We wish then to share step by step our experience to spread the knowledge among overland travellers. This way you won’t bump into any drawback hopefully : )
First of all, make sure you fulfil the points of the following checklist to enter Iran:
- You have enough money (cash) to cover your stay:
No International ATMs are currently available in Iran
If you can, start withdrawing US dollars or Euros (you are allowed to import max 5,000,000 Rials to Iran) in Georgia or Turkey, since in Armenia ATMs only provide local drams. We honestly withdrew the entire sum in Armenian Drams, a bit afraid they were not going to be accepted beyond the border.
Instead, you may easily exchange them in Iranian Rials or US Dollars at the Iranian border (after the controls). There are two exchange shops there. Pick the one on the left, offering better exchange rates.
- You carry a valid passport and Visa. To apply for the Visa in Erzurum, Turkey, please refer to our previous article.
- If you are minded to use Facebook, Twitter or Youtube while in Iran, you should probably download an IP masking software like Tor, Ultrasurf or others, since in Iran, then, those are filtered. Actually after arriving to Iran, we also managed to download from Google Play the app “Psiphon”, apparently only valid for Android mobile devices though.
- For women, you should arrange a scarf in advance to cover your head after the Armenian border. Additionally, to keep up appearances, you could also buy at a bazaar in Yerevan a 0.50 €, “fake” ring to pretend you are married. Just in case. It might help.
If all is ok, then you may comfortably start your travel to Iran
In order to travel slowly, cheaply and in contact with local people, we went through the following steps:
1. Go to Sasuntsi Davit Metro Station in Yerevan:
This is behind the Train Station, around 3-4 km southward from Republic Square.
A small minibus (marshrutka) is supposed to leave at 7 am every day to Agarak from the small square outside the metro station (when you arrive at the train station, you have to cross the underground passageway and go out from the other side).
Take into consideration that the metro in Yerevan opens at 7 am
Thereby, to reach the departure point, you will need to take a taxi. However, when we went there, the marshrutka in the end left at around 8.15 am. We could have taken easier and caught the cheaper metro. It is however always better to be there early, just in case departure is on time and /or there are many passengers.
On a side note, the taxi should cost no more than 1000 AMD from Republic Square. Asked the double, we denied the price and got away with the half.
2. Catch the marshrutka to Agarak (last town before the Iranian border):
At 7 am there is no possible confusion: there is just one minibus in the empty square behind Sasuntsi Davit Metro Station. In approximately 9-10 hours, the marshrutka goes down straight to the border until the last town named Agarak.
It should cost 5000 AMD / person (about 10 €)
Pay attention that the tricky driver will try to charge you 2000 AMD more to drop you at the border. Just say you wish to get off at Agarak center.
In truth, the experience is very “local”, both for the vehicle type and the people usually sitting inside. The driver stops a few times for food and personal errands (like buying mushrooms in middle of the mountains).
Despite the uncomfortable seats and the stinky heat inside, we relished the genuinely jaunty atmosphere among the talkative locals, curiously distracted by our presence there. An English-speaking young guy even entertained us quite a long time with his original story : )
3. Get off at Agarak:
Agarak is a small town at the border with Iran.
If you wish to save part of the walk, you could try to ask the driver to drop you at the intersection with the road leading to the border
However, to us, it seemed quite difficult, because of communication problems and lack of information from our side. Besides, the driver maybe relied on charging us 2000 AMD more to bring us back almost at the same point (plus some more meters to the border).
In Agarak, you can eat a pizza in the main square and take your last beer before the long abstinence in Iran : )
4. Walk from Agarak to the border:
It’s about 4 km from the Agarak main square to the border, two downhill and two flat. Just follow the main road down.
Although you can find many taxis there, you had better to save the money and enjoy a wonderful walk towards the barbed wire
You will eagerly see the coveted destination getting closer and closer. It somehow transmitted us the romantic feeling of the overland backpacker counting on his own means and forces : )
5. Cross the border:
We cautiously approached meter by meter to the desert border. Almost no traffic indeed. Quite a remote land designed to be slowly walked through. There you will spend at least one hour.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get pictures as it is not allowed in border areas : ( but here you have the following checks that we had to pass:
a) Armenia luggage screening, quite fast;
b) Armenia passport control, really fussy and meticulous;
c) Armenia military review at the bridge;
d) Iranian military check at the other side of the bridge: a rapid formality;
e) Iranian first passport and Visa control: again very fast and easy;
f) Iranian second passport and Visa control: this time more painstaking with repeated questions about your personal and family information, job, purpose in Iran, etc. Try to be as much vague as possible. Go simple!
g) Iranian luggage screening: straightforward.
6. Change your money:
Once you have past all the controls, you will notice two small exchange shops where you can convert your money. After asking about the rates, we picked the one on the left.
There you can exchange Armenian Drams, Iranian Rials and US Dollars at very competitive conditions, better than in Armenian banks
As a matter of fact, at the border they apply the “unofficial” rate about 10-15 % better than the “official” one.
7. Take Royal Safar bus to Tabriz:
At the border we luckily “intercepted” the VIP Royal Safar bus coming from Yerevan. The bus had actually left at 10 am from Yerevan main bus station (we left at 8.15 instead) and was catching us up after our break (1 hour) in Agarak centre and the subsequent stroll to the border (45 minutes).
Indeed we knew about that bus going to Teheran. Nevertheless we discarded it because much more expensive than the “local” solution.
As a matter of fact, Royal Safar charges you the same amount for Teheran and Tabriz, despite the 500 Km distance between the two
The ticket price per person from Yerevan is 25.000 AMD (about 47 €). Instead, if you take it from the border to Tabriz, the fare drops to 7000 AMD (about 13 €), which added to the previous 5000 AMD paid for the marshrutka to Agarak, makes 50 % less than the Royal Safar Bus. Actually, we even saved more because in the end we got a friendly discount (10 € each one).
The bus takes around 3 hours for you to reach Tabriz. Normally, they would leave you at the motorway exit
But in our case they kindly made an exception and drove us until the busy bus terminal, where you can take a taxi to your accommodation in the city centre.
If you do not catch the Royal Safar Bus, you should take first a taxi to Jolfa and then another one to Tabriz, which might be a bit quicker but definitely more expensive, even in a shared taxi
In short, the overland stretch between Yerevan and Tabriz is a demanding (you leave at 6 am in Yerevan and arrive at 1 am to Tabriz city centre) but extremely rewarding trip, made of pleasant talks with locals in the marshrutka, unexpected stops in remote Armenian villages and excited steps at the border in between the numberless controls.
♦ Curious sights:
1. The “crazy” old woman cleaning the street at Sasuntsi Davit Metro Station, Yerevan, before departure;
2. People selling and buying mushrooms on the side of the road in Armenia;
3. Long barb-wired wall separating Armenia and Iran with flanking road;
4. The desert bridge walked at the border;
5. Our first meal in Iran, paid by a blessed Samaritan we found in the bus : )
6. Aggressive taxi drivers at Tabriz Bus Terminal: luckily we got some crucial help from the good Samaritan : )
Did you have any other experience walking this or other State borders? How was it?
Thank you for sharing it with us!!