Want to know the ins and outs of travel in Iran? Go to the source, that’s what we say. And especially if that source’s passport has more stamps than a philatelist convention…
We sat down with well-travelled Peregrine passengers Kevin and Marianne Alcock to chat about their recent Iran adventure, pick up a few dress code tips and learn exactly what it’s like to survive the dreaded arrival visa.
1. Where have you travelled in the past?
We’ve travelled to Europe, UK and USA on numerous occasions, and these trips are great. However for something a little more exciting we’d definitely recommend Uzbekistan (all the Stans really), Egypt, Jordan, Russia, Peru, Galapagos, Papua New Guinea, Croatia, Cambodia or India. Yes, we enjoyed London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Vienna…but we were blown away by Barcelona, Machu Pichu, Samarkand, Bukhara, Mexico City, Wadi Rum and The Kimberley.
2. What inspired you to travel to Iran?
Kevin and I usually organise one big overseas trip each year. Often to an out-of-the-way place. We like to challenge ourselves by visiting places very different from Australia. We prefer countries where the locals do not speak English as their first language. Places that are culturally vibrant, eat odd food, dress differently and are rich in history. Iran ticked all those boxes. We’d always wanted to visit ancient Persia because of its history, so when relations between the USA and Iran relaxed, we were quick to grab the opportunity.
2. Did you have any concerns before travelling?
The usual. We were worried about security and terrorism – middle eastern politics, ISIS and Islamophobia all increased our concerns
Nearly everyone we spoke to about our trip was apprehensive and thought we were putting ourselves at risk. We noticed that if we said were were going to Iran, people became concerned…so we started telling people we were going toPersia…and they all said “Wonderful – we’ve always wanted to go there!”
3. What was the biggest surprise about Iran?
Our fears turned out to be unjustified: we never felt threatened in all our time there. In fact the most surprising thing was the friendliness of the locals who approached us daily. “Welcome to Iran”, people would call out to us from the other side of the street, often stopping us to ask where we can from. “Where do you think?” we’d reply. No one suggested Australia. Most of the tourists in Iran are from Germany (it’s cheap). Brits go to Spain, Germans go to Iran.
The dress code was also less strict than I’d anticipated. After heading to a muslim shop to buy proper garb, I opted for long sleeves and natural fibres (see my tips, below).
4. What tips would you give other passengers planning a trip to Iran?
Dress code is simple: wear slacks, jeans or leggings (preferable natural fibres). Bring a few tank tops. camies and long sleeved loose shirts.
Wear your slacks (ankle length is fine), add a camie and a loose long sleeved shirt over the top. Make sure everything is of natural fibres – cotton, linen, silk. And pack 2 –3 matching linen/cotton scarves, and a sun visor – it will keep your scarf on and shade your nose!
5. This itinerary is particularly action-packed. How did you find it?
There is one long driving day – our Peregrine guide tried to make it a flight but that was changed at the last minute. At the time it was a bother but, looking back, the memory has been replaced with lots of other positives.
6. How did you find the accommodation on your trip?
The first day was an eye-opener (in Tehran), but the other accommodation was fine. The trip offered us a level of comfort that is acceptable and local. When you awake in a generic 5-star hotel you could be anywhere…with Peregrine you know you’re in an exotic location. They usually use more characterful, historic hotels.
7. Is there anything you wish you’d before travelling to Iran?
Getting a visa on arrival in Tehran is a piece of cake…if you have the right documentation and money and provided I was wearing a headscarf, had the correct amount of money in US or Rials, an authorisation number, travel insurance and 6 months on my passport. Sounds complicated, but it only took about 10mins.
8. What were the highlights of your trip?
For one, picnic crashing. Those Iranians love a picnic…and I joined in every day. Our guide and driver chose a picnic spot for morning tea every day of our tour, and provided tea, coffee and pastries. We’d usually have a short break, mid-morning, near a park with facilities. It was a great chance for us to interact with locals in a natural setting. Picnics are a way of life in Iran, so this was an appropriate break in our daily activities. Lots of gesturing, smiling, tea and sweet pastries. A few other highlights: meeting the locals and being made to feel so welcome, an impromptu concert (locals just jamming) in Estefan at the ancient music museum, Vahid, our guide, was probably the best guide I have ever had, and of course the long day driving through some amazing mountain scenery – it was breathtaking.
9. Were there any lowlights?
A glass of wine would have been wonderful!