Sunday, October 7, 2007

recent articles

A statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government with their take on role of federalism in Iraq (KRG, 7 October 2007)

This is a good overview of the current situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, including a good analysis of Kirkuk:
Security may trump ethnicity in Kirkuk (LA Times, 29 September 2007)

The numbers for September report the fewest deaths in Iraq in over a year. 54% of all deaths were in Baghdad, though, with Diyala and Nineveh (both bordering Iraqi Kurdistan) the next most violent. This does indicate the south of Iraq is relatively safer. Watch this space.
Iraqi deaths fall by 50% (Kurdish Globe, 2 October 2007)

Erbil's Nishtiman mall is the biggest construction project in Kurdistan:
The future of Erbil bazaar is in Nishtiman market (Kurdish Globe, 19 September 2007)

Yet another feature article about the prospects for Iraqi Kurdistan:

Kurdistan: Does independence beckon? (The Economist, September 13, 2007)

And for anyone foolish who is thinking of holidaying in southern Iraq, as I have heard reports of, consider these next articles about the British withdrawal from Basra. All is not peaceful down there. Don't go.

"The departure of UK forces... is likely to precipitate a free-for-all among rival local groupings for control in Iraq's second city.
Fearing Shia chaos in Iraq (The Economist Intelligence Unit, September 5th, 2007)
Last post in Basra (The Economist, September 6th, 2007)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

safety in south-eastern Turkey

Travellers should exercise caution coming to Iraqi Kurdistan through Sirnak province in Turkey, the province the border town of Silopi is a part of. Stay on the bus going on the main roads to Silopi.

During September there was substantial violence between the Turkish military and the PKK, resulting in numerous deaths. Hakkari and Siirt provinces have also experienced substantial violence.

Also, Turkey has shelled villages on the Iraqi side of the border over the summer. It's probably not a good idea to visit those villages at risk of further shelling.

Source: this article from the New Anatolian, 5 October 2007.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is it possible to travel across the Kurdistan/Iran border?

A. As far as I know it is not officially possible (and I don't recommend an illegal crossing). If you want to travel between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran it is necessary to go back through Turkey.

Q. Do I need a visa for Iraqi Kurdistan?

A. No. Generally at the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing at Zakho you are permitted entry without a visa, and I assume it is the same at Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports. The passport stamp requires registration within 10 days at the Residence Office. You need to ask around to find this office.

With this entry stamp in your passport you may still exit the Kurdistan region. For instance, entering Kirkuk you will not be stopped. But don't think this is a great reason to visit Kirkuk or Mosul or anywhere else dangerous. It is likely that within a few hours of arriving there will be a price on your head. Don't go.

If you want to enter Iraqi through any other border or airport (ie. Baghdad) you need a visa in advance, which apparently can be difficult to get. And those regions are not recommended for travel either.

Q. What is the exchange rate for the Iraqi dinar?

A. The official rate is around 1250 dinar to US$1. The unofficial rate on the street can be up to 1400 dinar to US$1. It varies depending on the bank or money-changer. US bills below $10 are not always accepted.

Q. How much money should I take for my Kurdistan trip?

A. I recommend at least US$50 per day while within Iraqi Kurdistan, plus money for travel in and out.

US$50 includes $15 for accomodation, $15 for a shared taxi ride between towns, plus $20 for food and other miscellaneous costs.

You should allow at least US$300 for a flight out, or if going via the Turkish border, enough money for a taxi all the way to Silopi, so allow $50 from Zakho, $80 from Dohuk or up to $100 from Erbil. These are upper estimates to allow for being ripped off or having to pay for a whole taxi without sharing the cost.

Q. What are the costs of travelling between cities in Iraqi Kurdistan?

A. For more detail see this page. Generally one seat in a shared taxi costs US$15 for the following regular journeys, each between two and four hours:

Zakho - Dohuk
Dohuk - Erbil
Erbil - Sulaymaniyah (costs more if you want to avoid driving through Kirkuk)

There are shared taxis and minibuses which travel between smaller towns which you can find at various garages in each city.

Q. What other places are worth visiting apart from the main cities?

A. From Dohuk, there are the mountain towns of Amadiyya and Akre to the east.
From Erbil, there are the mountain resort towns of Salahaddin, Shaqlawa, Bekhal and Gali Ali Beg in dramatic mountain valleys.
From Sulaymaniyah, there is Halabja to the south-east, and Dukan and Derbendikhan dams nearby, with lakeside cabins available.
Some more info is here (from the KRG).

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Zakho is the Kurdish Iraqi city at the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing. With a population somewhere around 90,000, this city is mainly a trading post. If you go straight from the border to Dohuk in a taxi, all you will see of Zakho is hundreds of empty trucks waiting to get back into Turkey, so that they can return with a full load of goods to sell in Iraq.

Zakho's main attraction for tourists is the famous ancient stone Delal Bridge.

Many thanks to Usva Auer, who sent the following info on Zakho:

All the hotels mentioned here have A/C and cable TV. Most have probably fridge. I don't know if the price of the doubles is the same for two people.

Hotel Sinor - Near Der Masseh church by the river. Single/twin 13 000 dinar (10 USD).

Good, modern rooms; very good value. Big bed, quiet location, but at night the street to the hotel not well lighted. In the neighbourhood there are a few more hotels. The hotel staff aren't used to foreigners and don't speak any foreign languages but are willing to try their best.

Hotel Zozek - Reka Barzan/Baderkhan str, near the best hotel in the city Hotel Bazaaz. Double 15 000 dinar (12 USD).

Welcoming staff! The owner speaks some English and is very honoured to have foreign guests. The price includes, suprisingly, a breakfast which is not usually served in the Kurdish hotels. And that is a big breakfast! Quiet, modern rooms, sparkling clean toilets.

Hotel Arya - On the main street as Hotel Zozek but at the other end. Double room for 20 000 dinar (15 USD).

This location is perfect for the nightlife. Several late night restaurants and a cyber cafe in the neighbourhood. Good location for single female travellers. Some rooms come with balcony facing a rather busy street. The rooms without balcony face a quieter alley and are probably cheaper. Decent rooms but not as nice as in Zozek and Sinor though.


According to this article from the Kurdish Globe, there has been a cholera outbreak in Suleymaniyah and Kirkuk. This is extra reason to be very careful about the water you drink and the food you eat while in Kurdistan. Be sensible.

Friday, August 31, 2007

a recent blog on Kurdistan

Mart, from Holland, has posted about his recent trip to Kurdistan.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

more links

Some websites I recently came across:

A teaser from the KRG about a couple of the 1,307 archaelogical sites in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Some basic Kurdish language info (including basic phrases) from the KRG.

The Kurdistan Tourism website has a pretty basic guide/blurb (in PDF form) for each of Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah Governorates, including some places I didn't get to. Worth a look.

The Kurdistan Corporation has a page with link to some maps, but they're more schematic maps than anything terribly helpful for a visitor.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


On Wednesday May 9, a truck bomb exploded in Erbil outside the KRG Interior Ministry building, next to the citadel. At least 19 people were killed with 100 injured. This just shows that Kurdistan is still not immune from the violence that affects the rest of Iraq. Please ensure you stay up to date on the security situation and be as safe as possible in the decisions you make in travelling to or within Iraqi Kurdistan.

Truck Bomb in Erbil

Friday, March 16, 2007


Sulaymaniyah (see map) is a beautiful city, encircled by mountain ridges. Locals will tell you that it's the most modern city in Iraqi Kurdistan, the place where new fashions and trends are adopted first... that sort of thing. It has a population close to one million, and like every city in the region, growing quickly. Taxis around town are between 2,000 and 5,000 dinar, depending on the distance. There are also minibuses that ply various routes.

Hotels- I don't have much info on Suly's hotels, as I didn't stay in any, but thanks to Usva Auer I have the following info:

Hotel Chrakhan- On Salim Street, next to Ashti Hotel. Normal price for a double around 25 USD. (Special price: Double 20 000 / 15 USD, this price was fixed by a friend of the owner: I was lucky to share a taxi with him).

Probably the cheapest hotel in this, the better/newer side of the city. A little bit worn out but still OK. Private bathrooms (unlike the budget rooms in the city). The front rooms come with a balcony (and some street noise) while the rooms at the back are quieter but no balcony. Electricity in the morning and in the evening till the midnight. The owner, if in Iraq, speaks some Swedish. There's a very nice salad bar downstairs the hotel.

Mewan Hotel- Pyramed Street, Bazaar. Triple 10 000 dinars (7 USD).

This is the cheapest hotel I found in Kurdistan. The hotel is a bit gloomy and rooms are very basic but considering the price better than one can expect. There's a fridge on the corridor, don't recall if there was an A/C or TV in the room. Bathroom shared between two rooms. Electricity only in the evening. The young staff was very welcoming and knew some English! A cheap lunch restaurant around the corner.

Bukan Motel- Pyramed Street, Bazaar. Suite for two 26 000 dinar (20 USD). Cheaper rooms were not introduced to me. The old fashioned suite shares the bathroom with another room. What makes this hotel special is the kitchen guests can use. Staff was very enthousiatic selling the room.

Hotel Tara- Pyramed Street, Bazaar. Single 20 000 dinar (15 USD), double for one 25 000 dinar. Nothing fancy but OK. Doubles are better value than singles. The batroom is shared between three rooms. Matresses are not the best quality. Singles facing the street can be noicy.

Hiwa Hotel- 15,000 dinar ($12). On Kawa Street. Friendly. Will find a roommate for you, to reduce the price to 13,000 dinar.

Mawlawi Hotel- also on Kawa St, right at the main intersection. I'm told it's quite cheap.

There are quite a few hotels on Kawa Street, near the bazaar.

More expensive hotels are the Sulaymaniyah Palace Hotel (the tallest one on Salim Street) and the Ashti Hotel, also on Salim St.

Museums- not sure exactly where these are. There is the Sulaymaniyah National Museum (closed Fri, Sat, Sun), and a separate torture museum, often called the 'red house prison', detailing the horrors of Saddam's regime (ask for 'Amna Saraca'). Walking distance from the bazaar.

Bazaar- very large, in the centre of town, with some US army surplus available.

eating- Have an awesome Suly-style kebab on Mawlawi Street- it involves bread, kebab, tomato and onion all separate, and you put it together yourself into bite-sized rolls. Delicious! Also eat at a regular workmen's restaurant (ie. #12 on the map), having some quality rice, chicken, soup, fasulye (baked beans) and probably a fun conversation.

drinking- For chay, there is a great men's chay khane (teahouse) at number 6 on the map, where people will be eager to talk about your country's possibilities of investing in Kurdistan and such ambitious topics. There are numerous tea stalls at various intersections on main roads, and it's always worth having one.

I only know of one bar, whose entrance is on the side street to the left of the Ashti Hotel. The bar is on the first floor, and I saw no women inside. Imported Turkish beer and spirits available. Inevitably you'll end up enjoying some local hospitality.

Post office- This is just off Mawlawi Street. It's 1,250 dinar (US$1) for a letter to Australia, so I doubt anywhere else would cost more.

Airline offices are on Salim Street, near the Ashti Hotel. Suleymaniyah airport is to the west of the city, not too far away.

Azmar mountain- If you look up in Suly you'll see the ubiquitous PUK-TV tower on Azmar mountain. You can take a taxi up here, but it's not cheap. Something like 15,000 dinar. Great views of the city, and also over the ridges towards more mountains, and Iran to the east.


Getting to Halabja is easy for a day. You go out of Hotel Hiwa and go left, take the first right by all the fruit and veg sellers and there is a garage down there on the right. Take the Shahedun bus to the Halapja garage (250) and from there take a bus to Halabja (2500), they leave when full or evey 30 mins it seemed. Make sure you go to Old Halabja (Shaheed Halabja), not the new city (Taza Halabja), its only 80kms and takes about 2 hours.

There is the damaged monument to see there (damaged in protests last year), if you go, go to the visitor's centre next to the monument, the guys in there are surviors of the chemical attack and speak good English and will show you around. You also get a free information book on Halabja, a pin badge and a CD-ROM. Go to the visitors office before you start taking pictures etc as there is a police station opposite who map pick you up. I spent about 40 mins in the police station and in another down the road, they were really nice and no problem but best avoided (they even gave me an armed gaurd for the day to follow me about the city, just a bit OTT!).

The last bus back to Suli leaves about 3.30ish.

(thanks to George a.k.a. scubamonkey69, and Usva Auer)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Getting around between cities

The main form of public transport between the major cities in Iraqi Kurdistan is shared taxi. Cars are generally white and orange sedans, some large, some quite small. Some newer, some older and beat-up. The roads between cities are not very safe for driving, with usually just one lane in each direction, and over-taking a dangerous activity. I witnessed one head-on collision.


Taxis seem to only travel on roads controlled by Kurdish forces. There are LOTS of security checkpoints, probably 10 or more on a 3 hour journey, usually before and after towns. You have nothing to fear at these checkpoints, in fact you should be grateful for them keeping Iraqi Kurdistan safe from terrorists. At some the soldier will just wave the taxi through, but at most ID will be checked. Have your passport ready. At some checkpoints, they'll want to check on foreigners more carefully, and you may end up being questioned by the head official. Just be honest and open and you should be fine. But, if they're suspicious of you, it helps to have a local Kurdish contact who can vouch for you.


Generally there is a normal price for one car, and this price is divided by the number of passengers. Usually you will end up waiting until enough passengers come to fill up all the seats.

In Dohuk, the taxi offices are next to the Hotel Birjin. In Erbil, get in a local taxi and ask for the "Suly Garage" if you're going to Sulaymaniyah. In Sulaymaniyah, "Erbil Garage" etc.

Zakho border - Dohuk: $45 per car, approx 1 hour.
Zakho border - Erbil: $90 per car, approx 4 hours.

Dohuk - Erbil: 20,000 dinar ($16) per person. 80,000 dinar per car. Approx 3 hours. The road goes close to Mosul, but doesn't actually pass through. Apparently the road is controlled by Kurdish forces, but a few soldiers I saw had Iraqi flags on their shoulders...

Erbil - Sulaymaniyah: 15,000 dinar ($12) per person. 3-4 hours. The cartel at the 'Suly Garage' in Erbil were shifty guys, constantly changing prices and 'extra charges' for having a large bag. Be firm in your negotiations. The road between Erbil and Suly passes through the north-eastern suburbs of Kirkuk. I heard that this road is safe, and controlled by Kurdish forces, but the vibes weren't good. Thankfully it only took around 30 minutes to pass through Kirkuk.

Sulaymaniyah - Erbil: 15,000 dinar ($12) per person, 3-4 hours. Takes the same route as above, through Kirkuk's suburbs.

If for some reason you think travelling in a 4WD/SUV would be safer, think again. They are more likely to be targeted for attacks. I sat next to a VIP in one taxi. He said he travelled like this to stay safe.

And if you are bloody crazy you can get a taxi or even minibus from Erbil just to Kirkuk, or even Baghdad. Seriously, you would have to be a foolhardy dunce with a death wish to do this as a foreigner.


Erbil (a.k.a. Hewler, Arbil, Irbil) is the biggest city in Iraqi Kurdistan, and plays an integral role in society and the economy, situated right in the middle of the region. There is a lot of investment in Erbil, with some large construction projects underway, including the new international airport terminal, luxury residential developments, and industrial projects also.

Arriving in Erbil (basic maps here) you can't ignore Erbil's citadel- the ancient mound in the centre of Erbil is one of the "oldest continuously inhabited" communities in the world, and is undergoing significant change. It's worth wandering around the deserted streets, and you should not miss out on its Kurdish Textile Museum, a fantastic witness to Kurdish culture and tradition.

There is ample opportunity for shopping, with the large covered bazaar just south of the citadel, surrounding market streets, and the huge new Nishtiman Mall, which opened in 2007.

There is a cluster of bookshops in a little strip facing the west side of the citadel. Apart from many Kurdish publications, there are a few English titles on Kurdistan which can be found, although tend to be a little out of date, or on esoteric academic topics. Worth a look if you're interested.

South-west of the citadel is the minare, a broken minaret which is the only remainder of a once-important mosque. It has a surrounding park that is unfortunately rather bare-looking.

Outside Erbil, there are numerous mountain resort towns that can be visited for a quieter rest in the mountains. Salahaddin, Shaqlawa, Rawanduz, Bekhal and Gali Ali Beg are situated north of Erbil in allegedly picturesque mountain valleys. Unfortunately I've not yet visited these places and so don't have information on getting there. Presumably if you get to the bus terminal in Erbil you can find some public transport, otherwise I'm sure any taxi driver would be pleased to drive you up into the mountains for a handsome fee.

Erbil Hotels

Erbil has many hotels (see maps), from the horrendous to the luxurious. Most are in and surrounding the bazaar area just south of the citadel. Some of these places have the potential to set themselves up as a good quality backpacker hostel. Somewhere like the Qandeel or Zheen or Ali Hotels. It'll just take someone with the will and knowledge to make it happen. Even the hellish Al-Thur Hotel could be set up as a good place, it's certainly got plenty of rooms. Every place would be better if only hotels would place a value on cleanliness and high standards. I think it can and will happen, it might just take a 'critical mass' of tourists to get it to that stage.

I was travelling by myself, and most hotels didn't have such a thing as a single room- a room might have 2 or 3 beds, and costs the same regardless of how many people sleep in it. So keep in mind, prices are probably cheaper if you're not alone. Also, try bargaining.

Keep in mind that electricity is in short supply and will probably go off at least a few times each evening. Unless stated otherwise, all toilets are squat toilets and all showers are just over the floor with a drain in the corner. Hot water is precious if you are lucky enough to get it. "$" refers to US dollars, and is an approximate equivalent. And above all, things change.

The hotels:

Qandeel Hotel - 20,000 dinar ($16). In the curved building on the corner facing the main gate of the citadel, Qandeel offers the best value of the cheaper hotels I looked at. Pretty clean, satellite TV and private bathroom (in some rooms). If you ask, they will find someone for you to share a room with for 10,000 dinar. I stayed here.

Ali Hotel - 20,000 dinar ($16). TV in room, bathroom shared. Clean-looking.

Zheen Hotel
- 20,000 dinar ($16) per single bed, in a shared room, with toilet. I suspect bargaining may be possible here.

Zagros Hotel - 30,000 dinar ($24). Next to the Ali Hotel, didn't get a chance to look at a room.

Bekhal Hotel - 30,000 dinar ($24). Across the road from Zheen Hotel, this place looked clean from the lobby. Didn't see a room, but probably ok.

Arbil Tower Hotel - 55,000 dinar ($44) / single. A tallish brown building a bit away from the bazaar, this place is an older hotel that was once the best in town.

Erbil International Hotel - a.k.a. "The Sheraton". This is the swankiest place in the city, and you can see its 10-floor blue glass exterior from the bazaar area. Price- very expensive. Features- restaurant, bar (with Corona or Heineken for 8,500 dinar/ $6.50), travel agent (although tickets are issued elsewhere), and a branch of the Emerald Bank, where you can apparently withdraw money on a Visa Card (NOT MasterCard, to my displeasure). Even though staying here is a pipe dream, its worth a visit if you're craving a good quality toilet, Euro-style.

Shahraban Tourist Hotel
- $25. Claimed to be the cheapest place in town. The fact that they lied makes me disinclined to recommend them.

Al-Thur Hotel - 15,000 dinar ($12). (Opposite the Shahraban Tourist Hotel). Though the cheapest place in town, it's for a reason. This place has the aesthetics of a Soviet orphanage, with dark, bleak, asylum-style corridors and bare rooms with the charm of a prison cell. There were cigarette ashes and other dirt on my floor, nothing had been cleaned, and the basin in the odourous bathroom was loose. While the staff were friendly, this is the worst hotel I've ever stayed in in my whole life. Please, don't settle for this hole, like I did on my first night in Erbil. Stay at the Qandeel, Ali or Zheen.

There are numerous other places to stay, mainly around the bazaar area but also a few more pricey ones near the Arbil Tower Hotel. Always check on prices and ask to see your room before you check in.

A typical hallway in Al-Thur hotel.

Behind the reception desk at Qandeel Hotel.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Dohuk hotels

There are lots of hotels in Dohuk (see map). Most are on the two main roads either side of the bazaar area- Kawa Road and 11 Ayloul Road. I only checked the prices of the hotels on Kawa Rd, but I'm sure this is a good sample. Thanks to Usva Auer for help with info on some of the hotels.

I was travelling by myself, and most hotels didn't have such a thing as a single room- a room might have 2 or 3 beds, and costs the same regardless of how many people sleep in it. So keep in mind, prices are probably cheaper if you travel with someone.

Keep in mind that electricity is in short supply and will probably go off at least a few times each evening. Unless stated otherwise, all toilets are squat toilets and all showers are just over the floor with a drain in the corner. Hot water is precious if you are lucky enough to get it. "$" refers to US dollars, and is an approximate equivalent. And above all, things change.

Hotel Perleman
- 20,000 dinar ($16). This was the best value in town (for me), with a relatively low price, but clean. The friendly guys who run this place can help you with directions around town, and probably invite you to sit and have a chat. Room includes small bathroom, KurdSat TV, small fridge, heating/air con. The door is on the side street 10m from the corner (I stayed here). Others have said that the rooms away from the street are tiny and not good value at all. Make sure you check if the A/C is working.

Darya Hotel - 15,000 dinar ($12). Good value, apparently very clean. Rooms have private bathroom.

Hotel Birjin- $30/single, $40/double. Breakfast included. Sometimes spelt 'Bircin', this 2005-built hotel seems to be the upmarket choice in Dohuk. I almost stayed here just for the beautiful Euro-style toilet & bath. Room has TV and minibar.

Besire Palace Hotel - 25,000 dinar ($20) for something that looked only slightly better quality than Perleman. Plus the reception guy told me a cheaper rate originally, then when I came back to check in it had gone up a lot, then I bargained back down to this price which didn't seem worth it. But, at least it's nice and clean.

Ashawa Hotel - Prices quoted vary from 13,000 - 25,000 dinar ($10- 20). On 11 Ayloul Rd, the main road parallel to Kawa Street. This place is overpriced considering you can get the same quality for 10,000 dinar less (depends what price they quote). Perhaps you should try bargaining. One traveller said "Best of the cheapies. Worn out rooms but massive in size. Some rooms come with a balcony and bathrooms have a bath. "

Kordo Hotel- Suites 20-25 USD. Huge rooms with a living room. Quiet environment, cool rooms in the summer heat. Western toilets. Best value suites in the city.

Duhok Palace Hotel- Single 20,000 dinar (15 USD). Also bigger rooms available. All rooms modern and good quality. On 11 Ayloul Road.

Abin Hotel- Single 30 000 (23 USD). Excellent rooms with massive beds and beautiful decoration. Western toilets. The owner speaks good English and one of the staff knows some German.
On 11 Ayloul Road.

Sulaymani Palace Hotel- Single 20 000 dinar (15 USD). Basic rooms, hard mattress. The staff was welcoming though and promised I could use the internet in the lobby for a small fee. One of the guys knew some English.
On 11 Ayloul Road.

Gara Hotel - 15,000 dinar ($12). Shared bathroom. Not a great hotel, just a step above scungy.

Salahaddin Hotel - looks cheap and crummy, in the lobby at least. The power went out as I came in so I didn't see any rooms.

Biryaety Hotel - 20,000 dinar ($16). Worst value of them all in Dohuk. I made the mistake of staying here my first night. The shared toilets are gross (wear boots as the flush splashes the floor), my bedroom was freezing cold, and there was a large hole in the top of the wall which meant I could clearly hear my neighbour snoring loudly. The satellite TV wouldn't turn on again after I turned it off. Do yourself a favour and stay at the Perleman for the same price, but much better quality.

Biryaety- it may not look that bad, but it is.
Biryaety- worse than it looks.

Getting into Iraqi Kurdistan

1. From Syria
2. From Turkey
3. Crossing the border
4. Zakho
5. By air
6. From Iraq

The best (and cheapest) way to get into Iraqi Kurdistan is through the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing, which is in the city of Zakho in Iraq, and a few kilometres from the town of Silopi on the Turkish side. Going this way means you don't have to pass through the dangerous parts of Iraq (the non-Kurdish-controlled areas). Alternatively (but much more expensively), it's possible to fly into Erbil or Suleymaniyah from a few Middle Eastern and European cities.

From Syria:

Get to Qamishli, in North-eastern Syria. The 9 hour bus ride from Damascus should cost around SYP300 (US$6). Once in Qamishli, you can walk (10 min) north from the city centre to the border post with Nusaybin, Turkey. If it's too late to cross the border, Hotel Omayya (SYP 300/single, dirty toilets) is a stark little place, in the city centre on the road to the border.

On the Turkish side, in addition to the tourist visa, for which there is usually a fee, there is a small extra 5 lira ($4). Get an overpriced taxi (or walk for 15 min) to the Nusaybin Otogar, from where you can catch a passing bus direct to Silopi (7.5 lira / $6, 2 hours).

From Turkey:

Get to Silopi, the border town on the Turkish side. I would advise that you DON'T waste your money on a taxi all the way from Diyarbakir (as I have heard some recommend), but take a much cheaper bus all the way to Silopi. Buses go there from Cizre (nearby larger city), Mardin, Diyarbakir, Sirnak, and most likely a few other places. Turkish Airlines flies to Mardin a few times per week.

Once in Silopi, the only public transport across the border is by taxi. The local cartel will charge US$40 per taxi for this service (feel free to try to bargain), dropping you off at the taxi rank on the Iraqi side (but should still help you to negotiate your Iraqi taxi fare). The taxi driver should help you at each border check. Before you leave he'll make some photocopies of your passport to give to Turkish passport control.

Crossing the border:

IMPORTANT: Please be aware that the 'Kurdish issue' is very contentious in Turkish politics and it is worth avoiding talking about it with the border officials, or any Turkish security personnel. Also terrorism is a concern for both sides, so don't act suspiciously, or you may end up in trouble.

On the Turkish side it is rather quick for small vehicles to cross- it only took 15 minutes for me. I don't know if my driver bribed anyone or not.

On the Iraqi Kurdistan side, you will sit and wait in a little lounge area, with tea & TV. Kurdish passport control will ask questions about your occupation and reasons for visiting Iraq, and may ask for verification like documents, ID cards, etc. If you have any local contacts they will probably take the name & phone number and give them a call to make sure your story checks out. I have heard that some men travelling alone have been made to wait for a few days at the border- it didn't happen to me but be aware it is possible. Be open and honest, and if you have nothing to hide you should be fine. But it may be easier not to travel alone, and it's definitely preferable to have a local contact to vouch for you.

You don't have to pay for an Iraqi visa if entering by this post, it's just a big fat page-sized stamp in the passport and that's it.

After passport control you might be taken to meet a security official in an office building. He was welcoming to me, and insisted that I contact the local security office if I had any problems anywhere in Kurdistan.

You may change US dollars, Euros, or Turkish Lira into Iraqi Dinars at a small hidden bank office in a customs building. Ask around until you find it.
The exchange rate was about 1,300 Dinar = US $1. Based on that, the Turkish Lira would be around 900 Dinar (February 2007 rate).


Your driver will drive you another half kilometre to the taxi rank, where you can negotiate a taxi to Dohuk or Erbil, or you can stay in Zakho if you wish. There are bound to be numerous hotels in the centre of this city of perhaps up to 150,000 people. All I saw of Zakho was an industrial border town full of trucks- I don't know if it's worth staying, although apparently there is the famous old Delal Bridge (Pira Delal).

From Zakho, a car to Dohuk (around 1 hour) was $45, or $90 to Erbil (3-4 hours). These prices are for one whole car, so if you have 3 passengers divide that by 3. Other travellers will be willing to share a taxi. If you want to get to smaller towns & villages near Zakho, there should be a 'garage' in Zakho where you can find taxis that go to different places, including into the mountains.

By air:

There are flights into Erbil and Suleymaniyah from numerous cities, including Baghdad, Amman, Beirut, Dubai, Tehran, Istanbul, Vienna, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Munich. The flights are not cheap (except within Iraq). One way international tickets are anywhere from $290 to $500, and return is anywhere from $550 upwards.

These airlines tend to be charter operations and some have cancelled their operations to Iraqi Kurdistan. After cancelling its service in 2007, Austrian Airlines will start three direct flights per week from Vienna, starting April 2, 2008, and will increase to four per week in June 2008.

Erbil International Airport is currently very small, but a new, larger terminal is due to open around the end of 2007. Suleymaniyah International Airport was built in 2003, currently with a larger capacity than Erbil, and more information available online about flights, schedules, and prices.

2008: A new air service called IRAQUNA has started recently with flights to/from Athens, and an arrangement with Olympic Airlines for connecting flights to London (Gatwick), Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, and Stockholm. Prices (available on their website) are not cheap.

Airlines flying to Kurdistan (list includes travel agents in Kurdistan)

From non-Kurdish Iraq:

I strongly advise against travelling through Iraq to get to Kurdistan. It is sheer foolishness to go through dangerous parts of Iraq (all areas not controlled by the KRG). Bombs happen, shootings happen, abductions happen, and being foreign will just make you an easier target.

Violence in Iraq has dropped dramatically since June 2007. The figures are something like a 60% drop in violence year-on-year from January 2007 to January 2008. Violent deaths are down from around 2000 per months a year ago to less than 600 in January 2008. So things are much better, but still not great. I urge extreme caution if you are considering travelling outside the KRG's territory.

But if you're already in non-Kurdish Iraq, I presume there are taxis or minibuses from Mosul, Kirkuk and maybe Baghdad to the major Kurdish-controlled cities, as well as flights from Baghdad and Basra.

So, I must stress, STAY IN THE KURDISH REGION of Iraq. Don't be a hero and go somewhere else for the hell of it. It's just total stupidity. But if you're going to, at least avoid Mosul and Baquba, two main centres of violence and terrorist activities.

Thursday, March 8, 2007





General Kurdistan maps - from the Kurdistan Corporation, mainly schematic or regional maps.

Kurdistan region map - from's Iraq map page, which includes numerous useful maps.

Sulaymaniyah map

Clcik on the map for full size:

map of Suleymaniyah, Kurdistan, Iraq

Erbil / Hewler maps

Click on the map for full size:

Detailed map:

detailed map of Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq

Large-scale map:

large scale map of Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq

Please note that the building marked as 'new huge shopping ctr' is called the Nishtiman shopping mall (opened February 2007), as it overlooks Nishtiman Square.

Dohuk map

Click on the map to see full size:

Recent Updates

23 February 2008- new post on Turkey's invasion aimed at driving out the PKK.

18 February 2008- updated info and links on FAQs, more links, Sulaymaniyah, Erbil and airline info.

4 October 2007- added Frequently Asked Questions page.

1 September 2007- added info on Zakho and health.

16 May 2007- added more links.

10 May 2007- added safety concerns.

16 March 2007- added Suleymaniyah info.

10 March- added info on Erbil Hotels, and on getting around between cities.

9 March- added maps, and getting in & out info.

Monday, March 5, 2007

about this website, disclaimer

This website is an attempt to provide useful information to travellers who want to travel in Iraqi Kurdistan. There is currently no source with current information collected in the one place. It's a shame, because I found travelling here to be a rich experience. The hospitality and kindness of the Kurds surpasses anything I've come across before.

In Erbil, Lolan Mustafa, who runs the excellent Kurdish Textile Museum, said that when Tony Wheeler visited in April 2006 he promised that Lonely Planet would send a team to write a guide. This has not happened yet, but I believe their 2009 Middle East guide will possibly include more info on Iraqi Kurdistan.


Basically, check on things yourself, and be ready to adapt to change-

Things change a lot in a place like Iraqi Kurdistan. So facts on this website will change. Hence, while I have tried my best to be accurate, I take no responsibility for the accuracy of information on this website. The Thorn Tree Forum's Iraq page is a good place to check with other travellers on recent info.

Also, while Kurdistan is quite safe currently, things could change in that respect. Always keep up on news of violence and politics in Iraq and Kurdistan. You need to understand that it is still a small risk to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan. Always be cautious. There is some crime in the cities of Kurdistan after dark, so be wise about your movements. Also, the Turkish military often intimates that it may cross the border into Iraqi Kurdistan to chase down suspected PKK terrorists. So basically, always keep yourself up to date on current news.


Thanks to the other travellers to Iraqi Kurdistan who have been kind enough to give me extra info on places and sights I didn't get to see. So far this includes George (a.k.a. scubamonkey69) and some unnamed others.