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10 Day Iraqi Kuridstan Itinerary
Updated April 2020, 10 Day Iraqi Kurdistan Itinerary was originally written in July 2019
Truth be told, I turned up in Iraqi Kurdistan with little to no plan. I was essentially winging it as I crossed the border from Iran to Iraqi Kurdistan. Did it turn out fine? Yes. Could it have been better plotted out? Of course. So after bull-heading my way through my trip, I’ve created the best of Iraqi Kurdistan itinerary to help any of you planning a trip to the region.
Need more help with planning? Read: The Iraqi Kurdistan Travel Guide
QUICK 10 DAY IRAQI KURDISTAN ITINERARY
Iraqi Kurdistan Itinerary
Welcome to Erbil (Also named Hawler, and you’ll see it spelled Arbil too), the capital of not just Iraqi Kurdistan but the capital of all of Kurdistan (meaning the pieces of Kurdistan that extend out into Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Armenia). Erbil is the most common starting point for most travelers kicking off their Iraqi Kurdistan itinerary as many of you will fly into the region here. It’s also worth noting that there is also an international airport in Sulaymaniyah, and it’s not difficult to cross the border from Turkey or Iran into Iraqi Kurdistan. Despite Erbil’s modern looks, it is one of the oldest cities in the world with experts estimating that its history extends back nearly 30,000 years.
Things To Do In Erbil
- Erbil Citadel
- Erbil Main Square
- Erbil Bazaar
- Jalil Khayat Mosque,
- Ankawa, Erbil’s Christian District
- Arab Quarter
- Kurdish Parlament
- Sami Abdul Rahman Park in Erbil
- Minaret Park & Shanider Park
- Have Tea At A Chaikhana
Plan your stay: The Erbil Travel Guide
Where To Stay In Erbil
There are a few hotels in Erbil to crash at of varying quality and Couchsurfing is also active in Erbil. Everywhere I visited in Erbil I had offers to stay with locals that I met at different sites, so finding a place to sleep shouldn’t be too big a problem. I stayed a couple of nights at Janet Bludan Hotel as well as stayed with local families. Fareeq Hotel came highly recommended as well.
Getting To Sulaymaniyah
Shared taxis depart when full from Erbil to Sulaymaniyah for 15,000 ID.
Koya, Dukan Lake & Sulaymaniyah
Your next move will be onto Sulaymaniyah (also spelled Slemani, Sulemani, Suli, though it seems most pronounce it slay-mani). I’d recommend popping into Koya (also named Koy Sanjaq) en route to Sulaymaniyah, as you’ll find shared taxis that connect both Erbil and Sulaymaniyah with Koya. If you have your own transport it’s worth stopping off to visit Dukan Lake on your way. Onto Sulaymaniyah, you’ll find it to be as equally modern and liberal at Erbil.
Things To Do In Sulaymaniyah
- Amna Suraka (Red Security Museum)
- Sulaymaniyah Bazaar
- Goyzha Mountain
- Sarchnar Park & Azadi Park
- Chavi Land Amusement Park
Where To Stay In Sulaymaniyah
Halabja & Ahmed Awa
Halabja and Ahmed Awa are both easy to visit as a day trip for Sulaymaniyah. Halabja was the site of a major attack by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, regarded worldwide as genocide. The small town was taken under Iranian control and in response Saddam ordered the use of chemical weapons on the town, killing mostly Kurds. There is now a memorial and museum to the victims in Halabja, similar to Amna Suraka in Sulaymaniyah. Shared taxis depart from the terminal in Sulaymaniyah when full to Halabja for 6,000 ID.
Ahmed Awa is a waterfall located about 30 kilometers north of Halabja and is pretty popular with local tourists especially on weekends and holidays. Meeting and hanging out with Kurdish locals is more of what makes the waterfall an attraction than anything else. From Halabja, you may need to hitch a ride to the village of Ahmed Awa (or try to find a taxi headed to nearby Khurmal). From the village, it’s about 2 kilometers of walking to reach the waterfall.
Getting Back To Sulaymaniyah Or On To Erbil
To return to Sulaymaniyah you’ll need to walk back to the village and then walk about 3 more additional kilometers to reach Khurmal to get a shared taxi back to Sulaymaniyah (6,000 ID). I’d recommend grabbing a shared taxi from Sulaymaniyah to Erbil later in the afternoon or early evening to cut down a couple of hours from your transit time tomorrow.
Shaqlawa & Akre
Shaqlawa is probably the closest thing to a tourist trap you’ll find in Kurdistan or Iraq, and it’s perfectly okay to skip it if it doesn’t incite enough interest in youth visit (I have a weird thing for kitschy tourist attractions in other countries because I think it’s interesting to see what locals lose their shit over. Case and point: how Alaskans lose their minds over Moose’s Tooth pizza and when an outsider proclaims it was ‘just alright’ our heads nearly explode). If you don’t stop in at Shaqlawa to join in on the touristic festivities with the local crowd it’s worth at least looking at it from the window of your shared taxi as you blow past it on the highway– it is a pretty city sandwiched between Safeen and Sork Mountains. If you have rented a car or are on a guided trip it may be worth the stop on the way from Erbil to check out Khanzad Citadel
Things To Do In Shaqlawa
- Shrine of Raban Boya
- Swedish Village
Where To Stay In Shaqlawa
If you’re trying to keep costs down, staying in Shaqlawa is best avoided. However if you do you can search options in Shaqlawa here.
Getting To Shaqlawa From Erbil
From Erbil it’s possible to get a shared taxi to Shaqlawa for 5,000 ID.
Getting To Akre
If wanting to forgo the stop in Shaqlawa you can easily get a shared taxi from Erbil to Akre for 10,000 ID. If coming from Shaqlawa plan to pay about 5,000 ID to get from Shaqlawa to Akre.
Akre is a beautiful little city perched in the Kurdish Mountains. For the best viewpoint over the city you’ll need to go up the hill behind Akre Castle.
Things To Do In Akre
- Walk Up To The Viewpoint
- The Great Mosque of Akre
- Old Akre
- Akre Bazaar
- Ottoman Fort
- Old Akre Church
- Kale Mountain Ruins
- Eagle Cave
- Sheikh Abdulaziz Shrine
- Zoroastrian Temple Cave
- Sipe Falls
Where To Stay In Akre
I was told there’s a place called Azadi Motel to stay in Akre. Message them on facebook, or call them at +964 7502001424.
Alqosh & Lalish
Alqosh is a testament to the resilience of the Assyrians. Attacked by Amir Timur, the Pasha of Baghdad, Mosa Pasha of Amedi, Mohammed Pasha of Rawandiz, Resoul Bek, and most recently the Islamic State. The main site in Alqosh to visit it the Saint Hormizd Monastery built impossibly right into the side of a mountain. The monastery is located about 3 kilometers from the town of Alqosh.
Nearby Lalish is the home to the holiest of temples to the Yazidi. Yazidis are an ethnoreligious minority of the Kurdish population that practice a unique religion called Sharfadin (though it’s most commonly called Yazidism outside the Yazidi population). Sharfadin is monotheistic and incorporates aspects of ancient Mesopotamian religions, Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The Yazidi have been persecuted throughout time, including a recent genocide campaign by the Islamic State to rid Iraq and Syria of the Yazidi. The main conical-roofed temple in Lalish is the Tomb of Sheikh Adi Ibn Musafir, the head saint of Yazidism. Yazidis are required to make a pilgrimage to Lalish at least once in their lives. You must ditch your shoes at the entrance of Lalish because you must be barefoot to visit the holy town of Lalish, also all doorways are raised and you must step over the doorway, not on it. Ask around for a man named Luqman to explain a bit about Lalish and Yazidism to you.
Where To Stay
Continue on to Dohuk for the night.
Getting To & Away From Alqosh To Lalish
I visited by my own transport (hired driver) to Alqosh & Lalish. I do not know that there is shared transport to Alqosh at all, though asking around won’t hurt. As no one actually lives in Lalish you’ll also need your own transport to get here. There are reports of several travelers that have hitched to these locations with relative ease online, as both sites are popular destinations for locals to visit.
Dohuk & Amedi
To be honest, there isn’t much to see in Dohuk. However, Dohuk can provide a good base for those wanting to visit nearby sites on day trips such as the Zakho area and the site of the Battle of Gaugamela. As you’ll be spending the night in Dohuk after coming from Alqosh & Lalish I’d recommend packing in the few sites to see in Dohuk in the evening and following morning before taking off for Amedi. If you have your own transport it’s stopping off to visit Saddam’s Palaces between Duhok and Amedi.
Things To Do In Dohuk
- Dohuk Bazaar
- Great Dohuk Mosque
- Azadi Viewpoint
- Mart Alaha Church
- Church of Ith Llaha
- Dream City Amusement Park
- Dohuk Promenade
- Dohuk Dam
Where To Stay In Dohuk
In Dohuk try the Kristal Hotel.
How To Get From Duhok To Amedi
Shared taxis connect Duhok and Amedi for 8,000 ID.
Home to the three wise men from which they began their journey to Bethlehem from Amedi is steeped in history. In fact, it’s believed that Amedi has been continuously inhabited for about 5,000 years, founded around 3,000 BC by the Assyrian Empire. Amedi is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places you’ll visit in Iraqi Kurdistan. Amedi is a small village built upon a circle of towering cliffs jutting up from the floor of a valley surrounded by the Gara Mountains. Just north and east of the raised citadel of Amedi, you’ll find a great viewpoint, Bere Sili Park which is popular with local tourists and Sulav Waterfall.
Things To Do In Amedi
- Hike up to the Amedi Viewpoint
- Bahdinian Gate
- Amedi Citadel
- Old Mosque
- Qubhan School
- Sulav Waterfall
- Bere Sili Park
Before you set out read this post on Amedi
Where To Stay In Amedi
I did not stay in Amedi personally and am unaware of any accommodations in or around the village. I did hear of a place called Amedi Motel that’s located more up towards Sulav, try calling them at +964 7504842640.
Continuing to Barzan
I am unaware of any shared transport toward Barzan from Amedi (unless you want to go back to Duhok and back from there). Your best options to get from Amedi to Barzan would be to have your own transport or try your thumb at hitchhiking.
The Barzan area is one of the most picturesque in Iraqi Kurdistan as you continue onto toward the mountainous border area with Iran. For the outdoorsy types you could spend days hiking around the Barzan area, camping en route. But if you’re short on time you can visit the area’s highlights in one jam-packed adventurous day, including the ancient Shanider Cave.
What To Do In Barzan
- Grave of 8,000 Martyrs (Kurdish Hero Cemetary)
- Barzani Memorial
- Dore Canyon
- Shanider Cave
- Bestoon Cave
How to get to the beautiful Dore Canyon
How To Get From Barzan To Soran
I didn’t do this route by shared transport, and I am unsure if getting between Barzan and the Soran/Rawanduz area is possible that way. Hitching is a good way to travel between the two areas if you don’t have your own transportation.
Rawanduz, Soran & Gomi Felaw
Saving the best for last, this was my favorite destination on my Iraqi Kurdistan Itinerary. This day will take you along a very scenic section of the legendary Hamilton Road (a historic road built by AH Hamilton to connect Erbil to Piranshahr, Iran).
Rawanduz & Soran
Rawanduz is home to a beautiful canyon (in which the town of Rawanduz is perched upon). Rawanduz offers some epic trekking potential among its mountainscapes, canyons and waterfalls. Located just a little further up Hamilton Road you’ll find Soran, a small town a few kilometers away.
Things To Do In & Around Rawanduz & Soran
- Geli Ali Beg Waterfall
- Bexal Waterfall
- Kopek Mountains & Resort
- Pank Resort
- Bradost Mountain
- Gullan Park
- Alana Valley
- Mulkan Valley
- Kani Springs
- Barsireen Bridge
Where To Stay In Rawanduz
The Korek Mountain Resort, though pricey comes highly recommended.
How To Continue On To Choman
I am unsure of the shared transport situation between Soran/Rawanduz and Choman as I didn’t travel with shared transport along this route, however, I had read that there is a shared taxi between Soran and Choman for 5,000 ID (taking about 1 hour one way). Hitching is also a possibility. You’ll need to go back to Soran afterward if wanting to continue back towards Erbil and beyond.
Gomi Felaw & Choman
Continuing east on Hamilton Road not far from the Haji Omaran border crossing with Iran sits the village of Choman, a good jumping-off point for further exploration into the Halgurd-Sakran Mountains & National Park, and to Gomi Felaw. Gomi Felaw is the most beautiful place I visited on my Iraqi Kurdistan itinerary. Gomi Felaw is a small pond with epic views into the towering peaks all around.
Things To Do Around Choman
- Gomi Felaw
- Halgurd-Sakran National Park
- Haji Omaran Meadows
- Walze Waterfall
- Halgurd Mountain
- Sakran Valley
- Most Valley & Citadel
- Barza Cave & Waterfall
- Sheik Balk Shrine
- Bsta Waterfall
Everything you need to know to visit Gomi Felaw
Getting Back To Erbil
From Choman you’ll need to grab a shared taxi or hitch as mentioned previously back to Soran. Once back in Soran you can grab a shared taxi bound for Erbil for 10,000 ID, an alternative is to use shared transport to go to Shaqlawa for 7,000 ID, and from Shaqlawa get another shared taxi back to Erbil for 5,000 ID.
If you’re planning on going to or coming from Iran, flip this itinerary and stop in at Gomi Felaw first (or last) if you’ll have a guide or transport meeting you at or taking you to the border. Otherwise, you could just go to Erbil to get situated before heading out on this Iraqi Kurdistan itinerary.
Planning on combining Iraqi Kurdistan & Iran? Learn how to get an Iranian Visa
Iraqi Kurdistan Quick Info
- The main language spoken in Iraqi Kurdistan is Kurmanji which is a Kurdish dialect. English is a popular second language to learn in school with younger Kurds, so usually, you can find someone around to help translate if you’re struggling, but I recommend learning some basics before arriving.
- The Iraqi Dinar (ID) is the currency of Iraqi Kurdistan. The current exchange rate is $1 USD to 1190 ID.
- Iraqi Kurdistan is religiously diverse. You’ll find Sunni, Shia, Yazidis, Christians, and more.
- Spring and fall are the best times to visit (April-May & September-October) with the most comfortable temperatures.
- Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq under control of the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government).
- Many western countries do not need a visa to enter Iraqi Kurdistan, click here to see the list of visa-free nationalities.
- You cannot enter Southern (Arab) Iraq without a visa.
- I recommend grabbing a copy of Bradt’s Iraq, some info is a bit old, but it can still be helpful in the planning stages.
Is Iraqi Kurdistan Safe?
It is and it isn’t. Given the current situation of the region, you could say that Iraqi Kurdistan is relatively safe. Has Iraqi Kurdistan been under attack? Definitely.
Prior to your arrival, keep an eye on Iraqi Kurdistan news and try to stay informed. Just because I had a safe trip there doesn’t mean it can’t change.
Visiting Iraqi Kurdistan isn’t for everyone either, there’s very limited tourist infrastructure and there are countless Peshmerga (military) checkpoints. Getting around independently can be a challenge at times and the public transport options are limited to non-existent in some parts of the country. Many who visit will choose to visit on a guided trip and there’s nothing wrong with that. I actually joined Haval Qaraman (a well known local guide) and his family on a day trip to Barzan, Dore Canyon, and Gomi Felaw on a day during my trip. I hired a local driver (because I just really hate driving and don’t mind spending a little more to not have to drive myself) to reach a couple of places that weren’t so cut and dry to get to, and other times I traveled independently.
I’ve gotten a lot of messages and emails from women wanting to visit Iraqi Kurdistan independently since I’ve started writing about my trips on here, regarding safety. Well, I’ve written an entire post dedicated to solo female travel in Iraqi Kurdistan that you can read here.
Have Any Questions About This Iraqi Kurdistan Itinerary?
Ask your Iraqi Kurdistan itinerary questions in the comments section below.
Need Iraqi Kurdistan Travel Insurance?
Start shopping plans over at battleface, my go-to travel insurance choice.