My Visit to Iraq: Easy and Safe

Photo taken with a digital camera in 2012.

Making research can make one pretty relaxed about going to Iraq, as long as you are going to the safe Kurdistan region of the country. The northern part of Iraq, which borders Turkey is a safe destination to visit and was a surprisingly good experience. The first great experience happened at the airport. I knew I didn’t need a visa, but the immigration agent smiled and asked me how I was. A great first impression of the place combined with the surprise of seeing a brand new airport of international standard. The city I am talking about is of course Erbil and no fewer than 21 airlines now operate flights to Erbil as of 2012. It’s primarily a business destination and only a few tourists visit Erbil each year, but surely with potential for more.

The northern part of Iraq has no visa requirements, while you must get one to visit the southern part of the country. A detail many companies don’t know about, for them Iraq is Iraq, expats told me at Divan Hotel. Several still transport their employees in secured cars, even though Erbil is completely safe to visit. The city also has a few great luxury hotels with lots of foreign staff like you find it in most of The Middle East. Budget hotels are also available to meet even a low budget. Of the 21 airlines operating to Erbil as of 2012, low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines flies three times weekly from Ankara, making it possible to visit on a low budget. The other airlines are at a much higher price tag. The city offers a beautiful Citadel, set in the middle of the city, several parks and museums.

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Getting around Erbil can be a problem as the public transport isn’t very good. It’s good to make sure you select a hotel with a location in or close to downtown. I always felt safe during my 4-day visit, and I even tried to hitchhike back to the airport on the day of departure. It wasn’t successful so I ended up taking a cheap taxi. Some are certainly cheaper than others, and it’s important to bargain and ask the locals what it usually costs them for the same distance to avoid getting ripped off. In terms of visiting every country in the world, a visit to the Kurdistan region counts as a visit to Iraq if you follow the list of the United Nations member states, but I am sure a visit to Baghdad and Basrah would be quite a different experience.

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