Erbil And Kurdistan Advice
Things can change at any moment in this region, but at the time of my visit in May of 2016, things were very safe. This is despite the fact that the frontline is only 50 miles away in Mosul. Before you visit check the latest updates with the US State Department and British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Also, check in with the forums of Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor. When in Kurdistan depend on the locals when leaving Erbil. They will know where it is safe and where it is not. I did a one day road trip with a local. Bring your passport since there are multiple military checkpoints when you are driving throughout Kurdistan. In Erbil, I walked around non-stop, day time, night time, did not have any issues. People were very friendly.
Erbil has a newer, modern airport. Immigration was easy. Visa on arrival after filling out one single brief form. Smile for the camera and fingerprint your thumb. Baggage came out quickly. Next to the baggage carousel was a mobile phone company where I bought a SIM card. The taxi stand and tourist information booth were both empty. There were ATMs in the airport but I did not test them. Several taxis were parked out front. I was given a rate of $30 (paid in US dollars) to drive me into town. This was much better than I anticipated, since I read of rates online at $50.
Budget in a little extra time for departing flights. There are a couple of additional security checks. You are also dropped off at a separate security area. Here your luggage is scanned and then you take a bus to the main terminal. I was able to get a fare of $10 without any negotiating for my ride back.
The currency is the Iraqi Dinar, but US dollars are used frequently. One dollar buys approximately 1200 Dinars. I used US dollars for my hotel and airport taxi. Credit cards did not seem to be used regularly. They were not accepted at my hotel for instance. I did not try to use any ATMs. It is easy to exchange money for instance near the Citadel or bazaar. Men will man glass cases full of currency. You can convert with them.
The locals seemed to appreciate when I attempted to speak Kurdish. Use a couple of these words to make some friends.
Salam – hello
Spas – thank you
Choney – how are you?
Zorb basha – very good
When you look at Booking.com or Agoda your options are quite sobering. $200, $300 or $400 a night. I found two hotels within walking distance of the Citadel and bazaar. One option is Kotri Salam also known as Pigeon Peace Hotel. I had a reservation here, but when I arrived, they directed me to another hotel since they did not have electricity. I dragged my back down the street to the Washington Sky Hotel. The name is written in Arabic only. I am a big fan of Washington Sky Hotel. Great, friendly staff with one employee speaking good English. Great wifi! Clean, decent rooms. Both hotels are $35 a night. Highly recommend Washington Sky Hotel.
There are a ton of tan taxis roaming about the city. No meter. So negotiate away.
I got my SIM card at the airport. Show your passport and five minutes later, you are up and running. The company I used was Korek. About $12 for a SIM card and 1 GB of data. It worked quite well during my travels.
Alcohol is available in Kurdistan. If you are in the Ankawa neighborhood or some of the western areas, alcohol and beer are readily available. In the center of town, near the Citadel, it was more traditional. Tea and shisha were ubiquitous but I did not notice any beer.
In general, the male locals were quite fond of photos. Most were agreeable when I asked to take a photo. And quite a number asked me to take photos of them. The exception were the women. During my 5 day stay I never even took a photo of a women. If young girls were shy and were not fond of photos where the boys were enjoying the attention. I made over 10 new Facebook friends of people I took photos of who wanted to see their photos posted.
Erbil’s heart is the raised Citadel. Erbil is surrounded by ringed roads, such as 60 Meter Road and 120 Meter Road. I would suggest staying as close as possible to the Citadel/Bazaar to get a flavor of Erbil.
Erbil And Kurdistan Advice