Iraq is open again and welcoming tourists. And Triskelion Expeditions will take you there in 2023, accompanied by José Mendes on two of the trips, to get to know the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
Our Iraq Kurdistan trip gives us a look at the autonomous region of Northern Iraq. Kurdistan offers not only security, but also stunning mountain ranges with thousands of archaeological sites and some of the friendliest and most welcoming people on the planet.
The region has long been known in Middle Eastern literature as ‘paradise on earth’. There is no better time to visit than the Persian/Kurdish New Year festivities celebrated by Kurds around the world. The festival culminates with an incredible parade of fireworks and torch-lit displays in the mountains of Akre.
There is an abundance of incredible, untouched history waiting to be seen. This trip takes us to Lalish is one of the most unique destinations in the whole Kurdistan region, Duhok, the former mountain top palace of Saddam Hussein, Amadiya, Sulaymaniyah, Halabja and other historical places of the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
Join us on this adventure to a still unknown country.
Arrive at Erbil International Airport (EIA) in the capital of Kurdistan – one of the safest and most technologically advanced transport facilities in the world.
The leader will be waiting for the whole group at Erbil airport.
We head to the hotel to check in and talk about the next few days, then we can take a walk around the city and start to feel Iraq
Today after breakfast we set off for the 7000 year old Citadel of Erbil – the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world (There are cities perhaps as old but not continuously inhabited). The Citadel of Erbil was once a Sumerian city called Urbellum or Arbella (4 gods) and Abraham is believed to have passed through this city on one of his journeys. It once housed the Temple of the Goddess Ishtar. It was also the city to which Darius III fled after facing defeat from Alexander the Great on the nearby plains of Gaugamela. UNESCO is currently undertaking a huge restoration project worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Then we visited the Museum of Civilisation and the Museum of Assyrian Culture.
This is followed by a visit to the famous Textile Museum in the Citadel. The museum, housed in a 220-year-old residence, features ancient Kurdish fighting instruments, traditional dress, handmade carpets from different regions and eras of Kurdish history, jewellery and photographs. In addition to Kurdish antiquities, there are a number of pieces from Iran and Turkey. In the Museums’ gift shop we will have the opportunity to purchase a sample of local handicrafts.
In front of the Museum there is a large and well-known antique shop where you can buy a piece of Kurdistan’s history as well as its more modern handicrafts.
Then time to explore the food market and the covered Qaysari Bazaar where you can find jewellery, gold and silver, carpets, antiques and many other interesting objects, as well as tasty sweets and other delicacies.
Lunch, in a local restaurant.
After lunch we visited, Choli Minaret, one of Erbil’s most famous landmarks dating from the Atabag period (12th century). The structure was built from burnt bricks and tiles imported from Egypt – a nation linked to Kurdistan in ancient times. Due to the long-term effect of deterioration, the essential part of the architecture has disappeared and so the sloping minaret is the last survivor of Erbil’s most famous historic mosque. The site also marks the entrance to a large park with numerous statues of famous poets and writers, including an imposing statue of ibn al-Mustawfi (1169-1239), Kurdistan’s greatest historian.
Accommodation in Erbil
We enjoy a buffet breakfast in the hotel’s main restaurant and set off for the Old Town of Akre.
We arrive at the monastery of Dayro d-Mor Matay (4th Century Monastery of St. Matthew) for a tour led by the monks of the monastery. The Monastery is one of the most famous sites in Eastern Christendom and, apart from a few forced closures, has been in continuous use for almost 2,000 years.
We leave the Monastery for Gaugamela – site of the famous battle between King Darius III and Alexander the Great. Standing on a hill (tel) overlooking the vast plain below imagining the clash of arms that made Alexander the King of Persia and undisputed ruler of the civilized world.
Then we will see Jirwana – the oldest ruined aqueduct and bridge in the world built at the time of Sennacharib (690 BC). The site was once part of a vast complex that was built to water the gardens of Nineveh. Huge stones transported by hand from quarries hundreds of miles away are engraved with the story of this amazing feat. Here we find the secret of the ‘hidden message of Sennacharib’, known only to a few living scholars in the world – we join them in this astonishing revelation.
We then go to the Xaringeha Niruj restaurant for lunch – simple traditional Kurdish food.
After lunch, we go to Lalish – a pilgrimage site of the Yezidis who are descendants of the Zoroastrians – one of the most mysterious people in the world. Learn about the ancient rituals of this people, considered by many to be the remnants of the original religion of Kurdistan.
Lalish is one of the most unique destinations in the entire Kurdistan Region. It is a cultural and religious experience as well as a place of calm, serenity and natural beauty. This small mountain town is the most sacred place for the heterodox ethno-religious Yezidi (Yazidi) community. It is the resting place for some of the most important figures of the Yezidi faith such as Sheikh Adi (1070s-1162), who essentially codified Yezidi theology and balanced previously disparate teachings. The Yezidis are expected and encouraged to make a six-day pilgrimage to Lalish during their lifetime in order to visit Sheikh Adi’s tomb and other sacred sites in the small mountain village. The village is easily recognisable because of the famous conical structures (shrines).
In more recent years, and particularly since the Yezidis have been in the news due to the atrocities committed against them by ISIS, the holy village has become a tourist attraction for both Kurds and international visitors to understand and gain information about this faith, culture and traditions of persecuted minorities. There are only a few residents of Lalish, only a few years old, who have the task of maintaining the beauty of the place, although there are many Yezidis living in the surrounding towns and villages who visit frequently, particularly at weekends. Most are quite willing to share their religion, culture, and traditions with outsiders. Lalish is open to people of all faiths for visits and there are usually tour guides who have been officially commissioned by the Yezidi community to help and educate visitors.
The guides who accompany us are themselves, scholars are experts in the faith and traditions, including the many mysteries surrounding this fascinating people.
Since the whole village is sacred, everyone must take off their shoes (you can wear socks). It’s best not to wear blue as Yezidis don’t usually wear that colour, although they won’t be upset if you forget.
Yezidis believe that Lalish is where Noah’s Ark rested after the great flood and life began anew and every year thousands of Yezidis travel to Lalish to drink the water from the sacred spring that flows through the entire village. There is a great deal of controversy about the actual beliefs of this colourful and mysterious people. Some mistakenly call them “devil worshippers”, which is far from the truth. His teachings were recorded in the Meshef Resh (Black Books), among others, which included accounts of creation. It is said of these revelations that, “outsiders can neither read nor contemplate them” and books are thought to be lost more frequently. In fact, the Yezidis are a closed society and one cannot convert to Yezidism or marry outside the faith. They are known as fierce warriors, which is not apparent when meeting them as they are a gentle and hospitable people.
From here, we travel to Duhok.
A buffet breakfast will be served before we leave for the ruins of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in the beautiful Sarsinc region near the Gara Mountains. Ten palaces were built as a compound where three meals were prepared in each of them every day in case Saddam turned up for a visit. They were filled with man-made lakes and miles of sandstone steps along streams that led up into the mountains, where stone placements guarded the valley.
At one time, movie stars and prominent people from all over the world attended parties at the main palace and stayed in mansions (guest houses) that were part of the complex. Although very little remains, one can see the grand plan he had for the region, including what was to become a facility to host the Olympic Games. The Kurds ousted Saddam’s army with the help of America and its allies in 1991. At that time, several of the palaces were intact.
We then visit the ancient city of Amadiya (dating from the Assyrian era) located on a promontory high above a breathtaking landscape and fed by a geothermal spring originating far below the mountain. 90 km north-east of Dohuk; about 1400 m above sea level; surrounded by heights, it was once an almost impenetrable fortress.
The City Gate (Bab Zebar) is located on the eastern side of Amadiya City, its width was 4 meters, built by Imaduddin Al- Zanki in 5-600 AD, a minaret is located in the middle of Amadiya and its height is 30 meters and Islamic ornamentation (arabesque) is clearly seen on the minaret which was built in the time of Sultan Hussein Wali and was part of an existing ancient city, pass by a 3rd century synagogue and at the base of the mountain visit an ancient Egyptian madrassa allegedly founded by Cairo University centuries ago.
Here we have the opportunity to interact with the people of Kurdistan while enjoying the delicious local cuisine.
We then head to Barzan through stunning scenery and the traditional regional homeland of the Barzani tribe.
The current President and Prime Minister of Kurdistan are from this region. We will stop at the Mullah Mustapha Memorial (father of modern Kurdistan) where the local curator will explain the history of Kurdistan’s most famous leader while enjoying a cup of chai with Peshmerga.
We will pass through and, time permitting, climb to the famous Neanderthal Cave, Shanidar, discovered in the 1950s by an archaeologist called Solecki. The discovery changed the world’s thinking about Neanderthals, as it was discovered for the first time that Neanderthal dead had been buried with rituals that included flowers and medicines once used to treat the deceased. Solecki dubbed these Neanderthals “the world’s first flower children”.
Accommodation at Hotel Soran.
We had breakfast at the Hotel and then left for Sulymaniya passing through Rawanduz Town and the amazing Hamilton Road – one of the great engineering feats of the last few centuries. Alexander Hamilton cut a path from Shaqlawa to Iran against insurmountable odds and despite most believing it could not be done with the available technology and considering the animosity of the tribes inhabiting the region.
We will also see Bekhal and Geli Ali Beg water fall and Rawanduz Gorge.
Lunch in Shaqlawa.
Upon arrival in Suly, we will visit the infamous Red House where Saddam tortured and killed thousands of Kurds. Usually, an ex-prison inmate is available to escort the guests. The portal to the prison is through a cave-like entrance covered with small mirrors representing the more than 185,000 “disappeared” – men, women and children that Saddam “made disappear” during his reign of terror.
We then visit the Suli bazaar and the famous Sha’ab teahouse and, weather permitting, Goizha mountain to see the city from above and on a clear day, a view hundreds of kilometres to the Iranian border.
Hotel accommodation in Sulymaniya
We had breakfast at the hotel and went out to visit the Sulaymani Museum, the largest collection in Kurdistan and the second largest collection of antiquities in Iraq. There are other museums in Kurdistan, but nothing that matches this one in Sulaymani. The Museum Director is often on hand to explain some of the issues Kurdistan faces in preserving its antiquities, including looters and corrupt officials who have sold the nation’s heritage to collectors abroad.
Departure for Halabja where, on 16 March 1988, Saddam Hussein ordered the use of chemical weapons in the attack on at least 24 villages in the Kurdish region, Halabja being the most notorious. At least 5,000 people died as an immediate result of the chemical attack and an estimated 10,000 more were injured, or suffered long-term illnesses. Before the end of the war, the Iraqis settled on the ground and completely destroyed the city.
In March 2010, the Iraqi High Criminal Court recognised the Halabja massacre as genocide. Saddam was executed for other crimes shortly before he was tried in Kurdistan for his acts of atrocity – let’s find out why.
Today the city lives again – testimony to the incredible resilience and survivability of the Kurds to the most brutal attack on their people and culture. The Halabja Museum and Memorial Cemetery is fascinating and moving.
After this emotional and moving visit we visited the beautiful waterfall of Ahmed Awa, where the “Three Hikers” crossed into Iran. We returned to Sulaymani and went back to the hotel.
Today we have our festive farewell dinner which will be at one of Suly’s establishments in the city.
Accommodation in Sulymaniya
Breakfast at the hotel and we leave for a visit to Lake Dokan.
Lunch will be taken around the lake and we can swim in it (depends on the time of year).
We then visit Koisinjak on the way to Erbil, the old Caravanserai (hostel on the ancient Silk Road), and the old Jewish silver bazaar.
Accommodation in Erbil
And we arrive at the last day of our trip, where if we have time we can still walk around the city and then, we will go to the airport to board our flight back home.
The meeting with the leader is held at Erbil airport.
Esta viagem só se realiza com um mínimo de 7 viajantes e tem um máximo de 14 viajantes.
Single supplement of 150
Possibility of accommodation before and after departure. Ask us for prices
We recommend that you do a traveller’s consultation before your trip. At Triskelion we recommend the Online Traveller Consultation, where you can get a 5% discount, by entering through LINK
The order of the itineraries may be altered due to unlikely events
The agency will notify travellers already booked, as soon as the minimum number of participants is reached, so that we can proceed with the purchase of flights and the preparation of the trip.
Approximate cost of flight: 815€
The value of the flight corresponds to a survey carried out in November 2022, it may vary when a new quote is submitted.
If you wish to buy the flight with Triskelion Expeditions, please inform us at the time of booking so that we can help you with the purchase of the flights
Triskelion Expeditions, recommends that a traveller’s consultation is carried out, as a vaccination record may be required on entry into the territory.
For the traveller’s consultation, we recommend the Company Traveller’s Consultation Online, with whom we work and who will give you a 5% discount on the consultation fee.
Health professionals will offer general advice on health and hygiene in tropical environments, as well as advice specific to the area in which you are travelling.
Planning consultations and possible vaccinations is the responsibility of the traveller.
Click HERE to book your appointment
The traveller is responsible for carrying all necessary travel documents.
A visa is required for entry into the country. To obtain a visa you must have a passport with enough pages for the visa stamp and valid for at least 6 months when leaving the country.
Visa applications, for holders of ordinary Portuguese passports, should be made to the Iraqi Embassy in Lisbon.
Triskelion Expeditions will request the necessary contact details from all its travellers in order to respond quickly to any incident that may arise during the stay.
For further information: https://portaldascomunidades.mne.gov.pt
A minimum payment of 30% of the trip value is required to confirm the reservation.
The traveller chooses at the time of booking whether to pay for the whole trip or 30%.
The remaining amount must be paid at least 45 days before the travel start date.
The remaining 70% of the value of the trip can be paid in instalments up to 60 days before the beginning of the trip.