For decades, Kurdistan was a popular destination for Iraqis and looking for a respite from the heat or some relaxing time in the mountains. Today, Kurdistan's tourism sector is rapidly expanding, with visitors from all of the world coming to experience the many sights and adventures that Kurdistan has to offer. With a growing number of hotels and tour companies, and ever-improving domestic infrastructure, Kurdistan is an ideal location for travelers on any budget.
For more information, click here to visit the website of the Kurdistan Board of Tourism.
The Kurdistan Region is known for having valleys, mountains, forests, as well as small and large rivers. Tourists can enjoy mountain climbing at Halgurd, Pera Magrun, Korek, Bradost, Sheren, and Saffen mountains. A state-of-the-art cable car has recently opened on Korek Mountain, and takes visitors up to its peak to enjoy wonderful views of the surrounding areas. Visitors can also take tours through the region's valleys, rivers and caves. Skiing is also becoming more popular.
There are a great number of caves and mountains to discover across the region, many of which are still unexplored. Many of the caves are of unknown depth and some mountain peaks have rarely been seen. Tourists from abroad visit Kurdistan yearly to enjoy its adventure tourism.
The Guardian ranked Kurdistan in its top international destinations for adventure tourism in 2015.
The coexistence of different religious and ethnic groups in Kurdistan Region, paired with its security and stability, has helped the religious tourism sector develop by attracting a large and increasing number of religious tourists from around the world. Foreign tourists who have traveled to Kurdistan Region and visited the religious attractions appreciate efforts made by the Kurdistan Region's leadership to create a safe and secure environment.
While the existence of many ethnic and religious groups in the Region gives color, variety and an image of a multicultural identity locally, it has also been a major of attraction for foreign visitors.
The reason behind these developments in the religious tourism sector are the security, stability and economic development and the Region’s welcoming character.
Religious tourists can visit temples, mosques and churches in all governorates in the Kurdistan Region.
Statistics from the Kurdistan Regional Government's Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs show that more than one million tourists visited the Region's religious attractions, including Islamic, Christian, Yezidi and Kakai sites.
Many local and foreign authorities have ruled the Kurdistan and many conflicts in the wider region have been fought and settled on Kurdistan land. Perhaps one of the most well known was the Battle of Gaugamela, between Alexander the Great and Darius I, which occurred near the city of Erbil in 331 BC.
Other notable conflicts that took place on Kurdistan soil are Islamic attacks, as well as occupation by Iraqi, Mongol, Ottoman and British forces. The ruling palaces of Kurdish princes, from Medes to Sheikh Mahmod, are still popular tourist attractions.
In recent history, the people of Kurdistan experienced a very different form of suffering at the hands of the Ba'ath party and its methods of governing in Kurdistan, including many political and military crimes against the Kurds.
Those crimes will never be forgotten. During the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds, chemical bombardment destroyed over 5,000 villages, killing 182,000 Kurdish civilians and leaving hundreds of mass graves. The Halabja Monument and Peace Museum documents the genocidal use of chemical weapons against civilians in the city of Halabja, which killed 5,000 people. The remnants of many traditional and locally made weapons can be seen in Kurdistan's museums, including the Red Terror Museum in Slemani. There are numerous monuments and graveyards remembering the genocide, along with statues of leaders and revolutionaries. Many historical books, journals and documentaries document the events in detail.
There are many different ethnic groups across the Kurdistan Region, including Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, Chaldeans, Armenians and Arabs. Each of these groups has its own culture, clothing and dialect belonging to their district. They also have their own agricultural tools, dishes and procedures for carrying out different activities and can be identified by their traditional dress, which includes unique clothing, gold and jewelry items.
These different cultures have their own ways of preparing traditional food and guests are always warmly welcomed to share in the delights.
The region's best-known arts and crafts are carpets and other textiles. These handicrafts can be seen and admired at cultural museums in the cities or Erbil, Sulaimani, Duhok and Kalar.
There are more than 3,500 archaeological sites in the Kurdistan Region. Some of them are significant in terms of tourism, such as the citadels of Erbil, Khanzaf, Dere, Sartika, Akre, Amedi, Rawanduz, Sherwana, Barzinja and others. Other points of interest include engravings at Qisqapan, Khinis, Halamtan, as well as some engraved skeletons in Harir, Belola Darband, Gawir Darband, Mirqolyand and more.
Other historic sites in Kurdistan include Shanidar cave, where nine Neanderthal skeletons, dating back to 60 thousand B.C., have been found. There is also Chwar Astoon cave, which was the site of a Zardasht (Zoroastrian) temple. Engravings can been found in several caves including Gundik, Bastoon Cave and Hawdyian, Chami Razan, Hazar Merd and Zarzi - where many other archaeological remains have also been found. Heritage pieces in their hundreds can be studied and admired at the museums in the main cities of Erbil, Duhok and Sulaimani.
Agricultural life in Kurdistan started around 10 thousand B.C. in the village of Zawia and in 7 thousand B.C. in Charmo. Interested tourists can also see many ancient artifacts from these periods.