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Highlights from Iraq: An Adventurers Journey

Six months ago I would have had no idea that a tourist could actually visit Iraq. I had no idea that Iraq was safe to visit, that despite covid there were tourist visas and that the country has had relative calm for almost three years. After years and years of news stories about the American Invasion of Iraq, it was never on my radar. And anyone who knows me knows that I love the Middle East and spend most of my time traveling there. So how could I not know that it was open for travel.

Well, probably because not many did know that Iraq had quietly introduced a visa on arrival for a few dozen countries. But why now?

Well it started after the Pope visited in March. His visit received such good news coverage that the government decided it was time to allow visitors to come to Iraq. So they did. Simple as that.

Adventurous Travel to Iraq

How to Travel to Iraq

While I say simple as that, it really is a pretty easy process. Covid aside (you currently need a negative PCR test to enter – but these things change by the minute so make sure you get accurate info), the visa on arrival in Iraq is offered to several western countries, including Canada, the USA and the UK.

Upon arrival, a fee of approx USD $75 (it depends on currency prices) and needs to be paid in USD. They offer change but probably bring 5 x $20 and you should be just fine.

Before you go to the visa office, you also need to have a government approved hotel booked for your first night’s stay. You can read more about the Iraq Visa on arrival if you are planning a visit.

Into the Marshes – A MUST DO on any Iraq itinerary. Experience life with a local fisherman who calls the marshes home.

My Adventurous Journey in Iraq

“Selfie? Selfie?” is the equivalent of the international sign of a smile. All over Iraq, men, women and children wanted a selfie with me, a foreigner.

I assumed it would be me asking for the selfie, but in a country that has been so isolated from the world for so many years, Iraqi’s were enamoured with international visitors (especially a tour group of 8 adventurous women) who had come to their country. Currently, no one knows anyone who comes to Iraq for a holiday.

Whether we were in the streets of Baghdad or walking with security forces in Mosul, the conversation started with smiles, and almost always included a selfie!

Friendly locals in Mosul Iraq always wanted a selfie.
This member of a security force was working with UNESCO ensuring the safety of their workers. While overall there is peace in Iraq, foreign workers almost always have local security with them.
After climbing to the top of this 1200 year old spirial minaret these Iraqi’s all wanted a group photo, with smiles and laughter, we were happy to oblige!

Once there was one who brought out their phone, there were always more, with everyone squeezing into the photo with a big smile or a laugh or a wave!

Iraq for History Lovers

Mesopotamia was always a word from my elementary school years, where civilization began. It is hard to believe that my feet actually stood on the same soil as those peoples, who built this great city over 5000 years ago. While what we see today is largely restored, it is easy to imagine what it would have been like.

Babylon Ishtar Gate Iraq.
Babylon and Saddam palace.

Cross Cultures and Religions

“Did you have to cover your hair in Iraq?” is one of the most common questions. “Did you have to wear one of those black-” I know you can picture the hand gestures of a flowing robe, called an abaya in Iraq. So the answer is no and yes. Religious rules and customs dictate what happens in religious sites. In the rest of the country, I was free to wear whatever I wanted.

While I am not muslim, nor do I know too much about their religion, I am open to learn and to explore and to see their places of worship and their lives. While some base their lives around religion more than others, I had to opportunity to visit one of the most important places in the world for Shia Muslims, Karbala.

Before we entered the city, we went to a local market to shop for an abaya. This would ensure we could freely travel within the city and into the Shrine of Imam Husayn. Each year over 45 million people visit this site, and it is as important as Mecca or Medina or Jerusalem.

Karbala comes alive at night with thousands visiting the shrines, socializing, eating together and just spending time in this special place.
While it felt very foreign to wear an abaya, it was an unexplainable experience to visit a place so sacred to millions.

So Why Visit Iraq?

Shock is usually the most common response when I tell most westerners about my love for the Middle East. I love sharing the culture and the people and the food and showing those like me, that those on the other side of the world are mostly just like us.

We see news reports of violence and wars and refugees fleeing horrible situations. In the West, we have absolutely no concept of what it is really like.

There are so many reasons to visit Iraq, and it is just the beginning of tourism for the country. There are tours, few and far between for adventurous travelers, and I hope that it is just the beginning.

Iraq has a deep history, it has a recent violent past, it has a delicious culinary scene and it has very friendly people. There is a real changin happening in Iraq and I hope that more people will be able to share in these adventures really soon!

(and with that being said, if you are interested in going on a tour to Iraq, send me an email and I can put you in touch with local operators that are running private and dated tours! I do have plans to offer a dated tour for 10 people in Nov 2022. If you want to visit Iraq with me, please fill out this form)

Acre, Kurdistan – the perfect place to watch the sunrise

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