Kurdistan – the cradle of civilisation and home to more archaeological and historic sites, including the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, than any other region on earth.
Countless citadels, shrines, churches mosques and ancient temples dot its landscape, not to mention the oldest known bridge, ancient aqueduct ruins and there are even Neanderthal caves!
Stand on the site of Alexander the Great’s historic battle with the Ruler of Persia, Darius III. Let your imagination run wild as you learn of this site that has never been excavated – what wondrous artefacts lie beneath this battlefield where as many as a million men fought for the future of the known world and the title Lord of the Earth. This is truly a fresh and largely unexplored region – perfect for those with an adventurous soul.
Welcome to Kurdistan! Upon arrival at Erbil International Airport in the capital of Kurdistan, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. After checking in you will be given a briefing on your stay in Kurdistan while enjoying a complimentary welcome drink in the hotel lounge.
Dinner tonight is at the hotel’s main restaurant where you can often find local live entertainment. (D)
2 nights Divan Hotel or similar
This morning after breakfast you will depart for the Civilization Museum and the 7000 year old Citadel of Erbil – the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. Once a Sumerian City, called Urbellum or Arbella (meaning 4 gods) it is believed that Abraham passed through this city on one of his journeys. Originally home to the Temple of the Goddess Ishtar, it is also the city Darius III fled to after facing defeat by Alexander the Great on the nearby plains of Gaugemela. UNESCO is currently undertaking a complete restoration project of the massive site.
Here you will have the opportunity to learn about this fascinating city as you tour the famous Textile Museum in the Citadel. Housed in a restored 220 year old residence, it features ancient Kurdish fighting tools, traditional dresses, handmade rugs from different regions and eras of Kurdish history, jewellery and photos depicting days gone by. You will also find a number of pieces from Iran and Turkey in addition to Kurdish antiquities. Witness nomadic elder women carry out traditional style weaving, their age old techniques being handed down to the younger generations, with a goal to preserving the ancient arts of the land. The fascinating art of felt making and embroidery is also practised on site, and you will have the opportunity to contribute to the program by purchasing a unique hand made piece at the Museums’ shop.
If you’re in the mood for some shopping, there is also a large antique shop across from the Museum where you might like to purchase you own piece of Kurdistan’s history or an example of more modern crafts. Continue on to explore the local food market and the alleys of the covered bazaar. Time permitting you will take a brief stop at Choli Minaret, one of Erbil’s most famous landmarks. Dating to the Atabag period (12th century), the structure was built from burnt bricks and tiles imported from Egypt – a nation linked to Kurdistan in Antiquity. Due to the long-term effect of deterioration, much of the architecture has disappeared and thus the leaning minaret is the last surviving piece of Erbil’s most famous historical mosque.
Following lunch at a local Erbil restaurant, you will depart for Dwin Castle and the surrounding ancient graveyard in the area known as the hometown of Saladin Ayoubi. Saladin was a Kurdish Muslim, who became the first sultan of Egypt & Syria, & founded the Ayoubi Dynasty. He led Muslim & Arab opposition to the Franks & other European Crusaders in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Hijaz, & Yemen. Under his leadership, his forces defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, leading the way to the capture of Palestine & Jerusalem. Many have seen famous and better-preserved examples of Salahadin fortresses – few have visited the place that gave birth to this incredible historic figure. (B,L,D)
This morning you will depart for the 3rd century Dayro d-Mor Mattai Monastery (St. Matthew’s Monastery). Guided by one of the Monastery’s Monks, you will learn about the monasteries history, as well as the life of the Monks. The Monastery is one of eastern Christendom’s most famous sites and apart from a few forced closures has been in continuous use for nearly 2000 years.
Continuing on, you will head for Gaugemela – the site of the famous battle between King Darius III and Alexander the Great. While standing on a hill overlooking the vast plain below you can imagine the clash of arms that made Alexander King of Persia and undisputed ruler of the civilised world. Here you will be joined by Colonel (ret) Harry Schute, a graduate of West Point with a degree in history, for a fascinating lecture offering an insight into this epic battle.
Visit Jirwana, the site of the oldest aqueduct and bridge ruin in the world. Built in the time of Sennacharib (690 BC), it was once part of a vast complex that was designed to water the gardens of Nineveh. Huge stones transported by hand from quarries hundreds of miles away are in scripted with the story of this amazing feat. Here you will find the secret of the ‘hidden message of Sennacharib’ known by only a few living scholars in the world – join them in this amazing revelation.
For lunch today, you will dine at Xaringeha Niruj restaurant where you will enjoy simple traditional Kurdish fare.
Following lunch, you will visit Lalish, the 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 these people who are considered by many to be the remnant of the original religion of Kurdistan. From here you will travel to Dohuk where you will check into your hotel. (B,L,D)
2 nights at Rixos Hotel or similar
Today you will make your way to Al Qush, where you will visit the tomb of Nahum, and the 7th Century BC Old Testament Prophet, which are situated next to the 3rd century AD Mar Gorgis Monastery and Mar Mekha Church. You will also explore the Rabban Hormizd Monastery. Carved out of the mountains about 5km from Alqosh, Iraq, 55km north of Mosul (ancient Nineveh prophesied against by Nahum), some 600 monks once inhabited the caves around the Monastery.
Founded in 640 AD, it a place of great importance, acting as the official residence of the patriarchs of the Eliya line of the Church of the East from 1551 to the 18th century, and after the union with Rome in the early 19th century, it became a prominent monastery of the Chaldean Church. It is named after Rabban Hormizd (rabban is Syriac for monk) who founded it in the seventh century and is buried within the sanctuary.
Return to Dohuk and enjoy lunch at the famous Malta Restaurant serving traditional Kurdish fare as well as other dishes. Following lunch, travel to scenic Gara Mountain and visit the ruins of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. In total there were 10 palaces built in the region – all of which were opulent complexes where meals were prepared in each three times a day in anticipation that Saddam ‘might’ visit at any moment. One of the palaces was a venue to extravagant parties hosting the world’s glitterati and a nearby stadium and pool was under construction where Saddam hoped to one-day host the Olympics. Almost nothing remains of the palaces as the people of Kurdistan tore them all down when liberated in 1991.
This evening, enjoy dinner at the local Geverke Restaurant where you will dine on the finest local, regional and international cuisine. (B,L,D)
This morning after breakfast depart for the ancient city of Amadiya, dating from the Assyrian era (approx. 90km). Located at about 1400m above sea level, high up on a promontory above a breathtaking landscape and fed by a geothermal spring originating far below the mountain, Amadiya was once an almost impenetrable fortress. See the city Gate (Bab Zebar) built by Imaduddin Al- Zanki in 5-600 AD, and the 30m high minaret in the middle of town, with its Islamic ornamentation (arabesque) clearly visible. It was built in the time of Sultan Hussein Wali and was part of an already existing ancient city. Pass by a third Century Synagogue and at the base of the mountain visit an ancient Egyptian Madrasa reportedly founded by the University of Cairo centuries ago.
After breaking for lunch, depart for Rawanduz through breathtaking scenery in the region of Barzan where you will meet a local official and see the Mullah Mustapha Memorial (Father of modern Kurdistan) and continue through Soran passing by Shanidar Cave where some of the world’s first pre-historic remains were discovered.
Travel on one of the greatest engineering feats of the last century, the renowned Hamilton Road as you make your way to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at your leisure and dinner this evening will be in the hotel’s Pasha Restaurant. (B,L,D)
Overnight Pank Resort Hotel or similar
Following breakfast, depart for Sulymania via the beautiful town of Dokan. Upon arrival in Sulymania, you will visit the Amna Suraka or ‘Red Security’ Complex, also known as the ‘Red House’, the main building being built of red and brown bricks. Once the northern headquarters of the Ba ‘ath regime’s notorious Iraqi Intelligence Service, this site has an horrific past, with thousands of innocent Kurds, Iraqis and Syrians tortured and murdered under Saddam Hussien’s evil regime. It was liberated in 1991 during the Gulf War, when the Kurdish Peshmerge stormed the grounds and took control, setting those inside free. In 2003 the site was turned into a museum, where people can witness the atrocities of war in the hope that they will never be repeated.
Continue on and explore Suli’s bazaar and then visit the famous Shaab teahouse, and learn of its fascinating past.
Tonight you will stay in style as you check in to Sulymania’s best hotel – the Grand Millennium, which towers over the skyline. Enjoy dinner in the revolving restaurant on the top floor. (B,L,D)
2 nights Grand Millennium Hotel or similar
This morning you will depart for Halabja where on March 16, 1988, Saddam Hussein ordered the use of chemical weapons in attacking 24 villages in the Kurdish region, beginning with Halabja. At least 5,000 people died as an immediate result of the chemical attack and it is estimated that a further 7,000 people were injured or suffered long term illness. Before the war ended the Iraqis moved in on the ground and completely destroyed the town. In March 2010, the Iraqi High Criminal Court recognised the Halabja massacre as genocide, but Saddam was executed for other crimes before he was to be tried in Kurdistan for his acts of atrocity.
Today the city lives again – testimony to the Kurds amazing resilience and ability to survive the most brutal assault on their people and culture. Visit the Halabja Museum and Memorial Cemetery, both are fascinating and moving.
Visit the beautiful Ahmed Awa waterfall where the ‘Three Hikers’ crossed to Iran and were arrested. Don’t worry – we know the way and will not let you stray from the path! Enjoy a picnic lunch in the lush green valley near the waterfall.
Return to Sulymaniain in the late afternoon. (B,L,D)
Today you will visit Sulaymania Museum, home to Kurdistan’s largest collection and Iraq’s second largest collection of antiquities.
Depart for the old Jewish town of Koisinjak, and visit the ancient Caravanserai ( a hostel on the ancient Silk Road) as you make your way back to Erbil.
Upon arrival, check into your hotel, the rest of the day is yours at leisure. This evening you will enjoy a farewell dinner joined by Col. Harry Schute for a fascinating Q & A. Harry is the Senior Security Advisor to the Kurdish Regional Government and a West Point Graduate with a major in History. (B,L,D)
Overnight Divan Hotel or similar
This morning is yours at leisure to make the most of any last minute shopping before you are transferred to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.