Qeshm, the largest island in the Persian Gulf, is one of the most delightful parts of Iran. The island is dolphin shaped and packed with natural, geological history and a wonderful variety of wildlife. It also has a fascinating human history and diverse culture thanks to the influences of invading Dutch, French and Portuguese communities. Qeshm is an awesome place to visit.
The island, situated in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran, is vast. It is bigger than either Singapore or Bahrain and has a population of 120,000 with 17,000 living in the capital Tabl. The people live mainly a traditional Bandari way of life and earn money from trading, handicrafts and fishing in the ‘dhow’ style of boat used here for centuries. Visiting Qeshm is like finding yourself transported back to the gulf of many years ago, before oil. Camels are vital to the people of Qeshm and there as many camels living on the island as there are people.
The history of how the island was formed and the effect this has has on the appearance of the area has led to it being named as a UNESCO Global Geopark. Qeshm is part of the huge Zagros mountain range which was formed during a huge buckling and folding of the earth’s crust. The sites of geological interest on the island have been protected, preserved and are now increasingly under the care of local communities educated and trained by UNESCO.
The Hara Mangrove Forest
A day trip to the Hara Mangrove forests on Qeshm is a chance to immerse yourself in a fairy tale land of underwater trees, peace, calm waters and bird song. The Avicennia Marina tree, known locally as the Hara Tree thrives in the salt water of the mangroves and provides a habitat for a multitude of birds, 220 species in fact, a twitchers paradise! Herons, flamingos and pelicans are a common sight. An array of reptiles and other strange creatures can also be found in this other-worldly sea wood.
The mangroves have been a bio-sphere protected by the government since 1972. The forests are precious ecological areas as both the birds and fish use them as a nursery for their young.
Access is restricted to local shrimp fishing boats and limited tourist tugs. The best way to fully appreciate the area is by boat but choose your times carefully as low tide is when you will get the full effect of the Hara trees emerging from the water.
Just south of the Hara Forest is one of the parts of Qeshm that was once underwater. It is also known as Tandis Valley and the rock which was once battered by the waves and tides of deep ocean has been fashioned into strange ‘statues’. Some of these look like the toes and feet of mythical giants. Fossils telling further tales of the valley’s aquatic history can be found if you look carefully enough.
Valley of the Fallen Stars
This part of Qeshm, near the village of Berkeh Khalaf, is simply stunning. Locals will tell you that the Fallen Star Valley came into being centuries ago when a falling star crashed into the earth and that the maze of ravines and towers are haunted by the voices of ghosts. Stunning and eerie, The Valley of the Fallen Stars is truly breathtaking.
The rock formations were actually created by weather erosion on rock with different levels of softness and the spirit like echoes are just the effect of wind tunnels….but I much prefer the romantic version and standing on the plateau with the vast crevasses below glowing with warmth and the failing light from a gorgeous sunset is something I will never forget.
Namakdan Salt Cave
Another of Qeshm’s geological marvels is the salt cave at Namakdan. (Namak means salt in Persian) Unlike millennia old limestone caves, a salt cave is a living, moving creation that changes with every rainfall. Simultaneously dynamic and fragile the architecture of a salt cave can evolve and be destroyed before your eyes.
This cave was discovered in 1997 on a red hot day by Czech students and their professor and is considered to be the largest in the world at 6850 metres long. However only the first 100-200 metres of the cave are accessible to the public as caving experience is necessary for deeper exploration.
Visitors might find themselves crawling through the tunnels of colourful salt crystals, being invited to lick the walls and investigate this amazing place by torchlight. The beaches near to the cave are very beautiful too and are definitely worth factoring into the length of any day trips.
Chahkuh Valley is in the north-western part of Qeshm and is easily accessible from nearby Table Village. It is absolutely worth a visit, especially on quieter days when it is possible to really appreciate the feeling of serenity as you wander through the maze of cliffs and towers.
The Ivory walls of the gorge are a fantastic example of a natural structure formed by heavy rain and flash floods. The movement of tectonic plates have also influenced the unusual rock formations which appear to have been carved by a visionary sculptor rather than the force of the elements.
Chahkuh is another of Qeshm’s protected geo-parks and visitors are strictly forbidden from graffitiing or damaging the cliff faces. Local communities ingeniously use the distinctive natural holes and pockets in the valley’s rock as wells…water is not absorbed into the cliff so it is stored and cooled in there ready to be used in the dry season. Nature is both an artist and an engineer in this beautiful valley.
Boat trip to Hengam Island
Hengam Island is tiny but so worth a visit. It sits a couple of kilometres south of Qeshm and is packed with beauty and the opportunity for fun. There are gorgeous silver beaches to relax on, a safe, clean sea to swim in and the local seafood is divine.
Many tourists come to Hengam for the excellent scuba diving on the coral reefs and shipwrecks just off shore. To be honest the short boat trip from Shibderaz port was exciting enough for me. We were treated to the glorious sight of dolphins swimming close to the boat. Early mornings are best to catch the dolphins at play….this is perfect as you then get the whole day to explore and hopefully see the rest of the local wildlife. Hengam is home to tropical birds, gazelles and turtles.
The people of the island are friendly and welcoming. We were invited by a local family to join them for a feast on the beach. The food was just delicious and their hospitality was really heart-warming.
Things to know about Qeshm
Visa Free Zone
Tourists who only intend to visit Qeshm need not apply for a visa. Stays are limited to two weeks however an extension of up to six months is usually fairly easily arranged.
How to get there
There is an International Airport in Dayrestan which is 43km from the tourist hub of Qeshm Town. Flights operate regularly to and from both Tehran Mehrabad airport, there are the occasional flights to and from Dubai.
Ferries operate to and from Qeshm on a regular basis from Bandar Abbas on the mainland
Currency, Iranian Rial
The Iranian Rial is the official currency of Qeshm. In some places money is discussed in ‘tomans’. This is not an official term but for reference one ‘Toman’ is equal to ten Rials.
What to wear
One of the loveliest things about visiting Qeshm is admiring the traditional dress of the locals. Tourists should remember that modesty is key, especially for women. Long sleeves, covered legs and a scarf are important.
The weather in Qeshm is semi-equatorial. They have nice autumns weather, mild winters and spring times, in summer it tends to get very hot and humid. If your trip involves more exploration than relaxation then pick your times of travel carefully.
Travel insurance – get 5% discount here!
Always make travel insurance a priority! I’ve partnered with World Nomads to offer you 5% discount for first time customers. I can’t recommend them enough, the contract is easy to understand and, most importantly, they are responsive when you need to contact them from abroad to resolve an issue. Click to claim your World Nomads 5% travel insurance discount.