What should I know before traveling to Iran?
Before traveling to Iran, the first thing to do is remove the prejudices from the suitcase. The Islamic Republic is a diverse country in every way. From the landscape to customs or religion. From the misty forests of the north to the deserts of the south, from secularism to the most rigorous Islam. If we travel based on this idea, we will have the opportunity to discover a society that welcomes its visitors with an overflowing hospitality and a country still free of mass tourism with one of the most spectacular historical heritages on the planet. But first, there are never a few tips before you leave .
This is one of the issues that most worries travelers. Iranian legislation prohibits women from showing themselves in public without wearing a veil. This law serves the same for foreigners, so to visit Iran, tourists must put it on. Regarding the rest of the feminine dress , the clothes should not be too tight or transparent . The upper garments should cover the buttocks and the sleeves can not be short , although they can be three-quarters or rolled up. You can wear a long skirt, tight pants are allowed as long as the top garment covers the buttocks, and should not leave the calf in sight. Men can wear short-sleeved clothes, but not suspenders.
Nor are they allowed to wear shorts or ‘pirates’. Regarding footwear, there is no problem with wearing sandals, although in some mosques you can ask visitors to cover their feet, so it is advisable to always carry some socks in the backpack. We can also find that in some religious places women should wear chador, but usually they are distributed free of charge to the door of the temples and can be returned at the exit.
Way to travel
Since June 22, it is much easier to travel to Iran, since the airline Mahan Air offers direct flights between Barcelona and Tehran twice a week. In five and a half hours, one can plant at the Ayatolá Khomeini international airport. Other companies also offer options with scale, most with stops in Istanbul.
But before boarding the plane, you have to decide what kind of adventure we want. Are we prepared to travel alone or do we prefer an organized trip ? Both options are possible. For those who prefer to take a relaxed trip in which they only have to worry about getting up on time and taking pictures, various agencies such as Iran Travel organize from traditional group trips to more personalized options.
Traveling by free is also relatively easy . Iran is a country with good communications, internal flights operate regularly and are cheap, bus transportation between large cities is modern and convenient, and in recent years the government has put its efforts into increasing the rail network. The roads are decent although the drivers say they are … daring. Therefore, if you decide to travel by car, it is advisable to hire a driver .
To move around the city you can use public transport without problems , remembering that men and women travel separately (although they usually turn a blind eye to tourists). In large cities such as Tehran or Mashad there is a metro network, and public bus lines also work well. The taxi is also another affordable option , but you have to be prepared to share a trip and to understand the system. In Iran, taxis are distributed by zones, so there may be drivers who stop you and, when you check that you are not going anywhere, pass them by. The rate is fixed before uploading .
There are basically two ways to get the visa. Making the arrangements through a specialized travel agency or at the airport once we have landed. We could do the papers ourselves, but if the visa is requested before the trip, we will have to request the help of one of these agencies, yes or yes, to obtain the authorization code.
To obtain the visa before the trip you must have filled out an application form, have the authorization code, two passport photographs (women do not need to be photographed with veil), travel insurance, the bank’s receipt as they have been paid the corresponding 120 euros and a passport with a minimum of six months validity and three free pages. These documents will be sent to the embassy and may take between 20 and 15 days.
We can also make arrangements when arriving at the airport , for what we need, in addition to all the previous documents, a return ticket and a receipt for a hotel reservation. It is a cheaper visa (about 50 euros), but we risk not being granted, although it is unlikely.
Keep in mind that the passport does not have an Israeli stamp . If this is the case, we can always renew the passport. And we are going to travel to Israel before we go to Iran, at the airport we will have to indicate to the officials that they put the entry stamp on an attached sheet, which they will remove when leaving the country.
The official currency in Iran is the rial . The change for 2017 is approximately 35,000 rials for each euro . However, Iranians usually indicate prices in Tomanes . It is simply a different way of calculating the prices used for daily purchases or in the bazaars. Always ask if the price you indicate is in rials or tomanes to avoid unpleasant confusions. 1,000 tomanes would equal 10,000 riyals . That is, to know what is the price in rials simply add a zero.
The use of foreign credit cards is very difficult and only some large hotels and store with accounts abroad offer this option. Therefore, it is recommended to bring cash . To change money we will easily find offices at the airport, banks or hotels. If you prefer to carry a card, there is the option to buy a ‘prepaid’ before the trip that can be purchased without extra cost in Iran Travel.
Is it a safe country?
Completely. In Iran it is common to find platforms for charging mobile phones at the entrance of hotels and restaurants. People put their devices to charge and they will enjoy dinner quietly. Can you imagine an equal scene in Barcelona? So tranquility , it would be very rare to suffer a robbery, much less an assault.
It is true that Iran is at a complicated geopolitical point, but in this sense it is one of the most stable and safe countries in the Middle East. Despite the fact that last June the Islamic State attacked in Tehran, the terrorist attacks are anecdotal .
What to expect from the people?
Only good things. The Iranians are the epitome of cordiality and knowing how to be . It is common for them to approach with a smile if they see a stranger and ask him where he comes from, if they are enjoying their country or what places they have visited. But far from being heavy, after asking some questions and being interested in travelers, they want a happy stay and continue on their way. Not without first saying “please, speak well of Iran.” There will be nothing that makes them happier than asking them if we can take a picture with them.
It does not happen in all cases, but conversations with strangers can end with an invitation to dinner. If this happens, do not hesitate and enjoy the Persian kindness. They will have guaranteed a tasty meal and a pleasant conversation.
What to expect from the accommodation?
The Iranian hotel offer is varied and for all budgets . Travelers can easily find accommodation that suits their tastes. Of course, we must bear in mind that perhaps the quality with which we find ourselves is not always the one that would correspond to the stars. However, these are clean and well-equipped establishments.
If what we are looking for is to stay in truly authentic places, Iran has a wide range of ‘charming little hotels’. In cities such as Kashan or Yazd it is common for old palaces to be converted into hotels . With its vaulted ceilings, beautiful Persian rugs and interior patios with fountains and plants, spending the night in one of these houses is an unforgettable experience. These establishments usually offer typical breakfasts based on fresh bread, tea, fresh cheese and homemade jams.
The traveler can also find shelter in the old Caravanserais , the accommodations that were built along the silk route . Currently, some of them are being restored and serve as a hotel. Sleeping in the same rooms as travelers on the famous trade route that connected China to Europe is priceless, although the portfolio may suffer a bit.
What do you eat?
Most products of Iranian cuisine are familiar to those following a Mediterranean diet . Lots of rice, meat, aubergines, legumes and excellent dairy products. Iranians love pickles and bittersweet flavors (like pomegranate sauce) and food is not especially spicy or spicy.
In the restaurants we will easily find different varieties of the tasty Persian kebab , served as a skewer and accompanied by fresh bread. The Bademjan , a stew of eggplant and tomato, is also another dish of the most common, as well as the Tahchin , a kind of crispy rice. Soups, salads, rice of all kinds … nothing that is excessively exotic for our palate.
What things can I buy?
Everything depends on the budget. Although not everyone can afford a Persian carpet or beluga caviar, being native products, they are cheaper than bought at home. The carpets are rooted in the Iranian culture as in no other country, each region has its own styles, and are considered one of the most precious assets of the houses. The caviar trade is managed by the government and can easily be found at airports. There are ways to get it a little cheaper, but for this you have to have a local trusted contact.
In a more modest price range (although do not expect bargains), Iranian pistachios and saffron are products that enjoy a great reputation. There are different qualities and flavors, buying a specialized store can be a sensory experience. The Sha mosque seen from Ali Qapu Palace, in Isfahan (Marina Meseguer)
Another typical product is the printed fabrics (or qalamkar) of Isfahan, which can be found in the bazaars of the city. These are cotton fabrics on which are printed floral motifs of various colors with different wooden molds. The Persian miniatures painted on camel bone (they are more expensive, but much more resistant than those of cow bone or plastic) are other of the elaborate crafts that the country offers. Their teachers have workshops open to the public in which they teach their latest creations and explain their complicated drawing technique.
Customs that should be known
In Iran alcohol is forbidden , so you better get used to the idea that there will be no fresh beer after a long day of sightseeing. For those who can not live without it, it is easy to find beer without alcohol, although they are not very successful. Instead, you can always have a tasty tea with saffron flavored sugar rocks, rich fruit juices or fresh rose water. Of course, being a Muslim country, we will not find pork on the menu either.
Although the government is increasingly permissive, expressions of affection in public are not recommended . In Tehran, it is increasingly common to see couples walking hand in hand, but kisses, hugs and other kind of cuddles better leaving them for privacy.
The arrival of tourists has forced the shopkeepers of the bazaars to accept bargaining. But without going over, we are not in Istanbul or in Marrakesh and we run the risk of offending them and sending us to walk if we force the machine too much. We must also bear in mind that, although we are in a country with a lower standard of living, the price difference is not that great .
A trip through Iran is not tasted the same without having read some local literature. The Persian culture is pleased to have great classical poets such as Hafez, Ferozi or Khayyam, whose poems are known and recited by any Iranian. But if we prefer a slightly lighter reading there are some books that are certainly worth it:
Persepolis: The famous graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi in which she relates from her childhood during the Islamic Revolution to her difficult adolescence and early youth in Europe far from her own is an excellent first contact with the country.
The House of the Mosque: This delightful novel by Khader Abdolah tells the life of the powerful family of Aga Yan, a carpet merchant in the quiet city of Seneyán, and how little by little the clan and its house are witnesses of the enormous social change that the country lives between the sixties and seventies.
Read Lolita in Tehran: Azar Nafisi recalls in these pages the attempts to instill his love of English literature to the students of the Tehran University during the Islamic Revolution and the intimate relationship he weaves with a group of students with whom he forms a club of clandestine reading.
Black on black: The country may have changed a lot since its trip to Iran in 1996, but the testimony of Ana Maria Briongos is still one of the most famous trips on the country. The author links her memories as a student of Persian in the days leading up to the revolution with her impressions of returning to the country twenty years later.
The Shah or the excess of power: In 1980 the famous Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski traveled to Iran with the intention of recomposing the puzzle that explains the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty in an investigation that leads him to interview some of the witnesses of the last days before the revolutionary outbreak.