Iran is a well-known destination for its classic Persian cities, full of wonderful mosques and dream gardens: Iran is a country that amazes and enchants every traveler who crosses it.
But when most people think of a trip to Iran, immediately think about Shiraz e Isfahan, the great incubator cities of Iranian history and civilization.
Few think Iran is also a seaside destination: with over 1.500 kilometers of unexplored coastline, the coasts of the Persian Gulf are home to a unique landscape, a culture and, of course, wonderful islands, two of which are the main ones: Kish e Qeshm.
Both are not "typical" islands in the sense that you shouldn't expect palm-lined beaches and women in bikinis (such as you might find on the beaches of Aruba), but they are rich in culture, traditions and things to see.
Qeshm is the largest island in the Persian Gulf and is shaped like a dolphin: it has a myriad of natural attractions, from small unspoiled satellite islands to forests, valleys to caves and, in between, all the wildlife and cultural heritage that is difficult to understand. find elsewhere.
Qeshm is also the base for visiting the lovely little one island of Hormuz, which I tell you about later in this post.
Located in the Strait of Hormuz, just 60 kilometers off the coast of Oman, Qeshm is an island with a great abundance of wildlife and lots of unique geological formations, many of which are listed as UNESCO heritage sites.
But that is not all.
Thanks to its position, Qeshm has been of great strategic importance for trade for many centuries, just think of its position in the gulf which made it a perfect base and a stopping point for trade from the East to Europe.
This is mainly the reason why the Portuguese conquered it and ruled it for about 200 years, leaving strong evidence of their passage: in fact, in Qeshm (but also in Hormuz) the ruins of an ancient fortress remain and some streets still have Portuguese names. .
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the culture to Qeshm
Some people, especially Iranians, come to Qeshm to enjoy its beaches, warm weather even in winter and its impressive canyons.
I went there because I wanted to know the culture of the Persian Gulf, which is different from that of mainland Iran.
Except in some small Oman villages in fact, the traditional culture of the Persian Gulf it has practically disappeared.
In Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, locals have moved to major cities and the very few places where you can get a taste of their culture are inhabited by Pakistani and Indian immigrants, so it's not much authentic.
Ma in Qeshm I found what I was looking for: on the island there are still 60 Bandari villages and I have been able to observe some of the older generation women who still wear the traditional mask that covers the upper half of the face (called burqa, but which has nothing to do with the burqa of others villages)
These "masked women" they can only be seen here in southern Iran, mainly in Hormuz and on Qeshm Island.
Qeshm is therefore, despite its history as a "seaport" for trade, a place that has managed to preserve very ancient traditions. Unlike most people in Iran, the natives of Qeshm are Sunni Muslims; physically, they look more like Arabs mainly due to the dark color of their skin and many of them speak some kind of dialect.
From Indian influences, which are reflected in the colorful clothes, to a local cuisine based on seafood, Qeshm is a completely different world from the rest of Iran.
The most distinctive thing is the way local women dress, in colorful dresses, with veils draped over their shoulders at the manner of Indian sarees and wearing special masks.
They say the reason they wear the mask is more cultural than religious, which I believe to be true.
The burqa masks they are not mandatory in Iran (as, for example, is the veil that covers the hair), and above all many elderly women still dress it when they go to the market to do the shopping, when they go out, when they get together in carrying out daily activities.
What to see in Qeshm
I spent three days wandering around the island, and another two I dedicated to the small, extravagant and wonderful Hormuz, the Rainbow Island.
I was not lucky enough to be able to visit everything (you can never in any trip, alas there is always something that touches me, with great pain, to give up), but below are the main attractions of the island.
Forest of Hara
Located just behind Qeshm's northern fin, the mangrove forest of Hara is a biosphere reserve of 8.000 hectares of mangroves, or hara as they are known locally and from which it takes its name. Mangroves, roots and muddy beds emerge at low tide, and disappear at high tide, leaving only the green foliage visible.
Mangroves are rooted in salt water but the bark's filtration system blocks the salt, allowing only fresh water to reach the leaves. This forest is mainly used for fishing, tourist boats, and a small amount of locals cutting leaves for livestock feed. Sea turtles, crabs, shrimps, snakes, herons, cranes and pelicans are among the animals that inhabit this "forest".
We had a beautiful tour with the boat at sunset. In fact, sunset is the best time to visit the Hara Forest. We also got to see the hut of a wise old man (who is no longer there) and who has lived here for more than 100 years: just him, his hut and his canoe.
It was an exciting experience, especially when, in the midst of the absolute silence and the hum of the old diesel engine, the gentleman who brought our boat sang one of the ancient songs of the fishermen of the area.
His deep voice, the completely natural landscapes and the flocks of wild slain, I don't think I'll ever be able to forget them in my entire life.
Isola di Hengam
Located south of Qeshm is theisola in Hengam, where tourist boats stop to see dolphins playing early in the morning.
Gazelles inhabit the island, and are said to get fresh water by pressing their hooves into the ground.
Hengam Island is filled with fascinating rock formations and sparkling black sands sprinkled with silvery sand, which sparkles and glistens in the sun's rays and is one of the special features of this small island.
After lunch in the small fishing village, we went to a small beach to swim, on a cart pulled by a motorcycle: one of the funniest experiences of our entire trip.
Valley of the Stars
One of the highlights of Qeshm Island is undoubtedly there Valley of the Stars.
The name derives from the popular belief that a star fell on this area thus creating the rocky shapes that make it look like a place on another planet. Very similar in some ways to Cappadocia in Turkey, the Valley of the Stars is actually the result of years of erosion from heavy rainfall.
The valley is made up of marl and sandstone (forgive me, I'm a geologist and sometimes I can't help but classify the rocks), and the rock formations form tall pillars, creating paths and canyons between them.
With a little imagination, the eye can distinguish the shapes of faces, hands, animals, and even the map of Iran. A short hike to the top and you can see the layered rock embedded with shells. Local legend says that the Valley of the Stars is full of ruh [spirits].
Small traditional fishing village for centuries, Laft it is perhaps the place that has preserved the traditional culture of the Persian Gulf the most on the island, much more than any other place in any Arab country. The village is still quite conservative compared to other places in Qeshm and also one of the poorest.
Laft is located on the "fin" of Qeshm near the forest of Hara. Although the city of Yazd is more often thought of as the city of badgir (wind towers), an ancient Persian architectural structure used to create natural ventilation inside the houses, a look at the panoramic profile of this historic port is proof that Laft is a worthy rival.
This fishing town is also home to the wells of Talla, which store clean water and were created by cutting holes in layers of stone. Although in the past the number of wells was equal to the number of days in a leap year, today we find less than 100, but each retains a unique name.
The best time to visit Laft is at sunset, when the village's families and children gather on the hill overlooking the city to watch the sun plunge into the sea in an explosion of red, yellow and orange colors, while the muezzin, from minaret, calls the faithful to prayer.
One of the things that is definitely not to be missed and that I will never forget is the amazing natural beauty of Chahkooh, literally "mountain of wells". It is a deep canyon carved into the rock that starts off wide but becomes narrower as it goes, until in some places the walls are so close and vertical that they almost seem to touch each other.
Similar to the Valley of the Stars, Chahkooh is the result of the erosion of rainwater on the sedimentary stone.
The main city of the island can be defined in one word: ugly.
The only reason to come is that you find the port from where you enter and exit the island. There is also the ruined Portuguese fortress which may be worth two minutes of your time, not more.
The "old" bazaar has nothing to do with the charming bazaars found in Iranian cities, but it is a jumble of small shops that mostly sell Chinese imports.
There is nothing traditional here, apart from the small fish market but if you want to go there go very busy in the morning because already at 9 you may not find anything to look at.
The city of Qeshm offers "high-end" hotels, skyscrapers and shopping malls and some excellent seafood restaurants, nothing more.
Cava on sale in Namakdan
Unfortunately I have not been here, but knowing that it exists, I will tell you about it. There Namakdan it is currently the longest salt quarry in the world: 6 km and obviously it is not entirely accessible.
From the main entrance you can walk for about 5-10 minutes before reaching a wall under which you can crawl until you “emerge in a salt dome”. please note that the gap you have to go through is about 40 cm high, there is no lighting and there are no safety helmets.
There are also other entrances in various parts of the cave, but they are often closed.
Island of Hormuz
A little less than an hour by ferry from Qeshm, you reach the little Hormuz, renamed Rainbow Island (Rainbow Island). Daily ferries connect the two islands and getting from one to the other is very easy.
Hormuz owes its name to the fact that, however small it is (we are talking about an island 7 km long and 7,2 wide), its land has 48 different colors.
I know it sounds incredible but it really is: just by looking at one of its views you can distinguish the yellow ocher, the green, the red, the white and the purple. In short, it is truly a spectacle that leaves you speechless.
What to eat
Unlike mainland Iran, the Qeshm cuisine it is almost exclusively and for obvious reasons, a fish base.
The typical dishes that you will find in traditional restaurants or in houses are shrimps, squid, slices of local fish and shark. In some high-end restaurants it is not unusual to find meat dishes as well, such as lamb, chicken and beef.
How to reach us
The easiest way to reach Qeshm is with the passenger ferry da Bandar Abbas.
The ferry leaves every 30 minutes and costs 150.000 Rials.
I ferries from Hormuz to Qeshm they are at 7 and 15 and take 50 minutes. The ticket is 90.000 Rials.
There is also a ferry every Saturday that part of Khasab in Oman fino a Qeshm e Bandar Abbas.
Qeshm also has an international airport.
There are regular flights to and from Qeshm airport from most major Iranian cities such as Shiraz, Tehran e Yazd. These can easily be booked with a travel agent within the country.
There is also a daily flight to and from Dubai operated by Qeshm air, but I could not find much information on the net and the few found, were quite old. The company's website is written in Farsi.
There is no public transport on Qeshm apart from a few shared taxis that leave Qeshm city in the morning, connect only the main locations (and therefore do not arrive at the various points of interest) and are slow and tremendously irregular.
Private taxis, on the other hand, are there and are comfortable, but they are usually very expensive. However, they remain the easiest way to get around.
There are only a few main roads on the island and the traffic is quite constant (there isn't any).
The best thing you can do is look for a private driver through an agency to take you where you need to go.
There are many hotels in Qeshm city, but this is not the prettiest part of the island and many of the attractions are completely on the other side. Consider staying here only if you have a private driver accompanying you around.
Almost all small villages offer simple but clean accommodation options ranging from shared hostel to homestay in locals' homes. The problem is that information is often not found online or in any case it is very difficult to book.
Though I have heard good things and have read great reviews on Assad’s Homestay in Bandar-e-Doulab and also on Captain Amini where I had the pleasure of stopping to eat and which is strategically located in the middle of the island, very close to the airport.
Documents to enter Qeshm
Here's the good news: to go to Qeshm on vacation no visa is required, not even for American, British and Canadian citizens.
However, unless you find a way to get to Qeshm directly, you will still have to enter Iran and therefore the visa must be done. If you have any doubts you can read my post on how to get Iranian visa here.