The pint-sized island of Hormoz is chock-full of dreamy landscapes painted in shades of red, yellow, and orange, contrasting against the azure water of the Persian Gulf. Home to deer and other fauna, this geological wonderland is a dream for nature enthusiasts and a popular spot for backpackers who come to check out its psychedelic color scheme and rock formations. From Hormoz you can hop on a lenj (small, wooden boat) to the dolphin-shaped Qeshm, the untouched “island of seven wonders.”
A visit to the Khuzestan province tends to get swapped out for more mainstream Iran itineraries, but we guarantee you and your backpack won’t regret this one. Explore Ahvaz, Abadan, Khorramshahr, Susa, and Shushtar where you can cross off three UNESCO sites. Then move on to more remote locations like the enchanting Pamenzar in Dezful or the Shadegan Lagoon where the diversity of Iran’s geography and people is exemplified. Just be sure to visit in the winter or spring to avoid extreme temperatures.
Tempted to altogether skip Tehran? Don’t. Though often reduced to thick smog and heavy traffic, the capital city has enough to keep visitors busy for days. Tehran sits at the intersection of history and modernity, thereby making it one of the best places to understand the country’s social fabric. Here’s where you can experience the trendy cafes and restaurants, historical museums, and thriving cultural scene all while meeting like-minded travelers. Tehran also serves as a great jumping-off point for close by natural attractions or other major cities.
With its positive energy, kind people, breathtaking sites, and delicious local dishes, Yazd is an overall win-win. This desert city is dotted with the architecturally amazing badgir, or windcatchers (ancient air-cooling systems), and is known for its many nods to the ancient Zoroastrian religion that once thrived here, including the Fire Temple, Towers of Silence, and pilgrimage site of Chak Chak on the outskirts of the city. You’re sure to meet fellow backpackers in the budget-friendly hotels or wandering lost through the old town’s narrow alleyways.
The vertical village of Palangan in the Kurdistan province sits in a steep gorge, with houses built along the cliffside, such that the roof of one house doubles as the front patio of another. With stunning views of the babbling river and narrow stone bridge, you’ll not only get off the beaten path here, but it will also completely remove you from the modern world, a feeling you may wish to prolong, which makes Palangan the perfect starting point for a road trip adventure around the province.
The Maranjab conjures up images of the stereotypical sandy desert, but it’s exactly these dunes that have made it a favorite spot for both local and foreign backpackers. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can light a campfire and pitch a tent to spend your night stargazing, or lay your head to rest in the 17th-century caravanserai. Combine your tour with a visit to the salt lake and historical city of Kashan, which lie in close proximity.
Shiraz is not only the leading destination in Iran for tourists, but it’s also one ideally suited for solo travelers and backpackers. The beating heart of Iranian literature, Shiraz is home to two of the country’s most revered poets, Hafez and Sa’adi, whose tombs are visited by throngs of locals and foreigners. Elsewhere, the city’s beautiful Persian gardens and kaleidoscopic Nasir ol-Molk Mosque give a magnificent taste of culture before you head out to the ancient cities of Pasargadae and Persepolis for a hefty dose of ancient history.
In and around the northwestern city of Tabriz is a plethora of spots where backpackers can make a foray to become better acquainted with the unique Azeri-Turkish and Armenian culture of the region. The red brick, UNESCO-listed Tabriz Bazaar, arguably the most beautiful in Iran, and the Blue Mosque are among the top sites in the city. A short distance away is the troglodytic village of Kandovan, inhabited for more than 700 years. A drive through some magnificently painted mountains towards Jolfa will land you at St. Stephanos Armenian Monastery, another worthwhile site.