Iraq: The Cradle of Modern Civilization

Oct 03 — Oct 13, 2024
11 days
4/12 spots booked
BOOK WITH CONFIDENCE: To reserve your spot on a tour, a $500 deposit will be required. However, you can book with complete peace of mind as this deposit will be refundable - minus a 3% transaction fee - for 30 days. [*If the deposit is paid within 90 days of the tour start date, the deposit is non-refundable once paid.]
Prepare yourself for a once-in-a-lifetime photographic journey through Iraq, hosted by Jennifer Spelman and Derek Baron!
Get to know the wonderfully welcoming Iraqi people through endless local interactions
Fully experience Baghdad - the old city, markets, museums, historical sites, excellent food and more!
Enjoy a private photo session inside of a spectacular 16th century palace
Walk through ancient Babylon and explore one of Saddam Hussein's abandoned palaces
Visit the incredible Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, with all of its brilliant domes, gold, mosaics and colors
Spend time at the medieval capital of Samarra with its unique architectural design
Take a powerful tour of Mosul to learn about its difficult past and inspiring hopes for the future
Finish the trip in vibrant Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Join Jennifer Spelman and Derek Baron (Wandering Earl) on this unique photography-focused trip through Iraq that will lead you to infinitely rewarding experiences that so few travelers will ever encounter. As we tour the streets of bustling Baghdad, visiting markets, gorgeous palaces, historic sites along the Tigris River, local neighborhoods and so much more, you will quickly understand that Iraq is a destination that needs to be seen first hand.

As we head south to the ancient and magnificent city of Babylon – where we’ll also visit one of Saddam Hussein’s abandoned palaces – you’ll find endless photographic opportunities as we tour such an important historical sight, yet one that receives very few visitors. In the evening, we’ll visit the surreal Imam Ali Shrine in the town of Najaf, a structure so magical and breathtaking, with pilgrims from around the world filling its lanes and inner sanctuaries day and night.

This trip will also take us to the north of the country where you’ll be mesmerized by such unbelievable ancient sites as Samarra and Hatra while being blown away by the genuine warmth and kindness of the people you meet throughout the country.

We’ll wander the streets of Mosul – a truly life-changing experience – as we learn about the city’s history under the control of ISIS and the community’s inspiring efforts to bring life and joy back to this beautiful place. Heading into the nearby Nineveh Plains, you’ll have a chance to meet people from the Christian and Yazidi communities as well, visiting homes, places of worship and family-run businesses, with special activities that can only be arranged by our local friends.

During this trip, there will also be a private photo session inside of a 500 year old palace, excellent meals throughout, endless local interaction, stunning nature and SO MUCH MORE. As this is a photography-based trip, you’ll be joined by other wonderful photographers eager to share an adventure like no other!

While many of us think that Iraq could not possibly be a travel destination, this is no longer the case. With our local team, excellent guides and an experienced tour leader, this trip will undoubtedly become one of the most memorable trips you will ever take.

*Our Wandering Earl photography tour to Iraq is genuinely one-of-a-kind. Our itinerary is full of activities, photography opportunities, destinations and local interactions that are only possible due to our local contacts. These contacts are able to gain special access for our groups to a wide variety of sites and people and this is what helps make our tour unlike any other!

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Pay a deposit of $500 per person
  • 1
    Oct 3Baghdad (Arrival Day)
    Baghdad (Arrival Day)
    Arrival day
    Included: Dinner
    Upon arrival at Baghdad’s airport, you will be met by our VIP airport representative once you walk off the plane. Our representative will take you through the visa on arrival and immigration procedures, help you claim your luggage and take you to the private car that will transfer you to our hotel. Later in the evening, we’ll all gather for an orientation meeting and a welcome dinner at one of the city’s best restaurants!
  • 2
    Oct 4Baghdad
    Highlights: Full Baghdad city tour, Old Baghdad, Tigris River
    Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Our first full day in this city will begin with a tour of Old Baghdad. We’ll wander through historic streets, meet local craftspeople, enjoy the energetic markets, try some of the famous local cuisine and visit some of the most important landmarks in the city. This day will involve endless interactions with the friendly Iraqis we come across as we begin to gain a deeper understanding of life in Iraq. After lunch, we’ll take a boat ride along the Tigris River, visit the Baghdad cultural center and spend time at the impressive Martyr’s Monument. For dinner, we’ll go out for one of the city’s best local delicacies at a restaurant that is well-known for this special dish.
  • 3
    Oct 5Baghdad
    Highlights: Abbasid Palace photoshoot, Iraqi National Museum, cultural center
    Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Heading out in the morning, we’ll drive straight to the beautiful Abbasid Palace. Here, we’ll have the entire 1000-year-old palace to ourselves as we get ready for an unforgettable photo shoot. With a variety of our local friends joining us, you’ll have a chance to use this incredible palace as the backdrop for photographing our wonderful models. After our special photo session, we’ll drive to the Iraqi National Museum for a guided tour that will help make sense of the complex and fascinating history of this region. The rest of the afternoon will be yours to spend as you wish and our tour leader will be there to assist. In the evening, we’ll make our way to a stunning cultural center where we’ll sit down for dinner surrounded by colorful and intricate traditional architecture.
  • 4
    Oct 6Baghdad » Babylon » Najaf
    Baghdad » Babylon » Najaf
    Highlights: Ancient Babylon, abandoned Saddam Hussein palace, Imam Ali Shrine, Najaf
    Included: Breakfast, Lunch
    Leaving early in the morning, we’ll start the drive south. Our first stop will be ancient Babylon where we’ll have a full tour of the area, including the ruins, original gates, palaces and more. You’ll have ample time to photograph the site and wander around on your own in order to discover all of the hidden areas that offer even more valuable insights into history. We’ll then visit one of Saddam Hussein’s abandoned palaces nearby. With special access to the second and third floors of the palace, this will be a unique opportunity to capture a place that visitors are rarely allowed to see. After time in the palace, we’ll have lunch in the nearby town of Hillah before continuing the drive to the small city of Najaf. We’ll check into our centrally located hotel and have a rest before visiting the undeniably spectacular Imam Ali Shrine after sunset. This shrine is not only one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Islam, but it is also one of the most ornate structures you will ever see. After our tour of the shrine, we’ll spend some time in the Najaf Bazaar, a market that really comes alive in the evening, as pilgrims from countries all over the world shop for various local goods.
  • 5
    Oct 7Najaf » Baghdad
    Najaf » Baghdad
    Highlights: Fallujah, free time
    Included: Breakfast, Lunch
    After a leisurely breakfast, we’ll board our bus and begin with a 2-hour drive. Our first stop will be the city of Fallujah, in order to try out some of their famous cuisine for lunch. We’ll also take a short walking tour of this welcoming city before continuing the journey to our hotel in Baghdad. The rest of the evening will be free to rest before we make the drive to Mosul the following day.
  • 6
    Oct 8Baghdad » Samarra » Hatra » Mosul
    Baghdad » Samarra » Hatra » Mosul
    Highlights: Spiral minaret of Samarra, fortified city of Hatra, arrival in Mosul
    Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    In the morning, we’ll begin the drive up to the north, with several important stops to make along the way. Our first stop is in the ancient city of Samarra where we’ll visit its unique spiral minaret and mosque and the Palace of the Caliph, considered to be the largest palace complex in the world. After lunch, we’ll continue to the remote village of Hatra, known for its magnificent fortified city dating back to the 2nd century BC, which was the capital of the first Arab Kingdom. We’ll have sufficient time to tour this mind-blowing site, still in excellent condition, with a variety of temples, gates and palaces to explore. From here, we’ll have a 2-hour drive until we reach the city of Mosul, where we’ll check in to our hotel.
  • 7
    Oct 9Mosul
    Highlights: Full walking tour of Old Mosul, meeting local residents
    Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    After a 15-minute drive, we’ll begin our full walking tour of Old Mosul. During this eye-opening excursion, we’ll visit historic mosques and churches that were destroyed by ISIS and are now being restored by UNESCO. We’ll wander through a variety of neighborhoods, interacting with so many friendly people along the way who will be thrilled that foreign visitors are finally returning to their city. We’ll stroll through the colorful local markets, taste the local snacks and try some northern Iraqi dishes for lunch. As we tour this city, you’ll soon discover that, despite being hard hit by ISIS, the resilience of the people is inspiring and the genuine desire to build a positive future is beyond palpable. After an afternoon rest, we’ll spend the evening at a local cafe/museum/cultural center created by young Iraqis as a place for locals to gather, share their culture, celebrate events and focus on the future together. During our visit to this wonderful place, we’ll meet Iraqis who will share their stories from ISIS times and also, their passionate visions for their city and country.
  • 8
    Oct 10Mosul » Nineveh Plains » Mosul
    Mosul » Nineveh Plains » Mosul
    Highlights: Nineveh Plains, local village with unique local activities
    Included: Breakfast, Dinner
    With just a short 45-minute drive, we’ll venture out of the city and into the nearby Nineveh Plains. This area is home to many villages, often inhabited by Christian and Yazidi people. We’ll visit one of these welcoming villages and spend time at the home of our local friends, a Chrstian family with a fascinating history. With time to tour the village, meet people, learn about the Iraqi Christian and Yazidi cultures and visit several small, local businesses, this is bound to be a memorable day in an area that so few people even know about. In the afternoon, we’ll return to Mosul for some free time and an optional evening out in town.
  • 9
    Oct 11Mosul » Erbil
    Mosul » Erbil
    Highlights: Arrival in Erbil, markets and local neighborhoods
    Included: Breakfast, Dinner
    After breakfast, we’ll make the drive from Federal Iraq to Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region of the country. This drive will only take 2 hours and we’ll end up in the surprisingly modern and vibrant capital of Kurdistan, known as Erbil. After checking into our hotel, we’ll head out into the Old Town to visit the ancient citadel (one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating back 6000 years) and the Erbil market. In the evening, we’ll enjoy a dinner in the hip Ankawa neighborhood, full of great energy and activity at all hours of the day and night.
  • 10
    Oct 12Erbil
    Highlights: Kurdistani countryside , farewell dinner
    Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Today begins with a visit to the absolutely gorgeous Jalil Khayat mosque. After our tour of the mosque, we’ll hit the road for a trip into the countryside of Kurdistan. Get ready to witness the most impressive nature in the entire country, and perhaps in the entire Middle East. We’ll drive along an engineering feat known as the Hamilton Road, crossing the Zagros Mountains en route to the town of Rawanduz. During this journey, you’ll be left in awe at the landscapes consisting of magical canyons, mountains, gorges, rivers and impossibly located villages all around you. We’ll take our time, soak it all up, visit several communities and eventually return to Erbil in the afternoon. After a rest, it will be time for our farewell dinner at one of the city’s best restaurants.
  • 11
    Oct 13Erbil (Departure day)
    Erbil (Departure day)
    Departure day
    Included: Breakfast
    You will be picked up for your private airport transfer based on the time of your departing flight.

Tour Essentials

Medium Physical Level
While the tour itself is not very strenuous, please note that it can involve the following: long days, walking tours in the cities/countryside (up to two hours), being outside in potentially warm temperatures, bus journeys longer than five hours, early morning wake-ups and other similar scenarios. Uneven terrain such as dirt, sand, loose rock, gravel and steep stairs are possible. Participants must be able to carry all of your own photography gear.
On this tour, we’ll stay in comfortable and conveniently located 3* and 4* hotels. The accommodations are of very good standards. There might be a quirk or two that you wouldn’t find at a hotel back home but the overall quality is very good. All rooms have a private bathroom, hair dryer and bottled water. There are a maximum of 10 single rooms available. Other rooms will be shared. Solo travelers will be paired together, two travelers per room in two single beds. (*Please note: If you book a shared room and we cannot find another traveler to share that room, there will be an extra surcharge for having a single room.)
While traveling within the cities of Baghdad, Mosul and Erbil, we’ll use a comfortable 20 seat minibus to get around. While traveling longer distances between cities/destinations, we’ll use a 35-seat VIP bus. This bus has a restroom on board as well as a coffee maker, refrigerator and plug outlets for easy charging of devices.
Breakfast every day, 7 lunches and 8 dinners are included. With included meals, some will be served family style and other times you will be able to order anything you wish from the menu. All dietary restrictions can be accommodated although it might result in a limited menu.
As with all of our trips, we aim to offer as sustainable an experience as we can. We seek out ways to limit plastic use, trash is recycled where possible and we avoid mass tourism activities that cause harm to the environment and/or do not benefit local communities.
Small Groups
This tour requires a minimum of 8 participants and has a maximum of 12 participants in order to ensure the best small group tour experience. With such a small group, you'll be able to enjoy unique, rewarding activities that would not be accessible with more people. That's the kind of trip we love to offer!
While many governments have travel warnings in place for Iraq, the reality is quite different. There is certainly always a risk when embarking on travel to certain destinations, but travelers are now visiting Iraq in increasing numbers. This is due to the improved stability and safety situation. We take safety extremely seriously and do not operate trips if there is any reason to believe our guests could be in danger.

What's included

  • Tour leader (Derek Baron)
  • Professional photography instructor (Jennifer Spelman)
  • Small group (maximum 12 participants)
  • Accommodation (10 nights – 3*/4* hotels)
  • Transportation within Iraq (minibus and bus)
  • Local English-speaking guides in each destination
  • All included activities and entrance fees
  • Breakfast every day, 7 lunches and 8 dinners
  • Bottled water throughout the trip
  • Gratuities at hotels/included meals
  • All airport transfers
  • Visa assistance at the airport
Not Included
  • Flights to/from Iraq (Baghdad/Erbil)
  • Passport/visa fees (visa on arrival for most nationalities is $77 USD)
  • Meals and activities not mentioned
  • Travel insurance (mandatory)
  • Other gratuities