10 Tips for Cycling Iran
We spent almost two months in Iran and covered 2,300km by bicycle in the country. We entered Iran from Turkey at Maku and passed through Tabriz, Esfahan and Shiraz before we left by ferry from Bandar Abbas. Here are our top 10 tips for cycling in Iran.
1. Organise your visa in advance. It is currently not possible to get a visa on arrival. Arrange your visa in advance, e.g. through www.iranianvisa.com or www.stantours.com, then pick it up from an Iranian embassy. If you are passing through Turkey, Istanbul is an easy place to pick up your visa if you have arranged a preapproval through one of the above agencies. The end date on the visa is the final date you can enter the country, not the date you need to exit. Generally you get 30 days, but you can extend it while in the country. Esfahan (same day for us) and Shiraz are currently known to be fairly easy places to extend, while Tabriz, Yazd and Tehran get less helpful reports.
2. Cash up before entering the country. Make sure you take enough cash for your entire stay, as there are no ATMs in Iran. US Dollars, Euros and British Pounds are probably the best currencies to take. It can be nerve racking to take large amounts of cash with you, but bear in mind that Iran is a very safe country to travel.
3. Take your high viz gear, helmet and rear view mirror. The main roads in Iran can be very busy and dangerous, with heavy truck traffic especially in the Northwest between the Turkish border and Tehran / Esfahan, and there is not always a shoulder to ride on. The South and East of the country are quieter. Try to stick to smaller more remote roads if possible.
4. Be prepared to carry more food and water. Unlike in Turkey, there are not many water points to fill up in and towns can be few and far between. Summers can get extremely hot, increasing your need for water, and you’ll also need some extra for camping, so make sure you have enough capacity. Grocery shops in Iran are quite basic and may not stock what you need, so make sure you always have enough emergency food with you.
5. Make the most of desert wild camps. The Iranian desert can be a fantastic place to camp, and we’ve had some of our favourite wild camps there, gazing at falling stars and enjoying the tranquillity. Sometimes you might end up on flat plains with nowhere to hide your tent, but if you wait until dusk and then walk out into the desert for a few hundred metres, you will be pretty much invisible from the road. Shepherds roam far and wide so it is possible they will discover you, though we found they had nothing more than a mild curiosity.
6. Camp for free in city parks. You can also camp in most city parks for free, and there might even be a night watchman. Iranians love camping and often picnic and sleep in the city parks during the stifling summer months. Be prepared to be the star attraction.
7. Cover up to follow the local dress code. Iran has strict laws regarding the dress code, particularly for women, and yes – you’ll have to follow it even whilst cycling. This can be challenging, particularly during summer. A head scarf must be worn at all times. Instead of a regular head scarf, Freddie used a Buff (worn balaclava style) under her helmet while cycling, which was much more practical as it doesn’t slip. As a woman, you’ll also need to wear long trousers or leggings, and a long sleeved shirt or coat that goes down to mid-thigh to cover your behind. For guys, shorts is fine, except in more sensitive areas like Mosques.
8. Carry some small gifts and be prepared to entertain. Iranian hospitality is famous, and you’re likely to be invited to stay with some local families during your journey. Come prepared with a small gift, some dates or halva are a good start, or small mementoes from your home country. For invitations with families who don’t speak your language, come prepared with some entertainment materials as Iranians love to interact and are really curious. We passed the time with a Point-It book, a world map, language guide and family photos. Be prepared to be quizzed and even to sing for your supper!
9. Keep your cool if you get questioned by officials. You may be stopped and questioned at some point during your trip. Stay calm and polite, answer the questions and they will probably leave you alone. Also be careful what you say in blogs and when taking photos, especially near military areas and power plants. We posted some of our blog posts once we were out of the country, and our blog was subsequently banned in Iran.
10. Leave your preconceptions at home. Don’t worry too much about what you read in the press. Whilst it’s wise to stay away from protests and large gatherings and not to take photos of sensitive areas, day to day the people are extremely welcoming and very open about their opinion regarding the government. Check foreign office advice for an update on the situation.