Iran - Holidays, Flights and Hotels
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The Islamic Republic of Iran - officially Persia until 1935-is a Middle Eastern country located in southwestern Asia. Iran borders Armenia, Azerbaijan (including its Nakhichevan exclave), and Turkmenistan to the north, Pakistan and Afghanistan to the east, and Turkey and Iraq to the west. In addition, it borders the Persian Gulf, across which lie Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Shi'a Islam is the official state religion.
Throughout its history, Iran has been of great geostrategic importance due to its central location in Eurasia. Iran is a member and co-founder of the United Nations, the OIC and OPEC. Iran is also very important in international politics due to its large supply of petroleum and other resources.
Iran borders Azerbaijan (length of border: 432 km / 268 mi) and Armenia (35 km / 22 mi) to the northwest, the Caspian Sea to the north, Turkmenistan (992 km / 616 mi) to the northeast, Pakistan (909 km / 565 mi) and Afghanistan (936 km / 582 mi) to the east, Turkey (499 km / 310 mi) and Iraq (1,458 km / 906 mi) to the west, and finally the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south. Iran's area is 1,648,000 km² ~636,300 mi² (Land: 1,636,000 km² ~631,663 mi², Water: 12,000 km² ~4,633 mi²), approximately the same as Alaska.
Iran's landscape is dominated by rugged mountain ranges that separate various basins or plateaus from one another. The populous western part is the most mountainous, with ranges such as the Caucasus, Zagros and Alborz Mountains -- the latter contains Iran's highest point, Mount Damavand at 5,604 m (18,386 ft). The eastern part consists mostly of uninhabited desert basins like the saline Dasht-e Kavir, and some salt lakes.
The only large plains are found along the coast of the Caspian Sea and at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, where Iran borders the mouth of the Arvand river (Shatt al-Arab). Smaller, discontinuous plains are found along the remaining coast of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman.
Iran's climate is mostly arid or semiarid, to subtropical along the Caspian coast. On the northern edge of the country (the Caspian coastal plain) temperatures nearly fall below freezing and remain humid for the rest of the year. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 29°C (84°F). Annual precipitation is 680 mm (26 in) in the eastern part of the plain and more than 1,700 mm (75 in) in the western. To the west, settlements in the Zagros Mountains basin experience lower temperatures, severe winters, sub-freezing average daily temperatures and heavy snowfall. The eastern and central basins are arid, with less than 200 mm (8 in) of rain and have occasional desert. Average summer temperatures exceed 38°C (100°F). The coastal plains of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman in southern Iran have mild winters, and very humid and hot summers. The annual precipitation ranges from 135 to 355 mm (6 to 14 in).
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While not as comfortable or fast as Europe or North America, Iranian transport is of high quality, and is very affordable. There are few places the very cheap buses don't travel to, the train network is limited but comfortable and reasonably priced and travel by air is laughably cheap, especially by international standards(in fact one of the cheapest in the world).
For anyone on a tight deadline, affordable domestic air services are a blessing. The major national carrier Iran Air, and its semi-private competitors ( Iran Aseman Airlines - Aseman meaning "sky" in Persian , Mahan Air, Kish Air, etc.) link Tehran with most regional capitals and offer inter-regional flights for no more than US $30.
Their services are frequent, reliable and safe are definitely worth considering to skip the large, monotonous distances within Iran. Planes are aging, and maintenance and safety procedures are sometimes well below western standards, but it still remains the safest way to get around Iran, given the huge death toll on the roads.
Tupolev Tu-154 and other Russian planes are still used by some carriers (Iran Airtours notably). However, the odds are you will board a Shah-era B727 or some more recent Fokker, ATR or even Airbus A310 if you're lucky. Busy domestic routes are sometimes flown by B747SP, and the extra boarding and run-up time are worth the thrill of flying in one of the last of these shortened Jumbos still operated in the world. Saha Air, another internal Iranian airline, is also the last operator of the Boeing 707 in scheduled commercial passenger service.
Tickets can be bought at airports or travel agents dotted through the most major cities. Book early during the summer months of August and September since finding seats at short notice is virtually impossible.
You can also find domestic tickets in some Iran Air offices abroad (Dubai for instance), but expect to pay a little more due to the change rate applied. Domestic tickets for other companies must be bought inside Iran.
The Iranian domestic bus network is extensive and thanks to the low cost of fuel, very cheap. In fact the only drawback is speed: the government has limited buses to 80 km/h to combat lead-footed bus drivers so long haul trips such as Shiraz to Mashhad can take up to 20 hours.
There is little difference between the various bus companies, and most offer two classes: 'lux' or 'Mercedes' (2nd class) and 'super' or 'Volvo' (1st class). First class buses are air-conditioned and you will be provided with a small snack during your trip, while second class services are more frequent. Given the affordability of first class tickets (for example IR 33,000 from Esfehan to Shiraz), there's little financial incentive to opt for the second class services, espcially in summer.
You can buy tickets from the bus terminals or ticket offices up to a week in advance, but you shouldn't have a problem finding a seat if you turn up to the terminal an hour or so before your intended departure time.
Most cities operate comprehensive local bus services, but given the low cost of taxis and the difficulties of reading Persian-language signs (which, unlike road signs, do not have English counterparts) and route numbers, they are of little use to the casual traveller. If you're cash strapped and brave enough to try, however, remember that the buses are segregated. Men enter via the front or rear door and hand their ticket to the driver before taking a seat in the front half of the bus. Women and children should hand their ticket to the driver via the front doors (without actually getting on) before entering via the rear door to take a seat at the back. Tickets, usually around IR 200, are sold from booths near most bus stops.
Raja Passenger Trains is the passenger rail system. Travelling by train through Iran is generally more comfortable and faster than speed-limited buses. Sleeper berths in overnight trains are especially good value as they allow you to get a good night's sleep while saving on a night's accommodation.
The rail network is comprised of three main trunks. The first stretches east to west across the north of the country linking the Turkish and Turkemenistan borders via Tabriz, Tehran and Mashhad. The second and third extend south of Tehran but split at Qom. One line connects to the Persian Gulf via Ahvaz and Arak, while the other traverses the country's centre linking Kashan, Yazd and Kerman.
Tickets can be bought from train stations up to one month before the date of departure, and it is wise to book at least a couple of days in advance during the peak domestic holiday months. First class tickets cost roughly twice the comparable bus fare.
Low fuel costs have made inter-city travel by taxi a great value option in Iran. When travelling between cities up to 250 km apart, you may be able to hire one of the shared savari taxis that loiter around bus terminals and train stations. Savari taxis are faster than buses and Taxis will only leave when four paying passengers have been found, so if you're in a hurry you can offer to pay for an extra seat.
Official shared local taxis, identifiable by some kind of orange paint marking, also ply the major roads of most cities. Their usually run straight lines between major sqaures and landmarks, and their set rates (between IR 1,000 and IR 5,000) are dictated by the local governments.
Hailing one of these taxis is an art you'll soon master. Stand on the side of the road with traffic flowing in your intended direction and flag down a passing cab. It will slow down fractionally, giving you about one second to shout your destination--pick a major nearby landmark instead of the full address--through the open passenger window. If the driver is intereseted, he'll slow down enough for you to negotiate the details.
If you're in a hurry, you can rent the taxi privately. Just shout the destination followed by the phrase dar bast (literally 'closed door') and the driver will almost be sure to stop. Negotiate the price before departure, but since you are paying for all the empty seats expect to pay five times the normal shared taxi fare.
You can also rent these taxis by the hour to visit a number of sites, but you can expect to pay from IR 20,000 to 30,000 per hour, depending on your bargaining skills.
A large road network and low fuel costs of historically made Iran an attractive country for exploring with your own car. However a recent government fuel tax on foreigners entering Iran by private car has somewhat dimmed the allure.
Foreigners arriving in Iran with their own car will need to have a carnet de passage and a valid international drivers' license. Petrol stations can be found on the outskirts of all cities and towns and in car-filled Iran, a mechanic is never far away.
Do not underestimate the sheer chaos of Iran's traffic. The often ignored road rules state that you must drive on the right unless overtaking and give way to traffic coming on to a roundabout. Drivers frequently top 160 km/h (100 mph) on intercity highways. Laws requiring car occupants to wear seatbelts is are not always complied with.
Be aware also that motorcycles are sometimes seen transporting up to five people, sans helmets.
You can also rent a car, usualy for 20 - 50 dollars a day. Insurance and legal liability may make you think twice about renting a car, especialy considering the fact that renting a car with a driver usualy costs the same.