There are not many lands in the world that can be called The Cradle of Civilization. Persia is one of them and you will soon understand the reason: wherever you go, you are overwhelmed with thousands of years of culture, from the beautiful squares of Esfahan to the grandeur of Persepolis’ ruins. You will hear the jaw-dropping story of Cyrus the Great, the Mongolian invasions, the Iranian revolutions. But Iran is first of all a country with very friendly people, thus facilitating great experiences.
See below what I found to be the best experiences in Iran!
Trek in the Dasht-e Kavir desert
From the small village of Garmeh, in the Dasht-e Kavir desert, I drove to Mesr to join a 2-day trekking tour in the desert, with overnight camping. The first day the desert was swept by a sandstorm: even the simplest thing as walking – or sometimes even standing – was VERY challenging! After 12 km of trek we reached the night camp and prepared dinner before falling asleep in our tents. A trek in the desert is probably a common activity nowadays, but a trek in a sandstorm is a lifetime experience!
If you’d like to read more about this experience, go to my post!
Spend a couple of hours under the bridges of Esfahan
The two main bridges of Esfahan, Khaju and Siosepol, are a busy gathering point. Come here at 6pm and you will find people of all ages, strolling on the bridge or just sitting down near the river. If you wander who is singing, just go under its arches: the acoustic there is superb to let yourself go and sing a traditional song or even a Hafez’ poem.
Also remember that these bridges are a vantage point to make new friends: families will come here after school or work, and you will definitely meet some of them. If you are lucky, you will even get a dinner invitation: just double check that this is not a Tarof, then say YES!
Enjoy Persian hospitality
When I told my friends that I wanted to travel to Iran, the first reaction was generally “Why Iran??” followed by “Is it safe? People there do not like Westerners!”. Well, believe it or not, Iran has been the friendliest place I have been to! It was difficult to walk in the street without being approached by somebody who wants to chat with you. If you manage to establish trust, you will be invited to their houses. This is a unique opportunity that you can NOT miss! Just let yourself go, say YES and you will be rewarded with a unique experience that you will hardly forget.
Bargain at the Esfahan bazar around Naqsh-e Jahan Square
“Chand Toman? Naaaa, dah Toman!”. You can manage to survive quite well in Iran without knowing the language. But there is something that you must really do before going there: learn how to read and pronounce the numbers in Farsi! The best bazaar is definitely the one that surrounds Naqsh-e Jahan square in Esfahan: more tourists perhaps, but the super relaxed atmosphere makes this a great place for improving your bargaining skills.
Remember that bargaining is a gentlemen art and must always be conducted with respect of the seller. There is no need to squeeze another penny out of an already good price at the risk of becoming annoying.
Admire the majesty of ancient Persepolis
There is no need to introduce Persepolis: a well
Although what stands today is just a fraction of the ancient city, the one hour trip from Shiraz is worth just to admire the magnificent bas-reliefs in the northern and eastern stairs. Do not miss the thee tombs carved in the rock just few kilometers outside the main site.
Spend one magic hour in the Nazir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz
The Nazir al-Mulk Mosque is in the heart of Shiraz. Although not used any longer, the peculiarity of this mosque is its stained glass windows: being oriented towards East, the early sun shines through and casts a beautiful kaleidoscope of vivid colors. Stay here for one hour and see how the colors change and move on the floor and columns.
Important note: if you want some intimacy or want to take some nice pictures without crowds of tourists, you MUST come here at 8 o’clock in the morning, as soon as it opens.