This was a decision that took some time to make. I did’t tell many people I would be making the overland trip from Turkey to Iraq, and those I did tell were shocked and dead-set against it. Reading articles like this don’t help. I have been to some interesting border crossings in my time, but never seen security like I did here. That said, everything went as smooth as it could; fast and efficient, and I now sit in a comfortable hotel room in Zakho that I share with a friend who made the trip with me. I will now recap the days events giving a full description how to make this journey, as well as my first impressions of Iraq and the people of Zakho.

Overland Turkey to Iraq step 1 – Choosing how to get to the Iraq Border

I started the Turkey to Iraq trip this morning from Mardin, a city in south-eastern Turkey. This however can begin from basically any city in Turkey, even as far away as Istanbul. You have 2 options;

  • Option 1 – The easy, but boring way: If starting from a major city such as Istanbul, Ankara, or Diyarbakir you can take a bus directly from Turkey to the Iraq city of your choice. This is by far the easiest, but also the least exciting, and subjects you to extremely long wait times at the border. Not FTF style at all. If you feel more comfortable taking this route I have been recommended OZ Diyarbakir and CAN Diyarbakir as decent companies to use. The cost to get from Turkey to Iraq using this method will depend on where you start. You can check the company sites for the exact price.
  • Option 2 – The FTF way: This is the old school way. The way they went from Turkey to Iraq a few years ago, and the way I went. Getting from Turkey to Iraq in this fashion involves a series of local busses, shared taxis, and random acts of kindness. This is the tale that I will tell today. I will outline exactly what I paid, how long it took, and all the randomness that happened along the way. Now let’s get to it.

Overland Turkey to Iraq Border

 Overland Turkey to Iraq step 2 – Getting to Silopi

Silopi is the border town on the Turkish side. This is where you want to get to as the first stop on the trip overland from Turkey to Iraq. Most will head right to Erbil (also called Arbil or Hawker) but where is the fun in that! The goal of independent travel is pushing your limits and that involves rolling like the locals.

Overland Turkey to Iraq Border

I woke up early in Mardin and headed for the mini bus otogar. My goal was to catch the 8:30am bus as I heard the wait times at the border can be long. I was looking for a bus bound for Silopi. There was a large, comfortable bus at a cost of 25 Lira. The ride was about 2.5 hours and hugs the Syrian border the whole way. My anxiety at this point was high. To my right stood barbed wire fence and high look out towers every 500 meters or so. On the way from Turkey to Iraq you will literally drive on the edge of Syria, hopefully in the future this won’t be an issue but at the of writing, it was very concerning.

Overland Turkey to Iraq Border

My concern was unwarranted, however, as there was nothing to fear. Turkey to Iraq is a route that these buses drive daily, and it was just another day and business as usual. On the trip we passed a few rats-nest towns that you would not want to get out in. Burned tires littered the road, and broken down buildings were my view. I wonderd what I was getting myself into, and if entering Iraq would be the same. I just put on my headphones and relaxed as we cruised past the mess and on to Silopi.

Overland Turkey to Iraq step 3 – Silopi to Zakho

Zakho is the border town on the Iraq side. When I jumped off at the bus station in Silopi I yelled out “Zakho”. Within seconds a man approached me, he was herding me towards his van. Myself, my travel partner, and a few locals paid the driver 20 Lira each and headed off to the border. The driver took our passports and was in charge of directing us through the Turkey to Iraq border crossing proceedures.

Overland Turkey to Iraq Border

Our driver knew exactly what he was doing, and it was clear that this wasn’t his first rodeo. He raced through traffic and basically skipped the entire line and cut in right at the front. We got stamped out of Turkey and then continued on to the x-ray machine. We unloaded the van and put all the bags through the machine. Weird thing is, no one was actually watching the machine and the room was empty. But, we complied and collected our bags and reloaded them back on the van. This place had serious security. Were talking U.S military, Turkish guards, and Iraqi soldiers. Not a place to mess around.

Overland Turkey to Iraq Border

The driver will basically take care of everything. Citizens of Canada, U.S, EU, and a couple other countries get a free 15 day visa on arrival. The Iraqi customs officer basically asked no questions, gave no warnings, stamped me in, and away we went. This had a lot to do with one of our bus mates that was some kind of Kurdish soldier and was able to help us skip lines and get the whole process done in less than 30 minutes.

Overland Turkey to Iraq Border

Once arriving over the border from Turkey to Iraq, we were given our bags and left at a random location near some shops. We had a hotel in mind (Nobel Hotel – recommended – $50 for a ballin’ twin room) and our new Kurdish army friend took it upon himself to arrange an unmarked cab for 10,000 Dinar ($10) to Zakho. He hopped in with us and we headed to the city centre. We arrived at our hotel, our new friend helped us get a room, carried our bags to the room, then proceeded to show us how the shower worked, how the a/c worked, how the t.v worked, and other basic things that we obviously could figure out on our own. He then gave us all his contact info and wished us luck. This is just the first of many acts of kindness we would experience today.

Recap of how to cross overland from Turkey to Iraq

  1. Get money! There are no ATM’s in Iraq!
  2. Decide if you want to take the easy way from Turkey to Iraq, or travel the FTF way like the locals.
  3. Get to the Turkey border town of Silopi. 25 Lira and 3 hours from Mardin
  4. Get in a shared van and let the driver guide you across the border. 20 Lira per person.
  5. Take a taxi from the drop off point after the border to the centre of Zakho. 10,000 Dinar for an unmarked cab.
  6. Enjoy the hospitality and friendliness of this place!

First impressions of Iraq

What I witnessed on arrival is not what came to mind when I thought of coming overland from Turkey to Iraq. The streets are quiet, no one is begging or harassing you, and no one even looks at you twice as you walk by. After checking in to the Nobel Hotel, the first order of business was food. We hit the streets and went a random restaurant. We ordered 2 shawarmas, 2 soups, 2 waters, and 1 coke – grand total $3. After this we went to another shop to get a few things. At the checkout I asked the guy if he knew where I could exchange money, because apparently there are no ATM’s here. Luckily, I had some extra Canadian dollars tucked away for such an occasion. Not only did he tell us where to go, but he insisted on taking us.

We got into his truck, drove for a few mins, and ended up in a black market currency exchange alley with money flying around everywhere. I have never seen so much cash in my life. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of US dollars being handed off and STACKS of Iraqi Dinar. Or new guide brought us into a room and sat us down. We were then given water and a very reasonable exchange rate. All in all, a pleasant experience. He then drove us directly back to the hotel and dropped us off. Later on in the evening we headed to an open-air bar and drank tall cans until late into the night with some new local friends. Everyone here is overly friendly, and I hope to break some stereotypes that people associate with a place that carries such a heavy name. So far I’m glad I made the trip from Turkey to Iraq.

Backpacking travel Zakho Iraq Backpacking travel Zakho Iraq Backpacking travel Zakho Iraq Backpacking travel Zakho Iraq

 

5 Responses

    • Alex

      Thats a good trip from Georgia! I have yet to get there but will soon. Sending an email about the pictures.. Thanks for reading!

  1. Sarda

    Dear Alex
    Nice post..
    Currently I’m traveling in Iraq. Overland bus tour from Istanbul to Northern Iraq, Sulaimaniya. Your blog relay help me to explorer the real view of Iraq. Thanks for your guide.
    Anyway where are you traveling now?
    Regards
    Sarda Herath