Traveling Iran: the basics

Transportation
Traveling with a baby in Iran
Visa
Annoyances during our trip
Tips
Overall experience

Iran is a very tempting destination due to several factors: its fascinating history, architecture, poetry, and legends…

However for us Iran was for all those reasons and more. Besides visiting the most known sites, we headed to Iran to meet Jose’s childhood friend Parham who came from USA to meet his family and us. Parham’s family moved to USA many years ago however once in a while he is coming back to Iran to visit his numerous cousins and family members. Having him in Iran allowed us to have a full family experience (meeting countless cousins in different cities, best home made Iranian food, visiting places only known by locals, attending a wedding, going to parties and much more). On top of that Mrs. Parvizi (thank you very much!) lent us her car and we had an amazing road trip camping in the most outstanding places!

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Here you can read some of our most memorable experiences!

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We drove from Tehran to Bandar-Abbas by heading first north then Far East then slowly down to the Persian Gulf, where we parted with Parham and continued our journey through Iran as ordinary backpackers. Only then we realized how privileged we were and how easy our journey was with Parham and Car. We went by ourselves to Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd, Esfahan and Kashan then back to Tehran from where we hop on a bus to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Stay tuned for more articles about these places!

Transportation

Buses

One really good thing about Iran is its transportation system. Iran is a huge country; you might not even realize it when preparing for your trip.

400 km between the cities is nothing. Luckily the roads are in excellent conditions and buses are comfortable with A/C, perfect if taking overnight transport.

The prices are also inexpensive if considering the distance. For example, Tehran-Esfahan will cost you around 200 000 rials (6 USD), Keshan-Tehran 110 000 rials (3 USD). The most we have paid was from Queshm (the island) to Shiraz, 400 000 rials (11 USD). It was an overnight bus that also included a ferry, so not that bad in the end.

There are plenty of buses every day between popular destinations and from our experience there is never a shortage of seats. There are different companies operating on the same itinerary so if one bus is full, there will be another one waiting for you. All you need is to go around the terminal and ask different bus companies about your destination.

We found it extremely hard to inquire about the daily schedule or the buses that departs later the day. All we were hearing is “come now”, “next bus is in 15 min” and so on. I believe it is not in the culture to plan and book anything ahead of time. Also the very advanced idea of a schedule or anything written down such as prices or times to reduce the long lines hasn’t been realized yet in Iran…

Quick tip about bus terminals, you can leave your bags at the company you are purchasing the tickets from. We have visited Yazd on a day trip, arrived in the morning, left our bags at the bus company office, went to see the city, came back, took the bus and left to Tehran. Perfect! 

Where to buy tickets?

You buy tickets at the bus terminals. Click here for more information on bus terminals in Tehran, Shiraz, Esfahan and Mashhad. These are the most touristic places that have multiple bus stations.

Trains

Train system is also great. Trains are modern and comfortable and go between the main cities. They cost pretty much like buses and are definitely more comfortable. Read more on prices and schedule on the official railway site.

Due to our dislike of locking in plans too far in advanced we ignored trains which I somewhat regret. Even the most comfortable buses are uncomfortable when you have a sleeping baby on your lap.

The only thing is that trains are often sold out due to its great value for money, so if you want to enjoy this type of transport, you’d better plan ahead and book it beforehand! Yes, it is possible to book it online! J

Planes

If you are short on time, you can fly between the cities. It is more expensive than buses/trains however still a very good deal.

Check out these airlines:

The last two are only in Farsi. (Google translate in Chrome fixes that)

Traveling with a baby in Iran

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Traveling with a baby in Iran has two sides. It is awesome and terrible at the same time. Iranians, both men and women, love babies, especially blue eyed blond babies like our Lia… Everyone just wanted to grab her, kiss her and take a picture! While it is very sweet and cute and most of the times we didn’t mind, it is still too much when you are in Iran for a month.

At some point we just started avoiding markets because it was getting ridiculous, we couldn’t even stop to look at anything because the crowds were gathering to take a picture with Lia.

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Another things that freaked me out completely is that Iranians, again both men and women, kiss babies and sometimes on the lips!! ON THE LIPS! SOME RANDOM STRANGER! Even if you say don’t kiss, not everyone is listening and it was getting really annoying and frustrating. You just don’t kiss somebody’s baby on the lips! I am sure we are not the only parents who were stressing out over this matter and again for 30 days it does get really infuriating! Keep in mind if you give your baby to a nice person for a photo you are also signing up for chocolate handed and getting everywhere.

Baby food

The availability of baby food in Iran is miserable, pretty much non-existent.

There is no baby food jars whatsoever… and despite the claim of our friends and other Iranians we have met that you can find everything and more in Tehran, I can assure you- you just wont find any baby food jars, even in mighty Tehran.

When you travel with your 15 months old baby without kitchen baby food jars is one of those things that make your life easier and your kid healthy.

As for other essentials:

  • Baby cereal (7-8 dollars for a small pack for several hundred grams, usually 1-3 dollars in all other countries visited) is possible to find. Look for them in big pharmacies but be prepared for a very limited selection.
  • Baby formula (20-25 dollars for a big can), we saw only NAN brand. It is possible to find it the pharmacies and on rare occasion in little stores. We saw a big can (800g) quite rarely, usually they sell small ones only making it more expensive.
  • Diapers (12 dollars for a half pack -25-35 depending on size), wet wipe, baby cloths is possible to buy pretty much everywhere.
  • Baby bottles, pacifiers, nipples all this you can find in the pharmacy, are crazy overpriced.
  • Fresh milk… in abundance! Pretty much every shop has a pack of fresh milk so at least with this one we didn’t have problems and saved us from buying much overpriced formula.

From our experience, after traveling with Lia 20+ countries Iran turns out to be the least baby friendly. Lack of food makes it really frustrating traveling around. You might think you can order something to eat at the restaurant…alas. Going out is not much of a culture and there is plenty of fast food, but to find a traditional restaurant with healthy meals you can share with your baby is rather hard. Not to say impossible but hard. You have to inquire about the place, hire a cab in most cases and make an event out of it.

As a half joke, we remember Yazd mostly because of good food. We finally found a nice restaurant at the guesthouse where we ordered healthy meals that Lia could eat with us. It is not quite what you are supposed to remember…right?

So what we did considering the situation?

In the morning at breakfast (usually guesthouses/hotels have breakfast included) we were asking to cook eggs for Lia (omelet or hard boiled eggs). Lia loved those!

Also we have been buying grilled chicken quite often and Lia was eating it quite well.

Our best advice as for baby supplies is to bring everything from home or from your previous destination.

Baby activities:

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As for baby activities, there are parks and playgrounds where your child will be happy to run around. Iran amazed us with the culture to picnic in the parks where the families gather together, bring cooked food from home and let their children play till very late. So we didn’t feel odd to be out with Lia when it was dark outside and she always had a company to play.

As for circus, puppet theatre, etc…we didn’t find anything.

Visa

Iran used to be a hard to get in country. Not anymore! Well, for Americans and English it is still a pain in the ass with a lot of money involved.

However for the rest of the world the process is rather straightforward and relatively easy.

Check out this official website for more detailed information.

Annoyances during our trip

To say that this trip was perfect would be a lie. There were few things that we didn’t like and that prompted our earlier than planed departure from Iran.

  1. To be a woman in Iran sucks. I hated it. Every day I felt like a lesser person on different occasions, especially if I go out by myself, let’s say to buy milk at the shop. All these dirty looks, whistles…disgusting. We personally met solo female travellers who have been harassed by men in Iran. Did it ruin their experience? Definitely, as it ruined mine.
  2. Lack of restaurants. Now we are talking about midrange places where you want just to eat and not make an event of it and spend a fortune. All you have is fast food and barbecue, if you are lucky! But com’on kebabs for weeks…? Our bodies were sick and tired of unhealthy meals every day so we were buying vegetables and yogurt and just making salads at home.
  3. There are no supermarkets. By supermarket I mean a big store with at least 2 cashiers and a big selection of goods… not a corner shop that sells a handful of goods. I believe supermarkets exist somewhere…maybe in Tehran?…we just didn’t happen to find one in 30 days…and we were looking desperately for one. What you see in abundance are little shops where you can buy milk, snacks, washing powder, soap…To buy common objects to westerners such as deodorant can become a quest.
  1. Dress code. To say it was okay and you get used to it over time would be a lie, at least for me. I hated wearing hijab every single minute for 30 days and I was extremely happy to take it off the second I crossed the border.
  2. Admission fees for foreigners are at least five times more expensive than for Iranians. Is it a sign of a very poor country? From our experience it usually is which is why we didn’t expect it from oil rich Iran. It’s sad that the government sends this message to thousands of tourists.

Tips

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  1. Bring enough USA dollars. If you run out of money, there are only few places where you can get cash from your credit card. If I am not mistaken it is in Shiraz and Tehran. The process will be painful and worrisome. Also keep in mind that euros and USA dollars get the same exchange rate.
  1. If you travel with a baby, bring all the formula/baby jars/baby cereal with you. Diapers are good enough so no need to carry a big pack with you.
  1. Try to bargain the entrance fees to the sites. We did and most of the times we purchased only one foreigner ticket for 2 people. It just feels good not to pay a foreign price… (However we still paid much more than locals even with our best haggling…)
  1. Say “yes” to people who invite you for a tea. We met a really incredible family in Esfahan and spent 2 days with them!! All we did was to lend our Lia for a photo session 😀 then we accepted the invitation for shisha/hookah, later we said “why not” when we were invited for a dinner. It was beautiful experience and I wish everyone would be as lucky as we were. Going to city parks around dinner time is the best way to meet locals, while they are happy and picnicking)

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  1. Don’t be afraid to say “NO” to people and refuse people’s “help”, especially if you don’t need help or it doesn’t make sense that that person can help you. While Iranians are very kind and want-to-be-helpful, in most cases they have no idea what exactly the problem is and whether they can help at all or not; regardless of that, they will “help” relentlessly.
  1. Bargain bargain bargain everything!! From the markets to your hotels/hostels/guesthouses and especially taxis. It works!!

Overall experience

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I call it love-hate experience.

We loved our road trip with our friend Parham, we loved visiting his family, friends, village where he grew up… attending wedding, going out with his family… Did it play its role that our friend’s family are representatives of Baha’i religion? I opt for a “yes” answer. They have completely different mindset from Muslim Iranians, I don’t know how to put it into words….maybe the most accurate would be to say that they are free, free in their ideas and acts.

Baha’i teachings and doctrines represent unity of God, unity of humanity (meaning equality) and unity in diversity (acceptance of different races and cultures). If you wouldn’t be atheist I would consider believing in Baha’i teachings, that’s for sure. Read here more about them.

Besides family experience we did so many cool things such as camping in the Lut desert, off-roading to the Alamut castle, visiting old citadels, admiring Persepolis, walking though the streets of a 5000 year old town and being lucky to visit one of the most fine mosques in the world. How can’t you love it?

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Nevertheless there was also a “hate” side to our trip in Iran, as I mention in the Annoyances section. After getting used to or getting over living without restaurants and supermarkets, dealing with foreign prices and other small things, it turned out there are things much harder to deal with. Inequality between men and women, poor and rich, lack of any freedom (even told to stop dancing in the park because we could get arrested….) and lack of desire to fight for your freedom while claiming you country is perfect (acceptance). Those things hit us the hardest.

Talking to young Iranians we met in Esfahan made us realize how unfair things are for young people trapped in their system. They can’t date girls or be even seen in public with girls (even if the kids are just friends), there is little to no entertainment. Cinemas show only Iranian movies spiced up with government propaganda… amusement parks don’t exist, bowling and billiard is a luxury entertainment, of course no bars to hang out. For God sake, you can’t even dance in public! It is against the law…

All these things made me see Iran from a different prospective. I feel that most of the tourists who come don’t really bother to think about these things. They enjoy attention, great Iranian hospitability and amazing sites and if you don’t dig deeper it is very easier to love Iran. And we did as well, in our own way J

Another funny thing is that it is impossible to argue or have deep discussions with Iranians, especially if Iran is the topic of the argument. Everyone likes compliments about their country but not everyone can stand criticism. All the problems Iran has are blamed on West… any other country with the similar mindset come to mind? Exactly, dear Mother-Russia. If Russia starts a war, state sponsored doping, past genocides, etc. it is magically USA or Europe to blame with full belief/support from their citizens while all the politicians kids go to school in US/EU. Isn’t it funny? It is but somehow I don’t laugh. Most know this mindset since Russia is in the news and from our experience Iranians are very similar.

Will we come back to Iran? Yes…the day Iran becomes a free country. For now, we welcome all our Iranian friends in Spain.

 

2 Comment

  1. Lovely blog ;’)

    Sabrina 🌸
    http://www.OrganicIsBeautiful.com

  2. […] Read more about traveling with a baby in Iran here […]

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