Our Spring incursion through the Middle East continues from Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon with this great combo taking us to two of the world’s oldest countries, Iran and Iraq.
This tour takes us to all of the major sites in Tehran as well as the ancient capitals of Shiraz and Esfahan. On top of the rich history of the region, this tour also offers lots of opportunities to interact with locals, and witness the visual reality of what is the Iranian Revolution. On the trip itself and through our local guides, we will be doing lots of hidden extras (not published on the itinerary!) and where possible we will show you every side of this unique and majestic country.
From Iran we proceed to Baghdad flying with Iraqi Airways! Following the fall of ISIS in 2017, YPT conducted our first ever research tour to Baghdad and beyond in April 2018. It proved to be not only very safe but incredibly informative & interesting. The area is split with world-class heritage and is completely unspoilt by tourism meaning we will feel like the only foreign travellers in town.
There is a huge amount of ancient and modern history waiting to be explored in Iraq. We’ll travel from Baghdad north along the former death highway to Samara and back again to Najaf, Karbala, the Mesopotamian marshlands and onto Basra before boarding the only train in the country back to Baghdad. We cover a huge amount of ground with our expert local guide explaining all as we go.
After our time in Baghdad comes to close we will board a flight and head to Iraqi Kurdistan a prospective new nation protected by the Peshmerga which endured many setbacks . Despite its significance and proximity to probably one of the most tense places around the world, Kurdistan offers not only safety, but beautiful scenery, famed in Middle Eastern literature as a paradise on earth, with more than 3500 archaeological sites, and some of the most friendly and welcoming people on earth. The trip takes us to the world’s only Yazidi shrine at Lalish (40 KM from what used to be ISIS territory), before heading north to Duhok, the Saddam palace, Amadiya, and then looping around and heading south to Sulamaniyah, and back to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Erbil, checking out lots of cool sights in between.
Whether you are a former Pioneer, or new to us, you can join this trip in a region that is living history, old and new!
For a tour of this nature, security is the most important factor and the itinerary is subject to change depending on the situation on the ground and the information we receive from our local partners. The local guide and YPT guide’s decision on eventual itinerary changes is final and taken with your safety in mind.
Free afternoon to walk around Tehran, get to know your group.
Visit National Jewellery museum – the contents of this place actually back up the Iranian currency, a truly amazing experience and certainly one of the highlights of the trip regardless of if you are a jewellery fiend or not!
Visit to the heart of Old Tehran to soak up the night time atmosphere, drink some local tea and people watch.
Overnight in Parastoo Hotel.
Wednesday April 8th – Tehran
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!).
Visit Saad Abad & Niavaran palaces, the last Palaces of the last Shah of Iran. Lunch at Darband hills.
One hour free time or tea by the river.
Shopping in the Tajrish Bazaar of Tehran and visit a nearby mosque. One hour free time.
Traditional Iranian dinner of kebabs at famous restaurant Ayaran restaurant, near Ferdosi square.
Evening walk around the city, with us taking the opportunity to try some shisha, fresh juice bar, and mingle with locals.
Overnight in overnight in Parastoo hotel.
Thursday April 9th – Tehran/ Shiraz
Check out of hotel for morning flight Shiraz.
Visit the citadel in the centre of the city and mingle with locals.
Visit Grand Bazaar for some shopping and photos. Chance to buy old anti-American stamps from a local shop owner and collector.
Lunch in Saray E Mehr restaurant in the middle of bazaar for traditional Di Zi dish.
Free walk around the bazaar or relax with tea and shisha at poets house/tea house. Great chance to mingle with local students.
Dinner at hotel or out to a fast food joint for burgers, falafel, and sambusas.
Overnight at Parsian hotel.
Friday April 10th – Shiraz/Persepolis
Up bright and early to visit the colour stained mosque when the morning light shines through spectacularly.
Late morning drive to Persepolis.
Lunch at traditional restaurant called “Paradise” on the way to Necropolis tombs.
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.
Exploring the streets. Shopping for military hats and patches.
Overnight in Parsian hotel.
Saturday April 11th – Shiraz/Esfahan
Drive to Esfahan with stop at Cirus’s tomb, an old fortress on the way. Tea time break.
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. Short rest at hotel.
Walk for a dinner at local restaurants.
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.
Evening visit to the 300 year old Abbasi Hotel for traditional Iranian tea.
Overnight at the centrally located Esfahan tourist Hotel.
Sunday April 12th – Esfahan
Visit the beautiful Safavid Chehelsetoon Palace.
Sheikh Lotfollah mosque and Ali-qapoo palace.
Lunch in a traditional restaurant at the square.
Visit to Shah Mosque.
Free time to see square and shop for gifts at surrounding bazaar.
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).
Optional visit to Iran/Iraq war museum.
Visit Zurkhane gym to watch an ancient Persian sport workout, a strength building exercises done with traditional drum and bell music.
Overnight at the Tourist Hotel.
Monday April 13th – Esfahan/Tehran
Morning flight to Tehran.
Visit Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Visit the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetary.
Stop at the Shah’s Monument AKA Revolution Monument for photos on the way from the airport.
Farewell meal at the Armenian Club. Armenians are the main ethnic Christian minority in Iran.
Overnight in Parastoo hotel.
Tuesday April 14th – Tehran
Free morning to do last minute shopping.
We board our direct Iraqi Airways flight from Tehran to Baghdad at 14.50.
Arrival and meet up with our local guide and fixer who will give an introduction on travelling in Iraq and a breakdown of the itinerary for our stay
See the Liberation Square monument, which commemorates the establishment of the Republic of Iraq.
Drive by the victory over America Palace and see the square where Saddam’s statue was toppled in 2003.
And of course, Baghdad can’t be complete with a visit to the Flying Carpet Monument, Alibi Baba and the 40 thieves’ monument and the Magic Lamp monument. All on the drive in from the airport to our hotel and restaurant
Overnight in the high security“Baghdad Hotel”. Complete with swimming pool, gym and bar!
Wednesday April 15th – Baghdad
It’s a Baghdad city tour day and we kick things off with a visit to the National Museum.
Visit the incredible and well renovated Al – Mustansariya School. This is commonly known as the oldest school in the world.
Walk through the adjoining copper market. A wonderful place for souvenirs and photography
We drive an hour outside of the city to the ancient city of Ctesiphone. These days all that’s left is the palace archway which is the largest single span vault of unreinforced brickwork in the world
Back to Baghdad for a feast and overnight.
Thursday April 16th – Karbala
Up early for the drive north to Samarra. We pass through multiple checkpoints along the route driving by many villages recently destroyed during fighting against ISIS.
Samarra is famous for its Minaret (also known as the Great Mosque of Samarra). We will climb the spiralling staircase all l the way to the top for the 360 degree view. Not for the faint hearted!
Drive back to Baghdad and head straight to Abu Ghraib. No not the prison which is long gone but it’s abandoned and ancient site of Agargouf Ziggurat.
Continue on south to Iraq’s holiest city of Karbala
Dinner and overnight in Karbala
Friday April 17th – Najaf
Up early for some Karbala sightseeing taking in the must-see Al Abbas mosque and Iman Husayn shrine. Today’s a great day to visit as it is the wednesday procession. You can expect a lot of followers marching around the sites!
Drive to Babylon, once the largest and most important city in the world. We tour the ancient ruins with our local expert and see what’s left of the hanging gardens.
Saddam Hussain Palace – Perched right on top of Babylon, the dictator made sure he had the best view of the site. We spend some time exploring the looted remains of one of his many former palaces.
We drive to Najaf, the third holiest city in Shia Islam.
After dinner, those who still have it in them after a full day on the road can visit the most important site of Najaf – the Imam Ali shrine for the late night ceremony.
Overnight in Najaf
Saturday April 18th – Basra
We wake up early for a walking tour of Najaf, including Imam Ali’s house (the very spot where imam Ali was killed) and the Kufa Mosque.
Drive south to the Mesopotamian Marshes. We’ll take a bout trip through the maze of marshes stopping by local villages for tea. The marshes once engulfed a whole swathe of Southern Iraq with numerous floating villages. Today the receding waters have led most families to change their livelihood but we’ll still see the few that remain.
Visit the Adam and Eve tree AKA the tree of knowledge in the village of Qurna. Legend has it that Eve ate the apple from this very tree in the Garden of Eden.
Drive onto Iraq’s southernmost city of Basra
Dinner and overnight in Basra
Sunday April 19th – Basra
We’ll visit the Ashar and Shanashil Al Basra area to catch a glimpse of the old Basra: old style merchant houses with balconies leaning over the narrow streets.
We take a cruise across the Shatt Al Arab river and see some shipwrecks from the Iran-Iraq War from the 80s.
Just like most places in Iraq, Saddam Hussain also built a grand palace in Basra. And of course we’ll visit it.
Iraq’s biggest football stadium is in Basra. Iraqi’s love their football and are even more proud of the 60,000 seater Basra sports city stadium!
If you’re a train fanatic then this one is for you; we’ll take the only active railroad in Iraq; the night train from Basra to Baghdad. It is not possible to make a reservation before the ride but we will do our best to score some sleepers!
Monday April 20th – Baghdad/Erbil
Early arrival into Baghdad train station. The station itself a real highlight so we’ll take some time to get some breakfast and take photos here.
Visit the incredible Suffi shrine, a welcome escape from the city’s hustle and bustle
The Al Shaheed Monument is the martyr’s memorial spot for people who died during the Iran-Iraq War. These days it’s a highly controversial monument, as it was originally built during the Saddam era.
Say goodbye to those joining us for only the Southern Iraq portion of the tour.
Evening flight to Erbil.
Welcome dinner and drinks in Erbil and meet up with those joining us in Erbil for the Kurdistan adventure.
Overnight in Erbil.
Tuesday April 21st – Duhok
We begin the day nice and early for the two-hour drive to Lalish. This is the most sacred town for the Yazidi people and is extremely interesting as it is now maintained by only a few families, waiting for the Yazidi refugees spread out all over the world to come back
We then head to the Khanis archaeological site, here we can see cuneiform writings in the walls of what was a palace, pre-arabic times!
Our next stop is at one of the world’s oldest churches built into the mountains in Alqosh. Alqosh is technically part of Mosul and Iraq “proper”. From the mountainside church, we will be able to see what used to the Peshmerga front line against ISIS. Inside the caves, we will learn more about the life of the monks who lived here and their self-mutilation practices.
We head for lunch and a few beers in Algosh, as luckily it is a Christian town!
Following our slow, late lunch, we drive onwards to Duhok, which is a pleasant old town for our overnight stay.
Walking city tour.
Overnight in Duhok
Wednesday April 22nd – Rawandas
In the morning, we head to Amadiya, home to one of Saddam Hussein’s former mountaintop palaces and is truly an amazing site. We spend a few hours exploring and admiring the breathtaking views.
We head to a locally famous cave restaurant for a traditional lunch.
Following lunch, we embark on one of our longer journeys: the four-hour drive to Rawandas. Stopping along the way for pictures at the Shamarda cave as well as for refreshments.
Walking tour of Rawandas before we head for dinner and drinks.
Overnight in Rawandas where we stay in our own cottages for a little cottage party!
Thursday April 23rd – Sulaymaniyah
Drive the famously scenic Hamilton road. The road was built by AM Hamilton in the early 1930’s for what he hoped would unify the peoples of the region. Well, in fact, the road has been fought over many times, especially during the war with Iran.
We continue our journey stopping at various waterfalls and mountains for pictures, before getting on the only mountain cable car in the region for breathtaking views of the surrounding scenery.
Lunch at a countryside restaurant.
We take another scenic drive of around 3.5 hours to the second major city of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the most important regarding tourism, Sulaymaniyah. We will be stopping along the way for refreshments and picture opportunities.
In the evening, we take a walk around this historical city before heading into the Christian quarter for dinner and drinks.
Overnight in Sulaymaniyah.
Friday April 24th – Sulaymaniyah
We take the one-hour drive to Halabja. Halabja was the scene of the mass chemical attack on the Kurdish people, perpetrated by the Baathist regime. Here, we will look at the various shrines to the scene of this atrocity, as well as visit a local museum.
We head to Tawela, the last village in Iraq next to the Iran border, and previously the front line in the Iran/Iraq war. There is also a beautiful waterfall here that we will visit for some relaxation.
Lunch by the border.
We head back to Sulaymaniyah for some leisurely time at Azadi park and bowling centre.
Overnight in Sulaymaniyah.
Saturday April 25th – Sulaymaniyah/Erbil
After breakfast, we head to the Red Prison. Here, Saddam’s regime emprisoned and tortured Kurds suspected of being anti-baath. We can visit the prisons and torture cells used at the time. There is also a new part of the museum dedicated to the very recent war against ISIS
We again hit the road, this time back to Erbil, but instead of taking the short cut, we head through small towns, visiting caravan-serails and markets on the way!
We then complete the scenic two-hour drive back to Erbil, again, stopping for refreshments and photos along the way.
We head to the Citadel for sunset, which, although it has seen better days, is still worth a look. We then head into the bazaar where your local guide will help you find some last minute bargains.
We have a farewell dinner near the bazaar.
It is fair to say you do not know a country until you have done a bar crawl, so we finish our time in Iraqi Kurdistan in true YPT style by seeing it off with a few well-earned drinks.
Overnight in Erbil.
Sunday April 26th – Erbil
End of tour, with YPT either able to arrange additional accommodation or transport to the airport.
– Visa support
– Accommodation on twin sharing basis
– A/C transport to complete itinerary
– Flights to complete itinerary
– English speaking local guide and YPT guide
– Entrance Fees unless otherwise specified