Our journey through Iraqi Kurdistan begins in the capital city of Erbil. We will explore the city's central square and visit the Jalil Hayat Mosque. Then, we will enter the citadel of Erbil, which has a history of over 7000 years. We will wander through the labyrinth of the central bazaar, one of the largest in the Middle East, and do many other things in this colourful but almost unknown city.
Next, we will head inland, stopping first at the resort town of Shaqlawa, famous for its pastry shops and sweets. We will also visit the Bekhal Waterfalls and gradually drive into Korek Mountain. There, we will take an elevator up to a small vacation village with a pleasant restaurant and a magnificent view. At Pank Resort, we will ride on the canyon's roller coaster, which offers spectacular views. Then we will walk through the small mountain village of Rawanduz and splash in the Gali Ali Bag waterfalls. At the end of this day, we will return to Erbil on the scenic "Hamilton" road, stopping along the way at Khanzad Fortress, which looks magical at sunset.
The next day, we will head off to St. Matthew's Monastery, located on the former front line of areas controlled by the Islamic State. We will spend more time in the Yazidi village of Lalish with its unique temple. We will also stop at Khinnis, an Assyrian archaeological site notable for its rock reliefs, built by King Sennacherib around 690 BC. The most impressive sight of the day will be the Rabban Hermizd Chaldean Monastery, followed by an unforgettable sunset over the Tigris River.
Continuing on, we will visit the city of Dohuk, where we will explore markets, the Dohuk Dam, Blackstone Cave, and one of Saddam's summer palaces. We will also stop at the Inishke Cave, which has been converted into a restaurant. Then, we will end the day in the ancient city of Amedi, where we will taste the local tahini for which the town is famous.
Before reaching Sulaymaniyah, we will stop at the town of Koya and the artificial Dukan Lake. In Sulaymaniyah, we will visit the "Red Prison," an extensive memorial dedicated to the victims of Saddam Hussein's rule and the Islamic State. In the evening, we will drive up the Goizha Mountains to enjoy the magnificent panoramic views and beautiful sunset over the city. We will also see the Sulaymaniyah Museum, which has the most extensive collection in Kurdistan and Iraq's second-largest antiquities collection. The small Kurdish town of Halabja will be our next stop, known for the dictatorial regime's chemical attack on the town's residents, which killed more than 5000 people. Finally, we will visit the small village of Byara on the Iran-Iraq border, where we will have time to buy souvenirs and have a late lunch in a unique pub before our return flight from Erbil to Istanbul.
Dates: April 23-30, 2024;
Duration: 7 nights/8 days;
Group: 7/8 people;
Price for the program in Iraqi Kurdistan without air tickets: 1,320 euros/person (Group of 7/8 people). If the group is smaller than seven people, the price increases slightly.
Included in the Price: A tour leader, local guide/driver, transportation in a minibus along the route, 7 nights in good hotels in double occupancy rooms with breakfast included, and transfers to and from the airport.
Not Included in the Price: Lunches and dinners (although the food is not expensive), entrance tickets (totaling about $15), travel insurance (if you do not have it, we can arrange it for you), visa ($70, available at Erbil airport), and personal expenses.
(1) Flights with Turkish Airlines
Note: The group will travel from Sofia, Bulgaria to Erbil via Istanbul, Turkey. We can arrange air tickets from your home country to Erbil via Istanbul so that we can meet at Istanbul airport. Alternatively, we can provide a different itinerary and air tickets. If you are flying separately from the group, we can arrange a transfer to the hotel in Erbil. Please contact us to discuss the available options.
Departure: Sofia 21.15 - Istanbul 22.45; Istanbul 00.20 - Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) 02.45;
Return flight: Erbil 03.35 - Istanbul 06.25; Istanbul 07.30 - Sofia 08.40;
Price: 610 €/person. At the time of booking, the price may be different.
Visa: Visa is issued at Erbil airport and costs $70.
This program offers an overview of the key aspects of the trip. If you require customized solutions based on your specific case and circumstances, please contact us via email. We can arrange flight tickets from any location worldwide to the trip's starting point. Furthermore, we can handle hotel transfers and any necessary documents. Our team will provide assistance throughout the entire organization process. Feel free to reach out to us without hesitation via email!
Day 1: Arrival in Erbil and City Tour
We will arrive early in the morning at the airport in Erbil, the administrative capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. After transferring to the hotel and resting until around 10:00 am, we will have breakfast and begin our city tour.
Historians claim that Erbil has been continuously inhabited since the 28th century BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world (UNESCO). During our tour, we will visit the central square, where locals gather to drink tea and socialize. This is the hub of the city's active social and cultural life.
We will also visit the Jalil Khayat Mosque, which was opened in Erbil on January 19, 2007, after many years of construction. It is similar in style to the Muhammad Ali Mosque in Cairo and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
The Citadel of Erbil, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is over 7,000 years old. In Erbil, we'll explore the big Bazaar, have tea in a unique tea house, and enjoy kebab at the town's most famous restaurant. We'll also visit the abandoned Arab/Jewish quarter of the city before overnighting in Erbil.
Day 2: Shaqlawa; Bekhal Falls, Mount Korek; Pank Resort with the roller coaster and the canyon; Rawanduz Town, Hamilton Road with Gali Ali Bag Falls and Khanzad Castle
After breakfast at the hotel, we'll continue to Shaqlawa, famous for its sweets and fruits. Then we'll visit the Bekhal waterfalls, a popular destination for Arab tourists. Next, we'll visit the Korek Mountains, where we'll take an elevator up to a vacation village with a beautiful café. The place is a ski resort with slopes and other ski facilities.
At Pank Resort, we'll stop to experience the canyon's roller coaster with spectacular views. Then we'll continue to the beautiful city of Rawanduz. The name comes from Raun, a famous poet of the area, and Douz, meaning citadel or tower. Mountains surround the site, and it is truly picturesque.
We'll continue our journey on the Hamilton road, passing through a picturesque gorge. We'll take it slow to enjoy the stunning scenery and the sheer adventure of driving through this canyon. The road's construction began in 1928 when the British took control of Iraq after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Archibald Hamilton was the chief engineer of the road, which was named after him. The road is not only a vital transport connection but also a significant engineering achievement. Archibald Hamilton wrote a book about it entitled "The Road through Kurdistan".
We will make a brief stop at the Gali Ali Bag waterfalls, which are considered the highest waterfalls in the Middle East. After that, we will continue to Khanzad Castle, located on the road between Shaqlawa and Erbil. This castle was built during the Soran Emirate in the 16th century under the rule of Princess Khanzad and her brother Prince Suleiman Beg. The citadel, which is about 40 meters high and located on a small hill, is one of the well-preserved remnants in the area. It retains its original shape and has four round towers at each corner. In the evening, we will return to the hotel in Erbil.
Day 3 St. Matthew's Monastery, the Yezidi village of Lalish, Hanis - the cradle of Kurdish civilization, Raban Hormiz Monastery, Dohuk.
Today, we will visit the monastery of "St. Matthew", which is considered one of the oldest Christian monasteries. It is known for its magnificent library and substantial collection of Syriac Christian manuscripts. The monastery was founded in 363 by St. Matthew.
We will then proceed to the village of Lalish, which was founded thousands of years ago. There is a temple there that was used by the ancient Sumerians and other early Mesopotamian civilizations. The cone-shaped shrine is believed to house the tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, an important Yazidi saint. This place is sacred to the Yezidis, who make a pilgrimage here at least once in their lifetime. Although the village itself is uninhabited today, there are many houses that remain unlocked and accessible to pilgrims.
We will also make a stop at Khinnis, an Assyrian archaeological site notable for its rock reliefs that were built by King Sennacherib around 690 BC.
During our journey, we will pass through Yazidi and Syriac (Christian) villages, where only Yazidis and Syrians (Christians) are allowed to settle.
Our next stop today is the Rabban Hermizd Chaldean Monastery, a magnificent sanctuary founded around 640 AD. It's located 2 km northeast of the town of Alkosh, at an altitude of 815 meters, and has been carved into the mountains. The place was inhabited by hermits who lived in caves and cells carved into the rocks. There are more than 40 cells, some of which are very difficult to access. Others have been gradually integrated into the monastery buildings. Like other monasteries in the Middle East, the system of interconnected caves was the primary means of protection from intruders and storage of valuables and food.
Afterwards, we will enjoy the sunset on the banks of the Tigris River, making for a magical experience. We will spend the night in the city of Dohuk.
Dohuk is a Kurdish city with a population of approximately 250,000. During our visit, we will explore the market and an ancient mosque located nearby, followed by an overnight stay in a city hotel.
Day 4: Dohuk Reservoir, Blackstone Cave, One of Saddam's Summer Palaces, Inishky Cave, Amedi Ancient City, Erbil
In the morning, we will drive north of the city to the Dohuk Reservoir, which was completed in 1988 to provide the area with water for irrigation.
Near the dam, we will visit the Zoroastrian Charsteen cave. Zoroastrianism was founded in the 6th century BC and was very popular in this area. Inside the cave, we will see signs carved into the walls that refer to the religion. The cave's roof is still covered in hardened soot from the fires that burned inside for many years.
In the nearby mountains, we will also visit one of Saddam's Summer Palaces. During his 24 years in power, the Iraqi president built nearly 60 residences. There are two of them in the Dohuk area, and we will visit the most impressive one located on the mountain.
Next, we will explore Inishky Cave, once inhabited by Neanderthals and later used as a field hospital. Nowadays, it serves as a restaurant.
On day 4, we visit the ancient city of Amedi, which is located on a high hill and dates back to 2500 BC when it was part of ancient Assyria. Amedi offers a magnificent view of the surrounding area, and its natural water sources make it an almost impregnable fortress. The city is among the most interesting places in Iraqi Kurdistan and is famous for tahini. In the evening, we return to Erbil and stay at our hotel for the night.
On day 5, we start by stopping in Koya town to see an old caravanserai that dates back to the 18th century. Then, we visit Lake Dukan, the largest artificial lake in Iraq, which is popular for fishing, boating, and other summer activities.
We continue to the city of Sulaymaniyah, which was once the capital of the historic Kurdish principality of Baban. It is an important economic area of Iraqi Kurdistan and a cultural hub for Kurds who speak the Sorani language. Since its foundation, Sulaymaniyah has been home to great poets, writers, historians, politicians, scholars, and singers. It is one of the most remarkable cities in Kurdistan.
Our last stop for the day is the "Red Prison", which is now a museum. This prison/museum symbolises Saddam Hussein's efforts to exterminate the Kurds in the region. The former prison houses a collection of photos and artefacts of the Peshmerga fighters who fought against the Islamic State.
We will also visit the local market during our trip.
One of the highlights of the trip will be the fantastic panoramic view of Suleymaniye from the Goizha Mountains. We will drive up to the mountains at sunset, when everything around us is bathed in the light of the setting sun. We will spend the night in the town of Suleymaniye.
Day 6: Suleymaniye town - Suleymaniye Museum, Halabja, and Byara village on the Iran-Iraq border
Before lunch, we will visit the Sulaymaniyah Museum, which has the most extensive museum collection in Kurdistan and Iraq's second-largest antiquities collection. It houses many Kurdish and ancient Persian artifacts dating from 1792 to 1750 BC.
We will then head to Halabja, a city near the Iranian border. The city is known for the chemical attack launched by the dictatorial regime in 1988, which killed over 5,000 residents. General Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali," the primary perpetrator of this crime, was hanged in 2010. We will explore the city and visit the memorial honoring the victims of the chemical attack.
Afterwards, we will continue to the Kurdish village of Byara, located right on the Iran-Iraq border. This relatively remote village has a small market for souvenirs, mainly for Arab tourists who visit the place. Foreigners do not often come here.
In the evening, we will return to Erbil.
Day 7: Flight back to Istanbul or your home country
We will return to Istanbul by flight from Erbil.
A map of the tour
How to join us
Please email us if you would like more information about this trip or to sign up. We will respond as soon as possible and keep you updated on the organisation and all other details. If you are a group of at least 5 or 6 people (maximum 8), we can discuss dates that work for your group. You can also sign up for future trips. To join the list, simply send us your names. That's it!