Kurdistan Regional Government


 

Fact Sheet: Travel to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq

 

Overview – Sights of interest

Distance between cities

Erbil to Slemani - 170 km, approx. three hour drive
Erbil to Dohuk - 245 km, approx. three hour drive
Dohuk to Slemani - 340 km, approx. five hour drive

Erbil and surrounds

• Erbil citadel dates back 6,000 years BC and forms the original boundaries of the city. Erbil is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.
• Sami Abdul Rahman Park is a large municipal park built on the site of a former Ba’ath military base.
• Qaysari bazaar is Erbil city’s traditional market, selling household goods, food, textiles, gold and souvenirs.
• Sheikh Chooli minaret in the western district of Erbil was built by Sultan Mudhaffarudeen and dates back to the early Islamic era. The minaret is the focal point for the recently developed Minara Park.
• Khanzad castle on the Erbil - Shaqlawa road dates back to the Soran Principality period when Kurdistan was ruled by a number of principalities.
• Rabban Beya monastery is a one-hour climb over mountain paths. There are two large highly engraved cave-like chambers that date back to the fourth century AD.
• Shaqlawa resort is 51 km north of Erbil and is a popular weekend and holiday destination with a great fresh produce market.
• Gali Ali Beg ravine and waterfall is 130km from Erbil, a popular place for recreational picnics. Bekhal Resort is another small water resort 140km from Erbil and a short drive from Gali Ali Berg.
• Pank Resort offers small holiday villas in a park with funfair rides and attractions, surrounded by mountain views.
• Korek mountain ski resort, including cable cars, is the first resort of its kind to offer snowsports and modern facilities in the mountains of Kurdistan.

Duhok and surrounds

• Saint Ith Llaha Church, just west of Dohuk, is the oldest church in the region and dates back to 500AD.
• Amadiyah, 90km north east of Dohuk, dates back to the Assyrian Period and is a former principality. Amadiyah’s minaret is 30 metres high, with views from the top of the nearby mountains and valleys.
• Amadiyah citadel is located on the eastern side of Amadiyah city.

Slemani and surrounds

• Slemani museum, located on Salim Street, houses local items that date back thousands of years. It is one of the richest museums in the Region.
• The Red House Museum, which was a detention centre under Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime, shows how its detainees lived, and recounts the genocidal campaigns against the Kurds in Iraq.
• Dokan Lake, 70km west of Slemani, is a local resort with hotels, restaurants and holiday chalets.
• Darbandikhan dam 65km south east of Slemani also has tourist cabins, restaurants, leisure facilities.
• Ahmadawa resort, known for its springs, waterfalls and orchards, is a popular summer escape for locals and tourists.

Local Transport

Travel by car in the Kurdistan Region is very simple and generally safe. Private cars and drivers are available, but they can be expensive. Taxis are a far more economical option, and they are readily available on most major roads in all the cities. A ride to or from almost anywhere in the cities normally costs somewhere between 3-7,000 ID, and you can catch a seat in a shared taxi between any of the major cities for 10-30,000 ID depending on the distance—just ask a city taxi driver “garajee + the name of city/town where you want to go". There are generally two types of taxis in the cities. Some are painted orange and white, while others are painted a light tan colour. The light tan taxis are driven by government vetted drivers, and they are considered to be safest—these cars are usually newer and cleaner also.

Countryside Locations

The Kurdistan Region is an ideal destination for those seeking unspoiled mountain scenery and ancient archeological sites off the beaten track. During the Kurdistan Region’s long hot summers, visitors and locals can enjoy the cooler weather of Kurdistan’s hillside resorts.

The town of Shaqlawa, about 50 kilometres from the capital Erbil, lies at the base of Mount Safeen which is nearly 2,000 metres high at its peak. It has several fruit orchards, a food market, restaurants and hotels. Further away deeper into the mountains and gorges, Gali Ali Beg and Bekhal waterfalls and the water source at Jundyan offer beautiful scenery and a place to stop and enjoy lunch or a drink at the outdoor restaurants, or simply sit down to enjoy your own picnic in a quiet spot.

Take a drive through the deep gorge called Gali Ali Beg, along the famous Hamilton Road that passes through some of the finest scenery in Kurdistan. At the end of the gorge is the hillside town of Rawandoz, which was the capital of Soran principality until the 19th century. Visitors in Rawandoz can stay in chalets or in holiday homes in Pank Resort. The resort hosts rides and a roller-coaster sledge ride, and is surrounded by mountain views.

At Haji Umran, where you will find the Kurdistan Region’s highest mountains, the spa water is renowned locally for treating ailments and the highlands usually remain green through summer.

About 70 kilometres from Slemani, the picturesque Dokan and Derbendikhan lakes are lined with cabins for visitors to enjoy boating or swimming. The lakes are a result of hydroelectric power dams built decades ago. At Ahmadawa, east of Slemani, springs form several waterfalls surrounded by walnut, pomegranate and fig trees, attracting visitors to their cool shade.

In Duhok province at Silav resort, open-air restaurants provide a view looking up to the nearby ancient town of Amedi (Amadiyah), which sits atop a two-kilometre wide plateau. Muslims and Christians have lived alongside each other for centuries in this small town. In former times, it was also home to a thriving Jewish community. Amadiya offers a wonderful view of the nearby valleys and gorges.

The best time to visit Kurdistan is March when people celebrate Nawroz, the New Year marked by the spring equinox, by having picnics and dancing in the hills and valleys. In October and November, the weather is very pleasant and still warm enough to enjoy sightseeing.

Cities

Erbil and Slemani each have a museum holding collections of antiquities, statues and remains from the Region, while Duhok Traditional Museum displays Kurdistan’s folklore and heritage.

Inside the ancient citadel of Erbil, you will find a beautiful traditional rugs and textiles at the Kurdish Textile Museum. The museum also showcases and preserves textile techniques by traditional tribes and endangered nomads of Kurdistan.

The citadel offers great views over the city. Erbil also benefits from an archeological museum and near the town centre is the Sheikh Chooli Minaret, built by Sultan Mozafared and inscribed with Kufic calligraphy. Sami Abdul Rahman Park, stretching over many hectares, is the ideal place to enjoy greenery, peace and quiet without having to leave the city.

Slemani, Kurdistan's cultural capital, has a bustling bazaar as well as the modern Altun shopping centre and a bowling alley. At the large Azadi Park, children can use the playground, swimming pool and artificial lakes. The public garden in the city centre features statues of poets and writers.

Erbil has been named the 2014 Arab Tourism Capital by the Arab Council of Tourism. The city plans to host at least 40 different events and activities in 2014, ranging from skydiving, ice-skating, and a marathon, to traditional Kurdish arts and culture.
The Kurdistan Region's three main cities are developing rapidly, and now have modern shopping malls for visitors who want to go to cafes offering internet access and looking for international retail brands.

Security in the Region

The security situation in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq is very different from the rest of Iraq. There are fewer than 200 US soldiers stationed in Kurdistan and not a single coalition soldier has lost their life in the Region since the start of the conflict in 2003.
The official Regional guard, the Peshmerga forces, are highly trained and experienced in providing security. The Asayish (or police security force) work in close cooperation with the Peshmerga (or regional guard) to provide comprehensive protection against threats and help with routine police matters.

To maintain the level of peace in Kurdistan, there are checkpoints on the borders and city perimeters. Separate advice must be sought for travel throughout Iraq outside of the Kurdistan Region. We also recommend that visitors consult travel advice issued by their country of domicile for visiting other parts of Iraq.

Visas

Please check with your nearest Iraqi Embassy about visa requirements and the application process. The KRG Representations abroad do not issue Iraqi visas, but can advise travellers on requirements. For information about visas, please click here, contact your nearest KRG Representation abroad, or email dfr@krg.org.

Flights to the Kurdistan Region

The Kurdistan Region has two international airports: Erbil International Airport and Slemani International Airport. A new international airport is under construction in Duhok. Most flights operating from Europe and the Middle East fly directly to Kurdistan, without going via Baghdad. Several IATA scheduled carriers already fly to Erbil, and more IATA airlines are expected to start flights there. Several charter companies also operate flights to Erbil or Slemani. More information on the Erbil and Slemani airports can be found on their websites:

www.erbilairport.net
www.sul-airport.com

Overland route to the Kurdistan Region

Overland entry into the Kurdistan Region is possible through Turkey. The suggested route is to fly to Istanbul Ataturk Airport and then take a two-hour domestic flight to Diyarbakir. (Turkish visas can be obtained on arrival at Istanbul Airport. Baggage may have to be retrieved from the International Terminal and checked in at the Domestic Terminal.)

At Diyarbakir Airport taxis can be hired to drive to the Ibrahim Khalil/Habur border crossing point, Turkey’s border with the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Many drivers do this journey frequently and are familiar with the route. It is advisable to settle the price beforehand, a guide price is USD 150, and to check that the driver has the necessary paper work to take passengers over the border. Because of the journey time it is advisable to start the overland journey in the early morning, staying overnight in Diyarbakir if necessary.

After crossing the border at Ibrahim Khalil, another taxi can take you to your destination in the Kurdistan Region. The approximate journey time from Diyarbakir to the border is 4 hours; then from the border to Dohuk is 1.5 hours; to Erbil 4 hours; and to Slemani 6 hours. There are alternative routes via Iran and Syria but these are less frequently travelled.

Currency

The local currency is the Iraqi Dinar. US Dollars are also widely used. Exchange rates as of 10 March 2014:

1 US Dollar = 1,162 Iraqi Dinars
1 Euro = 1,614 Iraqi Dinars
1 British Pound = 1,942 Iraqi Dinars

Please be aware that there are currently few ATM machines or credit card facilities. Cash is the only method of payment in the vast majority of shops, hotels and restaurants. Ensure you take enough with you in US dollars or Iraqi dinars for all your expenses including the hotel bill. Exchange facilities are available at the airport, international hotels and exchange shops in the bazaars.

Weather

Summer months (May-September) are very hot and dry, especially on the Erbil Plain, often reaching temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius. It is slightly cooler in the evenings and in the mountainous regions around Dohuk and Slemani. The winter months can be cool with rain and some snowfall.

Electrical appliances

Voltage is 220v. Both UK three-pronged and European two-pronged plugs are in use. Visitors are advised to take a universal adapter with them. Adapters can also be purchased in small electrical shops in the bazaars of towns and cities.

Mobile phones & internet connection

Asiacell, Korek, and Zain are the Kurdistan Region’s largest mobile phone service operators, and have roaming agreements with several foreign operators, including European and American companies. If you wish to use your mobile locally please check with your mobile phone service operator whether it has a roaming agreement with these networks.

Rather than using your home mobile SIM card, it is advised to buy a local SIM card which are inexpensive and can be purchased in many shops throughout the Region. Top-up payment cards for local SIMs are widely available.

Internet connection is now available in many hotels and most cafes and restaurants. Not all connections are broadband speed. It is also possible to buy an internet USB stick and top-up credit.

Postal and freight services

International letters and packages can be sent by normal post to and from the Kurdistan Region, but postage times are longer than normal. As postal or zip codes have only recently been introduced to the Kurdistan Region, it is important to put the mobile phone number of the recipient on the envelope or parcel. The post office in Erbil is near the Citadel, close to the old court building. Please ask for directions. The Arabic word for post, which is also used in Kurdish, is ‘bareed’.

Fedex, DHL and TNT offer air freight services to and from Kurdistan, please contact them for details.

National holidays

A list of national holidays and important dates is available here.

Food and drink

Kurdish cuisine is based on lamb, chicken, rice and bread, and the use of many fresh herbs and vegetables. Fish served in restaurants is often barbecued over an open fire to make a traditional Iraqi dish called mazgouf. Fresh fruit or baklava, a Middle Eastern flaky pastry and nut dessert, is usually served with sweet black tea, after the main course.

While many types of fruit and vegetables are available throughout the year, seasonal and local products, such as wild asparagus, native rhubarb, green almonds and buffalo yoghurt, are highly prized and enjoyed. Black tea with sugar is the most popular beverage both inside and outside the home. Drinking alcohol in moderation is acceptable in some restaurants and hotels. Drunken and loud behaviour is frowned upon.

Kurdish phrases

There are two dialects of Kurdish spoken in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq: Kurmanji, spoken mainly in Dohuk, and Sorani, spoken in Erbil and Slemani.

How are you?  - Choni?
I am good - bashm
Good morning - Bayani Bash
Good afternoon/evening - Ewara Bash
Good night - Shaw Bash
Good day - Roj Bash
Welcome - Bakher Bey
How much is this? - Ama ba chanda?
Yes - Bale
No - Na
Please - Bey-zahmet/T’kaya
Thank you - Supas / Mamnoon
You’re welcome - Shayani niya
Mr Ahmed - Kak Ahmed (honorific term for men)
Miss/Mrs Sayran - Sayran Khan (honorific term for women)
With pleasure - Sarchow
Excuse me – Bibura / Ba yarmateet
Do you speak English - Inglizi ezani?
I don’t speak Kurdish - Kurdi nazanm
One - Yek
Two - Doo
Three - Say
3000 Dinar - Say Hazar Dinar
Tea - Chai