Going beyond the beach: best things to do on Qeshm Island

July 25, 2022 - 19:37

TEHRAN – Think of the vast Qeshm Island in the Persian Gulf, and a certain image comes to mind: unblemished white-sand beaches, lapped by clear turquoise waters.

Qeshm is fringed with biologically diverse mangrove forests, attractive beaches, and 60 Bandari villages. Its blistering interior features geologically significant canyons, hills, caves, and valleys, most of which are protected as part of the UNESCO-recognized Qeshm Island Geopark – bliss for nature-lovers.

Furthermore, Qeshm is a duty-free zone, but in an increasingly full of gleaming skyscrapers, it remains refreshingly attached to the age-old Bandari way of life. If you’re after an authentic island experience, Qeshm won’t disappoint. Here, locals wear traditional dress, live in houses cooled by badgirs (wind towers), and work in boat-building yards turning out Lenges, the large wooden cargo boats that have crisscrossed the Persian Gulf for centuries.

The sun-scorched island is delightful. It is home to an abundance of wildlife, including birds, reptiles, dolphins, and turtles.

There are so many more reasons to vacation there. Here are the destinations for off-the-beach adventures.

Laft

Situated on the northern coast of Qeshm Island, the fishing village of Laft is a top place to encounter the fast-disappearing culture of the Persian Gulf.

Perched on a rocky slope overlooking the Khoran Strait, Laft has a wonderfully photogenic roofscape of badgirs (wind towers) and minarets. Views are best from the hill near the ruins of the Portuguese-built Naderi Fort. From this vantage point, you’ll also see dozens of ancient wells and a white-domed Ab-Anbar (water cistern).

A few hundred meters north of Laft is one of Qeshm’s many Lenge-building yards. These traditional cargo boats are still used to carry goods back and forth across the gulf. Laft is also the place to go for a boat trip into the nearby Harra Sea Forest.

Lenj vessels are traditionally hand-built and are used by inhabitants of the northern coast of the Persian Gulf for sea journeys, trading, fishing, and pearl diving. The traditional knowledge surrounding Lenjs includes oral literature, performing arts, and festivals, in addition to the sailing and navigation techniques and terminology, weather forecasting that is closely associated with sailing, and the skills of wooden boat-building itself. That navigational knowledge was traditionally passed on from father to son.

Chahkooh Canyon

In the island’s northwest lies this sinuous canyon seemingly carved into the earth by a master builder. The exposed rock and lack of plant life are quite startling and invoke a quiet sense of awe. The canyon’s rounded edges and sharp corners create a symphony in stone of imposing proportions.

One may climb up to the intersection of two narrow vertical canyons and drink from a Chah (well) that has been used by shepherds for centuries.

Hengam Island

This lovely island off the southern coast of Qeshm is surrounded by impressive soft-coral reefs that offer great diving.

Hengam is also known for its wildlife, including birds, gazelles, and dolphins. The beaches are pristine, but only men are allowed to swim. The small fishing village overlooking the main beach features a row of simple eateries selling seafood. Get there by boat from the village of Shibderaz.

Canyon

One of the most spectacular natural sites on Qeshm Island, the Valley of Stars features a series of majestic gorges and canyons that were formed over centuries by erosion. According to Lonely Planet, wandering among the valleys is a magical experience – it’s like stepping into a Salvador Dali painting.

Qeshm Town

Qeshm Town, which is the island’s main settlement, lies on the far-eastern tip of the island. Many Iranians come here to shop in one of the numerous duty-free malls dotted around the center.

The main attractions include the crumbling Ghal’e-ye Portoghaliha (Portuguese castle), the extensive Bazar-e Bozorg, which extends along the main drag, and the family-friendly Zeytoun Park, a patch of greenery that overlooks a large beach.

Harra sea forest

In the local dialect, Harra is the word for grey mangrove, and this protected area is the Persian Gulf’s largest mangrove forest – a definite must-see for nature-lovers.

During spring, more than 150 species of migrating birds can be found here, including the great egret and the western reef heron. The finless porpoise, humpback dolphin, common dolphin, and the endangered green turtle are also regularly spotted. Boat tours are easily organized from Tabl or Laft.

Shibderaz

The picturesque village of Shibderaz enjoys a long beach where hawksbill and green turtles lay their eggs between April and July.

Residents of Shibderaz work in shifts to protect the eggs from predators, and you’ll be able to watch the action at night (from a distance, of course). The village is also the obvious base for those who want to visit nearby Hengam Island or take a dolphin-watching excursion.

Naz Beach

This 3km-long golden strand caressed by clear, shallow, and mostly calm water is easily the most popular beach on Qeshm Island. In the high season, it’s full of holidaying Iranian families. There are no amenities, but you can enjoy paramotoring and camel riding along the beach. At low tide, it’s possible to walk to the three tiny Naz Islands, which lie just offshore.

Bazaar-e Bozorg

The extensive bazaar off the main drag is at its most active in the morning. It includes a fruit and vegetable area and a fish market.

Ancient Iranian bazaars are traditionally roofed for protection against the hot desert sun, either with a single roof, with individual vaulted cupolas or domes, or with awnings.

Browsing through a traditional bazaar may provide new experiences and fresh points of view on the ancient land. Such excursions can be made either in person or by “off-the-beaten-track” tours. Not only is it’s opportunity to discover dozens of unique local ingredients, but it’s also a chance to taste street foods and delicacies, in some traditional bakeries known only by locals and shopkeepers.

Khorbas Caves

On the southeast corner of the island, one may find an array of almost vertical limestone cliffs pockmarked with caves. They are said to have sheltered local villagers seeking refuge from pirates and bandits raiding the island in the past centuries

Ghal’e-ye Portoghaliha

This crumbling edifice is Qeshm Town’s best-known sight. The stronghold was built upon the orders of Portuguese commander Alfonso de Albuquerque when his forces seized the islands in the early sixteenth century.

The Portuguese also left other military structures on the Iranian islands of Hormuz and Larak and in the port of Kong as legacies of their colonialism in the Persian Gulf.

UNESCO-registered geopark

The UNESCO-registered Geopark embraces some remarkable wildlife and geological phenomena including Namakdan Cave which is one of the longest salt caves in the world.

Chahkooh Valley

As part of the Qeshm Island Geopark, Chahkooh Valley, literally meaning a mountain of wells, shows the erosion of sedimentary rocks and has a depth of 100 meters.

Chahkooh Valley is famed for its three or four wells in its heart, which have been dug since ancient times by the inhabitants of the nearby villages to supply fresh water.

Darreh-ye Tandis-ha

One of the world’s most eye-catching nature’s creativity at its finest, Darreh-ye Tandis-ha (“Valley of Statues”) is a remnant of a high plateau that was once connected to the “Roof” of Qeshm. The valley is part of those areas, which have been once underneath the water, and when pulled up, it has been heavily eroded by sea waves among other factors.

This type of erosion gets reduced gradually while moving more toward the “Roof” of Qeshm, which has remained intact.

Darreh-ye Setaregan

About two million years ago, Darreh-ye Setaregan (“Valley of Stars”) was formed due to soil, stone, and sand erosion caused by the wind, rain, and showers, making the valley a rare natural masterpiece on Qeshm Island.

According to local legend, a star fell from the sky and hit the ground right in the heart, forming a huge, mysterious, and strange valley that we now know as Stars Valley.

The locals aren’t entirely wrong since scientific investigations revealed that this phenomenon was formed by a cosmic in the first place. Moreover, this valley’s mysterious shapes are a result of water and wind erosion as well.

Although no stars were involved in the formation of Stars Valley, thousands of stars are visible to the naked eye at night, hence the name ‘Valley of Stars’.

AFM

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