Iran is the last discovered Middle Eastern gem and a backpacker’s dream, a country which, every year, more and more independent travelers desperately wish to venture into.
From some of the most hospitable people on Earth to striking Islamic architecture, Iran is galaxies away from the image the Western media has been trying to portray for the last four decades.
With no exception that I know of, all travelers leave the country absolutely fascinated, full of wanderlust and most of them are willing to go back again.
However, we can’t forget the fact that Iran is an Islamic dictatorship with very strict rules and laws which, unfortunately, mainly affect women’s lifestyle and dress code.
Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that, every week, I get emails from several women, saying that, after reading all the wonders and seeing all my photos, they can’t wait to go to Iran, yet, they are a bit skeptical and a little concerned.
I always tell them that, in Iran, they will likely be treated like queens and might even feel safer than in top touristic Muslim destinations, like Egypt, for example.
Nevertheless, I have only visited Iran as a solo man and, even though all the women I know felt extremely safe, I can’t give a detailed answer, so I sought the help of an expert solo female traveler who has traveled extensively in the country.
Her name is Evelina, she is from Sweden, and is the author of a travel blog named Earth Wanderess.
I had been following her Iran journey on her Instagram and what caught my attention was that she really got deep into the country, by exploring very remote regions and meeting loads of local people.
Then, I had the chance to meet her in Tbilisi, in a bar, actually, where we chatted for a few hours over some good local beers.
In this interview, Eve shares her experience in Iran as a solo female traveler.
After receiving so many emails from really kick-ass female travelers who want to wander around some of the most off the beaten track countries in the world, I decided to open a Solo Female Traveling section on my blog, to help women get to know the reality of traveling solo in these countries. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you think you have a nice experience to tell!
What made you decide to go Iran?
I had only heard amazing things from people who had actually traveled to Iran. They all seemed to have it as their best travel experience ever and, when it comes to places to visit, I listen to travelers, not the media, so I wanted to see this place for myself that so many other travelers had fallen in love with.
And what made you go a second time?
It really was like those travelers had told me before:
It’s a unique place with the most hospitable people in the world.
I had made so many friends who I really wanted to visit but the main trigger was that I realized how incredibly diverse and untouched their landscapes are. I’m a nature enthusiast, so being able to go to jaw-droppingly beautiful places in Iran which are free of tourist crowds is just too tempting to not go and explore even more.
Iran has very strict Islamic rules which apply to women mainly. Did this put you off in the first place?
Since I can’t always find someone with the time, money and same interests as me to travel with and I also like the freedom of flexibility, most of the time, I travel alone. Going to Iran was no exception and, from what I had heard from other solo female travelers, it seemed very safe and, after being there twice, I agree with that.
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How did the locals react, especially men, when they saw that you were in Iran as a solo female traveler?
They were surprised, curious and proud. Many came up to me asking me WHY I had come to Iran, as they know how their country is being portrayed in western media. They were just so happy I wanted to come to their country.
And what about women?
They were also curious but maybe not as upfront about it. I got invited to so many places and the friends and family of the people I made friends with were also very excited to meet me.
When you were moving around by public transportation, did you ever have a bad experience?
No, when I took the metro in Tehran, I would go in the female section, where no men are allowed and, when taking the overnight buses, they would never put women next to men, unless they are married, know each other or chose to sit next to each other.
Iranians are famous for their hospitality and random house invitations are very common. As a female traveler, did you also experience it? Did you ever hesitate?
Oh yes! It really doesn’t compare to anywhere else I’ve been to. They are so open to inviting people because this is what their local culture is based on. I never got into a situation where I hesitated but, sometimes, I would have so many invitations that I had to say no and stay with the one I knew the best.
Did you experience any kind of privilege just because you were a woman?
Yes, I felt like I was treated “like a queen” so I did feel like I got special treatment, but it’s hard to know for what exact reason. Sometimes, it was because I was a white tourist, as my local female friends didn’t get the same treatment and, on other occasions, it was because of being women.
It was kind of like most men being classical movie-like gentlemen, helping with things.
And what about the disadvantages? Did you have any limitations just because you were a woman?
Walking in heat and having to wear the hijab, for sure. But that’s the only disadvantage I experienced during my total 3 months of being in Iran.
What do you recommend to wear and bring when traveling in Iran as a woman?
Loose-fitting lightweight pants (which are in fashion now, anyway), long cardigan/tunic/kimono and a sarong or scarf to cover your hair when you are out in public.
I always travel with those loose pants anyway, as they are light in the heat but keep you from burning in the sun, plus they are super comfortable.
I also always travel with a sarong, which I use as a towel, blanket, pillow etc. I really like multi-purpose things.
You visited very remote regions within the country. From all the off the beaten track places you explored in Iran, which one would you recommend to female travelers and why?
Out of the 18 regions/provinces that I’ve traveled to in Iran I would say Hormuz Island, in Hormuzgan Province, is the one I would recommend to solo female travelers.
It’s a hippie’s paradise where you can set up camp on secluded beaches and feel totally free, as there is no hijab police in sight and the island is full of other nature enthusiasts who are escaping the busy and strict life of the bigger cities in mainland Iran.
I would also say that the people who live on the island are -believe it or not- even more friendly than the rest of Iran.
To which kind of traveling women do you recommend Iran?
All of them. Iran really has something for everyone, except for the ones who just travel for parties and alcohol.
It has some of the richest culture and history in the world, amazing food, the nicest people and the most varied landscapes in one country that I have ever seen or heard of.
I often say that Iran is one of the best countries to travel alone, as it is the place where I’ve found it easiest to make local friends, hence, one can get a true experience of everyday life in that country, in all social classes, as they are all as hospitable, no matter how rich they are.
I’ve been greeted and invited as a daughter by nomadic families and by upper-class Iranians. Their hospitality is in their blood and culture and that’s why I find it the easiest place to travel alone.
I also felt very safe there.
Further tips and recommendations
Get the longest Iranian visa you can – No matter how long you spend there, you will never feel like it was enough. There’s so much to see and experience and the hospitality and generosity of the people will make you feel at home and you will make a LOT of friends.
If you don’t have Instagram or Telegram, get one of them – As these are the main social media platforms used by Iranians, and they will ask for your account and number.
Say yes to staying with locals as often as you can, especially in old traditional houses – And don’t plan too much because you will very likely be invited to join trips or weddings or other things by the people you meet.
Learn a bit of Farsi – It’s an easy language to learn and just speaking a few words or sentences will impress the locals immensely.
I cannot recommend Iran enough. It is my favorite travel destination, I always miss it and can’t wait to go back. And, very important, don’t listen to the media or anyone who hasn’t been there. Talk only to the people who have actually traveled there.
Check all my articles about Iran
80 Useful tips for traveling to Iran
Independent travel in Iran: 1 to 4-week itinerary
How to find the right travel insurance for Iran
Is Iran safe?
How to find the right VPN for Iran
Things to do in Tehran in 2 days
A guide to Qeshm Island
A guide to Shiraz
A trip to the desert of the Kaluts
Trekking in the Zagros mountains
Meeting the Qashqai, authentic Iranian nomads
What to see in Pars province besides Shiraz and Persepolis
A guide to the Iranian visa
A guide to Masuleh
A guide to Golestan Province