The Seasonal Swing
There are two clear tourist seasons in Iran. Low season starts in October and continues through winter until shortly before Nowrouz (Iranian New Year, on 21 March) and the beginning of spring. From a few days before Nowrouz, hotels in popular holiday destinations, such as Kish Island, Isfahan, the Caspian Sea coast, Shiraz and Yazd, are packed, and prices are at their highest level. Nowrouz marks the beginning of daylight saving, longer opening hours and annual government-approved price increases across the economy, including hotels. After the 13-day holiday period is over you’ll find room prices usually rise by about 20% from the winter (low season) rate, and stay that way until October, when they fall back a bit or can be (slightly) more easily haggled down. The whole cycle then begins again next Nowrouz. There are a few exceptions. In summer, prices along the Caspian Sea coast can skyrocket, while in hot places like Yazd and Kerman prices can fall with demand.
To book online through the local Iranian accommodation booking services, you’ll need a local debit card, but it’s a useful resource for checking what’s available.
Iranians love tents, but there are few official camping grounds. Unless you can make yourself look like a nomad, camping can draw unwanted attention from the authorities. Trekkers and mountaineers who need to camp should discuss plans with the provincial tourist information office first if not accompanied by a recognized guide. The office may be able to write a letter of introduction.
Iran has a growing couch-surfing community and making contact with its members is an easy and increasingly popular way to get ‘inside’ Iranian culture. Most readers who have surfed Iranian couches, or more likely carpets, have reported a memorable time for positive reasons. However, there have also been warnings that some Iranian hosts expect to accompany their guests everywhere, and if you’re not up for that it’s best to commit to less time with the option of extending to avoid an early and embarrassing departure. Also, Ta’arof (insisting on paying for at least something during your stay, or take a gift from home) is prevalent.
Iran’s most basic accommodation is in male-dominated Mosafer-Khanehs (literally ‘travelers’ houses’), a dorm or basic hotel, and similar Mehman-Pazirs. Standards in these places vary but expect shared bathrooms, squat toilets and no spoken English. Some bottom-end places won’t even have a communal shower. Prices start at around US$6 per bed in a noisy, male-only dorm. Simple, private rooms, perhaps with a sink, start at about twice that.in some cities some Mosafer-Khanehs are not allowed to accept foreigners, or require written permission from the police; this is more likely to affect women travelers.
Basic one-star and two-star hotels, or ‘budget hotels’, normally have an attached bathroom with at least a hot shower, plus air-con, heating, TV (Iranian channels), fridge and maybe a phone. Double beds are rare, breakfast will often cost extra, and cleanliness can be questionable – don’t be afraid to ask for fresh sheets.
Most 2-star hotels, and all 3- and 4-star rooms, will come with a clean private bathroom, phone, fridge and TV (sometimes with foreign channels). There might be a reasonable restaurant, and breakfast will be included. You’ll find toilet paper but bath plugs are a long shot. Aside from garden-variety hotels, the midrange includes:
The most charismatic midrange places are the Hotel Sonnati (traditional hotels), where old courtyard houses have been transformed into social little hotels. If you’re staying in a hotel Sonnati, you’ll know you’re in Iran. Yazd has many and others can be found in Kashan, Isfahan and Shiraz.
In the upper midrange are a growing number of modern ‘apartment hotels’, which can be good value outside the high season.
Most towns of decent size have a government-run or Tourist Inn (Mehman-saraye Jahangardi). Their Standards are so considerable but they are usually fair value and often employ at least one English speaker.
You’ll increasingly encounter places known as eco-lodges, which can be popular accommodation options. Some can be good places to stay, although the experience is more about traditional-style rooms with local food and possibly costumed staff rather than anything obviously ecofriendly.