Updated: 12 December 2018
Of all the places to visit in Iran, I couldn’t think of one less interesting than Kish Island. Water sports and shopping malls? Meh. At least Qeshm had something substantial to offer. But then one summer, I got roped into going to Kish, and just as expected, I wasn’t crazy about it. Don’t get me wrong- it was beautiful and offered a different perspective of Iran, which was cool. I loved watching the sea turtles battling the waves back into the Persian Gulf, and I didn’t particularly hate the scuba diving or parasailing (though biking in hotter-than-Hades heat was a big mistake). But still, I’ve never been one for the beach life. Not to mention that the Alabama-style heat and humidity was not something I could bear in hijab. When I left, I thought- Ok, one more place I can cross off my Iran list, if nothing else. But I’m never going back.
Fast forward three years when I had to return for a certain occasion. Maybe it was the superb weather at this time of the year (end of November-early December). Maybe it was the gentle lapping of the waves. It could have been the vegan gelato I stumbled upon the first night. Or the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed biking a good portion of the island. Then again, maybe it was the fact that I’ve been really stressed out lately and needed a relaxing break. Or maybe it was a combination of all these factors. In any case, Kish grew on me this time, and I feel like I got to know it better and certainly learned some new things. So here are 10 things you may not know about Kish Island.
“Beautiful Kish Island” fast facts
First off, it’s always referred to as jazireye zibâye Kish, (beautiful Kish Island). The pilot will welcome you to “beautiful Kish Island” and you’ll see this written in different places throughout the island. About 12 miles from the coast of Iran, Kish is approximately 35 square miles, ~4.5 miles wide and ~9.5 miles long.
The population is 35,000
The number of people who live on Kish Island semi-permanently is 35,000. Of that number, 5,000 are Arabs, the island’s boomi (native/indigenous) population. They’re mostly clustered on the northwestern coast and continue to live according to tradition. A visit to the impressive 200-year-old Anthropology House in the village of Sefin will give you a feel for what the traditional architecture looks like. After visiting the 15 rooms spread around two large courtyards, you can sample dates and Arabic coffee.
The people are called Kishvand
The Persian word for “citizen” is shahrvand (vand is a suffix attached to shahr, or “city”). But those who live in Kish have their own word- Kishvand. I wondered if you could do this with all cities, like Tehranvand or Shirazvand, but much to my disappointment, it’s just the people of Kish. And it doesn’t stop there. All Kishvand hold a card that proves their island residence. Natives of Bandar Abbas, Ahvaz, and Sistan Baluchistan, among others, who work on the island now also count themselves as Kishvand.
The people are eager to talk to you
It’s been a while since I last visited the south of Iran, so that particular southern warmth of the people was something I missed. They like to talk, joke, answer questions. They’ll tell you where they’re from, the history of the island, give recommendations. Best of all, they smile! What is it about people anywhere in the world who live in the south and/or by the water that makes them so friendly and charming?
There are no Iranian cars
One of the things that stands out the most in Kish is that there are no Iranian cars or cars assembled in Iran. No Pride, no Peugeot, no Samand, nothing you see on the mainland. Instead, what you will see resembles the parking lot of Target: Chrysler, Ford, Mustang, Jeep, Toyota, Nissan, etc. (This is owing to Kish’s status as a free-trade zone). These cars paired with the wide lanes, colorful seaside condos, palm trees, white sandy beaches, and sunny blue skies all make the island look more like somewhere in Florida.
You walk on coral… literally
It’s thanks to the marjân (coral) that the Persian Gulf is so clear. But the coral isn’t just in the water- it’s everywhere you walk! Those aren’t rocks or pebbles you’re stepping on in unpaved areas- it’s fossilized coral. The old walls and blocks along the water are actually bursting with God-only-knows-how-old fossilized coral and shells. It’s really quite remarkable to think that this was all under water one day. I couldn’t get enough of it!
It’s got beautiful flora and fauna
The approximately 2,000 gazelles roam free and protected, feeding on the native shrubs. And in the spring and summer on the southern and western coasts, you can view hawksbill sea turtles who come to lay their eggs on preserved lands. Bougainvillea, or gole kâghazi in Persian, flood the island, their fuchsia color contrasted beautifully against the backdrop of the Persian blue water. The island is also scattered with banyan trees, the oldest of which is said to be 600 years.
The Greek Ship is the island’s symbol
Built in Scotland, this ship passed through several owners before reaching the last who were Greek, hence the name. In the 60s, she ran aground and efforts to rescue her proved futile. Legend states that the owners set her ablaze to claim the insurance and also blamed the Shah for not having built a lighthouse. Given her location on the western coast, the Greek Ship is an idyllic spot to watch the sunset on this beautiful island.
Kariz underground city was built by a German-Iranian
Iran is quite well known for its qanât (underground wells that provided fresh drinking water), and Kariz in Kish is one such 2,000-year-old qanât. Located about 50 feet underground, it snakes some 5 miles to make the underground aqueduct resemble more of a city. One look at the seven meter high walls, and you’ll see they’re packed with coral, shells, and fossils (including one of a turtle) dating as far back as 500 million years. And all of this thanks to German-Iranian investor Mansour Haj Hosseini, who wanted to revive this ancient tradition. Talk about ergh-e melli (patriotism).
It’s got some cool hotels
The first time, I was impressed by the beautiful Dariush Hotel, architecturally inspired by Persepolis. This time, I stayed in Shayan Hotel, which I later found out used to be the Grand Casino in the 70s. It’s still got that retro-cool vibe although the halls were a little too “Shining-esque” for me. And more recently, there’s Toranj Marine Hotel, the first and only hotel of its kind in Iran- bungalows on stilts built over the water, each with glass floor panels… because obviously!