Kurdish couple in Iraq

How Safe Is Traveling To Iraq?

Derek Iraq 144 Comments

Traveling To Iraq - Iraqi Kurdistan

Without even asking anyone, I’m quite certain that the reason Iraq doesn’t end up on many traveler’s itineraries is because of a strong sense of fear that bodily harm or even death is a very real possibility for any foreign visitor to this region.

However, traveling has taught me to expect the unexpected and so I figured that the best way to assess the safety situation in Iraq, was to venture there myself. And far from visiting such cities as Baghdad and Tikrit, which are both extremely dangerous, I instead headed to the semi-autonomous region known as Kurdistan. Of course, Kurdistan itself suffers from continued conflict with Turkey to the north and Iran to the east as well as having to fiercely protect it’s borders from the highly unstable regions of Iraq to the south. As a result, traveling to this part of the country is not exactly an automatic exemption from danger.

So the questions is….

Did I fear for my safety while traveling to Iraq?

The honest answer is….’no‘. Not at all.

At no time did I feel a threat to my safety and at no time did I witness anything that instilled even an ounce of fear in me.

With that said, traveling to Iraq is still not an adventure for everyone. I’m quite aware that everybody’s perception of danger is completely different. For me, after 11 years on the road and after trips to places such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, much of what might appear shocking, intense or just downright frightening to others, now seems completely normal to me. For example, if the sight of balaclava-clad soldiers standing in the back of pick-up trucks while pointing their massive machine guns in all directions seems somewhat terrifying, then Iraq may not be the place for you. 🙂

But before you make up your mind, let’s examine more closely some of the potential dangers (at least the perceived dangers) involved with traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan.

TARGETED VIOLENCE

The chance of a foreign traveler being targeted for violence in Iraqi Kurdistan is extremely low. The Kurdish people are incredibly fond of foreigners, especially Americans, and not an hour goes by without a Kurd telling you how much they love George Bush and the USA. The Kurds benefited immensely during Bush’s eight year presidency, as the take down of Saddam led to a safer, freer and more autonomous Kurdistan. So there’s practically zero chance that foreigners would be targeted by Kurds for any violence and besides, the Kurds themselves are not committing violent acts on their own soil. And while it is feasible that non-Kurdish Iraqis could enter Kurdistan with the intention of harming foreign travelers, it would be quite a challenge for such a person to successfully pass through the dozens of checkpoints in the region. In addition, there just aren’t that many foreigners traveling here either.

Traveling To Iraq - Bazani and George BushIn conclusion, being a foreign traveler in Iraqi Kurdistan is not a problem at all and far from being a reason for concern, your nationality will most likely lead to interesting conversations, a lot of hand-shaking and everyone in the restaurant suddenly yelling out your country’s name while still shaking their heads in disbelief that you don’t speak Kurdish or Arabic.

RANDOM VIOLENCE

Violent incidents that are not targeted at foreign visitors certainly do take place in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the past year alone, there has been a car bombing in Erbil, bombings from the Turkish army in the north and apparently, even bombings carried out by Iran on a few villages on the Iraqi side of the border. And only a few weeks before I arrived in Kurdistan, a man driving a bomb-laden car tried to ram through a checkpoint on the outskirts of Erbil as well (the driver was promptly shot by soldiers).

So yes, being caught up in random violence is always a possibility in Iraqi Kurdistan. Due to those highly unstable relationships with both Turkey and the rest of Iraq, it’s just not possible for a region involved in so much fighting to be classified as completely safe. But all of the roadblocks and checkpoints in place do offer a certain degree of protection as it would take considerable planning and effort for anyone with violent intentions to reach his/her potential target.

To give you an idea of the checkpoint situation when traveling through this region, during my 10 day stay, I passed through 91 heavily-guarded checkpoints (yes, I did keep track), about half of which required all passengers to hand over identification and for the vehicle to be inspected.

Traveling To Iraq - Checkpoint in Iraq

And besides, you certainly wouldn’t travel to any part of Kurdistan that is engaged in active fighting. If you stick to the main cities/towns such as Dohuk, Erbil and Sulamainiyah, your chances of ending up in the midst of a battlefield or danger zone are quite low.

However, changing sides once again, even though I personally felt safe at all times, it is important to understand that the situation could change instantly. All it takes is one act of violence or even a minor escalation of words between two warring sides and the relative peace and normalcy of life in most of Kurdistan would become quite chaotic and yes, very dangerous in mere minutes.

GENERAL SAFETY CONCERNS

In my opinion, the most dangerous threat to your personal safety in Iraqi Kurdistan is the very real possibility of starvation due to the lack of variety in the Kurdish cuisine (at least with what is available in street stalls and restaurants)! Actually, if you love meat or chicken shawarma, then you’ll be absolutely ecstatic about the food. If you don’t, well, be prepared to eat it for every meal anyway or else be prepared to starve!

On a more serious note, from what I could tell, such typical travel concerns as pickpockets, scams and theft are no reason for concern at all when traveling through Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurds are extremely honest people and you’ll often witness remarkable acts of trust. For example, in every town there are money changers who pile thousands of US Dollars, Euros, Iraqi Dinars and other currencies on a small, unprotected table on the footpath. And I was repeatedly shocked at how often these money changers would leave their table unattended (with all the money just sitting there) in order to go grab some food or a cup of tea, even if it was located on a busy street.

Due to the insistence of locals, I often left my backpack unattended in hotel lobbies, shared taxi stations and even on the side of the road while off doing something else as well. Nobody stole anything. While I can’t say that theft would never happen here, I’m quite sure that it’s not something a traveler needs to be overly concerned about.

Traveling To Iraq - Kurdish couple in Iraq

CONCLUSION

To some, after reading the above, it may seem that the region is quite safe, just as it did to me, and yet others may still feel that the potential danger is not worth the risk at all.

I feel that it’s important to repeat that this is still Iraq and in the end, it is a war zone. And that fact alone is not one to be taken lightly.

So despite any descriptions I make of a remarkably easy-going Kurdistan, despite almost every Kurd I met telling me that there are absolutely no safety concerns in Kurdistan whatsoever and despite the fact that walking around the streets, both during the day and at night, feels even safer than it does to walk around the streets of most towns back home in the USA, this is still not the safest of travel destinations.

Traveling To Iraq - Erbil, Iraq

That peaceful surface is just too fragile to think otherwise.

A US Marine that Anil and I encountered at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kirkuk (not the “Holy Sh*t!” Marine) gave us what is perhaps the most concise, yet realistic, explanation of the current state of things in Kurdistan. He said: “While the situation has calmed down significantly over the last couple of years, just remember that there is definitely still a situation here.


So, who’s thinking of traveling to Iraq? Anyone?

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Comments 144

  1. Pingback: Before the Journey – daquilanicky

  2. Katarina

    Hey guys,

    I’ve got a question for you. I am going to Erbil for work soon. Is it allowed to stay in the hotel with a boyfriend? Or only married couples can stay?

    Best wishes,
    Katarina

  3. IamIsmail

    Im planing to drive from Kuwait to Turkey, is there a route that can get me to Midyat ( turkey) safe??

    so far I found from bahgdad to tikrit , Mosul then Midyat, Turkey

  4. bronwyn doyle

    Hello i am planning on traveling to kurdistan on augusr 13th with my little girl to visit my partners family i live in england and traveling from there to turkey then turkey to kurdistan i am just wondering if its safe i am just a bit scared and just wondering what you think

    1. Avesta Kader

      Hi there im avesta and i am in kurdistan right now i have been here for 1 week now as i came last week from london and i just wanted to say that kurdistan is safe im currently in sulaimania and its beautiful just dont leave the kurdish region and u shall be fine but honestly id just worry about sun cream as its boiling, good luckk hope u enjoy 🙂

      1. Márcio

        Hi Avesta,

        Do you know how does visas work in Kurdistan? I’m Portuguese and I’ll be in Iran for about 6 weeks. I’d like to spend some of that time in Kurdistan. If anyone knows how does it works let me know.

        Thanks!

    2. Roger

      Hi Earl,
      I’m sure you and everyone who has been watching the news over the last week or so have, like me, seen Iraq and now Kurdistan decline into a state of what looks like pure anarchy. Had I gone through with my original plans today would have been my first full day of my intended holiday in Kurdistan. What a contrast from 2 years ago when I was last there to today! I watch the news with more than just a tear in my eye when I see such horrific scenes of suffering by these innocent people. I can only prey the people of Kurdistan will one day get their beautiful country back. Even the british government website on travel advice now strongly advises against travel to Kurdistan, something I have never ever seen before. Truly a dark hour for anyone there or who has family or ( like me) friends caught up in the situation and my heart goes out to you all.
      Just wanted to share my feelings with you.
      Roger.

  5. Avesta

    Hi i am from kurdistan but living in the uk i would just like to say how wonderful itis for people to finally realise that kurdistan is its own we might be in iraq but we honestly do not feel like we are apart of iraq with all respect, and i was in kurdistan sulaimania 2 months ago but i have tickets booked also for next wednesday and i am very sad about what is going on at the moment but i am going to kurdistan and i do not see the threat or danger as we have hundreds of thousands of peshmarga fighters around our borders makking sure any isis or iraqi fighters do not get it we as kurds are completly against violence and the reason we are involved is only to protect our people and our beautiful kurdistan from any terrorists and we welcome people of any nationality 🙂

  6. Sarah

    Lars, as long as you travel via Koya to erbil should be fine. Avoid the way that involves Kirkuk! This is via chamcumal so I would avoid it. When you cross from Iran that way what place in Kurdistan do you end up in?

  7. Lars Cox

    Hey Earl,

    Very interesting to read your story about Iraqi Kurdistan. My name is Lars, and I’m planning to make a trip there in october, but i will be coming from Iran. My only concern is the border crossing between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan, through the piranshahr/haji omaran border and from there on the hamilton road to Arbil. Do you have any experience with this border crossing? Or maybe you know people who have been there? Websites that could help me? I’ve been looking all over the internet but its very hard to find info about this route and border crossing. I mailed some travel organisations in this area and most say it’s an easy crossing, butthe more opinions the better, because i will be travelling alone and really dont want to get in trouble 🙂

    Many greetings and happy travels

    Lars, belgium

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Lars – I haven’t done that crossing myself but I do know others who have done it over the years and they all said the same….that it was an easy crossing. The road to Arbil is fine as well since that road is 100% within Kurdistan and does not dip into the other areas of Iraq like some of the other roads.

  8. Tody

    Maryam, I think travelling to Baghdad is a terrible idea. Maybe you should wait for a few years for the situation to (maybe) improve a bit? Or arrange a family meet in Kurdistan instead?

    1. Maryam

      Kurdistan is impossible. Al amiriyah is closed down today and no one is coming in or out. Its either I go or I don’t get to see them. Ever. I have postponed my trip 2 weeks. It would be a £600 loss if I miss it and never get to see my family. Just praying and crossing my fingers.

    2. Roger

      Hi Earl,
      I’ve posted here a couple of times regarding my visits to Kurdistan and how much I’ve absolutely loved my times there.
      After 2 years now I was planning a return visit there in August this year for 3 weeks but sadly now I have had to cancel.
      This is obviously due to the sudden and dramatic turn of events in Iraq, which seems to be getting worse by the day.
      Kurdistan itself is still seen as relatively safe at the moment but having had long discussions with my friends in Kurdistan I have decided it is, simply, far too dangerous at present to go.I have to consider both my own safety and the safety of my friends who are looking after me, and the responsibility that goes with that. There is a marked increase in checks at the checkpoints in and out of all the cities in Kurdistan and the general feeling is that the situation is going to get markedly worse before it gets any better. There have been price increases for food and other essentials which are causing upset, as a lot of supplies are brought in from Turkey which now is seen now as too risky for the lorry drivers from Turkey.
      Generally a very volatile situation throughout the country.
      I am genuinely very saddened by this having planned this for 2 years but my loss of holiday is nothing compared to the tragic and dangerous circumstances the people of Iraq now find thrust upon themselves.

      I am now hoping, possibly, a visit in the new year but at present I cannot make any plans while Iraq descends into anarchy.
      Just thought you and your readers may be interested to hear this.

      Thanks,

      Roger.

      1. Wandering Earl

        Hey Roger – It is a sad situation what’s going on right now and I’ve been following it quite closely. My contacts in Iraqi Kurdistan have informed me that things are indeed still safe over there but I can understand your hesitation in going at this time. Hopefully it will change soon!

  9. Maryam

    Hey Wandering Earl,
    I am going to Baghdad, Al-a’amiriya in a week now to see my aunts, uncles cousins, grandmothers.. basically every family member apart from mum and dad.
    Today my aunt called saying that her area has been boarded up with bricks and no one can leave-go until further notice.
    She basically said it’s extremely risky for me to enter that area because I have a british passport. My uncle was murdered for money by a gang a few years ago and about a year ago one of my cousins was kidnapped (he’s an adult) and was told that he would get chopped up if his family was not willing to pay $30,000. Don’t worry, we all chipped in and paid.

    But anyway, seriously I have in my messed up head that I want to go there but the risk of that cousin having to pick me up from Abbas ibn firnas is starting to make me think, also on the way from there and getting me to their house we will obviously checked a minimum of one time and I would probably have to show my british passport, which is a problem.
    My aunt thinks and has got it in my head that if they find out i’m british they’ll kidnap me (again, I’m an adult) and ask for ransom.

    What’s your honest opinion?
    Thanks,

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Maryam – That’s a tough call since it involves family but I don’t think I would personally go to Baghdad right now given the current situation. Doesn’t seem worth the risk.

  10. Jimshearr

    Hi everyone,
    I am Kurdish from Iraq I would like to say Kurdistan is a safe area and we respect all people (white black green red) and all nationalities
    Don’t worry and welcome in Kurdistan
    Sorry my English language is not good.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Bill – I’m not sure of the exact figures but in the 10 days I was there, my guess is that I spent about $350 USD or so.

  11. Sozan smith

    I’m a (black) women in USA I traveled to kurdistan 5 time In 2012 and 8 time in 2013 kurdistan is a vary nice country and u will not enough to visit this country and it’s safe place if you are black or white they we’ll love u I’m planning to visit again.

  12. Patty Duncan

    Thanks, fellas… I’m really starting to get pumped about this… what an adventure to enjoy an Iraqi extended family, and feel very safe with my host… thanks for all the advice and good thoughts…

  13. Patty Duncan

    I am learning much from your posts, which is exciting for me, because I have just hosted a Kurdish Iraqi at my bnb for two weeks. Never have I met a more fascinating person. His stories of the war, his family, his insights and wisdom…. kept me riveted the whole time, and included many laughs. He currently lives in London with his wife and children, but plans on moving back to Iraq soon to be closer to their families. He has invited me to spend Christmas with them in London, which I am planning on doing, but his invitation to visit Iraq some day has me studying up on things. The way Roger describes the people is very much the impression I got. This fellow is at the top of his community, with much respect and admiration for his history and his generosities. I’m confident he would treat me like family and be very protective of me. Is this an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up?

    1. Roger

      Hi Patty,
      If you have the opportunity to go I would say definitely do so. You will not regret it, Kurdistan is a beautiful country with the warmest, most friendly people you will ever meet. I suggest you also do a little research into the history of Kurdistan before you go. You have a wonderful source of knowledge in your friend, who I am sure will be delighted to take care of you while you visit.
      Of course it is still in a very troubled part of the world,and you should be under no illusion of that. There has recently been elections in Kurdistan which has led to some unrest, which is partly why I have not been this year. However, I am sure the situation will settle again soon.
      Check government advice nearer the time you are travelling for advice but generally Kurdistan is considered safe, but avoid demonstrations and large crowds. Oh, and how about learning a language a little. Ask your friend to teach you some basic Kurdish sorani. Not easy but very interesting.
      Please let me know your plans, especially where you intend to visit. I myself will be returning next year, can’t wait!
      Roger.

  14. Roger

    Hi Chel,
    This is Roger. I wrote a while ago that I have been to Kurdistan twice and travelled back by car last year. My full message is above so I hope this at least helps if you have read it.
    I have indeed been to Ranya, albeit briefly. It is a fairly remote town surrounded by some smallish mountains, in a beautiful area of Kurdistan. I’m not sure where you are from but it is certainly not a large city, there being just the normal run of shops etc. for that area. If you haven’t already been or even looked at pictures don’t expect a busy lifestyle there, the way of life will be slow and quiet. It is in a remote area and I guess will be subject to extremes of temperature ie very hot in summer ( 42 degrees when I was there in 2011)and very cold in winter.
    Please let me know if this was helpful or if you need any more information.
    Roger.

  15. Marcio Marques

    Hi,

    Thanks for this information, but does anyone have any idea about traveling to the rest of the country, especially Baghdad? I made a friend from there who assures me that its safe, and insisted i should go, but obviously I have my concerns!

  16. QsArt

    Hi!
    I am Engineer by profession. I have a job offer for Construction of Hospital in Sulemaniyah. The pay is expected to good. Like most of the people, I am worried. Although I belong to Pakistan but still I feel Kurdistan to be unsafer.
    Whats your suggestion for me?

  17. Max

    Hi ,

    do you think that entering Iraq from Turkey and proceeding down until entering to Saudi Arabia (visiting places like Hatra and Babylon) might be safe and possible ?

    I was told that the border crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia is closed or often closes…
    Thank you in advance for your suggestions !

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Max – You won’t be allowed to do that because your Iraqi Kurdistan visa is only good for Iraqi Kurdistan. You won’t be allowed into regular parts of Iraq on that visa.

  18. Pingback: Is it Safe to Travel in Iraq? | Aaron's Worldwide Adventures

  19. Sarah

    I’ve been 4 times now each time being 7 weeks plus. What part are you looking to go too? I think it is safe if you respect them and the culture. Every town has a check point to make sure no one is going and coming that shouldn’t be.

    1. Chel

      Hi, I have lots of kurdish friends and I have kurdish boyfriend who I have been dating for nearly 2 years. He is returning to Kurdistan soon and wants me to go with him. I only have his story’s of kurdistan so it would be nice to hear others. His home town is ranya has anyone got any experience of visiting here? Looking forward to your replays 🙂

  20. Anthony

    This is a very informative and personal take on Kurdistan. It helps because a group of my friends after meeting some Kurdish friends through a program are trying to go. Unfortunately my mom is very iffy and is really leaning towards no on this one. We have a place to stay and people watching us. But would you recommend that we go. I mean safety is the only concern I think and maybe money as well.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Anthony – In the end it’s your call but I personally feel, as do many other travelers who visit the region without any problems at all, that is very safe for foreigners.

  21. Sarah

    I’ve been out there 4 times now and I’ve been to the capital once but I hear there are quite a few coloured people in the capital. I’m sorry if that is the wrong word to use I don’t mean any offence at all! I spend most of my time in slamani and I’ve seen people from all over including a few coloured people as well as Indian and Pakistani. I can’t say for sure either but there are other people from different countries there but like any country tbh you never no.

  22. Tory

    Hey Earl,
    I am an American woman of African descent and would love to travel to Kurdistan- Can you advise of your thoughts of how ‘black’ people were treated here?

    Thanks

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Tory – To be honest, I don’t really have an answer as I just don’t know. You would of course stand out but then again, almost every foreigner stands out over there 🙂 I personally can’t imagine any problems but again, since I’ve never faced that situation, I can’t say for sure.

  23. Roger

    Hi Earl,
    I am English, originating from Devon but have several Kurdish friends living here who I have become very close to over the years. As a result of this I have been to Kurdistan for holiday twice now, in 2011 and 2012. I can’t stress enough to everyone just how beautiful the country is, and how friendly and welcoming the people are. Not once did I ever feel that I was in any way threatened or made to feel uneasy. The scenery is, quite simply, breathtaking and like nothing I have ever seen before. Hospitality and generosity seem to be second nature to the Kurdish people. They are very warm, friendly and genuinely pleased to accept foreigners visiting Kurdistan. If you visit someone’s home be prepared to be offered a lot of food and drink. Please accept this as part of their welcome, as refusal may offend the house owner.
    Of course, I was with my friend all the time who dealt with the guards at the checkpoints. We inevitably got stopped many times at checkpoints, largely because of my appearance, but I did not mind this at all as they were only concerned for my safety and wanted to know who I was, who and where I was staying with and for how long. Anyone visiting Kurdistan should be prepared for this as part of the daily way of life if you intent travelling between cities.
    Obviously the situation in the rest of Iraq and indeed the whole of the Middle East is never very far from your mind and for myself I did not venture outside Kurdistan whilst in Iraq.
    In 2012 I only flew one way to Kurdistan as I returned to England by car with my friend through Turkey, Greece, ( ferry to) Italy, France and home. Quite an adventure and there is not enough time to relay those events now. Only I would say to the traveller going to Istanbul from Saudi Arabia that we found the Turkish guards at both ends of Turkey ( Silopi and Edernie) quite hostile toward us and had many hours delay.
    In conclusion I absolutely loved my time in Kurdistan. Through my friend I now have many more friends in Kurdistan who I keep in contact with and I can’t wait to return there soon, hopefully later this year.

  24. g

    it is safe like a paradise go Kurdistan with out any problem

    black white green red any co-lour the will love you more than Kurdish people

    anything you won’t text me

  25. Majid

    Hey…nice information. I want to visit from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul by road and off-course I cannot avoid Iraq. I want to avoid Syria and pass through kurdistan border into Turkey. What do you think about my planning? I am a Pakistani passport wanting to take Saudia number plate vehicle with me.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Majid – I’m not sure as I haven’t done that full route. All I know is the Iraqi Kurdistan itself was very safe when I was there and the border was open and it was easy for me to cross. But I don’t really know about driving across or what the situation would be like for other nationalities.

  26. nana

    Heya earl, 🙂
    Your blog is so amazinggg and detailed, really inspires me to travel here. however, i have huge concerns because my partner is kurdish and he wants us to visit oneday but i am from london bt of african decent. Do you think it would be safe for a young black woman to travel to kurdistan as many places react differently to a different race?

    1. Abdullah Barwary

      Actually, I moved to Iraq from Australia because I’m Kurdish.
      My dad works as a Lawyer-Solicitor at a Syrian Refugee Camp.
      His boss is an African old man called Richard.

      But at the same time, many people here think that black
      people are evil, home-less beggars, though I fight them over it so
      they don’t think that, after all, Saddam killed Kurds because
      he was racist towards them. Here in Dohuk, especially in the poor
      suburbs, like “Baroshke”, kids have a notorious reputation for
      throwing rocks at people they don’t like, so all-in-all,
      I don’t know whether it’s safe enough.

  27. Simone

    Hello Earl!

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience in Kurdistan. The way you described people there gave a very good impression of the place. People make the places, after all! Perhaps, on the contrary of everybody here, I would like to visit Iraq. I became friends with a lady from Mosul and would love to visit her at least once in my lifetime. She is a wondeful person and she made me fascinated by her country and culture. But, there is no question that lack of safety is a huge deal in places like Mosul, unfortunately! Maybe one day will be different. It is so hard on people who live there to deal with all of this uncertainty as well. They dont have a normal life at all. Emotionally they have deep scars due to the conflicts. It is pretty sad! Iraqis have such an amazing historical heritage… such a so old civilization.. I wish I could visit the museums too. It will be always a dream!

  28. Kavi

    Hi Earl,
    Thank you so much for the elaborate descriptions on safety in Kurdistan region. My spouse is about to travel to Erbil and I am really worried about the trip. Your post has brought some relief.
    Regards!

  29. Pingback: I'm Going to Iraq! | Aaron's Worldwide Adventures

    1. Earl

      Hey Aaron – That’s excellent that you’re thinking of going! I remember you asking about the flights and one option is to fly to Istanbul, then take a budget flight (on Pegasus Air) to a city closer to the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, such as Diyarbakir, then bus it over to the border. It’s a bit of a pain but it would be very cheap…or else look at airlines like FlyDubai and AirArabia which often offer low-cost flights from other parts of the Middle East.

      Let me know if you end up going!

        1. Earl

          The overland crossing is worth it as Eastern Turkey is a great region…much different than the rest of the country. And I assume you found my post about traveling overland from Syria to Erbil? That will give you all the details you need (just use the Turkey to Erbil part)…

  30. Hanna

    hi, i travelled to kurdistan in nov 2010 to meet my partners family. Didn’t have any problems at all. First time i’d ever flown or left the UK! I was in Slamani and near Halabja most of the time. It was lovely there. Everyone was nice and friendly. I’m now going back there next week with our daughter and my family is very worried that she’s going to get kidnapped but there just seeing the Iraqi side of it all not the Kurdish side. I understand why they worry but tbh she could get kidnapped over here! Has anyone been out there recently?

    1. Earl

      Hey Hanna – I know of a few travelers who have been to Kurdistan about 3 months ago and they reported the exact same situation that I described and what you’ve already experienced. I’m sure you’ll once again be met by friendly people and your daughter will be able to have such as unique and positive experience.

  31. kaylie

    hi i read your post out of curiosity to what it is like in Iraq from a travelers perspective. i am not scared to easily and i love to travel to see new things and learn how people live in other countries, but i was doing research to see how much a plane ticket would cost and the average was about 6000 dollars. was that about how much you paid for a ticket?

    1. Earl

      Hey Kaylie – Thanks for the comment. And no, I definitely did not pay $6000 for a ticket and nobody pays that either. I actually entered overland from Turkey and so I didn’t fly in, however, I do know people who fly in and what they do is fly from Istanbul or some other city in Europe or the Middle East. Using a budget airline, such as Pegasus Airlines, you can normally do a roundtrip ticket from Istanbul to Erbil for around $300 – $400 USD. You can find similar, and sometimes cheaper, fares from places such as Dubai as well.

  32. Ari Ali

    hi to every one firstly im sorry for if my English not good i hope every body understand what im writing , im from Kurdistan Erbil city which is capital of Kurdistan , in iraq we have 3 cities in north we called ( kurdistan ) about every think we are defence with arab, in here i can say im iraqi because be orginalty we are kurd , culture ,food, languages .personalty , every think defrend, we have flag.perlaman, pm, our city %100 safe, in all iraq from 2003 till to 2011 more than 3,500 us army killed be iraqi Arabs in arabic area , even in kurdish part 1 solder not kill. all come to kurdistan they walk in town center they enjoy,, my last word for every body i just say evey body welcome to kurdistan

    1. Earl

      Hey Ari Ali – Thank you for leaving your comment and I welcome you to the site! And no need to apologize for your English, I can understand what you’re saying perfectly 🙂

      Also, I agree completely that Iraqi Kurdistan is a very safe place to visit and also, what you wrote at the end definitely seems to be true. Everybody does feel welcome in this region!!

  33. Nigel

    Earl, great post. You definitely eased my worries of going there. I’m heading to Erbil next week and I had a few questions:
    1. Does everyone accept dollars? Do most places accept credit cards?
    2. Is it easy to get around via taxi? Do the drivers speak English?
    3. How reliable is Internet in Erbil? Is it available at most hotels?

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    1. Earl

      Hey Nigel – Thanks so much for the email! To answer your questions, it is not recommended to use US Dollars with your everyday transactions. Also, since there are really not many functioning ATMs in the region, you should bring in all of the money you need in US Dollars and change them with the money changers around the main street in Erbil. As for credit cards, no place takes credit cards except maybe the most expensive hotel in the city. So you can count those out 🙂

      Getting around the city is very easy with a taxi. Just flag one down, ask how much and off you go. Taxi drivers are very honest and the local price should never be more than 4000 Iraqi Dinars for a ride within the city. However, very few drivers speak English so it can be a challenge to explain where you want to go. It just takes a few extra minutes.

      As for internet, Erbil was actually the worst of the three main cities in Kurdistan in terms of connectivity. I didn’t come across any hotels that had internet and all I found were a couple of internet cafes near the bottom of the Citadel. So that will be your best bet.

      For more information about the region, feel free to check out my other website, GoKurdistan.com, an online free travel guide to Kurdistan 🙂

  34. Pingback: The Working Traveller Hits the Middle East | The Working Traveller

  35. Diary

    Hello Earl, I’m Kurdish and I live in Kurdistan region. First of all I wanna thank you for your post I came to this page occasionally when I read some lines it was so interesting then i read word by word, it was very nice and lovely and above all, you are very honest you just wrote about my region how it really is! I appreciate for that. Of course talking about Kurdistan from a stranger or a traveler is much different that talking about it’s people though i would like to talk about more things if anybody else wanna visit might be useful. As a federal region of Iraq Kurdistan involved to the war, but was not invaded but shared military with multi-national forces as an ally to the U.S. I think thats on of the reasons people here love U.S people and any other foreigners, the other major reason is that almost 90% of Kurds are secular despite their being Muslim, Christian and others.. Let me talk about safety issue, until now Kurdistan is a federal part of Iraq, and Iraq is full of terrorists. They always attempt to launch attacks on the region but repeatedly fails because of the tense military and intelligence of Kurdish special forces. I assure you Kurdistan is much safest in the middle east including Turkey and istanbul. Once a police official announced in 2005 that by average there are 2-5 car bomb plans every day in the region. that was 2005 many things changed since. My city Sulamaniah which It’s populations is an estimate 2 million. from past 10 years there were 3 explsions, all of them killing one, in Erbil since the war started there were less than 4 attacks killing less than 2. Internet contains all news archives you can visit in past ten years what had happened in major cities like London, Moscow, New york?? Not even in Iraq.. Kurdistan as compared to europe and the U.S is quite safe. And the food haha! no you don’t have to eat banana for dinner, restaurants of local foods are everywhere, but western restaurants are less you just havent found them.. there are even Chinese restaurants. Most people here can’t speak even understand arabic, for solo female travelers I think what you said is quite true. Since the beginning of the war not even a foreign soldier killed, kidnapped or wounded in Kurdistan region, and we all know how many killed in iraq.There are some problems for the tourism in this region, people in other countries do not know there is such a region in Iraq, they saw Iraq as one country which is false. Iraqi government does not exist in this area.Its run by full kurdish authorities according to constitution. Why kurdistan is better to travel than Iraq? Because all of Iraq is flat landscape many is desert. but here in Kurdistan its mostly mountainous with Untouched land, most of it is untouched as a matter of fact not even to tourists. I think we should blame government for that. I think I said too much sorry for that.. but the article worth it. I can help any body who wanna visit or get information about the region. here is my email, earl thank you again you are a big man.
    [email protected]

    1. Earl

      Hey Diary – You definitely didn’t say too much! I honestly appreciate you sharing that information here and what you said is very helpful for anyone thinking about traveling to that region. It certainly helps when someone who lives inside of the region can provide even more details than a person who simply traveled there for a short time. And as you know, I am happy to hear you repeat that Kurdistan is such a safe place. I am sure that more and more people will realize this in the near future as the word begins to spread 🙂

      Thanks again for your comment and the next time I’m in Kurdistan, hopefully we can meet up!

        1. John

          Earl, I’d like to ask Diary how safe is it for an Assyrian born in a western country who has never been to Iraq to travel there? I don’t speak Arabic or Kurdish and my Assyrian is limited. Thanks for your posts.

          1. Earl

            Hey John – I’d imagine that you wouldn’t have any problems but I think it would be best for you to ask someone who actually lives in Kurdistan, just like you mentioned. In Diary’s comment he offered to assist anyone who might have some questions so feel free to send him an email. His address is: [email protected]

            He seems like a very nice guy!

          2. Diary

            Hey John, For safety Iraqi Kurdistan is completely safe as Earl saw it and I can guarantee. Iraqi Kurdistan is consisted of (Erbil, Sulaimania, Duhok) cities. I strongly recommend not to visit other parts especially if you are a western-born. And for language, well actually Earl may know better if he faced any problems with the language I want to know that either, In public places English is highly spoken like in hotels, high-class restaurants and of course airport. With my best wishes.

          3. Earl

            I will say the language was a challenge! Of course, I managed to survive but there were many times when I couldn’t communicate at all. English is not widely spoken and my Kurdish is non-existent at best. However, I found people in Kurdistan to be very helpful so even with the language barrier, there shouldn’t be much of a problem at all…

  36. Kaelyn

    Hello,

    I am considering traveling from Bahrain to Erbil this weekend. I am excited to hear I am not the only American brave enough to venture into such parts. I am tall, and blonde however and may stick out a bit more than you. Could you please advise further on wether or not you think I could encounter any problems as a solo, young, tall, blonde female traveler to the region? Also, I plan to arrive at the Erbil airport with a US passport, without a visa to enter Iraq. I have read I can easily purchase one at the Erbil airport and will then be restricted to the KGB area. Can you confirm this will be possible and I will not encounter problems regarding the visa and/or entry? Thanks!

    1. Earl

      Hey Kaelyn – Thank you for the comment! You shouldn’t have any problems whatsoever with being a tall, blonde western female. Have a look at some of my other posts on my trip to Iraq and you’ll see that I considered it to be one of the safest places on the planet (Kurdistan) and found that the locals didn’t pay much attention to me at all. You’ll experience the same thing I’m sure.

      As for the visa, you will receive a free 10-day visa upon arrival at the airport that is valid only for Kurdistan. And that’s all there is to it!

  37. Simon-Pierre

    March 2011 : Hi – I just came back from a 1-week tourist trip to Iraq by car – from Baghdad to Nassiriyah, via Kerbala, Babylon, Ur, Uruq and the marsh. I ill be back in September to add Basra, shott el Arab, Najaf, Samara and maybe Kurdistan.

    During the entire trip, we were accompanied by a military and a police escort. However, not once did I feel any hostility or danger, whether it was when we were driving with the escorts, or when we were walking rather independently in the city streets or markets or visiting archeological sites. On the contrary, the population was either indifferent to us or very friendly when we tried to chat with them. In Kerbala, we were even invited to go inside the iman Husayn mosque and were offered dinner there.

    In Baghdad, we drove in an anonymous pickup, with a driver and a guide / ex policeman, without any military escorts. We only avoided the areas in the city that they thought were unsecured, to avoid kidnapping risks.

    There are a lot of military or police security checks on the roads – around 40-50 between Baghdad and Nassiriyah, and the 370 km took about 10 hours drive; or 5 between Baghdad and the international airport, twice using a dog to check the luggages. But each time, everybody smiles and waves hello.

    The part of the country we saw doesn’t have pretty landscapes, and many cities are quite dirty. But the population doesn’t seem to suffer from extreme poverty and hunger. Our driver even refused a 50 USD tip at the end of the trip.

    Generally, I was expecting to see a strong military presence, a feeling of danger in many places, and some hostility towards westerners by a population influenced by some dogmatic imans. On the contrary, the population was very curious to see a few tourists, including the emigration officers at Baghdad airport and really friendly towards us; I was even interviewed by a journalist of an national iraqi TV channel, at the request of the French consul; The iraqi shias population with whom I was able to communicate expressed a distrust of the Iranian shia mollahs and an absence of interest in being “attached” to the shia Iran; I never felt any tension except in a few areas of Baghdad.

    However, what can be observed is what seems a lack of actions for reconstructing the country – housing, industrial parks, roads. One professor of French whom I talked to told me that he had not seen anything moving for the last 8 years and he was not very opportunistic for the future of his country in the next years.

    In conclusion, the trip was very informative and I saw a very interesting country and a very friendly population. Rather than traveling alone, I think it would be better to use the local travel agency – I was told there is only one “international” at the moment – to organize the visits and a seamless logistics. I can communicate all the details to whoever is interested.

  38. Pingback: How Much It Costs To Travel In Iraqi Kurdistan | Wandering Earl

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  43. Rebecca

    Great post – I think it’s important to remind people of the current situation, but also to open people’s eyes up to the possibility of travel in Iraq. I’d love to visit one day (most likely a long way down the track) – but will need to first find a willing travelling partner – I think my boyfriend would give me a flat out NO if I ever asked him to go with me!!

    1. Earl

      Hey Rebecca – Haha…you never know. Ok, you probably know how your boyfriend would react, but hopefully you’ll have a chance to visit the region at some point. I also think it will become a lot easier to travel around Kurdistan if they do manage to maintain the current level of stability, so I’m sure a few potential travel partners will pop up at some point!

  44. Jake Stichler

    If I were traveling at the moment, Iraq would probably be one of my destinations. Another travel blogger that I used to follow visited Iraq a few years ago (like, right around the height of the shit hitting the fan) and he went even farther than you to say that he felt safer in Iraq than almost anywhere else he had been in the world.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jake – That’s often how it goes as most of the somewhat ‘dangerous’ destinations I’ve visited over the years also proved to be some of the safest in the end. Most of the people who live in these places are simply trying to live a decent, happy life and while there is always a possibility of being caught up in a random incident, I doubt that the chances are any higher than what those living in the US, Europe or other more developed regions face.

      I appreciate the comment and please let me know if you ever do make it to Iraq!

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  46. Theodora

    I am *beyond* jealous. It’s interesting, given the huge tensions over Kurdistan and its ambitions for nationhood that you feel so safe there.

    I’d love know, though, how you feel the safety situation would be for a woman traveller? Assuming, say, one covered hair, wore a long loose top covering the wrists over long loose skirt/pants to the floor? Or would you need to wear the full abaya cloak a la Saudi Arabia?

    Would it be do-able as a woman on one’s own? What’s the situation of women like out there?

    I’ve been to very observant Islamic areas and been treated with immense care and respect, but the statistics for Iraq (as opposed to Kurdistan) on sexual assault are horrific…

    1. Earl

      Hey Theodora – There would be no problem for a woman traveler in this region. And while it would be respectful, you wouldn’t need to even cover your hair. There is a significant Christian population as well as Chinese population in one of the main cities and as a result, it is nothing at all like Saudi Arabia. Long pants would be necessary but I even saw plenty of women in short-sleeved shirts. It’s much more laid-back and less conservative than you’d imagine in Kurdistan.

      And while you might receive some curious stares as a female traveler on her own, I can’t imagine you’d be treated any differently or face any extra hassles. The Kurdish people are very respectful and friendly and women seemed quite free to do as they please in the region.

  47. Wade | VagabondJourney.com

    It is funny that you mention that you went through 91 roadblocks. When I was in Iraq a couple of years ago I only remember one — and the driver just went right through it.

    Good to read your posts on this region, and what is going on there now.

    1. Earl

      Hey Wade – That’s even more interesting that you only went through one roadblock! There were roadblocks on every road entering almost every city, town and village, plus along the ‘highways’ every 15 minutes or so. I’ve never seen so many in any other country I’ve ever been to. And had our driver attempted to drive through any of them, he would have been shot on site!

  48. Sandy @ yesiamcheap

    I’m sure that this part of the trip is thrilling for you, but I am going to assume that it is not a place for single women to travel. I lament that about much of the Middle East. When you travel along the Middle East, don’t forget to tell the ladies if it’s okay for us to travel there alone or with another woman.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sandy – Actually, I don’t think you’d have a problem traveling through these regions at all as a solo female traveler. I met endless solo female travelers in Syria and Lebanon and most of them had not experienced any hassles whatsoever and the ones that did complained of a few too many invitations for tea or dinner by male shop owners. These countries are a lot more open-minded and respectful than people think and as a result, you’d end up facing the same challenges as male travelers and really not much else.

      As for Iraqi Kurdistan, again, traveling as a solo female would not result in any extra problems. My only comment here is that as strange as it is for locals to see male travelers, it would be even stranger for them to see solo female travelers and so you might get a few extra stares. But apart from that, I would be quite surprised if you faced any of the harassment or other difficulties that solo female travelers often face in places such as India.

  49. Pingback: Is Traveling In Northern Iraq Safe? | foXnoMad

  50. Stella

    Excellent post. The closest I’ve ever gotten (and it’s not quite close) to Iraq was a highway sign that said “Iraq X Miles”. The middle east is beautiful and the people super-friendly. If I hadn’t traveled to that part of the world myself, I wouldn’t have recognized it as the same middle east shown on TV. It would be the equivalent of others basing US safety solely on the images of the twin towers falling.

    On another note, I’m curious as to which airport you flew into before driving into Iraq (as I assume you can’t fly there directly).

    1. Earl

      Hey Stella – You actually can fly into Iraqi Kurdistan directly as there are a handful of flights coming in from Istanbul, Vienna, Frankfurt and I believe Dubai as well. However, I was already in Syria when I decided to go to Iraq and ended up embarking on a long, but fascinating journey from Aleppo, Syria to the Turkish/Iraqi border. I’ll actually write about this journey in the next week or so in case others are interested in making the same trip!

  51. joshywashington

    Thank you for writing this piece Earl. When I say that I want to travel to Iraq people often look at me like I have a death wish. Fact is I am fascinated with the social climate, the history and the current political struggle in the region and a post like this bolsters my desire to travel to places like Kurdistan.

    1. Earl

      Hey Joshy – Those looks won’t go away anytime soon I’m sure! Understandably, it is quite difficult for most people to imagine that Iraq, this country that we associate only with war, bombings and death, could have a peaceful and somewhat stable region within its borders. It’s quite a difficult idea to grasp…but what the region needs is some more people to visit and see for themselves what’s going on, so hopefully you will get a chance to travel there yourself soon.

  52. Forest

    That’s really interesting and even after my you’re crazy comment I expected this to be the case. The first time I heard a Kurd praise George Bush I had to ask him if he was joking and then I had to read up on the situation a little bit more!!! You are doing the travelling world a service.

    1. Earl

      Hey Forest – I’ll admit, I did a double take the first time I heard the praise as well, but like you, a quick background on the situation reveals that it does make perfect sense. And interestingly enough, many of the Kurds would say something like, “I love George Bush. I know, I know…bomb, bomb, bomb, bad, bad, bad…but Kurdistan and George Bush friends”. So they understand that their situation is unique and that many other people around the world don’t share the same feelings.

      I found that to be quite interesting as well.

  53. Andi

    Danger doesn’t scare me, but I know that my friends and family would probably never forgive me in a million years for going. I’d have to lie and say I was in the Bahamas haha.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – Well, I told my mom I was in eastern Turkey while I was in Iraq, but thanks to social media, she ended up following my tweets and figuring out where I really was. So be careful where you say you are!

  54. Annie

    I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, you’re posts on this are amazing! Plus, they are such a huge deal in the travel world because so many people out there (me included) are too afraid to even consider the region. It’s amazing how safe you say it is, I struggle ever feeling safe in the States and Europe and even had a hard time in Sydney when I was constantly reassured of it’s safety!

    I was just ranting to a friend about you and Anil’s posts today and how much it has opened my eyes. Although, (maybe selfishly) I consider myself still too much of an amateur traveler to brave these places just yet, they are absolutely on my list thanks to you guys!

    1. Earl

      Hey Annie – Thank you for your wonderful comments 🙂

      The goal of such trips is definitely to show that much of the fear/negativity we have towards many places in the world is often completely unjustified. It’s just so easy to read about one incident and instantly assume an entire country is a danger zone. And it’s interesting because a few minutes ago I glanced at some top news stories from the US for today and 7 of the 8 stories involved murder. That to me seems insane but is barely even noticed anymore.

      Glad that the Middle East is now on your list and I’m sure, when the time is right, you’ll embark on your adventure to this region!

  55. Jeff @ Sustainable LIfe Blog

    Wow earl, it sounds like you had a great time! I would have hoped for your sake that the food was better, but it’s nice to read a first hand account of everything that you encountered while there. It’s much different than what we hear about the region – keep up the good work.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jeff – Sorry for the delay in replying…I just found this in my spam folder! I appreciate the comment and trust me, I too would have loved to find a more interesting cuisine in Kurdistan. By the end of my trip I was eating old pomegranates and bananas for dinner 🙂

  56. jaime

    Hi Earl, once again a great post. I know I have mentioned it before but I love your blog, it is really making me realize alot about the Middle East. Its on my RTW itinerary and can not wait to explore that region of the world. As for Iraq…you are 100% right. It did not once cross my mind to visit there. After reading this post, now I’m thinking well I’m gonna be in the middle east why not go. I would like to read details on how it was to get a VISA to get in and if you had any problems getting in.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jaime – I’ll actually be posting a handful of ‘guide’ posts that will explain all of the details of getting a visa, moving around, where to stay and other logistics that are hard to find on the internet. But to give you a quick idea…free 10-day visas are available for US, Canadian, UK and European Union citizens at the border crossings (with Turkey) or upon arrival at Erbil airport. It’s as simple as showing up 🙂

      1. jaime

        Wow, I didn’t know it was that easy. Okay and being honest with you I didn’t even know Turkey hared a border with Iraq, shows you how little I know. I had to get up look at the map on the wall to figure it out. I am going to continue reading your blog to get more info & start doing some reaserch. Thanks for the reply!!!

  57. Shane

    Hi Earl, I’ve been keeping a eye on the situation in northern Iraq via the Thorn Tree for a while ready to make a decision when/if we are near the border with Turkey in a few months time. These posts by yourself and Anil are doing a good job of fleshing out the largely positive reports from the few travellers visiting the region but I know it is going to be a hard sell convincing the girlfriend (where are the mentions of fluffy bunnies that I requested?)

    My intuition is that it’s going to require getting her drunk or in a headlock (don’t worry, there’s no danger to me, she’s very small) to convince her to cross the border but if those tactics don’t work I’ll have to be content to visit the area through your words here.

    1. Earl

      Hey Shane – Oh yes, did I forget to mention the fluffy bunnies again? EVERYWHERE! They are everywhere!

      One possible way to convince your girlfriend is to begin your trip with only a visit to the Northern Kurdistan town of Dohuk, which is only about 1 – 1.5 hours away from the border. The visa is free, so even spending a night or two here would be worth it and then once you’re there, I’m certain your girlfriend will want to continue further south to Erbil and Sulamainiyah. Dohuk, while there’s not much to see there, is an attractive town set in the a valley, it has a diverse mix of religions, it’s super-friendly and is a great way to start the adventure. Just an idea anyway!

      Or the drunk headlock method. That might work better.

  58. Anthony

    Glad to see you are unscathed and we were OTT in our worry for you and your friend. It makes sense that the Kurds would have welcomed an American actually due to the horrific stuff that happened under the Hussein regime.

    1. Earl

      Hey Anthony – It does make perfect sense. Although as soon as we hear the word Iraq, we often assume that most of the people hate Americans. But Kurdistan is an entirely different region that wouldn’t have the stability it enjoys today if Saddam were still around. There’s always so much more to a story than what we initially read!

  59. Ashley

    Great posts, Earl! I’ve loved the two on Iraq. While I’m not nearly as traveled as you, ever since I began hearing that travel to Iraqi Kurdistan was relatively safe, I’ve been terribly intrigued and would jump at the opportunity to go. But for now, I’m enjoying living vicariously through you 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Ashley – Hopefully that opportunity will pop up for you! The key is to just stay informed about what is happening over there in order to make sure the situation hasn’t changed, but if it maintains its current stability, the only way to satisfy your intrigue will be to visit the area for yourself!

  60. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    It’s good to know that somebody loves George Bush! 😉

    At this time, Iraq isn’t high on my list of places to visit. Not necessarily because I think it’s dangerous, but I just don’t have the desire to go. I do enjoy reading your posts though!

    1. Earl

      Hey Christy – Nothing wrong with that…Iraq certainly isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Actually, it probably only appeals to a tiny percentage of travelers, if that 🙂 And yes, it did take a while to get used to an entire region of people who are so enthusiastic about Mr. Bush!

  61. Gillian

    Again, thank you for sharing your Iraqi experience with us…we certainly don’t get the chance to hear of this region very often! Your points are good re: stay away from the dangerous areas and stands to reason no matter the country you are visiting. I have found that, around the world, people genuinely want to help and are happy to have you visiting their place. Cheers!

    1. Earl

      Hey Gillian – I think you’re right, the general rules of safety are basically the same as they are in any travel destination. The biggest challenge is simply viewing Iraq as a travel destination in the first place! And without a doubt, the overwhelming majority of people in every nation on the planet are good, happy people who do not want to harm others in any way, no matter what image we have of their country.

  62. Alan

    Would love to visit Kurdistan. Erbil is up for survey this quarter, but it looks like my boss is going to nab it! Cannot believe you went through that many checkpoints!

    1. Earl

      Hey Alan – Haha…that’s a shame and I’m sure there’s no possibility of wrestling that one away from your boss! Perhaps Erbil requires a two-man team for the survey. Have you brought that idea up with your boss yet 🙂

  63. Tony Ryan

    Awesome post. This really opened up my eyes to how Iraq really is like, and not the craziness the news spews at us everyday. Although it seems somewhat fafe, I wouldn’t travel there right now. Not so much of being too frightened to go (well, I’ll admit, partly for this reason), but there are way too many countries (which are a tad bit safer) that I have yet to see.

    1. Earl

      Hey Tony – Well, I’ll admit that your logic does make perfect sense! There are indeed plenty of safer places to visit in this world and that is why I really do feel that traveling to Iraq is not for everyone. Perhaps one day you’ll make it there after you’ve traveled to some of the other places on your list and then maybe it will be even safer…

    1. Earl

      Thanks Ayngelina…I was wondering myself if any travelers would actually be wondering about the safety situation in this seldom-visited country 🙂

  64. Maria Staal

    Very interesting to read about the way you experienced the safety in Iraq. I was wondering if the safety you describe would be the same for a woman travelling the same region. But obviously you’re not able to answer that. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Maria – I’m not sure how much different it would be for a woman. Of course I can’t be certain but in some places, such as the city of Dohuk, it seemed that there were more women on the streets than men, and there was quite a cosmopolitan feel about the place. I really don’t see it being a problem as Kurdish culture is quite respectful and honest, so I can’t imagine having to deal with the stares or harassment that often takes place in other countries towards women travelers. But again, I have no real way of knowing myself 🙂

  65. Kirstin

    I worked at the US embassy in Baghdad for about 8 months in 2009-2010 and I would say there’s definitely still a big situation there. Maybe some of it was over-exaggerated, but there are specific prices for kidnapping Westerners, and with high unemployment and an economy in ruins, six figures for grabbing a tourist doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Even without that, the whole insurgency thing is waaaaay way down, but there’s a big problem with criminal behavior that people try to blame terrorists for. So robberies, shooting incidents, car bombs, etc, are all prevalent. Really large scale bombings have also decreased by a lot, but there’s still a chance. There was a HUGE attack on Western and fancy hotels while I was there, right across the river from the embassy.

    Ah, so yeah. Give Baghdad several years. But I can’t wait to go back and tour Mutanabi Street or the famous markets and archeological sites. Hopefully the military withdrawal won’t be too rough, I once visited a “shopping mall” in the green zone that was actually the tomb of a revered imam. Nobody even knows where his body is now. :-/

    1. Earl

      Hey Kirstin – Thank you for sharing your experiences with us here. I don’t dispute your claim at all that Baghdad still has a major situation and I wouldn’t even think about going to that city these days. When I was in Erbil, I me a Fijian UN soldier who basically stated exactly what you just did and in fact, every person in Kurdistan who I asked about Baghdad informed me that not only should foreigners not go, but they too wouldn’t even think about it. Clearly a visit to Baghdad is not a good idea, but Kurdistan is definitely a different story.

      Hopefully the situation will improve though and the city will again be safe not only for travelers but for locals as well.

  66. David Berger

    Hi Earl,
    just wanted to thank you for another great post. I would have never even considered to ever travel the middle east, but after reading about your experiences, I’m actually getting curious.

    1. Earl

      Hey David – I know the feeling! The Middle East had never really been on my travel radar until quite recently either but I’m quite happy I decided to visit that region. Once you get curious about a place there’s no turning back 🙂

  67. Ira

    Just another proof to the fact that good and great people are to be found absolutely everywhere. Of course Iraq is not your typical holiday destination and I believe one has to be an experienced traveler to go there, because the more you travel the more you’re able to spot potential danger from afar, I think.

    And the story about being able leave your stuff unattended or leaving money on the table on a busy street… amazing, I could not imagine that around where I live, but it would’ve been fantastic!

    1. Earl

      Hey Ira – I fully agree that Iraq is not a destination for travelers who have yet to gain a certain amount of travel experience as the country would probably appear to be a much more dangerous place through such eyes. And trust me, I was equally surprised by the money changers leaving money on the street…I don’t know if there’s anywhere else on the planet where that happens!

      1. ibrahim

        Well Earl there is this small breakaway state in east africa Somalia called SOMALILAND with exactly similar security setting, where women exchange currencey on the street in a little box without any fear. it is relatively calm place to visit. whilst the rest of somalia are considered a very dangerous place to visit. so yes there other places that could surprise you.

  68. Andrea

    What a fascinating adventure! It just goes to show you have to see these places with your own eyes before you can comment because you just don’t know what a place is really like until you’ve been there.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andrea – You have spoken the truth! Pretty much everything I believed about this part of Iraq had to be tossed out the window once I saw it for myself. And I’m sure it would be the same for most people who decide to travel there.

  69. Ali

    I am so fascinated by your & Anil’s posts about traveling to Iraq. It’s just not a place people consider traveling to, myself included, but as a travel addict I’m extremely curious. I’m glad you guys were safe & didn’t run into any safety issues. I’m looking forward to reading whatever else you post about this trip.

    1. Earl

      Hey Ali – I think you’re in the majority as far as Iraq not registering as a potential travel destination! And truthfully, I had no idea if it was feasible at all when the idea came into our heads. But it turns out that the region is ‘travel-able’ despite having no tourist infrastructure whatsoever. The biggest challenge is making the decision to go as once you’re there, it’s not as if you have to carry a gun or be suspicious of everyone you meet!

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