Kaleybar is a small town in East Azerbaijan Province of Iran. Although there is not much to see in the town, it makes an excellent base to see the famed Babak Castle and as a start or end point of the Aras River Valley journey between Kaleybar and Jolfa.
Buses very rarely travel to Kaleybar from Tabriz, the nearest major city, but it is possible to take a bus from Tabriz to Ahar, a nearby city, and then take a taxi to Kaleybar.
If making the Aras River Valley trip from Jolfa, you will probably arrive by taxi. You can also take a private taxi from Tabriz (approximately 2,000,000 rials from Tabriz, combined with a side trip to Kandovan village).
- Around Kaleybar town: As Kaleybar is a small town, it is possible to walk around to find restaurants and shops.
- To/from Babak Castle: From town you can take a taxi for 100,000 rials to the now closed Babak Hotel (10 minutes), and walk up to the castle. After you have visited the castle and returned to the bottom, you can call the taxi driver to take you back to Kaleybar, or call your hotel so they can book a taxi for you. However there is no reception at the end of the walk so you may need to walk a few hundred meters along the road to find reception. Or you can wait a few minutes on the main road beside the Babak Hotel as you may be able to hitchhike or find a taxi going in this direction, but traffic is light. It is also possible to walk into town but this takes about 1½ hours.
- 1 Babak Castle. , the main reason for visiting Kaleybar. The castle itself is stunning, and combined with the surrounding mountain scenery, this is easily one of the highlights of any trip to Iran (and it is almost completely undiscovered). Because of its isolation, you will probably have the castle all to yourself. The walk up starts at the now closed Babak Hotel on the main road. Make sure to watch the weather conditions as the wind and rain can make the walk dangerous. Also make sure you have plenty of water (at least 4 bottles per person), and don't walk alone. The walk up takes around 2 hours and 1 hour down. At first you walk up steep steps, before reaching a ridge, walking parallel to the power poles until you follow the dirt track left up the side of the rocky hill. On the way you will pass a weirdly abandoned coffee hut, small stone building, and after passing through a narrow rock-cut gap you will be able to see the castle. Follow the stone portion of the path along the side of the cliff and up to the castle. The last part is the most treacherous, especially during winter, as the path is narrow, and the drop is large (with no barriers). Also there can be ice on the path which can be potentially deadly. However, if you are cautious, non-experts can complete the walk safely (although it is physically challenging).
- At the stone hut just before the sign post where you turn left to the castle, you can also make a detour right to see an abandoned caravanserai (not in good condition though). The detour is roughly 10-15 minutes, and you can return on the same path and continue past the sign in the same direction to make it to the castle.
- There are some nomadic camps in summer in the Kaleybar region. The friendly manager of the Hotel Anza can organise a trip to see some of these.
Climb Babak Castle or see the nomadic camps.
There are some convenience stores on the main road where you can buy snacks and water for the walk to Babak Castle. Shopkeepers seem very honest here and will rarely charge foreigners more.
There are some kebab restaurants on the main road, but hotels also serve meals. The Hotel Anza serves delicious home cooked Iranian meals including aubergine dishes which is a welcome break from kebabs.
Drink plenty of water when hiking to Babak castle (bring at least 4 bottles per person with you). These and soft drinks can be bought at any convenience store on the main street.
There are a few hotels in Kaleybar, including:
- 1 Hotel Anza, Sabt-e ahval Str farmandari Ave (the multistory building with the red roof), ☏ , ✉ Info@anzahotel.com. Extremely friendly manager who can speak excellent English and German (due to his years spend living in Germany as a civil engineer before he returned back to Iran to build this hotel), along with other languages. Can help organise trips to Babak Castle and other places in East Azerbaijan Province. The rooms are querkily decorated with an eccentric modern style. Wifi is fine in the lobby but a bit patchy in the rooms. Double 2,000,000 rials.
When doing the Babak Castle hike check the weather. In winter snow and ice is possible, which combined with steep hills and narrow paths can be dangerous if you are not careful. Remember to bring plenty of water, do not walk alone, and also make sure someone knows where you are in case something goes wrong. The weather is much more windy (and therefore cold) up the mountain, and the weather can change quickly, so remember to take plenty of warm clothes (rain jacket, war jacket, gloves, woolen hat, scarf, waterproof pants).
Other than this, people are very helpful and honest, partly due to the fact that this region sees very few tourists. English is rarely spoken but you will be treated well as a guest.
After visiting the castle, it is easy to book a taxi to Tabriz. You can also carry on further north to see the spectacular Aras River Valley as a day trip, or on your way to Jolfa. You will need a private taxi for this.