Iran is an incredible country to explore. It is an ancient land bursting with time-honored civilizations, deep history, and rich culture. Regardless of the tense political situation, Iranians love to see tourists in their country and they are some of the most hospitable you will ever find in the world. The country is surprisingly large and Iran's recorded history is about as long as recorded history itself. There has almost constantly been a major country or empire centered on this Iranian plateau for two and a half thousand years - with more empires existing before that.
Iran: The Facts
- Population: 83 Million
- Capital And Largest City: Tehran
- Official Language: Farsi (aka Persian)
- Currency: Iranian Rial (But Locally Called The Toman)
Things To Understand About Iran
First, there's a number of things to understand about Iran. One is that its official name is "The Islamic Republic of Iran" and as such, it is a very conservative country. The government takes religion very strictly here (and as a foreigner there are some things that affect you too).
- Dresscode for Men: Shorts For Men Above The Knee Are Forbidden
- Dresscode for Women: Shorts, Short Dresses For Women Are Forbidden, Bare Sholders Are Forbidden
- Headscarf: Women Must Wear A Headscarf At All Times In Public (Its Only Token, Doesn't Need To Completely Cover The Hear)
- Islam: Do No Speak Badly About Islam While There
- Alcohol: Alcohol Is Forbidden In Iran
- Driving: Women Can Drive Cars, But Can't Be The Driver Of A Motorbike Or Ride A Bicycle
- Homosexuality: Homosexuality Is Illegal In Iran
With all that said, these measures feel top-down. They are enforced by the government or police but you will struggle to find any Iranians who agree. Most Iranians are very educated and progressive and when they leave their country, they drink and discard their headscarves. When you are with Iranians you can relax - they will often offer you alcohol (it's often homebrew or smuggled).
Currency - The Iranian Rial
The national currency of Iran is the Iranian Rial. But no one talks in Rials, they all talk in Tomans. Tomans are just 10x Rials with the decimal place moved over one pace. A bit like talking about cents and dollars. But if a Rial is a cent, then a "dollar" or Toman is 10 cents. Confusing?
Also, you generally can't use FX or Google to give you the exchange rate. That is the official exchange rate that no one in the country uses and you definitely don't want to use. You need to find the free market exchange rate - or black market rate if you will. For example the exchange rate in July 2021.
- FX: $1.00 = 42,025 Rials (4,025 Toman)
Bonbast (Free Market Exchange Rate): $1.00 = 244,400 Rials (24,440 Toman)
Why Get Off The Beatten Track
Iran is populated by various ethnic groups, including Persians, Azeri Turks, Lurs, Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs, and Turkomans. Most of the normal tourist destinations in Iran are all on the central plateau. Famous attractions are Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd, Persopolis, and Shiraz.
- Fun Fact: Shiraz Wine Originally Comes From Shiraz In Iran - Where It Is Not Illegal
These touristic destinations are extremely rewarding to be sure and you definitely need to see them all. All of these tourist destinations are in the Persian parts of Iran. But there are scores of awesome things to see and explore all around the country. These include many significant archeological sites. One example of this is in the Arab part in Khuzestan near Iraq and Kuwait.
- Visa On Arrival: For European Union, Australia, New Zealand And Many Other Countries
- Visa Required: United States, United Kingdom, Canada (This Is A Problem And You Should Apply Through A Tour Agency)
Modern Khuzestan is ancient Elam - one of the oldest and most significant civilizations of the Mesopotamian region. Most of the ancient ziggurats are actually in Mesopotamia and in modern-day Iraq - making them hard to visit. But the impressive Chogha Zanbil is easily accessed while in Iran. This ancient ziggurat was built around 1250 BC. There are few man structures outside the pyramids that are this large and this old.
Near to this site is the ancient city of Susa. This ancient city was once one of the world's most important. It was the ancient capital of Elam and then the capital of the powerful Persian Empire. This is also the same as the city of Shushan in the Book of Esther of the Bible.
- Warning: Tourists Who Visit Iran Lose Visa-Free Access To America (Possibly Excluding Canadians)
- Fun Fact: Because Of Losing Visa-Free Access To The USA, Iran Does Not Stamp Passports
If you go to the far southeast of Iran you will be in the Baluchistan region. This is a very traditional region and the people here are incredibly hospitable. Baluchistan is home to the Baluch people, these desert-dwelling people are today split mostly between Iranian Baluchistan and Pakistan Baluchistan. This is one of the few places in Iran where you will find people actually wearing traditional clothes. There are very few tourists to these locations and the local people will be curious and immeasurably helpful.
The ethnic minorities all live around the border regions and boast different food and different traditions. They really make Iran much more colorful.
It is impossible to do Iran any justice in an article like this but Iran is just so much more than the main tourist locations of the central plateau. Its culture is rich and its history is deep.