Golestan is one of the least visited provinces of Iran.
However, after a full week of wandering around the region, I came to the conclusion that this might be my favorite place in Iran, very different from the rest of the country and home to a beauty I never expected.
I really want travelers to discover this great hidden gem, which is why I compiled it Guide to visiting Golestan provincewhich includes things to do, transportation and accommodation tips and of course lots of local insights and inspiring photos.
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Why visit Golestan?
From the epic train journeys For the country’s greenest landscape, unique culture and world-class archaeological site, Golestan is an absolutely underrated province in Iran.
The beautiful scenery made up of exceptionally green valleys and velvety smooth rolling hills and the tomb of Khalid Nabi, the pre-Islamic prophet, whose location is much more than prominent, should be the focus of everyone’s attention. travel guide to Iran.
Add strong to this Central Asia the culture that is closer to Kazakhstan to Iran, and you’ll soon realize that Golestan Province is an unseen place that can keep you busy for weeks.
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People, the Turkmens of Iran’s Golestan
The landscape and epic archaeological sites are not the only reason to visit Golestan, but from a cultural point of view, this is a very unique region.
And the reason is that, since it borders Turkmenistan, Golestan province has a large number of Turkmen.
These people, unlike the rest of Iran, are Sunni, Turkmen is their language, and traditionally women dress in colorful dresses, while in the rest of the country they prefer black. chador.
Moreover, they have a Central Asian culture. For example, they eat Central Asian food, including plov (Man, I really hate it plov) and: praying mantis. There is also a very visible nomadic culture and, as in Kyrgyzstan and: Kazakhstanthey also live in yurts.
But perhaps the most surprising thing is that the Turkmen of Iran claim that they are the original, because the actual inhabitants of Turkmenistan have been too much influenced by Russia.
Getting a visa for Turkmenistan is very difficult. I actually tried to apply for one once In Tashkent and unfortunately it was rejected, so if your visa is also rejected, Golestan is the closest place you can be to Turkmenistan.
Read: Which country in Central Asia should you visit?
How to get in and out of Golestan province
Get to Golestan by bus
Bus is always the easiest and fastest way to travel in Iran.
Gorgan and Gonwad el-Qawous are the main cities in the province, so there are daily, direct buses from many other cities, including: TehranEspahan and Mashhad.
Golestan by train
If you would come From Tehranyou should know that the train journey is one of the most epic in the country as it passes through the magical landscape and many historic bridges.
However, you must book it in advance as places sell out very quickly.
In fact, I tried to book it 24 hours in advance and it was already fully booked, so instead I took the train to Surrey, which is a few hours before Gorgan. The ticket cost 104,000 IR and was an 8 hour journey.
Sights in Golestan
Read: The best books on Central Asian culture, politics and history
I’ve spent a week training and these are all the places I’ve been.
By the way, if you only have a few days, I recommend at least visiting Gonwad e-Qawus and Khalid Nabi.
Day 1 – Gorgan
Gorgan was my first stop in the region.
To be honest, it’s not a very exciting city, but it has a lively market, several blue-tiled mosques worth checking out, and it’s a great base for exploring the surrounding Turkmen cities.
The city is mostly Iranian, so you won’t see many Turkmen here either.
Furthermore, Gorgan is very close to Zariah Valley, a popular resort for locals. It is a beautiful forest with several waterfalls and half-day hiking options.
Where to stay in Gorgan?
Pars Hotel – Most of the foreigners will stay here. A budget hotel run by a local who used to live in London. I was the only foreigner during my stay, but I had so much fun with the few local guests who were also there.
Day 2 – Day trip to Aghgala, Bandar-e-Turkman and Ashurade
A true picture of Turkmenistan’s urban life Just north of Gorgan, there are several towns that are definitely worth a visit and are easily accessible on a day trip.
The most Turkmen city in all of Golestan province, Aghgala is a great place to spend a few hours wandering around the many restaurants serving Central Asian food and just people watching.
If possible, try to come here on a Thursday, the day the local market takes place, when you’ll see all the locals selling traditional Turkmen fabrics, food, and more. I was actually very lucky to see it.
How to get from Gorgan to Aghgala. The bus terminal is located right next to the railway station. Minibuses run all day and cost only IR10,000.
Bandar e-Turkmen will definitely surprise you because it is actually quite touristy.
The local Turkmen have developed a very touristic area where you can find so many yurts, eat traditional products such as: kurut (Central Asian cheese balls), buy typical clothes and many other things.
Iranians consider their culture very exotic, so this is a very popular city for domestic tourism.
Moreover, here you can catch a boat to Ashurade Island.
How to get to Bandar e-Turkmen from Aghgala – There are local shared taxis that cost as little as IR30,000.
This is nothing but an island in the Caspian Sea and is a 10-minute boat ride from Bandar e-Turkmen.
The cost of the boat tour is 600,000 IR, but you can share it with others and other Iranians are likely to invite you to join. In fact, I didn’t even have to ask when the lovely family asked me to board the boat with them.
To be honest, the island is not that beautiful, but to think that you were on an island in the middle of the Caspian Sea is very beautiful.
The island, however, has the best seafood restaurant in Golestan, serving very unique Caspian fish. It’s a bit pricey though, with prices starting at IR400,000-500,000 for a main course alone.
I didn’t eat there because the family didn’t want to, and I don’t like spending money on a nice meal if I can’t share the moment with someone.
How to return Gorgan from Bandar e-Turkmen – Shared taxis are very frequent and cost as little as IR30,000.
Day 3 – Gonwad el-Kawous
It is the largest city in Golestan and a beautiful city to spend a day or two in.
At Gonvad e-Kavus you will find a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a 72-meter tower from the 11th century. The inside of the tower contains some of the oldest mukarnaswhich are Islamic geometric shapes that you can see in many mosques around Iran.
The entrance fee for foreigners is 200,000 IR, but you can see the tower from outside without paying, no problem.
The city has many shops that sell traditional Turkmen handicrafts, Central Asian restaurants, and it is famous for its most famous places. horse racing in Iran.
Also, if you’re dying for good coffee and international food, go! Cafe Shot, a western-style cafe run by a Turkmen brother and sister. I have spent many hours working in their cafe and they are totally awesome. Highly recommended.
Where to stay in Gonwad el-Qawous?
There is no good accommodation in this town and seems to be the only decent option Hotel Ajam, which is a cheap, very average place. You can also do Couchsurfing as there are quite a few active profiles.
How to get from Gorgan to Gonwad el-Qawus
Buses from Gorgan Gonvadi work continuously and cost only IR30,000.
Day 4 – Tamer-e Karah Kuzi
Tamer is a village located between Gonwad e-Qawous and Khalid Nabi, just 35 km before the cemetery, and is surrounded by a truly spectacular landscape.
If you want to experience the real Turkmen village culture, come here and relax with Naim and his family, a real Turkmen family that takes hospitality to the next level. For a small fee they have a yurt and several rooms and all meals are included.
For that you can contact Naeem on +989120294409 or just write to him Instagram:.
You can just stay in the village and walk around, but if you want, Naim can also take you on some trekking (with or without a horse) and even visit some real Turkmen nomads deep in the mountains.
I promise you will have a great time with her.
How to get from Gonwad el-Qawus to Tamer-e Karah Kooz
First, you need to get a shared taxi to Kalaleh (IR 40,000) and from there, second to Tamer (IR 40,000).
Day 5 – Khalid Nabi
Khalid Nabi is great and a reason in itself to come to Golestan province.
Basically, this is a cemetery where the pre-Islamic prophet and his followers are buried.
The site is divided into two places. on one side you have Khalid’s mausoleum on top of a hill where you have stunning views, the horizon is Turkmenistan. On the other hand, you have the follower graveyard where you can find the famous penis shaped rocks.
In case you’re wondering, these penis-shaped rocks are tombs, and yes, they’re trying to mimic the shape of a dick, because that means the person buried is a man. Some penises are very tall, while others are quite small.
And no, this doesn’t represent the size of their corpses, but it has to do with their age. The taller the penis, the bigger the man is when he dies.
Khalid Nabi is a very strange, mysterious place.
How to get to Khalid Nabi Tamer-e Karah from Kuzi
Khalid Nabi is only 35 km away but the road is really bumpy so it takes about 1.5 hours. A taxi ride costs 400,000 IR, but you can hitchhike very easily.
Day 6 – Return to Gonwad el-Qawous and bus to next destination
There are direct buses from Gonvad e-Kavus to Tehran, Esfahan, Mashhad and many other cities.
I personally continued on my way to Mashhad by an 8-hour night bus.
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More information for visiting Golestan province
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As well as all our articles on Iran.