Motivation of the trip.
In early June 2021 we planned a trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Specifically to make the ascent to Damavand. The Damavand is a sleeper stratovolcano of 5,610 meters high, located in Iran, being the highest in the Middle East and the highest volcano in Asia.
The idea was to ascend the classic route of the southern slope, the most comfortable and best equipped since it has a refuge.
(Flag) Iran, officially called the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in the Middle East and West Asia. It is a constitutional republic based on the principles of Shiite Islam.
Since the 1st millennium BC. Until 1935 it was known in the West as Persia, although today this name is still valid and accepted along with that of Iran, it borders Pakistan and Afghanistan to the east; Turkmenistan to the northeast; the Caspian Sea to the north; Azerbaijan and Armenia to the northwest; Turkey and Iraq (Kurdistan Region) to the west and, finally, with the coast of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south.
The capital is Tehran, the country's political, industrial, commercial and cultural center. Iran is a regional power to which its large hydrocarbon reserves (fourth oil reserves and first gas reserves in the world) confer a situation of energy superpower and have earned a substantial oil income for decades.
The ethnic diversity of Iranian society, made up of Persians (the main ethnic group), Azeris, Kurds, Luros, Turkmens and Balochis among others, is an intrinsic part of its culture and has provided a special appeal to this vast territory. Arabs are a small minority in Iran (around 1%).
Is tourism in Iran safe?
How many of the people around you know Iran? What face will your family and friends have if you communicate your intention to travel to Iran?
Relatively recently I studied about the manufacture of beliefs in the media. I firmly believe that the response of our family and friends upon hearing Iran is a reflection of this statement.
In this sense, anyone who thinks that Iran is a dangerous country for tourism is because of the media and why not say it, international politics.
The US media has continuously been peddling a totally skewed image of Iran, focused almost exclusively on nuclear weapons, religious fanatics, human rights violations and a dictatorial regime.
Hence Europe followed this line of communication. A test that I did in my closest environment is to ask what opinion they have about Iran. People made incredible faces when I told them that I planned to travel to Iran. When I asked them what they knew about the country or because of their fears, they did not know how to answer me.
Iran to which we inform ourselves a little about the country, we can realize that it is a safe destination to travel.
COVID restrictions for travel to Iran.
Iran has kept the borders closed since the start of the pandemic. Nevertheless They will begin to grant tourist visas from July 2021.
Visa to travel to Iran
Under the usual conditions prior to the Covid, the Visa could be obtained directly upon arrival at the Iran airport. I do not know if with the current situation of COVID and the reopening of the border to tourism this has undergone any change. (I have not found information as of the publication date of this article)
That is why I highly recommend and given all the current circumstances to process the Visa prior to our arrival in the country. https://evisatraveller.mfa.ir/
Note: By land you cannot obtain the Visa, if we cross the border by land we must have the Visa in advance, processed through an embassy.
There are several companies authorized to process Visas. My recommendation is that you do it yourself, it is a simple online procedure to do with a minimum of skill with web browsing and English.
Up to 30 days. The Visa is valid for 30 days, renewable 2 times.
Important note: If we have an Israeli entry stamp in our passport, we will not be able to enter Iran with that passport.
The official currency is the Iranian rial. It is possible to change up to a maximum of 10,000 euros at the Melli Bank branch of the Imán Khomeini airport in Tehran (open 24 hours a day). The Iranian rial has suffered a huge depreciation in the last year. Although according to the official exchange 1 euro is equivalent to about 48,000 riyals, the real exchange rate can be much higher.
Due to the sanctions imposed by the US, your credit card will not work, so bring cash. In Iran it is not possible to pay with credit cards or withdraw money from ATMs charged to international cards. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary to travel with a sufficient amount of cash for the entire duration of the trip.. This observation must also be taken into account for travelers in transit (who make a stopover in Iran), in case the flight suffers some kind of cancellation, to be able to buy another ticket.
Rials or Tomans? Due to the enormous depreciation of the Iranian rial and in order to make the accounts easier, it is possible that in some places they will indicate the prices in tomas (1,000 tomas = 10,000 riyals).
Due to international blockades, most insurance companies do not cover Iranian territory.
If upon our arrival in Iran we do not have a valid policy for the country or we cannot prove it (because we do not carry the documentation), they will force you to buy insurance at the airport. It is a mandatory procedure before processing the VISA.
In our case, the price indicated for said insurance was € 15, but this may vary depending on the number of days. It should also be noted that the coverage of this insurance is much lower than what we can contract prior to our arrival in Iran.
Communication, internet and SIM card.
We continue with the blockades, in Iran we can see that our SIM card will stop working. In Iranian territory only the SIM cards of the Iranian companies work.
We will also find that in Iran, many web pages are censored (Facebook, Twitter, some press media, etc.)
At Imam Khomeini International Airport there is available Wifi, but it goes really bad.
Iran is governed by a religious dictatorship, for this reason there is no freedom of expression, demonstration, etc. It is governed by Sharia law, applicable to the entire population, including tourists. For this reason we find dress standards
Men: It is strictly forbidden to wear shorts, other clothes are not a problem
Women: They should always dress in the most conservative manner. They must wear their hair covered at all times, without being able to show shoulders or cleavage. Also, you cannot wear shorts or skirts, or tank tops.
My experience in Iran, arriving and being deported.
We arrived to Imam Khomeini International Airport, we disembarked from the plane and went to the first control. They ask us for the PCR documentation, after checking the documentation we continue our tour of the airport to the authorities' window to process the Visa.
A passenger from the plane who disembarked with us and who speaks Spanish, very kindly offers us her help in case we need it at any time at the airport.
Once we have reached passport control, they tell us that we have to go to an office to have the Visa validated.
We process VISA and insurance
We go there and they treat us very politely. They ask us the reason for the trip. We show the documentation of the hotel reservation, as well as the program of the ascent to Damavand.
It seems that he is surprised. He refers us to the COVID situation and asks why we are traveling right now. We show you that we have the PCR and we have the complete vaccine schedule. We also indicate that we are heading directly to the mountain and that we do not intend to do "classic" tourism.
It requests the Visa requests that we had made in advance of our trip through the web https://evisatraveller.mfa.ir/
It seems that he listens to our explanations, he asks us for the insurance policy of Iran. We show you the different documents of the mountaineering federations. As I have explained before, to visit Iran you need a specific insurance policy for Iran.
He informs us that the insurance we show them does not work for us, that he processes the insurance at the airport with a price of € 15. We indicate that yes. It tells us to wait while they process visas and insurance.
We were waiting in a very cozy airport lounge chatting with each other. From this moment begins what for me was our great mistake upon entering Iran, curious as it may seem.
Denial of entry, how we were deported.
An airport cleaning service worker approaches us. This man has some difficulty walking due to some kind of disability. He begins to speak to us in Farsi, so we do not understand what he is saying. We don't pay much attention to it and continue our conversation.
Here came the great ERROR on our part.
We observe that by not paying attention, this person turns around and leaves the place, stops where the office that was processing our Visa was and stopped to talk. Then he turns to us and mockingly tells us «VISA, HAHAHAHAHA VISA, HAHAHAHA, CHAOOOOO» while waving goodbye to us, laughing non-stop.
A few minutes pass and the person who was processing the Visa comes to us and tells us that our entry to Iran has been DENIED, without giving us any further explanation.
We tried to talk to him, but the answer was resounding and to say "NO" at all times without being able to enter into any type of conversation.
We were stunned by this situation. We quickly comment on the impression that the situation has given us.
We should have given this person some money, however little it was, we shared the situation we have just experienced and the whole group agrees with this reading of the situation. Who knows, we may be wrong, but the laughing gesture of that person who was asking us for money I think is quite obvious.
Our guide waits for us on the other side of the Visa control, we can talk to him by phone and he quickly appears at the exit of the police control, we manage to speak with him and explain what happened. Try to make arrangements with the authorities, but all unsuccessful.
Back in Istanbul, without the passports.
Finally a policeman seems not to like too much that we are talking and close to the Visa control and invites us, with all the obligation to sit down and be still and quiet while we wait, without giving us any information about the situation
We had to wait a couple of hours or so without knowing what would happen, if we would have to buy return tickets or not. Finally an airport worker approached and with a lot of haste and demands made us follow him. We boarded the same plane that we had arrived in Iran. We asked him about his passports, they carried them in a sealed envelope that he gave directly to the pilot of the plane.
Upon our arrival in Istanbul, they did not let us disembark like the rest of the passengers, they made us wait until the entire plane was empty before we could leave. As soon as we went down the stairs of the plane, the airport police were waiting for us to accompany us at all times. They told us to wait in a place separated from the rest of the travellers, delimited with tapes and with more police presence. We tried to talk to them several times, but only received one response: "Wait Here". Finally a woman approached and we were able to speak with her, communicating our desire to stay in Istanbul.
He treated us very kindly, and at our request to stay in Istanbul he informed us that he had to consult it and informed us.
Finally he informed us that we could stay in Istanbul, but that we would lose the flights back to Spain.
We quickly readjusted the trip to Turkey, but from that I will write a new blog post explaining the whole trip.
Personal experience and conclusion
Here is my personal experience and conclusion of Traveling to Iran, experience and how we ended up deported.
Wow! After reading a lot, and myself writing about how safe it can be to travel to Iran, my first attempt to enter the country has gone a bit "badly" to put it that way.
To be honest, I was prepared in case we had a problem of this kind upon our arrival in Iran. Inside my mind I had considered the possibility of not being able to enter Iran. In a certain way, if you assume the risk in a rational and coherent way, normalizing its possible consequences, it reduces stress, and it is easier to face this situation.
My thought was the following: they won't let us enter Iran, because we stay in Istanbul, I have a week's travel. What's the worst that can happen to me? Change of plans and enjoy another country in an impromptu way!
There was a time when some component of the group in this situation seemed to make the decision to cancel the trip and return. I was clear from the first moment: my intention was to stay in Istanbul, with or without the group, there are a thousand things to do and see in Turkey.
Finally the group raised that energy from the first most negative moment and we all went to one with the decision to readjust our trip to the new circumstances.
Frankly, it is very difficult, few people are denied entry to the country. But to be honest, it is a possibility and this time it was our turn.
For all this, and taking into account all the international blocks that make it impossible to use credit cards, make the decision to carry enough cash in case there was any type of incident at the entrance.
We did not have to buy other tickets, we spent the return tickets early.
How to travel to Iran, experience and how we ended up deported
For me it has been a very enriching experience. A test one of the values that I give the most importance, readjust to the circumstances. Without a doubt I can say that the trip we made in a totally improvised way in Turkey was simply SPECTACULAR. We saw places that I didn't even consider when we took off from Barcelona. All this with a really fantastic group of people, with whom it was very easy to travel, make any kind of decision and readjust to the circumstances.
When I explain how we reorganized the trip through Turkey and the whole group were together in making decisions, many people are surprised. I do not know if it is the mountains, doing this type of travel or the mountain people with whom you team up, which I think is difficult to explain the unity we were able to have in such a short time.
The entry is pending to the blog of the trip through Turkey, explaining the adventures we live.
PS: People ask me if I would go back to Iran. My answer is a STRONGLY YES. I think that the situation we lived in was something exceptional, and that the people of Iran have a lot to offer with their hospitality to label with a single bad experience. So in the near future I intend to travel to Iran again.