Iran's Lake Orumiyeh, One of the Largest Landlocked Salt Lakes in the World

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Lake Orumiyeh (also Orumieh or Urmia) in northwestern Iran is one of the world’s largest landlocked salt lakes, but it is shrinking.

Orumiyeh is fed by roughly 60 rivers and streams—some permanent and some ephemeral—that also deliver salts. Because the lake lacks an outlet, those salts accumulate in the basin. As the region’s arid climate evaporates the water, the salts crystalize along the shore.

Before I launch into this I’m just going to mention a list of all the cities, towns, villages and remote places/settlements that we visited during our month in Iran, so you get an idea as to why I still haven’t even covered half of our time there and still need to write about Bazargan, Maku, Tabriz, Orumiyeh, Bandar e Golmaniyeh, Kandovan, Osku, Qazvin, Gazor Khan, Alamut Castle, Tehran, Tarjrish, Zarad Band, Mashhad, Kerman, Kaluts, Rayen, Mahan, Yazd, Chak Chak, Kharanaq, Mesr, Khoor, Khalate Talkh, Bayaziye, Salt Flats near Khoor, Esfahan, Shahr-e Kord, Yaseh Chah, Sadegh Abad, Dakmeh, Shiraz, Persepolis, Marvdasht and Nasqh e Rostam.

 

Backpacking in Iran: Lake Orumiyeh.

 

Our first few days in Iran, we based ourselves in the city of Tabriz. From here we could do day trips to a load of nearby places and we decided to visit Lake Orumiyeh, famous for being a salt lake and the largest lake in Iran. We also saw some photos of it that made it look like you were in the clouds so we had to visit!

Backpacking in Iran: Lake Orumiyeh.
Lake Orumiyeh is a massive salt lake in northwestern Iran near the border with Turkey and Iraq. The lake is between the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan (Iranian provinces – not to be confused with the country, which is separate).

At its full size, Lake Orumiyeh is the largest lake in the Middle East and the sixth largest saltwater lake on earth with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km² (2,000 mile²), 140 km (87 mi) length, 55 km (34 mi) width, and 16 m (52 ft) depth.

Lake Orumiyeh, Iran.

Lake Orumiyeh, Iran.

The obvious way is to get to the town of Orumiyeh and head from there. Orumiyeh is close to both the Turkey and Iraq borders, so if you’re coming in overland, you can use it as your first stop in Iran. However we headed first all the way to Tabriz and then to Orumiyeh.

Bus station in Tabriz, Iran.

Bus station in Tabriz, Iran.

The bus from Tabriz to Orumiyeh leaves from the main bus station in Tabriz. Just ask around until you find an Orumiyeh bus. In December 2013 it cost us around 60 cents (US).

On the bus to Lake Orumiyeh.

Our map - planning Lake Orumiyeh.

Our map – planning Lake Orumiyeh.

The bus from Tabriz to Orumiyeh.

The bus from Tabriz to Orumiyeh.

The journey is memorable as you get a view of the lake as you go past it and across a bridge to the town of Orumiyeh – at points you can see the salt which looks like ice or snow – but it’s not.

The bridge to Lake Orumiyeh.

The bridge to Lake Orumiyeh.

Most travelers base themselves in Orumiyeh and just visit the lake on a day trip – there are buses in summer season, but we ended up sharing a taxi out there. One thing to note is that the government try not to make it a “tourist attraction” as clearly it’s not meant to be for that purpose, but for a few $US you can get a taxi there and back from Orumiyeh – you’ll have to bargain them down from Orumiyeh station.

Crossing the Bridge to Orumiyeh.

Crossing the Bridge to Orumiyeh.

If you’re not keen on the hardcore backpacking adventure to get here, you can always head to the village of Khoor later on, and simply organise a trip to the Salt Flats for sunset – which we also did. I’ll also cover our visit to the lakeside town of Bandar e Golmaniyeh separately.

Gorgeous Lake Orumiyeh in Iran.

Gorgeous Lake Orumiyeh in Iran.

Officially standing on the salt is forbidden as the Iranian government protect it and we respected this. Lake Orumiyeh along with its approximately 102 islands are protected as a national park by the Iranian government.

Beautiful Lake Orumiyeh in Iran.

Beautiful Lake Orumiyeh in Iran.

Top photo credit only: earthobservatory.nasa.gov.

Jonny Scott Blair
Jonny Blair is a self confessed traveling nomad who founded and blogs at Don't Stop Living. He sees every day as an adventure. Since leaving behind his home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland ten years ago he has traveled to all seven continents, working his way through various jobs and funding it all with hard work and an appetite for travel. Don’t Stop Living, a lifestyle of travel' contains over 1,000 stories and tips from his journeys round the globe. He wants to show others how easy it is to travel the world, give them some ideas and encourage them to do the same but most of all he aims to constantly live a lifestyle of travel. He is currently based in Hong Kong and on Twitter @jonnyblair.
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