For adventurous travelers, off-limits spots hold appeal

December 10, 2006|By New York Times News Service

Some destinations are off-limits for political, safety or even moral issues; they are so dangerous or ruled by such an oppressive regime that a vacation there is almost unthinkable. But for some adventurous people, those very barriers are incentive of sorts, a challenge to taste the forbidden fruit.

Iran may be one of those places next year - and not just because the Iranian government is reportedly offering cash incentives ($20 a head) to travel agencies that recruit Europeans and Americans for trips to the country.

Several travel agencies in the United States and England report a small but determined number of clients eager to see a country that President Bush has branded part of the "axis of evil."

Why the desire to visit Iran? For one thing, the country has cultural riches that rival almost any place on Earth. "They want to see the first empire in the world - the architecture, museums, cities, mountains and deserts - in case things change in the future," said Nasrin Etemadi, managing director of Persian Voyages (, a British-based tour company specializing in travel to Iran.

Independent travel to Iran is almost impossible for U.S. citizens, who are issued a visa only after a tour company submits an itinerary to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for approval - a process that takes six to eight weeks. Tour packages run from $2,000 to $4,000.

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