American Tourist in Iran
January 2, 2013 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone been to Iran as tourists recently (especially any Americans)? If so, do you have any advice or suggestions?

My wife and I are planning a 8-day trip to Iran in the spring. We are both American and are traveling privately. We are arranging our trip through Up Persia, who have told me that they have experience with Americans (there are special requirements for Americans visiting Iran). We are doing a fairly standard tour (Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd), as we only have limited time.

Does anyone have any suggestions or advice? Has anyone ever worked with Up Persia? We have the Lonely Planet guidebook, but any recommendations of any other books or online travelogues documenting Americans' experiences as recent tourists in Iran? American tourists have to have a government approved guide that is supposed to stay with you the whole time, but I have heard that they often don't care that much and allow you to freely wander - is this accurate?

Note: We are aware of the various limitations placed on American tourists visiting Iran - both by the US government and the Iranian government.
posted by Falconetti to Travel & Transportation around Iran (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I know nothing about traveling to Iran, but I did see this article today about Isfahan and possible nuclear radiation leaks.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:54 AM on January 2, 2013

Best answer: Take a look on in the trip report forum. Hauteboy and others recently took advantage of a sale fare to the middle east and ventured into iran as independent travelers and had a lovely time.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 12:04 PM on January 2, 2013

American tourists have to have a government approved guide that is supposed to stay with you the whole time, but I have heard that they often don't care that much and allow you to freely wander - is this accurate?

I haven't been to Iran, but I have been places that have similar requirements, and I will simply say this: If your guide is with you, then your guide will be the one who is being yelled at in Farsi by a person with a gun and the backing of society. Be very careful and take extra precautions if your guide lets you wander.
posted by Etrigan at 12:06 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might want to email the guy who runs the Humans of New York tumblr - he just returned from an extended visit to Iran and from what I can see of his documentation of his trip, he had a fantastic time. He also seems very responsive to random contact emails.
posted by elizardbits at 12:08 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: He actually has a lot of useful info under his Iran tag.
posted by elizardbits at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not an American, and no experience with Iran per, but I have friends who moved to Iran (they actually drove across Europe and Turkey to get there). They really like it there. So Iran is on my list of places to go.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:18 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I believe you will find this Rick Steves documentary worth watching.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:47 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

My parents went two years ago as part of a specific cultural exchange program and had nothing but good things to say. They were treated nicely everywhere, people were curious about them and wanted to talk. My mom did keep her head (lightly) covered and dress in the modest style that she'd been told was appropriate, but other than that they acted "normal."
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:06 PM on January 2, 2013

A buddy of mine went a couple years back and while those of us on the outside had an interesting time of it (he missed his flight out and had to stay another couple of days, which meant his parents called us saying "Name has gone missing in Tehran!" causing considerable panic), he had nothing but good things to report.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:17 PM on January 2, 2013

Best answer: Not an American, but I love Iran. It is one of the most friendly and welcoming places I've ever been. I'm actively working on getting back there soon. And the people of Iran are the ME population most positive towards the US at all, according to Pew.
Iran is very, very different from Arab countries (I've been to several), and as I can understand from travelled people, also very different from other Central Asian nations. Obviously, the regime is paranoid and somewhat corrupt, but the people are proud, well-educated and curious. It is a lot like Europe (maybe even better) - things work, mostly everything is very clean and a lot of people speak English, German or French. (Also, when you think of the history of Iran/West relations, the paranoia is understandable). I had the impression Arab people go there because it's more fun and sexy than many Arab countries (excluding Lebanon and Egypt).
Strangely, there is a small but respected Jewish community, and both Christian, Zoroastrian and Sunni Muslim communities. Most Iranians are not really bigoted, but they get a lot of misinformation, both from the regime, and from propaganda from enemy states like Israel, the US and Iraq. The sense is not of a religious country like Saudi Arabia, more of a country with a domineering religious minority - to be honest, like the US red states.
The guides we met were fine people, and spoke openly of their disagreements with the regime. I've been in several totalitarian countries where one had this sense of being constantly monitored (Cuba, Syria are examples), Iran is not like that at all - everywhere we went, people engaged us in discussions and wanted to know about our impression of their country.
The story about a nuclear catastrophe JohnnyGunn linked to has not appeared on any legitimate news sites, and one must remember that France and Germany have excellent communications with Iran; there would be no good reason for Iran to hide important information like this from these countries.
That all said, one is constantly aware how Iran is a authoritarian society, with very little knowledge of the outside world, and ruled by fear. Not so much fear of the government as fear of the US and Israel. People believe the craziest stuff, and normal people are afraid of the religious crazies. So one needs to be a little considerate. Don't discuss politics with your guide or cab-driver if there is someone who looks like a religious person in the room. Generally: be polite, like anywhere else on the globe. That said, after a long struggle to enter the Ayatollah Khomeini Memorial Shrine eventually succeeded, even the religious people there were really friendly, welcoming and open. As Americans, you may not want to take that particular fight up, though.

In Tehran, we went to something called the Friday Bazaar, it was in a parking garage, which was "empty" Fridays because of the holiday. What was fascinating about it was how people came in from every part of Iran to sell their authentic goods, so even if one was only a short time in Iran, one met a really broad range of people.
I liked Shiraz a lot, and want to go back. Very nice atmosphere. Persepolis is awesome.
Isfahan is one of the great cities of the world. There is so much to see, and again, wonderful people. There is a roof-top restaurant right near the entrance to the famous central square, your guide will know it. Very nice. And then there is a luxury hotel within an old caravanserai. Next time I go there, I want to stay there, prices are very fair, by western standards. But you can also just go there for a drink or for a meal.
posted by mumimor at 2:57 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]
Interesting program
posted by mumimor at 2:22 PM on January 6, 2013

Response by poster: By the way, as an update, we received our authorization number to get a visa this morning, almost four months after applying. This leaves us a week to actually get the physical visa in our passports, which is likely going to be doable, but definitely stressful.
posted by Falconetti at 1:44 PM on April 22, 2013

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