My trip to Kurdistan was very rewarding, to see a place I had been hearing about my whole life was tremendous. Not to rely on what you see on CNN (or god forbid Fox News) or read in the USA Today, but to see it for yourself, and meet the people, is an incredible experience. Still, people continue to question me on going there. I’d go back 1,000 times out of 1,000 but don’t take it from me, go see for yourself.
As with most rewarding experiences, it will cost you. Iraqi Kurdistan won’t totally break your budget but it is not as cheap as most places I’ve been to on this trip so far. There are few tourists, in fact I met zero other tourists in my week there. This affects the budget in good and bad ways.
Accommodation is far and away the biggest expense. In fact, it is a pretty cheap travel destination otherwise. The reason is because there are no hostels in Erbil (hmmm future business idea?). The amount of foreign tourists right now is low (thanks ISIS) and the people who do visit aren’t really the hostel type. Couchsurfing isn’t all that popular there either. So that leaves hotels. I stayed for six nights in a three-star hotel. Although that rating is a bit generous, it cost me $37 per night. That alone puts the daily budget over what I spent in Panama, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Turkey.
I also spent $15 on a hostel in the UAE the seventh night, but since I spent more than 12 hours of the day in Iraq, I’ll include it here. In all, I spent $237 on accommodation or $33.85 per day.
Food was very cheap, and quite good. I would stuff myself full of shawarma for a couple dollars. I spent $24 on dinner ($3.42) an additional $2 ($.28 PD) on lunch and $13 ($1.85 PD) on groceries (snacks). I was also very fortunate to get several free meals from the generous people I met there. I can still taste the homemade dolma, so good! Additionally, I spent $1 on bottled water ($.14) that wasn’t included in meals. The lack of tourists is good for things like food and almost everything else. There is no price gouging for tourists like in many other places.
Other was a significant cost in Kurdistan, I spent $35 ($5 per day). Most of it ($15) came from souvenirs, which I usually avoid, but I couldn’t pass up the out-of-print Saddam Hussein currency. As in most places in the Middle East, I smoked a lot of shisha and that falls in this category. As a side note, Erbil has the best shisha that I have ever seen anywhere!
I spent $13 ($1.85 PD) on cabs which was my transportation to and from the airport. The city is quite safe and walkable so I walked almost everywhere, even at night. I also used the local bus which cost me $2 ($.28 PD). Again, the people of Erbil were generous with rides, even complete strangers, so that helped with the transportation costs as well.
As you might expect, beer is limited in Kurdistan. However, that is not to say it can’t be found. I saw one bottle shop where I spent $8 ($1.14 PD) on several regional beers. There were no beers from Iraq available.
I didn’t do much in the way of paid tourist activities. There are several cool parks that are free to visit. The Citadel, the main attraction in the city, can also be explored for free. For me, Erbil was a cultural experience and not a sightseeing mission. No better way to do that than to just walk around and have a chat over a meal or water pipe. I did however spent $5 on a cable car ride ($.71 PD) at one of the parks.
All told, I spent $340 in my seven days in Kurdistan or $48.57 per day. Still a bargain for the experience I had!