This spring we are combining two of our favourite tours, our Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan tour followed by our Iran Classics tour. Two countries sharing Shia culture.
The tour starts in Azerbaijan, in the capital of Baku before going on by chartered flight to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic! Whilst Nakhchivan is an exclave of Azerbaijan, this bizarre republic is geographically separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by its mortal enemy, Armenia, with whom they have been at war with since the 1990s.
Nakhchivan was one of the first regions of the former USSR to claim independence, shortly after this the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted and killed tens of thousands of people. During this war, Nakhchivan was blockaded and in order to survive, this isolated exclave was forced to become very self-reliant.
Inside this little known, landlocked republic are many incredible sights from ancient mosques, Madrassas and Soviet relics to awe-inspiring natural scenery and the tomb of Noah.
From Nakhchivan, we’ll be taking a very seldom done road-trip from the exclave to the neighbouring country of Iran, going all the way to its capital – Tehran.
Arriving in the thriving capital of Tehran, you will visit the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini and revolutionary martyrs cemetery before you see the famous anti-US propaganda adjoining the facades of buildings and the former US embassy.
You then hit the road for Esfahan and see royal palaces and mosques, local bazaars and hang out with locals at the gym watching ancient Persian workouts. In Yazd you will see ancient Zoroastrian temples and the famed towers of silence before we stroll around the UNESCO site of Persepolis outside of Shiraz.
As always, return Pioneer discounts apply, book your place now!
Please note that since Iran will be entered overland, visas must be acquired in advance to partake in this combo as visa on arrival for Iran cannot be obtained at land borders. YPT provides full support to get the Iranian visa.
Arrival in Baku at your own leisure and transfer to our centrally located hotel.
At 18:00 meet up with your YPT guide and the rest of the group and head out for a traditional Azerbaijani dinner.
Try the classic rice dish of Plov or a meatball broth called Kufta Bozbash or Azeri Dolma. Despite being nominally a nation of Shiite Muslims, more than 160 years of Russian presence have left Azerbaijan with strong taste for alcohol, so you can wash the meal down with a local Xirdalan beer or Azeri wine.
Overnight in Baku
Friday 18th March – Baku
After breakfast we’ll meet our local Baku guide and head to the vantage point over Baku to see the Azerbaijani capital in it’s full glory, we’ll then begin our tour of Baku old town, a UNESCO world heritage site, this fortified area is the historical core of Baku. We’ll see the ancient landmarks of the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower.
See the famous carpet museum (actually shaped like a carpet) from outside.
Heading into the suburbs of Baku, we’ll check out the Baku Fire Temple, a castle-like religious temple used as a Hindu, Sikh, and Zoroastrian place of worship.
Check out the iconic and jaw-dropping Heydar Aliyev centre. Named after the long-running president of Azerbaijan, the centre is famous for its distinctive flowing, curved design. It’s a fantastic example of post-modern architecture, the building’s shape is an eternal cycle, connecting the past with the present.
Check out some of the surviving Soviet architecture of Baku.
Now, no journey to the land of fire would be complete without a visit to the burning mountain! We’ll ascend into the hills around Baku to Yanar Dag. Similar to the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan, this is a natural gas fire which burns continuously on a hill near the Caspian Sea. The flames steadily burn 3 metres into the air feeding off natural gas under the rock. Legend has it that the blaze was ignited by a shepherd discarding a cigarette in the 1950’s and it continues to burn to this day.
On the way back from Yanar Dag we’ll be able to see some Soviet oil industry ruins from the car.
Return to Baku for an evening meal and prepare for our departure into the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.
Overnight in Baku.
Saturday 19th March – Baku-Nakhchivan
We’ll make an early start and head to the lesser visited terminal of Baku airport for our short flight to Nakhchivan, this will avoid the frontline of Nagorno-Karabakh and cross over Iran. We’ll arrive in Nakhchivan city in mid-morning where our local Nakhchivan guides and escorts will be waiting for us.
We’ll drop our luggage at our hotel and kick start the tour of this little known republic.
First, we’ll visit the tomb of the Prophet Noah: This is one of the most important places in the autonomous republic related to the biblical Flood. It is claimed, researched and confirmed that Prophet Noah has been buried here.
We’ll then visit one of the most outstanding landmarks in Nakhchivan: the Momine Khatun Mausoleum, decorated with a complex geometric pattern and quotes from the Koran, this grand decahedral mausoleum was built 1186 in memory of the mother of Atabay ruler Mahammad Jahan Pahlavan. It is called the Taj Mahal of Nakhchivan and was considered as a medieval skyscraper of its day reaching 34 meters in height.
We’ll visit the military museum of some of the local residents who became high ranking officers of the Soviet army.
Check out the Khans house, this was the home of the Nakhchivan ruler Rahim khan and was built on a high hilltop called the “Khan height”, which makes it look extremely magnificent. There is a spectacular view of the capital city from this point.
We’ll enjoy a traditional Nakhchivan lunch.
Head to the Karabaglar village to see the ruins of small mausoleums scattered over ancient fields and tower fortifications.
We’ll pay a visit to the Duzdag Salt mines Hospital. We’ll tour the whole complex and meet those who regularly use it. This is a unique place used for natural medical treatment of asthma and bronchitis. The medical treatment is made by keeping the patients in the empty salt mines for several hours per day.
Head back to Nakhchivan city for an evening meal and drinks.
Overnight in Nakhchivan.
Sunday 20th March– Nakhchivan-Ordubad
Breakfast at our hotel
The water in Nakhchivan is a big deal, there are over 200 mineral water springs in Nakhchivan covering 60% of all water sources of Azerbaijan.There are six types, sixteen categories and thirty-three species of mineral waters in Nakhchivan.
We’ll drive to Daridagh thermal spring deep in the mountains of Julfa region The water in the area is used for people suffering from stomach diseases.
Drive to Ordubad which is the second largest town and a medieval city of the Caucasus, well known for its exports of fruits and spices, and for its cuisine.
We’ll see what the hype is all about and stop for a local lunch to try the Ordubad cuisine.
Tour of Ordubad, we’ll see one of the many underground canals called “kahriz”, a source of water for houses and orchards.
See the stunning 17th century Juma Mosque, which looks more like a palace. Today, soviet era photos are exhibited here. The entrance area was once decorated with statues of Russian communists and the roof was also designed in Russian architecture, but these were removed during the fall of the USSR.
See the Soviet observatory.
Head back to Nakhchivan stopping at the 12th century Gulustan monument, a medieval sepulchral monument, the settlement here was destroyed when its Armenian population, was deported to Isfahan.
We’ll then enjoy a trip highlight: a visit to the Azerbaijani Machu Picchu!
Like the mysterious city of the Incas, the 6th century Alinja Fortress is located on a mountain slope, rising up to the top in a stepped form. The fortress witnessed the footsteps of many empires and saw many conquerors. It was often destroyed and rebuilt.
Evening dinner in Nakhchivan followed by free time
Overnight in Nakhchivan.
Monday 21st March– Nakhchivan
Breakfast at our hotel
Our first stop of the day will be Batabat which is a beautiful landscape with forests, mountains, lakes expect with floating islands and ice cold, crystal clear water. Normally the temperatures in this region are very cold so bring a jacket!
Return back to Nakhchivan and Lunch
We’ll visit an ancient pilgrimage site which is one of the holiest places for Muslims around the world. Ashabi-Kahf is a sanctuary in a natural cave which is located between the mountains of Ilandag and Nahajir in Azerbaijan. It has been considered as a sacred place since ancient times.
We’ll pay a visit to the Nakhchivan History Museum and the Carpet Museum
Dinner at a local restaurant, bidding farewell to those leaving tomorrow. We’ll stop by grocery stores to prepare for tomorrow’s long roadtrip.
Tuesday 22nd March – Baku
Today, we leave Nakhchivan early for the road trip which will take us all the way to Tehran and through the city of Tabriz.
Meet up with the group joining us for the Iran part of the trip at 5pm in the hotel lobby
Visit to the heart of Old Tehran to soak up the night time atmosphere, drink some local tea and people watch.
Traditional Iranian dinner of kebabs at famous restaurant Ayaran restaurant, near Ferdosi square.
Overnight in New Naderi Hotel or similar
Wednesday 23rd March – Tehran
Head out on our day tour of the main sights of Tehran with first stop being a visit the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Head on to the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, expect to see a lot of locals around paying their respects
Stop at the Shah’s Monument AKA Revolution Monument for photos
Drive through Tehran past anti-US propaganda and the US embassy (possibility of actually seeing inside the embassy, something which was considered impossible only a couple of years ago!).
Explore the Erbat Museum with its heavy doses of brutality and propaganda, not for the fiant-hearted!
Shopping in the Tajrish Bazaar of Tehran and visit a nearby mosque.
Dinner at the Armenian Club. Armenians are the main ethnic Christian minority in Iran.
Overnight in New Naderi Hotel or similar
Thursday 24th March – Tehran-Esfahan
Drive to Esfahan (4-5 hours) with plenty of stops for breaks and photos
Lunch in a restaurant in one of the smaller cities on the way.
Go to the famous old Khaju bridge.
Walk across bridge and mingle with locals.
Visit one of the oldest carpet shops. Explanation on a variety of Persian carpets and opportunity for a purchase. The presentation involves a show how carpets are made and explanation of 30 different styles of carpets.
Dinner in a local restaurant of the local speciality of chelo kebab
Evening visit to the 300-year-old Abbasi Hotel for traditional Iranian tea.
Overnight at the centrally located Esfahan tourist Hotel.
Friday 25th March – Esfahan
After breakfast we head straight to the beautiful Ali Qapu Royal Palace dating from the early 17th century
Sheikh Lotfollah mosque and Ali-qapoo palace.
Explore the Naqsh-e Jahan Sqaure, the second largest public square in the world after Tian’anmen Square in Beijing!
Lunch in a traditional restaurant at the square.
Visit the Imam Mosque, famed for its traditional architecture, previously called the Shah Mosque before the revolution
Chance to change money for small crisp rial denominations. There is an official change place with good rates but they also have a stack of small denominations that they hold. (They remembered us from last time and changed some money for the group).
Visit Zurkhane gym to watch an ancient Persian sport workout, a strength building exercises done with traditional drum and bell music.
Dinner in a local restaurant
Overnight at the Tourist Hotel.
Saturday 26th March – Esfahan-Yazd
Check out of hotel for the drive to Yazd (4 hours)
We have lunch on arrival before diving straight into the amazing city of Yazd – 5000 years old and a centre of Zoroastrian culture
Visit the must-see Amir Chakhmaq complex and nearby mosque
Explore the old city and the Jame Mosque and head to Rafieian’s Old House, over 250 years old and a great example of traditional architecture in the region
Dinner of the local kebab in one of the old-fashioned Persian restaurants in the city
Overnight in Yazd
Sunday 27th March – Yazd-Shiraz
After breakfast we head to the beautiful Dolat Abad Garden and the Zoroastrian Fire Temple as well as the famous Yazd Tower of Silence
Lunch in Yazd before we hit the road for the drive to Shiraz (5 hours)
On arrival we visit the citadel in the centre of the city and mingle with locals.
Free walk around or relax with tea and shisha at a tea house.
Dinner in Saray E Mehr restaurant in the middle of bazaar for traditional Di Zi dish
Overnight in Parsian hotel.
Monday 28th March – Persepolis-Shiraz
Up bright and early to visit the colour stained mosque when the morning light shines through spectacularly.
Drive to Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire during the Achemaenian era and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, burned to the ground by Alexander the Great but the ruins are one of the top sights in the whole of Iran
Lunch at traditional restaurant called “Paradise” on the way to Necropolis tombs.
Persepolis covers a vast area and we will explore the palaces, forts and treasury
Drive back to Shiraz where we will visit the botanic gardens of Shiraz.
Stop for traditional Shiraz ice cream at a famous local shop.
Visit a famous Hafeizieh Iranian poet’s park and tomb. Great opportunity to mingle with locals and take photos.
Dinner at hotel or out to a fast food joint for burgers, falafel, and sambusas
Overnight in Parsian hotel.
Tuesday 29th March – Shiraz
End of tour with YPT able to arrange your onward travel back to Tehran (if required) or airport transfer to Shiraz International Airport where you can catch a flight to Doha, Dubai or Istanbul to connect back home.
Those wishing to carry on are of course welcome to join us on our Unrecognized countries tour! In that tour we’ll visit Armenia, Georgia and two unrecognized breakaway republic, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia.
· Iranian visa code
· Accommodation on twin share basis with breakfast
· Transport to complete the itinerary including domestic flights
· English speaking local guide and expert YPT guide at all times
· Entrance fees unless otherwise specified
· Flights to, from and during the tour
· Iranian Visa Fee on arrival or at an embassy as applicable
· Pre-tour accommodation (€40) and single supplement (€330)
· Lunches, dinners and personal expenses
· Tips for the local guides and drivers
We have expert guides ready to help answer any questions you may have.