This trip was sponsored by Key2Persia, who I had the chance to partner up with, in order to promote off the beaten track places within south and eastern Iran. However, this is an honest review and all the opinions are my own
We were in the last week of March and yet, at 4pm, it was damn hot.
As I kept on climbing and walking among sand dunes, I felt the harsh sun was trying to go through my skull, so I was forced to put on one of those local hats made of stalks, one of the very few materials that this dry region can produce.
Finally, I reached the top of that sandy hill but just felt even smaller, as tens and tens of giant mud sculptures were rising above me, as far as my eyes could see.
Welcome to the Kaluts.
For more places to visit in Iran, read: Independent travel in Iran – 1 to 4-week itinerary
The Kaluts (meaning sandy mountains in Persian) is a desert which is part of a bigger one named Lut (or Dash-e Lut), mainly located in Kerman province, in southeastern Iran, which covers an area of 480 kilometers in length and 320 in width.
The Lut desert is no common desert but here, a NASA satellite once captured the highest temperature ever registered on the Earth’s surface, which was 71ºC, no kidding.
Therefore, this means that if you are afraid of the common desert threats, like scorpions or snakes, don’t worry, as the desert of Lut is an abiotic zone, which means that no single plant or creature can survive in such a harsh environment.
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Why visit the Kalout desert in Iran
Visiting the hottest place in the world might not seem very appealing to the regular traveler but the real reason to come to this kind of a hell zone is to visit the Kalout desert, which are some geological formations caused by the erosion of the wind over the millennia.
Rising from the sand dunes, these natural and astonishing sculptures are a real blessing to your eyeballs and, while walking among them, you are likely to feel you are wandering around Mars or even better, a Star Wars Hollywood stage.
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Watching the sunset and sunrise over these sand castles is definitely, one of the highlights of any trip to Iran, unless you are extremely unlucky like me, of course, as I came on, perhaps, the only two cloudy days of the year so, for me, there was no real sunset 🙁
The oasis town of Shahdad
Kerman is the capital and main city in the province but, for visiting the Kaluts, Shahdad is like the base town, as it is only 50 kilometers away.
We came to Shahdad all the way from Shiraz, going through hundreds of miles of an ugly and boring desert. I was pretty excited about visiting the Kaluts but, to be very honest, I didn’t have high expectations of the village of Shahdad.
However, as soon as I arrived there and saw all those palm trees offering pleasant shade to rest in, I quickly realized that this trip would be more interesting than we expected.
Shahdad is a real oasis town, filled with handicraft shops and lovely guest houses, whose decorations made me feel i was back in the real Arabia, a place like the Liwa Oasis in Abu Dhabi, and not the Persia I knew about.
Shahdad is a village which was raised right in the middle of the deadliest desert on Earth.
It seemed like a fantasy, but the truth is that, for thousands of years, this region has been inhabited by many civilizations, which can be seen in a few caravanserais and several ancient ruins dating from 5,000 years ago.
Moreover, around town, there are many water systems used for piping the water from the ground, something which civilizations have been doing since time immemorial.
You can visit all the historical sites and water systems as part of the same tour, as well as strolling down the local bazaar in Shahdad, in search of local souvenirs and the best dates in the country.
Practical information for traveling to the Kaluts desert of Iran
When to travel to the Kaluts
As you know, the Kaluts desert in Iran is one of the hottest places on Earth, so it’s better to avoid it from May to September. However, the climate is extremely dry, which means that, even in summer, the temperature could be relatively pleasant during the evening and early morning.
For visiting the Kaluts, you definitely need to go on a tour, as you have to drive through a very isolated desert. I did this trip with Key2Persia, an agency based in the city of Shiraz.
Arranging a tour with them would be especially convenient for travelers who are in Shiraz and don’t have a lot of time to plan everything by themselves, as they can organize your trip, spending two nights and three days.
How to get to Kerman and Shahdad
Kerman is a provincial capital, so you can go there by bus from pretty much everywhere in Iran, the most common and convenient places being Shiraz and Yazd. Roughly, a VIP bus ticket from Shiraz would cost around 400,000IR.
There are also buses going from Kerman to Shahdad and a good price for a taxi would be 850,000IR.
Where to stay in Shahdad
There are two very good traditional guest houses, both serving awesome food and very affordable prices. Nebka is the fanciest one (but still very affordable) and Ab Anbar the budget one but, in my opinion, better, because it is run by a very hospitable family.
The town is very small, so you can walk from wherever the taxi or bus drops you off. Moreover, the tour operator you go with can also organize a desert camp for you, which is the preferred option for most travelers.
Other places of interest
Many people, as part of the same tour, also go to the city of Mahan, located between Kerman and Shahdad. In Mahan, you can visit Shazdeh Garden, which is a lovely garden built by a prince from the Kayar dynasty, and Shah Nematollah Vali Shrine, a beautiful mosque with an imposing dome where the famous poet is buried.
Be careful with the police
This region has been a transit point for many smugglers and drug dealers coming from Afghanistan so, unfortunately, the area is considered kind of sensitive. When we were at the guest house in Shahdad, we met two Germans who got arrested for being on their own, with their own car, wandering around the Kaluts.
They spent the night in jail and were taken to the guest house the day after. Apparently, due to the drug dealing issues, it’s not allowed to be in the Lut desert without an authorized guide.