Iran’s ancient cave village

iran village

An ancient cave villageIran’s ancient village of Maymand, located around 900km south of the capital Tehran, is littered with troglodytic dwellings ‒ cavernous, underground homes carved out of soft rock. Stone engravings found at the site are estimated to be more than 10,000 years old.

A Unesco World Heritage Site, Maymand is said to have been inhabited continuously for more than 2,000 years, which makes it one of Iran’s oldest surviving villages.

Seasonal housing

Tucked away in a valley within the arid mountains of central Iran, Maymand experiences extremely hot summers and severely cold winters. To adapt to these harsh conditions, villagers switch homes according to the season.

In the summer and early autumn, they live in homes with grass thatch roofs which help protect them from the oppressive heat. When temperatures plummet and bone-chilling winds sweep the valley, Maymand residents move underground.

Iran's ancient cave village


Winter caves

Of the 400 caves built more than 10,000 years ago, 90 remain intact. These cave homes can contain up to seven rooms, each about 2m tall and 20m squared, although size varies from cave to cave.

Modern living

Residents have updated the caves to suit their lifestyle: they have electricity, which allows for refrigeration, and even televisions. However, there is no running water, and ventilation is minimal. The dark film that covers some of the walls is a result of the soot from the fires used to cook or heat the rooms.

Remnants of an ancient past

The village once followed the ancient mystical religion of Zoroastrianism, which prospered under Persian rule. Vestiges of Maymand’s spiritual past remain, like the Kicheh Dobandi, a cave that is said to have once been a temple (and is now a small museum).

In the 7th Century, Islam overtook Zoroastrianism as the primary religion in Maymand, and today, the caves are home to one of the few cave mosques in the world (pictured).

Nomadic shepherds

The majority of the villagers are agro-pastoralists, raising cattle on mountain pastures and bringing the animals with them when they migrate to the caves, which feature underground stables. Residents also collect medicinal plants, which they claim help them achieve good health and long lives.

A disappearing lifestyle

Today, fewer people are choosing to live in the caves, instead moving to neighbouring towns in the winter and returning in the summer. Only an estimated 150 people populate the village throughout the year.

Preserving a legacy

The dwindling year-round population poses a threat to the survival of Maymand’s unique lifestyle. In 2001, the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization has worked to raise awareness of Maymand. Since then, the village has received more visitors; today Maymand even has caves where tourists can stay the night to experience a way of life that has persisted for millennia. (Credit: Rodolfo Contreras)

American State Department changes of regulation


As of January 2016, the American State Department changed their regulation in relation to Iran. Currently any individual who has visited Iran in the last three years, can no longer qualify for the USA ’visa waiver’ program.

Such individuals will now have to apply for visa, at their local American  Embassy. They will usually be interviewed by the resident U.S. immigration officer,  so they can decide if the applicant is acceptable, so they can obtain  a visa for the USA. If a decision is made to grant  the visa, it is likely to be a ten  year multiple entry visa.

2016 Testimonial | B.M & M.M

I don’t normally do much with feedback after trips (I take so many) but I do want to say that Mimi and I really did enjoy our brief visit to Iran at the end of March. The people there were so friendly … We got invited to dinner, shared food and picnics and had many photos taken with the locals. Wonderful people !

On my return, In the interests of my relations with the USA, I confessed to my “crime” of visiting Iran and I had my ESTA revoked in order to embark on the full US non-immigrant visa trail. It took exactly five weeks from the ESTA being revoked to getting my full non-immigrant visa. A lot of hoops to jump through with form filling, photographs and the like plus, of course visa fees !

The big delay was getting the necessary appointment for a face to face interview at the US Embassy in London (they do also offer interviews in Belfast). The earliest date was just over 4 weeks from the date that all the forms were originally submitted.

I tried to expedite the interview but all this did was bring it one day earlier ! I had to take a whole host of supporting documents to the interview … A lot were standard things like proof I was going to return the UK, bank statements to show that I could support myself while I was there, your tour itinerary to show why I had been to Iran, etc., etc.

At the interview they took a set of fingerprints and simply asked the purpose of my visit to Iran to which I replied “tourism”. They did not ask where I had been or any other details and they did not ask to see the tour itinerary or any of the other documents I had taken along. My passport was returned to me five days later and I now have a new 10-year visa for the USA. On the positive side, it will save me having to renew the ESTA every two years !

It was a pain having to do all the form filling and having to visit the US Embassy but I do want to stress that it was all fairly straightforward and potential visitors to Iran from the UK and EU areas should not be put off by it all. It took time because of the interview delay but otherwise it was probably no worse than getting the Iranian visa !

If you have interested UK or EU travellers going to Iran, you should tell them to allow 6-8 weeks between returning from Iran to arranging any travel to the USA to allow a comfortable margin to get a full US visa

In a nutshell, the experience of visiting Iran was well worth the inconvenience of applying for the full US Visa !

Best regards

B.M & M.M

Nick Middleton – guest lecturer on a new Magic Carpet Travel tour to south-eastern Iran


Off-limits to tourists for decades, Iran is at last opening up, offering the chance to visit fairy-tale cities, ancient historic sites — and the hottest place on earth.
By Nick Middleton

Unsurprisingly, Amir Shafi Abadi lived in the village of Shafi Abad. He had done all his life, herding sheep and growing dates on the edge of the Lut Desert. But change was in the air and Amir sensed an opportunity. We were sitting cross-legged on a carpet drinking black tea in his newly built courtyard. He was preparing for a surge of foreign visitors.

Amir’s village is the last settlement before a 190km stretch of desert, an area under consideration as a Unesco World Heritage Site thanks to its unique landscape. It also happens to be where the hottest temperature ever recorded on the Earth’s surface was logged. In 2005, a global satellite survey registered a ground temperature of 70.7C.

This is why I’d come. I’m attracted to extreme locations. Having already trekked in the world’s hottest place in terms of average air temperature (Ethiopia’s Danakil Desert), I was eager to add the Lut to my list. I had long known about this region but never dared to imagine I’d actually be here.

towers of silence in Yazd
towers of silence in Yazd

Now, the opening of Iran to westerners, following last year’s nuclear deal, had given me the chance. The UK Foreign Office has dropped its warning against visiting the country; British Airways, Air France and KLM are all restarting flights; tour operators are competing to launch new itineraries and the sense of opportunity has even reached little Shafi Abad, on the edge of the Lut Desert.

The skywas cerulean blue; the sunshine intense. There was not a breath of wind to leaven its fierce heat

Accommodation at Amir’s was arranged along two sides of his compound: simple sleeping spaces divided by traditional palm-frond partitions. He was certainly well located for the desert, while simultaneously close enough to the snow-capped Sirch Mountains for them to peep over the high mud-brick walls.

But his secret weapon was his wife Zahra’s cooking. We were reclining after a lunch of kashk-e bademjan, a thick aubergine dip with fried onions and whey, scooped up with flatbread. Zahra had baked the bread in the outdoor clay oven next to their small kitchen garden, the source of the bowls full of fresh herbs to sprinkle over our meal.

Whey, a thick byproduct of milk, is a popular ingredient in Persian cooking, Amir explained as we lounged on plump cushions. There was some discussion before — with the aid of his iPhone’s bilingual dictionary app—I understood what he was referring to. Instantly I thought of Little Miss Muffet, the nursery rhyme character, perched on her tuffet. It was not an image I’d expected to encounter on the edge of the Lut Desert.

South-east Iran is full of dramatic imagery, both real and surreal. Midway between the two lies Bam, home of the world’s largest adobe citadel, where my journey to the Lut had begun after an internal flight from Tehran.

Bam’s ancient for tress was devastated by an earthquake in 2003, and the local authorities have been rebuilding ever since. Today, much of it has risen again out of the desert, like a giant’s sandcastle on the beach.

Bam dates back at least to 500BCandsits at a junction of Silk Road trade routes threaded through the surrounding desert. Following in the footsteps of Marco Polo, I traced one of these routes westward. The highway leading out of town was lined with cartoon-style tiled hoardings of local characters martyred in the Iran-Iraq war, a terrible encounter that resulted in up to a million casualties In the 1980s.

Fortification walls of ancient citadel of Bam
Fortification walls of ancient citadel of Bam

An hour or so of arid, feature less plain later, I saw men standing on walls to pick almonds from skeletal trees on the outskirts of Mahan, a small town known for its shrine to a renowned Persian scholar, mystic and poet. Shah Nematollah Vali died in 1431, aged 101, and his mausoleum complex was a maze of shimmering blue tiles topped by a turquoise dome.

Kerman, another ancient trading hub just down the road, is the provincial capital. Its mud-brick core boasts the country’s longest bazaar, stretching for more than a kilometer beneath an endless series of shady domes that echo to the tapping of coppersmiths.

This is Iran’s second largest province, famed for its pistachios and spices. “Taking cumin to Kerman” is an Iranian way of describing a pointless course of action, akin to the British idiom concerning coals and Newcastle. I stocked upon pistachios for the drive across the Sirch Mountains.

Bewildered by the range on offer, I chose the recommended akbari nuts, long and extra tasty, so my guide assured me, and not because they coincidentally bore his family name.

Mohammad Reza Akbari drove a car assembled in Tehran, a hybrid model called “Horse”, made of Peugeot and Chinese parts, with an engine possibly from Italy, so he thought. It laboured up The highway that wound its way through scenery put together in prehistoric times: spectacular displays of gigantic rock strata that had been folded, crumpled and left to bake for eternity in the desert sun.

alleys were pockmarked with squat, biscuit-coloured dwellings, many dug into the hillsides to provide relief from the summer heat. In front of the houses were small groves of apricot  and apple trees, some struggling into bloom, tiny pink spots in the dun-coloured landscape.

Spring is one of the best times to visit the Lut. Granted, I didn’t experience the heat at its most ferocious, but it was oven-hot, even in late February. Summer is when the mercury peaks but this is also the time of the Wind of 120Days.

This north-easterly can blow for days on end, reaches hurricane force, and whips up great billowing clouds of hot sand and dust. Further east, this gritty gale strips trees of their leaves and causes structural damage to buildings due to sandblasting. The Wind of 120 Days is also responsible for the Lut’s dramatic terrain.

Millions of years of sand blasting have produced thousands of streamlined ridges known locally as kaluts, wind-carved grooves in the landscape on a huge scale. Some of these ridges are tens of meters high and several kilometers long. They occupy an area of nearly 8,000squarekilometres.

Mohammad Reza and I arrived in mid-afternoon, after our lunch with Amir. We left the car and marched into the hyper-arid sculpture park, set on climbing the highest ridge we could find. The sky was cerulean blue; the sunshine intense. There was not a breath of wind to leaven its fierce heat.

We trudged across the otherworldly topography, along wind-scoured mini ravines loaded with dunes, past gnarled rock fingers pointing towards the heavens.

A couple of hours into the kaluts we selected the highest ridge and began to clamber upwards. Exhausting cascades of sand thankfully made way for firmer surfaces, some like walking on crunchy breadcrumbs, others cemented hard and sound less with salt.

Approaching the top, I was sucking the warm air into my lungs. Mohammad Reza was there already, just smiling at the vista. I felt my jaws lowly drop, as if by some means it had become unusually heavy. This was followed by a sharp and in voluntary intake of breath. Spread out in front of where I stood, a good 60 meters above the landscape, was an unobstructed, 360-degree, cliff-edge panorama of the kaluts.

As the sun slowly descended, the colours that had shifted from sandy yellows through a spectrum of terracotta now approached rose-pink. Nearing the car once more, I encountered the first buzzing fly, but it was listless and didn’t stay long to spoil the show.

Yazd, a ‘very fine and noble’ settlement, according to Marco Polo, is a city like no other. It was also an appropriate place in which to round off my desert trip after a day’s driving from the kaluts.

Yazd’s historic adobe centre is one of the oldest towns on Earth, with a skyline dominated by wind-catchers, traditional vented tower structures designed to channel winds from the rooftops down inside buildings to cool the rooms below. Like Bam, Mahan, Kerman, and even Amir’s kitchen garden, Yazd has thrived in the arid desert thanks to an ingenious ancient Persian technology.

Panoramic view of badgirs and mosques of Yazd, Iran
Panoramic view of badgirs and mosques of Yazd, Iran

All are nourished by underground canals, or qanats, a secret irrigation system that has been flowing since the earliest of times. Many Iranian qanats have been channelling water from aquifers for 5,000 years. One in Bam may be 8,000 years old. Yazd has probably the largest network of qanats anywhere in Iran, and includes the longest of them all, the Zarch qanat, more than 80 km in length.

Its long history as a desert trading centre has left Yazd with an assortment of elderly merchants’ buildings, some of which now serve as hotels. I stayed in one, reached via a warren of narrow, covered walkways that scurry through the bazaar, dipping left into a still narrower alley just after a carpet shop.

The passageways must have been imbued with some sort of magical properties because they had transported me back in time. I emerged into a courtyard fit for a sultan, a Persian dreamland with a trickling fountain and white lilies sprouting from improbable flower beds.

A group of young women were enjoying a hubble-bubble pipe on one of the many carpet-covered day beds, a couple were eating dinner on another. There were ornately carved window-frames and lavish balconies lit by oil lamps.

I felt like Alice after following the white rabbit down the hole, only I’d emerged into the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. South-east Iran had been full of the unexpected, from the five types of pistachio to boiled beetroot served with scrambled eggs at breakfast, to the un-mistakable scent of saffron that wafted from one of my bath towels.

Yardangs Dasht-e Lut
Yardangs Dasht-e Lut

Tucking into a dinner of juicy Yazdi meat balls in the hotel’s fairytale courtyard, Mohammad Reza hit me with one last revelation. We were reminiscing about the Lut, and he mentioned its sand dunes. “The biggest in the world,” he said in passing. “Beyond the kaluts they are 500 metres high.”

My brow furrowed. A number of places lay claim to the world’s highest dunes, including Namibia and the Badain Jaran Desert in China. I had climbed one in the Badain Jaran and it was well over 400metres, but I’d never heard of such whoppers in Iran. It struck me that, to western minds, this corner of Asia remains almost as mysterious as it was during Marco Polo’s time.

It gave me a very good reason to plan another visit someday. Nick Middleton is a fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford, and specialises in desertification. His books include ‘Going to Extremes’ (2001) and most recently ‘An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist’ (2015)

London Iranian Consulate now issuing visas

This week  the Iranian Consulate have finally started issuing visa stamps. However the regulation regarding UK passport holders not  being able to  travel  independently still  remains.

As of now UK residents are expected to  collect their visa stamps in London.  It is very early days, so  it not clear how long the process takes,  however it is certainly possible.

Motorcycling in Iran | 20 days

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Northwest to Southern Iran

Istanbul –  Van –  Tabriz –  Tehran-Isfahan- Yazd- Shiraz- Tabriz –Van- Istanbul

This 20 day itinerary provides the opportunity to take in the highlights of Iran but minimize unnecessarily long rides.  You will have the opportunity to learn about Iranian culture & history  with the guided tours included  in Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd, and Shiraz,  during  the rest days.

Motorcycles will all be brand new 2016 model versions.  BMW’s come with a top case. We will also have our own support vehicle throughout the tour.

You will enter Iran via the border with Turkey in North West Iran and head for the city of Tabriz, then ride all the way to  Southern  Iran to  the city of  Shiraz to visit Persepolis.

If you wish to make the tour shorter, it is possible but it will mean eliminating some rest days.



  • Day 1: Arrive Istanbul.  Transfer to hotel.  Overnight in Istanbul
  • Day 2: Fly to Van in Eastern Turkey & pick-up motorcycles.  Enjoy an orientation ride around Van and visit the 1,000 year old Armenian church on Akdamar Island. Overnight in Van.
  • Day 3: Ride from Van to Dogubeyazit, on the border with Iran. (173 km) o/n Dogubeyazit
  • Day 4: Cross border into Iran and ride to Tabriz (310 km).  Overnight  in Tabriz
  • Day 5: Tabriz to Ardabil (250 km).  Overnight in Ardabil
  • Day 6: Ardabil to Masuleh  village(275 km). Overnight in Masuleh village
  • Day 7: Ride to Tehran (380 km). Overnight in Tehran
  • Day 8: Free day to discover Tehran.  Guided sightseeing tour of Tehran on bus and on foot (no motorcycles). Overnight in Tehran
  • Day 9: Tehran to Matinabad (319 km).  Overnight at an eco-camp in Matinabad
  • Day 10: Matinabad to Isfahan (170 km).  Overnight  in Isfahan
  • Day 11: Guided sightseeing of Isfahan on bus/foot.  Overnight  in Isfahan
  • Day 12: Ride to Yazd (325 km).  Overnight in Yazd
  • Day 13: Guided sightseeing tour of Yazd .Overnight in Yazd
  • Day 14: Ride to Shiraz (440 km).  Overnight in Shiraz.
  • Day 15: Ride from Shiraz to Persepolis (120 km).  Overnight in Shiraz.
  • Day 16: Motorcycles will be loaded on a truck to be shipped to Tabriz.  Group flies to Tabriz. Overnight in Tabriz.
  • Day 17: Visit the troglodyte village of Kandovan. Overnight  in Tabriz
  • Day 18: Cross border back to Turkey, Van. Overnight  in Van
  • Day 19: Fly back to Istanbul. Farewell Dinner in Istanbul.
  • Day 20: Fly back home

Prices per person based on two people sharing a twin bedded room: 

  • 10 – 11 persons:  £9200
  • 12 – 14 persons:  £9000
  • 15 – 17 persons: £8800
  • 18 – 20 persons: £8600
  • Single supplement: £1300
  • Passenger (pillion): £5500
  • Upgrade to BMW 800GS : £850
  • Upgrade to BMW 1200GS : £1100

Price includes:

  • Rental of a 2016 model BMW 700GS
  • Carnet de Passage  which is required for Iran
  • Obtaining visa permit on your behalf (excluding consular visa stamp fees)
  • All hotel accommodation in Turkey and Iran, 4 or 5 star hotels (or best available) on bed and breakfast basis
  • Occasional lunches and dinners
  • Welcome and farewell dinners in Istanbul, with wine and beer included
  • Services of an expert guide leading the group on a motorcycle
  • Services of a local bilingual local expert throughout the trip (riding in the support vehicle)
  • Support vehicle throughout the tour, carrying luggage and spare parts, tools, etc.
  • All expenses (room, meals, fuel, etc.) of the staff
  • Domestic flights within Turkey (Istanbul – Van – Istanbul)
  • Domestic flight in Iran (Shiraz to Tabriz)
  • Trucking of motorcycles from Istanbul to Van and back
  • Trucking of motorcycles from Shiraz to Tabriz
  • Guided sightseeing tours (by coach) in Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, Tabriz
  • Entrance fees to all  sites during guided tours
  • Transfer from Istanbul Airport to hotel on Day 1

Price does not include:

  • International airfare to/from Turkey
  • Meals not included in the itinerary
  • Gratuities to staff (motorcycle guide, Iranian guide, support vehicle driver)
  • Fuel for motorcycles
  • Personal expenses


  • We will avoid a 3 day round trip from Istanbul to Van and back by trucking the motorcycles. Riding back to Turkish border would add another 4 long day ,  so we send the bikes on a truck and fly internally in Iran.
  • We only include liability insurance as collision coverage in Iran is not available.  Therefore the riders will be responsible for all damages to the motorcycle.
  • There is an amazing amount of paperwork (Carnet de Passage, power of attorney, translations of all paperwork into Persian, etc.) required to enter rental motorcycles into Iran and we will complete this on your behalf, although  we need  a great  deal  of time for this.
  • In the event of a breakdown or an accident, we will load the motorcycle on the van and the rider will ride in the support vehicle.


Iran Motorcycling – Kazim Uzunoglu

Horse Riding in Iran | 7 days

Province of Lorestan 

This seven day trip provides the unique opportunity to visit an area largely untouched by twenty first century, riding through remote areas and small village settlements, still without electricity or road access.

Persian horses have a good temperament, together with great stamina. They are sure footed and extremely intelligent.


Please ask  us for details as this changes depending on the season you  would like to  ride.


Prices based on minimum 4 riders £320 per person per night

The price includes:

  • Obtaining the visa permit (excludes visa stamp fees which varies depending on your nationality)
  • Transfers to and from the airport and all local transport
  • Accommodation (simple on the ride)
  • Meals (three per day: breakfast, lunch, dinner)
  • Use of horses and saddles – expert guides and all the help required with horses.
  • Fully equipped car.
  • You will be required to provide a sleeping bag.


We had such a fantastic time. I’m sure we would have had a great time anyway just going on one of the standard trips, but trip that yourself and Hossein were able to put together for us was absolutely perfect. I felt it was well-balanced I’m terms of pace and the ground we covered, and included such a great variety of aspects of Iran past and present.

The horse-riding element with Katerina and her family was also a huge success. She has a wonderful family and a great team on the farm who all made us feel very welcome. The horses were A1, and it was fascinating for us as a farming family to spend time in such a rural place, and see an entirely different part of Iran. It was also great to get a few days of rest without travel at the end.


Tour Details

  • We can accommodate up to 6 riders.
  • The ride demands the skills of a physically fit and experienced rider with maximum body weight of 85kg.
  • The Persian Arabs horses are experienced and trained for trail rides and long distance rides.
  • The pace will be adjusted to the terrains, however you can expect to ride 4-8 hours per day.
  • We can organise a ride to suit your preferred dates, weather and seasonal conditions permitting.
  • We can combine the ride with visits to other major cities of interest in Iran such as Isfahan and Shiraz.





The art of picnicking in Iran

Iranian families picknicking in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, in the city of Isfahan Corbis

My first trip to Iran was during a low ebb in Anglo-Iranian relations, after the 2011 attack on the British embassy in Tehran. The situation had descended into a tit-for-tat spat, resulting in the closure of both embassies and a diplomatic freeze that is only now beginning to thaw.

As I planned my trip to the Islamic Republic, I tried to ignore the hysterical headlines and solemn warnings from the Foreign Office. But it was hard to stay chipper when well-meaning friends kept emailing me with their own apocalyptic predictions for my fate at the hands of the furious ayatollahs.

So, I focused on more alluring images of the region – architecture, art, cuisine, carpets – anything that can be prefixed with the word “Persian”, rather than “Iranian”. But I was still nervous as I approached the border alone and on a motorcycle. I feared I would be singled out for my un-Islamic form of transport (Iranian women are forbidden from riding motorcycles in public). I need not have worried.

I was hit not by a tidal wave of hostility, but of warmth, fun and hospitality. International relations between the UK and Iran may have a stormy history but the Iranians understand more than most that governments do not necessarily represent a people.

It soon became apparent that Brits have far more in common with Iranians than I had realised, most notably a subversive sense of humour and the inability to do anything without vast amounts of tea. But something else links our cultures, something at which Iranians excel and at which they beat us hands down. Iranians are serious, hardcore picnickers.

Every day, everywhere, I’d see people lounging on the ground, enjoying seriously lavish spreads – and I mean, everywhere. Not just in parks and beauty spots but on motorway verges, in car parks, behind petrol stations, even on traffic islands in central Tehran, surrounded by eight lanes of the world’s worst pollution.

I thought we Merrie Englanders had it down with our tartan travel rugs and wicker hampers, but you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen an Iranian picnic.

The tea-making paraphernalia, the tower blocks of Tupperware, the pyramids of pomegranates, the cakes, the sweets, the shisha pipes, all laid out on a wipe-clean laminated Persian rug, and always accompanied by an invitation to join the feast.

I am not the first to note this. British explorer Freya Stark, who travelled in the region in the 1930s, wrote in The Valleys of the Assassins :

It is a charming trait in Persia that anyone you meet understands the pleasures of a picnic.

Stark’s travels pre-date the Islamic Republic, even pre-date plain old Iran, but no amount of tyrannical shahs and ayatollahs can dent the Iranians’ love of the great outdoors. As I accepted the invitation to join yet another group of strangers at the roadside for tea and hard-boiled eggs, it occurred to me that I felt quite at home.

Lois Pryce is founder of the Adventure Travel Film Festival.
original article

Sanctions Lifted, American Tourists Head to Iran

Americans tourists in Iran with Mola’s family

The lifting of sanctions on Iran last month has resulted in a surge of bookings, tour operators say, many from Americans undeterred by a State Department warning laying out the risks of taking trips there.

Drawing comparisons to interest in Cuba trips, tour operators say that Iran is fast becoming a popular destination for Americans.

Tour operators say the demand has been so acute that they are racing to add new departures and selling them in record time.

“It’s similar to Cuba in my mind where suddenly it’s both O.K. to go there officially but also with travelers thinking this place is going to change,” said Barbara Banks, director of marketing and new trip development at the Berkeley, Calif.-based Wilderness Travel, which sold out its spring trip to Iran and is planning a fall trip focused on the saffron harvest. “They want to experience the destination before it gets watered down by lots and lots of people going.”

is already popular with Europeans. Iranian officials told The Associated Press last fall that about five million foreign travelers visited Iran in 2014, and that the country aims to attract 20 million tourists, spending $30 billion, by 2025.

Among growth signs, Air France recently announced that it plans to start three flights weekly between Paris and Tehran beginning in April. Already Iran is a one-stop destination from New York via Istanbul, Dubai or Doha on Turkish Airlines, Emirates or Qatar Airways.

Iran hosts some of the world’s oldest cultural monuments, including 19 Unesco World Heritage Sites, and its varied terrain ranges from desert locales to ski resorts.

It’s just extraordinarily beautiful, and the sites are as magnificent as any you can find in the world,” said William O. Beeman, a professor and chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Minnesota and an expert in Iran. “Isfahan is comparable to Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat. These are major centers of civilization that have been lovingly restored.

He plans to take 14 travelers to Iran in June on a sold-out trip organized by Iran Luxury Travel, a two-year-old company in North Carolina. Steve Kutay, a former importer, founded Iran Luxury Travel in his retirement “as a good thing to do,” he said, in terms of encouraging people-to-people diplomacy

One of the biggest surprises about Iran is that they love Americans,” he said. “They hear you speak English and assume you’re British, and when they learn you’re American they want to have their picture taken with you and invite you to eat. I’ve never been so popular.

The State Department warning, however, says that travelers should be wary, noting, “Various elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States.” Last month, Iran freed four Americans of Iranian descent, including a reporter from The Washington Post but the State Department still warns that people with both Iranian and American citizenship in particular risk detention.

Intrepid travelers are booking tours anyway. In response to an increase in inquiries, the Seattle-based Mir Corporation, which has been operating in Iran for 15 years, has added new train trips and small group departures in the country this year, for a total of about 10 different trips.

“We’d seen it for a while but as people become comfortable with Iran on the world scene, they think it may be a good time to do something they may have wanted to do for a while,” said Annie Lucas, vice president at Mir. “We feel there’s pent-up demand on the part of intrepid travelers.”

In keeping with Islamic rules, women must cover their hair and dress conservatively, in loose long-sleeved tunics that go at least to the knee. Men, too, cannot wear shorts.

There are other inconveniences, Ms. Lucas said: “The infrastructure is not perfect, but it’s pretty good. The roads are decent. No alcohol can be roughing it for some people. The public bathrooms are not on par with what people would like. But the caliber of attractions and guides balance it out.”

Source: Sanctions Lifted, American Tourists Head to Iran – The New York Times