Persepolis is one of the most important archaeological sights in Iran. // © 2015 iStock
Feature image (above): Isfahan, Iran, at sundown // © 2015 iStock
One destination that’s getting a lot of attention right now might raise some eyebrows with U.S. travelers. While it’s still not a mainstream vacation spot by any measure, there is no doubt that travel to Iran is growing rapidly.
“Visitors are probably most surprised by how safe they feel,” said Kevin Callaghan, CEO of Mountain Travel Sobek (MTS). “The country is not monolithic in its opinions, and people are so friendly and welcoming — especially to Americans.”
MTS has been offering trips to Iran since 2010, and this year’s Treasures of Persia itinerary is booking fast. Callaghan cites the country’s 2,500-year-old Indo-European culture, its role as a crossroads of civilization, gracious locals and beautiful landscapes as top reasons for visiting Iran.
Annie Lucas, vice president of tour operator MIR Corporation, says that Iran has everything that “serious cultural travelers” search for in a destination.
“It has extraordinary archaeological sites with well-educated Iranian guides, eclectic bazaars and an incredibly hospitable culture,” she said.
MIR has been operating in Iran for nearly three decades and now offers nine different ways to experience the country — including onboard a private luxury train.
Steve Kutay, owner of Iran Luxury Travel, says that visitors will be especially awed by the 16 largely unknown UNESCO World Heritage sites in Iran. Kutay started his company after he returned from his own trip there two years ago.
“We launched Iran Luxury Travel just weeks after my wife and I got back,” he said. “And by the way, I’m a Jewish guy from Brooklyn — perhaps not the obvious candidate to promote Iran.”
Many believe that tourism will help strengthen political relations between the U.S. and Iran.
“When someone travels to Iran, they come back changed,” Callaghan said. “They are able to relate to people there just as easily as in other places. Travel to Iran is a sort of soft diplomacy.”