Tabas, a city located in the heart of Iran’s central desert and part of South Khorasan province is famously known for its striking canyons, rice fields, and picturesque oasis popping up out of nowhere.
Our trip to here was inspired by pictures from the village of Esfahak and the thought dipping our feet in hot water springs while exploring the canyon of Morteza Ali. And Tabas did not disappoint!
Planning your trip to Tabas
Our road trip to Tabas started from Tehran, some 862km away! There was no way we were going to drive all of it in one day so we split our trip and made a stop in Natanz. There are quite a few places you could add to your itinerary that would break the road trip in shorter distances. Na’in, Mesr village and Garmeh are a few to consider. We would have definitely stopped in Garmeh on our way but it was during public holiday and all the guest houses were fully booked.
If you have the chance, starting your trip from either Esfahan or Mashhad would significantly cut on the driving.
Not considering the days spent on the road, 2-3 full days in Tabas will give you enough time to explore most of its attractions and surrounding villages. Late autumn to mid-spring is the best time to visit as it gets extremely hot in summer. We travelled in mid-winter and it was still hot around noon, but it was also very chilly in the evenings.
How to get to Tabas?
Apart from renting a car and driving all the way, here are a few other options:
Flights to Tabas: Flights from Tehran to Tabas run 2 days a week on Sundays and Tuesdays and they cost between 250-300 Tomans.
Trains to Tabas:
- Mashhad-Kerman trains run everyday and make a stop in Tabas. The return train runs on the same day.
- Mashhad-Yazd trains run other day and make a stop in Tabas. The return train runs on the day after.
- Mashhad-Bandar Abbas trains run everyday and make a stop in Tabas.
- Tehran-Tabas run every 4 days and stop in Torbat, Neishabour, Damghan, Semnan, Varamin and Motahhari until they reach Tabas. The return train runs 4 days after arrival to Tabas.
Accommodation in Tabas?
If you’re traveling to Tabas on a weekend or during high season, make sure you book your accommodation about 3-4 weeks in advance depending on whether it’s a public holiday or not. Tabas has recently become popular with tour groups and the small number of accommodation fill up quickly.
There’s not a lot of accommodation in the city, so unless you’re looking for a hotel, I’d recommend staying in the villages of Ezmeyghan or Esfahak instead. They are only 30min drive away and have a few tasteful guest houses with a more traditional vibe. The price for foreigners at the guests houses could vary around 15€ per person. Driver guides are also available for 40€ a day.
For arranging a guide or accommodation, feel free to send a message to Maliheh on this number: +98-915 267 9548 – She was really helpful in finding a place to stay for us as we made our last minute decision to visit Tabas in its most popular period.
Here are a few accommodation suggestions:
- Hotels in Tabas: Amir hotel (near the Shrine) – Call +98 2144671795 for reservations.
- Guesthouses in Ezmeyghan: Nardoon Guest house (+98-915 267 9548), Agha Seyyed Zabihollah Guest house (+989132531582)
- Guesthouses in Esfahak: There are a few guest houses in Esfahak all under one reception. I’d highly recommend staying here for at least one night. It might as well be your best accommodation of the trip. Call Mohsen for reservations: +98-915 861 2011
Where to eat in Tabas?
Finding decent food in smaller cities of Iran is a challenge and Tabas is no exception. Nardoon is the city’s “fanciest” restaurant which was a big disappointment even though it was super popular with tourists. Hezar-o Yek Shab and Bagh-e Majnoon were recommended by locals. We tried the first and although the Kebab barg was good, everything else was average. We just came to the conclusion that good food was not something we could expect from restaurants here.
Itinerary for Tabas
Day 1: Driving to Natanz
To get a head start we started our road trip in the afternoon and drove for 4 hours to Natanz where we stayed at Javaheri Guest house. With my lack of bargaining skills we managed to rent a double room for 80 Tomans a night with a private toilet, shower, and a simple breakfast. The rooms were perfectly clean and we were 100% happy with everything, but if you’re looking for another good option which is slightly more expensive, I’ve heard good stuff about Tavassolian House as well. (expect prices to be higher for foreigners)
- Contact for Javaheri House: +98 913 262 9303 (Hamidreza Javaheri)
- Contact for Tavassolian House: +98 315 422 4448 – +98 919 525 4660 (Mohammad Hossein Tavassolian)
Day 2: Natanz to Tabas
After having breakfast we visited Natanz Jameh Mosque dating back to some 8 centuries ago. Natanz is officially known as a garden city due to its many trees and gardens. Its old neighbourhood is definitely worth exploring and there are a few major historic attractions in the city. Unfortunately, our timetable didn’t allow us to stay here longer and we left Natanz for another time.
From Natanz we started our drive through Iran’s central desert started heading to Tabas. At times we were the only car on the road with no life to be seen for miles away. If you’re driving on this road, you want to be certain of your vehicle and make sure you don’t fall asleep driving straight forward for almost 6-7 hours!
Day 3: Morteza Ali Canyon, Korit and Esfahak
We started our first day in Tabas by heading to Morteza Ali canyon around 8 in the morning. This water canyon is huge and stunning with its rock formations but what makes it extra special is the hot water springs of Morteza Ali flowing under your feet. You could basically have one foot in cold water and the other in warm water which is crazy! Oh, the magic of nature! (make sure you bring proper sandals or spare shoes as flip flops will give you a hard time!)
Right at the end of the canyon is an old historic dam named as the Shah Abbasi Dam. We had read that this was the thinnest and oldest arch damn in the world belonging to the 17th century but I was later told by someone that the thinnest dam was the dam of Korit a little away from here. I’m still confused about the right information and unfortunately, there was no sign under the dam explaining its history.
After exploring the canyon, we went back to Tabas and visited the most famous attraction of the city – Golshan Garden. If you’ve been to a few Iranian gardens, this will be an absolute disaster. We found it to be boring, dry and distasteful! Not somewhere we’d recommend to anyone for sure.
Later in the afternoon, unsatisfied with our lunch we took on the road again stopping by random villages and mingling with locals. On our way to Esfahak, we made a turn to the beautiful village of Korit. Korit has been totally ruined by the earthquake that hit Tabas 40 years ago. Actually, everything was ruined in the region, but Korit was never reconstructed. Its citizens took their lives and built their new houses slightly away from their old crumbling village, occasionally coming for a walk in the old town and breaking the silence of the narrow alleyways that bore witness to what was once their biggest tragedy.
Today, only one family has returned to reconstruct their old house into an ecolodge. Considering the location, there’s only so much to expect from tourism here. But the village survives on agriculture.
After much talk with the farmers and a warm cup of tea in the newly constructed guest house, we headed to Esfahak where we were awarded by the most striking sunset.
Unlike Korit, Esfahak was reconstructed a few years ago by the villagers and its now a big tourist hub in the region. There are a few cute guest houses, a beautiful cafe, and the old adobe town is a joy to explore.
Day 4: Kal Jenni Canyon, Ezmeyghan
The next day we headed to Kal Jenni canyon – Another top attraction of Tabas. It takes around 2 hours to cross the whole canyon and while most of the route is completely dry, there are a few places where it’s really hard to cross without getting inside the water. On the bright side, it could make for the perfect place to go for a dip!
From the main road to Kal Jenni we found an area in the desert that was surrounded with concrete walls. Apparently, it was where a lot of 4*4s had made camp. There was also a local family who has set up some sort of a restaurant and served food under big nomad tents. We had lunch here which was okay but it was a good place to set up your tent if you didn’t want to pay for accommodation.
In the afternoon we headed to Ezmeyghan, a small village north of Tabas with adobe houses and rows of date palms surrounding its flowing river. Right at the end of the village, there are hiking trails going through the many pomegranate gardens and reaching the river. We didn’t go too far as we were really tired, but there’s definitely lots to explore.
Day 5: Drive back to Kashan
On our last day, we drove all the way back from Ezmeyghan and made a stop in Kashan to catch up with Parsa’s family. We visited Kashan’s grand bazaar, visited the Tabatabi house and stayed the night in the city, from which we drove home the next morning.
If you decided to stay longer in Kashan, here’s a guide to get you started.
Something to remember:
Tabas and its surrounding villages have a rather religious population. In fact, there’s a big shrine in Tabas worth visiting. While the locals are happy with the flowing tourists, they are extremely unhappy with the cultural impact they have been leaving behind. For a religious environment, the locals here felt insulted by the way tourists were dressed. As for many offbeat destinations in Iran, travellers feel the freedom to avoid the dress code. We witnessed quite a few female visitors without scarves and with lots of makeup. Please understand that Tabas has quite a conservative society that might close its doors to visitors if it feels threatened. Make you respect the culture upon your visit.