Question: I want to backpack/solo travel in Iran this December-January. I am American so I am well aware that I need to be part of a tour or need to hire a LICENSED private guide. I guess I want to hire someone who is affordable but solid through an agency that will help me get my visa. As I have checked www.uppersia.com is the cheapest one. Also, any advice on whether or not this is a good/safe time for Americans to travel independently in Iran. Media coverage doesn't help at all.
Answer: The American visitors of Iran should take part in a tour and be accompanied by a tour guide to travel in Iran and accommodate in the hotels. The visa reference number for the Americans takes about 30-45 days to be secured from the MFA. In the visa application form the MFA should be informed about the hotels and itinerary in Iran. After having the reference number, the visa can be collected in two working days by direct referral or in one working week by posting the docs to the Iran embassy. You should hire your guide or take the tour from the agency which applies for your visa. Moreover, the same agency should book your hotel as well, so it is better to take your all inclusive tour from that particular tour operator.