With photos of Iran's mosques by Ellie Cleary. Click here for more.
There are a number of concerns a female traveller might have ahead of a trip to Iran: “Will I be safe? Can I travel alone? Will I get harassed?” These preconceptions are exacerbated by headlines about conflict, terrorism, and instability: the picture painted of the Middle East is, quite often, not exactly rosy.
However, before I went there, I knew from accounts of others that travel to Iran would be safe, and that Iranian people are known as some of the most welcoming and friendly in the world. But in other respects, I was completely unprepared for what I would find.
I, too, had misconceptions
It’s easy to assume that, because women in Iran are required to cover our hair and dress modestly, other freedoms may also be compromised. After all, the word “hijab” — which is mandatory for women over the age of nine — translates literally to “partition” or “barrier.”
In Iran — from what I experienced, heard, and saw — that wasn’t the case.
As I settled into my hotel room in Tehran after a sleepless night on the plane, the phone rang. It was my G Adventures CEO (our guide for the next two weeks), Mina. If there was one thing I hadn’t been expecting in Iran, it was to have a female tour guide leading a mixed group of foreigners around for two weeks.
Having a female tour leader in Iran was an amazing experience for a few specific reasons. Firstly, Mina could give the women in the group guidance if our sleeves were too short, or our headscarves too far back. She also offered insight into life in Iran as a woman. What was also noticeable was the amount of respect she was given by male guides, restaurant owners, and hoteliers everywhere we went.
What about solo travel for women?
One of the things that I loved about travelling with eight people was that I got to experience the comfort of group travel in Iran, but also had some free time to wander alone.
As far as travel within Iran for Iranian women is concerned, group travel is more common than solo travel. The idea of a solo female traveller is a relatively new concept, but one that is becoming increasingly familiar since the re-opening of Iran’s borders to more tourism.
In my time travelling Iran — both in a group and venturing around by myself — I felt incredibly safe and welcomed. By myself I attracted some attention and people were naturally inquisitive, but I did not feel harassed or at risk in any way. In fact, I was afforded some unique privileges: for example, the ability to have my photo taken with Iranian women, who would refuse the same of a solo male traveller.
Tips for women planning a trip to Iran:
• Some parts of Iran are much more conservative than others. Outside of major cosmopolitan cities, dress more conservatively (cover your whole arms, and wear a long tunic and looser trousers), and pull your headscarf further forward.
• Avoid going out by yourself after dark.
• It is not recommended for solo female travellers to go to remote villages in Iran alone.
• When travelling on overnight trains, you can request a women-only compartment.
• It’s better to trade up on accommodations and avoid budget hostels that might be predominantly male, or seek out hostels used by foreign backpackers.
• Follow your gut instinct. Iranian society is extremely family-oriented, and many women will be all too happy to help you out if you find yourself in need of assistance or reassurance.
Keen to see the beautiful mosques of Iran for yourself? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to Iran here.