Mountains, deserts, jungles, rivers and lakes, people of different races, languages, cultures, monuments that boast history, stories of war, of defense, sacrifice, colonization and the greed for oil wrap up one of the most diverse provinces of Iran. Khuzestan has been the pinnacle of my travels through Iran and for good reason. Travelling through Iran is full of surprises, but Khuzestan seemed to have a full pack of them waiting in every corner.
We hopped over sand dunes, drifted along lagoons, had picnic in the jungle, marveled over Elamite structures, sipped on Arabic coffee and challenged ourselves to communicate in Arabic with the locals. Khuzestan is big. It’s easy to spend 2 weeks here and there will still be places left out. But we only had 6 days to spare and a tight budget to hold on to. I normally reveal my expenses for certain things such as accommodation here, but I thought this time around I’ll break the whole thing so you can have an idea of how cheap you can really travel within Iran.
Getting to Khuzestan
The best way to get to Khuzestan from Tehran would be to take a flight to Ahvaz. This would have saved us a lot of time but it wouldn’t really help with the budget. The cheapest option is booking a seat on a train which will set you back by only 5-6€, but since the journey was going to take almost 14 hours, the pain was not something we were willing to bear. There are 2 other trains, one that comes in cabins of four and another in 6. The latter is obviously cheaper and since there were 5 of us, it was what we went for. Except we bought 6 tickets to have the whole cabin to ourselves. These specific trains that go to Ahvaz are extremely old and come with very basic facilities. But as long as we got clean beds to sleep on, we were fine. Each ticket cost us 48 Tomans which is around 12€. Can-not-complain!
We were basically going to lose 2 days for the round-trip and I’m all for exploring new places at a languorous pace. But it was not going to be the case this time around. We decided to fit as much as we can in the itinerary and come back for more later on.
We got to see a great amount of Khuzestan in just 4 days. It meant waking up early and a lot of road tripping, but it gave us a very clear idea of what we could expect in this province of surprises. Our itinerary was packed and while I don’t have any regrets, I would highly recommend going a bit slower if you’ve got the time.
I’ve done a whole blog post sharing our adventure through pictures. So if you’d like to get an idea of how things were, make sure you check that out.
Day 1: Ahvaz + Shadegan Lagoon + Abadan + Khorramshahr + Shalamche
We arrived super early to Ahvaz and had our driver waiting for us at the station. Like I mentioned in another post, we decided to hire a driver for all 4 days. Khuzestan is big and everything is scattered around, so public transportation is not really an option. We did a lot of research and talked to many drivers to find the best price. Finally we negotiated over 200 Tomans a day (50€). Everyone else was asking for 300 and above, so I was really glad to find this one.
We had rented a flat in Ahvaz for our stay. It would give us the freedom to cook and all 5 us could be together full-time. We rented it from a family in Ahvaz for 250 Tomans (65€) a night. The flat was really nice, renovated and modern. It could have been a bit cleaner but for that price, we were very much satisfied.
We quickly unpacked, changed into summer clothes and were off to Shadegan lagoon. It took around 2 hours to get there and I’ve done a whole photo essay of the lagoon which you can read here. We rented a boat from a local family and hopped on to explore the lagoon. Since it was a week day, we were lucky to have the whole thing to ourselves.
It was almost noon and we decided to head over to Abadan for lunch. Abadan is right at the Iraqi border. It was famous for having the biggest oil refinery in the world. It used to be very wealthy with a big population of British and Indian workers who worked for the refinery. Our driver showed us the neighbourhood where they used to live. Obviously everything changed once oil was nationalized in Iran. The city was also besieged by the Iraqis for almost a year during the war. Our driver took us to an Indian restaurant close to the bazaar for lunch. A little wander around the bazaar and we realized it was nothing like we expected. It was basically flooded with cheap Chinese products without any signs of Iranian traditions. The food was ok, a little too hot for our taste but we like trying new things. You never know if you’re going to like it if you never try anyway!
Abadan doesn’t have that much to see. Our driver tried to show us as much as there was and we headed to Khorramshahr to check out the famous Jameh mosque. This mosque has probably seen more of the war than anyone else in the city. Signs of bombings and bullets are still lefts to be seen on one of the walls while the rest is renovated. A mass prayer was held here on the day the war ended.
The bazaar of Khorramshahr is just behind the mosque. We were eager to have a market experience in Khuzestan and we constantly failed. We were here on a weekend and everything was closed down. The conditions of the market were severe, as if the war had just ended yesterday.
Unsatisfied with the market, we soon headed to the famous war museum of Khorramshahr to have a better understanding of what the people of this city went through all those years. A few war survivors are now working there as guides and we were greeted warmly. Walking through the museum was a bitter yet eye-opening experience and worked as a good opening for our further visit to the war zone of Shalamche, from where I’ve written a very detailed and sober post here.
It was almost around 8 when we arrived back in Ahvaz. We quickly headed to the market which was bustling with vendors selling anything from fruits to ducks and chickens. We did some fruit shopping and also bought cheese and other stuff for breakfast. Later on, we headed to Lashkar Abad which is basically a famous avenue in Ahvaz with Falafel restaurants all along the road. Falafel is big in Ahvaz or generally in southern Iran and we did not want to miss out on it. The look of all that oil didn’t seem like we were having anything close to healthy, but I have to say it was delish! 😛
Day 2: Ahvaz + Bostan + Susangerd
On our second day we were early birds to witness the rituals of Mandaeans. Khuzestan is extremely diverse with ethnicities and religious views and if you wake up early to head to the Karun river you’ll be able to witness a Mandaean performing his rituals of baptism. Mandaeans are adherents of Mandaeism, a gnostic religion. They are mainly followers of John the Baptist and reject Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Many of them used to live in Iraq before the Iran-Iraq war but later found refuge in Iran. They are extremely private and speak in their own language, therefore we didn’t really connect. But I was fascinated to see how strict they are on keeping their traditions alive. Not something you see everyday!
Soon we were heading to Bostan, where we would witness the desert and jungle close-by. We felt the sand under our toes while our eyes feasted on bright green pastures and cherished the moment like there was no tomorrow. We had a chicken barbecue in the jungle and headed to Susangerd for our afternoon tea.
I had made arrangements with the Heidari family to host us in their Mozif and since due to our plans we were unable to sleep the night at their place, we thought we’d still go for Arabic coffee and tea. We were just overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Heidari family who have brought the legacy of Mozif architecture and culture back into Iranian life and let travellers visit and stay at their Mozif on a regular basis. More on the Mozif and its traditions here.
Staying a night at the Mozif is around 60T(15€) per person. You’d still have to pay something if you’re just going for tea but since we had a ton of mutual friends and had been in contact for quite some time before our trip, they didn’t accept anything from us.
We headed back to Ahvaz and arrived there just before sunset. We headed to the grand bazaar, wandered around, bought some dates, visited Ahvaz’s numerous bridges over the Karun and went for long walks. We went back to Lashkar Abad for another bite of Falafel since this was our last night in the city.
Day 3: Susa + Shushtar + Choqazanbil + Pamenar
On our 3rd day we woke up early and packed our stuff. We were initially going stay in Ahvaz for all 3 nights but with the recommendation we got from locals, we were urged to make it to Pamenar for the last day and there was no option but to sleep the night over there.
Our 3rd excursion started with Shushtar and its historical hydraulic system which blew us away at first glance. Shushtar historical hydraulic system is a complex irrigation system and a set of watermills, tunnels, dams and canals that dates back to the Sassanid era (224-651). According to Madam Jane Dieulafoy it was the biggest industrial complex before the industrial revolution and according to us it was one hell of a view in the middle of bustling Shushtar. The scenery here seemed right out of a Game of Thrones movie set and was one of my absolute favourite sites in all of Khuzestan.
Shushtar has quite a few places to see but our schedule wasn’t going to leave us much time to explore. We managed to visit Salasel castle just before leaving the city. Here’s where Shapur I was known to imprison Roman Emperor Valerian and also it was here that the Persian held out for two years against the Arab invasion. Today the castle is in silence and its cliff top locations gives a perfect view of the city.
We left the city heading toward Susa with a pitch stop at Choqa Zanbil, the best surviving Elamite ziggurat and definitely the most famous attraction of the province. Choqa Zanbil was everything I thought it would be. A huge magnificent structure in the middle of nowhere founded by king Untash Gal in the mid 13th century BC and later sacked by Ashur banipal only to be left abandoned for 2500 years! We spent a good hour exploring the ziggurat and everything else left from the once abandoned city before heading to Susa, where we would also be having our late lunch.
Susa was a place I had been longing to visit. An Elamite city dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. It was burnt down by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal and later regained prominence when it became Persia’s winter capital city during the Achaemenids. Today what’s left of Susa is a small rather new town, rich with history and archeological sites. It was here that the law code of Hammurabi was found.
A visit to the old Susa is better to be started at the museum and continued with an uphill trek to the fortress built by the French as a secure base for archaeological exploration and excavations. No wonder why the Louvre is filled with objects from Susa! But what the French did was to build the castle out of the remaining bricks of the Palace of Darius only some meters away! careless much?
We befriended a guide while walking around the castle who decided to come along with us and give us further explanations. We then took the trail to the palace of Darius and having a local guide to describe everything to the full made the experience so much more rewarding. We obviously tipped him later and headed for the city’s holy site where we wore chadors to the shrine of Daniel, a sacred Jewish youth from Jerusalem who was freed by Cyrus the Great in the conquest of Babylon. He is reckoned by Jewish rabbis to be the most distinguished member of the Babylonian diaspora.
It was going to be a long drive to Pamenar and we wanted to get there before dark which didn’t really happen. We arrived rather late, settled down quickly in our room, cooked ourselves a light dinner and went out for a walk in pitch darkness.
Day 4 : Pamenar + Dezful
I’ve written a very detailed post on our day in Pamenar which you can read here.
Again because of my contacts we got a lot of discount on our stay in Pamenar. We paid 30 Tomans (7-8€) per person per night with breakfast and an extra 200 Tomans (50€) for our 2 hours of private boat ride. We also paid 25 Tomans (6€) per person for a huge lunch that was cooked for us. I believe the normal price for renting a room is actually 60 Tomans (15€) per person.
We had our return ticket from Ahvaz but since we were already too far away, we thought we’d catch our train at the closest station which was Andimeshk. This also meant we had a few hours more and we could do a little drive around Dezful.
We caught the train at around 7 pm and were home the next morning.
A whole 500 Tomans (125€) was spent by each of us on the trip. I personally spent around 100 Tomans (25€) on souvenirs. Entrance fees were dirt cheap but if you’re a foreigner, then most of them would cost you around 10-15 Tomans (3-4€). Food was also affordable and since it always came in big portions, we would always order 3-4 dishes for the 5 of us and share, but if you want a break down, then 6-7€ per meal would be sufficient. Falafel on the other hand will only set you back by less than a euro!!
Things we wished we had done:
- We would have loved to spend a night at the Mozif.
- We wished we had more time to stay in Pamenar and visit the surrounding natural sites. The scenery there was just unbelievable and nothing like we had seen elsewhere in Iran.
- We were told by numerous people that Behbahan was somewhere to visit since it was full of narcissus fields during the season we visited. But it was too far away and we could have not fit it in our itinerary. If you’re visiting Khuzestan at the right time, then make sure you leave a day for Behbahan.
- We visited Khuzestan in early winter and the weather absolutely delightful. There were hardly any tourists and we got to have most of the attractions to ourselves. Late winter is also a good time to visit but it would be slightly warmer. Summer, late spring and early autumn are to be completely avoided. You’d be soaking in the heat!
- Travelling in a group meant we were sharing most of the costs which made everything cheaper. Not to mention we were given discounts on many occasions and I had done a ton of research to find the best deals. So it’s possible that my budget won’t apply to everyone.
- I personally find spending too much money on accommodation pointless. I prefer to splurge on other things that would enrich my travel experience. We could have saved more on food but we love to eat well. Our biggest splurge was the private boat rent in Pamenar which was worth every penny.
I do hope this post helps with your further travel plans to Khuzestan and gives you an idea of how much you might be spending. 😉
If you’re interested to dig a little deeper in Khuzestan, check out my other posts: