Highlights of Kurdistan
Highlights of Kurdistan
Iraqi Kurdistan is a fascinating place of sheer beauty, warm and friendly people and a rich and challenging history. Although situated in the northern part of Iraq, it is in many ways a world apart. Largely unknown or traditionally avoided by Western tourists, we believe this region is an absolute gem in the making and that now is the time to visit before the crowds discover this hidden world. This tour starts in the ancient city of Erbil, brimming with history and monuments that stand as testament to the numerous influences on the region. From here we head to Dohuk, with its fascinating bazaar before visiting the small town of Zakho with its stunning bridge, and in Suleimaniyah and Halabja we learn about the brutal legacy of Saddam Hussein’s regime upon the Kurdish homelands. But Kurdistan is not simply about ticking off the sights; tourists are virtually unknown here so it is not uncommon to be asked to join people for tea or food, or to simply talk or pose for a photo. The Kurds are a proud people and eager to show Kurdistan to the world, and your encounters with these resilient people will undoubtedly be your enduring memory of this trip.
Fitness ●●○○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●○○○○
- Experience the fascinating Kurdistan region of Iraq
- Visit the citadel of Erbil, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Accommodation: Comfortable hotel accommodation in most places. Basic
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum 12
Start Point: Erbil
End Point: Erbil
Transport: Private cars or minibuses
Countries: Iraq (Kurdistan)
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.
Day 1 – Erbil
Arrive and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Darin Plaza Hotel or similar.
Day 2 - Erbil
We begin our adventure by exploring on foot the capital city of Erbil, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and in our opinion, becoming one of the new hot spots of the Middle East. We visit the historic Citadel (Qalat Hawler), as well as the Kurdish Textile Museum, and time permitting explore the Qaysari Bazaar, a labyrinth of streets and alleys selling everything from fascinating antiques to sweet delights. Overnight Darin Plaza Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Erbil is known locally as Hewler, meaning ‘seat of the gods’ and lays claim to being one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, dating back to at least the 23rd century BC. Throughout history it has been ruled by a succession of invaders, including Turcomans, the Persian Safavids, Ottomans and the British. More recently it became the seat of the Kurdish parliament. Erbil is most famous for its ancient citadel, a vast fortress situated on top of a steep earthen mound that has been accorded World Heritage Status by UNESCO. The city also contains some impressive old houses dating from the 19th century.
Day 3 - Gaugamela – Lalish - Dohuk
After breakfast, we depart for the third century St Matthew’s Monastery and take a tour guided by the local monks, then head to Gaugamela, the site of the famous battle between King Darius and Alexander the Great. Continuing we drive to Lalish, home to the followers of the Yazidi faith, before continuing to Dohuk where we visit a cave used for worship by Zoroastrians. Overnight Dohuk Motel or similar. (BLD)
When we visit the village of Lalish, outer footwear must be removed. It is advisable to take a pair of very thick black socks especially for this purpose. (Socks are allowed).
Close to the border with Turkey, Dohuk is a picturesque town situated in a valley surrounded by mountains. Traditionally the region has been associated with agriculture and is locally famous for its grapes – other crops grown here include rice, tobacco, wheat and all manner of fruit and vegetables. Once known for its colourful houses, Dohuk grew in importance during the period of sanctions imposed on Iraq – its proximity to the border meant that it was a hub for smuggling goods.
Day 4 - Dohuk - Zakho
Visit the churches and monasteries of Al Qush, including the third century Hurmiz monastery, once home to around six hundred monks. Then head to the ancient Jewish town of Zakho to see the Delal Bridge, a stunning stone arch bridge over the Khabur river and take a walk through the town. Later in the afternoon, we return to Dohuk and time permitting can explore the bazaar. Overnight Dohuk Motel or similar (BLD)
Day 5 – Amadiya – Barzan - Rawanduz
Head to the nearby mountain town of Amadiya where we visit the 400-year-old mosque and see the minaret, with bullet holes from the Kurdish Civil War still visible. We continue south east to the town of Barzan, the ancestral home of the Barzani family who are central to Kurdish politics in this part of the region and then reach Rawanduz. Overnight Pank Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Please note that the Pank accommodation is very basic as is the food supplied in the restaurant.
Amadiya (dating from the Assyrian era) is located on a high promontory above a breathtaking landscape and fed by a geothermal spring originating far below the mountain. 90km northeast of Dohuk, about 1400m above sea level and surrounded by heights it was once an almost impenetrable fortress. The city Gate (Bab Zebar) is located in the eastern side of the City of Amadiya. Its width was 4 metres, built by Imaduddin Al- Zanki in 5-600 AD. A minaret is located in the middle of Amadiya. It is 30 metres high. The Islamic ornamentation (arabesque) is clearly seen on the minaret. It is said that it was built in the time of Sultan Hussein Wali Amadiya as part of an already existing ancient city.
Day 6 – Dukan - Suleimaniyah
Leaving Rawanduz we pass through the mountains and down through Dukan, arriving into Suleimaniyah, the second largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan, and possibly the most relaxed and cosmopolitan. We witness first-hand the terrible legacy of Saddam Hussein as we visit the Amna Suraka (Red Security) buildings including the many prison cells and torture chambers where thousands of people, mostly Kurds were imprisoned, tortured or killed. Overnight Hotel Dawa or similar. (BLD)
Suleimaniyah takes it names from Suleiman Baba, the ruler of the emirate of Baban who founded the city in the late 18th century. The city plays an important role today in the promotion of Kurdish culture, and since the war has grown in importance, with numerous factories established here – tourism is also an important part of its economy with people from Iran travelling here. It is home to a couple of fascinating museums – the Amna Suraka which provides an important insight into the horrific treatment of the Kurds under Saddam Hussein, and the Slemani Musuem which houses Kurdish and Persian artefacts.
Day 7 – Halabja
We travel to the nearby village of Halabja, a place of almost unspeakable horror at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s military forces, and visit the Monument of Halabja Martyrs and the Halabja Cemetery before returning to Suleimaniyah. The afternoon is free to explore the city. Overnight Hotel Dawa or similar. (BLD)
Day 8 – Suleimaniyah - Erbil
Visit Suleimaniyah’s museum to see Kurdistan’s largest display of antiquities, dating back thousands of years. Afterwards drive back to Erbil via the ancient Qizqapan cave and the old Jewish city of Koisinjak. After lunch in Suleimaniyah, transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (BL)
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes