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Iraq: a country burdened by conflict for as long as I can remember. The War on Terror. ISIS. Saddam Hussein. You would think that a place that evokes those thoughts wouldn’t be somewhere that anyone would want to visit. Well, I went. I traveled to the Kurdish region in Northern Iraq, otherwise known as Iraqi Kurdistan.
The trip to Iraqi Kurdistan had been planned at the last minute due to a change with another trip that I had been going on. Two other friends, Brandon and Sal, and I found a guide through Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum and trusted that things were going to work out. A few days before we were supposed to depart, the Mosul Offensive started. Just to give you some reference, Erbil is only 85 kilometers away from Mosul by land and other areas that we drove to were even closer.
I’m not going to lie. I was a little nervous when my flight was landing at Erbil International Airport. My friends and I were flying separately. Brandon and I were supposed to meet at the airport and then go find our guide, Karwan, together.
Believe it or not, the 10 days that I spent there were some of the most amazing travel days that I have experienced so far. Here are five reasons why.
The people are wonderful in Kurdistan
If I had to choose one thing that made my visit to Iraqi Kurdistan stand out against all of the other travel I have done, it would be how wonderful the people we met were.
Karwan, our guide, started off our trip by showing us true Kurdish hospitality and inviting us to dinner with his family. His wife made an amazing meal of dolma (stuffed vegetable dishes) and we sat and talked and learned more about the way of life in Iraqi Kurdistan. Karwan continued to show us Kurdish hospitality and became a true friend by the end of our trip.
At other points in the trip we met more amazing people. We met Bilal, the Head of Security at a refugee camp we visited, and were able to interview a family who had been living there since ISIS came to Mosul. After we talked with a family who was so kind to invite us into their temporary home and share water and snacks with us, Bilal insisted on taking us out to lunch and still communicates with each of us on Facebook on occasion.
In Erbil, there was a kebab restaurant that we went to a few times for their amazing chicken kebabs. On our last day, I couldn’t stand to think that I would never have that chicken again and went to try to find out the recipe from the chef. Even though I know no Kurdish and he knew very little English, he was able to show me all of the ingredients that go into his chicken and even wrote down the names of the spices in Kurdish so I could later ask Karwan what they were.
The Kurdish people were some of the kindest and friendliest people I have met anywhere in the world.
Traveling off the beaten track isn’t always good for the bank account. When you have to (or want to) hire a guide and there are no hostels or chain hotels to use points at, often times you’ll be looking at a pretty expensive trip. In Iraqi Kurdistan, that just isn’t so.
We traveled in Iraqi Kurdistan for a total of 10 days and spent under $700 per person including our food, lodging, and guide. We ate well and stayed in three-star accommodation each night. On the two nights we spent outside of Erbil, Karwan’s hometown, we also paid for his lodging.
You will never be far from beautiful landscapes on your visit to Iraqi Kurdistan.
There are amazing mountains dotting the region as well as canyons, rivers, and waterfalls. Let’s face it, Iraqi Kurdistan is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream!
Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraqi doesn’t always have a happy history, but it is a rich one.
Even though many of the historical sites are located outside of the Kurdish region and therefore require a full Iraqi visa to visit, we were able to visit quite a few sites including the Rabban Hormizd Monastery, a few of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, and the memorial to the genocide in Halabja.
The world isn’t just what we see on the news
By traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan you’ll get insight into what the country and people are actually like, not just the bad things we hear on the news day in and day out. It’s important to go and form your own opinions on different people and countries and come home and share what you have experienced with your friends and family. By doing this we can all help make the world a more harmonious place.
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Caroline Lupini has been freelance writing and traveling the world for three years. So far, she has traveled to 65 countries (with Iraqi Kurdistan being one of the highlights) and hopes to one day visit them all. Follow her on her journey on her website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
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Looking for inspiration on other places to visit? Try The No-Nonsense Guide to Cairo for another inside look at whether or not the Middle East in unsafe.