Exploring the Kaluts and the Shahdad Desert in Iran (Dasht e Lut)
As soon as we got to the edge of the Shahdad desert in Iran, where the Kaluts are located, we immediately realised, that as a destination, Iran was bound to keep surprising us right until the very end of our trip. We were deep into our third week of exploring Iran, and we had not yet experienced a day in which we were not overawed by more and more landscapes, people, architecture and beauty.
This post will provide an overview of the spectacular Kaluts in the Shahdad desert in Iran, part of the larger Lut desert, called Dasht e Lut in Persian, details on how to get there, and what to expect once you’re at the Kaluts and the Shahdad desert.
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The Kaluts in the Shahdad Desert (Lut Desert / Dasht e Lut)
You might be wondering what the Kaluts are, where they are located, and what makes them so special.
The Kaluts are technically huge ridges of sand, formed by the wind eroding the softer ridges over the years. There are multiple theories about why they have formed, with the most plausible being that a water body which previously occupied the space, diffused into multiple rivers over time, which water flow produced multiple canyons. The harsh desert wind had then eroded the canyons into the Kaluts.
The Kaluts are located in the Shahdad desert, a portion of the Lut desert, or the Dasht e Lut. Shahdad is also the name of a town lying at the edge of the desert. We’re not entirely sure whether Shahdad desert is officially the name of that portion of the Lut desert, or whether it is just used by locals. Whichever the case, the names are often used interchangeably.
The very salty Shour river still passes through the Lut desert, which makes for some amazing photo opportunities (apart from being of great interest). This is the first time that we came across a river running through desert land.
The Lut desert (Dasht e Lut) is often referred to as the hottest place on earth. Technically, it holds the record for the earth’s hottest surface temperature of about 70˚C, which we were hoping to not experience!
When to go to the Kaluts and the Shahdad Desert in Iran
Since the Kaluts and the Lut desert are one of the hottest and driest places on earth, it makes sense to avoid the scorching summer months of June to September. This is probably the worst time to visit the Kaluts, although it is still perfectly possible to go there.
The spring and autumn months are better for visiting the desert, especially if you plan on traveling around the Kaluts during the day. Supposedly in these months, the desert is neither too hot, nor too cold, however, we can assure you that we were completely freezing in the Lut desert during the sunrise and early morning hours in late November.
As the day got brighter, we ‘defrosted’ and got warmer too. Do be sure to take sufficient warm clothes for the night time if you’re visiting in the in the winter months. Most deserts tend to get unbearably cold at night, although most of the guesthouse rooms are well furnished with carpets and blankets.
Getting to Kerman – gateway to the Kaluts and the Shahdad desert
Kerman is a fairly popular city with tourists in Iran, being the gateway to the spectacular Kaluts and the Shahdad desert in Iran, so as expected, there are plenty of different ways of getting to Kerman, depending on where you are coming from.
Kerman is home to an international airport, with flights from outside of Iran, from destinations such as Dubai. Domestic flights to major cities in in Iran such as Tehran, Tabriz and Mashhad, among others, are regular.
You can check and book flights in Iran on 1st Quest.
View our post about independent travel in Iran to know more about bus and air travel in Iran.
Our experience of getting to Kerman from Bandar Abbas following our trips to Qeshm island and Hormuz island, turned out to be a bit of an ordeal, since we were under the impressions that there was regular, frequent bus running from Bandar Abbas to Kerman and we would be in time to make the afternoon trip. However, we found that the only bus to Kerman was at 9pm.
Not wanting to arrive in Kerman the following morning, we had to find an alternative route. After much research, we found that the bus to Isfahan could stop us at a city called Sirjan, and from there, we could get a savari (shared taxi) to Kerman. The bus ride cost 400,000 rial (4,000 toman) each, and a taxi to the savari station in Kerman cost 70,000 rial (7,000 toman). We were lucky to have found a very kind person on the bus, who took us under his wing and explained what we should do and ask for in broken English, telling us where to go, as well as giving us an indication of the estimated cost.
Eventually, we could choose to wait for people to share a savari with to Kerman or get privately rent out the vehicle for 1,250,000 rial (125,000 toman). We chose the latter option since it was already 9.30pm by the time we were in Sirjan and we imagined that there would not be many people looking to make the journey to Kerman at that time.
During the journey from Bandar Abbas to Kerman, we were in touch with the owner of Akhavan Hotel in Kerman the whole time, so that they knew of the delay in our arrival time and he even helped us figure out the route during this time. When we finally arrived in the hotel at 11.30pm, we were greeted with freshly-made tea and home-made cake, which genuinely felt like the best thing ever!
By private transfer
We only use private transfers if we are looking at stopping at some attractions on the way to a destination, and since this was not the case on our route to Kerman, we didn’t consider this option at all. It is however still the most convenient option of travel and private transfers may be booked with many companies such as 1st Quest, Shirdal Airya and TAP Persia.
How to see the Kaluts and choosing a tour
Once you’re in Kerman, you need to figure out how to get to the Kaluts and the Shahdad desert in Iran. You can travel from Kerman to Shahdad by taxi or bus, and then find accommodation in Shahdad. You will still need to contact a tour operator to organise a trip around the Kaluts in a 4WD, usually called a desert safari, from Shahdad for you though.
Alternatively, we found the easiest option to be that of organising our trip directly in Kerman so that we could fit in a bunch of other attractions along the way. This worked out really well for us, since we got to visit Bam Citadel, Rayen Castle and the coloured mountains on our way to the Kaluts from Kerman, as well as Mahan Shrine and Shazdeh Garden on our way back to Kerman.
We booked the above trip with Akhavan hotel, which was our accommodation of choice in Kerman since we had been informed that the two brothers running the hotel were very efficient in organising tailor-made tours to the Kaluts and the Shahdad desert, as well as to a number of other attractions.
Sadly, we could only afford one night in the desert due to time constraints, and because we also wanted to visit other places in the vicinity of Kerman, we tried to combine many stops in our two-day tour to maximise time. We liked the fact that the organiser at Akhavan hotel, understood our needs perfectly.
Two full days’ private tour to the Kaluts including Bam, Rayen, a photo stop at the coloured mountains, a night’s accommodation in Shafiabad (in the Lut desert) including dinner and breakfast, a sunrise desert safari tour and stops at Mahan Shrine and Shazdeh Garden on our way back to Kerman, cost €110 for both of us, which is similar to other tour prices we found online.
Amir, one of the owners of the hotels can be contacted by Whatsapp on +989131413771. Alternatively, you can book similar tours on 1st Quest.
Where to stay in the Shahdad Desert / Lut desert (Dasht e Lut) /Kaluts
We stayed at Eco-Tourism Lodge اقامتگاه بوم گردي گندم بريان in Shafiabad, which seems to roughly translate to “Wheatgrass Eco-tourism Lodge” according to Google translate.
We didn’t choose this accommodation type ourselves, since it was included as part of the tour offered by our hotel in Kerman, but we were delighted to find ourselves in a traditional type of guesthouse, loosely resembling a caravanserai, once we got to the village.
We had a simple carpeted room with a private bathroom which worked out well. The guesthouse grounds are pretty large, and the breakfast abundant. The historical Shafiabad Castle, a large castle from the Qajar era, was only a stone’s throw away from the lodge.
The Kaluts and Shahdad Desert Safari Experience
After having spent a very comfortable night in our lodge, we were picked up at 4.45am by the 4×4 driver who took us straight to an area in the Lut desert from where we watched a spectacular sunrise surrounded by the Kaluts.
We couldn’t feel our fingers and toes much, but still managed to thoroughly enjoy the sunrise, and it felt lovely to be completely isolated from the rest of the world.
Next up was the salt river running through the Lut desert. This part of the experience felt a little surreal, since it was the first time that we saw water running through a completely arid desert. The reflections in the water in the soft sunlight glow were unbelievable!
After that we spent the rest of the time, going around different areas of the Kaluts and stopping at some of the most scenic parts for photos, and to take walks in the desert, until it was time to go back to the lodge for breakfast. The driver seemed to enjoy driving us up and down the dunes, rollercoaster style, and we had great fun too!
Other places to visit during your trip to the Kaluts
Because we took a two-day / 1-night private tour to the Kaluts in the Shahdad desert, we could visit several other attractions in the way from Kerman to the Kaluts, and on the way back from Dasht e Lut to Kerman, including some of the best places to visit around Kerman.
Here’s a description of where we stopped, and details about visiting these attractions around Kerman.
Arg-e Bam (Bam Citadel) is the largest adobe building in the world, flattened by an earthquake in 2003 (the citadel was originally within the fortress which is why it is considered to be one ‘building’). It has now been largely restored quite well we thought! Although people have found it to be disappointing and not identical to the original citadel, we really enjoyed walking round the adobe structures and admiring the fortress.
If you are only interested in seeing original adobe structures, stop by Rayen Castle and skip Bam, though we genuinely highly recommend Bam. It was almost completely empty during our visit which made it even more alluring!
Entrance fee – 500,000 rial (50,000 toman)
The adobe castle of Rayen is similar to Bam Citadel but smaller in size and in less majestic. In fact, it is the second-largest mud brick building in the world after Bam Citadel (which is the first). It however features the original well-preserved mud-brick structures, unlike Bam Citadel which was rebuilt after an earthquake almost wiped it out in 2003.
It is worth noting that Rayen is much closer to Kerman than Bam Citadel, so many travelers often visit Rayen Castle without bothering to go all the way to Bam Citadel.
Entrance fee – 300,000 rial (30,000 toman)
On our way from Bam back to Rayen, our driver stopped us at what he called the coloured Mountains. We could indeed spot different hues and shades on the mountain range, although they were in no way as vibrant as those on Hormuz Island, which we had just visited.
Still, the coloured mountains were an interesting spot worthy of the slight detour.
No entrance fee.
Shah Nematollah Vali Shrine, Mahan
This shrine located in the town of Mahan, out of Kerman, is mostly important as a pilgrimage site, being the mausoleum of Shah Nematollah Vali, a renowned Iranian mystic and poet. The entire complex contains four courtyards, a pool, a mosque and minarets, and although architecturally, it is quite beautiful, its significance is religious and historical rather than structural.
Honestly, we weren’t too excited by this shrine, although we could not quite appreciate its religious / cultural significance in full.
Entrance fee – 200,000 rial (20,000 toman)
The absolutely gorgeous Shazdeh Mahan Garden is a fantastic example of a well-maintained Persian garden with a lovely façade, in the middle of a dry desert that is the Kerman area. The garden has some water features in a temperate climate, which we found utterly relaxing after the dry heat and cold of the desert.
You can walk around the garden and admire the way water coming down from the mountains, has been harnessed in in an intelligent manner. We think that it would make a great place for a picnic!
Entrance fee – 500,000 rial (50,000 toman)
Where to stay in Kerman
When doing some research, it became abundantly clear that most travelers recommended the Akhavan Hotel, and after staying there ourselves we can see why.
Firstly, the two brothers owning the hotel speak great English and are accustomed to organising trips and tours for travelers around Kerman. Our trip to the Kaluts and the Shahdad desert with stops in Bam Citadel, Rayen Castle, the coloured mountains, and the shrine and garden in Mahan worked out fantastically.
Secondly, breakfast and dinner at the hotel were probably the most abundant of all the meals in Iran. The portions were huge and the food very tasty, and it is obvious that the cooking and waiting staff take pride in making their customers happy.
We were greeted with hot tea and cake upon our very late arrival at 11.30pm, and even though we were there during the 2019 Internet blackout in Iran, the staff took fantastic care of us, despite their obvious worries and concerns about what was going on outside.
Also, we paid €20 / night for a large room including breakfast and dinner for both of us, which was a very affordable deal!
We should also state that we had already booked our onward private transportation to Yazd since we wanted to make the journey with a private transfer to allow us to stop at Meymand, Saryazd, Caravanserai Zein-o-din and Fahraj. We had initially thought that paying €80 for the transfer was a good enough deal, however the owners at Akhavan Hotel told us that they would have been able to arrange the transfer at half that price. We’ll keep this in mind for our next trip!
Other things to do in Kerman
Even if we were mostly in Kerman for a trip to the Kaluts and Dasht e Lut, there are some noteworthy attractions to visit in Kerman itself. Here’s what you can see if you have some time to spare in Kerman itself.
Ganjali Khan Complex
The largish Ganjali Khan Complex is lovely to walk around. It consists of a bazaar, a mosque, a bath house (which can be visited), several squares and caravanserais. It is probably nothing you haven’t seen already, but we never really tire of seeing bazaars and bath houses! Entrance to the bath house is of 300,000 rial (30,000 toman) each.
Old wall of Kerman
There’s nothing much to see here except the old wall in the middle of the city, probably part of the ancient city’s defence system. Nice to see but not particularly fascinating.
Zoroastrian Fire Temple
Sadly, this temple was closed during our visit, and we didn’t bother to go back after a brilliant lunch at the nearby Keykhosro House, despite our curiosity, so we cannot really recommend visiting the Zoroastrian fire temple in Kerman.
We were rather disappointed to find it closed, since we were looking forward to visiting our first Zoroastrian fire temple and learning a little bit more about the ancient religion. However, we eventually got to visit a similar fire temple in Yazd and another one in Chak Chak, so missing this one was not a big deal.
We are including it our list of things to do in Kerman anyway, since we would have surely gone inside had it been open.
Moayedi (Moaiiedi) Ice House (Yakhchal)
Iranians were sufficiently ingenious to have managed to build freezers in a desert climate, and this curiously-shaped building was one of them! The building is made up of clay so as to preserve the ice for a longer period, with its shape also contributing to the technique.
Nowadays, it seems to have been converted into a gym for the Iranian ritual sport of Zoorkaneh. This was the first time we had heard of the martial art, and we were lucky enough to be taken inside the Yakhchal, shown pictures of local champions and given an insight of the mysterious-sounding sport, just as the caretaker was closing up.
Tower of Silence
The ancient Zoroastrian practise of leaving dead bodies within a tower of silence for consumption by vultures is thought to have been done to avoid having the unclean bodies be in touch with the sacred (to Zoroastrians) elements of fire, water and earth.
There’s a tower of silence located just outside of Kerman, but because we knew that we would be visiting those in Yazd, we didn’t bother with this one. You can read all about the towers of silence in our post about Yazd.
These large date-filled cookie makes are worthy competitors to the delicious naan berenji of Kermanshah, though very differently-flavoured and less delicate. The cookies almost resemble small yellow pies, and you can find them in most markets or food shops in Kerman. Be aware that you might get hooked on them after your first morsel, just like we did, though!
Jabalieh Historic Dome
The 20-metre Jabaileh dome is located on the sloped of the Gholleh Dokhtar Mountains and is constructed out of brick. Nobody to know the exact reason why it was built, and there are different explanations for its purpose.
Since it is located outside the city centre of Kerman, we did not have time to make our way there, although it did sound like a pretty interesting and mysterious site.
This site which is of particular interest because of its three domes, two of which are covered in tilework, in fact houses three tombs. The brick dome dates back to the Hajar period, whilst the tiles domes were added after. The site was also closed during our visit but we could admire the three domes from outside of it.
One of the oldest attractions in Kerman is Ardeshir Castle, standing in ruins on a hill outside of Kerman. It was built during the Sassanid Dynasty and although not much of it appears to be left, the ruins seem to be worth a visit! We did not make it there, due to lack of time.
Where to eat in Kerman
Since we were on a breakfast and dinner package at the lovely Akhavan hotel, we only got to visit two other restaurants. We highly recommend the dinner option at the hotel, where the food served was tasty and abundant!
Max Traditional Restaurant
We stumbled upon this restaurant by chance since it was quite close to our hotel and had a pretty good (but unremarkable) lunch of kashk-e bademjan and kebabs. Worth trying if you’re in the area.
The setting of this large restaurant within the courtyard of a refurbished old traditional Persian house is just lovely. We had a meal there when there seemed to be half of Kerman lunching at the same place, but we later found out that is a rather popular eatery! My dizi was outstanding.Read more about Iran!