Iraqi Kurdistan Tour
8-Day Iraq Adventure Tour
Join a small group and explore the beautiful region of northern Iraq
Iraq’s Kurdistan region has some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole of the Middle East, riddled with spectacular mountains and dramatic canyons. This trip will take you high into the mountains and deep into the backroads.
Wander around bazaars, stop at teahouses, and get invited to locals’ homes. Visit sobering war museums, meet the heroic Peshmarga soldiers, and talk to survivors from the Halajba genocide.
This tour will show you a different side to Iraq from what you see in the news.
- 19 – 26 March 2020
- Nowruz is the most important festival for the Kurdish people and it’s celebrated with fireworks, dancing, singing, and poetry recitations.
Yazidi New Year
- 13 – 20 April 2020
- Celebrate the Yazidi New Year with the Yazidi ethnic people living in Lalish, a unique mountain village characterised by conical architecture.
Is it Safe to Travel Iraq?
Having been spared the war of 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan is a very different place from southern Iraq.
Kurdistan is relatively safe and stable, thanks to the strong regional government and military Peshmarga forces who have successfully defended the country from ISIS.
About the Festivals
The best time to visit Kurdistan is during the two biggest festivals of the year.
Nowruz is the most important festival of the year for Kurds worldwide. In Iraqi Kurdistan, they celebrate with a torchlit procession up the Akre mountain where thousands of people carry fire torches and gather round bonfires to dance.
The Yazidi New Year is celebrated fervently by the Yazidi ethnic group living in the town of Lalish. During the celebrations, the Yazidis light 366 candles and torches to commemorate the arrival of light.
Why Join this Tour
Our goal is to organize adventure trips that don’t feel like a tour. You’ll get to travel with like-minded people and a local guide who is knowledgable, fun and engaging.
Think of your group as a bunch of independent travelers having an adventure together.
This trip is also culturally immersive and experiential, allowing you to learn and experience the Kurdish hospitality at its best.
Highlights of the Tour:
- Wander through the Erbil Citadel, the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Hike in the spectacular Rawanduz Canyon also known as the Grand Canyon of Kurdistan.
- Get a feel for rural life in Amedi, a quaint mountaintop town that rises 1,000 meter over a valley. The town is surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides and it’s one of the most picturesque spots in Iraqi Kurdistan.
- Head up to the Gara Mountains, where we’ll visit the ruins of one of Saddam’s famous mansions and possibly chat with the famous Peshmarga soldiers.
- Pay tribute to the victims of the Halabja chemical attack, a massacre against the Kurdish people that took place during Saddam’s rule.
What’s Included in the Tour:
- All site entrance fees, tours and admissions
What’s NOT Included:
Maintaining a small group size ensures that everyone gets to know each other and have fun as a group! Think of it as a bunch of independent travelers traveling together, with a warm and friendly guide. It’s all about learning and immersing yourself in the culture and environment. That’s the style of our WildJunket tours.
Who is this tour for?
This Iraqi Kurdistan adventure tour is suitable for you if…
You’re an independent traveler, but prefer to go with a group to remote and ‘forbidden’ places.
You want to explore WAY off the beaten path and seek out less-visited places.
You have experience traveling in developing countries and have a flexible, positive attitude.
You’re open to seeing things beyond the headlines .
This is the rough itinerary for our 8-day Iraqi Kurdistan tour. Note that there might be changes to the itinerary, depending on the events that lead to the Nawroz and Yezidi New Year celebrations. Our local guide always tries his best to show you everything there is on offer in Kurdistan, but please be flexible with changes in the itinerary.
Day 1: Arrival in Erbil
Erbil is the capital city of the Kurdistan region and the main gateway. The airport is fantastic and modern; flying into Erbil is usually easy and fast. (Read the FAQ section to find out how to get there.)
After arrival, feel free to head out and explore the beautiful capital city. Don’t worry if you’re landing late as we’ll have a tour of Erbil on our last day. Erbil (sometime spelled Arbil or Irbil) is a great city to wander around and get lost, but it also has a number of museums and mosques to visit.
We’ll meet in the evening, have dinner together as a group and get to know one another. Erbil also has a vibrant nightlife that’s comparable to that of Beirut, so it’s worth heading out for a night of fun!
Stay overnight in Erbil.
Day 2: Explore North of Erbil
The trip will start proper today. We’ll head out of the city to explore the natural landscapes just north of the city. This includes the Khanzad Castle, a stunning archaeological site constructed during the Soran Emirate in the 16th century; Rawanduz Canyon also known as the Grand Canyon of Kurdistan; the spectacular Bekhal Falls; Korek Mountains and Shanider Caves where the remains of 10 neanderthals dating 35,000 to 65,000 years old were found.
Stay overnight in Erbil.
Day 3: Visit the Great Monasteries
We’ll continue our journey to Lalish, a small mountain valley village characterised by conical roofs that resemble that of the architecture in Georgia. This is a sacred place for the Yezidi people, an ethnically Kurdish religious community that has been targeted by ISIS. We’ll continue towards Khanis; Legend has it that this aqueduct has watered the Hanging Gardens of Babylon which was believed to have been located in the Nineveh Plains in Mosul.
Then we’ll arrive at the town of Alqosh, which boasts the tomb of Prophet Nahum. Tucked in the cliffs of hidden mountains is the Rabban Hormizd Monastery of the Chaldaean Catholic Church founded in 640 AD.
Stay overnight in Dohuk.
Day 4: Join in the Nowruz/Yazidi New Year Celebrations!
In the morning, you’ll drive up to Amadiya (or Amedi), a quaint mountaintop town that rises 1,000 meter over a valley. The town is surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides and it’s one of the most picturesque spots in Iraqi Kurdistan. Life on the plateau of Amadiya dates back, at least, 3000 BC, and the ancient Assyrians.
From there, our journey brings us close to the ruins of one of Saddam’s famous mansions. Here, you might get the chance to meet Peshmarga soldiers (it depends on the security level). This is often the highlight for travelers to Iraqi Kurdistan.
In the afternoon and night, the festival celebrations will begin in fervor! During Nowruz (Kurdish New Year), you’ll get a chance to witness the most important festival for the Kurds in the town of Akre, where thousands of people light up fire as a symbol of new beginnings. For the Kurdish people, Nowruz is an event which symbolizes the revolution and struggle of Kurds throughout history. Prepare for a long evening of fireworks, dancing and singing with thousands of Kurds.
If you’re visiting during the Yazidi New Year, you will be heading back to Lalish for this major event. During the celebrations, Iraqi Yazidis light 366 candles and paraffin torches to commemorate the arrival of light into the world. Worshippers dress in their traditional clothing and adorn their homes and robes with red flowers to mark the day that Tawuse Melek, the Peacock Angel, descended to bless the earth with fertility.
Stay overnight in Amedi.
Day 5: Wander Around Ancient Sites
Today, you will head to Zakho, also known as the Jerusalem of Assyria. The city is located 8 km west of Ibrahim Khalil border crossing with Turkey. Residents of different religions and ethnicities have lived together in Zakho for centuries here, though Jewish used to be the majority here. Sites of interest include Pira Dalal, an old stone bridge that crosses the Khabur River. Zakho is also known for its mineral springs, which locals believe have medicinal properties.
Then you will continue to Gaugamela, the venue of the Battle of Gaugamela or Battle of Arabela. It was where the decisive battle of Alexander the Great’s invasion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire took place.
Stay overnight in Erbil.
Day 6: Explore Lake, Mountain and Historic City
From Erbil, we will travel to the famous city of Sulaymaniya through Koya. Surrounded by the Bawaji and Haibat Sultan mountains, Koya is known as one of the most beautiful regions of Kurdistan. The city is famous for its mosques, which were often also centers for studies of sciences and arts.
Next, we’ll make a stop at Dokan Lake, a popular summer getaway for locals. As we approach Sulaymaniya, we’ll head up to Goyje Mountains for the best view of Sulaymaniya at sunset. Have tea in the bazaar, stroll in the park and see what locals do — enjoy Sulaymaniyah by night.
Stay overnight in Sulaymaniya.
Day 7: Witness Saddam’s Terror
An hour away from Sulaymaniya is the town of Halabja, famous for the genocide of the Kurdish people during Saddam’s rule. The biggest tragic that took place here was the Halabja chemical attack, a massacre against the Kurdish people that took place on March 16, 1988, during the closing days of the Iran–Iraq War. Our visit to Iraqi Kurdistan wouldn’t be complete without this.
Next we will continue on to Ahmed Awa, a natural spring and waterfalls famous for its beauty. In the afternoon, we’ll have time to get to know Sulaymaniya, a city famous for its poets, writers and historians. The main sites we’ll visit are Amna Suraka, the Red Prison, the archaeological museum, several mosques, and its main bazaar.
Stay overnight in Sulaymaniya.
Day 8: Get to Know Erbil Inside Out
The day begins with a drive back to the capital Erbil. Once we get back, we will visit the Erbil Citadel, the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll also spend some time wandering through the famous bazaar, which will give you a glimpse of Mesopotamia’s history with the smell of spices, color of carpets, tea and kebab.
Another important place to visit the Jalil Khayat Mosque, an impressive building that resembles in style the Muhammad Ali mosque in Cairo and the Blue mosque in Istanbul.
Then it’s time to bid farewell!
Nellie does not lead or join the WildJunket tours. All our tours are led by experienced and passionate local guides and tour managers. We only work with reliable and trustworthy local tour operators that Nellie has personally traveled with. All our tour guides are qualified and licensed, with years of experience leading travelers around their region/country.
For this Iraqi Kurdistan tour, we are working with Karwan Wahed, a leader in the region’s tourism industry. He has been guiding travelers around Iraqi Kurdistan for more than five years and has tons of knowledge about all things Kurdish. He is energetic and passionate about Kurdish local culture and heritage.
He is one of the best guides Nellie has ever traveled with, always going above and beyond to exceed traveler’s expectations. We cannot rave more about Karwan.
Our travelers come from all walks of life and from around the world. Expect to meet people of different ages and cultures. What you all share in common is a sense of adventure and an open mind.
We expect travelers to bring a flexible, positive, can-do attitude. Our tours operate in developing nations – be aware that many services, systems and levels of environmental cleanliness are not the same as you may be used to in your home country.
You may see pollution, poverty, overcrowded cities, and sadly malnourished people and animals. We ask travelers to embrace all aspects of traveling with a positive, flexible attitude.
To book a tour, please fill up the tour booking form and make a 25% deposit. Reservations are taken on a first come first serve basis and we do not hold your spot until your deposit has been received. Deposit can be paid by credit card, debit card or Paypal.
After you’ve made your deposit and submitted the online booking form, you will receive an email with the tour invoice and confirmation letter.
The balance of the tour fee is due 60 days prior to the departure date. The payment due date is listed on both your tour invoice and tour confirmation letter.
Some travelers will join the tour together with their partners or friends, but most travelers who join our WildJunket tours tend to be solo travelers.
If you are a solo traveler, you will be sharing rooms with another person on the tour.
For those who prefer to have a private room, we offer single supplements on most tours for an additional fee of US$200. You will see the option upon checkout when booking the tour.
If you’d like to share a room with your friend, please do indicate that in the ‘notes’ section of the booking form.
This trip does not require any fitness level as there will not any rigorous hiking or long walks.
There will be short walks, sometimes uphill and on mountainous terrains. But mostly, you will be walking in the cities and historical sites.
The trip will have some long drives, but they are broken up with stops to take in and photograph the spectacular views.
Travel insurance is required to participate in all WildJunket Tours.
Proof of your traveler’s insurance coverage will be required prior to departure from your home country. Failure to submit this document may result in you not being allowed to participate in the tour and no refund will be issued. It is your responsibility to make sure you have all required insurance.
All travelers are required to have international medical coverage (either through you home medical insurance or through traveler’s insurance), and trip cancellation. Your insurance must cover reimbursement of the cost of the tour if you cannot participate after the refund date.
We also recommend flight cancellation insurance, personal liability insurance, and loss of luggage. Travelers are wholly responsible for making their own insurance arrangements.
Before purchase, read the fine print or call the insurance company to have a full understanding of when there is coverage and when there is not. Sometimes insurances won’t cover a canceled flight for circumstances such as a natural disaster or an act of war. Be aware of how much the insurance you purchasing actually covers and the process to receive a reimbursement. There are many excellent travel insurance companies.
We recommend the site insuremytrip.com, as well as, Travel Guard, Access American, and World Nomads Insurance.
This tour does not include the cost of your visa.
Most nationalities can enter Kurdistan without a visa, including US, Canada, Australia, and EU passport holders.
For other nationalities, you will need an e-visa to enter Kurdistan. Contact the nearest KRG representative to you and find out how to apply for one. Here is a list of KRG representatives around the world.
You just need to mail them copies of your passport and application form along with some cash. You will receive your e-visa by email within a week.
Be sure to print out the e-visa and show it at the ‘VISA’ booth upon arrival at the airport. You can then stay up to 30 days in Kurdistan, but you won’t be able to travel to other parts of Iraq beyond the Kurdistan region. Note that a visa for Arab Iraq is very hard to get and costs around US$500.
Please read the document carefully before you book your tour with us. By registering and joining a WildJunket tour you are agreeing to these Terms and Conditions.
Tour leader: Nellie does not lead or join the WildJunket tours. All our tours are led by experienced and passionate local guides and tour managers. We only work with reliable and trustworthy local tour operators that Nellie has personally traveled with. All our tour guides are qualified and licensed, with years of experience leading travelers around their region/country.
Booking a Tour: To book a WildJunket tour, a 25% deposit is required. Reservations are taken on a first come first serve basis and we do not hold your spot until your deposit has been received. The online tour booking form must also be completed and submitted to guarantee your spot. Deposit can be paid by credit card, debit card or Paypal.
Deposit : Your deposit is refundable for 30 days from the date your deposit was received, unless noted otherwise. After 30 days, your deposit is no longer refundable and will be forfeited should you cancel your tour booking. Deposits placed up to 90 days before a tour departs are nonrefundable, unless otherwise noted.
Tour Payment : Payment can be made by credit card (Mastercard, Visa, American Express) or PayPal. Refer to each individual tour page for details and deadlines on when final payment is due. Your final tour payment due date is listed on both your tour invoice and tour confirmation letter. It is your responsibility to ensure payment is made on time. Missing the final payment deadline will result in you being removed from the tour and no refunds given. Please take note of the due date at the time you book your tour.
Missed Payment Deadline : All payment is due 60 days prior to departure. If payment is not completed by that day you will be removed from the tour and no refunds will be given.
Late Fees: There are no late fees and late payment is not accepted. All payment is due 60 days prior to the tour departure date. If payment is not made by 60 days prior to the tour departure date, you will be removed from the tour and no refunds given on the amount that had been paid.
Refund Policy: See the above section on Deposits and Cancellation for details on the refund policies.
International Flights : International airfare is not included in the tour price. You will need to book your international flight. We recommend booking your airfare three months before your trip to ensure the best airfare price. Many of our guests prefer to fly in a day early to adjust to the time zone difference and to provide them an extra buffer day in case their flights are delayed.
Traveler’s Insurance: Travel insurance is required to participate in all WildJunket Tours. Proof of your traveler’s insurance coverage will be required prior to departure from your home country. Failure to submit this document may result in you not being allowed to participate in the tour and no refund will be issued. All travelers are required to have international medical coverage (either through you have home medical insurance or through traveler’s insurance) and trip cancellation. Your insurance must cover reimbursement of the cost of the tour if you cannot participate after the refund date. We also recommend flight cancellation insurance, personal liability insurance, and loss of luggage. Travelers are wholly responsible for making their own insurance arrangements.
Canceled Tours – More Than 60 Days Prior To Departure: Note: The following is only if WildJunket cancels a tour and does not cover if the traveler cancels their booking. If we cancel a tour more than 60 days prior to departure, the entire amount paid will be refunded to you, unless the cancellation happens less than 60 days prior to the tour departure or you had canceled your reservation. Less than 60 days prior to departure no refunds will be given and reimbursement needs will be handled by your travel insurance. Once the refund has occurred, WildJunket and its representatives have no other obligations to tour members for the canceled tour, including any other additional costs incurred due to the canceled trip, such as cancellation or change of airlines tickets. The tour member’s trip cancellation and interruption insurance is responsible for these reimbursements.
Canceled Tours – Less Than 60 Days Prior to Departure: Note: The following is only if WildJunket cancels a tour and does not cover if the traveler cancels their booking. If the cancellation happens less than 60 days prior to the tour departure, contact your travel insurance for reimbursement on the tour costs. Your travel insurance will be responsible for reimbursing you for all costs associated with the tour. The tour member’s trip cancellation and interruption insurance is responsible for reimbursement if the tour is cancelled less than 60 days before departure. WildJunket takes no responsibility for refunding the cost of products not purchased through WildJunket – such as cancellation or change of airlines tickets, hotels before or after the tour.
Cancellation by Travelers: Note: The following applies if a traveler cancels their tour, irrespective of if WildJunket cancels the tour. Your deposit is refundable for 30 days from the date your deposit was paid. After 30 days your deposit is no longer refundable and will be forfeited should you cancel your tour booking. Deposits placed 60 days – 90 days before your tour departs are nonrefundable. If you cancel your reservation and later the tour ends up being canceled your deposit is still forfeit and non-refundable.
Itineraries are subject to change: Traveling can come with many surprises and unexpected challenges. We do our best to follow the laid out itinerary, but sometimes unforeseeable situations arise. The itinerary is subject to change. Itineraries, transportation and hotels are subject to change due to weather, road conditions, operating conditions, government decisions or numerous other reasons beyond our control. The Tour Leader retains the right to change the itinerary for safety and convenience of the travelers. Changes to the itinerary are not cause for a refund.
Medical and Dietary Limitations: We do our best to help with medical and dietary limitations when possible, but WildJunket cannot take responsibility for travelers with medical or dietary limitations and cannot guarantee that special dietary needs can be met. We do try and help with dietary requirements at group meals but cannot guarantee all dietary requirements are able to be met at each meal. Please discuss medical and dietary restrictions with your guide at the beginning of the tour so they can assist you during group meals when it’s possible.
Medical and Health Information: All travelers need to be in good physical health in order to participate fully on this trip. When selecting your trip please make sure you have read through the itinerary carefully and assess your ability to cope with our style of travel. Please note that if, in the opinion of our group leader or local guide, any traveler is unable to complete the itinerary without undue risk to themselves and/or the rest of the group, WildJunket reserves the right to exclude them from all or part of the trip without a refund. By booking a tour with WildJunket, you agree to this policy.
Pre-Existing Medical Conditions: We try to work with our tour participant’s medical conditions as best we can, but if a condition will impact the tour function or enjoyment of other tour members we reserve the right to deny bookings. Any pre-existing physical, mental, or emotional disability that may prevent you from fully participating in this tour must be disclosed prior to the start of your tour.
Returning Tour Member Discount : Returning Tour Members receive $100 OFF for them and $100 OFF for their traveler companions as a special returning tour member discount. Please email us to the discount code before booking your tour.
Single Supplement: Solo travelers who prefer privacy can pay a single supplement rate that covers the additional costs of private hotel rooms. You will find the cost of the single supplement at check-out after booking the tour.
Accommodations: On our tours, you will be mostly staying in comfortable hotels, home stays, boutique hotels and desert camps. Not every accommodation will have all the amenities you might expect. Some accommodations may not Wifi or their WiFi may be extremely slow. Some accommodations will have no air conditioning or heating. We hope you can embrace all aspects of traveling with a positive, flexible attitude.
Participation and Expulsion from Tour : We aim for everyone on our tours to have a great time and enjoy the country. If a tour participant acts in a manner that puts the safety of the other tour members at risk or in a manner that prevents the tour from running smoothly, WildJunket reserves the right and discretion to remove that person from the tour.
Illegal Drug Use: Illegal drug use is not tolerated on any WildJunket Tour. Possession of drugs is illegal in the countries where our tours operate and puts the entire tour group at risk. Leave all nonprescription drugs at home. If you are found to possess illegal drugs or marijuana, you will be immediately expelled from the tour and sent home at your own expense. Possession of illegal drugs (including marijuana) carries a long jail sentence, life in prison, or in some cases a death sentence.
WildJunket waives any responsibility if you are arrested for drug possession. For all prescriptions drugs, it is required they are brought in their original containers with a current prescription label.
Other Illegal Items: Prostitution and pornography are both illegal in the countries where we operate tours. If you are found partaking in either you will be expelled from the tour. Both carry long prison sentences. Also, do not take photographs of government buildings and structures, military builds and military personal. And drones are not permitted.
Tour Member Expectations and Requirements: Pack your positive attitude, flexibility, sense of adventure and humor. This helps us create a great tour environment for all travelers. We expect travelers to bring a flexible, positive, can-do attitude. Our tours operate in developing, growing nations – it’s an exciting time to experience these countries. But be aware that many services, systems and levels of environmental cleanliness are not the same as you may be used to in your home country. You may see pollution, poverty, overcrowded cities, and sadly malnourished people and animals. We ask travelers to embrace all aspects of traveling with a positive, flexible attitude.
What Others Say about WildJunket Tours
I absolutely loved my week in Iraq. Yes, it was sad at times but it was educational, insightful and hugely humbling. The scenery was stunning, the people were kind and the food was delicious. I felt completely safe the entire time (except when we walked so far into a cave that the daylight disappeared). Karwan was the best guide, and Nellie and Peggy were dream travel companions.
What an amazing trip! I went on the first WildJunket Tibet tour in 2017 and I had a blast! Tibet is a gorgeous land, filled with rich history and vibrant culture. It was wonderful to visit Tibet’s ornate temples and sacred monasteries with like-minded travellers on this once in a lifetime adventure. We also spent a beautiful night at Everest Base Camp, gazing at the brilliant stars and then waking up to the stunning sight of Mount Everest in the morning! Huge thanks to Nellie of WildJunket and Sonam our local guide for ensuring that we had an amazing experience in Tibet.
I was on a WildJunket tour in Tibet, and it was a great experience. I had an amazing time and absolutely loved the whole trip! I learned so much and felt like we experienced a whole lot in just one week. Our group had so much fun that we were already talking about going on another WildJunket tour while in Tibet.
I have been traveling with Nellie for 10 years. She was my first tour guide. I was pretty nervous as a solo traveler. I was worried about booking flights online, customs documents and local customs. She reassured me. She has showed me the best tapa bars in Spain, train travel in Morocco, elephant sanctuary in Bali, Singapore high rises.
She is currently planning our Ethiopia tour next month. I’m not sure what to expect in Ethiopia, but I know that is will be exciting and with lots of food. She handles everything promptly and answers all my questions.
I have traveled with Nellie a few times and I love her travel style! Her resourcefulness, spontaneous spirit, and love for food and exploring make travel fun. She is always curious to learn more and eager to talk to locals. I like how she digs deep beneath the surface and gives us an immersive experience.