Few countries in the world evoke more prejudice and mistrust than Iran. But, its exceptional artistic heritage and the incredibly hospitable and friendly people make visiting the land of Ancient Persia a fascinating experience. Discover now why you should visit Iran, one of the most misunderstood yet interesting countries in the Middle East.
When I told my mum I was going to visit Iran, her first reaction was to ask me: “but Ana, why do you always choose such countries?” By “such countries”, my mother means countries such as Turkey, Senegal, Indonesia, Morocco or Lebanon. Countries that are indeed completely different from each other but have, to me, two things in common:
- The main religion is Islam in each of these countries (and this is why the West consider them unsafe).
- These are the countries where I had the best time.
To answer my mum’s question, there are so many reasons why I always choose “such countries” that I don’t even know where to start. But, the first thing that comes to my mind is that traveling means so much more to me than only sightseeing! Traveling also means sharing, learning, and feeling; it was actually in “such countries” where I felt most alive.
Because I am one of those travelers who is not that impressed by cities like Paris or New York. Skyscrapers and conventional tourism have very little to say to me. What I really enjoy while traveling are the stories, the cultures, the impossible languages, and the experiences, especially the experiences. I love places where the music in the radio is different and unfamiliar; the tingle in my stomach when I’m lost, both physically and in translation; the power of the smile as a lingua franca.
Because I prefer to spend my afternoon drinking tea and sharing stories with new friends rather than spending it in a museum. The exchange is by far more interesting. Because I love to taste new foods and I am happy when there aren’t any McDonalds around. Because I don’t trust the media and don’t take people who talk rubbish about places they have never been too seriously.
If my mother had had the opportunity to travel with me, I am sure she would understand me. She would not be worried when I go traveling to any “such countries”. But, since she has not had the opportunity to travel the world, she only knows what the media tells her. Sadly, from many countries, she only gets news that is either bad or very bad. Iran is one of “such countries”, a country we don’t really know much about and because of this, it scares us.
When I told my friends I was going to visit Iran, alone, their reactions were not that different to my mother’s. First, their faces showed concern, and then their mouths started shouting comments such as,
“But, why Iran?”
“Are you crazy?”
“There aren’t any other places for you to go?” and so on.
I don’t blame them. I acknowledge the location of Iran in the map, surrounded by countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan; it is not very inviting. Another true fact is that the Islamic Republic of Iran is governed by a theocratic and dictatorial regime that is certainly not a role model in the implementation of Human Rights. But, despite of this, Iran is definitely not part of the “Axis of Evil” as George W. Bush called it.
Today’s Iran is not defined by its government but by its citizens who are by far the most friendly and hospitable people I ever met. Nowadays, Iran is a safe country, free of war and terrorism. However, due to the unfamiliarity we have with this country, and the bad reputation that the media encourages, it is not surprising that visiting Iran is not on the bucket list for most people. I am sure however those who did visit Iran will have three things in common with me:
- The certainty that the world is wrong about Iran, and this is a safe country.
- Lots of good memories about the time they spent in Iran.
- A strong desire to visit Iran again someday.
Visiting Iran is not only safe, but also is a unique experience that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. There are many reasons to choose this country, but I will only mention some of them. In addition, I encourage you to travel to Iran solo, especially if you are a woman. Traveling as a solo female can have disadvantages in many countries. But, believe me, this is not the case of Iran where traveling as a solo woman has only advantages. If you travel to Iran as a solo woman, you will probably get all kinds of courtesies. And, only we women have privileges that men will never have, such as being able to see what Iranian women hide under their hijabs.
So, why visit Iran?
01 | Because of the Iranian hospitality
That is, without a doubt, the biggest treasure of this country. Respectful, polite, and kind, Iranian locals welcome travellers with open arms. They will thank you for having chosen their country, and will show you the real meaning of hospitality: giving without expecting anything in exchange. As I said, the best way to discover Iran is to do it on your own without any tour. It is while traveling alone when you will have more opportunities to meet local people. But I have to warn you: if you are looking for solitude or a spiritual retreat, do not visit Iran! In Iran, you will be always the center of attention (in a good way) and will never be alone.
For Iranians, any time and place is good to start a conversation with a foreigner: on the bus, in a restaurant, on the street, or even in the mosque. It is also nothing rare that the conversation ends with an invite to an Iranian home (or even a wedding!). If this happens, be ready to say yes! As this will be the best part of your trip.
02 | Because of its ancient history
In Iran, you will be in the land of the Persian Empire, which was the cradle of civilization. You will have the opportunity to visit ancient places, like Persepolis, the capital of Persia that is more than 2500 years old and was destroyed by Alexander the Great. You can visit Isfahan, with its impossible blue architecture and one of the most beautiful squares in the world. You can go to Kashan, with its historic houses; and Yazd, with its wind towers and its adobe houses. Don’t forget to see Shiraz, with its pink mosque; so much light and color!
03 | For its World Heritage and its desert landscapes.
Iran has a number of sites recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO, such as the Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan, Persepolis, and the fascinating Golestan Palace in Tehran. Equally impressive are its mountainous and desert landscapes. Iran’s surface is three times the size of France, so imagine all the incredible places to discover in this country!
04 | Because visiting Iran on your own is easy and cheap
Although you should never take advantage of the unselfish Iranian hospitality, the truth is when you are around Iranians, it will be difficult to pay for anything! As I already mentioned, Iranians love having guests. They see us as blessings of God and open the doors of their homes with absolute trust. If you use Couchsurfing (highly recommended in Iran), the accommodation can be almost for free (although I repeat that you should not abuse of the Iranian hospitality, and it is always nice to give something in exchange). Traveling the country by bus is also dirt-cheap and the bus ticket even includes snacks and drinks.
05 | Because Iran is a non touristic country
But it is looking forward to discovering and being discovered. Now is the perfect time to visit Iran at its best. In addition, from this year, you can get your visa on arrival at the airport in no more than 15 minutes. Iran is slowly opening itself to tourism, so try to visit this country as soon as possible, before it gets full with tourists and inevitably lose some of its charm.
Iran is one of those countries that makes you love, teaches you, and even helps you. It will help you to be more open-minded, appreciate your freedom, and be aware of the prejudices of the West and the biased view that the media show us. Visiting Iran is a real lesson in humility that can inspire you to be a better person. For so many reasons Iran was an unforgettable trip that stuck with me more than I had expected. I will definitely visit Iran again. You should too.