Iranian Azerbaijian and Kurdistan (Zanjan, Soltaniyeh, Takab, Karaftu, Takht e Soleyman)
5.5: Dubai ->
Tehran -> Zanjan
6.5: Zanjan -> Soltaniyeh -> Takab -> Karaftu
caves -> Takab
7.5: Takab -> Takht e Soleyman -> Tehran
Planning and overall impression
This was a short weekend trip into Western Iran, starting and ending in
Tehran. It was planned short term and with the help of a travel agency.
The region northwest of Tehran is quite different from the parts of
Iran I have visited so far. It's cool, mountainous and with snowfall in
winter, with snow lasting until May. It's a relatively green area with
a number of historical and natural sites. Also the local culture is
quite interesting. The local Kurds still wear the traditional baggy
Hotels cost between 20 and 70 Euro/night.
The largest expense was the car with driver for 3 million IRR/day
(three days). Meals were relatively inexpensive.
Mostly chicken kebab, which wasn't bad in the hotel in Takab and also elsewhere in the region.
The hotel availability in the area is a bit limited. The hotel in
Zanjan where I stayed was supposed to be the best of the city, but was
pretty old, while Takab only has one two star hotel. Both hotels
however were adequate. For some reason most hotels in Tehran were fully
booked at the time I was travelling. It took some effort to find the
hotel Sasan in Tehran and to find their telephone number. With the help
of a friend in Tehran I managed to book a room in the hotel. The hotel
rate, because we booked directly with the hotel, was half of the rate
of an Internet portal.
Money / Exchange rate
Euro = around 38000 Rial
1 Euro ~ USD 1.12
I used cash, because (international) bank cards and credit cards could not be used in Iran due to the embargo
phones and prepaid cards
I got a local SIM card (Irancell) which cost 800000 IRR, because it
included an Internet package in addition to some voice call volume.
WLAN available in some of the hotels, but with moderate speeds. Where
available, I relied on the mobile phone to access the Internet. A
number of western news site are blocked in Iran.
Mostly good weather, but quite fresh due to the altitude, sometimes overcast in the mountains. In Tehran relatively hot.
Health / Vaccinations
No vaccinations are needed for Iran and there are no health risks.
VISA / Entry requirements
This time I just had a registration number, which however was
sufficient to get a visa on arrival. Very fast and smooth processing at
the IKA airport. Travellers to Iran now need a travel and accident
visiting Iran, which they can purchase upon arrival at the airport.
Iran is a very safe place. I experienced no problems when travelling there. Overall Iranians are very honest and
- The Karaftu caves near Takab are quite impressive.
- Pretty cool mountain scenery in Iranian Kurdistan
- The Takht e Soleyman site
Things to avoid
- Don't rush through Iran the way I do - these places deserve more time.
I had a driver who picked me up at IKA airport and drove me around,
allowing me to optimise the (limited) time. The cost was 300000 IRR/day
which included everything. This is actually a very good way of
travelling around, as the driver knows all places.
Travel agencies and guides who
helped us on this trip
Grand hotel, Zanjan. 2650000 IRR for a
room. Supposedly one of the better hotels in Zanjan, claims to have
four stars. Perhaps it had four stars years ago, because the hotel is
quite old. In any case the room has everything (TV, electronic safe,
fridge, furniture etc.). Hard beds. Good shower with plenty of water.
Rather basic breakfast, more directed towards the Iranian taste, less
for the western taste (only Iranian type of bread and cheese, no
cereals, jam etc.). No A/C, only heating (there is a combined A/C and
heating unit, but it only generates hot air). WLAN in the room, but
Weather: Hot & steamy in
Dubai (temperatures well above 30°C, high humidity), quite fresh in
Tehran and Zanjan (around 12°C).
- Mrs Farzaneh Boloori (email: email@example.com)
organised this brief trip for me. She found the driver and defined the
itinerary. Farzaneh is a very friendly and reliable guide based in
Shortly before 12pm I check out of the hotel in Dubai and take a taxi
to the airport. It's a limo of the hotel which is supposed to bring me
to the airport for 90 AED. A Lexus car, quite nice inside. We reach the
airport around 12:30pm. There I check in (I'm done by 1pm), then I
leave the backpack in the left luggage. Some queue there (you have to
take a queue ticket). 25 AED for the storage of my backpack, a bit
Since it's already 1:15pm
I take a taxi to
the City Centre Mirhib (?) mall (instead of trying out public
transportation). Getting there takes only 10 minutes, but the taxi is a
bit expensive (56 AED).
The Mirhib mall is quite big, modern and has plenty of shops,
restaurants, a food court, a kids area with a gaming centre and a
cinema. Quite full today, perhaps because today is a public holiday. I
have some Chinese food and a banana pancake (30 AED).
At 2:45pm I notice that I should get back to the airport.
I walk for a few
minutes through the mall to reach the taxi area. Luckily there are
taxis waiting for me. It's a smooth drive with no traffic jams. I'm
back at the airport at 3pm. There I take my bag and proceed to the
When I'm passing the first contröl (guy checking if I have a boarding
pass) the guy says that I'm late and need to go to another lady. This
lady again complains that I'm late which is strange because it's just
3:20pm and the flight leaves at 4pm. Some phone call, then this
unfriendly individual tells me I can try to reach the gate, but I might
not make it and they won't wait for me.
10 minutes later I'm at the gate, 10 minutes before the gate closes
(3:40pm). I could have avoided rushing through the airport.
even the last person to board the plane. The plane, an A330, is almost
The flight EK979 takes off with some delay at 4:25pm and lands in
Tehran IKA at 18:40 local time. Then to my surprise things go quite
smoothly. By 19:10 I already have the visa and have gone through
immigration (now travellers need a travel and accident insurance when
visiting Iran). By 19:25 I have the luggage and shortly after 7:30pm
I'm in the car to Zanjan.
There is some traffic around Tehran, but once we are on the motorway
everything proceeds smoothly and we reach the Grand hotel in Zanjan
shortly before midnight.
6.5: Zanjan -> Soltaniyeh
-> Takab -> Karaftu
caves -> Takab
Hotel Ranji, Takab. A moderately
priced two star hotel (the only hotel in Takab). The hotel is actually
better than what I was expecting. Two beds, ridge, TV, phone, bathroom
with shower (quite old). There is a quite good restaurant attached to
the hotel. WLAN in the room of variable quality.
Weather: sunny in the early morning,
then mostly overcast. Some rain on the road to the Karaftu caves. Some
sunshine in the evening. Quite fresh (the lowest temperature is 6°C up
in the mountains at 2500m altitude.)
We leave the hotel
around 10am and first drive to Soltaniyeh. There I spend some time
exploring the Dome of Soltaniyeh (entrance fee 100000 IRR). This is an
old mausoleum currently undergoing renovation. Not too special, just
sort of interesting. Plenty of visitors, most of them Iranian. Visitors
go into the dome, then climb up the staircases to the second and third
Shortly before 12pm I'm back in the car. We now drive towards Takab, a
city in the west Azerbaijan region of Iran, about 200km from
The road crosses
some mountain ranges, with the highest point being at 2600m altitude.
In some places there are still patches of snow, which means that in
winter this area must be covered by snow. Quite interesting, because
the driver tells me that today the temperature in Yazd is 45°C, while
here in the mountains it's just 7°C.
Anyway, it's a pretty cool drive on these high plains. Most of the time
we are between 1800 and 2500 metres of altitude.
These are high
plains, quite smooth terrain, you don't realise that the altitude is so
We reach the hotel in Takab ahortly after 3pm. The city of Takab itself
is unremarkable - just a collection of concrete buildings, with
apparently no historic core. Supposedly Takab is the capital of this
region. We have some late lunch in the restaurant of the hotel. The
hotel clerk suggests to drive to te Karaftu caves, 40km from Takab (one
hour by car). Supposedly an interesting place. Since there is nothing
to do and see in this city, I agree. For 25 USD the guy will drive me
there and bring me back.
At 4:15pm we leave Takab. The road is initially good, then turns into a
mud track, then is paved again. Pretty cool scenery.
Smooth hills and
undulating fields, farmers plant crops. The cool thing is that we are
at 2000m of altitude. At one point we leave West Azerbaijan and enter
Kurdistan. By the way, the Kurdish men here all wear wide, baggy
The Karaftu caves (entrance fee: 150000 Rial) are very scenic and
photogenic. They are inside what seems to be a sandstone cliff.
According to my guide it's a cave system with 16km of caves. Nicely lit
internally, plenty of visitors. We spend one and a half hours at the
caves, and leave at 6:40pm.
I'm back in the hotel around 7:30pm.
7.5: Takab -> Takht e Soleyman
Hotel Sasan, Tehran (Nirou street,
corner of Shariati avenue). 41 USD for a relatively basic and small
room with a fridge, telephone, small cupboard, table+mirror+chair,
smaller table, small flat screen TV, attached bathroom with shower. Not
clear is there is A/C, but the room has a heater. No WLAN in the room.
No toilet paper in the toilet (I have to ask in the reception for it).
This place is not too terrible, but far away from the centre of Tehran.
In fact a lady on the street expresses disbelief when she sees me
walking near the hotel and tells me I should go to Vali Asr avenue,
because in this area there is nothing for tourists.
blue sky with some clouds in the morning. Temperatures around 17-18°C
in the mountains. More cluday in the afternoon, but quite warm (28°C at
1400m altitude). No rain.
We leave Takab at 9:40am and initially drive towards the
Takht-e-Soleyman archaeological site. At 10:20am we stop at Zendane
Soleyman, sort of a hill I had spotted yesterday. Turns out that this
is a 100m tall, volcano-like structure. A rocky cone which rises in the
plains and has a deep circular hole inside. Some ruins surround this
cone. According to the description this was formed by an artesian well,
which deposited calcic sediments on the rim. Pretty cool views of the
surroundings from the hilltop.
I'm in this place until 10:45am, then walk down to the car. We then
drive to Takht-e Soleyman, which is not far away. We are there at 11am.
Takht-e Soleyman is centered around a round pond, probably of artesian
, i.e. it's a small
lake with no incoming river situated on a small hilltop. Around this
lake there are ruins of buildings of different ages and everyhting is
surrounded by a large wall. According to the guidebook, this was a fire
temple in anciant times. The entry ticket costs 200000 IRR (a bit
pricey) and you are not alloweed to bring in a tripod. Today this place
is quite empty - besides me there are only a handful of visitors.
I spend about an
hour in this place, then get back to the car and start the long drive
back to Tehran. At 2pm we pass by Zanjan, but don't stop there for
lunch. Instead we continue driving on the motorway and a few minutes
later we stop in a motorway restaurant.
have some lunch (chicken kebab, just for a change). At 2:40pm we
continue drivong to Tehran.
The motorway is quite empty and the driver manages to keep an average
speed of 120km/h. In Tehran we get stuck in a traffic jam, because we
need to cross half of the city to reach the hotel. We finally reach the
hotel at 6:20pm. I pay the driver and check into the toom. In the
evening I explore the area around the hotel. The streets are clean, the
buildings are all nice and in a good shape. Seems I'm in a "good" or
"elegant" part of Tehran.