Join a small group and explore the beautiful region of northern Iraq
Iraq’s Kurdistan region has some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole of the Middle East, riddled with spectacular mountains and dramatic canyons. This trip will take you high into the mountains and deep into the backroads.
Wander around bazaars, stop at teahouses, and get invited to locals’ homes. Visit sobering war museums, meet the heroic Peshmarga soldiers, and talk to survivors from the Halajba genocide.
This tour will show you a different side to Iraq from what you see in the news.
19 – 27 March 2021
Nowruz is the most important festival for the Kurdish people and it’s celebrated with fireworks, dancing, singing, and poetry recitations.
The best time to visit Kurdistan is during the two biggest festivals of the year.
Nowruz is the most important festival of the year for Kurds worldwide. In Iraqi Kurdistan, they celebrate with a torchlit procession up the Akre mountain where thousands of people carry fire torches and gather round bonfires to dance.
The Yazidi New Year is celebrated fervently by the Yazidi ethnic group living in the town of Lalish. During the celebrations, the Yazidis light 366 candles and torches to commemorate the arrival of light.
Why Join this Tour
Our goal is to organize adventure trips that don’t feel like a tour. You’ll get to travel with like-minded people and a local guide who is knowledgable, fun and engaging.
Think of your group as a bunch of independent travelers having an adventure together.
This trip is also culturally immersive and experiential, allowing you to learn and experience the Kurdish hospitality at its best.
Wander through the Erbil Citadel, the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hike in the spectacular Rawanduz Canyon also known as the Grand Canyon of Kurdistan.
Get a feel for rural life in Amedi, a quaint mountaintop town that rises 1,000 meter over a valley. The town is surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides and it’s one of the most picturesque spots in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Head up to the Gara Mountains, where we’ll visit the ruins of one of Saddam’s famous mansions and possibly chat with the famous Peshmarga soldiers.
Pay tribute to the victims of the Halabjachemical attack, a massacre against the Kurdish people that took place during Saddam’s rule.
Maintaining a small group size ensures that everyone gets to know each other and have fun as a group! Think of it as a bunch of independent travelers traveling together, with a warm and friendly guide. It’s all about learning and immersing yourself in the culture and environment. That’s the style of our WildJunket tours.
This Iraqi Kurdistan adventure tour is suitable for you if…
You’re an independent traveler, but prefer to go with a group to remote and ‘forbidden’ places.
You want to explore WAY off the beaten path and seek out less-visited places.
You have experience traveling in developing countries and have a flexible, positive attitude.
You’re open to seeing things beyond the headlines .
WildJunket Tours are designed for curious and independent travelers who want to travel unexplored places that are hard to reach and expensive to get to unless you’re in a group. We like to go where most people don’t venture, and we want to see beyond the headlines and learn about a place from ground level (rather than on the news). We know that a country’s politicians don’t represent its people, and we want to make deep connections with locals to truly understand the country.
This is the rough itinerary for our 8-day Iraqi Kurdistan tour. Note that there might be changes to the itinerary, depending on the events that lead to the Nawroz and Yezidi New Year celebrations. Our local guide always tries his best to show you everything there is on offer in Kurdistan, but please be flexible with changes in the itinerary.
Day 1: Arrival in Erbil
Erbil is the capital city of the Kurdistan region and the main gateway. The airport is fantastic and modern; flying into Erbil is usually easy and fast. (Read the FAQ section to find out how to get there.)
After arrival, feel free to head out and explore the beautiful capital city. Don’t worry if you’re landing late as we’ll have a tour of Erbil on our last day. Erbil (sometime spelled Arbil or Irbil) is a great city to wander around and get lost, but it also has a number of museums and mosques to visit.
We’ll meet in the evening, have dinner together as a group and get to know one another. Erbil also has a vibrant nightlife that’s comparable to that of Beirut, so it’s worth heading out for a night of fun!
Stay overnight in Erbil.
Day 2: Explore North of Erbil
The trip will start proper today. We’ll head out of the city to explore the natural landscapes just north of the city. This includes the Khanzad Castle, a stunning archaeological site constructed during the Soran Emirate in the 16th century; Rawanduz Canyon also known as the Grand Canyon of Kurdistan; the spectacular Bekhal Falls; Korek Mountains and Shanider Caves where the remains of 10 neanderthals dating 35,000 to 65,000 years old were found.
Stay overnight in Erbil.
Day 3: Visit the Great Monasteries
We’ll continue our journey to Lalish, a small mountain valley village characterised by conical roofs that resemble that of the architecture in Georgia. This is a sacred place for the Yezidi people, an ethnically Kurdish religious community that has been targeted by ISIS. We’ll continue towards Khanis; Legend has it that this aqueduct has watered the Hanging Gardens of Babylon which was believed to have been located in the Nineveh Plains in Mosul.
Then we’ll arrive at the town of Alqosh, which boasts the tomb of Prophet Nahum. Tucked in the cliffs of hidden mountains is the Rabban Hormizd Monastery of the Chaldaean Catholic Church founded in 640 AD.
Stay overnight in Dohuk.
Day 4: Join in the Nowruz/Yazidi New Year Celebrations!
In the morning, you’ll drive up to Amadiya (or Amedi), a quaint mountaintop town that rises 1,000 meter over a valley. The town is surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides and it’s one of the most picturesque spots in Iraqi Kurdistan. Life on the plateau of Amadiya dates back, at least, 3000 BC, and the ancient Assyrians.
From there, our journey brings us close to the ruins of one of Saddam’s famous mansions. Here, you might get the chance to meet Peshmarga soldiers (it depends on the security level). This is often the highlight for travelers to Iraqi Kurdistan.
In the afternoon and night, the festival celebrations will begin in fervor! During Nowruz (Kurdish New Year), you’ll get a chance to witness the most important festival for the Kurds in the town of Akre, where thousands of people light up fire as a symbol of new beginnings. For the Kurdish people, Nowruz is an event which symbolizes the revolution and struggle of Kurds throughout history. Prepare for a long evening of fireworks, dancing and singing with thousands of Kurds.
If you’re visiting during the Yazidi New Year, you will be heading back to Lalish for this major event. During the celebrations, Iraqi Yazidis light 366 candles and paraffin torches to commemorate the arrival of light into the world. Worshippers dress in their traditional clothing and adorn their homes and robes with red flowers to mark the day that Tawuse Melek, the Peacock Angel, descended to bless the earth with fertility.
Stay overnight in Amedi.
Day 5: Wander Around Ancient Sites
Today, you will head to Zakho, also known as the Jerusalem of Assyria. The city is located 8 km west of Ibrahim Khalil border crossing with Turkey. Residents of different religions and ethnicities have lived together in Zakho for centuries here, though Jewish used to be the majority here. Sites of interest include Pira Dalal, an old stone bridge that crosses the Khabur River. Zakho is also known for its mineral springs, which locals believe have medicinal properties.
Then you will continue to Gaugamela, the venue of the Battle of Gaugamela or Battle of Arabela. It was where the decisive battle of Alexander the Great’s invasion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire took place.
Stay overnight in Erbil.
Day 6: Explore Lake, Mountain and Historic City
From Erbil, we will travel to the famous city of Sulaymaniya through Koya. Surrounded by the Bawaji and Haibat Sultan mountains, Koya is known as one of the most beautiful regions of Kurdistan. The city is famous for its mosques, which were often also centers for studies of sciences and arts.
Next, we’ll make a stop at Dokan Lake, a popular summer getaway for locals. As we approach Sulaymaniya, we’ll head up to Goyje Mountains for the best view of Sulaymaniya at sunset. Have tea in the bazaar, stroll in the park and see what locals do — enjoy Sulaymaniyah by night.
Stay overnight in Sulaymaniya.
Day 7: Witness Saddam’s Terror
An hour away from Sulaymaniya is the town of Halabja, famous for the genocide of the Kurdish people during Saddam’s rule. The biggest tragic that took place here was the Halabja chemical attack, a massacre against the Kurdish people that took place on March 16, 1988, during the closing days of the Iran–Iraq War. Our visit to Iraqi Kurdistan wouldn’t be complete without this.
Next we will continue on to Ahmed Awa, a natural spring and waterfalls famous for its beauty. In the afternoon, we’ll have time to get to know Sulaymaniya, a city famous for its poets, writers and historians. The main sites we’ll visit are Amna Suraka, the Red Prison, the archaeological museum, several mosques, and its main bazaar.
Stay overnight in Sulaymaniya.
Day 8: Get to Know Erbil Inside Out
The day begins with a drive back to the capital Erbil. Once we get back, we will visit the Erbil Citadel, the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll also spend some time wandering through the famous bazaar, which will give you a glimpse of Mesopotamia’s history with the smell of spices, color of carpets, tea and kebab.
Another important place to visit the Jalil Khayat Mosque, an impressive building that resembles in style the Muhammad Ali mosque in Cairo and the Blue mosque in Istanbul.
Nellie does not lead or join the WildJunket tours. All our tours are led by experienced and passionate local guides and tour managers. We only work with reliable and trustworthy local tour operators that Nellie has personally traveled with. All our tour guides are qualified and licensed, with years of experience leading travelers around their region/country.
For this Iraqi Kurdistan tour, we are working with Karwan Wahed, a leader in the region’s tourism industry. He has been guiding travelers around Iraqi Kurdistan for more than five years and has tons of knowledge about all things Kurdish. He is energetic and passionate about Kurdish local culture and heritage.
He is one of the best guides Nellie has ever traveled with, always going above and beyond to exceed traveler’s expectations. We cannot rave more about Karwan.
Our travelers come from all walks of life and from around the world. Expect to meet people of different ages and cultures. What you all share in common is a sense of adventure and an open mind.
We expect travelers to bring a flexible, positive, can-do attitude. Our tours operate in developing nations – be aware that many services, systems and levels of environmental cleanliness are not the same as you may be used to in your home country.
You may see pollution, poverty, overcrowded cities, and sadly malnourished people and animals. We ask travelers to embrace all aspects of traveling with a positive, flexible attitude.
To book a tour, please fill up the tour booking form and make a 25% deposit. Reservations are taken on a first come first serve basis and we do not hold your spot until your deposit has been received. Deposit can be paid by credit card, debit card or Paypal.
After you’ve made your deposit and submitted the online booking form, you will receive an email with the tour invoice and confirmation letter.
The balance of the tour fee is due 60 days prior to the departure date. The payment due date is listed on both your tour invoice and tour confirmation letter.
Travel insurance is required to participate in all WildJunket Tours.
Proof of your traveler’s insurance coverage will be required prior to departure from your home country. Failure to submit this document may result in you not being allowed to participate in the tour and no refund will be issued. It is your responsibility to make sure you have all required insurance.
All travelers are required to have international medical coverage (either through you home medical insurance or through traveler’s insurance), and trip cancellation. Your insurance must cover reimbursement of the cost of the tour if you cannot participate after the refund date.
We also recommend flight cancellation insurance, personal liability insurance, and loss of luggage. Travelers are wholly responsible for making their own insurance arrangements.
Before purchase, read the fine print or call the insurance company to have a full understanding of when there is coverage and when there is not. Sometimes insurances won’t cover a canceled flight for circumstances such as a natural disaster or an act of war. Be aware of how much the insurance you purchasing actually covers and the process to receive a reimbursement. There are many excellent travel insurance companies.
We recommend the site insuremytrip.com, as well as, Travel Guard, Access American, and World Nomads Insurance.
Most nationalities can enter Kurdistan without a visa, including US, Canada, Australia, and EU passport holders.
For other nationalities, you will need an e-visa to enter Kurdistan. Contact the nearest KRG representative to you and find out how to apply for one. Here is a list of KRG representatives around the world.
You just need to mail them copies of your passport and application form along with some cash. You will receive your e-visa by email within a week.
Be sure to print out the e-visa and show it at the ‘VISA’ booth upon arrival at the airport. You can then stay up to 30 days in Kurdistan, but you won’t be able to travel to other parts of Iraq beyond the Kurdistan region. Note that a visa for Arab Iraq is very hard to get and costs around US$500.