I always wanted to travel to Iran, otherwise known as Persia, this amazing land of many ancient civilizations, some of them going back to 6 000 BC, while the universally accepted birth of the Persian Empire happened “only” just over the 2500 years ago.
So, once I had the possibility to go on a long journey, I decided to choose Iran.
I must say, I was afraid for safety – and I was going here alone! On our TVs, we have only bad news about this country. In Western media, Iran is presented as an evil, aggressive and hostile nation, a threat to the region and the world, same as North Korea… Not to speak about Hollywood productions showing Iranians in the worst possible way. The terrible news and images we see on our TVs from wars in Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan, most Western people associate also with Iran.
I knew that there was no ongoing war here, but it was hard to forget the image of Iran we get from the European media – a dangerous place, full of fanatics that hate Westerners and the secret police just waiting to put you in prison under any pretext. Also, with economic problems and many Iranians going across hard times – perhaps there will be lots of common crimes targeting supposedly rich foreign tourists?
That’s why, when I told my family and friends about my plans to travel to Iran – all misconceptions surfaced! So, there would be a war here, the country would be full of Afghan Taliban, or Arab terrorists, or both of them)) just waiting to cut off our heads. Explosions on daily basis, evil and hating the European local populace – to say it short I was a kind of crazy kamikaze looking deliberately for big problems or just bored with being still alive.
When my plane landed in Tehran, I was indeed afraid – how will it be at the border?
Will I get a visa? Will police check all my things, my emails, confiscate my laptop or phones?
Perhaps they are just waiting for a reason to put me in jail or in the best case, deport me?
Well, I was among some 20 foreigners that needed Visa on Arrival – and it happened that …nothing happened. I mean nothing extraordinary, everyone paid for insurance and visa fees, then within half an hour, we all got our 30 days tourist visas. No police interrogation, luggage, or phone checks, it was an easy simple process – as in any average airport.
I started my journey from Tehran, then I went to several other places. Yazd, Bandar Abbas, Qeshm, Shiraz, Isfahan, Caspian Sea towns…After a few weeks, I discovered (at least in a small part) the land of great diversity, for nature and climate, peoples and languages, local traditions, and gastronomic delights. While one can expect professional smiles in hotels or hostels, I was surprised by the sympathy and friendly attitude of so many common people towards me, an obvious foreign traveler. Iranians, even those whose English skills are limited, were happy to say “Welcome in Iran” and curious about my opinion of their country, sometimes about life abroad, and, most important, always offering help when seeing me somehow lost or troubled. I walked across main capital avenues and small streets of villages, always welcomed by smiles and nice words, on some occasions even invited to their homes for tea, lunch, or dinner. In no other country, I enjoyed such attention – and I visited more than 20 countries in Europe and Asia until now.
I can say now, after being around for several weeks in various cities – and it is what I heard from all those who visited Iran – it is one of the safest places on Earth. The huge majority of locals are very friendly, honest, and respectful, especially toward women, which comes from old Persian tradition and culture as to the laws of the Islamic Republic.
I think that it is much more probable to be mugged, or robbed in any Western city than in Iran; here I could walk everywhere, evening or night, and never saw anyone threatening.
Of course, there exist some pickpockets or motorbike thieves, but in my opinion (I saw what goes on in Rome or Naples), where this phenomenon is very limited. And of course, some taxi drivers will try to cheat you! So – use Snapp, the local Uber)
I never had any problem nor heard of typical tourists being bothered by uniformed or other police – one would need to work really hard to merit their attention – rather the opposite, I saw patrol police helping and giving a ride to foreigners. I mean “typical” – unless someone comes to Iran to make political activism, take photos where prohibited, or… “incidentally” fly drones over military installations.
Over 3 times bigger than France, with more than 80 mln inhabitants, the incredible variety of big and small places to visit and admire, starting with Tehran megapolis, going across high mountains and seas, deserts and lush forests of the North, ski resorts and diving-friendly islands of the Persian Gulf, Iran is an excellent destination for “slow tourism”. Because, aside from hundreds of old palaces, mosques, churches, traditional villages and towns, caravanserais, and bazaars, its greatest treasure, often missed by rushy travelers, are Iranians themselves – an incredibly friendly and hospitable people, with elaborated culture and percentage of high education better than in many Western countries.
Now, after a month of intensive traveling, I can say that Iran is definitely a very safe, tourist-friendly country. I met lots of international tourists who share a positive opinion of Iran, some really astonished by their experience – they expected all kinds of possible troubles – and only good things happened! Definitely, I want to travel to Iran again; next time I will explore Western Iran. I think honestly it is the greatest long trip I ever made until now!