Iraqi Kurdistan is a historically and culturally rich region with a turbulent legacy, but opportunities for travel here do exist. Join MT Sobek on a brand-new exploratory adventure through this minimally touristed area, experiencing first-hand its past glories and present struggles. Behold ancient Erbil - the world's oldest continuously inhabited city, tour third-century monasteries, the world's oldest-known bridge and aqueduct ruin, a biblical prophet's tomb, a mysterious Yazidi Pilgrimage site, explore Neanderthal Shanidar Cave, and learn about the moving history of Halabja. With expert guides leading you every step of the way, this is a unique chance to explore a spellbinding region of Iraq.
Experience ancient citadels, sacred monasteries, and holy villages, including mysteries of the Yazidi village of Lalish where visitors must remove their shoes to tread on the sacred ground
Journey through untouristed regions and experience the mystery - and warmth - of the local people
Via hiking, kayaking, and caving, immerse yourself in Kurdistan's incredible landscapes and unspoiled beauty
Upon arrival at Erbil International Airport, in the capital of Kurdistan, meet your guide outside of customs and transfer to the hotel. Have a drink in the lounge while receiving a briefing on your stay in Kurdistan, then enjoy a welcome dinner with the group.
After breakfast, tour the 7,000-year-old Erbil Citadel - the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth, currently under UNESCO-funded restoration. Once a Sumerian city, journeying Abraham allegedly passed through here, and Darius III fled here after facing defeat by Alexander the Great. Explore the citadel's famous Kurdish Textile Museum, then browse the food market and Qaysari Bazaar for jewelry, carpets, antiques, and delicacies. After a lunch of local cuisine, briefly visit 12th-century Choli Minaret, one of Erbil's most famous landmarks. Dinner is at the hotel's fine restaurant.
Depart Erbil for fourth-century Dayro d-Mor Matay Monastery (St. Matthew's Monastery) and a tour conducted by the monastery's monks, then continue to Gaugamela, site of the famous battle between King Darius III and Alexander the Great. Behold amazing Jirwana, the world's oldest-known bridge and aqueduct (from 690 BC). After lunch of traditional Kurdish fare, visit holy Lalish - pilgrimage site of the mysterious and fascinating Yazidi people - for a unique cultural experience amidst its famous shrines and welcoming residents. Arrive in Duhok in time for dinner.
Today visit Alqosh, the tomb of Old Testament prophet Nahum (7th-century BC), and ancient monasteries and churches carved into the mountains, including Rabban Hormizd Monastery, founded around 640. After lunch, in the beautiful region of Sarsinc near Gara Mountain, explore the ruins of Saddam Hussein's ten palaces, replete with man-made lakes and miles of sandstone steps alongside streams that led into the mountains where rocket emplacements guarded the valley. Return to hotel for dinner and an evening of local entertainment at one of Duhok's finest restaurants.
Leave for the ancient fortress city of Amadiya and its 100-foot-high minaret, pass by a third-century synagogue, and visit an ancient Egyptian madrassa reportedly founded by the University of Cairo centuries ago. Continue to Barzan, stopping at the Mullah Mustapha Memorial to learn about Kurdistan's most famous leader. Pass - and, if you choose, climb to - the famous Shanidar Cave, where Neanderthal remains were discovered in the 1950s. Travel the incredibly engineered Hamilton Road to Rawanduz, where one of the world's longest cable-car lifts carries you to the famed Korek Mountain Resort.
Today enjoy hiking in the stunning Rawanduz Gorge. Walk along a trail that borders the gorge, through a rocky valley crouched between the Korek and Bradost mountains. Enjoy a picnic lunch along the way. In the afternoon, return to Korek Mountain Resort to relax or explore the area. Enjoy dinner at the resort's restaurant, an incredible blend of culture and cuisine.
Travel to Sulymaniya, stopping in the beautiful town of Dokan for lunch. Upon arriving in Sulymaniya, visit the infamous Sulaymaniyah's Amna Suraka, or Red House. The cavern-like entrance of this prison turned museum is covered with tiny mirrors representing the more than 185,000 Kurds who Saddam Hussein "disappeared" during his bloody reign of terror. Visit Sulymaniya's bazaar, famous Sha'ab teahouse, and, time permitting, Goizha Mountain to enjoy a spectacular view for hundreds of miles to the Iranian border.
Visit the Sulymaniya Museum, Kurdistan's largest and Iraq's second-largest antiquities collection. Learn about the issues around preserving Kurdistan's antiquities. Depart for Halabja, one of the Kurdish villages attacked by Saddam's chemical weapons in 1988 that killed at least 5,000 people and injured an estimated 10,000. Today the city lives again - testimony to the Kurds' amazing resilience - and the Halabja Museum and Memorial Cemetery is both fascinating and moving. Gaze on the beautiful Ahmed Awa waterfall where we'll have a simple picnic lunch. Return to Sulaymaniya and freshen up in your hotel. A festive farewell dinner will be taken in one of Suly's fine dining establishments in the city.
After breakfast at the hotel, depart for Dokan Lake for some pleasant kayaking. Enjoy lunch around the lake. On the way back to Erbil, visit Koi Senjaq, an ancient caravanserai (hostel on the ancient Silk Road), and old Jewish silver bazaar. Upon arriving in Erbil, check into the hotel and get ready for a wonderful farewell dinner.
After breakfast at the hotel, have one final opportunity for a Q&A before departing for the airport and your flight home.
MT Sobek has been trailblazing edgy and unknown destinations for 50 years and creating exploratory adventures that few other companies run.
You will be in the company of expert guides who have over 25 years' experience leading groups in the Middle East and in Iraqi Kurdistan.
We have successfully operated trips throughout the Middle East, including to Iran, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.
Our expert guides and trip leaders are truly the key to our trips' success. Many are locals who live in-country year-round; others have made it their second home—all are passionate, enthusiastic and endlessly knowledgeable. Meet a few of the guides that might be on your trip.
Cultural touring by private van and on foot, with easy walks to discover ancient towns and historical wonders.
Elegant resorts with spacious rooms and modern amenities. Includes two nights at the stunning Korek Mountain Resort.
It's temperate and dry. Temperatures range from the low 50's to mid-70's F in March and from the mid-70's to low 100's F in September.
Our MT Sobek representative at the Erbil International Airport.
Yes. In 2019 we operated our first commercial group tour to this area. Prior to that, we sent our MT Sobek Middle East Program Director to scout, assess and familiarize for safety and quality.
Americans can get a free, 30-day visa on arrival at the airport in Erbil.
No, as you will be traveling to the semi-independent Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI), where there is a blossoming tourism industry and functioning economy.
No! Numerous European and Middle Eastern airlines have direct flights to Erbil. No need to connect in Baghdad.
We register each trip departure with the State Department and the US Consulate in Erbil for added safety.
Make any of our trips a custom adventure or start from scratch. Take two itineraries and match them up to create a unique third. Add extras and extensions and more...if you can imagine it, we can make it happen!
"Wow, I had a wonderful time in Iraqi Kurdistan and Balin is a fantastic guide! The mountain scenery is really exquisite, but it was the local people who drove this trip for me."
MT Sobek Guest, Iraqi Kurdistan Cultural Discovery
"Iraqi Kurdistan is an amazing country with a fascinating and ancient history. Balin Zrar is an extraordinary guide with excellent knowledge of his country's stories and customs."
MT Sobek Guest, Iraqi Kurdistan Cultural Discovery
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