One of the most daunting (well, for me anyway) prospects of the trip was the amount of (wild) camping we were going to do. Would we get discovered? Would we get harassed, robbed, or worse? Would we encounter dangerous wildlife? And what about staying clean?
Like most worries in life, these turned out to be completely unjustified. Yes, we would get discovered – and consequently asked to get our picture taken. Yes, we would get harassed – with offerings of cups of tea and invitations to dinner. Dangerous wildlife – unless you count the scorpion accompanying us for dinner, not really. However, never underestimate the power of ants.
I was also worried that I would hardly be able to sleep, but again this proved to be wrong. On the contrary, I sleep like a log and don’t hear a thing: not the donkey close to the tent, not the traffic, not Antonio going in and out of the tent to wee…for some miraculous reason I only wake up when Antonio is snoring, something which, of course, is denied by him.
Technically you could pitch your tent anywhere in Iran as camping is allowed on public land, and many Iranians do just that. Since they are also the worlds best picnickers it is quite common to see a tent pitched in a field, next to a river, or just directly besides the highway, usually with the whole family sprawled out over several carpets sipping tea, barbecueing kebabs and just chilling out. Especially on the thirteenth day of Nowruz (Iranian New Year), or National Nature Day, it supposedly brings bad luck to stay inside, so the cities empty out and everyone travels out into nature to, well, have a picnic.
However, for a quiet nights’ sleep it is probably better to pitch your tent out of sight – you never know. We never really struggled to find a suitable campsite in Iran, although they were not all ideal…sometimes not more than a mudpit besides the road hidden out of sight by a few mounds of dirt, sometimes in a wide field, an orchard (personal favorite) and occasionally in an abandoned building or construction site to be sheltered from the wind or rain.
Of course, leave the site in the same or better condition as you found it, don’t leave your trash behind and be careful of any sensitive flora and fauna.
(Continues after the photos)
If you are near a village it is a good idea to just ask if there is anywhere you can camp, but only do so if you feel particularly social as the odds are good that you will be either invited to stay in someone’s house or that the whole village will come and visit you and you will have the same conversation over and over again – with the help of Google translate and lot of hand signalling. Often after a day of cycling we just wanted to eat, lay down and have an undisturbed rest so we actually preferred the quietness of wild camping just outside the village. However, the one time we asked if we could stay in a village we were immediately treated to ice cream, moved into an abandoned but furnished house with toilet and hot shower and invited for a wedding as guests of honor where Antonio was forced to dance on techno music all by himself and I had to dance with the bride on traditional Iranian music while being cheered on by about 150 clapping Iranian ladies who, contrary to what you might expect, definitely know how to party!
A few times we ended the day cycling in a village or small city. Most of them have a public park, usually with some swings, slides, toilet facilities, prayer room/mosque and of course many sheltered platforms for a picnic. Most parks actually also have a guard and sometimes a small shop selling tea and snacks so they make for a perfect campsite! We used this opportunity a few times, amongst others in Soltaniyeh. Even though there there was a bustling nightmarket right next to the park we were left alone once we were inside the tent, although there must be at least 10 pictures of us posing with various people while in the process of pitching it.
Camping in Tabriz
Even now as we are having a break in the city of Tabriz while we are waiting to take the train to Turkey in a few days, we are camping in the city! Not far from the city center, close to Tabriz university, is a small park with a fulltime guard, WiFi access and a hot shower – and it’s free! Beats most of the available hotel rooms in the city for sure! To find it: it is just West of Analar-Atalar park. There is a shopping mall with an overpass over the busy road and the entrance of the park is about 20m West from there: look for the green&yellow gate. To give credit where credit is due, we found this spot through WarmShowers host Hamed, who couldn’t host us but showed us to the park. He has more details in his profile.
Twice we camped in a gas station, or rather, in the prayer rooms that they often have. Once to hide from a storm near Kamfiruz, and once because it was expected to be freezing that night and we preferred to be somewhere inside. We have also only asked twice, so the acceptance rate is 100%. A good option for if you get stranded in the middle of nowhere and need to camp somewhere dry. Almost every time we stop in a gas station to have a break, buy some snacks of use the toilet we have been offered cups of tea by the manager. Very kind!
So, camping in Iran is easy, no need to go really stealth. We’ll see how it goes in Turkey and Europe, where wild camping is illegal in most places!