Distance: 700km (less if you skip Bushehr, more if you loop around Parishan lake)
Duration: 10-14 days
Terrain: Mountainous but with a flat stretch near the coast
Accommodation: Hotels in Shiraz, Firuz Abad and Bushehr. Wild camping and al fresco showers for the remainder.
Highlights: Isolated mountain landscapes, castles, date palms, ruined castles and dipping your toes in the Persian Gulf.
Lowlights: Busy roads around Bushehr and hormone-high motorcyclists.
Tips: Bring lights for the tunnels so cars can see you clearly and baby wipes for getting the grime off after a few days of wild camping.
Section 1 – Shiraz to Firuz Abad (110km)
Head out of Shiraz on Modares Boulevard, passing the airport and taking a right-forking turn towards Kavar (also known as Kuwar) and Firuz Abad on the outskirts of the city. The terrain starts out largely flat and you can make good time on the well-surfaced road. There’s a good shoulder for cycling on and plenty of small food shops along the way. Kavar is the first major town after Shiraz, about 50km down the road. The first major climb begins just after Kavar, going uphill for about four kilometers and then down again towards the village of Jovakan. Traffic by this point has calmed compared with the levels leaving Shiraz.
There are a few tree-filled fields once the descent begins which could make for good wild camping. Another option is further down the road, about 20km before Firuz Abad and just before the junction with the road that leads to Meimand . A short road tunnel is visible in the distance to the right and to your left, a large open space appears with several abandonned buildings set far off the road and a track leading through the desert-like landscape. Follow the track to get to the buildings, which offer good cover for your tent a decent distance from the main road. Carrying on to Firuz Abad, the road twists around and over a river and through a few tunnels (all are very short).
Watch for the ruins of the Sasanid Dokhtar Castle (Daughter’s Castle), perched high on a cliff to your left. There is a tourist office and small chairlift at the base of the walking trail which leads to the castle. Further on is the more impressive Sasanid palace on your right, standing in the middle of a village (admission 3000 Rials). You can leave your bicycle at the nearby police station and one of the guards is likely to give you a tour of the palace including its impressive domes. Returning to the main road, signs will lead you to the remains of the city of Gur.
There is a mid-range hotel in Firuz Abad, the Tourist Inn. Alternatively, a short drive out of the town along section two of the route will lead you to plenty of space between villages to make your home for the night.
Section 2 – Firuz Abad to Farashband (65km)
Firuz Abad marks your turn off the main road and into considerably quieter territory although one day should be enough to make it to Farashband so you don’t need to worry too much about carrying extra water or food. Finding the road to Farashband from Firuz Abad’s town centre isn’t obvious so ask locals for directions (perhaps using the name of Dehbarm, a village about 10km along the road).
Just after Dehbarm, some fields open up on your right behind a football pitch and small ridges a few hundred meters back from the road offer good cover for your tent, although locals are very observant and shepherds use this area for grazing so a visitor or two would not be uncommon. A long ascent starts about 15km outside of Firuz Abad so make sure you have enough water before leaving Dehbarm or the next village of Muredshahrak where water is available from a tap in the cemetary as well as bottled from shops. A channelled stream running down the side of the mountain shortly after Muredshahrak offers a last chance to filter water or perhaps to just have a cold wash.
Steep hills dominate until you reach the peak several kilometers further on. At the top the road passes through a brief flat patch (flanked by trees and fields on either side, possible wild camping), then downhill, up again for a shorter distance and down a second time into an arid landscape. Just after this second descent is the village of Darrehsiyah. It’s easy to miss as you speed by but there are a couple shops here, the only ones you’ll see until Farashband. By now most of your work is done so unless you’re facing a harsh wind you should make the town easily. On the other hand, if you want to spend the night between towns there’s no shortage of space in the kilometers leading up to Farashband. Aside from a few tents for shepherds and their flocks it’s all yours.
Section 3 – Farashband to Kalameh (90km)
The quiet landscape continues after you leave Farashband. A flat 20km stretch out of the city (turn left at the outskirts, following signs to Ahram and Bushehr) takes you through farming fields and groves of date palms and into the village of Pahnapahn where you can buy the usual goods like eggs, pasta and some fresh fruits and vegetables. For the next 50km there is absolutely nothing so make sure you have what you need.
The houses thin out quickly as you head out of Pahnapahn. Stop and listen. Unless a bird is flying by it’s quite likely you’ll hear nothing at all. Just you, the road. Other than an occasional car passing by every 5 minutes or so you’re on your own to work through the rolling hills. There are no steep climbs, just a series of steady ups and downs.
Your return to civilisation is marked by the village of Bushkan, where you’ll find a bakery, pharmacy, food shops and a payphone. Only the phone is on the main road so you’ll have to explore the town to find the various shops, which are scattered about the streets. Residents will be happy to direct you. A military post just on the edge of Bushkan will refill your water bottles and the soldiers may even invite you in to eat. From there it’s off into the wilderness and hills again until you get to the larger settlement of Kalameh, set against the backdrop of mountains and thousands of palm trees. Wild camping is possible just about anywhere in this section, except in the stretch leading up to Pahnapahn where farm fields offer no cover at all.
Section 4 – Kalameh to Bushehr (75km)
Two tunnels stand in your path just after leaving Kalameh but they’re modern, well lit and you’re going downhill so they shouldn’t cause a problem. Once out of the tunnels, you get the last of your descent towards the sea although it’s not all downhill, there are a couple climbs to tackle as well. The road here is flanked by mountains on one side and a river on the other so it doesn’t offer the nice opportunities for tenting that the previous stretches do although possibilities are certainly better before Ahram than afterwards. The descent is all over once you reach Ahram. From here the road is completely flat all the way into Bushehr.
You can certainly buy supplies in Ahram but don’t stop at the police station for water. The man in charge likes to make lengthy examinations of passports and you could be there for some time.
To get to Bushehr you have to go on the main road from Ahram and this unfortunately turns out to be a busy motorway. The only consolation is that the road is completely flat and has a very wide shoulder so it’s easy to make good time. There is painfully little shade along this strip of road so if you’re pedalling in warmer weather make sure you have plenty of water and time your travels appropriately.
Bushehr is a relaxed city but there’s not a lot for tourist attractions. The main reasons to come here are to rest up for the next leg of the journey, check your email and dip your toes in the Persian Gulf. Food in Bushehr is a pleasant surprise, with plenty of fish on the menu and spicy dishes. Try asking for a bandari sandwich at one of the fast-food stalls – a piquant mix of tomatoes, onions and sausage meat served up with pickles and lettuce in a roll. Internet cafes are clustered around Imam Square (8000-10000 Rials / hour) and offer good connections. Be careful when asking for directions in Bushehr. The name of many squares changed after the revolution and locals may not always use the current version.
(If you don’t fancy the trip into Bushehr, you could stay in the hills by taking the road that runs straight towards Borazjan and pick up the rest of the route from there. It would save you 100km of motorway cycling although you don’t get to see the Persian Gulf this way. If you take this route, stop at the shrine about 10km outside Borazjan for water and bathrooms. It’s a favourite picnic spot for families on Friday.)
Section 5 – Bushehr to Dalaki (90km on the main road)
Leaving Bushehr you have two choices; do what we did and take the straight forward but dull and busy main road north or try your luck with the side roads. The first option is easy but admitedly boring and noisy cycling, up the highway on its wide shoulder. Traffic stays heavy until Dalaki. There’s little to see and few places to pitch your tent. If you’re going into Borazjan (population 50,000), try to find the parks a few kilometers outside the town as they might make quiet camping spots. You could also try Couchsurfing in Borazjan. We had an excellent experience with Ali and his family.
Only the groves of date palms make the landscape interesting around Borazjan and Dalaki. The area is famous for the sticky sweet fruit and in Dalaki you’ll see many merchants selling dates and other related products. You can check your email in Borazjan but watch out for the hordes of young men on motorcycles who will love to follow you around. Borazjan had perhaps the greatest number of hormone-high men on motors we’ve seen anywhere in Iran.
If you’re not pressed for time you could take the road towards the coastal town of Shif (a marked exit appears as you’re leaving Bushehr on the highway), following it until you reach Ramleh and then turn north towards Ab Pakhsh and Vahdatiyeh before returning to the main road at Dalaki. This is about 130km according to our map. We haven’t cycled this route but locals said it should be scenic and if we’d had a day to spare this is what we would have done.
Section 6 – Dalaki to Kazerun (100km going via Bishapur)
After a few days on the flat, the climbs begin again as you leave Dalaki. Soon after the town the road pushes steadily upwards, a tunnel follows shortly afterwards (not too long and lit) and then a series of switchbacks bring you to a peak just before Konar Takhteh. There’s a restaurant at the peak if you need a cup of tea and great views over the surrounding countryside as you reach the top. A slight downhill tilt brings you quickly from the peak into Konar Takhteh although the town is nothing special. A string of roadside stands sell drinks to passing motorists and you can refill your water bottles here. Just after Konar Takhteh the climb starts again and some rolling hills and fields open up on either side of the road offering cover for your tent.
A few more tunnels await you after Konar Takhteh. The mysteriously named Pisa 1 and Pisa 2 are relatively short and manageable but the third one (at the top of a hill after a few switchbacks) is about 800 meters long and runs uphill. It’s lit, that’s the good news. The bad news is it’s not well ventilated so you can emerge from the tunnel with your lungs burning from the inefficient, smog-spewing cars ahead of you.
Several fruit stands appear at the turn-off for Kazeroon along with signs for local attractions. The main draw for most tourists is Bishapur, which lies on a side road running between Seyyed Hoseyn and Deris. The easiest way to reach Bishapur is to ignore the turnoff for Kazeroon and continue on the main road for about 15km when you’ll see the side road meeting the main road. Do a 180-degree turn onto the side road, back towards Kazeroon, and after about 5km you’ll run into the ruins of Bishapur (entry 4,000 rials, water and toilets on site). Next to the ticket office is a tourist bureau staffed by a friendly English-speaker who hands out free information leaflets.
Once you’ve seen Bishapur, head down the narrow asphalt road opposite the site. It leads past several rock reliefs and to the village of Tang-e Chowgan. If you still have some energy you can attempt the hike up to the large cave which boasts a 7-meter high statue of king Shapur at its mouth. Otherwise, it’s possible to wild camp on the banks of the river here as long as the water isn’t too high and you’re prepared for a visit from the friendly but curious locals.
The road to Tang-e Chowgan is a dead end so you’ll have to backtrack to Bishapur and then turn left for the 25km run into Kazeroon, a bustling town with bakeries, dozens of food shops, internet cafes and all the other usual services.
From Kazeroon there’s an optional loop that will take you past the beautiful Parishan lake for some birdwatching and through the surrounding farm land but unless you want to return to Farashband you’ll have to backtrack to Kazeroon to continue your journey towards Shiraz. To do the loop, leave Kazeroon via Mehranjan, then take the smaller road towards Famur. A right forking road just after Famur will take you as far as Bala Deh. From there you either have to hit the main road again towards Farashband or turn around to Kazeroon.
BEWARE: Many maps showing roads to Shiraz going via Bala Deh and then cutting north are just plain wrong. We tried to find the road that is supposed to run between Jereh (on the outskirts of Bala Deh) and Richi but only ended up a goat track. A local tour guide we met said a lot of the minor roads on our map did not exist anymore.
Section 7 – Kazeroon to Shiraz (140km)
Lucky you! A brand new road has just been built from Kazeroon to Shiraz. It’s in great shape and considerably less busy than the alternative that runs via Qaemiyeh and Nowdan. To find it, go to the east end of the town and ask for the road to Dasht-e-Barm and Shiraz. There were no signs when we were there in February 2008 but these may soon be erected. The ride starts out easily enough with about 15km of flat terrain before the climb begins. We counted seven tunnels before the peak but they’re all quite short and made up of three lanes, giving traffic plenty of room to pass. Still, a light on your bike for visibility is a good idea.
Just after the first climb you have a small descent and then a flat stretch through fields of trees on either side (good wild camping possibilities here). Dasht-e-Barm is set off the road and easy to miss so if you need supplies keep your eyes open. You may also see people selling cold drinks and snacks from lay-bys.
After Dasht-e-Barm there’s really nowhere to buy supplies until you make it up the biggest but gently graded climb and down the other side into Dasht-e-Arzhan. Here a string of roadside stands sells all kinds of food. The first batch of shops on your left is flanked by a mosque on one side where it might be possible to spend the night in a spartan room (a good option if the weather is foul; ask permission from the caretaker Yasser) and by a restaurant on the other end of the shops. The restaurant does the usual kebabs and rice but they do it well and prices are reasonable (About 75,000 Rials for a hearty meal for two including mast and drinks).
Filled up on kebab, you can ride the last 60km or so into Shiraz knowing almost all your work is done. No hard climbs remain. Treat yourself to an ice cream from the shops in Khaneh Zenyan, a favourite treat for Iranians, even in the winter!
You arrive back in Shiraz by coming down Amir Kabir Boulevard. Signs direct you left at the end of Amir Kabir, through Basij Square and straight into the centre of town where you cross Karimkhane Zand, the main street for hotels and services. Time for a hot shower and rest after your loop through southern Iran.