Before traveling to Iraq and going through all my guides, you should know that Iraq is split into 2 regions:
The Arab Iraq, with Baghdad as its capital, and Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region within Iraq, with Erbil as its capital.
I have visited Iraqi Kurdistan a few times. It’s a very safe region and a visa is easy to obtain.
On the other hand, actual Iraq is not that accessible, plus there are some security concerns. In actual Iraq, I have only been to Mosul.
Capital – Erbil in Kurdistan, and Baghdad in Iraq
Population – 8.35 million in Kurdistan and 31 million in all Iraq, 36th
Official language – Kurdish in Kurdistan and Arab in Iraq
Kurdistan – Most Western nationalities, including EU citizens, the USA, Canada, and Australia, can obtain visa on arrival. It costs 75USD.
Iraq – Since March 2021 and, for the first time in history, travelers can also obtain a visa on arrival if arriving by flight.
For more information, read my Kurdistan guide.
Today, Iraqi Kurdistan is enjoying a relatively level of safety and peace. For a more detailed analysis, read: Is it safe to travel to Kurdistan?
Iraq can be more of an issue but with proper planning, you should be fine.
Solo female travel
I recommend you read: Tips for solo female travel in Iraqi Kurdistan.
When to go
Avoid coming during the summer months, from June to September.
In winter, Kurdistan gets covered by snow, but it’s the best time to visit Iraq proper. Both spring and autumn are the best time to go to Kurdistan, when the weather is pleasant.
For obvious reasons, regular insurance companies don’t cover travel in Iraq.
One of the very few companies which does cover, however, is IATI Insurance, a travel company based in Europe, which I recommend because:
- It offers different plans for all types of travelers: from families to budget backpackers
- COVID-19 coverage
- Covers up to 1-year trips
- Readers of this blog can get an exclusive 5% discount.
Tours for Federal Iraq
Against the Compass has several scheduled expeditions to Federal Iraq every year.
My top things to do in Iraq
I have traveled around Kurdistan extensively but, as I said, in Iraq proper I have only visited Mosul.
- Erbil – The capital of Kurdistan has been inhabited since the 28th century B.C. Check my Travel Guide to Erbil.
- Historical villages – From Lalish to Amedi, the region is filled with loads of historically-rich tiny villages.
- Epic mountains – The dramatic landscape around Soran and Rawandiz is the most stunning mountain scenery I have seen in the Middle East.
- Saddam Hussein’s Heritage – From abandoned palaces to museums portraying his atrocities against the Kurds, Sadam’s legacy won’t leave you indifferent.
- Mosul – The second largest city in Iraq and the cultural capital, which I visited after the liberation from ISIS. Read about the experience.
For more information, read my 2-week itinerary to Kurdistan
Moving around the country by public transportation is easy. Typically, locals travel in shared taxis but you can also find mini-buses between major cities. Hitchhiking is possible in Kurdistan, but not sure if it’s doable in Iraq.
Money and how much does it cost
For money-related affairs, read the budget section of my Tips for traveling to Kurdistan.
There are no backpacker hostels in Iraq and budget hotels start at 18USD for a single room, in Kurdistan. In Iraq proper, hotels are more expensive. Note that budget hotels are not listed online but you can find some options in my Kurdistan backpacking itinerary.