Kandovan Iran: a travel guide

Kandovan in Iran is one of the few inhabited cave villages left in this world where modern day cave dwellers carve their elaborate homes out of volcanic rocks. It is one of the most picturesque villages in Northeastern Iran and a perfect day trip from Tabriz.

Kandovan is often called the Cappadocia of Iran, also famous for its similar cave dwellings in strange honeycomb-like rock formations.

Cave homes in Kandovan Iran

Why visit Kandovan Iran?

While both Kandovan and Cappadocia are troglodyte villages where people have lived in caves for centuries, cappadocia is now all about tourism. Most caves are hotels and restaurants and people no longer live there.

Iran’s Kandovan is the only cave village where people still use the caves as their home. Therefore, one gets a more authentic experience in an equally stunning location. 

Kandovan lies in the remote northwestern corner of Iran, close to the city of Tabriz. Situated in the Sahand mountain range it can actually get cold here. For most of the year, there are wonderful views on the snow-capped peaks around the village.

It is Mount Sahand, the highest mountain around Tabriz, that is responsible for the impressive and strange rock formations. This volcano, that is now dormant, was active for more than 11 million years. 

Some archeologists say people already lived in the caves 3000 years ago. However, according to the people that still live in Kandovan the village is 700 years old and the first inhabitants were refugees from Khorezm fleeing the Mongol Army. They were hiding in the caves and stayed as the caves proved to be a good shelter. They are in fact some of the most energy efficient homes on earth as the rocks keep the caves warm in winter and cool in summer. 

The name Kandovan probably refers to the Persian word Kandoo that means beehive. From afar the village indeed looks like such and it is a picturesque place well worth a visit.

Cave homes in Kandovan Iran

My experience in Kandovan Iran

Now Kandovan isn’t completely immune from tourism. It is actually one of the most popular destinations around Tabriz and sees local and foreign day trippers.

In Kandovan too, some of its cave homes are now souvenir shops and I saw lots of Iranians taking selfies for instagram. Some ladies even dared to quickly take off their headscarves for the picture. 

There are quite some villages in Iran that due to their unique history and culture or its spectacular location have turned into tourist hotspots. Kandovan definitely falls into this category, but nevertheless is a peaceful place with a sense of normalcy. 

Kandovan is a place where the old and new come together. There are still about 117 families living in caves, but there is also the construction of modern concrete buildings right next to them. They are the reason that Kandovan is not a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As a tourist you are a welcome guest. However, people are used to see visitors in their village and they simply continue with what they were doing.  People are playing football outside, a herder comes by with his flock of sheeps and women are hanging out the laundry in the sun. 

Tourism is a nice additional source of income for the people in Kandovan, but the village doesn’t yet revolve around it. I was there in early April and you could count the amount of tourists on one hand. It isn’t as touristic as Masuleh or Abyaneh for example. 

If you ask me whether you should visit Kandovan in Iran. My answer is yes. If you visit Tabriz, Kandovan is definitely a must see and it is one of the more authentic and interesting villages in Iran to visit.

Cave homes in Kandovan Iran

Things to do in Kandovan Iran

There is not that much to do in Kandovan, except for exploring its unique architecture and cave dwellings. If you go on a daytrip from Tabriz, like most people, 2 to 3 hours would be a good amount of time. 

Wander around the cave dwellings

Kandovan isn’t that big and the town is quite compact. You are free to wander around where its narrow streets give a good sense on how people live here. Expect to climb a bit and wear sturdy shoes. 

Some caves have turned into souvenir shops allowing oneself to have a look inside. Most cave homes have several floors of which the ground floor is used as a stable and the upper floors for living. 

Cave homes in Kandovan Iran

The Karan mosque

The Karan mosque is one of the few mosques in this world that is in a cave. It is one of the largest caves in Kandovan. 

Kandovan bazaar

Kandovan’s bazaar next to the river is a great place to buy souvenirs. The town is famous for its good quality honey, nuts and medicinal plants. 

Nuts and dried fruits at a market in Kandovan Iran
fresh herbs at a market in Kandovan

Kandovan Panorama viewpoint

Make sure you leave some time to cross the bridge over the river and climb up to get a panorama viewpoint of Kandovan and its characteristic rock formations. 

Kandovan Panorama viewpoint

Kandovan Travel tips

Where to eat in Kandovan Iran?

Kandovan is quite popular among local tourists as well and has a few basic restaurants and teahouses, especially around the river.  Expect the usual Iranian food like kebab and rice.

Where to sleep in Kandovan Iran?

Kandovan makes a great daytrip from Tabriz. However, if you like the experience of sleeping in one of the caves there is the excellent Laleh cave hotel

Booking hostels in Iran online is rather difficult. Because of the sanctions, most regular sites like Booking.com or Airbnb won’t work.
To book your hotel beforehand you either need to contact them directly or use 1stQuest

They are one of the few companies where you can plan most of your trip to Iran beforehand. They can book hotels online, arrange airport pick ups, domestic flight tickets and bus tickets.

When to visit Kandovan Iran

Kandovan has long and cold winters and hot summers. The best time to visit Kandovan is in spring and autumn. 

men hearding sheep in Iran

How to get from Tabriz to Kandovan 

By taxi

The quickest way to get from tabriz to Kandovan is by taxi. Most hotels in Tabriz can organize this for you. A roundtrip that includes 2 hours waiting time should cost between 13USD and $20 USD. 

Insider tip: there is an entrance fee for cars which is easy to avoid if you get out before the entrance and walk the short distance to the village

By public transport

The cheapest way to get from Tabriz to Kandovan is by public transport. Unfortunately this is not a straightforward process and will save you just a few dollars.

The first step is to get to Railway square (Rahahan square) in Tabriz. From there you have several options. You can either take a direct minibus to Osku (0.30 USD, 1 hour) or a bus to Sahand and then a shared taxi (savari) to Osku. 

From Osku there are shared taxis to Kandovan, but they are far in between and difficult to find. You will probably have to take a private taxi for the scenic 20 minute ride to Kandovan. From Osku a roundtrip by taxi that includes 2 hours waiting time should cost between 5 and 10 USD. 

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