DESTINATION: IRAN

Let this beautiful and ancient land open your eyes, your mind and your heart.
To people from relatively young cultures like New Zealand and Australia, Iran with its millennia-old civilisation seems unbelievably exotic. We think of intricate Persian carpets, celebrated poets, saffron- and rosewater-infused cuisine, expansive gardens and exquisite architecture. Ancient Persia fires our imaginations. But our understanding of modern Iran is limited to occasional media reports that bear little or no relevance to the daily lives of its population of over 81 million people.
The truth of this mysterious country is both simpler and more complex than two-dimensional stories of its history and present-day allow. Boasting a high standard of education and with an upper-middle income economy, Iran has one of the world’s highest urban growth rates. It’s an energy superpower and has a thriving manufacturing industry in construction materials, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and automobiles.
But leave the bustling cities to travel into the desert communities and you’ll find people living in buildings that are thousands of years old. It’s likely you’ll be invited by complete strangers to share food or a cup of tea—Persian hospitality is famous, even today.
Travel with us and explore the history of old Persia while discovering the spirit of the new Iran. Meet its warm, generous people and prepare for an adventure you’ll never forget.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU TRAVEL

Read on to learn more about Iran, its culture, history, weather, food, religion, dress code and customs.
ALCOHOL

ALCOHOL

There’s no alcohol in Iran—it’s illegal. Nor are there any bars or clubs. Non-alcoholic beers are available in a variety of fruity flavours like peach, lemon and strawberry. Common brands include Delstar, Shams and Istak. Although tap water is considered safe to drink we recommend that you don’t, as its high mineral content can cause stomach upsets. Ask your guide or hotel where you can access filtered water.
BEST TIME TO VISIT IRAN

BEST TIME TO VISIT IRAN

Iran is a big country and the climate changes from south to north. Although mostly arid or semi-arid, especially in the south and east, rainfall is higher in the north and west, with a subtropical climate along the Caspian Coast. Local weather patterns are affected by geography, with mountains and deserts exerting their influence. Generally, the hottest month is July, the coldest months are December and January, and the wettest month is January. Our tours run during spring and autumn, when the weather is more moderate. We cover a big area, so temperature is an important consideration. (See “Average temperatures of common destinations in Iran” for more information.)

Dressing for the weather

We recommend that you pack layers, along with a windcheater and some merino.
CELLPHONES

CELLPHONES

We suggest buying an inexpensive pre-paid SIM card in any of the larger Iranian cities, as cellphones from other countries may not work. See the Internet section for more information about access and data.

CULTURE AND CUSTOMS

Being one of the oldest continuously inhabited civilisations in the world, modern-day Iranian culture is enriched by centuries of tradition. Years of trade, conquest and invasion have created a distinct culture with myriad influences from far and wide, resulting in an overriding national identity and culture rich in symbolism. Religion plays an important part in many aspects of Iranian society – legal and educational systems, dress, marriage, architecture, the arts and the media are all affected. As Iran is an Islamic nation, you can expect to see the hallmarks of Islam throughout Iran: mosques, the call to prayer, strict dress codes and the observance of Ramadan are the most obvious, but there is a complex network of rules, customs and traditions at play every day. Although Iran’s population is largely youthful and urban-centric, rich Persian artistic traditions are alive in contemporary Iran, with much of the elaborate architecture, cuisine, handicrafts and popular poetry of Iran having their origins in ancient Persia. Iranian hospitality is world-famous; guests are often touched by the sincerity, politeness and generosity of spirit of their Iranian hosts. Accepting tea and food is considered polite if offered, as is acting graciously and modestly while visiting someone’s home.
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Taarof

Taarof is a Persian custom of manners that covers a range of social behaviours. You’ll probably come across taarof while shopping or talking with a local about an object you admire. Basically, a person (offeror) is obliged to offer anything another might want, and the person receiving the offer (offeree—in this case, you) is equally obliged to refuse it. This goes back and forth, usually three times, before the offeror and offeree finally determine whether the offer and refusal were real or simply polite. This can be confusing but it’s best to just go with it. If, for example, you’re paying a taxi driver or buying something in a shop and you hear, “Don’t worry about it,” or “Please take it!”, it’s taarof that you insist you pay for the service or item. If the person repeats the offer a few times (at least three), it means they genuinely want you to have it with no payment.

CURRENCY – CASH

You may or may not have access to your bank information from Iran due to internet restrictions, so plan ahead of time. Iranian ATMS won’t accept foreign cards and you can’t pay with cards in shops. Traveller’s cheques aren’t accepted either, so the only real option is cash.
We advise you to take euros (preferred) or US dollars. Your tour guide will identify the local exchange offices where you’ll be able to exchange currency into Iranian rial, although we suggest holding off until you’re familiar with prices. See “Use of a local debit card” below.
While ALL notes state ‘rial’ there is another currency ‘unit’ that is used – toman – which is not listed on any note or coin. One toman is equivalent to 10 rial. Banknotes feature numbers and names in both Farsi and English but coins are only marked in Farsi.
You may see European numbers in some places but the Hindu-Arabic numeral system is most commonly used.

Numbers & Letters

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How much to budget for

This is up to you. Most expenses are covered by the tour (accommodation, most meals, transport, entrance fees), so you won’t need much for everyday expenses. However, you might want to buy certain foods and souvenirs, so we suggest at least 500 euros for your trip.

Use of a local debit card

As mentioned, foreign cards won’t work in Iranian ATMs or EFTPOS facilities but we can arrange a local debit card to use on your tour. This can be used everywhere in Iran and will save you having to carry around large amounts of cash. The card can be organised before you arrive. Once you advise how much you’d like on your Iranian card, we’ll advise you of the exchange rate and load it on to your card. The upper limit is a few hundred euros, which you can pay on meeting your guide. This enables you to avoid the exchange offices until you’ve had the chance to become familiar with prices. Later, if you need to change more money, your guide will help you with the exchange. This system has worked very well on previous tours.

Important to note

One important cultural difference in Iran is that the shop assistant will ask you for your PIN number when you present your card to pay for your purchases! We know that seems odd but it’s how things are done. It’s safe to share your number with the assistant—everyone does it. You can ask for the receipt to check and match with your purchase but be reassured that it’s very normal in Iran to give out the PIN.
DRESS CODE​

DRESS CODE

Men

Dress much the same as you do in Western countries. Keep your legs covered, though. Jeans are fine, as is open footwear such as sandals.

Women

Iran does have a dress code for female travellers. Most importantly – PACK A HEADSCARF IN YOUR HAND LUGGAGE. You MUST be wearing this the moment you exit the plane and are officially in Iran. You need to wear a headscarf for the entire time of your stay (except when in your hotel room). Don’t voluntarily remove it in public. If it falls down, don’t worry but do put it back on again. Wearing your hair in a high bun or ponytail helps keep the scarf in place. Do not wear tight or see-through clothing in public. Tops should be long and loose-fitting, covering your arms and extending down to mid-thigh or knees. You must wear trousers. Leggings worn with a long, loose-fitting top may be accepted in the larger cities but in conservative areas such as Isfahan, Mashhad and Qum, please respect local values and wear looser-fitting pants. To get more of an idea about clothing, see photos of Iranian women or visit the bazaars and local markets in Tehran and Shiraz on your arrival. There are plenty of options. Open-toed sandals are fine. Pack some sports shoes for longer day-trips where you might be walking a lot (e.g. visiting the Persepolis).
CUSTOMS AND DUTY-FREE​

CUSTOMS AND DUTY-FREE

You can bring the following goods into Iran without paying duty:
  • A reasonable quantity of cigarettes
  • A reasonable quantity of perfume (for personal use only)
  • Gifts where the import duty/tax doesn’t exceed USD$80
It is strictly forbidden to bring these goods into Iran:
  • Alcohol
  • Narcotics—penalties for being in possession of these are very severe
  • Arms and ammunitions
  • Radio apparatus
  • CDs and DVDs
  • Any written, printed or recorded materials against the Islamic faith and national beliefs of the country (e.g. fashion magazines and obscene publications)
  • Satellite telephones
  • All horticultural and agricultural goods including seeds and soil
  • Gambling tools

Important to note

Every traveller leaving the country is permitted to take the following in addition to their personal luggage:
  • Persian handicrafts
  • Saffron (not exceeding 100 grams)
  • Kelims and a carpet (no bigger than 3m2) providing they are not antiques
Export of all antiques including gems, coins and handwritten manuscripts is prohibited. To export musical instruments, a permit is required from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
HISTORY - EARLY

HISTORY - EARLY

The country now known as Iran was formerly called Persia and has been occupied for many centuries. Archaeological evidence suggests that people populated the land as far back as 7,000 years ago, with civilisations and societies developing as the surrounding nations and areas evolved.

Persia’s fate was very much tied up with the destinies of neighbouring countries. As empires rose and fell (and leaders came and went), it was affected by invasions and confrontations with the Greeks, Mongols, Romans, Arabs, Turks and others.

Under the reign of Darius the Great and Cyrus the Great (during the Achaemenid Empire), the Persian Empire expanded to become the largest empire of the time. This period saw coins first introduced as a form of currency, building works commencing at Persepolis and the construction of a system of far-reaching highways and canals. Islam was brought to Persia around 637 AD; the population slowly adopted the religion and by the 11th century, the majority of the population was practising Islam. Despite adopting the religion of the conquerors, Persian culture, style and art were largely preserved, which led to the ‘Islamic Golden Age’ – a time where Persian literature, philosophy, science and art blossomed (750-1258).

This time of creativity and prosperity was brought to an end by the Mongols, who invaded in 1219. The invasion proved devastating, with a monumental loss of culture occurring due to the widespread demolition of infrastructure, libraries and mosques. Famine and violence accounted for a steep decline in population, which was worsened by the arrival of the Plague during the 14th century.

Persia was in better shape by the 16th century, with the Safavid Dynasty (1502-1736) establishing the modern nation-state of Iran.

HISTORY - RECENT

HISTORY - RECENT

The Great Persian Famine of 1870 and 1871 accounted for up to 2 million deaths in the region but Iran’s fortunes changed with the discovery of oil in 1908. The find also increased interest from other nations wishing to capitalise on this precious commodity.

Iran endured many changes in leadership due to invasions and coups during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, leading to the Iranian Revolution. This uprising (also known as the Islamic Revolution) took place between 1978 and 1979 and resulted in the birth of the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Khomeini served as leader until his death in 1989, less than a year after the end of the Iran-Iraq war (1980—1988). The Iraqi use of chemical weapons during this time caused international fury and led to the deaths of many of Iran’s people. More recently, Iran has been lead by Hasan Ruhani since 2013.

INFORMATION WEBSITES

You’ll find a wealth of information and guides on travelling in Iran here: http://www.parstimes.com/travel/iran/. This useful site covers pretty much everything you’d want to know, from city phone codes to exchange rates.

This American travelogue is also a good resource:

GENERAL NOTES

PERSIAN TIME / FESTIVALS

PERSIAN TIME

‘Persian Time’ is much like ‘Asian Time’ or ‘Island Time’ – things may take much longer than you expect and service can be slower compared to home but it does mean you can relax and enjoy the laid-back culture

Nowruz

Also known as Persian New Year, this is one of the most important traditional holidays on the Iranian calendar. Heralding the advent of spring, this celebration with Zoroastrianism roots is a time of feasting with family, celebrating in nature, spring-cleaning the home and purchasing flowers and new clothes for the New Year. Many different types of rituals are performed during this time and can vary from family to family, area to area.

Ramadan and Eid

The ninth and holiest of months in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is observed by most in Iran and is thought to be a time of spiritual rejuvenation. For this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, refraining from eating and drinking during daylight hours. Eid marks the end of fasting with three days of feasting and celebration.
SAFETY IN IRAN

SAFETY IN IRAN

Is Iran safe to travel?

In a word, yes. You’ll be asked this question many times before you arrive in Iran and long after you return. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Iran is an unfriendly country – this couldn’t be further from the truth. You’re likely to be greeted with salaams (hello) by the many friendly faces that you’ll see during your visit. The Iranian people are famous for their warm hospitality and welcoming nature so don’t be surprised if locals invite you into their homes where you’ll suddenly find yourself reclining on a Persian carpet with your smiling hosts, drinking tea and sharing food and plenty of laughs. Tourism is in its infancy in Iran and you’ll find that the local people will show a genuine interest in you and will want to try out their English! Of course, petty crime does exist but probably the only danger you’ll face is the country’s chaotic traffic, especially when crossing the road or even while walking on the footpath.

Fire precautions

Please be aware that local laws governing tourism facilities in Iran differ from those in your home country and not all the accommodation we use has a fire exit, fire extinguishers or smoke alarms.

Balconies

Some hotel balconies don’t meet western standards in terms of the width of the balcony fence being narrower than 10cm. Traffic and driving on the other side of the road Depending on where you come from, please note that drivers in this part of the world may drive on the opposite side of the road from that which you’re used to. Look both ways before crossing any road. Traffic can be a little more chaotic than you might be used to at home. Be aware!

Seat belts

Local laws governing transportation safety may differ from those in your home country and not all the transport we use is equipped with seat belts.

Petty theft and personal safety

While travelling there is always the risk of pick-pocketing and petty theft, particularly in the more touristy cities. We recommend that you exercise caution when walking alone at night and encourage you to walk together and only on main, well-lit thoroughfares. Be particularly vigilant on public transport. Simple measures like carrying your day pack on your front, not hanging your bag over the back of your chair or on the floor and wearing a money belt will reduce any chance that your valuables should go missing.

Water safety

Please take care when taking part in any activities in the ocean, river or open water, where waves and currents can be unpredictable. We’d expect anyone taking part in water activities to be able to swim and to have experience in open water. All swimmers should seek local advice before entering the water.
TECHNOLOGY NOTES

ELECTRICITY

Power in Iran runs on 220 volts and uses the European plug (two holes).

INTERNET

Be prepared for a bit of a ‘digital detox’ while in Iran. Internet can be very slow with unstable connections, so expect dropouts. You’ll normally pay by the hour. Let your family and friends know that they may not hear from you as often as they wish. Instagram and What’sApp are permitted in Iran but Twitter and facebook are not. If you want to access these two platforms while in the country, you’ll need a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Iranians do access both and will often give you their facebook details, so although officially banned, the government tends to turn a blind eye to their use.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE

Important to note

If you have a smartphone and are not yet connected to What’sApp, we recommend you do so. It’s a great way for tour members to share photos and information about their trip. If you have our number saved in your phone before you download the app, we’ll be on your What’sApp contact list and can start communicating. We can also purchase an Iranian SIM card on your behalf so you can use the data while travelling. Most of our accommodation venues offer Wi-Fi and there is mobile phone coverage at over 90% of the places we visit. Internet on your own SIM will be faster than the Wi-Fi but more expensive.

TRAVEL ADVICE AND TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend that before departure you check your government’s advice for their latest travel information in relation to the areas you will be visiting and ensure that your travel insurance covers you for all areas on your itinerary.

NZ Travel and Tour takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone.

From Australia?   http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

From New Zealand?   http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

From Canada?   http://www.voyage.gc.ca/

From the USA?   http://travel.state.gov/

From the UK?   http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

The World Health Organisation also provides useful health information:   http://www.who.int/en/

VACCINATIONS

Ensuring you’re up-to-date with routine vaccinations should be part of your travel preparations for any destination, not just Iran.

Make sure you’re current with these vaccines:

  • MMR (measles-mumps-rubella)
  • Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis
  • Varicella (chickenpox)
  • Polio
  • Annual flu shot

Most travellers also opt for Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations. We strongly suggest you see your GP to consult on any vaccinations you may need.

TRADITIONAL FOOD

NZ Travel and Tour believes that one of the best ways to experience a culture is by eating! Whether you’re sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are always endless options to choose from, wherever you are in the world.

With access to some of the world’s best produce, prepared according to age-old ancient culinary traditions, foodies will love travelling through Iran. We’ve organised your tour to ensure you’ll have plenty of opportunity to sample and enjoy delicious traditional foods, including vegetable and pomegranate stews; the traditional Dizi (a lamb-based strew where the broth is separated from the solids which are then mashed together and eaten separately); many traditional Ashes (a thick and tasty soup of lentils, beans, noodles, vegetables, fried mint, fried onion and yoghurt); Kebabs and Saffron Rice with tahdig (crispy fried rice); and Falafel. It is important to let your tour guide know if you have any food restrictions or follow a special diet.

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Dried fruit and nuts

Dried apricots, prunes, dates, raisins and figs can be bought from shops, street stalls and bazaars and make wonderful, healthy snacks. Also, you’ll be able to find a wide variety of nuts sold by the bag – pistachios, almonds and walnuts are usually the best picks.

Persian ice cream

Flavoured with orange blossom, rose water, honey, nuts or saffron, Persian ice cream is different to western-style desserts. Often made with chunks of cream and wedged between two waffles, don’t miss the chance to try this delicious sweet treat.

Khoresht

This hearty Persian stew can be found everywhere in Iran and has many variations. Meat eaters will love the split-pea and lamb combination while the eggplant, mushroom and spinach options will delight vegetarians.

General Notes

SHOPPING

With ancient bazaars, handicraft centres and modern boutiques, there are many ways to shop in Iran. Try bargaining with a bazaar vendor (it’s always good-natured) or simply buy a fixed-price item from a museum gift shop. Whatever your preference, it’s a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure you’re able to bring your purchases back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.

TIPPING

Tipping is not compulsory in Iran, although the more expensive restaurants in bigger cities might expect a gratuity of around 10%. It’s common to give a small tip to local guides, drivers, porters, cleaners and anyone who goes above and beyond for you, although this might initially be refused. Offer three times before giving up—see “Taarof” under Culture and Customs.

TOILETS

Some hotels and tourist areas have flushable western-style toilets but the squat variety are the norm in Iran. They don’t always have soap and/or toilet paper, so keep your own supply.

VISAS

Visa requirements for entry into Iran differ according to the passport that you hold.

Most foreign visitors need a visa to enter Iran. Azerbaijani, Bolivian, Georgian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian and Turkish citizens may travel up to three months in Iran without a visa.

Citizens of these countries can either apply for a 20-day tourist visa from the Iranian embassy in their home country, or get a visa on arrival in Iran:

  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • The Netherlands
  • France
  • Japan

Although obtaining a visa on arrival is possible, we strongly recommend that you obtain your visa before travelling to Iran.

Citizens of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom are not eligible to apply for visas on arrival. The only way to get a tourist visa is to take part in an “official” tour of Iran.

E-visa

Iran has recently introduced E-Visa, meaning you won’t get an entry/exit or visa stamp in your passport.

You’ll need to supply these documents when applying for the visa:

  • Passport
  • Travel itinerary
  • Digital personal photo that meets requirements (see http://e_visa.mfa.ir/en/)
  • Digital image of your passport that meets requirements (see link above)

You’ll receive an email advising you when to apply for the visa closer to the trip. You visa will be valid for one month. It’s possible to extend it up to three months.

Important to note

To apply for all types of personal visas, your passport should have at least six months’ validity beyond your travel date. You will not be able to submit your application if your passport is due to expire in less than six months.

AVERAGE TEMPERATURES OF
COMMON DESTINATIONS IN IRAN

Tehran 

Since the Alborz Mountains partially protect it from the north wind, the capital city, Tehran, has a milder winter compared with other northern cities such as Tabriz. Of course, even here in winter it can snow and freeze, although less often, and with less intense frosts: temperatures don’t go below  -8/-10 °C (14/18 °F).

Tehran is a vast city, close to the mountains, so the northern suburbs, located at an altitude of up to 1,700 metres (5,600 feet) above sea level, are colder than the central and southern areas, which are located around 1,000/1,200 metres (3,300/4,000 feet). Therefore the average daily temperature in January ranges from 2 °C (35.5 °F) in the northern area to 4 °C (39 °F) in the southern one, while in July it ranges from 28 °C to 30 °C (82 °C to 86 °F).

Summer in Tehran is hot, with scorching days, usually around 35/37 °C (95/99 °F) in July and August, but the humidity is low and the wind blows frequently. Here are the average temperatures

Tehran – Average temperatures

Tehran – Average temperatures

Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Min (°C)

-1

1

5

11

16

21

24

23

19

13

7

1

Max (°C)

7

10

15

22

28

34

37

35

32

24

17

10

Mashhad

in the north-east of the country, at an altitude of 1,000 metres (3,300 feet), has a daily average ranging from 1.5 °C (34.5 °F) in January to 26 °C (79 °F) in July. In winter, snowfalls and severe frosts are possible, and the temperature can drop to around -20 °C (-4 °F). In summer the heat is often scorching, with peaks of 40/42 °C (104/108 °F).

In a typical year, 250 mm (10 in) of rain fall. In the south-central and the eastern parts of the plateau, the climate is a bit milder in winter, although the temperature varies with altitude, and frosts are generally possible at night, especially at high altitudes.

Isfahan, located in the centre of the country and at 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) above sea level, has a daily average temperature ranging from 3 °C (37.5 °F) in January to 29 °C (84 °F) in July—the temperatures are similar to those of Tehran. Here are the average temperatures:

Isfahan – Average temperatures

Isfahan – Average temperatures

Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Min (°C)

-2

0

4

9

14

19

22

20

15

9

4

-1

Max (°C)

9

12

17

22

28

34

36

35

31

24

17

11

Shiraz  is located in the south, at an altitude of 1,500 metres (5,000 feet). At this latitude the winter is quite mild even at an altitude so high; the average ranges from 6 °C (43 °F) in January to 29 °C (84 °F) in July.

 

 

 

Shiraz – average temperatures

Shiraz – Average temperatures

Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Min (°C)

0

1

5

9

13

17

20

19

14

9

4

1

Max (°C)

12

15

19

24

31

36

38

37

34

28

21

14

Persepolis is located about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Shiraz, at 1,600 metres (5,250 feet) above sea level, and therefore has a similar climate.

The Kavir Desert (Dasht-e-Kavir, “Great Salt Desert”) is a large, arid and inhospitable area, located south-east of Tehran. There are sand dunes but also salt lakes fed by rivers flowing down from the mountains. The lakes are dry for much of the year, partly because of the strong evaporation. The desert is located at an altitude of about 700 metres (2,300 feet). Here winter is quite cold, while summer is scorchingly hot.

If you want to visit Tehran and the cities of the plateau, the best times are spring and autumn, especially the months of April and October. In the coldest northern cities such as Tabriz, you can move the date two weeks towards summer (so mid-April to mid-May and mid-September to mid-October), while in warmer cities like Qom, you can move it by two weeks towards winter (i.e. mid-March to mid-April and mid-October to mid-November).