Iran will throw more surprises at you than your expectant heart expected. What you experience when visiting Kandovan cave town is a place peculiarly similar to Turkey’s Cappadocia yet so quiet and untouristy and blatantly without the same commercial appeal. There are still currently no buses that run to Kandovan Cave Town!! Making it an essential visit in my books when you’re based in nearby Tabriz.
How to get to Kandovan Cave Town near Osku, Iran
We stayed a few nights in Tabriz and headed from there. From central Tabriz, head out to the train station. The free local buses (free for foreigners) take you there, as we did. Or if you’re not so tight, pay a taxi to take you to the train station. However once you’re at the train station, don’t go inside. You need to get a bus to Osku from the main road.
The road is called Kargar Boulevard. To find the bus stop, ask people about the bus to Osku. Nobody really speaks English but some of them know the bus to Osku. To make things easier, if the train station is in front of you and you are at the roundabout, then take a left and walk along the road less than 100 metres and you’ll see a bus to Osku. Of course nothing is written in English, but the bus is a small mini-bus and is red and white.
Tabriz to Osku by Mini-bus
This is a pleasant drive through decent countryside and mountains in the background. Unless things change, you’ll be the only travellers on this mini-bus. The people on board will know you are heading for Kandovan, they will tell you where in Osku to get off. There are no direct buses to Kandovan. The mini-bus costs 7,000 Rials ($0.25 US) – pay when you get off.
Osku to Kandovan by car
Since there are no mini-buses to Kandovan, best option is to hire a driver. Make sure you agree a price with the driver beforehand. We did this and had some misunderstanding, he definitely wanted to charge us more but in the end we paid him 120,000 Rials ($4.10 US). This was for the drive there and back, the time he waited around for us and the entry fee to the village (yes, sadly there is an entry fee for Kandovan – but it’s not too commercial – it’s just a guy who takes the money from the driver on the driver up to the village).
How much does it cost to visit Kandovan?
As our driver paid the entry fee and we paid him, we see it as FREE. But the truth is the driver pays you in. It’s 10,000 Rials (about $ 0.40 US).
What is there to do at Kandovan?
It’s a cave town housing around 700 people so wandering round the nooks and crannies are the main things you want to do. Mingling with the locals is also cool and they will talk to you. It’s polite to say “Hello, how are you?” in Farsi/Persian which is “Sallam Aleykom”.
We posed for a few photos with the locals but generally they weren’t up for that, which is very very understandable given the fact that you are basically walking through their gardens!
We went inside some of the cave houses, but only those that were of a commercial nature. Some locals are here trying to make a trade by selling carpets, silk and souvenirs. We were the only tourists in town and didn’t buy anything and found it hard to believe how they can make money selling anything. We visited in December time, apparently it gets way busier in the summer, but the tourists that flock there are of course mostly Iranian and Azerbaijani.
The main part of the trip is just walking around and checking out the cool houses. If you’ve hired a driver, an hour or so is enough time to get a feel for the place. If you’ve been to Cappadocia or Davit Gareja before, this will feel more raw and real in comparison, given there are just not many tourists around! Indeed it was just the two of us when I went…
Aside from the cave town itself, Kandovan offers great views of the nearby mountains.
Kandovan also has a main street, a river, some bridges and another side of the town.
On the other side of the town, there are restaurants which do well in the summer and close for the winter.
When we went there was no option of staying overnight, unless you really charm the locals into it, so see what you need and head back to Osku with your driver. From Osku, get the same mini-bus back to Tabriz. It leaves from the main bus station. I can’t give you directions, just ask the locals!!
If you end up in Tabriz on your journeys, I highly recommend doing Kandovan!! Don’t miss it – it’s better than Cappadocia and almost as cool as Azerbaijan’s Xinaliq.
Here are my videos from the trip to Kandogan (to be added):