Exploring the Lut Desert in Iran

The Lut Desert or Dasht-e Lut in Iran’s inhospitable eastern provinces is one of the most otherworldly places I’ve ever visited. The incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the hottest and driest places in the world. Although it’s not yet firmly on the well-travelled circuit in Iran, it was one of the most memorable places I visited in the country.

Two things propelled me to visit the Lut Desert in Iran. First, I had seen a photo on Instagram (apparently, the latest place to go for travel inspo) and I instantly wanted to know: where and how. Second, a French traveller I had met at the hostel in Yazd told me it was a really unique experience to feel that kind of intense heat that most of us couldn’t even imagine. I like pretty places and cool experiences (preferably together), so I made plans to get off the well-beaten tourist circuit in Iran and head to Kerman. 

Here’s my experience exploring the Lut Desert in Iran, so that you too can see this unique and beautiful landscape on your trip to Iran.

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Kerman

Kerman is the main town that is closest to the edge of the Lut Desert. This makes it the ideal jumping off point for exploring the desert. Kerman is not really a big tourist town; however, it still has a few things to keep you occupied for a day.

The bazaar is actually quite attractive and, although a lot of the bazaars in Iran start to look very much the same after a while, I would say Kerman was probably my favourite. It’s very atmospheric and had a very authentic feel, compared to more tourist-oriented bazaars in Esfahan and Shiraz. There was plenty of the usual vendors selling copper jewellery, dried fruit and spices, women’s hijabs and carpets.

Kerman bazaar

However, if you head outside of the covered area, there is a bustling fruit and vegetable section that is also fun to wander through and people watch. There is plenty of hidden courtyards, an old caravanserai and mosques inside as well, which are worth a look.

The real attraction of Kerman is, however, its proximity to the Lut Desert. It’s possible to stay in an even closer town, Shahdad, however, there really isn’t much there and Kerman has a lot more amenities for travellers.

I decided to stay for a couple of nights in Kerman at a hostel and homestay, Arad Hostel. The host, Metti, organises trips out to the desert and we went for sunset.

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Caravanserai Kerman

What exactly is the Lut Desert?

The Lut Desert or sometimes referred to as the Kaluts is a large dry, salt desert and the 25th largest in the world. It’s most famous for having the hottest recorded ground temperature of over 70 degrees Celsius and is basically an unbearable place to be in the middle of the day or at any time in summer. It is largely uninhabited for this reason, although small villages are damn close to it and still manage to survive these scorching temperatures. 

It’s not advised to visit the desert in summer (obviously…) or the middle of the day in general. It is possible to camp out there but only in the cooler months. I was there in September and so a sunset drive is the most popular thing to do, as it avoids the main heat of the day and is much more picturesque then too.

The desert is named after the Kaluts, or the weather-sculpted structures that strewn the landscape. This is what makes the desert such a unique place to see.

A Lut Desert Tour

Exploring the Lut Desert is best done on an organised tour from Kerman. There is a range of tour options with sunset being a popular choice. Most tours include stops at various other points along the way which will give you a broader picture of how people have managed to live in such close proximity to the incredibly harsh ecosystem.

On my tour with Metti, we stopped at points along the way, including the town of Shahdad which is a sort-of outpost before the desert begins. The desert lies over a high mountain range, and most of the villages we saw were actually dotted around the base of the slopes. This is strategic of course, as any water from melting snow and rain runs down the mountains making the land immediately surrounding the base more fertile. 

The other form of water supply was from a large aquifer or underground well that existed under the desert. Through a clever network of sloping channels built underground by local people known as qanats, they managed to have access to water all year round. Some of these channels are open to show tourists as they are not used as much anymore. Unfortunately, Metti told me that the aquifer has been all but exploited now from people taking more than they should and the entire water system network that people had used for thousands of years does not function as it used to. 

Dry desert near Kerman

We moved to the edge of the Lut Desert where he explained to me how the odd mounds that are scattered across the desert are actually formed. Rather than wind breaking down the structures as what most people would assume, they are actually built up by the wind. Over time, the wind carries dust, sand and/or salt which gets trapped around small bushes and builds these sorts of weird mounds. 

As we drove further into the Lut Desert we started to see these famous, weather-sculptured sandy structures that make the desert so unique. The solid structures known as kaluts are strewn across the landscape, looking something similar to Monument Valley in the US. It really was an incredible sight and looked more like another planet’s surface or perhaps a set from a fantasy movie like Star Wars. 

Kaluts
Lut Desert Iran

There is an official “viewpoint” and carpark area where vehicles are meant to stop. However, Metti asked if I preferred a quieter place, which of course, I did. So we continued driving for another 10 minutes before he diverted off the road and started crossing the salt crusted ground into the desert. We found a perfect spot, with absolutely no one else in sight, to enjoy the sunset. 

The heat in the air was a real slap in the face as I emerged from the car. I could almost feel my blood start to boil the longer I spent outside. The heavy heat in the air also meant that it was incredibly dry, and my skin, lips and mouth instantly became parched; not a drop of sweat sat on my skin too long. It really was a weird, out of body experience, to feel that sort of heavy, dry heat. However, it was somehow bearable, and I managed to roam around with my cameras without melting. Although, I can’t imagine what it would be like in the middle of the day.

Deserts always seem to produce a rainbow of colours at either sunrise or sunset and the array of colours I witnessed in the Lut Desert was definitely one of the best I’ve ever seen. The real attractiveness of the interesting rock formations is to watch the changing of the colours, light and shadows as the sun moves below the horizon. I found myself continuously clicking my camera as everything seemed to change every minute that the sun moved, leaving me with hundreds of photos to go through at the end.

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Lut Desert Iran
Sunset Lut Desert
Nightfall in the Lut Desert

It was a deathly silent and still place. As I sat on one of the kaluts to look out over the bizarre landscape as it turned to night, it was almost intimidating and made me feel like a small and insignificant part to the earth surrounding me. It’s these hugely impressive and vast natural places that I love to experience, as it’s a reminder that we humans are really just a small part that make up this incredible earth. 

As soon as darkness hit, Metti wanted to begin the long drive back. We had left at 4pm and we returned to Kerman at around 9.30pm, with my face still red and camera hot to touch from the intensity of the heat that I had experienced. 

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Where I stayed in Kerman

I would highly recommend Arad Hostel in Kerman. It’s on the floor above a family home and the son, Metti, runs it. He is a super nice guy and knows a lot about the area. He is also a tour guide and can arrange all sorts of sightseeing trips in his own car. It had a real homestay feel and everything about it was great. There’s a spacious dorm room with comfortable beds and a large kitchen and lounge area as well. You can check the latest prices on Hostelworld here.

For the tour, he usually charges 50 euros for one person (it’s much cheaper with more people), but was kind enough to drop the price to 40 for me. I was the only one at the hostel at the time, as not too many people make it out to Kerman in general. It’s a hefty price for Iran standards, but was worth every euro.

Arad Hostel Kerman
Arad Hostel

How to get to Kerman

Kerman is easily reached from Yazd. The bus from Yazd to Kerman took around 5 hours and there are a few departures throughout the day from Yazd bus station. I didn’t pre-book my ticket and was able to easily get a ticket on arrival at the station.

You can also reach Kerman from Shiraz. It’s a long bus trip with a couple of departures. The bus from Kerman to Shiraz took around 7 hours.

Buses in Iran are very comfortable and there are VIP options which offer even more comfort. The roads are also well maintained and journeys are generally very smooth. It’s possible to get your accommodation to prebook buses online for you, but if you’re travelling off-peak season then there’s no real need for that.

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