Accommodation in Iran
Bringing your tent or bivvy bag is a must when cycling in Iran. Outside of the cities, you’ll often be hard pressed to find a hotel and not all guesthouses are licensed to accept foreigners. Towns may have just one hotel catering for business travellers and therefore priced out of the range of cycle tourists on a budget. There are few routes you could cover on a bike and be sure of finding a room each night. On the other hand, Iranian hospitality is so generous that you could knock on any door and find a family willing to take you in for the evening as an honoured guest.
Another option is to ask at a mosque. In Islamic culture, one of the mosque’s roles is to offer shelter to travellers who have nowhere else to go. You shouldn’t use this as a regular standby but if you’re stuck then seek out the caretaker and ask if there is a spare room. At the very least, you’ll probably be invited to spread out your sleeping bag on the floor somewhere. It is polite to leave a small donation for the mosque with the caretaker.
In the main tourist destinations, you can usually find hotels offering private rooms as well as dorms, catering to the small but steady trickle of Western tourists. The going rate for a dorm bed across the country was 40,000 Rials in March 2008. Private double rooms started at 100,000 Rials on the bottom of the budget end, rising to 150,000-250,000 Rials for mid-range accommodation. Breakfast is not usually included but often offered at a small extra cost. In some hotels, there is a communal kitchen for guests to use so ask when viewing the rooms. Keep in mind that inflation is running at 20-25% in Iran so these prices are likely to increase quickly.
Campsites are not at all well established in Iran. We have yet to see a single one, although Iranians tell us that a few do exist. Cyclists will rely instead on wild camping between towns and cities. This is never a problem as there’s plenty of space. Some bike tourists even report pitching their tent in populated places such as on Esfahan’s river bank without any hassle from the authorities. For security, as with anywhere in the world, you should try to hide away for the night. Despite your best efforts, you’re likely to be visited by curious locals who will try to encourage you to come home with them.
If you’re stuck in a town near dusk, try asking the police if you can put your tent up near their barracks. They are usually happy for you to camp just outside the walls and will give you access to their bathrooms and water. This tends to make for a noisy night as police stations are normally beside a road but there’s never a problem with security when men with machine guns are standing a few feet away!