Cycling the north west mountains of Iran to Tehran

by tkos on October 2, 2012

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Cycling through Iran has to be the highlight of the trip so far. It is incredible. It is the biggest cultural learning experience you can get from one country with the most hospitable people in the world. You cannot cycle more than a couple of hours without being offered water, food, a place to stay for the night, an offer of tea or anything else you may or may not need. We were even offered a pen, a melon and a tissue one time. And refusal is rude.

It is without doubt the friendliest and safest place on earth (that we have been to). The people are so curious and love to practice English with you. I cannot recommend cycling through Iran enough. DO NOT let  bias media reports put you off, it is amazing. Top tip though, as sanctions are so stringent, there is no access to your international bank account through ATM, direct payment, bank transfer or even Western Union. You have to take cash and whatever you bring in with you, is all that you will have. So make sure it’s enough.

Below is a map of how we did it.

View Larger Map


What we loved the most:

  • The people. It’s that simple. There is a massive difference between the people and the government and it is a concern for most friendly Iranians. The people love to speak openly about politics, religion and the perceptions of the West towards Iran. It is an Islamic country but completely open to other cultures and religions.
  • Staying in peoples homes. Couch surfing is still possible purely due to the fact that the site has slipped under the radar from the government, so use it while you can. If not, you will still find people to stay with that you meet along the way. If you’re struggling, just ask somebody. The general theme in the mindset is that you will be a guest from God (the Prophet might be different, but the God is the same) and you will be treated as such.

What was like a flat tyre:

  • Sanctions make your life a little more difficult than it needs to be, especially with the cash issue.
  • Your visa needs to be well planned in advance. It is valid for 30 days but you can get an extension from one particular police station in Tehran. You cannot cycle the whole way across within 30 days and relax, so get the extension but try and find a local to help as it can be a bit of a nightmare and will cost you more. Your original visa you can get from Ankara or Istanbul in Turkey but you will need to go through an agency. There is no way to just rock up at an embassy.

What we didn’t, but should’ve done:

  • Brought in enough money to buy an authentic Persian backgammon set

What’s it worth:

  • Probably the most important question. We found out about the lack of access to money the day before we entered, so we went to the ATM’s in Turkey and wihdrew as much as we could from our four different accounts. In total, we pulled out £1000 and were there for 43 days, working out to be £23.26 per day.

Top Tips:

  • If you’re an atheist, it’s best to respect the Islamic culture by describing your religious path as an ‘undecided and open path by learning about all religions around the world’. Otherwise, people will assume you to be Christian and it’s quite often easier not to correct them.
  • TAKE CASH. Obviously keep it hidden, but it’s quite safe. If you run out, it is a matter of getting in touch with your embassy for help. It is the same drama as losing a passport, but it can be done.
  • It gets cold and it’s not all desert. There are even some great ski resorts just north of Tehran so be prepared to rug up. You will reach altitudes of 2,500+ metres along the above route. Buy your extra gloves, beanies etc in Ankara. We cycled Iran in November. By January it gets to -28 C. We only experienced -10 C.


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TownKM'sNightsWhere we slept
Qarazayddin951Random Kind Stranger
Marand1051Couch Surf
Tabriz701Couch Surf
Miyaneh1001Couch Surf
Highway 2751Wild Camp
Abhar1042Random Kind Stranger
Qazvin921Random Kind Stranger
Karaj1212Couch Surf

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