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Facts at a Glance
 Area: 1,648,000 sq km (642,720 sq mi)

Population: 66 million

Capital city: Tehran (pop 12 million)

People: Persian (Farsis) (65%), Azari (25%), Arab (4%), Lors (2%), Turkmen (2%), Kurdish, Armenian, Jewish

Language: Persian

Religion: Shi'ite Muslim (89%), Sunni Muslim (10%), Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, Baha'i (1%)

Government: Islamic Republic

Spiritual leader: Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei

President: Hojjat-ol-Eslam Seyed Mohammed Khatami


The Islamic Republic of Iran is bordered to the north by the states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (all formerly of the USSR) and the Caspian Sea; to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan; to the south by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf; and to the west by Iraq and Turkey. Iran is about one-fifth the size of the USA and nearly as big as Queensland, Australia. The country is dominated by three mountain ranges: the fertile, volcanic Sabalan and Talesh ranges in the north-west; the very long, Jurassic-era Zagros range, down the western border; and the dominant Alborz range, home of Iran's highest mountain, the permanently snowcapped Damavand (5670m/18,600ft), to the north of Tehran. The two great Iranian deserts, the Dasht-é Kavir (more than 200,000 sq km/78,000 sq mi) and the Dasht-é Lut (more than 166,000 sq km/64,740 sq mi), occupy most of the north-east and east of the central plain.

Massive, unrestrained urban and industrial development and the Iran-Iraq War have caused irreparable environmental damage, particularly on the southern slopes of the Alborz range, along the Caspian Sea and around the Persian Gulf. To its credit, the Iranian government has created a few national parks, but the warm glow dissipates once you realise the parks have no fenced areas or rangers. The northern slopes of the Alborz are densely covered with deciduous trees, forming the largest area of vegetation in Iran. There are some lovely pockets of forest around Khalkhal, south of Ardabil, and at Nahar Khoran, just south of Gorgan. Mammals such as the wolf, jackal, wild boar, hyena, black bear and lynx are common in the unexplored depths of the forests of Mazandaran province. In the deserts and mountains you're more likely to come across the more sedate Persian squirrel and mongoose, galloping Persian gazelle, porcupine, badger and endemic Iranian wild ass. Two of the more fascinating creatures are the huge Alborz red sheep, with its black beard and spiralling horns, and the Oreal ram, with a white beard and enormous horns.

Because of its size, variety of topography and altitude, Iran experiences great extremes of climate. Winters (December to February) can be unpleasantly cold in most parts of the country, while in summer (June to August) temperatures as high as 40°C (104°F) are nothing out of the ordinary. Regular rainfall is more or less restricted to the far north and west - generally also the coldest parts of Iran.

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$340 billion

GDP per head: US$5000

Annual growth: 4.2%

Inflation: 19%

Major industries: Oil, gas, agriculture, carpets, armaments

Major trading partners: Japan, Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Belgium

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Everyone needs a visa to visit Iran. Unless you're from Slovenia, Macedonia, Turkey or Japan, this is going to be a hassle. The regulations are baffling, the costs often high. The best advice is to apply for a visa before you leave home. However, once you're in you're in - getting an extension inside Iran is often easier than getting any sort of visa outside the country.

Health risks: Diarrhea, malaria, cholera, schistosomiasis, altitude sickness, sunburn

Time: GMT/UTC plus 3.5 hours

Electricity: 220V, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs
 Currency:Iranian rial
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$1-2
  • Mid-range: US$2-10
  • Top-end: US$10 and upwards

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$2-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-40
  • Top-end: US$40-110
  • Iran is inexpensive by international standards. A bare minimum budget for cheap hotels, Iranian food and overland transport is US$10 per day. Unless you thrive on discomfort, however, you should double this to around US$20 per day. This will provide you with decent accommodation, better food, transport by first-class bus and shared taxi, and visits to all the important tourist attractions. One unfortunate part of travelling to Iran is the dual-pricing for foreigners. This affects international flights and ferries, where all tickets must be paid for in US dollars; tourist attractions, where foreigners pay up to 15 times as much to enter as Iranians do; and the more expensive hotels, which often charge in US dollars.

    There are three ways to change money (preferably US dollars in cash): at the official, and unfavourable, exchange rate at a bank; at the favourable 'street rate' at a legal, though uncommon, money-exchange office; and on the black market, anywhere. Don't bother taking travellers cheques of any denomination or currency unless you absolutely must: you can only exchange them at the Bank Melli branches at the international airport in Tehran and in central Tehran. An increasing number of mid-range hotels (and all top-end places) accept Visa or MasterCard - but certainly not American Express. However, if your Visa or MasterCard has been issued in the US, it may be useless because of the US trade embargo. Bottom line: bring plenty of greenbacks.

    In most cases, tipping is an optional reward for good service. Although there are many circumstances where a small tip is expected, you are unlikely to have a waiter hovering expectantly near your table after delivering the bill. On the other hand, it's worth remembering that helpful Iranians probably deserve some extra appreciation to supplement their meagre wages. As for bargaining, in the bazaar virtually all prices are negotiable; in shops, it's a complete waste of time. Fares in private taxis are always negotiable, but not in any other form of transport because these prices are set by the government. Hotel rates are open to negotiation except in top-end places.

    When to Go

    Generally the best times to visit Iran are mid-April to early June, and late September to early November - these times avoid the long, cold northern winter, the Iranian New Year (late March) and the summer, which can be unpleasantly hot in much of the country. Many people prefer not to visit Iran during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, but apart from most restaurants closing between dawn and dusk, Ramadan is not that bad for travelling.

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