When you’re daydreaming about your next journey abroad, it’s unlikely that Iraq is one of the destinations that comes to mind. And you certainly wouldn’t be alone in writing it off as a vacation destination. Based on what most of us see in the news almost daily, it isn’t a country that seems hospitable to tourists, particularly those from the West.
A new guidebook may just change your opinion.
While there are countless guidebooks to cities like Paris and Rome, there haven’t been any that tout Kurdistan as the place to go.
So why go?
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq, or the KRI, is a region bursting with culture and beauty, and for any traveler who can’t get enough of “uncommon” destinations, the KRI might be perfect.
Kurdistan Tour Guide is the first-ever travel guidebook for tourists interested in visiting the KRI. The author, Dr. Douglas Layton, is an American with extensive experience working in the region in association with Kurdistan Iraq Tours. That means this guidebook offers an overview equally crafted by locals and visitors to Kurdistan.
Even though a trip to Kurdistan isn’t on the horizon for me, I was excited to give Kurdistan Tour Guide a read and learn a bit more about this historically and culturally rich region and its opportunities for travelers who are looking to explore off the beaten path.
What’s at first glance?
At nearly 400 pages, Kurdistan Tour Guide is admittedly a bit daunting for a travel book. Almost more textbook than guidebook, practical information for travelers is interspersed with in-depth looks at the history and culture of Kurdistan, including tons of photos and a pull-out map.
While this heft and depth makes it a bit difficult to use as an actual resource for travel tips, it is definitely helpful if you are curious about the region, looking for an introduction to its rich culture and history, and interested in learning more than just the top 10 places to try Iraqi food.
What will you learn?
There are certain questions you always want answered when picking up a guidebook, from what the area’s major attractions are to what the weather is generally like. This book did not disappoint.
Within the first 50 pages, I felt like I was already getting a fundamental understanding of what a visit to Kurdistan would be like. Early sections address logistical concerns, like how to safely travel to Kurdistan; what the local currency is; and what clothing is appropriate to wear during your stay. Beyond that, you’ll get an intro to the KRI’s flora and fauna and the region’s art, music, and poetry. There’s even a useful guide to basic Kurdish phrases!
The topic of safety is broached right away.
According to the authors, there have been “surprisingly few major incidents” in Kurdistan since the Gulf War, and personal attacks (such as muggings) are “virtually unknown.”
As comforting as those facts are, I did take this with a grain of salt, as the book goes on to note that Kurdistan is “often said” to be safer than New York, Paris, or London, which I can’t say I have ever heard before.
What’s in it for the Kurdistan curious?
For those more interested in learning about Kurdistan than planning a trip, Kurdistan Tour Guide is still worth getting your hands on. It includes a number of personal essays from notable Kurds and commentaries on Kurdish art, food, and culture that lend it a magazine-like quality.
A personal favorite of mine was an essay on the developing role of women in modern Kurdish society, something I think other Wanderful readers will appreciate as well!
If Kurdistan Tour Guide does inspire you to make the jump and take a trip to Kurdistan, I urge travelers to supplement this guide with up-to-date information from governments and trusted news organizations. With the threat of ISIS in the region, it is important that travelers make decisions with the most current, comprehensive information available.
While it may not be the easiest resource to pack along on an actual trip due to its heft, Kurdistan Tour Guide is a wonderful introduction to the KRI. Keep it on your coffee table for reading (and learning) in your spare time, or fill it with sticky notes and bookmarks as a resource for your next trip. Either way, it will serve you well.