World's Most Controversial Destinations
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Why go: You won't find a city in the Islamic world more dynamic than Tehran, with its museums, art galleries, and coffee shops filled with a young population (more than two thirds of Iranians are under 30). The basic program for first-time visitors takes in the capital; 2,500-year-old ruins of Persepolis, seat of the Achaemenid Empire (pictured); Shiraz, a cultural treasure house full of monuments to Persian poets; and the 16th-century city of Esfahan, with its squares, mosques, fantastic bridges, and one of the Islamic world's great covered markets. Iran is also an adventure destination. You can camp with nomads in the Zagros Mountains, ride horses across the Turkoman steppes, climb 15,312-foot Mount Damavand, and ski at Dizin. This is the Old Testament come to life: You can visit the tombs of Esther and Mordecai, as well as Kandovan, a troglodyte village some say is the original Garden of Eden.
Why not go: The state has reportedly jailed journalists and newspaper editors and subjected dissidents to torture, while university professors critical of the regime have been fired or forced into retirement, and students and other civilians who stage demonstrations are detained. Christians, Zoroastrians, and the Islamic world's largest Jewish community may practice their religions, but the state denies the same right to the Baha'i community. Arabs, Kurds, Azeris, and other minorities are repressed, according to the U.S. State Department. Visiting Americans of Iranian origin holding dual citizenship or married to Iranian nationals have been arrested on suspicion of treason and prevented from leaving the country.
Experts say: While they may disagree with U.S. foreign policy toward Israel and Iraq and resent U.S. pressure on Iran's nuclear enrichment program, many Iranians love America and Americans. Most are too young to remember the revolution's anti-Americanism, resent their preachy government's failure to deliver jobs and basic freedoms, and view America with idealism.
If you go: Geographic Expeditions, based in San Francisco, has been taking Americans to Iran since 1993 (Tel: 800-777-8183; www.geoex.com). Zohreh Majidian, an Iranian living in London, has arranged journalist reporting trips and is also used to working with American clients (Tel: 44-1344-622-832; www.magic-carpet-travel.com).