Sura Abdulrahman, recommends
Okay, when thinking about a possible destination to holiday in during the summer, Kurdistan might not immediately spring to mind. It’s a shame that political issues have overshadowed its charms. And I’m not just saying that because I’m biased (I’m Iraqi). Kurdistan has some spectacular scenery, great hospitality and an enchanting, natural vibe. The province of Kurdistan is quite independent and seems like a different country from the rest of Iraq’s regions. There is a distinct Kurdish culture, language and identity – It first gained autonomous status in 1970 following an agreement with the Iraqi government – although, you will find four languages spoken, Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic and Persian.This small region’s capital is Erbil (also know as Irbil or Arbil), comprising 80,000 square kms and a population of 5,000,000. Kurdistan was established in 1991, after the UN resolution to protect Kurds in Iraq, who represent the majority of the inhabitants of these provinces. Perhaps the most prominent attractions are the archaeological sites of the Kurdistan region. Considered one of the richest areas historically, it has 30,152 archeological sites in total. Every province of the region is characterised by a different and specific background. Other than that, Kurdistan has many wonderful natural sites, like green mountains filled with citrus trees and waterfalls. I would recommend you hire a car or a taxi to get to all the resorts and other famous sights. It can get crowded in the middle of summer so I would suggest visiting between April and July.
My Favourite Place: It is hard for me to pick just one place in Kurdistan, as I’m a person who appreciates the beauty of nature, but the one I’m recommending is a favourite for many visitors and residents. Bekhal is a must see. Featuring thunderous cold waterfalls, lush landscapes and leafy trees, it never fails to captivate. It’s surrounded by green mountains and the summer resort also has restaurants and shops selling souvenirs and traditional Kurdish accessories. The coolest thing that I’ve tried is climbing up to the highest spot of the waterfall; it’s such a great adventure trying to move against the current of a chilled water stream.
Highlights: First you need to start with the summer resorts, where you can enjoy pristine nature all around. With 21 resorts in total, there’s plenty of choice. From a resort base, you can explore the historical spots and learn about the diversity of Iraqi culture, as well as try out activities such as boating and swimming. Discover crystal clear lakes, dense forests with firs, conifers, oaks and willow, as well as majestic mountains. Mountains are a symbolic feature in Kurdish life, as the saying goes ‘Kurds have no friends but the mountains.’ I think you should visit Ashawa, Sulaf, Lake Dukan, Darbandikhan Lake, Shaklawa, Shandiar Cave, Gali Ali Bek Strait and waterfall, as well as Jandia resort, which is covered in magnificent green spaces and has cold water streams. Kurdistan is also well known for delicious fresh fruits like oranges, apples and grapes. It’s easy to come across fruit trees while you’re roaming around, so simply help yourself to nature’s larder.
Lowlights: Although the Kurds are very welcoming and kind, the communication factor might be a small barrier to enjoying your holiday. You may find young people speak English, while most elders speak Arabic. Others will just respond in Kurdish no matter what language you use.
Souvenirs: You can easily find souvenirs within the summer resorts. However, the most famous place for traditional accessories and Kurdish products is Salah al-Din Fort, about 32 km from Erbil and considered one of the main historical sights in Iraq. The cost of living in Kurdistan is cheaper than many places, including Oman, for instance, so your holiday budget should stretch further to buy more souvenirs.
Where to stay: It isn’t hard to get a hotel in Kurdistan. Erbil or Hawler are the places for hotels, and prices vary according to what you’re looking for. Most of the hotels are located downtown, so you won’t get lost. These are the ones I would recommend; Erbil Rotana hotel, Hayali Suites furnished apartments, BL Hotels Erbil, and Jiger Palace hotels. The Kurdistan government is trying to develop the state’s tourism with plans to expand and invest here. Great news for visitors!