Come Travel Iraqi Kurdistan with Me!

Posted on May 21, 2017 by

 Join Me on My New Kurdistan Tour!

travel iraqi kurdistan

As a reader, you probably know by now that I like traveling to less visited places, like North Korea and Turkmenistan, but many of these places are difficult and expensive to travel solo. That’s why I launched WildJunket Tours, to bring together like-minded people, cut cost and have some adventures with people who will eventually become my friends!

My first tour is about to start in a week’s time and I can’t wait to explore Tibet with a great group of people. The tour was fully booked quite within the first three months, so I’m hoping my next trip would interest just as many of you out there.

A Journey into the OTHER Iraq

Join me on 18 – 25 October 2017 for a trip to Kurdistan, a region that’s actually safe to visit in Iraq. While Kurdistan is technically a part of Iraq, it is a in fact a semi-autonomous region which is governed by the Kurds of the north.

Having been spared the war of 2003, Kurdistan Iraq is a very different place from middle and southern Iraq. With a minimal level of terrorist activity and massive economic development, Kurdistan is fast becoming a vibrant hub with high levels of foreign investment and development of infrastructure and tourism.

Many people see Iraq as a war-torn country, but you’ll be surprised at how calm and regular life is in Kurdistan. There are no bullet holes in the walls like you imagined, nor blown up buildings and You’ll find people just going about their business and they’re just as curious about us as we are of them. The Kurdish region also has some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole of the Middle East — so expect to visit spectacular waterfalls, canyons, and beautiful mountains.

On this 8-day trip, we’ll be traveling only in the safe areas: mainly Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniya. The trip will take us into locals’ home, into the town bazaars and teahouses, into the backroads that weave their way into the mountains and waterfalls of the region. We’re also going to see some of the destruction from Saddam’s reign and get a peek into the Kurdish people’s fight for independence.

If you’re interested to learn more about Iraqi Kurdistan, here are some good reads:

travel iraqi kurdistanPhoto from Wikipedia

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What This Trip is About

My goal is to organise a trip that doesn’t feel like a tour. Think of it as a bunch of independent travellers traveling together, with a warm and friendly guide,meeting locals and going under the surface of Kurdistan. That’s the style of my WildJunket tours

It’s a very small group (anything from 3 to 9) and the arrangement is informal and flexible. We have a rough itinerary but it’s not fixed, and we can always make changes. We’ll also stop and take pictures or eat at local places whenever we want, so basically there’s a lot of freedom.  We’ll be traveling in cars (sedans), with three persons in each vehicle.

This trip will not feel like a tour. Think of it as a bunch of independent travellers traveling together, with a warm and friendly guide, meeting locals and going under the surface of Kurdistan.

This trip will be culturally immersive and experiential, allowing us to learn and experience the Kurdish culture from ground level. As you may know, Kurdish hospitality is well known, so I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to meet locals, get to know them and understand their culture on a deeper level.

We’ll be traveling with Karwan Wahed, a young, passionate and trustworthy guide who is highly recommended by many people who have traveled to Kurdistan. Do a quick search and you’ll find that a lot of people recommends him online. The price I’m offering here is actually lower than what Karwan will quote you as we’ll be traveling in a group as thus lowering the cost per person.

travel iraqi kurdistan


Why This Kurdistan Tour is for You

Firstly, the trip is really affordable — it costs US$1290 for 8 days and includes all accommodation, transport, entrance fees and guide. If you do your research, you’ll know that this is one of the lowest prices you’ll pay for a 8-day trip in Iraqi Kurdistan unless you do it independently.

The tour runs from 18 to 25 October 2017. Fall is the best time to visit Iraqi Kurdistan. The weather will be warm and sunny, temperatures will be mild (ranging from 14 °C at night to 33°C in the day), and landscapes will be lush and green.

As for the itinerary, we’ll be experiencing the absolute best of Iraqi Kurdistan. The region isn’t packed with attractions, but we’ll be going under the surface and meeting locals, which is the main theme of the trip.


Why Travel with Me

I have over 13 years of experience traveling to some of the wildest and craziest parts of the world. For those who don’t know me, I’m an adventure travel blogger and professional travel writer, with a special knack for off-the-beaten-path travel and unusual destinations. I’ve been to 115 countries on all 7 continents, and have gone on some crazy adventures including expedition cruising to Antarctica, bungee jumping in New Zealand, traveling undercover in North Korea, and traversing the Silk Road overland.

But I’d be the first to admit I’m not an expert on Iraqi Kurdistan. I’m going to learn about the Kurdistan culture and politics just as you are. That’s precisely why we will have an experienced, knowledgable Kurdish guide with us on the journey, to share with us all things Kurdish.

Another bonus for traveling with me is that I’ll be sharing all I know about building a career in travel. If you’re interested in learning about travel blogging, writing, or social media, feel free to fire away and ask me for advice in person! I can even teach you a thing or two about finding work in the new digital industry or publishing. I’m always happy to share my experience and personal tips with you along the way.

I will be with the group the whole way and I’m pretty sure we’ll all become good friends at the end of the journey.

travel iraqi kurdistan


Overview of My Kurdistan Trip

  • Dates: 18 – 25 October 2017

  • Duration: 8 Days

  • Start: Erbil, Iraq

  • Finish: Erbil, Iraq

  • Maximum Group Size: 9 people (no minimum!)

  • Group Leader: Nellie (that’s me!)

  • Cost: US$1290

EMAIL ME TO SIGN UP NOW!

travel iraqi kurdistan


OUR KURDISTAN TOUR ITINERARY

Day 1 — 18 October: Arrival in Erbil

When you arrive in Erbil, we’ll meet you at the airport and take you to the hotel. 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. Here’s a list of the best things to do in Erbil.

We’ll 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 — 19 October: 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.

travel iraqi kurdistan

Day 3 — 20 October: 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 — 21 October: Up to the Mountains

In the morning, we’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 to the Gara Mountains, where we’ll visit the ruins of one of Saddam’s famous mansions. Then we’ll head back to Dohuk and wander through its busy souk (bazaar) and an interesting Zoroastrian fire temple.

Stay overnight in Dohuk.

travel iraqi kurdistan

Day 5 — 22 October: Wander Around Ancient Sites

Today, we’ll 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 we’ll 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. As we drive back to Erbil, we’ll stop along the banks of the Tigris River which flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq and empties itself into the Persian Gulf.

Stay overnight in Erbil.

travel iraqi kurdistan

Day 6 — 23 October: 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 — 24 October: 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.

travel iraqi kurdistan

Day 8 — 25 October: Get to Know Erbil Inside Out

The day begins with a drive back to the capital Erbil. Please book your departure flights for the evening of 25 October so you can have a day to explore Erbil. For those who have the time, 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. 

We will drop you at the airport or train station and bid your farewell.


TOUR COST: US$1290

  • Deposit: US$300 due at booking (non-refundable)
  • Balance Due: 18th September 2017
  • Payment method: Paypal or bank transfer

What’s included:

  • All entrance ticket fees for all  sites listed in the itinerary.
  • Knowledgeable English-speaking Kurdish local tour guide and experienced drivers.
  • Transport: Comfortable, clean and safe vehicle. 3 persons in one car. Depending on the size of the group, we may have up to 3 cars in the group.
  • Accommodation: 7 nights’ lodging in comfortable 3-star hotels. You will be sharing a room with another person in the group; If you prefer to stay in one room by yourself, a single room supplement applies.
  • Meals: All breakfasts (every hotel serves good Middle Eastern breakfast) and a welcome dinner.
  • Airport Transfers: From Erbil Airport to hotel on day of arrival and departure.

What’s not included:

  • International flight to and out of Erbil, Iraq.
  • All meals except breakfasts; it usually costs about US$5-10 per person for a meal in Kurdistan.
  • Tips and gratitude to tour guide and drivers.
  • Personal expenses, like snacks, drinks, etc.

SIGN UP HERE!

travel iraqi kurdistan


FAQ’s

How do I sign up?

Please fill up the form at the bottom of this page, and I’ll respond with payment details.

What if I cancel? What is your refund policy?

Because of the limited spaces on the trip and pre-paid accommodation, the US$300 deposit is non-refundable. Your trip is confirmed once the deposit is received. The full balance is due before 18th September 2017. 

If you cancel before the tour starts, here are the cancellation charges:

  • Before 18th September 2017 — 20% of total trip cost
  • Between 19th September and 11th October 2017 — 30% of total trip cost
  • After 11th October 2017 — 50% of total trip cost
  • No show — 100% of total trip cost

If I cancel the tour for any personal or political reason, you will get a full refund.

Are you sure it’s safe to travel Iraqi Kurdistan?

Iraq is technically a war zone and much of the country is simply too dangerous for foreigners to visit. However, when it comes to Iraqi Kurdistan, it really is a different story. As long as you stay inside the area controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government (which is clearly marked and heavily guarded by Kurdish Security Forces), and don’t stray into cities such as Mosul, Kirkuk, Tikrit and Baghdad to the south, you won’t have to worry about your safety in Kurdistan.

The chance of a foreign traveler being targeted for violence in Iraqi Kurdistan is extremely low. The Kurdish people are incredibly fond of foreigners, especially those from countries that supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Kurds benefited immensely during Bush’s eight year presidency, as the take down of Saddam led to a safer, freer and more autonomous Kurdistan. So there’s a very low chance that foreigners would be targeted by Kurds for any violence. Read more about safety in Kurdistan.

Why should I join your tour if I can travel independently in Kurdistan?

Yes, independent travel is allowed and possible in Kurdistan. But travel to Iraq is still an adventure — and it’s not for everyone. You will still see heavily armed soldiers at roadblocks and security checkpoints. That can be quite daunting even for experienced travellers who are traveling solo. This trip is for those who are looking for an adventure, but prefer to share it with others. Joining this tour isn’t as cheap as traveling independently, but it is probably the cheapest tour to Kurdistan you can find.

travel iraqi kurdistan

Where shall I fly into and out of?

The tour will start and end in Erbil, the main gateway into Kurdistan. It’s surprisingly cheap to fly there from Turkey and most parts of Europe. The cheapest flights are on Pegasus Airlines, a Turkish low-cost airline. My return flight from Madrid to Erbil only cost 250euros (US$275). I personally always use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to anywhere.

Another way to get to Kurdistan is by crossing the border overland from Turkey or Iran. The borders with Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are not accessible these days due to the political situation. Iraq is of course still a war zone. The first town you’ll find upon crossing the border will be Duhok (if you came from Turkey) or Sulaymaniyeh (if you came from Iran). From both Duhok and Sulaymaniyeh, Erbil is not more than 3 hours away by public bus.

Do I need a visa to enter Iraqi Kurdistan?

Citizens of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and all EU member states are automatically given a free 30 day entry stamp on arrival in Iraqi Kurdistan. For those who need a visa, you must apply a Kurdistan visa through this link at least one month in advance. The visa is valid for only the Kurdistan region and not the rest of Iraq.

If you want to stay longer than 10 days, you will have to report to the Residency Office within 10 days of your arrival. This involves many forms to fill out, around $30 USD in fees as well as a compulsory blood test to check for Hep C and HIV.

Will I be picked up and dropped off at the Erbil airport?

Yes we will provide transfers from the airport. Just let me know your arrival/departure time and we will make sure you get picked up from the airport.

Where will we be staying?

Our accommodation will be in comfortable, 3-star hotels. They are all centrally located in each city/town. Rooms will be equipped with air-conditioning, 24 hours hot water supply, and private bathroom. Some even have free WiFi. All of them serve pretty good Middle Eastern breakfast. If you are traveling solo, you will be sharing a room with another person in the group.

What if I want my own room?

I can arrange this for you at an additional cost (subject to availability). Let me know in your email.

Do I need travel insurance?

Our tour doesn’t include any travel insurance. I always recommend having travel insurance regardless of where you go — even if you just travel twice a year on vacation. I’ve been using Travel Guard annual travel insurance since I started traveling in 2003 and recommend it to anyone who travels often.

How much spending money do I need?

As all accommodation, transport and activities are included, you’ll only need money for food and personal expenses. I estimate you will need around US$200 – 350 for the entire trip (on top of the tour fee). This amount of course varies depending on what you spend on.

How many people will be on the tour?

There will be a maximum of 9 people on the trip. We want to keep the group small, so you get a better experience and it feels more like a group of friends traveling together. It’ll make traveling around Kurdistan easier as well.

Feel free to email me with any questions you have or write them in the comments below!


TESTIMONIALS

I have been traveling with Nellie for 10 years. She was my first tour guide. I was pretty nervous as a solo traveler. I was worried about booking flights online, customs documents and local customs. She reassured me. She has showed me the best tapa bars in Spain, train travel in Morocco, elephant sanctuary in Bali, Singapore high rises.

She is currently planning our Ethiopia tour next month. I’m not sure what to expect in Ethiopia, but I know that is will be exciting and with lots of food. She handles everything promptly and answers all my questions.

— Melinda Countway, my Canadian friend and travel mate

Nellie is a great travel partner! Her resourcefulness, spontaneous spirit, love for food and especially for travel and exploring made the whole trip super fun. We either always have something fun to do, or we’ll simply sit and marvel at the beauty of our new surroundings. We would also have fun throwing instant pop-quizzes at each other, because it’s more meaningful to learn about the place instead of just going there. I look forward to our next trip together!!!

—- Tay Yan Bing, my Singaporean travel partner in Georgia & Armenia

I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with Nellie twice before and it has always been a blast! When we met traveling in Africa, her passion and love for travel were infectious. Our group had so much fun that we decided to travel with her again, this time to hike the Camino de Santiago in Spain! If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have known about this challenging and rewarding adventure! She organized this second trip so that it ran without a hitch. I wholeheartedly recommend traveling with Nellie.

— Brian Fung, my good friend from Canada

travel iraqi kurdistan

ENQUIRE ABOUT THE TRIP HERE!

JOIN MY MAILING LIST TO BE INFORMED OF NEW TOURS 

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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

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