Most tourists traveling to Iran come with such a negative background that when they arrive they are just too mesmerized and astonished to see anything but the contrast of what they were told. But now that Iran is quickly becoming a popular destination and tourists are flowing, there’s so many who have their eyes on investing in Iran’s tourism industry. So whether you’re traveling to Iran, thinking of investing here, or simply own a restaurant or have a particular position in Iran’s tourism industry this might come to your help.
I’ve written so much about the perks of traveling to Iran and I do my best to heal at least a portion of the damage that’s been done. I’ve always been very keen on keeping everything real and honest. I believe no rational mind skips a trip to Rome because chances of getting robbed are high. So why should they skip Iran for anything else?
These are a few things that you will definitely encounter while traveling to Iran. They might get on your nerves, they might be annoying, but they are small and will definitely change over time. But for now there’s only so much you can do, and I’m giving you my best tips. 😉
8 Things you’d wish you knew before traveling to Iran
#1 The Menu
I think every tourist would agree that Iranian cuisine has a lot to offer. In fact, they are all a bit disappointed why it hasn’t been introduced to the world that well. But everyone gets sick of a menu filled with the same dishes that all come with meat and by a big chance with rice! The thing is, there are a few dishes Iranians rarely cook at home. For instance meat or chicken Kebab. So when people eat out, these are usually what they ask for. But for a tourist who’s on the road for more than 7 days and is eating out twice a day, this can become really annoying. Not to mention the vegetarian food is not very popular and is pretty hard to find on the menu.
Now if you’re traveling to Iran with luxury this will hardly come as a problem. Luxury restaurants will have enough variety on their menu to keep everyone pleased but like many of us, you probably aren’t! So what can you do?
The Kebab will always look tempting on your first day. Many travelers will be ordering that first. I don’t! I know that whichever restaurant that I set foot in, even in the middle of the highway, there will always be Kebab on the menu. So whenever I see anything a bit more different, that’s what I go for.
If you’re not a big fan of meat like me, I suggest salad buffets for dinners. They usually come with soup, yogurt, pickles, sometimes food and a big variety of salads. It’s more than enough to make you full and gives you a chance to stock up on your veggies.
#2 The knife situation
Iranians eat the majority of foods with fork and spoon. As weird as it might look to many of you to see an Iranian cutting his meat with a spoon, we find it odd to eat rice with a fork! So what’s the problem? To each their own right?
Well… it just happens that most of the time you won’t be finding a knife beside your plate on the table! If you own a restaurant, this is something you really need to change, even if it’s for that one foreigner that might accidentally pass by. If you’re stuck in the situation, don’t be shy and just ask the waiter to bring you one. It almost always solves the problem.
#3 Craving for coffee
When traveling to Iran many of you will be detoxing from alcohol(due to it being illegal), so you might find coffee to be your savior. Bad luck! Coffee in Iran is not popular and it’s not good. Some are happy to exchange for the delectable Iranian brewed tea, but from my experience, the coffee craving never stops. You can find Nescafé in most places, but surely that’s not what you’re looking for. You want coffee, and you want it from the freakin’ coffee machine!
If you’re in Esfahan you’re in luck. Armenian coffee is famous and delightful and super easy to find in the array of coffee shops in the Armenian district. Sometimes the cafeteria of your hotel might offer an Espresso. Do ask and don’t skip the chance if you get one.
This does not by any chance mean that good coffee is impossible to find. There are quite a few places that will offer you a laté but don’t come thinking you’ll find it everywhere you set foot in.
Since the sanctions were put on Iran a few years ago, Iranian Rial has lost its value immensely. The row of zeros on the notes don’t make things any easier. Once you exchange your dollars or Euros you’re going to feel like a millionaire. But then you’ll realize what you’re really in for!
So it’s no surprise that the Iranian alphabet is different and you probably can’t read a word. Well, guess what? You can’t read numbers either!! Because they are also different and almost all shops will be writing their prices in Iranian numbers. So then you’ll have to ask them for the price and you’ll hear a number of different prices that you have no idea of.
The actual currency in Iran is Rials. But in day-to-day life everyone uses Tomans. Every 10 rials equals 1 Toman. But since Rials are worthless you’ll be paying at least 300,000 Rials = 30,000 Tomans for a normal meal. What’s worse is that we Iranians just call that 30 Tomans which is actually 30,000 Tomans!! Complicated enough??
I tried hard teaching how it works to my Spanish friends. There were too many exceptions and no one understood! I gave up and had a hard time converting myself into the Rial system.
Solution: Ask every shop owner to type the price on their calculator or write it on a piece of paper for you in Rials. Forget what they told you. It’s Rials you understand and it’s the only way you can count your money. Don’t panic! You’ll get the hang of things. Everyone does! 😉
Fact: International credits cards are not accepted and it has become extremely difficult to exchange money for foreign tourists. You either have to do it in the bank where you’ll get horrible rates or do it on the black market.
This is why you need to get an Iranian debit card and the best company for that is Mahcard.
Mahcard offers travel debit cards to tourists in Iran. You just need to sign up in their website before arrival, choose the amount of money you want to exchange and they’ll give it to you back in Rials with the best available rates. You can either pay via Paypal or in cash when you arrive. They’ll come to your hotel and give you your debit card which has been issued in your name. And if you end up with extra rials at the end of your trip, they’ll pick up the card and exchange the rest of your money back into Euros.
Benefits of Mahcard?
- Reduce the risk of carrying loads of cash
- Get the best rates
- Shop wherever you want. Literally!
- Withdraw money from ATM with zero commissions
Almost all public toilets in Iran are squat toilets unless they have a wheelchair section which is not common. So you’re in for some squatting here. Toilet papers are also found very rarely in public areas so arm yourself with a pack of tissues before you enter.
Fact: Most Iranian houses and all hotels come with a normal toilet and toilet paper.
#6 Customer service
Customer service is quite a new thing in Iran and doesn’t exist in most places. You need to be assertive. If you’re at a hotel and something is not to your liking, go and object to it. Don’t put it on the staff to bring or notice anything. Because they won’t!
You’ve probably heard by now that driving in Iran is chaotic and crazy. Don’t expect cars to stop for you even at zebra crossings most of the time! You need to make them stop and don’t worry about getting crashed. Iranian drivers are used to hitting on the brake hard and quick enough!!
#8 Too much to see, not much to do!
If you’re traveling to Iran and doing the classic route which passes through cities like Esfahan, Yazd, and Shiraz you’ll need to bear in mind that there will be a ton of historic places to visit. This can be overwhelming at times and you might need somewhere to relax. Unfortunately, most hotels don’t have a swimming pool or massage to offer. If you’re traveling with an agency you can always mention this to them before arrival. There are a few places which offer cooking courses or a chilled day with an Iranian family and it’s a great option to escape the sightseeing while spending your time to good use.
But then there’s something better: You can just join our Persian Food Tour and spend a day with us shopping for ingredients and preparing a 5-course meal! Bingo! 🙂
Tourism in Iran needs a lot more professional marketing and there’s certainly a lot more infrastructure required. But years of sanctions and isolation has left Iran untouched and extremely authentic and this is exactly why you need to consider traveling to Iran before everyone else does! 😉
If you’ve already traveled to Iran and have a few other notes for me to add, do let me know in the comment section or just pop me an email and I’ll be happy to update the post.