Saturday, March 10, 2007


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many Kurdish publications, there are a few English titles on Kurdistan which can be found, although tend to be a little out of date, or on esoteric academic topics.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.


Anonymous said...

man thanks for this review it was really grat ive been searching for some english ones but its cinda hard to get by .. but senserly thnx and it was good but the price list could have been a bit better :)

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Anonymous said...

WARNING - Dana Hotel Erbil

We were four people staying in two separate rooms in Dana Hotel Erbil. We all had items stolen from our luggage.

We confronted the hotel and received some items back and after a visit to the police we received compensation from the hotel for the remaining items.

Their ploy is to steal items which you may not initially miss so that you are not sure when you have lost them.

Apart from this Iraqi Kurdistan has been a great experience with really friendly people.

Doudou said...

I have listed a few prices and travel tips on my own blog, if somebody needs it :

Thanks for your very useful blog. I don't know if you will come back here but it is still very interesting 3 years after !

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this useful blog; it was very helpful.


Anonymous said...

The high end luxury hotel scene in Erbil has grown a lot over the last year. We now have a Rotanna and a Divan. Marriott is building a luxury hotel too. These hotels are pricey even by international standards.

If you are hungry you may want to try the food court at Family Mall. Price ranges from 6000ID and up. Restaurants that cater to expats start at 16000ID and go up so I avoid them. A local felafel sandwich is 500ID when bought in a neighborhood. Many foreigners head to Ainkawa where there are quaint streets with a variety of eating places. It is walkable and they sell liquor there quite cheaply.

If you fly into the airport don't worry about booking a taxi in advance as there are taxi services waiting. You arrive, exit arrivals and then take the airport bus out to a satellite terminal where you can get a regular taxi. Rides start at 15,000ID.

If you are just moving around town in a regular taxi (not related to airport) then don't pay more than 5,000ID for a ride within town. Short rides may be 3000ID. Taxis have no meters. Locals just pay what they think is the correct fare at the end of the ride. When in doubt give 4,000ID and then read the face of the driver. If you are obviously foreign it may be better to negotiate when you get in.

If you need to buy medicine be careful to make sure you get what you need. There is some problem with counterfeit medication. Avoid medication coming from China and India. There are only a few good doctors here as well.

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