Bypass the language barrier
When planning your trip to Iran, you may wonder if it’s necessary or not to have a guide with you during your exploration of the country. For some nationalities, it is mandatory, but for most people, it’s optional.
However, Iran is a complicated country to understand and the best way to get the most out of your visit to Iran is to travel with a tour guide.
There are many reasons why travelers would want to choose to be accompanied by a guide during their trip to Iran. Of course, the first reason that would come to mind is the language barrier.
Indeed, without speaking Persian, it will be difficult to communicate with people in many cities of Iran. Many Iranians do not speak English well enough, and if you don’t know any Persian, then, you may often face tricky situations. Having a guide who can communicate with you and other people in Iran will remove this obstacle.
This is even truer if you are not comfortable with English. If you can still find people speaking English in Iran’s main cities, other languages are less common. So, if you are only comfortable with your mother tongue, a guide speaking that language is a must.
Having someone who knows the “how-to”
Do you know what is one of the hardest things to do while visiting Tehran? Crossing the streets! That may sound silly, but for many travelers, it is what one of my friends called a “near-death experience”. Drivers in Tehran are indeed quite wild and the rules are unclear for whom is not used to it. But for Iranians, it is just business as usual, as they are familiar with the way one should cross the streets and beware of cars. While visiting Iran with an Iranian, you have someone at your side to help you with these situations.
Having a guide with you means having someone that can explain and decrypt the how-to of the Persian culture. While traveling to another culture, there will be many things you’re not familiar with, and thus, many situations in which you don’t know how to behave. You may even make some embarrassing mistakes, like entering a house with your shoes on or ignoring ta’arof. Not only you will avoid these awkward situations by having a guide with you, but you’ll also learn about all these cultural insights and ways to do things, all along your trip.
See the everyday life of Iranians
There is something most of us try to avoid when we travel, which is to end up in very touristic places, which look authentic but are made for tourists only. Of course, when you’re new to a culture, it’s hard to figure out these things. But local people know exactly where are the places you should visit and which ones are to be avoided. Because they know all about the reputation of the places they bring you to, and what is typical or not. With a guide, you may have the best meal of your trip in a very small restaurant, known only by locals. Because, if you want to live like an Iranian, well, you of course need to be with an Iranian!
And this is also true for understanding how is life in Iran. This is a complex country to understand, as the reality is far from what western media are showing, but also because it’s a mosaic of regional identities. Spending several days with an Iranian guide will allow you to get to know how is his or her life, and to understand progressively, what life in Iran truly looks like.
How much is your guide “local”?
Because your guide is Iranian doesn’t make him or her 100% local everywhere in Iran! In some areas, the local culture is very singular, and most Iranians may be unfamiliar with it. It’s mostly true for the regions and populations which are located along the borders: Turkmens in the north-east, Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabs in the west, and Balooch and Bandari in the south. For instance, someone from Tehran or Shiraz may be as lost as you while visiting these regions!
That’s why it may be interesting to consider hiring local guides depending on the regions you visit. When you travel to Central Iran (Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Yazd, Shiraz, and even Kerman), the original Persia, places may seem similar to each other, but all guides in Iran are familiar with the particularities of each city on that path.
Yet, if you travel out of the beaten path, you may want to have a local guide with you. Someone who knows the local language; someone who can tell you exactly what to eat in this region; and someone who can tell you everything about the culture of its people.
The ones for whom having a guide is mandatory
For most travelers, choosing to have a guide is their own decision, based on their budget and the way they like to experience their trip. Yet, for some nationalities, it is mandatory. It’s the case for American, British, and Canadian citizens. These nationalities are not authorized to visit Iran on their own, without a guide, due to the conflictual relationships between Iran and these countries.
The citizens of these three countries are thus allowed to visit Iran, but when requesting a visa, they should be able to prove that they will have a guide with them. That’s why they cannot apply for a visa on their own and need to go through the services of a travel agency. This one will provide them with a guide having the proper license and give the traveler’s itinerary to the authorities to receive the visa approval. If you’re American, Canadian, or British, don’t be scared! Your guide is not there to spy on you; it’s a normal tourist guide that will treat you like any other traveler!
How to find your guide to Iran?
Now that you’re convinced it’s all advantageous to have a guide while visiting Iran, you may wonder how to find yours. One of the easiest ways to hire a guide for your trip, especially if you want them to be with you from the first to the last minute of your stay, is to contact an Iranian travel agency. They will be able to book the services of a guide for you, quickly and smoothly. That’s true also if you simply want a local guide for one or several days, in a specific city.
Otherwise, you can search social media to get in touch with local guides directly. They may be a bit tricky to find, but some travelers may be happy to share contacts on dedicated Facebook groups, TripAdvisor forums, or via Instagram. If you decide to hire a guide by yourself, always make sure this latter has enough experience as a guide and has an official guiding license.