Personal Warning – You Need to Know the Truth About Iran

It’s true – Iran is an ancient land, home to some of the world’s oldest civilisations. For millennia, artists and scientists, poets and mathemeticians from this region have influenced all of humanity. Indeed, all of our lives have been touched in very meaningful ways by the knowledge that originated from Iran. Despite the myriad tales and tablets written about the Persian Empire, dating back to the very dawn of the recorded word, most non-Iranians know very little about ancient Persia, nor modern-day Iran.

Sure, some of us foreigners have seen the movie depicting that one time Ben Affleck rescued five American diplomats from the United States Embassy in downtown Tehran, during the heady Islamic Revolution in 2012. Or maybe it was 1979. Or 1981. Only Ben Affleck and the Warner Brothers really know for sure. Unfortunately, most of our Iran info comes from “news” in the the mass-media. And they’ve not been kind to Iran. Fortunately, more and more people are learning to ignore what they’ve been taught.

For decades, if you live in “the West”, you’ve been bombarded by anti-Iranian propaganda. News, movies, politicians, radio, and talk-show hosts have cultivated a common and often unshakeable assumption that Iran is a dusty and dangerous corner of the Middle East, the forlorn and crumbling streets full of spies, with machine-gun-toting religious-extremists and terrorists on every second corner, the market shelves empty and the economy completely in shambles due to crippling economic sanctions.

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IRAN UNTOUR INFO --- UKRAINE/TRANSNISTRIA/MOLDOVA UNTOUR INFO


Mr Affleck and the rest of the propaganda machine have done a bang-up job at weaving their oft-repeated Persian fairy-tale. Even most of the good folks in your own neighbourhood would believe that modern day Iran is not much more than a treacherous women-hating community, controlled by nuclear scientists and religious jihadists working constantly to take away our freedoms. To the average westerner, Iran is just one very long riotous revolution.

However, thankfully, this ridiculous mass-media pantomime is starting to run it’s course.

People all around the world are realising that Iran is safe, friendly, and Iranians want you to visit.

 

iran tours tehran
Tehran, Iran. The Middle East, coming into summer.
tehran moslem restaurant iran
Exiting a popular local restaurant in Tehran, Iran.
shiraz chevrolet iran tour
Shiraz, Iran. Shades of Southern California.
kashan bazar iran
Kashan, Iran, with some of the Yomadic tour gang. They’re both Americans, and Iranians love Americans.

 

A relatively small, but deeply significant group of tourists are visiting the Islamic Republic of Iran each year, returning home and reporting back that things here are pretty much the opposite of what has been portrayed. Even the mainstream media is jumping on the new bandwagon, as public opinion changes the articles about Iran are moving from negativity and deception to, well, fluffy and trite (and often inaccurate) puff-pieces about the “real” Iran. Western government travel advisories are suddenly declaring that Iran is safe vacation destination after-all, confusingly, no actual changes have occurred on the ground in Iran and it’s been safe here for the four years I’ve been visiting. Much better than reading about Iran, is speaking directly to a tourist who has recently visited Iran. Which may be difficult, as there are still so few tourists.

For now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a travel contrarian, and I’m not visiting Iran only because it’s so tourist-free. I don’t visit places for the reason that nobody else is, and I don’t avoid places just because they become popular. Sure, a few years back I grew my beard out roaming through the backwoods of the former Yugoslavia, I’ve visited countries that may or may not actually exist, and I may have occasionally flirted with delusions of roaming through the lesser known parts of Tajikistan, charming the simple local villagers with my engaging tales of magical and faraway places. But, as it turned out, in those places I was just another in a long line of slack-jawed tourists. For now, as a tourist in Iran, it’s hard to feel anything other than being like a total travel Rock-Star.

Locals will approach and talk to you, every single day. They’ll offer you gifts – often it’s a cold drink, or a piece of fresh fruit. Perhaps, it may be lunch or dinner. One of my most recent “Untour” group was offered jewels. I’ve been offered a car, twice. I couldn’t count the number of times people have offered me all kinds of assistance in Iran – and never, do they expect anything in return. It’s really the locals that are my number one Iran “tourist attraction”, and added bonus is meeting them in such amazing surroundings – both ancient and contemporary.

Not so long ago, the incredible sights in Iran would have been visited only by archaeological explorers, silk-road merchants, and the very wealthy. Few “regular” people would have the means. For westerners, Iran was truly off the beaten track. The thing is, in 2016, there is still very few people around at these world-class sites. Sometimes, you’re the only tourist all day. Genuinely, Iran remains the stuff of tourism dreams – an accessible “Grand Tour”, in the vein of the most fabled tours of all times.

For now.

 

perspolis iran
This is my friend Rolf, from my home town. You may have read the letter I wrote to Rolf, here. Yes, he made it to Perspolis, Iran.
north tehran tour
Phillipa fumbling for keys. On the right, our Iranian friend Taraneh. This image could only be taken in once place in Iran – North Tehran.
Typical Shirazi's, Iran.
Typical Shirazi’s, Iran.
North Tehran.
North Tehran.
yomadic iran untour
Some of the Yomadic Untour gang. We weren’t here to visit these ruins, we were looking down at the village of Abyaneh, working off some calories from a typically huge Iranian lunch.
abyaneh tour iran
Abyaneh, ancient red-mud village high in the mountains. Iran.

 

Since 2012, I’ve seen tourism in Iran increasing each year. The first month I ever spent here, I saw about five westerners the entire time. Now, although things are changing, much of the country remains unaffected by tourism. When you do see other tourists, Iran remains the type of destination where you might smile and say hello. There’s an unspoken bond – we all know just how fortunate we are to be in Iran at this moment. In Iran of 2016, the conversation could take place with a great espresso and a chocolate donut, or a chai and a bowl of Dizi – depending on whether you’re in a modern city or ancient village.

The funny thing is, local shopkeepers and restaurant owners are also starting to feel fortunate – believing that tourism in Iran is positively booming. Seemingly, they’re unaware of what truly lays ahead here – like the Eiffel Tower, Dubrovnik, Times Square, and Stone Henge, there are places in Iran that will one-day take a completely predictable and deserving place on the list of the world’s most touristed places.

 

 

abyaneh views on iran tour
Abyaneh, Iran.
Esfahan Skyline Tour Iran
The feature image from this post was taken from the Ali minaret, high above Esfahan (sometimes spelled Isfahan), in central Iran. Some friendly construction workers allowed me access to climb inside. Anyone who has visited Esfahan, will agree it’s one of the most beautiful and amazing cities anywhere in the world.

 

View from Ali Qapu palace, Esfahan, Iran.
View from Ali Qapu palace, Esfahan, Iran.
Kharanaq, Iran.
Kharanaq, Iran.
iran yazd
View of the desert city named Yazd, Iran.
iran tour hotel
One of the hotels we use on the Yomadic Iran tour. It’s in the middle of the desert.
iran esfahan mosque
Countless stunning Mosques in Iran – even the most unphased tourist can’t help but me amazed. Esfahan, Iran.

 

Iran never was a dusty bed of rampant terrorism. Indeed, Iran is more fairly characterised as one of the most incredible countries in the world for a short vacation, with the most friendly and welcoming people in any of the sixty-plus countries I’ve personally experienced.

However, westerners and Iranian locals need to be aware of one thing – take this as a warning – after the truth about Iran reaches the average westerner, not long after comes a plethora of selfie sticks, made-in-China souvenirs, and zombie crowds following behind very small flags, and very loud megaphones.

So, really, I’d think about visiting Iran sooner, rather than later.

Nate.

 

PS, I have just launched the final Yomadic “Iran Untour” for 2016. Check it out the tour details right here

PPS – you can read everything I’ve ever read about Iran by clicking here. I’m in Iran right now, exploring new cities, villages, sites, and checking out new parts of the country for the first time. My next article is about a village you simply won’t believe is real – pop your email in below, and I’ll send it to you (spam free/one-click unsubscribe):

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34 thoughts on “Personal Warning – You Need to Know the Truth About Iran

  1. hoping i can get there sooner than later too :) i see cheap flights frequently from frankfurt but nothing ever fits into my schedule. one day (soon i hope).

    oddly enough, ive always known about the stressed relations iran has had with the west, but ive never seen any anti-iran propaganda anywhere. i have plenty of iranian friends back home and they fit right in and never felt discriminated. the only people to say anything anti-iran were my iranian friends themselves (never anything bad about its people, but more so about the govt being the reason they fled the country or came to the US and never left). of course i know about the movie argo, but like a lot of people, i assumed that much of the movie was fabricated or stretched beyond belief because that is what hollywood does to sell the story. that is just my experience in the US. obviously if i was to tell my parents i was heading there on vacation they may have apprehension (doubt it though as they seem to not care about anywhere i travel to), but that is just from the fact that they know there has been bad blood between iran and the west for decades. i always found there to be more concern over visiting iran when i was in norway or even here in germany. but then again, i dont really know many people from iran here like in the US, so i think people’s knowledge of the country is far inferior to an extent. im even hard-pressed to find persian food in frankfurt (i have like two options and neither are as good as my kitchen). but then again, i speak about this as someone from the coasts of the US, not the midwest… which is likely a very different story. :)

    love the photos! i freaking hope i can make it there someday.

    1. One last thing Megan, as I think it’s fair to have both sides of the story:

      From Wikipedia:

      “According to the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), nearly half of Iranian Americans surveyed in 2008 by Zogby International have themselves experienced or personally know another Iranian American who has experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity or country of origin. The most common types of discrimination reported are airport security, social discrimination, employment or business discrimination, racial profiling and discrimination at the hands of immigration officials.”

      1. oh i dont deny this in the least (im mostly speaking about discrimination upon friends and stuff from the ones i know on the east coast of the US). i also lived in the midwest for a while and i anticipate things there are much, much different. just like where in live in germany vs. smaller areas in bavaria :) i probably have around 20 or 30 friends who are iranian in the states and most of them will say the same; but most of them came to the US very anti their govt or their parents had that thought… so i would imagine things are a bit different for them than others. :)

        1. i do have to say, personally, you would never find coffee cups or posters saying ‘down with iran’ in the US though. i remember seeing a photo or something of that in iran (other way around) and just that photo itself kind of left a lousy taste in my mouth even though it was meant in irony im sure. i know there is a dissimilar method to propaganda in different countries, but something like that would be far from acceptable where im from (or even here in racist germany). i dont think that is a great tourism sell either haha. :) despite a bad taste left in my mouth, i still want to travel there because every iranian i have met has the utmost hospitality and i cant wait to see how things are in their motherland! not to mention those gorgeous landscapes!

    2. Northern Europe’s view of Iran is influenced by the eight year Iran-Iraq war. Incidentally that’s when the first big wave of sunni and shia immigration started (immigration is based on UN policy, not labor demand/economic opportunities). The 2nd and 3rd were of course associated with US-Iraq war I and II. As a result, many immigrants have been exposed to 1 or more wars. And those stories are told by the refugees and broadcasted on the news. It doesn’t help that ethnic conflicts from that area persist 5000 km from the mother land. With that said, northern Europeans love warm weather and sun. After invading Spain in the 70/80-s and Turkey in the 90’s and then Thailand/UAE, Kish could be the next on the list. All you need is for a few charter companies to sign a few agreements and it’ll be like Benidorm/Costa del sol.

  2. I really really want to go to Iran. And having traveled all over the Middle East for years, I’ve long since shaken off all of the negative hype about most places that get negative press coverage. But I have to say, for all of the talk about how friendly Iran is, and how much Westerners just need to see it and report back home and all of the propaganda will be cleared up, and how Iran will then become this big tourist hotspot… why do their restrictive travel policies suggest the exact opposite? Why does Iran restrict travel to these ‘awesome’ deals (that are way out of the price range of perpetual nomads like myself), where I have to be stuck with a group on a strict itinerary, and pay 1,700€+ for 11 days? 1. I want to be a traveler not a tourist when I see Iran (or any new place for that matter). 2. It sorta belies the notion that Iran is open and welcoming if I can’t be trusted to see it without a chaperone, no? I’m a bit frustrated by the mixed messaging that Westerners should seek Iran with an open mind, and the policies that make it nearly impossible for us to wee it without strict and expensive oversight.

    1. Hi Eric – it should be noted the “restrictions” only apply to a very, very, small number of Western nations. I assume you’re either British, Canadian, or from the United States. Perhaps the question should be, why is your government so against Iranian tourists? (it’s much harder for Iranians to get a visa, than for you – doesn’t really seem fair, does it?)

  3. I personally never thought Iran was inherently unsafe, it just has a blatant history of human rights abuses and it has outwardly supported the Assad regime in Syria, which as you know has murdered countless citizens. That’s why the US has not “been kind to Iran.” Geopolitically, Assad and Iran are allies against Israel and the West and if you’re familiar at all with International Relations, it disrupts the so called “balance of power.” You can call that propaganda if you wish, but that’s where the friction lies. Iran and the US have had tense relations LONG before Mr. Affleck decided to make a movie.

    But governmental actions don’t often represent the actual people living there, of course. I’m sure you’ll have a fabulous time meeting the nice locals and doing sightseeing on the surface. Most people are people everywhere you go. BUT, most of the terrorism you really hear about in Iran is state sponsored terrorism which doesn’t really pose a threat to the average tourist who isn’t exactly a political dissident. It sounds like a fascinating place and a beautiful place, but it’s wrong to simply paint Iran as a victim to propaganda. It’s certainly not innocent. There’s so much more to both sides that we can and will never know and it’s unwise to simply ignore this and say it’s all propaganda. And no I don’t get my news from the “mass media” and Ben Affleck.

    1. Hi Stephanie,

      Of course, US relations with Iran have been “interesting” for a long time, there was the coup led by the CIA which ousted a democratically elected Iranian government, so that the oil companies could make profit from the natural resources of Iran, maybe the US navy shooting down an Iranian passenger jet killing all passengers and then awarding the ship captain a medal may have provided tension, and then of course, the US providing Sadam Hussein money and weapons to fight against Iran resulting in the death of more than 700,000 Iranians didn’t really help. Sorry, what were you saying about state-sponsored terrorism?

      All of these things are terrible, on both sides, but I don’t see the need to get into a pissing match over who is worse – just travel to Iran and see for yourself how things on the streets, with the locals, really are in 2016.

      Also, would you be so kind as to let me know where you get your news sources from? Links would provide an opportunity to see who are the owners of your news sources, and their track record on unbiased honesty and evidence based reporting. I am sure you will agree, that is really one key to determining what is and isn’t propaganda. It’s hard to find anything reliable these days, and I’d appreciate some tips.

      Nate.

      1. agreed. i just hope people consider that things were done incorrectly on BOTH sides, not just the US/Canada/UK or just not iran. so many people seem to promote one side or another rather than realize that shit is messed up on both ends. there are many, many iranians that flock for asylum in the US each year for political reasons just as there are many, many americans wanting to visit or know more about iran each year. there are always two sides to every story. wikipedia or CNN or the BBC doesn’t tell them all. it is best to find out for one’s self and look deeper to see what is inside of a nation (regardless of whether it is iran or a western nation) aside from what the media portrays. the more i see articles online about how iran did nothing wrong politically and how the US is completely in the wrong, the less inclined i feel to visit because it just becomes annoying (for lack of a better word). and vice versa, of course. i know wrongs happened on both ends. i want to hear about the people, the food, the landscape, and that incredibly unparalleled hospitality that iranians exude and exhibit. that is truthfully what makes me want to visit.

        1. Oh for sure Megan, no person or regime is completely without fault, and no half intelligent person would begin to think that one side or another is completely innocent or guilty. As you said – there are ALWAYS two sides to every story. Unfortunately, for us in the “west” we rarely hear anything remotely close to the “other” side of the story (and, what we do hear is often inaccurate). I would be incredibly appreciative of any links Stephanie could provide me to her media sources – as quality reporting and media about Iran is so hard to come by. I would safely say EVERY major media outlet has published at least one “fact” that I know for sure is a LIE. And it’s not just the Fox’s, the BBC’s, the CNN’s of this world – I don’t want to get into it, but suffice to say I find it hard to believe anything about Iran written by western media.

          Even travel bloggers, not known for the accuracy in any case, but then visiting Iran and saying things like “there aren’t many restaurants”, “mid-priced hotels are hard to find”, “there’s nothing to do in Tehran”, really, who the hell can we believe anymore?

          The other side of this coin is, of course, the Iranian media and what they are telling the Iranian people.

          But, back to a travellers perspective – as an American, you will be treated like a superstar by the locals in Iran. I’ve seen it first hand, spending months here with other Americans. The locals in Iran have a special fondness for the American people. Whether to visit or not is a personal choice – but I guarantee that in Iran you will encounter kindness and hospitality often, and only infrequently criticism of the US government. It’s an old story here, and people are much more interested in talking about the food and the landscape :)

          1. the one thing ive always heard from people who have been to iran (or even the western media) is that iranian people are the most hospitable on the planet. im beginning to think it’s not a lie (haha for once). as bad as this sounds, many of the people i know that have been to iran have gone to say they have been and take some photos and have very little interest in the culture or people. these are the same people that probably say there is nothing to do in tehran (i truly have yet to find a capital city in the world where there is legitimately not a single thing to do). that is why i am glad you run tours there- giving people the chance to interact with the locals who make the places so cool. i really hope i can get there in 2017!!

  4. I just got back from my Iranian adventure this week. Still need to digest it, but I second everything you said. Also, I saw a few groups following little flags and shouting guides (and the one shouting in my native tongue obviously had to be the loudest. Escaping him was all I did in Persepolis). They are getting there. Visiting Iran today seems like a smart choice.

  5. Hi Nate
    Sounds like a fascinating trip – unfortunately not for me this year. Iran is definitely a destination that has been added to my (ever increasing) “bucket list”. Who knows, maybe I will get there in the next year or two. In the meantime keep up the emails – love reading about your travels.
    Janie

    1. Hey Janie.. apologies for the slow reply! Thanks for reading my emails, I’m going to make them even better, as soon as I have a little time to sort a few things out.

      As for Iran… maybe one day…!

  6. I’ve been seriously thinking of going to Iran lately, and I hope to make it there sometime before 2020. Hopefully you’ll still be doing the Iran Untour by then. I have a book titled ‘Welcome to Iran’ to remind me to stay focused on that dream. It’s easy to get tempted to go somewhere else these days.

  7. Iran has been at the top of my ‘must go’ list for a while now. I am really hoping that we will make it out there next year. It looks like such a beautiful and fascinating country.

    One of my close friends is Iranian and she has promised us a stay with her family when she next visits. However, if she doesn’t go next year, maybe we could join you on a 2017 Yomadic Untour!

  8. I completely believe you that now (or soon) is the time to visit Iran. I’ll be honest: your descriptions of the people (and their friendliness) is a definite draw to the country, but even as an experienced traveler, I’m definitely put off by the restrictions for American travelers. I’m so used to independent travel that I’m not convinced any tour would give me the experience I want. For that reason alone, I’m tempted to wait to visit, especially since there’s probably a dozen other destinations worldwide where “now is the time” to visit.

    1. Hi Becky… don’t be tempted to wait too long. Feel free to contact me, I do understand what you’re saying, and I’ll give you all the info you need. Most of the people that come with me to Iran really dislike “typical” tours, as do I, but I would enjoy a shot at convincing you – if you are actually interested. If not, you can always head to Iran in a few years, when it’s much, much, much more popular – and not at all the same as it is now. History shows, that mass tourism has a way of dramatically altering a place. (Dubrovnik/Cuba/etc etc etc)

  9. Hi,
    well, it feels good to see somebody finally finds out we are not zombies waiting to destroy your way of life :)
    And please accept our invitation for you to visit northern provinces as well, specially now in summer. We’d all be happy to see you around here!

    Best regards

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