It’s been already 2m since we’ve returned from Iran but I guess that our experience may still be useful to someone. First of all, Iran was a great experience marked mostly by incredibly welcoming & helpful people specially the staff at www.uppersia.com. Traveling around is very easy and there are plenty of sights in this wonderful country. So, if you still have doubts about going there – don’t – just look forward to a great experience. We had only 20 days available, traveled around independently, apart from Istanbul-Tabriz train no reservations in advance for Iran. Our itinerary: Istanbul– Tabriz – Sanandaj– Kermanshah – Tehran – Esfahan – Shiraz – Persepolis – Yazd – Mashhad – Caspian coast – Rasht – Alamut – Tabriz – Istanbul. Language: English doesn’t always work, learning some basic Farsi / Azeri / Kurdish inc. numerals (negotiating!) is very useful. Partly we’ve traveled during the ramazan which didn’t prove to be too bad though sometimes we may have gone hungry for longer than you would’ve otherwise. But you may be invited to the ramazan dinner which is a great experience. As for the money – in 20 days we spent 500eur pp and we certainly haven’t been saving (occasional splashing out for nice hotels and full-day chartering of taxis). New LP was pretty useful (though prices in general 30% higher than quoted). Specific about places we visited:

TRAIN IST-TABRIZ: it took 2 ½ days, good place for first interactions with Iranians; scenery fairly interesting; 9hr delay in Tabriz because of PKK activities in eastern TR & long mid-night wait for connecting train in Van & endless wait at IR border. Interesting enough but wouldn‘t do it again.

TABRIZ: to us the best possible introduction to Iran – wonderfully friendly place. Not many things to see apart from magnificent bazaar; don’t miss Nasser Khan at the tourist office & yummy breakfast at Rahnama. Slept at Darya Guesthouse – 220.000irr per room – clean, fairly central. For trip to Kandovan paid 50.000irr pp (4 in a taxi) – very touristy (Iranian picknickers) but worth going.
KORDESTAN: took a bus from Tabriz to Saqqez (4,5hrs, 13.500 pp) and then changing for Sanandaj (3,5hrs, 19.000 pp). In Sanandaj we stayed at Nehro on the main street (150.000 per room; decently clean, super central); town is very pleasant, people surprised seeing foreigners but again very kind & helpful. Don’t miss sweets shop at Imam St. – just look for a big queue inside – the best sweets we had in the whole country! We bought a kilo of them & enjoyed them with tea while overlooking the plains of eastern Iraq on the next day’s trip. Already the way from Sanandaj to Marivan (don’t miss the Kurdish Riviera of Zarivar lake) was fantastic (experience is even better if you have a Kurdish driver who never moves his foot from the accelerator while playing some sexy-sweet Kurdish pop). It got even better once getting into the Howraman valley proper – our route: Biyakara – Howraman-at-Takht – Nosud – Paveh. One of the absolute highlights of our trip. Driver took us finally to Taq-e-Bostan on the outskirts of Kermanshah. We paid 60eur to charter taxi for the whole day.
TEHRAN: night bus from Kermanshah (80.000irr pp) - the only place in Iran we didn’t like: polluted, over-crowded, horrible traffic, taxi sharks. Stayed at Firouzeh – a bit disinterested service (Mr Mousavi obviously on holidays), so-so location but decent rooms, altogether good value.
ESFAHAN: night train from Tehran (50.000irr pp) – clearly THE tourist attraction of Iran not to be missed! Magnificent town, fantastic sights, very friendly people, excellent food, we stayed 2 days but could easily stay for another day or two. Stayed in Hasht Behesh hotel – superb hotel although quite pricey for IR standards.
SHIRAZ: bus from Esfahan (50.000irr pp) – after Esfahan it can’t be the highlight anymore but certainly worth visiting. Again splashed out for staying at Park Saadi (45eur per room) but it was worth it. Chartered again a taxi for the whole day (Shiraz-Yazd) – 73eur via Pars tourist agency – negotiate, you may get a better rate. While Persepolis is a true highlight, Naqsh-e Rostam is just a step behind it & Pasaragadae is mainly a place where you can imagine the past glory while nothing much is left to see. Last stretch of the road to Yazd is particularly enjoyable.
YAZD: stayed at the Kohan – pleasant place with nice atmosphere, friendly staff, good cuisine – only slightly far from centre plus loads of mosquitoes in summer – still good value. Very pleasant old town to wander around, don’t miss the towers of silence just outside of town. Took also a classic day-trip to the surroundings (Kharanaq, Chak Chak) via Silk Road Hotel (210.000irr pp). Good guide, pleasant experience.
MASHHAD: night train from Yazd, stayed at Vali’s homestay for 200.000irr per room. Vali is quite a character, his wife prepares excellent dinners & he can take you to daytrips around town. He took us and 5 Polish backpackers to Kang & Abardeh villages which lie in picturesque green valleys surrounded by barren hills. Quite off the beaten track & pretty enjoyable. Price depends on your ability to pay – negotiate (makes it easier if you’re a woman ;-))
CASPIAN COAST – night train Mashhad-Tehran and bus Tehran-Chalus (stretch of road from Karaj to Chalus is wonderfully picturesque). We spent the night in Noshahr at Shahlizar Hotel (250.000irr per room – negotiate, they tried to rip us off). The room was very nice but practically nothing to see or do in the town. Next day took a mini-bus to Rasht; coast looked really boring, the only exception was Ramsar.
RASHT & ALAMUT – in the town negotiated a half-day trip (320.000irr) to Qal’eh Rudkhan & Masuleh. For day-trip Rasht-Alamut-Qazvin arranged a guide – Mr Hassan Mohit – very pricey for IR standards but he’s very kind & strictly professional. In Qazvin we had then a bit of problems to find the night bus going to Tabriz. There are no direct buses or trains; you need to wait for a passing bus from Tehran outside the bus station or on some major roundabout where bus drivers are picking up the passengers. The safest way to catch the passing bus seems to be going to the toll station where all buses passing through have to stop at the police boot (& you can get some tasty ramazan sweets from the police while waiting ;-)).

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