Visiting “The Other Iraq”

Towers of Lalish
Towers of Lalish. Photo by Lucina Kathmann

The Middle East has always been one of those areas that intrigued me. I was surprised to read that there is even a nascent tourism industry in Iraq, of all places.

Iraqi Kurdistan has been promoting itself as “The Other Iraq,” and with good reason. Kurdistan operates with a high degree of autonomy from the central government in Baghdad. The territory has its own immigration officers and visa rules. More importantly, it is the safest part of Iraq, as the tourism board proudly cites it has had no foreign deaths or kidnappings since 2003.

In addition to being relatively stable, the region is awash in oil, which has led to massive foreign investment. As a reselt, Kurdistan is much more developed than other parts of Iraq, and its residents enjoy a higher standard of living. Perhaps one of the best endorsements of safety is that Lonely Planet included a section on Iraqi Kurdistan in the latest edition of its Middle East guidebook.

There are real risks, though. Three American hikers trekking near the badly marked Iranian border of Kurdistan have been detained by the Iranian authorities. The fourth hiker, who would have been caught, was sick the day of the hike and didn’t go.  You can read his first-person account of the time leading up to his friends’ disappearance.

This AP article, Arrest of US Hikers Mars Iraqi Kurd Tourism Boom, does a thorough job of examining the recent detention and the state of Kurdistan’s travel industry. As in any country, it pays to do your research and be careful.

Since Iraq is not a major tourist destination, information was a bit thin on the ground. Here’s what I was able to find:

Kurdistan — from the open-source Wikitravel website.

Destination Kurdistan — a travel article by a writer who visited as a guest of the local writers’ association. Well-written, and provides loads of background information.

Backpacking Iraqi Kurdistan — a blog run by travelers.

Kurdistan travel guide — detailed post from Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree discussion forum.

Know any stories about traveling to Kurdistan, Iran or any of the “risker” countries in the Middle East? Please share your experiences in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (4)  | August 14, 2009
Category: General, Travel Guidebooks

4 Responses to “Visiting “The Other Iraq””

  1. Says:


    Thanks for this article. I never heard of Kurdistan before reading this article. It pays to do your homework before you visit countries that are experiencing unrest in the form of government or social upheaval. One person I know had a similar experience when she was in South America. She crossed the border (can’t remember the country) and didn’t realize it. Luckily everything turned out all right.

  2. sharad kharde Says:

    i am coming for job in pharmacutical company which is start in nov. 2009 in suleman kurdistan . it is safe or not

  3. vian Says:

    Yea, it is safe and stable it is absoulutly other face of Iraq. by the way the pharmacutical company has a good opprtunity in the Region and especially in the Erbil City/ Kurdistan Capital.