Iranian youth join wave of ecotourism

Al Monitor| Saeid Jafari: Off-road driving as well as tours of the desert, mountains and forests have become popular pastimes for youths in Iran. The phenomenon particularly applies to those from more affluent backgrounds, who often embark on journeys to the desert in their upscale vehicles. To become better acquainted with desert tourism and off-road driving in Iran, Al-Monitor spoke to Mohammad Ali Majdabadi, a veteran in the trade.

Driving his Mitsubishi, Prado or another one of his collection of vehicles, Majdabadi has been leading tours of Iran’s deserts for about a decade. Commenting on how ecotourism began to take form in Iran, he told Al-Monitor, “This topic [ecotourism] goes back to 40 years ago when rich people began exploring the more difficult routes with their fancy American vehicles, like Cherokees, Range Rovers and Blazers, for hunting, desert trekking and fishing. The new trend, however, is about 10 years old with the past five years seeing the establishment of regular tours. Initially, these tour groups were for those who wanted an adventurous trip in nature, but have since become a source of business.”

An online search for “desert tourism” in Persian will turn up dozens of tour companies and websites that offer different options at various prices. However, these tour groups do not seem to be very specialized.

“The majority of tours found on the internet go only to the nearest and most accessible spots in the desert where one can easily visit without a tour group, or even with a regular car,” Majdabadi said. “However, there are about 10 tried tour companies that are famous when it comes to desert tours and can even embark on the challenging and specialized routes.”

But how much do these tours cost? A quick search on the web will net a variety of options. A two-day tour to the Maranjab Desert, one of the most popular destinations in central Iran, will cost about $57 and doesn’t require a purpose-built vehicle. The more specialized tours, however, have different price tags. “The cost depends on the type of trip and the services being offered. But on average, one should consider $35-$50 for a desert tour,” Majdabadi said.
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