Updated: Aug 13
Quick presentation of how safe and amazing is the Northern Iraq
For obvious reasons, Iraq is probably that kind of destination which is not on every traveler`s list. But this makes it even more special, keeping it`s authenticity to a high level.
Following its past events from 1980s onwards, the media has been showing us a country dominated by war and very dangerous.
However, the situation has improved drastically nowadays but unfortunately it will take years for the Iraqi people to get rid of this reputation. Hopefully this article will contribute, at least for a bit, to changing this perspective and showing you a country where beautiful people carry on with their lives and show nothing but kindness to any foreign guest they encounter.
Is it safe?
YES, IT IS !! Kurdistan is one of the safest regions in Iraq and honestly, for us, it seemed even safer than most of the big cities in US and even Europe, where you constantly hear about robberies and even stabbings in some of the areas.
However, you can read this article for more details into this subject.
Is Kurdistan a country?
Kurdistan Region (Kurdish: ههرێمی کوردستان / Herêmî Kurdistan) is an autonomous region in Northern Iraq. It comprises 4 Kurdish regions of Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria to the west along with Northern Iraq, our subject for today.
Kurdish people are not arabs and not persians but their language is an Indo-European language that is related to the Farsi language spoken by Persians. Also, nearly all Iraqi Kurds consider themselves Sunni Muslims. In our survey, 98% of Kurds in Iraq identified themselves as Sunnis and only 2% identified as Shias.
Kurdistan vs Federal Iraq
Kurdistan is a land inhabited by Kurdish people and the translation of Kurdistan is actually " the land of kurds ". As mentioned, it is an autonomous region in Iraq and there are two different visas for Iraqi Kurdistan and Federal Iraq. However, having a Federal Iraq visa allows one into Kurdistan but not the other way around.
There are various police and border control check points along the way and it is impossible to get from one region to the other by mistake.
Even if pass through the Kurdistan police point ( like we did, by mistake ), they will turn you around at the next Iraqi check point.
And, by the way, they are super friendly in doing that.
How to get there
The main international airport of getting into Kurdistan is Erbil International Airport.
Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines both fly into Erbil. Also, Air Arabia, Fly Erbil and Fly Dubai could be other good options, depending where are you coming from.
As of December 2022, all Covid 19 restrictions have been lifted. No other vaccinations are mandatory.
It is not mandatory to have a travel insurance, either.
No other requirements applicable to a tourist visa, however if you plan on coming on another type of visa or to stay more than 30 days, there are additional steps to follow.
However, you should have a valid visa prior to arrival, although it is a rather grey area in what concerns the visa policy .
Most of the countries are elligible for evisa. You can check your eligibility here.
The process of getting an online visa is super straight forward and the website works extremely well. We got out visas instantly after the online payment went through.
It takes approximately 15-20 min to fill in the form and proceed to payment and the cost of the visa is approximately 75$.
The offcial website is: https://visit.gov.krd/
Currency and payments
Although you can pay the rental car and most of the hotels by card, cash in key in the rest of the places. Even the most expensive and fancy restaurants don`t accept card payments.
In theory you can get around by taxis, shared taxis and minibuses for a cheap price. We preferred to rent a car in order to have more flexibility. Even the car rental is very cheap compared to Europe. Depending on the rental period, you can get a small car for 35$ per day and an SUV to around 50-60$.
We found this rent a car company which was super reliable and offerent to pick us up and drop us off the airport for free. It is called Param rent a car.
The roads are, in general, in a good condition and it is not needed to required to have a 4x4 car in order to get to most of the places. Driving is typical for Asia, a bit chaotic, no one is signaling a turn, but still manageable.
Make sure to have your passport with you at all times while driving as they can do random checks.
Are drones allowed in Iraq?
According to Iraq's national aviation authority, the Iraq Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA), drones are banned in Iraq.
If they find your drone, they will confiscate it in the airport.
What to visit
The most important points of interest are: Erbil, Akre, Mar Mattai, Rawanduz, Lales, Rabban Hermizd Chaldean Monastery but not only. The full interactive map with the most important places can be seen here on this useful blog. We didn`t get the chance to check out all of them but you can find the list of what we did below.
The main point of entry into Kurdistan, one of the oldest cities in the world. Urban life in Erbil can be dated back to at least 6000 BC and it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. At the heart of the city is the ancient Citadel of Erbil, which is estimated to be close to 7000 years old. It has been inhabited, over the millennia, by the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mongols and Ottoman Turks.
In recent history, its fast developement made it to be called " the second Dubai".
With a very Moroccan look, this is a small mountain city in Duhok Governorate, about 70 km drive from Erbil. The city was built in the 7th century and is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
We found a really nice and local place to eat called Xanedan Cafe and Restaurant, which has really good local food and a nice view over the city.
By far, the best photo location that we had in our trip. It is a Syriac Orthodox Church monastery on Mount Alfaf in northern Iraq, 20 kilometers northeast of the city of Mosul and about 30 min drive from Akre. It is recognized as one of the oldest Christian monasteries in existence.
If you are coming from Erbil, be careful not to take the road to Mosul, as that will take you out of Kurdistan and they will turn you back at the checkpoint.
Rawandiz is a city in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, located in the Erbil Governorate, close to the borders with Iran and Turkey, it is located 10 km to the east from Bekhal Waterfall. The district is 123 km from Erbil.
The drive takes about 2 hours and the road is really well maintained. The district is surrounded by the Zagros mountain range; Korek Mountain is to the south, Hindren Mountain to the north, Zozik Mountain to the west, and Bradasot Mountain to the east.
For all photos and videos we used our usual Sony cameras: A7III and A7IV with mostly the 35 mm, 55 mm and 85 mm lenses. As mentioned before, we weren`t allowed to bring our drone here.