While I was travelling in Iran a man from Sulaymaniyah invited me to visit him went I got to Iraq. I only had 5 days in Iraq and therefore I originally planned to only visit Erbil and the surrounding areas. After tinkering a little with my schedule I decided that there was time left to visit Sulaymaniyah. And I am very happy that I did!
Public transport in Iraqi Kurdistan has not yet developed as far as it has in Iran. A bus terminal recently opened, but the main mode of transport are shared taxis. Basically you share the taxi with three other people and you split the cost. For convenience there is a place where taxis, that go to a different city, wait for costumers. This place is called a ‘garaj’. In order to get to the garaj you tell the taxi driver to take you to the city’s name followed by the word garaj. In my case this was ‘Sulaymaniyah garaj’.
Once you arrive you can tell the people there you want to go to Sulaymaniyah and they will take you to the right taxi. I did not have to wait, because I was the last person to fill the taxi. When I was there the cost was 15000 Iraqi dinar per person. If there is only three of you the driver might offer you to split the cost between the three of you. Thus paying 20000 Iraqi dinar each. It is up to you and the other passengers if you want to do this. On the way back people tried to charge me the full 60000 dinar, but I stayed firm and told them I wanted to wait for other people to arrive. This took approximately 30 minutes.
The drive from Erbil to Sulaymaniyah takes approximately 2 hours. As the roads in Iraqi Kurdistan are all fairly new and in good condition the ride is quite pleasant. The views of nature from the taxi are astonishing!
After arriving at the edge of the city I took a taxi to the center, where I would meet the man that invited me on Couchsurfing. Unfortunately we couldn’t hang out after my arrival, because he was too busy, but his cousin had time to show me around the city.
Together we walked around the city’s many streets and parks. Anywhere he could tell me something interesting. From the origin of the animal markets to the current political situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. This really helped to make my visit to Sulaymaniyah more interesting and insightful.
At the end we went to the Amnasuraka museum. This building used to be a prison during Saddam’s reign. The remnants of the liberation of this place can still be seen clearly. The walls are full of bullet holes and tanks and other military vehicles are scattered around the premises. Inside the museum some walls are covered with acrylic glass in order to preserve what has been written on the walls. Some of these final words will send chills up your spine. Next to this many rooms contain life-size statues that show the conditions the prisoners lived in. Some are even depicted whilst being tortured.
The fact that I was there with a local made the experience more intense. He had lived in the city for many years during Saddam’s time and could vividly tell me his own memories of the time. Therefore, I highly recommend a visit to this museum!
View of Sulaymaniyah
In the afternoon the man that invited me earlier had time to show me around town and visit some of his friends. This was a very unique experience. He knew many of the people that owned the street side shops and they all invited me over for tea and were very interested in my story.
In the evening we went for some traditional Kurdish dinner. After this we all got in a car and started driving up the mountain at the edge of the city. It took us little over 20 minutes until we reached the top. Just before we got their the driver started to count down from 5 to 0. The view that appeared was truly breath-taking. The photo below shows me on top of the mountain with the view in the background while having fun with one of my new friends.
Due to the freezing cold we did not stick around for long. We went down the mountain via a different road. Apparently a new mall had just opened which the guys had to see! The mall is huge and full of fountains restaurants and other fancy-looking things. I definitely did not expect to see this in Iraq!
Night had fell and after a coffee we went back to one of my friend’s home, where I spent one night. The next morning, after saying our goodbyes, I headed to the ‘Erbil garaj’ and was on my way again.
Go to Sulaymaniyah!
If you ever happen to be in Erbil I highly advise you to go to Suly. The city is very modern and has a lot to offer to its visitors. If you want to gain a better insight into life in Iraq I advise you to get in touch with locals. Couchsurfing is a great tool for this!