain price of 30 euros. Click here if you would like to directed towards our visa form.

How long does it take to get this authorization number ?
In general, we estimate that it should take around 10 days for your number to be issued. Keep in mind that on Thursday and Friday the ministry is closed, and your number could be delayed because of various public holidays of the Iranian calendar.
We will send you an email once your number has been issued.

Once you receive an email from our agency with your authorization number, you can go to the embassy/consulate that you had previously chosen and start the second step of the visa process.
The documents you will have to bring differ from an embassy to another, and you should contact them before to make sure about what you really have to bring. Most of embassies will require some identity photos (women must wear a scarf on the picture), a photocopy of your passport identity page, an attestation of insurance for the time you will be in Iran and enough money to pay for your visa. You will also have to fulfill an another form with personal information.
If your visa application is accepted, the embassy/consulate can issue your visa in a few hours or in one or two weeks, depending on the location and amount of work of the embassy/consulate. An emergency option is often offered by embassies and consulate in order to make your visa faster if you are in a rush.

To obtain your authorization number through our agency, it will cost 30 euros. On top of that you will have to add the payment of your visa to the embassy or consulate. The amount to pay depends of your nationality and you should check with the embassy to know the current fee.

If you wish to do this process calmly and without stress, we recommend you to start 2 months before your arrival in Iran.

This visa allows you to stay for 30 days, but you can extend your visa twice once in Iran. In total, you can hope staying for a maximum of 90 days.

Once your visa has been issued, his validity is 3 months, meaning that once you have your visa, you have 3 months to enter the country.

It is now possible to obtain your visa for Iran when you arrive in the airport. This process is named “Visa On Arrival” and is possible in 7 differents internationals iranians airports :

– Imam Khomeini (Aéroport International de Téhéran, abbréviation IKA)
– Isfahan
– Shiraz
– Mashhad
– Tabriz
– Gheshm Island
– Kish Island

Thanks to this visa, you will be granted a period of 30 days to visit Iran.

This process is not available for the following citizens :

Afghanistan
Bangladesh
Canada
Colombia
India
Iraq
Jordan
Kazakhstan
Kyrgyzstan
Pakistan
Somalia
Tajikistan
Turkmenistan
United Kingdom
United States
Uzbekistan

GET IN IRAN

By Plane

All international flights to Tehran land at the new Imam Khomeini International Airport [3] based 37 km southwest of Tehran. Pilgrimage flights to Saudi Arabia still fly from Mehrabad airport. There are 70 smaller regional airports, for example those in Shiraz, Mashhad, and Isfahan, and these have daily flights to many international destinations.

Dubai has scheduled flights to many Iranian cities, including Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Kerman, Lar, Mashhad, Tabriz, Kish Island, Bandar Abbas, Bushher, Zahedan, Kermanshah, Chah Bahar and is therefore worth considering travelling to Iran from. Flights are operated by Iran Air, Emirates (for Tehran), Iran Aseman Airlines, Mahan Air and other Iranian companies. Fares are relatively cheap on Iranian carriers, ranging from US$100-250 for a return trip depending on your destination and time of booking.

IranAir and MahanAir connect Tehran with some of the major European cities as well as destinations in Asia and Middle East. European companies landing in Tehran include BMI, Lufthansa, KLM, Alitalia, Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Aeroflot and Middle-Eastern airlines: Saudi Arabian Airlines, Emirates, and Etihad. AirAsia also has flights to/from Kuala Lumpur beginning on August 2010 (suspended as of October 2012). So finding a flight to Iran should not be hard.

Connections are also easily available via Manama, Bahrain using Gulf Air (but has stopped recently). Additionally, Qatar airlines offers several flights to Iran and provides non-stop service to Doha from to many US cities.

Low-cost carriers (LCC) also operate flights to Tehran or other cities in Iran.
Pegasus Airlines has flights to Tehran via Istanbul.
Germania Airline has flights to Tehran via Berlin, Dusseldorf and Hamburg and to Mashhad via Hamburg.
Air Arabia has flights to Tehran and Shiraz via Sharjah.
Jazeera Airways has flights to Mashhad via Kuwait.
Air Asia has flights to Tehran via Kuala Lumpur (suspended as of October 2012).
Shaheen Air has flights from Mashhad to Lahore in Pakistan.

Note that if not staying in Tehran and planning to get to any city other than Tehran upon your arrival, you would have to change airports, from Imam Khomeini to Mehrabad, 40km away, to get to your domestic flight. Allow at least 3-4h between the flights. If going to Mashhad, you may be able to avoid the plane change in Iran using Turkish Airlines, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways, Jazeera Airways, or Qatar Airways. If going to Shiraz, several flights from Persian Gulf States are available. For Tabriz, you can try travelling via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines or via Baku on IranAir.

In spite of economic sanctions the majority of Iranian based airlines did not have high level of incidents during recent years. However sanctions resulted in inability to purchase new planes and the fleet of all airlines are old. Among Iranian based airlines Iran Air, Mahan Air and Aseman Airlines have been completely safe with no serious incidents during recent years. Due to safety issues flying with other Iranian based airlines is not recommended. The service and flying skill of Iranian pilots are fairly well known.

Due to sanctions there are no direct flights at present from Canada or the USA, but you could travel via either Europe or Persian Gulf States. Non-stop flights from Dubai via JFK, IAD, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston or Toronto are good bets. Visitors from Australia or New Zealand can consider travelling via Dubai or Abu Dhabi, or can use a combination of Iran Air and Malaysian Airlines to get from any major city in Australia to Tehran, via Kuala Lumpur. Air Asia also has good deals from Australia and New Zealand to Tehran with a stop in Kuala Lumpur.

There are weekly flights from Sulamaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan to Sanandaj and from Arbil to Urmia.

From Damascus in Syria there are charter flights to Tabriz, Tehran, Yazd, Isfahan, Mashhad. There are agencies in Seyyedeh-Zeinab district (a popular place with Iranian pilgrimages) that can sell you empty seats of these charter flights for less than 100$.

Iran is connected to Pakistan via the following air links:

Iran Air connects Tehran to Karachi
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) connects Zahedan to Quetta
Shaheen Air a low cost Pakistani Airline connects Mashhad to Lahore.

By Train

Turkey

The Trans-Asia Express service runs weekly from Ankara, includes a ferry over Lake Van, crosses the Iranian border then stops at Tabriz before arriving in Tehran. The journey takes 59h (2 nights travelling), but you should expect up to 10 hours delay. Services leave Ankara Wednesday morning (arriving Friday evening) and Tehran Wednesday evening (arriving Saturday morning). The train includes couchettes and a dining car. This service used to run to and from Istanbul, but now only runs to and from Ankara, due to major engineering works around Istanbul.

The Tabriz-Van service (different from Trans-Asia Express service) is a weekly train between Van and Tabriz.

Syria

“This section used to be like this Before the horrible war: The Syria service does not cross Iraq, stopping at Aleppo before crossing the Turkish border, heading to Lake Van and running along a similar route to the Istanbul service. This journey takes 54h (2 nights travelling) leaving Damascus Monday mornings (arriving Tehran Wednesday evening) and leaving Tehran at the same time (Monday) with corresponding arrival in Damascus (Wednesday evening). Couchettes are available between Lake Van and Tehran, but need to be specially booked for the Syrian leg between Damascus and Lake Van otherwise reclining seats are available. The journey costs around USD90 for couchettes the whole way, and USD60 for the reclining seat and couchette combination.

Afghanistan

The Mashad-Herat railway which is under construction right now is completed untill the city of Khaf near Afghanistan border. The cheap daily service from Tehran to Khaf near Afghanistan border is about US$5.

Iraq

The Khorramshar-Basra railway will be completed in a few months which will connect Iranian railways to Iraq. There will be specially train routes for Iranians going to pilgrim in Najaf and Karbala. There is another project that will be completed later going through Kermanshah to Khanaqin in Iraq.

Pakistan

The Quetta-Zahedan line connects Pakistan and Iran by rail. A train leaves every 1st and 15th of each month from Quetta and the journey takes 11 hr and costs about €8. In opposite direction the train leaves every 3rd and 17th of each month from Zahedan.

In June 2009 a Bam-Zahedan freight line was completed, which connected Zahedan to rest of Iranian railway network. However there is no passenger train between Bam and Zahedan at present, so you have to take a bus or taxi.
Azerbaijan

The Nakhchivan-Tabriz service connects Nakhchivan_(city) with Tabriz and crosses from the Jolfa border. The route used to be a part of Tehran-Moscow railway line which is closed right now due to Azerbaijan-Armenia conflicts.

There is a railway from Baku to the border city of Astara. From there you can walk through the border to Iran. The railway is going to be joined to Tehran via Rasht and Zanjan.

Turkmenistan

There is a daily service between Mashad and Sarakhs border every day. The train does not go further because of the gauge changes. At the other side of the border there is train to Merv and Ashgabat.

Another railway from Gorgan is currently built up to the Inche Borun border which will continue to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

By Car

This requires a Carnet De Passage unless you wish to pay import tax. A Carnet can be acquired from your local drivers association (such as the RAC in the UK). An international driver’s license is highly recommended with translation into Persian very beneficial.

Some borders (Turkey notably) offer entry with an alternative “transit carnet”, available for 150-euro. This lasts 3 days. A 60-euro fine is levied at the exit border if you overstay these 3 days.

By bus
Armenia

From Armenia there are daily, modern buses from Yerevan to Tabriz and even further to Teheran. Alternatively you can take a marshrutka from the Kayakan bus terminal in Yerevan to Meghri or all the way to Agarak, which is the border town to Iran. In both directions the Marshrutka leaves quite early in the morning. Kapan and Karajan are more frequently served by marschrutkas but it is a long and mountainous (and therefore expensive) stretch to the border from there. From Meghri it is around 8 km to the border and hitching or a taxi is the only option. On the Iranian side the closest puplic transport can be found around 50km to the west in Jolfa, so a taxi for IRR80,000 (about USD3) is again the only commercial choice. Expect to be asked a lot for all taxi rides, so hard bargaining is essential. Making clear, or at least pretending that you have other choices may assist you to get fairer prices. Locals confirmed, that the taxi ride to Jolfa is 80000 Rial. Sometimes it’s easier to bargain if the taxi drivers know that you know the price.

The border is not busy at all, so when hitching you have to mainly stick with the truck drivers and Russian or Persian helps a lot here. Consider for yourself whether this is a safe option.

Turkey

You can find Seir-o-Safar agencies in Istanbul, Antalya and Ankara to buy cheap bus tickets for Tehran. A one-way ticket between Istanbul or Ankara and Tehran costs USD35.00.

Dogubeyazit/Bazergan This Turkey/Iran border crossing is easily (and fast) done by public transport. Take a bus to Dogubeyazit and a frequent minibus (c. TRY5, 15min) to the border. Cross the border stretch on foot, take the customs taxi (give the driver some IRR1,000 baksheesh) to the next village and take a taxi (USD3-4) to the bus terminal in Bazergan. There could also be buses to Bazergan, but the taxi drivers approaching you at the border are not the right people to ask for that. From there you can easily get buses to major destinations in Iran. Check the security situation in the region, due to the unsolved PKK conflict. Make sure you get a clear idea about exchange rates if you want to change Turkish lira or Iranian rials as the official bank at the border does not exchange these currencies and you have to deal with the plentiful black market.

There are also buses from Van to Urmia crossing from Esendere-Sero border. The buses cost €13 and it takes more than 6h to finish the 300km path. That’s because of poor roads in the Turkish side and also too many check stops at the Turkish side (more than 5) because of security reasons concerning the P.K.K.

You can also take mini buses to the town Yüksekova near the border and ask for taxis to bring you to the border. Cross the border check point on your own since the taxis won’t cross into Iran.

Pakistan

You can also (depending on the political situation) enter from Pakistan via the border crossing between Taftan (on the Pakistani side) and Zahedan (on the Iranian side) as long as you have a valid visa for Iran. You can NOT get a visa at the border. Overnight buses leave from Quetta arriving in Taftan in the early morning, from there you can either hire a taxi to the border or walk a couple of kilometres. Once across the border (which can take some time on the Iranian side, you need to organise transport to Zahedan (the local town) where buses depart for destinations in Eastern Iran such as Bam, Kerman and Yazd. See the Istanbul to New Delhi over land 3.9 Iran-Pakistan border, for more details on the crossing.

This option is particularly dangerous as Pakistani Balochistan is rife with sectarian violence perpetrated by Taliban and Al-Qaida linked militants against the Shia minority as well as a nationalist insurgency demanding independence for Balochistan. Buses coming to and from the Iranian border have been stopped on the outskirts of Quetta and all the Shias have been shot dead. Pakistani travellers returning from Iran have also been shot dead while waiting for connecting buses at bus stations in Turbat.

The train from Zahedan to Quetta is arguably a better option but presents problems of its own. There is also a flight from Zahedan to Quetta via PIA. In either case one must attempt to leave Quetta as soon as possible as there are gangs of sectarian target-killers belonging to Lashkar Jhangvi roaming the streets and assassinating Shias. They have also been known to kidnap westerners for ransom. Videotaped executions of kidnapped westerners have also been made and subsequently been posted onto the internet.

Iraq

There are daily buses from Arbil to Urmia, also there are daily buses from Sanandaj and Kermanshah to Sulaymaniyah. From Tehran, there are also buses to Sulaymaniyah and Arbil.
Afghanistan

There are daily buses between Herat and Mashad. The buses go through Dogharoun Border. The road has been built by Iran and is reported safe.
Turkmenistan

A bus service also runs between Ashgabat and Mashhad.

Iranian Main Currency:
The first and the official currency in Iran is Iranian Rial (Rls) but the currency people use informally, is Tomans. Basically, each Toman is equal to 10 Rials (1 Toman=10 Rials). So if you want to buy anything in Iran you should calculate Tomans instead of Rials.


10000 Rials = 1000 Tomans

Iranian Rial (IRR, symbol Rls). Currently, we use eight different banknotes (100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500 Rials) and five different coins (5000, 2000, 1000, 500 and 250 Rials).


10000 Rials = 1000 Tomans


10000 Rials = 1000 Tomans


10,000 Rials = 1,000 Tomans

Currency:
US dollars; Euro; GBP are all accepted in Iran. You should change your money in a currency exchange, and you will have no problem finding them all around the country. Use Iranian Rials when you are wondering out and shopping or eating (most places only accept Rials). Like everything in Iran, things can change overnight so make sure you check the exchange rate.
Currency Exchange:
The quickest and easiest way to change cash is at an official money-exchange office, where the whole deal is done in seconds, unlike in most banks where half an hour is considered fast. Exchange shops can be found in mostcities, usually signed in English. Changing money in an exchange shop is much safer than doing so with a street moneychanger. It is advisable to bring hard currency for exchange purposes.

Food And Drinking

Meal Times

Meal times in Iran vary considerably from those in Europe and North America. Lunch can be served 12:00-15:00 and dinner is often eaten after 20:00. These and other social occasions in Iran are often long, drawn-out affairs conducted in a relatively relaxed tempo, often involving pastries, fruit and possibly nuts. As it is considered rude to refuse what is served, visitors should accept the items offered, even if they do not intend to consume them.

The importation and consumption of alcohol is strictly banned. Penalties are severe. Religious minorities, however, are not allowed to manufacture and consume alcohol, and not to sell or import it. Pork and pork products are forbidden and, like alcohol, their import is illegal.

The good news for travelers is that Iranian cuisine is superb. A wide range of influences from Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia, Europe and the Middle East have created a diverse, relatively healthy range of dishes that focus on fresh produce and aromatic herbs. The bad news, however, is that Iranians prefer to eat at home, rather than in restaurants, so decent eateries are scarce and stick to a repetitive selection of dishes (mainly kebabs). An invitation to an Iranian home for dinner will be a definite highlight of your stay. When visiting an Iranian household for the first time or on a special occasion it is customary for Iranians to bring a small gift. Flowers, sweets or pastries are popular gift choices.

Traditional cuisine

Fragrant rice (berenj) is the staple of Iranian food. Boiled and then steamed, it is often coloured with saffron or flavoured with a variety of spices. When served plain as an accompaniment it is known as chelo. The two most common meat / chelo combinations are kebab variations (chelo kabāb) or rotisserie chicken (chelo morgh). Flavoured rice, known as polo, is often served as a main course or as an accompaniment to a meat dish. Examples include shirin polo flavoured with orange zest, young cherries and honey glazed carrots, the broad-bean and herb heavy bāghli polo and sabzi polo laced with parsley, dill and mint.
The ubiquitous Persian Kabab is often served with both plain rice and a special (yellow cake) rice called tah-chin.

At home people most often eat rice with a thick stew (khoresht,) containing a modest amount of meat. There are dozens of khoresht variations such as the sweet and sour fessenjān made from ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, ghormeh-sabzi based on fresh herbs, dried limes and kidney beans, gheimeh flavoured with split-peas and often garnished with French fries, and the sweet sib-āloo which uses apples and plums.

Hearty Iranian soups (āsh) are meals in themselves. The most popular is the vegetarian āsh reshteh made from herbs, chickpeas and thick noodles, and garnished with yogurt and fried onions.

Flat bread (nān) is another pillar of Iranian food. It is served at breakfast with herbs, feta cheese and a variety of jams, or as an accompaniment to meals. Sangak is a dimpled variety cooked on a pebbled oven while lavāsh is a thin and bland staple.
International cuisine

There are several good international restaurants which offer Chinese, Japanese, Italian and French food as well as vegetarian menus in Tehran and other major cities.

Most food outlets in Iran are either kabābis or fast food outlets serving a standard fare of burgers, sandwiches, felafels or pizza. A burger and a soft drink at a snack shop will fill you up at lunchtime for around IR 100,000, while pizzas start at IR 150,000.

Many tea-houses also serve traditional snacks and light meals. The most common of these is ābgusht a hot pot made from lamb, chickpeas and dried limes that is also known as dizi, also the name of the dish in which its served. You will be given a bowl (the dizi) containing the ābgusht and another, smaller one. Drain the broth into the smaller bowl and eat it like a soup with the bread provided. Then pound the remaining meat and vegetables into a paste with the pestle provided and eat with even more bread, pieces raw onion and wads of fresh herbs.

The rice and kebab dish chelo kabāb and its half-dozen variations are the most common (and often the only) items on Iranian restaurant menus. A grilled skewer of meat is served on a bed of fluffy rice, and accompanied by an array of condiments. You can add butter, grilled tomatoes and a sour spice known as somāgh to your rice, while some restaurants also provide a raw egg yolk. Raw onion and fresh basil are used to clear your palate between mouthfuls. Variations in kabāb dishes come from the meats they are served with.

You will commonly see:

Kabāb koobideh – a kebab of minced beef, shredded onion and spices.

Kabāb barg – pieces of lamb marinated in lemon juice and shredded onion.

Kabāb makhsoos – usually the most expensive option, this big kebab uses the highest quality meat.

Joojeh kabāb – a skewer of chicken pieces marinated in lemon juice and saffron.

Kabāb bakhtiāri – great for the indecisive eater, this is a skewer of alternating chicken and lamb pieces.

The never ending demand for dentists in Iran gives testament to the country’s obsession with sweets and pastries, known collectively as shirini.

Iranian baghlava tends to be harder and more crystalline than its Turkish equivalent while the pistachio noughat called gaz is an Isfahan speciality. Sohan is a rich pistachio brittle popular in Qom, and freshly-baked pastries are often taken as gifts to people’s houses. Lavāshak fruit leathers are delicious fruit leathers made from dried plums.

Honey-saffron and pistachio are just two local flavours of ice cream, while fāloodeh is a deliciously refreshing sorbet made from rosewater and vermicelli noodles made from starch, served with lashings of lemon juice.
Special needs

Given that most travelers are stuck eating kebabs for much of their trip, vegetarians will have a particularly difficult time in Iran. Most snack shops sell felafels and garden salads (sālād-e-fassl) and greengrocers are common. Most ash varieties are meat-free and filling, as are most variations of kookoo, the Iranian take on the frittata. The phrases man giaa-khaar hastam (I am vegetarian) and bedoon-e goosht (without meat) will come in handy.

It’s a safe bet that all food in Iran is halal (ḥalāl, halaal) and will conform with Islamic dietary laws as specified in the Qur’an, however those seeking a strict kosher diet may have to concentrate their efforts in the districts with higher numbers of Jewish inhabitants. If in Tehran look in areas such as older parts in the south of the city, like Udlajan or the Yusef Abad neighbourhood.
Drink

Black tea (chāi) is the national drink of alcohol-free Iran. It is served strong and with crystallised or cubed sugar (ghand) which is held artfully between the teeth while tea is sipped through. You can try asking for milk in your tea, but expect nothing but strange looks or a big delay in return.

Tea houses (chāi khāneh) are a favourite local haunt for men (and less commonly families) to drink tea and puff away on a water pipe. Lovers of coffee (ghahveh) have little to cheer in Iran but their choices have increased recently. Where available, it is served Turkish style, French coffee or espresso. Imported instant coffee (nescāffe) and instant Cappuccino are available also.

A wide variety of fruit juices (āb mive) and drinks are available from shops and street vendors including cherry cordial (sharbat ālbāloo) and banana milkshakes (shir moz).

Soft drinks are widely available. International products such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and their brand names including 7up, Sprite and Fanta have sold alongside local brands such as Zam Zam Cola , (Zam Zam Kola). The local cola has a taste not unlike “Coca-Cola Original” or “Pepsi Original”. Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s concentrates entered Iran via Irish subsidiaries and circumvented the US trade embargoes. Ironically ZamZam was originally launched in 1954 as a subsidiary of the Pepsi Cola company. As an intriguing outcome of the Iranian cola wars the real coke was generally sold in plastic bottles and the non-genuine coke, using a substitute syrup devised to overcome earlier Clinton era US imposed embargoes, was distributed in the real thing bottles that the then syrup-less bottler was left stuck with at the time.

Doogh is a sour drink made from yogurt, salt, and water (sometimes gaseous) and sometimes flavored with mint or other plants. It takes some getting used to, but will rehydrate you quickly in the heat of Iran’s summer. It is the same as Turkish Ayran.

Drinking alcohol is illegal for Muslims only, and if seen by police may be met with punishment. Therefore, you will not find any place in Iran that openly sells alcohol. However it is legal for Non-Muslims to produce alcohol for their consumption. Drinking is, however, common among some people, especially during parties and weddings, and is officially tolerated for use among the small Christian and Jewish communities but only for religious purposes (e.g., wine for holy communion). There is no set legal drinking/purchasing age for Non-Muslims. The Iranian Government allows Non-Muslims to bring alcoholic beverages into the country.

Obligations and Safety

Dress Code for Women

Obeying Islamic rules including Hijab or Islamic dress-code is necessary in Iran. However these rules are not observed very strict, especially for tourists and foreigners. You must not worry about maintaining your hijab, since in times you have forgotten about it, the maximum penalty will be a request) to make it correct.
There are some minimum requirements for foreign women dress-code in public places:
1. Color: It’s a completely false belief that wearing must be dark in Iran. There is no limitation in this respect and we recommend you make sure using light colors in summer.
2. Head: Hair should be covered. It does not mean you shall have a tight scarf around your head. Don’t worry, It is very usual that some parts remain out of the cover. It’s quite acceptable for women to allow whips of their hair to frame their face. Appropriate hats & caps can do this function as well as scarves. Scarf is the most common covering for head and is called “Roosari” in Farsi.
3. Body: Should be covered with loose clothes like man shirt, coat or manteau. Arms should not be bare.
4. Legs & feet: Legs should be covered down to ankles. Feet can be bare and you can wear sandals. Tight jeans are no problem.

Hard as it is to believe, you cannot use either type of card in Iran. Because of the economic sanctions against Iran, foreign credit cards and ATM cards cannot be used anywhere within the country. The easiest thing to do is to take dollar and change it at money exchange offices in the cities you visit. The rates at private money exchanges, which are completely legal in Iran, are much better than the rates given at hotels or banks.

Alcohol in Iran is prohibited for the majority of its citizens, due to laws against consumption of alcohol by Iranian Muslims who make up the great majority of the country. Alcohol consumption is regulated under the Islamic legal term of crimes against God.

There is a free trade shopping zone on Kish Island, where visitors can take advantage of tax-free prices. Tipping is not always necessary in Iran, as service charges are almost always included in your bill. An additional five per cent may be added if you thought the service was very good.

Taxis in Iran are yellow in color but vary in type of the car. Sometimes you might find green or white taxis with a blue strip on them as well. Taxis in Iran are usually shared, so you will get on a taxi with three strangers on the route. Naturally, you can always decide not to share the taxi, but in this case, you will have to wait for an empty taxi and tell to the driver that you need it alone. Here comes the pricing, if you get a taxi alone in a defined route, then you will have to pay as four people. However, if you ask the driver to get off during the route, you have to negotiate the price based on different routes you will pass to your destination, considering also the amount of traffic.

Most Iranians have squat toilets at home, but the majority of better hotels have thrones or a choice of loos. Almost all public toilets are squats and while some are regularly cleaned, others are very definitely not. Still, there are usually enough options that you won’t have to enter anywhere too stinky. Mosques, petrol stations, bus and train stations and airport terminals always have toilets, sans toilet paper. Fortunately, most of the ubiquitous small grocery stores stock toilet paper or tissues. All but the cheapest guesthouses now supply toilet paper too, though sometimes you’ll need to ask. That said, it’s worth remembering that the wise traveler carries an emergency stash of TP. whatever you use, most plumbing is not designed for paper so put your used sheets in the bin not the bowl.

There are a lot of military and other sensitive facilities in Iran. Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited. Any transgression may result in detention and serious criminal charges, including espionage, which can carry the death penalty. Do not photograph any military object, jails, harbors, or telecommunication devices, airports or other objects and facilities which you suspect are military in nature. Be aware that this rule is taken very seriously in Iran.

Please note that as a desert region, the Middle East can have extreme weather. Temperatures are generally hot with little rain. This can become extreme during the summer months of June to August. In the months of December to March it can be very cold, particularly next to the river or the ocean and out in the desert where night temperatures can drop dramatically. Even in the hot months, it can get cold in the desert at night. Consider bringing a sleeping bag, thermals, scarf, gloves and a warm jacket for travel in this period, especially on itineraries which include camping. A light water and windproof jacket is useful and a hat is essential

Antacid
Diarrhea medicine (loperamide or bismuth subsalicylate)
Antihistamine
Motion sickness medicine
Cough drops
Cough suppression /expectorant
Decongestant
Medicine for pain and fever (acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen)
Mild laxative
Mild sedative or other sleep aid
Saline nose spray

Public holidays commemorate either religious or secular events. It’s worth staying aware of the dates, especially if you are planning to extend your visa. Government offices and just about everything else will close for the morning, at least, on a holiday, but many small businesses open after lunch. Transport functions fairly normally and hotels remain open, but many restaurants will close. Holidays are sometimes extended for a day if they fall near the Iranian weekend. In Tehran, public holidays are sometimes announced at short notice when air pollution reaches dangerous levels. In recent years that has been in mid July and late November/early December. These holidays affect government offices, schools, universities, sporting arena and can (but doesn’t always) include museums.
March 21-25th NOROOZ (New Year’s holidays).
April 2nd, 13th Day of New year. On this day everyone stays out of doors thus repulsing evil according to an ancient tradition
April 1st Islamic Republic Day
June 4th Death of Imam Khomeini
June 5th National Uprising, 1963
February 11th Victory of Islamic Revolution
March 9th 1950 Oil Industry Nationalized,
RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS
13th Rajab Imam Ali’s Birthday.
27th Rajab Mission of Holy Prophet.
15th Sha’ban Birthday of Twelfth Imam
21st Ramadan Imam Ali’s Martyrdom.
1st Shawwal End of Fasting Month.
25th Shawwal Martyrdom of Imam Sadiq
11th Zi-Qa’deh Birthday of Imam Reza
10th Zi-Hajeh the Festival of Sacrifices (Qadir)
9th Muharram Tassoua
10th Muharram Ashura
20th Safar Arba’in-e Hosseini
28th Safar Death of Prophet, Martyrdom of Imam Hassan.
17th Rabi’ al awwal Birth of Prophet and Imam Sadiq.

Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian minorities have their own holidays.
December 25 (Christmas) is not a national holiday Iran.

Ramadan
During the month known in Iran as Ramadan, Muslims are expected to perform a dawn-to-dusk fast that includes abstaining from all drinks (including water) and from smoking.
Businesses and shops keep odd hours. However, public transport continues to function and travelers are exempt from the fast so you don’t need to worry about finding food on flights, trains or bus trips, and many hotels keep their restaurants open. Other restaurants either close altogether or open only after dark. Many shops selling food remain open throughout Ramadan, so you can buy food to eat in your room.
Although you shouldn’t have many problems in larger cities, in rural areas finding any food might be difficult during daylight hours.

Contact and Emergency

Emergencies

Ambulance: 115
Directory inquiries: 118
Fire Brigade: 125
Police: 110 (112 from mobile (cell) phones will also get you through to the local police)
Fire & Rescue: 125

Tehran Mehrabad Airport: 21 6693 0934
Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport: 21 5100 6015

Aeroflot 21 880 8480
Air France 21 670 4111
Air India 21 873 9762
Austrian Airlines 21 875 8984
British Airways 21 204 4552
Emirates 21 879 6786
Gulf 21 225 3287
Iran Air 21 880 8472
KLM 21 204 4757
Turkish Airlines 21 874 8450

Azad Hospital 21 760 1001
Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital 21 271 8000-9
Tehran Clinic 21 872 8113

Cities Code
Tehran 021
Ahar 0426
Ahvaz 0611
Aliabad 0173
Amol 0121
Andimeshk 0642
Ardabil 0451
Astara 0182
Babol 0111
Bam 0344
Bandar Abbas 0761
Bandar Anzali 0181
Bandar Golmankhaneh 0443
Bandar Langeh 0762
Bazargan 0462
Behshahr 0152
Bijar 0872
Bisotun 0832
Bojnurd 0584
Borujerd 0622
Bushehr 0771
Chalus 0191
Damghan 0232
Dezful 0641
Esfahan 0311
Firuz Abad 0712
Fuman 0132
Hamadan 0811
Kalat 0512
Kashan 0361
Kerman 0341
Khorramabad 0661
Khoy 044
Kish 0764
Jolfa 0492
Lahijan 0141
Mahabad 044
Malayer 0851
Marand 0491
Maraqeh 0421
Marivan 0875
Masshad 0511
Meshgin Shahr 0452
Minab
Mirjaveh
Miyandoab 044
Nahavand
Noshahr 0191
Orumiyeh 044
Paveh 0832
Qazvin 0281
Qeshm 0763
Qom 0251
Rasht 0131
Rayen 0342
Shahrud 0273
Salmas 0461
Sanandaj 0871
Saraeyn 0452
Sari 0151
Shahre Kord 0381
Shiraz 0711
Shush 0642
Shushtar 0612
Sirjan 0345
Somaeh Sara 0182
Tabas 0353
Tabriz 0411
Taybad 0529
Torbat-e Jam 0529
Torqabeh 0512
Yazd 0351
Zabol 0542
Zahedan 0541
Zanjan 0241

FAQ

Do Women have clothing limitations?

Women have to cover their body and their hair in public (restaurants and hotel lobbies are public). According to the law, only the face and the hands of women may be visible, therefore it is best to wear a headscarf to cover the hair and a coat to cover the body. The body has to be covered in such a way that the skin of the woman is not visible. The hips, the legs and the feet should not be visible. It is best to wear wide clothing, so that the lines of the body are not recognizable. The headscarf should cover the hair fully. The color of the scarf and the clothing does not matter, and one is free to wear any color.

Everybody has to obey the Islamic clothing rules in Iran. Not only women have to stick to the rules, also men have certain rules to stick to: the body of the men should be fully covered. Only hands, the neck, and the head may be visible. Short trousers are strictly prohibited. It is recommended to wear shirts with short sleeves rather than T-shirts. It is very important that the buttons of the shirt are not open. It is not forbidden to wear a tie or a bowtie.

It is not necessary to wear a chador unless one wants to visit a holy mosque or shrine. Wherever the chador is a must, one will be given a chador.

It can happen that the head scarf falls down and does not cover the hair. In those cases most of the people advise one to cover up again. Also the police advise one to cover the hair.

The women should not make themselves up too much, but making up is not forbidden. It is allowed to wear sunglasses.

According to Islam, it is forbidden to enjoy alcohol at all, no matter in what form. It is forbidden to have alcoholic food or beverage, to trade with alcohol, and to serve alcohol.

Entering Iran; bringing alcohol is forbbidden. It is possible to get non-alcoholic beverages almost all over the country.

The water is drinkable, but it may contain too many minerals. It is recommended to have mineral water.

Vegetarians have to order special prepared food, as there is usually no vegetarian food available.

Coffee is almost served in any coffee shop or teahouse all around the big cities. In the hotels’ lobbies and coffee shops almost in all cities and towns and even in some restaurant (after having the meal) coffee is served. Of course if you wish to visit small towns and villages you are recommended to have your coffee with you.

Iranian bread is flat, and varying. Different sorts of flat bread, baked in traditional ways, is available.

Most of Iranian food does not contain garlic.

The Iranian official currency is Rial. Rials are available in coins (1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 250 Rls.) and notes (100, 200, 500, 1.000, 2.000, 5.000, and 10.000 Rls.). Coins are only marked in Persian script and numerals, but one side of the notes is printed in English.

It is possible to exchange money already at the airport, no matter at what time; but only special banks do exchange money. Lately, the exchange of foreign currencies has been allowed, and there are exchange shops available in most big cities. The exchange rates of these shops are usually higher than the official rate. The following currencies can be easily exchanged at any Exchange Shop: US Dollars, German Marks, British Pounds, French Franken, and Japanese Jen.

The exchange rates may change quite often, but it is possible to find out the exchange rates at any bank.

In some places, it is possible to pay by credit cards. Master Card and Visa are accepted.

We believe that offering a tour without the flight gives you several advantages. You are able to look around for the best deals on offer, probably saving yourself a lot of money. Also you have far greater flexibility in deciding which airline you might prefer to book with, where you want to come from, or where you might want to stop off en-route. As well as these, many people join our tours when they are already in the country, removing the need for a flight altogether.

We don’t produce expensive brochures – but we hope you like our website. 2-Other tour operators hide the local cost of arranging these tours by adding in the air fare. 2-You get what you see with us! The majority of our tours are sold direct so there are no travel agent commissions We don’t save when it comes to putting together your tour but we do ensure that the marketing and advertising costs are kept to a minimum. We know that a satisfied customer will refer a friend and that’s why we’re successful.

After you have booked, we will email you with pre-departure information. This will include details of the hotel where you will join the tour and spend your first night.

Our tours include an airport transfer only if you arrive on the first day of the tour. If you arrive one day before the start of the tour, we can organise an extra night’s accommodation for you. Details will be included in the pre-departure information we send you after your booking. If you arrive two days or more before the start of the tour, we can offer you our accommodation package . Extra nights can be added to this package if you require.

There are many great opportunities for buying exciting and valuable souvenirs on many of our tours. However, it is not always practical to carry large items around. Most places can arrange for items such as carpets to be shipped home at relatively low costs and this is usually a better and safer policy.

We try to help groups keen on joining our trips in several ways. Anyone who has been on one of our tours before may benefit from our ‘refer a friend’ scheme. We also try to offer group discounts for parties of over 4 persons. Please contact us for specific details for your tour.

If you have a group who are interested in some form of adventure travel linked to the activities or destinations in which we operate, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will try to create exactly what you are looking for. We are keen to help in this way, as in some cases in the past, this has given us new ideas for tours to run permanently.

Each of our tours is graded, enabling you to determine prior to booking whether or not it’s suitable for you. You should be fairly confident that you match our criteria for taking part in that particular activity.

We’re not just your average tour company. We have some incredibly experienced staff that really know what they’re talking about. We haven’t just been selling these trips, we’ve been doing them!