President Obama’s landmark nuclear agreement with Iran may still have a long road ahead, but even so, it’s bringing with it a surge of renewed interest in travel to this alluring, history-rich destination. If you’re a U.S. citizen and Iran is on your travel shortlist, there are a few things to keep in mind before you go. AFAR sought the advice of Geographic Expeditions’ Middle East and Africa expert, Linda De La Torre, who offered the following five tips.
1. Plan well in advance. Travel to Iran has become increasingly popular over the last few years, putting a high demand on the country’s limited tourism infrastructure. Consider a planning window of at least six months to ensure that you’ll find a spot on an upcoming trip.
2. Time the visa process correctly. A visa authorization for Iran can be requested 90 days before your scheduled departure, but it can take eight weeks or longer to obtain. In order to begin the visa process, you’ll need to have a confirmation with a tour provider. Also note that if your existing passport happens to have an Israeli visa or stamp, you’ll need to replace it, which will require more time.
3. Expect to travel with a guide at all times Guides in Iran must accompany you throughout your visit and are considered responsible for your actions while you’re in the country. Be prepared to stick to your predefined schedule, as it’s not an option to change your plans spontaneously. That being said, “the guides we use are part of the reason travelers enjoy Iran so much,” says de la Torre. “They provide insight into Iranian history and share candid opinions on contemporary politics.”
4. Be prepared for long drives. While you can technically travel within Iran by flying, itineraries are all routed back through Tehran, which means they’re not always the most convenient option. Trains are generally unreliable and poorly maintained, which leaves driving as your main mode of transport. With this in mind, you might want to consider building in extra time to get around. One week is usually enough to see Tehran and Isfahan, while 11 nights will allow you to incorporate the desert, Shiraz, and Persepolis among other destinations.
5. Learn the local etiquette. There are specific etiquette rules and dress codes to keep in mind that your outfitter can brief you on. For instance, alcohol is strictly forbidden, and women must cover their ankles and wear a headscarf.
Interested in traveling to Iran? See the Geographic Expeditions offerings.
Photo by Shara Johnson.