Kish is a 91.5-square-kilometre (35.3 sq mi) resort island in the Persian Gulf. It is part of the Hormozgān Province of Iran. Due to its free trade zone status it is touted as a consumer’s paradise, with numerous malls, shopping centres, tourist attractions, and resort hotels. It has an estimated population of 26,000 residents and about 1 million people visit the island annually.
Kish Island was ranked among the world’s 10 most beautiful islands by The New York Times in 2010, and is the fourth most visited vacation destination in Southwest Asia after Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Sharm el-Sheikh. Foreign nationals wishing to enter Kish Free Zone from legal ports are not required to obtain visas prior to travel.
You absolutely must go.’ Travelling in Iran you’re likely to hear this more than once. And when you ask what is so special about Kish, you’re told: ‘But Kish is wonderful; everything works there. The beaches are clean, the buildings are modern and there’s duty-free shopping. It’s just like Dubai!’
And yes, all of this is true…to a degree. Since the 1970s, when the last shah tried to transform this desert island into a playground for the rich and famous, Kish has become the Iranian equivalent of Hawaii, the Costa del Sol or the Queensland Gold Coast – a beach resort where visitors can swim, shop and sample a laid-back and relatively liberated local lifestyle. Here, women let their headscarves slip back a bit, wear sandals, water ski (albeit in hejab-style wetsuits) and ride bicycles; men wear T-shirts and shorts, openly smoke qalyans (water pipes) and indulge their wives and children with ice cream and trips to the mall. It’s all very different from life on the mainland.
As a result, Kish is booming. Hotels, apartment blocks and retail complexes dominate the once-deserted desert landscape, domestic tourist numbers are on the rise and the island also hosts a steady stream of Filipino workers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who come here on so-called ‘visa-change flights’ to wait for their Emerati working visas to be extended.
However, there aren’t any compelling reasons for Western tourists to join these throngs. Males and females can’t swim or sunbathe together, the shopping is lacklustre (cheap products from China, India and Korea), there are few historical sights and the cost of living is considerably more expensive than elsewhere in the country. . But if you’re after a taste of Iran – albeit Iran ‘lite’ – the fact that foreigners don’t require a visa to visit Kish (14-day visas are available on entry but do not extend to the mainland) makes Kish a destination worth considering.