Scenic panoramas, cascading waterfalls, bright green pastures and snow-capped mountains are only some of the highlights of a road trip to Golestan province. Combine that with a unique colourful culture and I wonder why I hadn’t made it to here before!
Golestan province is a region less travelled. For decades Tehranis (the main Iranian visitors of northern Iran) had opted for Gilan and Mazandaran province instead. Both of them were closer, they were more developed for tourism and many people have a second home there. But as new striking photos of Golestan province spread on social platforms, people are having second thoughts about their typical northern destinations.
My affection for Golestan goes back a long way. I’d been always curious to witness the Turkmen culture for myself but somehow it took me way too long. And I thought this spring was going to be it!
How to get to there?
The best way to get to Golestan province and explore its hidden gems is by driving. Golestan is big and some of its best places are quite spread out. Having a car or hiring a driver could really make a difference and is probably the only way to discover its unprecedented natural beauty. But if you don’t have your own car and travelling on a budget, I’d recommend getting yourself to Gorgan (the province capital) and then hiring a local driver. It’ll be a lot cheaper than getting one straight from Tehran and you’ll be helping the local community as well.
By Air: Both Iran Air and Aseman fly to Gorgan from Tehran daily. You can either fly early in the morning or late in the evening. The whole trip will take around 1:20 min and will cost more or less 150,000 Tomans (almost 25€).
By Train: There are two types of night trains connecting Tehran to Gorgan by Raja trains. Both of them leave 22:30 and arrive at Gorgan at 9:05. The one with Cabins of 6 is around 32,000 Toman (almost 5€) and the other with cabins of 4 will set you back by almost 42,000 Tomans (almost 7€).
By Bus: There are plenty of buses running between Tehran and Gorgan every day. You can choose between Beihaghi or East Terminal (Tehranpars) and buy your ticket by either showing up a little ahead of time or having an Iranian book it for you online through this website. A normal bus would cost around 26,000 (4€) Tomans and VIPs are 47,000 (9€). I’d highly recommend using the latter as VIP buses as they are super comfortable and absolutely worth the extra penny.
By Car: There are a few routes you could take to Golestan but we opted for Firoozkooh road as it would have been less crowded on our time of travel. You can see our route here:
Read more: How to use public transportation in Iran?
Where did we stay?
There were plenty of places we could choose to stay in Golestan province but we certainly wanted a remote village atop mountains with spectacular views. This obviously meant that we’d have to drive up and down the mountain every day to explore other places within the region. But the extra drive in such pristine landscapes was absolutely worth it.
We booked our accommodation on Dehgardi, a new Iranian website that offers eco-lodges and local homes for rent. Unfortunately, we were travelling during national holidays and many of the good ones were already booked but we still loved our stay in the village of Ganu. The facilities were very basic and the toilet was outdoors but the view made up for everything. We paid 180,000 Tomans (30€) per night which was then divided between the 8 of us and ended being dirt cheap.
What I wished I had done: We initially didn’t want to stay in Ganu as it was quite distant to the places we wanted to visit on the following days but ended up with very little choices. If I had booked earlier or travelled in low season, I would have definitely gone for a house in either Ramian village or Minoodasht. Both of them meant less driving and even better accommodation options.
Our itinerary for Golestan province
We had 4 days and 3 night to spend in the region. You could easily spend weeks and there will be no dearth in places to explore. Considering the drive we managed to visit some of the main attractions but I would definitely go back for more.
Here’s how our plan went:
Day 1: Drive from Tehran to Bandar Turkmen and then to our accommodation in Ganu
We left Tehran before sunlight and stopped for a delightful traditional Iranian breakfast at a restaurant called Namrood in Firoozkooh road. We made another pitch stop later for tea and arrived at Bandar Turkmen a little past noon. We then asked for the local bazaar next to the port and headed over there. The bazaar was nothing like we expected. We were looking for local handicrafts, clothing and food and we got a big sheltered area full of Chinese products instead. There were a line of traditional cottages on the beach selling very few traditional Turkmen clothes but mainly offering to take pictures wearing them.
After our rather unsuccessful shopping experience, we rented a boat to Ashooradeh island. Apparently, this place has great wildlife if you come at the right time but during our visit in only seemed like a neglected piece of land with nothing too good to make you stay. There’s only one restaurant on the island that I would strictly warn staying away from. We went with hungry stomachs thinking it won’t be that bad and let me tell you that it was! It was really bad. We had a fish call Ouzun Borun and Chekdermeh which the most traditional Turkmen dish cooked with rice, meat (often lamb or mutton), onions, tomato paste with water and oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. The fish was bland and the Chekdermeh was nothing I’d go back for. But then that could be my personal taste as I had had this dish somewhere else before and was never fond of it. To be honest, when it comes to northern food in Iran, the food from Gilan province is just second to none. Period!
Check out my posts on Gilan province
After another disappointment, we left to reach our accommodation in Ganu before dark. Going up the mountains, the views only got better and better – a road trip menu with hairpin bends, cotton candy clouds descending upon distant hills and the slightest nip in the air. Ahhh.
Day 2: A visit to Kaboodval waterfall and Gol-e Ramian spring
A short drive from Ganu got us to Kaboodval waterfall. But that’s after passing the beautiful Zarrin Gol lake. It was early in the morning and we didn’t have plans to visit the lake but driving past it made me realise that it would have made the most perfect picnic spot for lunch or an afternoon stroll. Something to definitely have in mind for next time I’m around. 😉
The Kaboodval waterfall was at its best upon our visit. The whole trek up to the waterfall was filled with luscious greenery. It takes around 20-30 minutes to take the steps up there. The route is easily accessible but could get a little crowded in high season. You could also reward yourself with a bowl of Ash (herb soup) or a cup of tea once you reach the top.
Later that day we routed for Ramian to visit Gol-e Ramian spring. A small spring with turquoise blue water and full of fishes.
Day 3: Kalaleh and Khaled Nabi cemetery
Located some 90km from the town of Gonbad-e Kavus is Khaled Nabi cemetery also known as the Penis cemetery famous for its Penis shaped gravestones! Yup, it’s just as weird as that. And it’s not only penises but a few female breasts which are believed to mark the burial site of women! The cemetery takes its name due to its proximity to the mausoleum of prophet Khaled Nabi but has zero links to the prophet itself. The region is mountains and hills as far as the eye can see with the mausoleum majestically sitting on top of a mountain where panoramas are out of a surreal dream. It’s a pilgrimage destination and sacred to many Turkmens to come paying their respects on weekends.
The site is located in the most beautiful valley very close to Turkmenistan border and makes for a great camping spot if you don’t find it too creepy at night.
It took us 5 hours to drive to the region and while the road is absolutely stunning, we reached there at noon and in scorching heat to hike our way to the cemetery. There are zero trees and finding shade is almost impossible which made the trek even more difficult than it was. So if I ever go back I will definitely try to make it there late, camp the night and head to the mausoleum or the cemetery at sunrise and get out of the region before the sun hits hard. 😉
On your way to Khaled Nabi it’s also possible to make a pitch stop at Gonbad-e Kavous to see its world-famous brick tower. The tower is an architecture and scientific masterpiece and one of Iran’s UNESCO world heritage sites. There are also a lot of scarf shops in the streets around if you fancy purchasing a beautiful Turkmen scarf. Turkmen scarves are famous all over Iran for their vibrant colours and delicate designs.
Day 4: Drive back to Tehran
On our last day, we had one last breakfast overlooking Genu village and headed to Tehran. We made a stop in Ziarat village upon recommendation. My opinion? It was way too overhyped.
The whole drive back should have normally taken 5-6 hours but we ended up arriving in Tehran late into the night due to heavy traffic. If you’re travelling anywhere north during the Iranian holidays beware that traffic could be disastrous. I will probably never make this mistake again!
- Even in warmer seasons, be sure to take warm clothes if you’re staying in high altitudes overnight. We ended up sleeping with two blankets each and we had a heater.
- The best time to visit Golestan province is spring and autumn.
- There’s really very few or no decent supermarkets up in the mountain villages, so make sure you’ve purchased everything you need before the uphill drive.
My overall opinion of Golestan province is extremely positive. It’s genuinely one of the most pristine regions in the country and exceptionally famous for its many waterfalls. I’d be definitely going back for more. 😉