Canada-based firm specializes in travel to Iran

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WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Iran is rich in culture, as Persian history dates back thousands of years, but Iran is not an easy country for U.S. travelers to visit independently.

Silk Road Tours, based here, is a company with Iranian roots that offers U.S. visitors a means to travel in Iran with an insider's view of the country.

Owned and directed by Iranian native Hossein Lotfi, Silk Road Tours offers custom tours or escorted group tours with a strong cultural and historical component.

"[Iran] has everything for American tourists," said Lotfi, who pointed out that a 20-year ban on U.S. visitors was lifted in 1997.

Silk Road Tours' office in western Canada also serves as a branch of the tourist office of the Iranian government, which makes legal and bureaucratic tasks such as getting visas much easier than they otherwise would be. "I'm the only office of Iran tourism in North America," said Lotfi.

The company also has a local office in Tehran to support clients while in Iran.

According to Lotfi, Silk Road's prices are 30% lower than any other company because of his connections in the country.

For first-time visits, Silk Road combines Iran with other countries in central Asia, Africa or the Middle East.

Guaranteed departures are operated to Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Uzbekistan and the United Arab Emirates on the first Saturday of each month.

Most of the company's business consists of customized trips for small groups rangin in size from one to seven passengers.

For independent travelers, the company can provide visa processing, booking of accommodations, English-speaking tour guides, land and air transportation and a private car and driver.

The escorted tours offered by the company range from the seven-night Nights of Iran tour, priced at $1,385 per person, double, land only, to the 20-night Grand Caspian Sea cultural tour, with a land price of $3,795 per person, double.

The Nights of Iran tour begins and ends in the capital city of Tehran. It also visits the cities of Shiraz and Esfahan.

The Grand Caspian Sea tour includes Tehran, Shiraz and Esfahan, as well as Rasht, Ramsar, Mashhad, Kerman and Yazd.

To book, call (888) 881-SILK (7455). Silk Roads' office phone is (604) 925-3831; its e-mail address is [email protected].

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