What else to do in Iran? Try sandboarding on high dunes in Varzaneh desert! In this area, which is just an hour from the famous city Esfahan, you can have fun like a child going down through endless mass of sand. See how to organize a great day in the middle of Iranian desert!
How To Get In Varzaneh
Varzaneh is a small town next to the wonderful desert with impressive dunes. To reach Varzaneh the best way is to take a bus from Esfahan. All buses depart from Jey Terminal, which is quite far from the center of Esfahan, so you need to take a taxi. After long bargain, it’s possible to have a ride to the station for 100 000 IRR (approx. $2.5).
During the day, buses to Varzaneh depart from Jey Terminal every hour and it takes 1h30min to reach the destination. It arrives at the small station in Varzaneh, which is within walking distance from hotels. In fact, the town is very small, so you can get everywhere by walk, if the temperature is not too high. The bus ticket costs only 50 000 IRR (approx. $1.25)! It’s not possible (and no need) to book it in advance. You pay the money to the driver when getting off the bus.
The bus is a very old, cramped vehicle with no facilities – the total opposite of modern coaches that run between main Iranian cities. However, we enjoyed this bus the most as we were the only foreigners onboard and see how local people get around and how the local transport looks like. Obviously, you won’t experience it in a comfortable, tourist bus.
Notice as Friday is a day-off in Iran, buses depart much less frequent. That’s why you’d better not to plan your ride to Varzaneh on Friday or arrive at Jey Terminal early. Otherwise, you may miss your bus and must wait for the other one a couple of hours or take a taxi.
If you must take a taxi, you’ll find drivers in front of the station. They charge 500 000 IRR (approx. $12) for a ride to Varzaneh and after an hour they will drop you directly at your hotel.
How To Take A Desert Tour From Varzaneh
The only way to arrive in the desert is by car. The best way to organize it is through your hotel. All hotels do that as the desert tour is the main reason people visit this place. It would be a good idea to find some travelers in your hotel that also want to go to the desert, so you can share the costs of hiring the car with the driver. The price of the whole taxi should be around €20, so if you go in a group of 4 people, you’ll pay just €5! If you want to try sandboarding as well (and of course you want!) you need to pay for renting a board around €1.5 extra.
The tour normally starts in the afternoon when it gets a bit colder outside. Your driver may probably speak little or no English, but it doesn’t really matter. The tour consists of 3 main spots:
1. ABANDONED ZOROASTRIAN TEMPLE
It’s a first stop of your tour and you’ll spend up to half an hour there. You will see an abandoned Zoroastrian temple, where you can get to know one of the world’s oldest religion, which is still active. From the top of the temple you can see a nice view of hills in the distance and take good photos. Also, next to the Temple there’s a beginning of a small river and you can watch how water drains from a tiny spring.
2. SALT LAKE
Secondly you will reach the dry salt lake, which looks like the desert with the salty soil instead of the sand. If you dig just a little bit in the ground, you will find out there’s the warm and extremely salty water under the surface.
A couple of minutes later you will arrive at the proper salt lake. The lake is very small and very shallow, so you can wade through it. It’s a little bit hard to walk because the water is like a mud, but in a shiny, white color. Even it’s hard to say that’s the water – it’s more like a runny salt. In addition, you can see big stones of pure salt at the shore. The entrance fee is not included in the price of the tour and you must pay extra 50 000 IRR / person to the keeper at the gateway (approx. $1.25).
Finally, there’s a main attraction of the tour – Desert! The driver will stop the car next to high dunes. The best thing what you can to is sandboarding. And it’s much more exciting than snowboarding. You go to the top of the dune and ride down on a wooden board. The craziest thing about sandboarding is that you have no control where you go! The board choose the path, not you! And when you’re going down, you ride faster and faster with every single second!
If it’s your first time, you can try sitting on the board instead of standing as it will be much easier and safer for you. Also, if you are there with someone, you can try sliding in pairs. However, keep in mind that climbing to the top of dunes is extremely exhausting. You go two steps up and the sand take you one step down. That’s why you probably won’t have many rides, so get the most out of them.
After your furious rides, you can admire the wonderful sunset at the top of a dune with the panoramic view of the endless desertic sand.
When you come back to your car, the driver will prepare the traditional Iranian tea. It was the best one we have ever been drinking. It’s nice to take a few sips when you are thirsty after spending time at hot desert.
On the way back, when it will get dark, the driver may stop the car on the roadside and show you Milky Way. The sky in the night is full of stars and watching them for a couple of minutes will be the nice ending of your tour.
After your tour prepare for a very long shower. You’ll find out that you have sand grains everywhere, literally everywhere :D
Sleeping, Eating and Safety
Although Varzaneh is a small town, you still have a few hotels to choose from. All of them have similar prices: dorm bed – 450 000 IRR (approx. $11), single room – 700 000 IRR (approx. $17), double room – 1 200 000 IRR (approx. $29). As you see prices of lodging in Varzaneh are quite high for Iranian standards, but there’s a good side of that problem: You don’t need to stay there long – one night is enough. Moreover, you can also try to bargain a bit, so you’ll probably get the discount. We stayed at Negaar Varzaneh Traditional Guest House, but we didn’t like it and don’t recommend it. The atmosphere in this place was weird and we wouldn’t stay there again.
It’s not worth to waste your time wondering around the town to look for good food. It’s much better to order it at your hotel. If there’s no restaurant in your hotel, the staff can order food by phone for you. In Varzaneh you can try some traditional dishes and get to know unusual tastes.
It’s kind of a soup, which based on chopped lamb meat with kidney beans or red beans and some other vegetables.
If you are a vegetarian, you’ll find something for you as well! Among popular Iranian meat food, there’s also a meat-free option. Kashk Bademjan is a traditional eggplant dish, which contains only vegtables, walnut and spices.
Varzaneh like the whole Iran is very safe. The only danger you may experience there comes from the weather. Look out the strong heat, especially in summer.
How Much Does It Cost? (per person)
Taxi from Esfahan to Varzaneh: 500 000 IRR / 2 people = 250 000 IRR (approx. $6)
Bus from Varzaneh to Esfahan: 50 000 IRR (approx. $1.25)
Double room in a hotel with a discount (one night): 800 000 IRR / 2 people = 400 000 IRR (approx. $10)
Desert Tour: €20 / 4 people = €5 (approx. $6)
Sandboard renting: €1.50 (approx. $2)
Meals in the hotel: 3 x 150 000 = 450 000 IRR (approx. $11)
Free tap drinking water in the hotel
TOTAL for one night stay in Varzaneh: $36