My trip in Iran was only ten days so I weighed up a practical itinerary and Yazd didn’t make the cut. It was a work colleague who had studied in Yazd and advised me not to pass up the chance to go there. I’m certainly glad I did as it turned out to be my favourite city in Iran.
Yazd city guide – what to see and what to do
With a nickname of ‘The City of Wind-catchers’ due to its sheer volume of wind-catchers and adaptation to the desert surroundings; it’s no big surprise that the city managed to gain my seal of approval so quickly after arriving. It has also been claimed that Yazd is the ‘oldest living city on Earth’ given that it’s been continually inhabited for about 7000 years so there is a wealth of history.
Much of Yazd unique architecture remains in tact, largely due to its desert location and the difficulty to access it. There were not many caravansaries or places to refuel along the way which may have been it’s saving grace, therefore the city avoided damage seen in other cities and remains intact. When Marco Polo stayed in Yazd in the 13th century, he described the city as ‘a very fine and splendid city and a centre of commerce’. Personally I agree with Mr Polo as Yazd seduced me quickly with its narrow corridors and ornate mosques.
Where to Stay
I travelled over Narouz (Iranian New Year) so the city was busy and I took what I could get, finding space at the Silk Road Hotel which attracts a lot of Iranian guests as well as foreigners. Although I reconfirmed the night before, after arriving at 2 a.m I was told they were fully booked which apparently is common. Fortunately they have another hotel across the road called Orient Hotel which has dorms and private rooms. Both are centrally located and characterful with mid range prices; I paid US$35 for a single room and dorms are US$12. Included is Wi-Fi, breakfast, a very relaxing central courtyard with lounge cushions and rooftop for sunset views. One thing I would say about this place is because it has a central courtyard and rooms that border it, when people don’t keep the noise down then everyone suffers.
Persian Odyssey travel agency is attached to the Orient Hotel and were super helpful by finding me a gem of a hotel in Shiraz. They can take care of all your Iran travel bookings including bus and flight tickets, tours, hotels etc.
To guide or not to Guide, that is the question!
For me it really wasn’t a question. Yazd is one of those cities you need to understand the geography of where to go and what there is to see. There is simply too much history in Yazd to bumble your own way through and the bazaar is like a labyrinth so it helps to have someone who knows their way around. Turns out, I was able to hire an amazing guide for US$50 so it didn’t break the bank.
I found a guide named Saghi Tavakkoli who can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. She charges US$50 for a full day and delivers a high standard of tour, this is coming from a former tour guide. She has passion for her country, won’t hesitate to answer questions truthfully and didn’t waste my time with shopping. She was happy to walk everywhere because thats how I like to get around and took me to the best falafel place in town for lunch. She also booked a driver for me in Yazd and onward travel arrangements.
Update: Saghi is now married and living in another country, there are plenty of other guides though.
What to do?
I only had two full days in Yazd so I was pretty busy. There is loads on offer both during the day and evening so I split my time with a full day guided city tour, and the following day hiring a driver and exploring the outskirts. Below is a copy of what my itinerary which I highly recommend as a well-rounded visit for Yazd.
DAY 1 Yazd City – Have Feet Will Walk
The benefit of having Saghi to guide me around Yazd was I could leave the hard work to her and I was free to enjoy myself and take photographs. There is so much to see on a walking tour of the Old Town and we really managed to pack it in without feeling rushed. Here is a taste of what was included and why Yazd ticked all the boxes for this contented traveller.
Masjid-e Jame (Friday Mosque)
If you stay at Silk Road Hotel you’ll be right beside Masjid-e Jame which is offers amazing views both during the day and at night. It is one of the best examples of Persian architecture and beautiful mosaic work but to have it to yourself, you’ll need to get there early morning (free)
Yazd Water Museum
Being a desert city and the importance of having a successful water distribution system, it is well worth visiting and understanding the Canat water distribution system. You’ll also hear about the wind-catchers and their importance in keeping the water fresh (150,000 rials)
Be sure to visit the water reservoir and its four wind towers (free)
Yazd Tower of Silence (Zoroastrian’s Dakhmeh)
This attraction will take some walking or a taxi ride but it very impressive, especially at sunset. The towers sit on top of two mountains and have huge circular walls where the dead were left for the birds to pick the bones clean in accordance with Zoroastrian belief. The towers are have long since been used but is a lovely visit (800,000 rials)
This is the Zoroastrian fire temple which apparently has been buring since 470 AD. Fire temples play an important part in Iranian society so it’s a good idea to know the history when you’re there. In my opinion the outside of the building is more impressive than seeing the fire, but this is more down to religion than aesthetics (80,000 rials)
Don’t be fooled by the name as it was never a prison, but instead a 15th century domed religious school (150,000 rials)
Dowlat Abad Gardens
This garden was the residence of Khan and his government and officials. The wind-catcher is 33 meters high and the tallest in Yazd. The architecture is quite amazing and well worth a visit (200,000 rials)
Jameh Mosque Clock Tower
Make sure you pay a visit at night when it’s lit up and then walk down to Masjid-e Jame
Amir Chakhmakh complex
Well worth a visit but make sure you climb to the top for excellent views
This 150 year old building is the best-preserved Qajar era houses in Yazd (150,000 rials)
Some other sites we visited on the tour are listed below:
– Amir Chakmakh mosque
– The cistern of Fatemeh-ye-Golshan
– Hazireh mosque
– Tomb of the 12 imams
– Bogeh-ye Seyed Rokamdin mosque
DAY 2 – Iran Road Trip
I hired the driver through my tour guide but any hotel will hire a driver for you, keep in mind they will typically take a commission. I paid 1.5 million rials (US$43) for the day which is a bargain in any language. The driver was excellent and showed me all I wanted to see but I think it’s important to set rules. The rule for today is “There is such a thing as too much aftershave,” not to say I didn’t appreciate the effort.
Much of the drive today was flat, dry, arid land which initially was anything but inspiring. However, the further we drove, the sand took on a rich red hue and the weathered and sculpted mountains on either side reminded me a lot of Wadi Rum in Jordan. Generally I found most of the drives in my experience, were not going to set the world on fire with their beauty.
It takes 1 hour to reach the mud-brick village of Kharanaq, in a remote valley 44 miles north of Yazd in Central Iran. Meaning ‘place of birth of the sun,’ these crumbling adobe buildings date back some 1,000 years and are a photographers paradise. I was like a kid at Christmas when I arrived early morning before the sun had come out. There are an array of labyrinth like passage ways, corridors and tunnels to explore as well as a towering minaret as the centrepiece. Although there is a new and modern Karanaq City, the ‘Old Town’ was built using sun-baked mud bricks and was once a successful farming village until water supplies dried up and the town was left to dust. I really enjoyed exploring the ruins and if you go early enough, you’ll have the place to yourself. Be careful on some of the roof tops though as there has been instances of travellers falling through.
There is also a restored ‘caravanserai’ which invited travelling merchants centuries ago to trade or simply bed down for the night. The restoration makes the building appear as new which removes some of the charm and I believe the plan is to turn it into a hotel at some stage. I found an Iranian tourist inside one of the rooms singing versus of the Koran to test the acoustics which was very beautiful so if you have the lungs for it, perhaps you can belt out a song or two.
If I’m being totally honest I wasn’t a massive fan of Chak Chak, a visit here is more of a religious pilgrimage and although the views were decent, it didn’t inspire me. Chak Chak is the most scared of mountain shrines of Zoroastrianism and many (especially during Norouz Festival) make a pilgrimage here from Iran and India. According to Zoroastrian belief, Chak Chak is where Nikbanou, daughter of Yazdegerd III was hiding from an invading Arab army. When all hope seemed lost the mountain opened up and hid her from being captured. There is a dripping spring inside a cave which is said to be the tears of grief by the mountain for Nikbanou.
A visit to Meybod should be on every travellers list. It’s roughly 52km north of Yazd and is a mud-brick town of around 1800 years old. Probably my favourite visit of the day was the 300-year-old massive mud-brick caravanserai. What is a caravanserai when its at home I hear you say? It’s a roadside inn where travellers could rest, take cover, trade and do business after a long commute. They were especially prevalent through the Middle East, Asia, North Africa and along parts of the ancient Silk Road.
I enjoyed taking 30 minutes downtime to consider weary travellers arriving to the caravanserai by horseback centuries ago and tying up cattle as a sandstorm raged outside. The women preparing a meal as the men lay out fine silk, tobacco and items to trade with other nomads from around far flung parts of the globe.
Close by to the caravanserai is Meybod Ice-house. A gigantic conical shaped mud-brick structure with a deep bowl sunken into the ground, used to keep food cool throughout the year before the luxury of fridges. During the winter, ice and snow would be packed into the chamber where it was kept in a cool dark ice-house to prevent melting. Perishable food such as meat was stored in there until such a time as they were needed.
For me personally two days was enough time in Yazd but I did keep myself busy. The city is magical and I really enjoyed roaming the endless passage ways and hanging out in the square at night watching families socialising and young lovers stealing the occasional touch. Seeing Masjid-e Jame lit up at night with fiery indigo colours and the towering minarets soaring into the sky actually took my breath away.
The one with the angry taxi man
When taking a taxi from Yazd to the bus station I negotiated the fare with an elderly driver and jumped inside. Literally as soon as we had started driving it became apparent that he had no idea of where I wanted to go and had agreed a fare based on an amount he knew I would agree to. Through a series of gesticulations he understood the destination and we renegotiated the rate again. In my head I knew it would be an issue so I showed him the exact money I was to pay. He stopped just short of the station and started renegotiating the fare (as I knew he would) and suddenly it was a huge surprise to him that I wouldn’t be paying more. Things got quite heated and ended with us yelling and wrestling over my backpack before I was on my way. It was the briefest of bad experiences after two days of good and the only reason I mention it so you know to negotiate your fare properly or have your destination written down in Persian to avoid similar instances.
I highly recommend a visit to the ‘City of the Wind-catchers’. Make sure you take in views from one of the rooftops at sunset, to see the light shining off the turquoise domes and mud-bricks light up as if on fire.
Happy travelling folks.
If you want to read more of my blogs from Iran, just click on the links below:
10 reasons why Iran is the perfect travel destination for Donald Trump
Guide to travelling in Shiraz, Iran
Your guide to travelling in Esfahan, Iran
The ultimate guide to travelling in Iran
Iran’s obsession with taking the perfect selfie
Tehran city guide and obtaining an Iranian visa
Bathhouses of Iran – washing away tradition