From the Stars Valley and it’s beautiful rock formations to idyllic beaches, Qeshm Island is an untouched paradise full of attractions that are bound to impress any tourist. The island has lots of natural sites and wildlife and is surrounded by incredibly blue waters – a complete contrast to the rest of Iran. Qeshm has it all: from islands to caves, valleys and forests, the natural beauty of this island is incredible. Read on to find out all you need to know about visiting Qeshm Island!
Where is Qeshm Island?
Qeshm, also known as Gheshm, is an Iranian island located in the Persian Gulf, specifically in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Persian Gulf (sometimes also referred to as the Arabian Gulf) separates Iran from the Arab Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman.
Qeshm is very near to the coast of Oman (60km away) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE – 180km away). It is the biggest island in the Persian Gulf at 500 square miles and is shaped like a dolphin.
Tourist Attractions in Qeshm:
Stars Valley, or Valley of the Stars as it is also known, is a giant valley full of canyons and gorges, with hundreds of towering stone formations several metres high. This natural wonder dates back 2 million years and is considered a unique geological phenomenon not only in Iran, but in the world. The formations were created due to the erosion of the earth and stone from rainstorms and wind. Locals however, believe that a star/comet hit the earth, thus creating the valley and these geological formations, and they call the area “Estalah kaftah”, meaning Fallen Star.
The Valley of the Stars is incredibly beautiful. Walking amongst the beautiful canyon, underneath the towering structures is so amazing. You can also climb to the top of the canyon, where you can look down at the impressive formations and get the most incredible view (there are stairs you can climb up). Be very careful though if you are near the edge as the rock could erode.
This incredible landscape is completely natural and you can easily spend a couple of hours in this stunning magical place. There is quite an air of mystery here and Stars Valley is said to have many jinn (spirits/ghosts). Local people will even warn you not to stay in the valley after dark due to these spirits and strange sounds that can be heard.
Best time to visit Stars Valley
Even though Stars Valley is the most visited of all the geosites in Qeshm, it never feels crowded and is easy to get pictures without anybody else in. Late afternoon is the best time to visit Stars Valley, as to avoid the heat and to see the colours changing on the canyon as the sun starts to go down. Seeing the sunset here is really nice, but make sure to leave before it gets dark!
Stars Valley is open every day except Saturdays. The entrance fee is a very modest 20,000 rials (about 50 cents). It is located just past the village of Berkeh Khalaf. Click here to view the location of Stars Valley on Google maps.
Hara Mangroves Forest
In the midst of the harsh climate in Qeshm lies another unique and natural phenomenon: the mangrove forest, known locally as ‘hara’ (Avicenna marina species). The forest is a UNESCO protected biosphere area of 8000 hectares with trees growing to about 3-4 metres tall. The mangroves are important to the ecosystem as they provide food and a home for many species of animal especially fish.
The tide varies greatly here at the mangroves, and at high tide the Hara trees become partially submerged in the salt water and look like a floating water forest. During the low tide you can see the sludgy mud flats of the river bed and the roots of the Hara. You can see crabs, fish, migratory birds and even the odd venomous water snake and turtle here.
How to get to Hara Mangroves
To see the Hara forest you will need to get there by boat, it’s the only way. The mangroves are near to Qeshm Airport and the ferry port if coming from Bandar Khamir on the mainland. Just head down to the harbour and get one of the locals to take you out on their speed boat where you will ride amongst the trees. You can hire a boat for about 10 euros altogether for about 45 minutes. They’ll take you amongst the trees and you can even get out of the boat and walk onto the little island if the tide is low enough. The best time to go is early morning or at sunset if you want to see the mangroves at their most beautiful. The local people rely on the mangroves for tourism and fishing so try to leave a little tip too.
The mangroves are very near to the historic village of Laft (“Bandar e Laft”), so it’s worth checking that out whilst you are there as it is the best place to see the local traditions and customs of Qeshm. This fishing village is very traditional, full of wind catchers (“badgir”) – an ancient Persian architecture used to create natural ventilation in the buildings.
The Portuguese Castle was built in the early 16th Century by the Portuguese, who ruled the Persian Gulf area for about 150 years from the early 1500’s. This castle is one of the only remaining monuments that still survives in the area from when the Portuguese ruled here. It is made of red stone and you can still see the old canons and ramparts here. There is also a lovely view out to the sea and Hormuz Island from the top.
The Portuguese Castle lies in a residential area very near to Qeshm town on the north east of the island where you can find a couple of shopping malls. Click here to see it’s location. It is open every day 8am til 6pm.
Visit the beach!
Yes! Besides all the beautiful Persian architecture, Iran also has places for people to go on beach holidays! Iran has a vast coastline – most of it undiscovered – and several beautiful islands, including Qeshm.
Many Iranians from mainland Iran come here to Qeshm on their holidays to enjoy the beach and absorb the laidback vibes here. It certainly makes a nice retreat from bustling Tehran! Of course you won’t be able to lie on the beach in your bikini but is still so lovely to be on the beach here!
Located on the southern part of Qeshm Island is Hengam Island. Hengam Island is known as a place where you can see dolphins playing in the water, particularly in the early mornings between October to May. You can reach Hengam Island by hiring a motor boat – the distance is about 2km and the dolphins will come and swim next to your boat. The island is full of incredibly friendly people – most of whom are fishermen and the island is very peaceful with no vehicles or streets even.
There is lots of wildlife at Hengam Island besides the dolphins. At particular times of the year, due to the phytoplanktons in the water the water glows blue at night time which is really impressive to see. Year round you’ll also be able to see the Persian deer (“chinkara“) that are native to Iran. They press their hooves into the ground to get fresh water. You’ll also see the odd camel roaming around the island near the shore.
Visit the bazaar at Hengam Island to buy local handmade products made from shells, such as jewellery. There are also local spices and oils you can buy to help support the local people.
Other tourist attractions on Qeshm:
Chahkooh Canyon – on the north west of the island, the stunning Chahkooh Canyon (“mountain of wells“) is known as The Great Canyon of the Middle East. The canyon is a phenomenon and a UNESCO listed geopark site. It is a perfect example of erosion due to rainwater, sea waves (as this area once used to be under water), wind and storms. The locals have dug wells to keep the rainwater inside the canyon, which give it a similar appearance to the canyons (wadis) in Oman.
Khorbas Cave – a limestone cliff covered with caves, Khorbas caves is well worth a visit. It was used as a place of refuge for the local villagers in times of raids on the island in the past. The entrance fee is 60,000 rials (about $2USD).
How is the Persian Gulf different to the rest of Iran?
The Persian Gulf is different to mainland Iran in several ways:
– Like the Arabian counties, the majority of people on Qeshm Island are Sunni Muslim. This is in contrast to the rest of Iran who are mainly Shia muslim. Therefore you will find one minaret on the mosques here instead of the 2 that you will see throughout the rest of Iran. Also, like Arabian mosques, the mosques here are very simple in comparison to the intricately detailed mosques in Isfahan.
– Architecture here is more similar to traditional Arabian architecture on the other side of the Persian Gulf. Also, despite windcatchers being Persian architecture, you’ll also see them in Oman and to a lesser extent, the UAE.
– The cuisine is also different in Qeshm to the rest of Iran, with a heavy focus on seafood, not surprising considering the location. There are also lots of fishing villages, and this along with tourism, is the main occupation of people on the island.
– The weather on the Persian Gulf is also a lot hotter than the rest of Iran.
What are the local people like in Qeshm?
The local people on Iran’s coast are known as Bandari people (port people). As a result of their geographical location, the local people of Qeshm appear more Arabic than Iranian. Generally their skin is darker than typical Iranians, not only because it is hotter in Qeshm than in mainland Iran, but because many of the people here have a mix of ethnicities including Arab, Afro-Iranian and Indian as this area was once a very important stop on the Spice Route.
What is very unique about the women of Qeshm is the way they dress – it is unlike traditional Arabs or typical Iranians. Most of the women in Qeshm dress in vibrantly coloured loose clothing: bandari pants – which are loose at the top and tight at the bottom, and a colourful flowered chador. This is in contrast to the black chador you will often see in Iran and Arabia. The women in Qeshm will also wear a colourful embroidered boregheh (mask) over their face that displays only their eyes, and acts to also protect the face from the sand and wind. Men in Qeshm wear more Arabic clothing too.
Due to Qeshm’s location very near to Oman and the UAE, many of the locals speak Arabic dialects as well as Farsi (the language in Iran). Despite many of them knowing little to no English, the local people of Qeshm are very kind and welcoming and always smiling.
How to get to Qeshm Island?
You can take a domestic flight to Qeshm International Airport (also known as Dayrestan Airport) from Tehran (Mehrabad Airport), Shiraz and Mashhad. Qeshm Air is the national airline of Qeshm, although Iran Air, Iran Airtour and Iran Aseman Airlines also operate domestic flights from here.
Qeshm Air flies from Qeshm International Airport to Dubai International Airport (Terminal 2). There is only one flight a day, and it takes about 40 minutes to fly. A light bite (sandwich, juice, water and chocolate) is included in the price of the ticket. You will need to get an Iranian person to book your ticket as the website only accepts Iranian cards to purchase the ticket for some reason. You can go into a travel agency when you are in Iran and get them to book it for you. Often you can get the fares for around 50USD.
You can take the ferry (“lenj“) from the port city of Bandar Abbas (Shahid Haqani Port) on the mainline to Qeshm’s Bahman Port. Qeshm is only 12 nautical miles from mainland Iran so the ferry doesn’t take long (about 45 minutes). It costs 150,000 IRR (about 4USD), or you can take a speedboat for 30 minutes that costs 3USD.
You can also get the ferry from Bandar e-Pol (about 10km from Bandar Khamir) across to Qeshm if you want to bring a car over to Qeshm. If you are bringing a car across from the mainland it costs around 10 USD. The ferry runs throughout the day, leaving when it is full.
I stayed in Bandar Khamir the night before the ferry and I don’t really recommend it as somewhere to visit. It was a very bland town and lacked any decent hotels. However this ferry drops you off very near the Hara mangroves so it is handy for that.
You can even get the ferry from Dubai to Qeshm however I really don’t recommend it. It takes around 12 hours and the journey is very unpleasant. Seeing as flights are so cheap it is worth taking the flight instead.
What other Iranian islands are there in the Persian Gulf?
Kish Island, whilst a lot smaller than Qeshm Island, is much more glitzy and luxurious than Qeshm. It is a shopper’s paradise with it’s many shopping malls that like Qeshm are also tax free. Many people come here on holiday as there are lots of recreational activities and the beaches are very beautiful with lots of coral. Like Qeshm, you can visit here without an Iranian visa. However, it is definitely not as untouched as Qeshm, so if you are more interested to see nature and local traditions, head to Qeshm. If you want a more luxurious holiday, head to Kish. Kish is 140 miles from Qeshm.
Another really beautiful island much closer to Qeshm is Hormuz Island.This island is covered in volcanic materials and is covered in a red coloured pigment called ochre. Hormuz is only 60km from Qeshm, and like Qeshm is full of beautiful untouched beaches and natural geological wonders. It is also very similar to Qeshm in terms of the clothes people wear and that the people are still very traditional. Hormuz Island is also known as the rainbow island as there are some really beautiful mountains of all different colours called the rainbow mountains, which are a must visit if you are in Hormuz. There are 2 ferries a day from Qeshm to Hormuz, which cost IRR 90,000. For all you need to know about Hormuz Island click here.
Accommodation on Qeshm Island
There are a few hotels on Qeshm Island, however what I really recommend you to do is to stay with a local family at a homestay whilst you are here. There are plenty of homestays so you can really get a feel for the culture. The homestays are very simple, low-key and modest here but offer a unique and unforgettable experience with the local people. I stayed at one homestay called Khaneh Doost, where the family spoke no English. It was located in Suza which was a good location as it was near to all the toast attractions. Click here to read more about my stay there and to learn more about Iranian traditional houses.
Do I need a visa for Qeshm?
NO! Foreign tourists do NOT need an Iranian visa to enter Qeshm Island. Like Kish Island it is part of the free trade zone, meaning it is a duty free zone AND you don’t need an Iranian visa to enter. If you don’t have an Iranian visa, you cannot go to the mainland, and you can only stay on Qeshm or Kish for 14 days without a visa. This is great if you have been denied an Iranian visa, or you are American, British or Canadian and don’t want to do a guided tour of Iran (as these nationalities must be accompanied by a tour guide on their trip to Iran). Click here to find out more.
When is the best time to visit Qeshm?
The climate in Qeshm is similar to that of Dubai, so the winter time is the best time to visit (November to March), when the temperatures are cooler. During the summer months of May – September in particular it gets very hot and humid, with temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius sometimes. I visited in March and it was still bearable, however I do remember there were quite a few flies around.
Is Qeshm Island worth visiting?
Qeshm was one of my absolute favourite places in Iran to visit and is definitely worth a visit. If you love empty beaches, unspoilt beauty and nature, Qeshm is a perfect place to get away. Plus you’ll get to see a lot of the local people’s heritage and really be able to relax here as it is very peaceful as life is a lot slower here on the island.
Despite having lived in the Gulf (UAE) for three years, it was so amazing to visit Qeshm. The Iranian side of the Persian Gulf is so different to the Arabian side. There was so much beautiful nature and so many traditions being kept alive. Seeing people live exactly like how they would have years ago was really nice, in complete contrast to the UAE that has completely modernised itself and it can be difficult to picture life back in the day before the oil was discovered.
How expensive is Qeshm?
Seeing as you don’t need a visa to enter Qeshm, you can have a trip to Qeshm for fairly cheap. Prices are far cheaper than across the water on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf. Accommodation, food and tourist activities are very affordable here: much cheaper than mainland Iran.
Transport in Qeshm
You need to hire a car or a driver in Qeshm as there is no public transport. The island is 115 kilometres long and the width varying from 10km – 35km.
What should I wear in Qeshm?
Despite you being on an island and near the beach, you are still in Iran. Therefore you cannot lie on the beach in a bikini. The local people of Qeshm are very conservative and don’t encounter as many tourists as other parts of Iran. So please remain respectfully dressed with your arms, legs and hair covered if you are a female. Males need to wear trousers.
How many days should I spend in Qeshm?
Despite Qeshm being quite small, there is a lot to see here. Therefore I say 3 days is the perfect amount of time to spend on the island if you wish to see all the tourist sites mentioned above. The tourist sites are spread out around the island, so plan your itinerary in a logical way so you aren’t unnecessarily going back on yourself.
Is Qeshm safe?
Like the rest of Iran, Qeshm is very safe. Streets are clean, people are kind and helpful, and crime rates are low. Iran is genuinely the safest country I have ever visited. Iranians are aware of the unjust bad reputation they have outside of Iran. Therefore they are always really eager to make sure tourists have a great time in Iran.