Making research can make one pretty relaxed about going to Iraq, as long as you are going to the safe Kurdistan region of the country. The Northen part of Iraq, which borders Turkey is a safe destination to visit and was a pretty surprisingly good experience. The first great experience is at the airport. I knew I didn’t need a visa, but the immigration agent smiled and asked me how I was? A great first impression of the place combined with the surprise of seeing a brand new airport of international standard. The city I am talking about is of course Erbil and many no fewer than 21 airlines now operates flights to the city. It’s a destination for business travellers, and only a few tourists visit Erbil each year, but surely with potential for more.
The Northen part of Iraq has no visa requirements, while you must get one to visit the dangerous southern part of the country. A detail many companies don’t know about, for them Iraq is Iraq, expats told me at Divan Hotel. Several still transport their employees in secured cars, even though Erbil is completely safe to visit. The city also has a few great luxury hotels with lots of foreign staff like you find it in most of The Middle East. Budget hotels are also available to meet any budget. Of the 21 airlines operating to Erbil, low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines flies three times weekly from Ankara, making it possible to visit on a low budget. The other airlines are at a much higher price tag. The city offers a beautiful Citadel, set in the middle of the city, and several parks and museums.
Getting around Erbil can be a problem as the public transport isn’t very good. Make sure you select a hotel with a location in or close to downtown. I always felt safe during my 4-day visit, and I even tried to hitchhike back to the airport on the day of departure. I was offered a ride, but couldn’t find someone going near the airport so ended up taking a cheap taxi. Some are certainly cheaper than others, and it’s important to bargain and ask the locals what it usually cost them for the same distance.