Cycling in Iran
Iran is for sure an unlikely country for traveling. Let alone cycling in Iran should be considered. This is the opinion of many people who have never been there. Fortunately t here is much more to the picture then meets the eye, so to say.
Iran is a travelers gem. The problem with Iran is what the newspapers tell you. And worse, all of what the papers say is right too. However, there is another side of the story that you never read.
So, why is Iran such a great travel destination? It is all about the people. When traveling around you will experience the hospitality in its ultimate form. Now, when you travel by bus or train you may not find it that much but when you are cycling in Iran you will find hospitality in a way you can hardly imagine.
There are two kinds of visas available: tourist visa - 30 days and a transit visa - 5 days.
I picked up my first in Istanbul. Ankara and Erzurum in Turkey are also good place to get your visa. Usually it is no problem but it may depends on your passport. British sometimes have some troubles and American may not be able to get a tourist visa, just a 5 days transit.
East of Iran you can get visas in Islamabad and Delhi. In general I am told it's a big more difficult to get them there but I got another Iranian visa without problems in Islamabad. The only problem was I had to wait two weeks. But since they didn't need my passport I could go anywhere. All I had to do was show up at the embassy to weeks later where they put my visa in the passport on the spot.
Extending your visa
All provincial capitals have an immigration office where you can extend your visa usually without problems. Easy job. It cost about $2 for another 30 days. Some people were able to extend their 5 day transit visa which officially can be extended once but I spoke to a Norwegian who extended a 5 day transit visa (with difficulty) 6 times.
All provincial capitals have an immigration office where you can extend your visa usually without problems. Easy job. It cost about $2 for another 30 days.
Some people were able to extend their 5 day transit visa which officially can be extended once but I spoke to a Norwegian who extended a 5 day transit visa (with difficulty) 6 times.
Places to go
Iran is a big country. When you are cycling in Iran from Turkey to Pakistan (or vice versa) you need at least 6 to 8 weeks if you cycle all the way around. Obviously you need less when you take here and there a bus or flight.
Obvious travel destinations are Esfahan, Yazd, Bam and Shiraz (Persepolis). Since I haven't been in Tehran and the Caspian sea areas, I can not commend but I am told it's great skiing in winter.
If you come from Turkey going to Pakistan, I can recommend my route which basically went from the Turkish border to Khoy, Iranian Kurdistan (very beautiful!) to Esfahan. After Esfahan I took the road to Yazd, Kerman, Bam and Zahedan before I arrived at the Pakistani border.
After spending some time in Pakistan I traveled another route back: Zahedan, Bam and then to the Persian Gulf visiting Bandar Abbas, Bandar E Bushehr, Shiraz. Here I took a bus north to Tabriz and from there I cycled back to Turkey.
Robert Johnson and me in Bam in front of the guest house that no longer exists
Traffic and road condition
I found cycling in Iran easy. Even in the north western mountains roads were never steep and always in excellent condition. Although Iranians are not much used to cyclists, they treat you with respect on the road. In general I got plenty of space by passing trucks and busses.
The magnificent teahouse in Kerman, a former Turkish bath
In general accommodation is cheap. Anyone who is cycling in Iran will find in most cities accommodation for about $5. That said, not all of the cheap accommodation is clean and have all the facilities. I stayed in a cheap guesthouse in Sanandaj (somewhere in the northern Kurdistan province) where I had a basic guesthouse without showers. Fortunately I was directed to a public bathhouse.
There are no official camp grounds in Iran as far as I know. I have camped a few times and found no problems except one time when I was cycling in Iran.
Bring your own map since it will be difficult to find maps in Iran. Some of the big cities have English maps. I found one in Esfahan but until Esfahan I cycled with a map in Farsi.
This map (in Farsi) was useful enough form cycling in Iran since the locals can read it and love to explain what the names on the map are. With a little bit of improvisation, you can find out how and where to go.
In Esfahan I found a good English map made in Iran with a scale 1:2.200.000. It sounds not very detailed but it was enough.
Food is a disappointment when you are cycling in Iran. There are not many restaurants outside the tourist areas. It seems Iranians are not much into eating out. In the tourist areas, Shiraz, Esfahan etc. you will find descent restaurants but outside it can be difficult. The menu consist then of kebabs, fried tomatoes and rice.
However, if you get invited by locals you will get excellent dishes including homemade yogurt, spinach and other vegetables. Muslims don't eat pork but you get plenty of chicken and lamb.
I camped once in an apple garden. Apples, especially in the north west are excellent fruit. In that area you will pass enormous apple gardens and don't be surprised if someone stops you and give you a bag full of apples for free.
Alcohol is not for sale in shops. In some restaurants foreigners are able to order beer. In Esfahan you may be able to get alcohol sold in the Armenian quarter since the Armenians are Christian and therefore allowed to drink (and sell) alcohol.
Cycling in Iran is a great way to explore the country. Maybe the so called sites are a bit away from each other, in between you will find beautiful people, great sceneries, great roads and lots of other things that make you cycling in Iran experience an instant success.
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Iran Travel Guide
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Kerman, Bam and Zahedan
The road from Kerman to Bam and Zahedan is one of the most empty areas I ad cycled so far. It was magnificent. I just loved the emptiness. This part of the journey still stands as one of my favorites
Camping in Iran
Camping in Iran can be a truly unique experience. One time I thought I had met Ali Baba and the 40 Robbers. It turned out to be ....
Hospitality in Iran
Contrary to what people in East and West believe, the Iranians are very friendly and incredible hospitable. I had never met so much hospitality until I came in Iran