Iran is a big place and is the eighteenth largest country in the world. It’s no surprise that a country this size has a huge amount of variety in landscapes and weather. Iran is flanked by a large mountain range on its western side. The mountains are so high they stop rain reaching the east, where there are not one, but two deserts. Then there's the Persian Gulf coast where the water's warm enough to poach fish. But the north along the Caspian Sea is covered in dense rainforest.
Temperatures at different ends of the country on the same day can be crazily different, 23°F (-5°C) in Tabriz but 95°F (35°C) in Bandar Abbas. People who are unaccustomed to extreme heat (and some who are) should avoid the Persian Gulf region of Iran in summer – it's blisteringly hot. Know where you're going, make sure you have the right gear and are well prepared for that time of the year.
The Iranian government has put considerable effort into providing safe drinking water to its people. Apart from the Caspian Sea region where the annual rainfall is 1200mm a year, most of the country gets less than 100mm, so getting plenty of safe drinking water to 98% of the urban population is a great achievement. But as is often the case, visitors may find the tap water tastes different and causes traveler's diarrhoea, so stick with bottled water or boil and filter the tap water.
Outside of the major urban centres the water quality is poorer. There are half a million wells in Iran. Much of the annual rainfall comes in a big burst, which also washes pollutants into the system (some towns still have open drains to take sewage) so make sure you only drink water which has been treated and purified.
Iran is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world because it sits across several major fault lines. There's a tremor of some varying degree daily. Most you won't even notice however the big ones can be bad.
The last major quake was a M7.3 along the Iranian/Iraqi border on November 12th 2017 killed at least 500 people.
If there is a quake, the greatest danger to you is falling debris, so drop to the floor and cover your head and neck. Take shelter under a desk, a sturdy piece of furniture or in a doorway.
In the Bam earthquake of 2003, one of the biggest causes of death was suffocation from dust caused when mud brick buildings collapsed. If you're sheltering under a desk, try to grab other sturdy objects which can bolster your position and keep debris from overwhelming you.
If you’re outdoors move away from structures. Watch out for fallen power lines. Don’t shelter on or under a bridge. Read more here on how to survive an earthquake.
Iran’s long distance VIP buses and train network connect the country in style and it’s easy and affordable to get around Iran on the ground. Domestic flights in Iran are relatively expensive and many of the planes are older, inferior models that may not be as safe as newer planes on account of the sanctions making it difficult for airlines to update.
This means the domestic airline fleet is made up of ageing and/or Russian (aircraft, most of which had questionable safety records when they were brand new!)
This warning about air travel is from the UK foreign office advice on Iran:
The state carrier, Iran Air, has been refused permission to operate services to the EU with the exception of 14 aircraft of type A300, eight aircraft of type A310 and one aircraft of type B737.
This restriction has been put in place because Iran Air has been unable to demonstrate that a number of aircraft in its fleet (including those of type A320, Boeing 727, B747-100, B747-200 and B747-SP) meet international safety standards.
You should be aware that many of the planes flown on domestic routes in Iran are ageing. There have been a number of accidents in recent years. Crucially, this is about to change. In the last eighteen months, with the lifting of some sanctions under the Obama administration, In the last 18 months, Iran has begun a complete overall of it’s aviation sector and since the lifting of sanctions in January 2016, Iranian airlines have placed orders for more than 300 new aircraft. Until recently, Iran had found it impossible to buy new aircraft or even replacement parts and there was only 150 planes in regular active service.
Iranians are rightfully proud of their train and bus network and it’s possible to get around the country in comfort – many of the trains have sleeper berth options available and a restaurant car for passengers.
Iran also has its own car-making industry, the largest in the Middle East, the 12th largest in the world. Car registrations are booming, getting close to 2-million new cars on the road every year. The 5 manufacturers make their own brands, and foreign brands under license (Mercedes, Peugeot Citroën etc). The most popular makes are Khodro and Saipa.
Iran has a fairly bad road safety record and every year the road toll is more than 25,000!
It's not just driving – crossing the road, especially in Tehran, is terrifying! Unlike Vietnam where the trick is to walk purposefully and let the traffic run around you. Always make eye contact with drivers before stepping out into the street, that way you can hopefully gauge if they are going to stop! It is worth crossing the street in Iran quickly and don't dawdle.
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