Tips and how to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2021

Located in the far north of Iraq, nestled between Iran and Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan is today a safe but turbulent region, home to some of the most breathtaking landscape in the Middle East, composed of green mountains with snow-capped peaks that, definitely, will break with all the stereotypes you have about Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan is no desert and, most importantly, it is not a war zone filled with ISIS terrorists but an autonomous region which, for the last couple of years, has done a tremendous job defending its borders.

It is in fact, one of the safest countries in the Middle East and the most ultimate destination for travelers looking for something unique, very off the beaten track, and who are willing to meet the Kurds, a very proud and brave nation, who turn out to also be some of the most hospitable people I have ever encountered, with similar experiences to Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan.

From visiting a Syrian refugee camp to remote Christian monasteries and millennial villages, discovering Sadam Hussein’s heritage and learning from the conflict against ISIS, Kurdistan may be the high point of all your backpacking travels.

I have visited the country three times, here you have all my travel tips for Iraqi Kurdistan.

This guide contains all the practical information. For places to visit read: 2-week itinerary in Iraqi Kurdistan

travel to Iraqi Kurdistan


COVID-19 travel restrictions for Iraqi Kurdistan

For entering Iraqi Kurdistan, the following requirements apply:

Upon you arrival in Kurdistan, you must undergo a PCR test

Whether you enter by land or air, you will have to take a PCR test, and pay the respective 30USD fee. Euros (€) are also accepted. The health authorities will ask for your contact details and, if you tested positive, they will contact you on the next day with further instructions.

No quarantine is required upon arrival, despite what you may read in their website.

PCR exemption

Since July 2021, the following exceptions apply:

  • Fully vaccinated travelers, as long as they can prove it. However, be aware that some airlines may require a PCR test
  • Travelers holding a negative PCR test issued no later than 48 hours before entering Kurdistan

A second PCR test is also mandatory when leaving Kurdistan

Which you can do at Zanko Health Center in Erbil, for a 30USD fee.

You can pick up your results after 24 hours.

Travel to Kurdistan
This is the town of Aqrah – Travel to Kurdistan


How to get a visa for Iraqi Kurdistan

Citizens from most high GDP countries can get a visa on arrival for Iraqi Kurdistan

Citizens of:

European Union, USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Japan, Kuwait, New Zealand, Qatar, South Korea, Turkey, UK

The visa is valid for 30 days, either you enter by land or by air.

Update 2021

Iraqi Kurdistan visa had always been free but since April 2021, it costs 75USD or 60€.

The rest of nationalities need to go through a particularly tedious process

Citizens from the rest of the world should contact the nearest KRG Representation (like a Kurdistan Consulate) or email them at dfr@krg.org.

In the best-case scenario, they will reply and ask for a letter of invitation but my guide, one of the most experienced guides in Kurdistan, said he doesn’t provide LOI anymore, since getting the government approval is a nightmare.

Iraqi Kurdistan visas can’t be used to visit Iraq proper (Baghdad, Mosul, etc.)

This is important. A valid visa for traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan doesn’t allow you to visit outside of Kurdistan, that is to enter actual Iraq, including Mosul.

Intersection to Mosul, Baghdad and Kirkuk


Best time to visit Iraqi Kurdistan

Unlike other countries in the Middle East, Kurdistan has 4 distinct seasons:

Traveling to Kurdistan in spring

Spring is definitely the best time to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan, from March to the end of April, when the whole region is fully blossoming, at its greenest, and the weather is pleasant.

Traveling to Kurdistan in summer

Summers can get hot, especially in the area around Erbil and Sulamaniyah, where the temperature may easily reach 45ºC.

In the mountains, or in cities like Duhok, the weather might be slightly cooler but still hot, the reason why summer is low season for visiting Kurdistan, from mid May to September.

Traveling to Kurdistan in autumn

Autumn is the second best time to visit Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish mountains and meadows may not be green, but you get the beautiful autumn colors and the weather is pleasant.

Traveling to Kurdistan in winter

In winter, the temperature drops and most Iraqi Kurdistan gets covered in snow. I have never traveled in Kurdistan during its freezing winter but it must be beautiful, despite the cold weather.

Best time to visit Kurdistan
Visiting Kurdistan in spring


Travel Insurance for Iraqi Kurdistan (with COVID-19 coverage)

Iraqi Kurdistan is no normal destination and, most likely, it is a country that your Government advises against all travel, so most travel insurance companies will not offer coverage for Iraq, including World Nomads.

One of the very few which does cover travel in Iraq is IATI Insurance

IATI Insurance offers full COVID-19 coverage and has tons of plans at very competitive prices.

Moreover, readers of Against the Compass can get an exclusive 5% discount


How to go to Iraqi Kurdistan

How to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan by air

Kurdistan has two international airports: Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, Erbil being the most transited airport.

Istanbul (both Turkish and Pegasus) and Dubai (Fly Dubai) are the cheapest and most common routes.

How to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan by land

You can enter Kurdistan from either Iran or Turkey. The Iranian side is very easy and straightforward but on the Turkish side, the Turkish authorities may give you some trouble.

Travel Iraqi Kurdistan
The main square of Erbil – Travel Iraqi Kurdistan


Books for traveling in Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraq Travel Guide by Bradt

If you follow my blog, you will see that I always recommend their guides for all destinations, so Iraq will be no different. They have, obviously, the only travel guide to the country, with a pretty long chapter focused on Kurdistan. Bradt has the most insightful guidebooks I have ever read.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICES ON AMAZON


The Rise of the Islamic State by Patrick Cockburn

This is my favorite journalism book ever and it is written by Patrick Cockburn, one of the world’s top experts on the Middle Eastern conflict. In this book, he gives an extremely perceptive introduction to the origins of ISIS, with many references to Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq, of course. A really useful book to understand the complexity and origin of the conflict.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICES ON AMAZON


Is it safe to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan?

Read about how to travel to Mosul in Iraq

The bad things that happen in Iraq don’t happen in Kurdistan

Whatever you have been hearing in the news about Iraq for the last few years, happened in Arab Iraq, not in Kurdistan.

The last terrorist attack that occurred in Kurdistan was in Erbil back in 2014. This means that London and Paris have suffered more attacks than the whole of Kurdistan itself.

However, the region is very unstable

I never meant that traveling to Kurdistan will be as peaceful as your spiritual journey through Bhutan, not even close.

Despite being safe, the region is highly volatile and effective military operations are the only reason why it is safe. This means that things may change overnight, so being extra careful is more than wise. 

A billboard indicating how to deactivate mines, in an area which used to be heavily mined

There are military controls everywhere

When you travel between towns and cities, you will find so many military checkpoints run by Kurdish Army guys named Peshmergas.

As a Western passport holder, they don’t give you any trouble but, once, I was traveling with an Iraqi from Baghdad and they held him for 15 minutes, at least. They don’t trust Arabs at all as any Arab could, potentially, be an ISIS spy.

Sadam Hussein Palace
A Peshmerga base located in Sadam Hussein’s Palace

Crime rates are ridiculously low

Kurdistan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. It is one of those places where you may forget your phone in a café, come back in a few hours and still recover it.

For a more complete and detailed analysis, read: Is it safe to travel to Iraq?

Kurdistan tourism travel guide
The old tanks from Sadam Hussein’s regime, in Sulaymaniyah – Kurdistan tourism travel guide


Solo female travel in Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan is a very safe region of Iraq, regardless of your gender but women should of course, take extra care, like they would do in other conservative Muslim countries.

If you want to know more, read this article that a kick ass female traveler posted on my blog: 6 Tips for solo female travel in Iraqi Kurdistan

Andrea from Hunting Rarities in Amedi


Money and budget when travel in Kurdistan

In Kurdistan, they use the Iraqi Dinar and, approximately:

1€ = 1,750ID

Exchanging money in Kurdistan

You can easily exchange €, USD and GBP in all the main cities.

Some exchange offices are just stalls in the middle of the street, with no surveillance, no security and no glass screen with lots of huge bundles of cash. The reason is that the crime rates here are very low.

Credit cards and ATMs

There are quite a few banks which accept foreign cards, so you can withdraw money easily but, except for some good hotels, most places in Kurdistan accept only cash.

How much does to cost to travel in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Compared to its neighbors, traveling in Kurdistan isn’t very cheap.

  • Budget Hotels: 20,000-25,000ID
  • Beer in a liquor shop: 1,200-2,000ID
  • Beer in a bar: 8,000-12,000ID
  • Fast food (like a shawarma or falafel): 1,000-1,500ID
  • Local eateries: 5,000 to 8,000ID for a local meal, consisting of rice, beans and chicken, or a kebab
  • Fancy restaurants: Main courses starting at 14,000ID
  • Taxi rides within cities: from 3,000ID to 5,000ID
  • Transportation between cities: Local shared taxi from Suleymaniyah to Erbil costs 15,000ID
Money in Iraq
Some money exchange stalls – No surveillance? – Traveling to Kurdistan


The country, its people and culture

From all Kurdistan regions, Kurdistan in Iraq enjoys the highest level of autonomy, to the extent that they control their borders, immigration, they have their own army and even Parliament.

Kurds are spread over 4 countries

There are 40 million Kurds spread over Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, making them the largest stateless nation in the world.

Many years ago, they used to be one single country but, at the end of the British Empire, the British themselves decided to draw the Middle Eastern map like that.

Kurds are not Arabs

Kurds are a different nation and ethnicity who are closer to Persians than Arabs. Never tell a Kurd that they are Arabs because they won’t like it, and it’s extremely important to know and make the distinction.

Kurdish is the main language

Kurdish – a language with many similarities to Farsi or Dari and Turkish – is the official language in Kurdistan.

Many young Kurds don’t even speak Arabic anymore

People who are less than 30-years old don’t really speak Arabic, or very little at least. They don’t teach it in schools anymore, a very drastic measure from the Kurdish Government after the Saddam Hussein invasion, when their national pride and differences versus the Arabs accentuated even more.

Speaking English in Iraqi Kurdistan

Young, well-educated people in Erbil and Sulamaniyah speak English but that’s it. With the rest of the population, you will have to talk using signs or Google Translate.

Many Kurds don’t like Arabs, at all

Educated Kurds are aware that their problems with the Arabs are more political but, during my journey, I met many closed-minded Kurds, especially in the villages, who told me that they really hate Arabs.

travel Kurdistan Iraq
The Kurds, in Rawandiz – Travel Kurdistan Iraq


They are Sunni Muslims

Kurdistan is a Muslim country and most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.

However, they are moderate Sunnis

In Kurdistan, you may realize that Kurds are not as religious as Muslims from other Middle Eastern countries.

As I said, Kurds are the largest stateless nation, 40 million people spread over 4 different countries striving to get more recognition, more autonomy, so their national identity prevails over religion, the reason why Kurdistan is such a diverse nation composed of all types of Muslims, Christians, as well as other minorities.

This is the reason why the Kurds are moderate Muslims.

Yazidi people
Yazidi people, in Lalish, the holiest place for Yazidis

There is also a huge Christian community as well as other minorities

In Erbil, there is a big Christian district named Anqawa and you actually find several Christian villages and Orthodox monasteries throughout the region.

Other minorities include Yazidis, Kakais and Shabaks.

Kurdish hospitality

Similarly to when you are traveling in Iran, house, lunch and chai invitations aren’t a rare thing to happen. Hospitality is in their blood, especially if you are an outsider.

Kurdistan is the most developed region in Iraq

Iraqi Kurdistan, especially Erbil and Sulaimaniyah, have drastically developed in recent years. They hold some of the largest oil reserves in the country, control the main borders with Iran and Turkey and Erbil has become sort of a business hub, where many international companies have settled in.

Because of all the above, Kurds are craving for independence

More than 90% of the Kurds want to separate from Iraq. In fact, they already celebrated a referendum back in 2017 but due to international pressure and threats from Iraq and its neighbors, they didn’t move it forward.

Kurdistan travel guide
The Kurdish flag and Amadiya in the background – Kurdistan travel guide


The food in Iraqi Kurdistan

A shawarma economy

During your trip to Kurdistan, you will get absolutely sick of shawarma, being the only option in most places. Eating a shawarma costs less than a dollar but it’s very unhealthy, even though many Kurds eat shawarma every single day.

Vegetarian falafel is widely available as well.

You may find kebabs

Sometimes, you may find some places serving good kebabs, of all types. A good kebab, however, isn’t cheap and you may end up paying up to 10USD for just a few of them.

If you are lucky, you may find local eateries

Local eateries typically serve red beans with rice, chicken and also kebabs. There aren’t many, however, and you will have to look for them. You need to look for them, however, or know where to go.

In a traditional restaurant, with the expedition group

The best Kurdish food is served at home

I have been invited in quite a few Kurdish houses and the main conclusion is that the best traditional Kurdish food can’t be found in restaurants but only in Kurdish homes.

Their cuisine is mostly rice and meat-based, quite fatty and with many stews. Red beans will always be the side dish of any meal and, when they have guests, they don’t care about making you eat chicken, lamb, and beef at the same time, along with fried rice with meat in it and a lot of flatbread.

I always left their houses completely rolling.

Kurdish food
The amount of food they serve is insane


Drinking alcohol when you travel in Kurdistan

Good news: Alcohol is widely available in Kurdistan

Unlike the rest of Iraq, liquor stores are available everywhere. You can buy fresh, cold beer, wine and any type of liquor. In Erbil and Sulaymaniyah you can find plenty of bars, as well.

You can actually drink on the street

I didn’t really drink in the center of Erbil but I had some beers in a few parks in both Erbil and Suleymaniyah, as well as in villages throughout the country, and I never had any problems.

Well, this is not actually true because, in Suleymaniyah, I had a beer in the main square, basically because my Couchsurfing host told me it was OK to do so, but the police came to me quite annoyed, even though they just made me put it away. Apparently, it is legal to drink but some police don’t like it anyways.

In liquor shops, beer is cheap, not in bars

In the stores, a beer costs not much more than a dollar but, in bars, they charge 10 times more, unfortunately, so if you are on a budget, don’t get drunk in bars.

Chai and cafés

Like pretty much in all countries in the Middle East, chai is a big deal and it always comes with sugar by default. Hanging out in cafés is one of the highlights of any trip to Kurdistan, the best place to socialize with friendly locals.

Tea house Erbil
Mam Khalil, one of the oldest tea houses in Erbil


How to travel around Iraqi Kurdistan: transportation

Moving around by bus or minivan

Buses are basically mini-vans but they don’t really run to many places, except between the main cities. They are much slower than shared taxis and not much cheaper.

Local shared taxis

The way to go. They go everywhere and are the most common way of transportation among locals. They aren’t cheap as in Iran and Central Asia but still quite affordable.

Hitchhiking in Kurdistan

Super safe and convenient. I hitchhiked all the way from Soran to Dohuk via Amedi, which is around 300km. Nobody never asked me for money and I had great experiences with many of the people, which a few times involved stopping for lunch or even making a detour, so they could drop me just at the place I wanted.

Visit Iraqi Kurdistan
Crazy roads in Iraqi Kurdistan – Visit Iraqi Kurdistan


Internet and SIM Card

Wi-Fi in Kurdistan

It is not the fastest Wi-Fi in the world, but it is pretty decent and you find good connection all across the country. Internet is not much of an issue when you travel in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Getting a SIM Card

You can easily buy a local SIM Card in many of the stalls located around the covered bazaar in Erbil. I got Korek Telecom and I remember paying around 12USD for a SIM Card and 3GB of data but as you know, data plans change every other day.


Where to stay in Iraqi Kurdistan: accommodation

Hotels in Iraqi Kurdistan

Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk are well-sorted of hotels.


Budget Hotels (pensions)

Like I said in the budget section, the cheapest hotels will cost you around 12-20USD but they can’t be booked online. You can check all the hotels I stayed at in my Kurdistan itinerary.

Couchsurfing

In Suleymaniyah and Erbil, there are so many active profiles. You may also find a few in Dohuk but outside of the main cities, I never got a couch.


More useful information to visit Iraqi Kurdistan

Drones

I am telling you this based on my own experience. When I was traveling in Kurdistan, I got arrested for having a drone and I didn’t even fly it. They found it in my backpack and they took me to a military base, where they interrogated me for a few hours.

I really thought they I would not get my drone back but, in the end, they believed my story. Basically, they are used by ISIS to spy, so if you do have one because you are overlanding, hide it and don’t fly it!

Tourists visiting refugee camps

It is possible to visit some Syrian refugee camps, but just some of them. They are outside the cities and you should go with a local. I visited Darashakran and you can read about my experience: Visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq.

Traveling to Iran next?

No problem, don’t forget to check all my articles and guides to Iran.

And remember to read all my articles and guides to Iraqi Kurdistan

traveling to Kurdistan

Disclosure: As a traveler, I use all the companies I recommend and you should know that, if you buy any service through any of these links, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Start planning and booking your trip

For booking accommodation

Use Booking.com for hotels and guesthouses

Check on Hostelworld for for backpacker hostels

For travel insurance (with COVID-19 coverage), I recommend:

1 – IATI Insurance (5% discount) – Cheapest travel insurance and for travelers above 70

2 – True Traveller – Best backpacking insurance (only Europeans)

 

For all your travel gear

Trekking equipment, books, etc, check on Amazon

If you want to know all the companies I use to plan my trips, check my travel resources page

92 comments

  1. Wow, what an adventure. Like most people, I know little about Iraqi Kurdistan and you provided an incredibly comprehensive guide to an undiscovered region of the world for tourists. The landscape looks beautiful. It’s always great to read about a region that is different and unique and makes me want to explore. Thanks for sharing!

  2. It is quite a shame that not more traveled and to be honest Iraqi in not on the top of my list either, but may consider some time and you are right, I would actually go there before Paris, It seems like so much terror activity goes on in Paris that as close as it is I have no desire to go. I love the middle east and always looking for new places to visit there. I love the UAE and Oman and maybe someday Iraqi

  3. It does look pretty and I am not the kind of person who considers “safety” while traveling – maybe its not wise, but coming from India, I somehow feel like there is so much happening here, how can any place be rosy or perfect anyways. I am glad you introduced one such destination and it looks amazing. The canyon of Rawandiz is simply stunning.

  4. I think it’s a shame that more people don’t realize how much this country has to offer. It’s beautiful and with a lot of history. I’m glad you put together this guide which is so thorough. I’m sure a lot of people will find it handy.

  5. Your facts at the beginning of the post are so eye-opening. Amazing how different our perception of a place is compared to the reality. The landscapes look beautiful and the culture truly unique. This guide is such a great resource for anyone visiting Iraqi Kurdistan. Hopefully more people will get to venture there.

  6. I’ve heard of Erbil so many times owing to the fact that I have a friend who used to work there. I think another travel blogger, Shane of The Travel Camel has been there too, and if IIRIC, he’s previously recommended me to go to Iraqi Kurdistan too although I’ve never really given it much thought – mostly due to misplaced security concern. The northern road looks crazy beautiful, by the way, and is definitely something that I’d consider covering if I were to travel there one day.

    1. I know Shane! Not in person, but I’ve exchanged a couple of tweets with him and read his posts about Kurdistan. It’s totally safe! If you ever go, let me know 😉

      1. Do u know by any chance how to get there ( airport wize) from istambul to ( im going to Mardin there) and not sure whats the closer airport!

        1. Under current pandemic circumstances, airports in Iraqi Kurdistan are closed until August 1st, which might be extended as it has often been. Once airports are reopened, it will take time for regular commercial flights to restart. There is an occasional flight from Doha. It might be possible to come overland from Turkey via Sirnak Airport, which is closest to the border with Iraq. Whichever way you come, currently you will be required to be quarantined for 14 days. Another feature to keep in mind is that August is the hottest time of the year with temperatures up to 50 degrees C. Temperatures start going down in September. November is one of the best months.

  7. Great adventure! I went to Iraqi Kurdistan a few years ago and had an amazing time there. I still can’t decide whether I like Erbil or Sulaymaniyah most. Great tips there.

  8. This is a really great post to get out there. I had a friend travel to Iraq a few years ago and he just loved it and raved about it. I’m just a little afraid to go as I will obviously stick out like an outsider. I know there are safe ways to travel in Iraq though and this is good to remember. It looks like there are a million great things to do in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    1. Iraqi is totally safe, but as I say, it’s relatively safe. Things could change overnight and you need to be cautious. You can’t just go anywhere on your own. If you go, you need to be cautious. If you are afraid of going, you could just hire a local guide. That way, you would be safer than in your home country 😉

  9. It’s a shame that such a beautiful place is not traveled and explored more due to fear. I like the stats that you put up, but to be honest I’m not sure that it is enough to inspire me to go. I do love the middle east and have been several times to surrounding area’s and maybe a possibility in the future I would consider Iraqui

  10. I’m really glad you started the post with safety. Unfortunately (and as a traveller, I know, I know better) when we in the West think of the Middle East we think war and terrorism. Our news channels also don’t help as they only report negative stories. Also, when I think Iraq I think desert. I didn’t think of Iraq with all that beautiful green scenery. Excellent post. Very informative.

  11. You don’t need to pay as much as $30 for a hotel in Erbil. I am paying half that (15 000IQD) in a little place off Bata St West of the bazaar and there are other cheap ones in the area. I am in Leyli Baghdad , Google map location 36.188962,44.007374 They don’t speak English but the guy is friendly, the owner has other places nearby if it’s full.

    1. Hey Graham, this is real amazing information. I will update this post accordingly. Thank you so much! Hope you are enjoying Kurdistan! i am in Palestine 😉

      1. Been meeting lots of nice people but that’s no surprise really. If i get any more info I’ll let you know. Think we’re following each other around, i am hoping to go to Palestine this year as well so i am looking forward to your write up

  12. Ah, thank you for the post! I came across this whilst googling about moving to Erbil. Not many blogs / videos really manage to give you a good sense of the place, but I really enjoyed your post!

    1. thanks! That’s amazing that you are moving to Erbil. I’ve heard only good things from expats living there! I was in Erbil for just 3-4 days but I also enjoyed it a lot!

  13. Haval Qaraman Rawandwzy is a fantastic tour guide for this region. I am used to traveling solo, but in the case of Iraqi Kurdistan I decided I needed a guide. I used Haval . Haval knows every part of Kurdistan (especially its natural wonders) and showed me some of the most amazing places. From cities to mountains to the rich history of this land, Kurdistan is an incredible opportunity.

  14. We are off to Kurdistan next month. Really looking forward to it. Some excellent information on your site. Do you know to find good maps of the country please?
    Cheers
    Mike & Anthea

  15. On Sunday I’m leaving for a 2.5 month trip from Iran to Eritrea, largely using your guides for help (will be basically doing your exact Sudan itinerary – thanks!). Had planned to visit Iraqi Kurdistan, but unfortunately due to the current flight ban/border closure it’s going to be too much hassle and expense. Even though I’m not able to go, I already have first hand knowledge of how friendly and welcoming the Kurdish people are – within a week of posting my trip on CS I had about 10 couches offered to me by people extremely keen to show me around. Absolutely gutted to tell them that I can’t come. Anyway, keep up the good work and safe travels!

    1. Hi Caleb, thanks for your kind comment man! Yeah it’s really a shame that traveling to Kurdistan is a bit of a struggle right now! I was supposed to be there now as well but, because of the situation, I decided to stay in Central Asia a bit longer. I will travel to Kurdistan in March, inshallah. By the way, that’s awesome that you go an Eritrean visa. Looking forward to go there as well! Good luck in your travels. Cheers mate,

      1. Thanks for putting together this guide! I hope to be able to visit in 2018, maybe April or May. Hope it is not too hot and hope everything fine by that time!

        1. I don’t think it will be very hot… Iraqi Kurdistan is a mountainous region and when I went there in March, nights were a bit chilly. I am also going back there in April, as I need I want to re-write this travel guide, as well as visiting so many places which didn’t have the chance the last time. I also hope that situation will be OK by that time. All the best,

  16. Travelled there for 7 days and it was an amazing experience. People were lovely and lots of sites to be visited. We could have stayed for two weeks but we had to spend some time in Turkey as well. We highly recommend Kurdistan.
    Karwan Wahed was an invaluable guide for us. He provided rich insights into the region. Speaks English really well and possesses the traits of a hospitable Kurd.

    1. Hi Andrew, I just came back from there too! Wanted to re-write all my content, as well as visiting new places. Readers keep on asking me about guides all the time but I never know what to tell them, as I have always traveled there independently. Is that guy really good? I just hesitate to advertise one guy who I don’t even know…

      1. I have used Karwan Wahed and he’s great. He’s very reliable, trustworthy, humble and takes care of his clients quite well. He’s highly recommended by other travelers, the reason why we hired him. Perhaps worth checking his reviews on his website. I personally highly recommend him.

  17. Thank you for this article I will be travelling in 3 weeks. Does anyone have any information on renting a car un Kurdistan.
    Robert

  18. Your thoughts on travel in Kurdistan as an American. To be specific, an Asian American. Nobody will know that I am an American unless I show them my passport. I can fake it as I am a Chinese, because I am an Asian 🙂 Thank you!

    1. Hi Dean, I am not American and I don’t know about the local’s reactions to specific nationalities but in my experience, they are friendly with anyone, regardless of their nationality

        1. Which sources? I seriously doubt it… They closed Erbil’s airport for a couple of months last year after the referendum of independence but there is. What you may have heard is that there was a sandstorm this weekend and they canceled a lot of flights.

          1. Nevermind. I contacted a travel agency in Erbil, all good. What’s your thoughts on traveling by land from Turkey to Erbil, vice versa? I know the easiest way to go there is fly in and out. Comments and suggestions? Thank you!

  19. I guess it’s time to delete the nudes on my phone. Yikes… Thanks for the info my friend. You think the Israelis will question me at their airport for 6 hours because the Kurdistan stamp? I’m just a traveler. Not associated with anything but mother nature.

  20. Iraqi Kurdistan is developing its tourism potential with busloads of tourists coming mostly from other parts of Iraq to visit standard places like Shaqlawa and Rawanduz and the deepest canyons in the Middle East through the gorges of Gali Ali Beg along the famed Hamilton Road that is the focus of the book ‘Road Through Kurdistan’.
    Thank you for all your helpful information and insights and tips for expatriate travelers. Iraqi Kurdistan is wonderful adventure country to explore and discover. Within reason of course, Iraqi Kurdistan is indeed safe and secure where anyone, visitor or resident, women as well as men, can travel anywhere at anytime, alone, without security arrangements of any kind. Your photo and comments about the piles of cash says it well. It’s a place of virtually no crime, no drugs, and no taxes. Could be worse? Just stay away from some border areas, especially along the mountainous border with Turkey. And don’t mistake the border with Iran that in some areas is way down on the Iraqi side of the mountains, not along the tops. Main road areas are very safe. Another source of good information is ‘Kurdistan Tour Guide’ by The Other Iraq Tours.

  21. Wonderful guide, however, you forgot to mention the Assyrians in the area, especially in areas such as Duhok. Some Assyrians are complaining that Kurds are oppressing them and stole the land (their words, not mine).

  22. We are in Erbil now. The place is amazing. The people are the friendliest people we have ever met of anywhere in the world. I would say that this is probably the safest place we have ever visited.

  23. Joan, thanks for shedding some light on this area. What advice would you have for someone considering a 2 year work contract in Suleimaniyah?

    1. Just that you will have fun because there are quite a few foreigners. Also, there are a few Facebook/CS groups that organize weekly trips and treks to the mountains. A great way to meet open-minded locals and the mountains around Suli are gorgeous.

  24. What a bias article! You must be Kurdish to write such things!

    I disagree with most what you have said! That’s why Kurdish people are worse than Arabs! same thing to me! all liars! I have visited Iraq a few times and Kurds hate the country but they don’t realise that without Iraq they would be thrown outside just like in Iran!
    You are not a country but you are part of Iraq! No one will ever recognise Kurdistan as a country! Be real for a second in your life! I am a British and worked in Iraq for 8 years!

    1. Seriously, Jack, shut the fuck up, you are a racist, judging and generalizing entire nations. You aren’t welcome on this page, please don’t visit us again

    2. You are absolutely talking crap, Let me tel you, Kurdish people are one of the nicest people you could wish to meet , whether you like it or not Kurdish people have their own government. Please DONT visit their land and spread your hateful messages.

  25. Really interesting and helpful article, I will have a lot of free time to travel next year so looking at new places to visit. Just found out that I can get visa on arrival at Erbil and Suleymaniyah which could easily make Iraqi Kurdistan a starting point of a northbound journey. You just got a new follower.

  26. Hi hello I’m an American with an American passport woman wanting to travel to Kurdistan can I get tourist visa at the Kurdistan border crossing point upon arrival by land thank you in advance

  27. Hi Joan. I have a quick question: I was hoping to fly to Erbil from Dubai on flydubai, getting a visa on arrival (I am a Canadian citizen). But when I went to buy the airline ticket, the flydubai website came up with this warning that if you’re flying into Erbil, they won’t let you board without a visa, unless you are a citizen of Lebanon or a GCC country. Is this true, or is it just that they haven’t updated their warning message? Do you know of Westerners that have flown into Erbil on flydubai without a visa?

    1. Hi Glenn, I flew once from Dubai to Erbil with FlyDubai and there wasn’t any issue. It was during my visit to Kurdistan in 2016.
      In my experience, airlines will post a lot of bullshit on their site, stupid warnings which don’t make a lot of sense, like we won’t let you in if you don’t have travel insurance for the destination, etc. When I flew to Kenya, the airline said they would not allow you to get it if you didn’t have a yellow fever vaccination certificate, but they never asked for it.

      As a Canadian, you are 100% granted a visa on arrival. It would be strange they didn’t let you in but I don’t want to give you the wrong advice.

  28. Hi Joan, I read that it is not forbidden to take the drone for recreational purposes. When did you travel to Kurdistan or had your “incident” with the Military? We will be hiking in the mountains – do you have any experience with Camping there (safety aspect)?
    Best regards
    Veronika

    1. Hi there, it was 1 year ago in 2018. I assume recreational drones are OK to fly as long as you have a permit but I am not entirely sure anyways. The only thing I know is that they almost take it away from me.
      I haven’t really explored the mountains in Kurdistan.

  29. Hi and thanks so much for all your wonderful posts… I am actually traveling TOMORROW morning to Erbil on Turkish Airlines, through Istanbul, with my American Passport. I do not have a visa but from what I checked I can get the visa in Erbil once I arrive.. is this true or do you know if anything has changed??? I have read on trip advisor that Turkish airlines demand a visa before letting you, board… Do you know if that is true? I am not able to get through to Turkish airlines on the phone… Have you ever heard of anyone not being let on the plane to Erbil or visa not granted once they arrived in Erbil? Just trying to get my bases covered.. Thanks for any advice.

      1. If you want to know one: here I am.
        We are Citizens of Principality of Liechtenstein and went to Kurdistan without visa with Pegasus from Zurich via Istanbul in late 2018. As a Schengen country we get a visa on arrival, as the information states.
        Actionally, in Zurich at the checkin, they said no transport without visa. After 30 Minutes of waiting and insisting, that this is a wrong information, we got the tickets.
        At Istanbul when going through the gate to board the plane, we were asked again for the visa. We ansered “on arrival in Erbil” which was accepted.
        At Erbil Airport we didn’t get a visa, as we were not on the list in the counter. Bad. So we spent a night in the “not allowed the enter” area in the airport, with a guard and some other people. It was actionally a nice adventure and I have to state that all the guards and workers at the airport were very nice and helpful, as well as the other people who couldn’t enter the country.
        We finally managed to get the visa 12 hours later 🙂 So we got a free night at the airport. We were obviously the first visitors from our country.

        1. Ahh, so the officials at Erbil International Airport did not know of Liechtenstein. You are pioneers. Now they do and hopefully, your fellow citizens will receive visas easily in the future upon arrival without delay. There are people in our world who still do not know which part of Africa Kurdistan is in.
          Just to mention that airports in the Kurdistan Region have reopened after being closed for months due to the pandemic. Airlines are reactivating their services – Austrian, Turkish, Qatar. Others are likely, hopefully, to follow.

  30. Thanks so much!! now I just hope Turkish airlines will comply with that as well (-: crossing my fingers all will be well…

  31. You talked about 50 different important points of Erbil however you never talk about the korek mountain?
    This mountain is one of the best winter place for skiing in Erbil

  32. Hi ! Is it still possible to get a visa on arrival at Erbil airport as a Canadian citizen? I am planning to go there in March 2020! And how did you get a visa to go to Iraq? Because i am planning too going to Baghdad after visit Erbil for a few days!

  33. Hello,

    Is there any way to get a visa to Iraq in Erbil or Suleimaniyah (at least transit one) ?

    Wanna travel from Istanbul to Jerusalem through Kurdistan, Iraq and Jordan, as the border between Turkey and Syria is closed.

    Thanks

    1. you can only get into actual Arab Iraq by booking a full tour with a valid tour operator. As far as I am aware of, there’s no transit visa for Iraq.

      On the other hand, I don’t know if there is an immigration Iraqi office in Erbil, never heard of it.

  34. If you travel on a passport from a Western country and are just flying into and out of Iraqi Kurdistan, it’s possible and easy. You would be granted a 30-day visitor visa on arrival free of charge. Under current covid-19 circumstances, however, all Iraqi airports are closed. Under normal circumstances, you could fly into Iraqi Kurdistan (Erbil and Sulaimani) from Turkey (Turkish Airlines, Pagasus, Atlasjet), then fly to Amman on Royal Jordanian, then find your way to Jerusalem.
    To visit other parts of Iraq, you will need to go through the long and difficult process of obtaining an Iraqi visa before arrival.

  35. Travelling by Car:
    I have been travelling to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2018 and would like to add to your guide, that travelling yourself with a rented car is also a good option. We rented a car at Erbil Airport from a big company, the car was good and the price okay. We took the cheapest car available, there is no need for an SUV as the roads are good.

  36. Hagir Rashid Faizallah

    Hello, i am myself kurdish and live in Denmark…

    Right now i studying at the architectural school in Copenhagen.
    I am about to write a text about why there is so small amount of tourists in Kurdistan region. My main focus is how to attract backpackers.

    While you were there.
    Did u sometimes felt like there was no kind of information about where to visit, and how to travel around the different places etc.?
    Also did u meet any other backpackers on your journey at the Region?

  37. Hello, I found your article excellent! You did an amazing work. Very sufficient. I am planning to visit kurdistan since last year but i didn’t manage to do it .
    This year i decided to do an effort to visit it in Autumn.
    I still have some queries about what are the necessary documents for entering the kurdistan region.
    I have tried to several times to contact with the official kurd government page, and to suleimaniya airport information mail, but nothing happened. I took no response.
    I read here in your article that no quarantine is required now, let’s hope that it would be like that.
    I am a European citizen,i have a national and European vaccine certificate with both jabs , a passport a ticket and my hope that everything is gonna be alright!!!

    1. Hi Christina, I would actually be surprised if the Kurdish Government ever replied to you, don’t expect much from them. In any case, you will be all right, and definitely allowed to get in

      1. Dear Joan,
        Thank you for your reply.
        Surprisingly i had also another reply from suleimaniya airport information office !!! They ensured me that i would not need to stay in quarantine and no pcr test since i have a certificate of vaccination .
        Till the date of my departure , i will keep worrying, 😁!

  38. Joan,
    The Kurdish language – or any other language – cannot be similar to Farsi/Dari AND Turkish ! These languages are completely different; they belong to different language families.

    1. True. Three blind people, each knowing Kurdish, Arabic, or Turkish, and no other language, cannot communicate with each other. No way we can say that Kurds, Arabs, and Turks are separated by a common language like English. Kurdish, Farsi, Dari, and North Indian languages are all in the same family.
      During the late 1960s, you could take a bus from Europe to India but not through Iraqi Kurdistan as there was a revolution going on.
      In 1957, however, Willam O. Douglas, a sitting US Supreme Court Justice, drove from Karachi through Afghanistan and Iraqi Kurdistan to Istanbul in a 1956 Chevy station wagon with only his wife and their woman friend, the mechanic. They traveled to the Yazidi paramount religious site at Lalesh and up the Hamilton Road through the deepest canyons in the Middle East, which are still there.
      Given Justice Douglas’ itinerary, the only area where you can travel today as he did 60+ years ago is Iraqi Kurdistan.

  39. Hi 🙂
    I’m possibly planning on visiting Iraqi Kurdistan in Dec 2021/ Jan 2022. I saw on a website there is a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering the country. Could you please explain what you mean by no quarantine is required upon arrival, despite what you may read on their website?

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