Solo Female Travel in Iraqi Kurdistan
Updated February 2024, Solo Female Travel in Iraqi Kurdistan was originally written in August 2019
Most of you that read my blog regularly know that I do go to countries solo that most people, in general, wouldn’t visit. In April 2019 I traveled overland from Afghanistan to Iran and finally on to Iraqi Kurdistan. I traveled solo in part of Afghanistan, and all of Iran, and Iraqi Kurdistan.
While there are a few more concerns women typically have than male travelers that will be addressed in this post, I think in general most of these tips you’ll learn in this solo female travel in Iraqi Kurdistan blog post can be applied to both genders.
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Is It Safe To Travel Iraqi Kurdistan As A Solo Female?
In general, yes.
Since I have written a couple of blog posts on my time in Iraqi Kurdistan and shared photos and articles on Instagram and Facebook I’ve received a flurry of messages and emails from women asking if it was safe. Iraqi Kurdistan felt secure and safe. I didn’t think I faced any special dangers for being female (or even American, because (US) Americans many times think we have special targets on our backs).
It’s worth mentioning here that this is NOT Southern (Arab) Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan is in many ways a world apart from the remainder of the country (as in having their own regional government and no visa required for many passport holders).
To be perfectly honest with you all, I wanted to say that I mostly traveled Iraqi Kurdistan on my own, some days with a hired driver for places that are tougher to get to on public transport. One of the days I did join a local guide and his family on a day trip.
Start planning: A Quick Iraqi Kurdistan Travel Guide
What To Wear
Iraqi Kurdistan is quite liberal as far as dress given its location smack in the center of the Middle East, though you will still see plenty of traditional outfits and even headscarves and niqabs worn. So what does that mean for you, solo female traveler?
There are no special concerns as to what to wear in Iraqi Kurdistan. I will say that religious sites will require you to cover your shoulders, knees, and hair, so outfits covering at least knee and shoulders and having a scarf handy in your bag will make it more helpful for those random monastery and mosque visits.
In more rural areas outside main cities like Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Duhok you’ll see that most women do wear the traditional Kurdish dress with and without headscarves. In bigger cities, you’ll see those Kurdish dresses, some women in full face veils and even young women in crops and high-waist skinny jeans.
What did I wear?
The trip I was on prior to arriving in Iraqi Kurdistan took me to Yemen (Socotra), Afghanistan and Iran. Needless to say, my outfits were already pretty conservative. One day I was even dressed in a traditional Kurdish dress by the family I visited Gomi Felaw, Rawanduz, Dore Canyon, and Barzan with.
You’ll be moving between cities in Iraqi Kurdistan most likely by shared taxis, which are minibusses that leave when full. In cities, if you have to go a far distance you’ll find yourself getting a taxi. The shared taxis typically don’t pose many issues as both men and women use them regularly, but unwanted gropes do happen.
Private taxis can be a bit of a problem. While many drivers are perfectly professional there are others that are handsy perverts. I only encountered the latter once while in Erbil. I got in, and the driver kept trying to touch my leg. I opened the door in traffic and got out.
No special precautions really need to be taken in regard to accommodations that you won’t take elsewhere. I booked my first two nights in Iraqi Kurdistan at the Janet Bluedan Hotel in Erbil and for the remainder of the trip, I stayed with a lovely Kurdish family.
Couchsurfing is fairly active in Iraqi Kurdistan so finding hosts shouldn’t be much of an issue, but as a solo female, I do recommend thoroughly checking reviews before sending a request.
Plan your visit: A 10 Day Iraqi Kurdistan Itinerary
Aside from the one Erbil taxi driver who kept trying to touch my leg, I didn’t face any other incidents while in Iraqi Kurdistan. Just because I didn’t have much issue that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen here. Though it’s worth mentioning that I had been warned by locals and by foreign workers that the most likely place to be harassed was in a taxi.
General Iraqi Kurdistan Travel Info & Tips
- There will be a lot of military checkpoints as you travel around Iraqi Kurdistan. The Peshmerga takes security very seriously, especially as ISIS has been known to launch occasional attacks into Kurdistan. Military checkpoints are usually quick and painless, at most just having to show your passport.
- Kurmanji is the predominant language spoken in Iraqi Kurdistan, a Kurdish dialect. You will find Sorani (another dialect) speakers as well, especially near Sulaymaniyah. Kurmanji does have some similarities to Farsi, such as numbers but is still very much a different language.
- Drones are illegal in Iraqi Kurdistan, period, end of story. Leave yours at home or else plan to have problems.
- English is a popular second language to learn among younger Kurds, though don’t expect to find English spoken everywhere (it doesn’t hurt to learn some basic Kurdish phrases).
- The Iraqi Dinar is the currency used in Iraqi Kurdistan. Currently, the exchange rate is 1,458 IQD to $1 USD.
- Crime is pretty low in Iraqi Kurdistan, still take normal precautions as you would elsewhere.
I was able to meet Haval Qaraman once I arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan, who has been guiding tourists in Iraqi Kurdistan for several years now. He was booked with clients during the time I visiting for all but on one day he had set aside to take his family on a day trip outside of Erbil and invited me along.
He’s very professional and would recommend him if you feel more comfortable arranging a guided trip to Iraqi Kurdistan. You can check out his website here for more info.
You can also pick up a copy of Bradt Iraq to help you start planning your visit to Iraqi Kurdistan.