There's actually not too much to this trip. Once you have your Iranian visa in order that is. I thought I would write my own overland travel experience to give you an indication of what to expect. Or at the very least, help you garner some information from my own journey.
This is from my own late 2007 journey just after Turkey announced it was going to war in Iraq. However, I keep this page up-to date through contacts I made there and ongoing research. I did the journey solo.
Check out my travel visas section for help on how to get an Iranian visa.
Due to picking up my Indian visa I left from Ankara. It's a 55 lira bus ticket and 19 hour ride to the border town of Dogubayazit (Turkey). I met a Korean girl who opted to cross from Van but it made little sense to me as Dogubayazit was right on the border. Plus, it had mount Ararat where Noah's ark is meant to have landed.
You need to beware of the time of year you take this journey though. The bus goes up to 7,800 feet and around Atiku we got stuck in a snow blizzard. There have been reports of a few crashes in the winters here.
Once in Dogubayazit, from the bus terminal you can walk to the center of the town easily. From recollection you go left at the main gates. I stayed at the Hotel Tarhan for about 18 lira for a double en suite. No bargaining as few people were there at this time of year.
Due to heavy cloud it was not possible to see much of Mount Ararat, but there are plenty of tour touts around.
A meal of lamb kebab, rice and soft drink is about 3 lira. Beware that there are a lot of Kurdish speakers around here. Learn a few greetings and all doors will be opened to you!
Finding the mini bus stop to the border is a pain. It was nowhere near where the mid east LP guide book writes. Nor is it near any gas/petrol station.
Basically just ask for a domud (small bus) to Iran. Saying "Gurbulak" (the border town) is a waste of time unless your phonetics in Turkish/Kurdish are stunning. The bus stop is about ten minutes walk from the Hotel Tarhan and is a small little empty office. You'll find little signage.
There's no need to book in advance. It leaves at about 7am, so naturally I showed up at 6.15 and we left at 8. It's a case of wait for the bus to fill. You'll be told where to sit and it's probably best to wait until you are about to leave as your bag is attached to the roof and there's a lot going on. There's street food available at this time, just ask in the office.
To be honest I can't for sure remember the cost of the ticket. But it was around 8 lira. It took about 45mins. There was quite a lot of traffic traveling on the border road itself. Once traffic ground to a halt I opted to get out and walk the rest of the way as it was faster than the van.
There's quite a bit of Turkish military around the place. Bunkers, tanks, Jeeps and army personell, so you might want to keep your camera out of sight.
The first check point border officer just has a look at your passport. Then you walk up a two lane wide new road that's on an incline. At the top are the gates out of Turkey. Here the odd bashful money changer will approach. I changed a little just to be sure. Your passport is checked for an Iranian visa and then you are stamped out.
You then walk up another small hill towards the Iranian border under a huge mural of the Ayatollah. There's a huge sign saying “WEL-COME TO IRAN.” A few soldiers will inspect your passport. Finally at a huge iron gate you wait for it to be opened. I had the pleasure of listening to a soldier shout at a few locals for trying to open it themselves. Then they welcomed me in with a big smile.
At a little glass cabinet to the left you get stamped in with another big smile, maybe. Clean toilets are to the right but you need to leave your bag outside. Just ask a guard to mind them for you.
Outside you're in a different world. And, 1.5 hours ahead. There were buses heading to Bazargan but I couldn't make sense of them and they would not let me on anyway.
There were also taxi's but they were charging crazy fees so I walked. There are more money changers out here too. The walk to the border town was about 30mins. It's full of trucks etc. A few kids came up and tried to ask for money. Nothing serious.
You pass through a customs gate and then finally out through the hectic main gates. You'll be surrounded by touts, taxi men and everything in between. Read my Iran section to be ready on the two different terms they use for Iranian currency.
A shared taxi of 4 cost 6,000 toman each. I took a local taxi (the little beat up gray / yellow ones) to Maku for 1,500 rial. Then a bus to Tabriz for 15,000 Rial it was a 5 hour trip. It's best not to arrive on a Thursday night if you hope to meet up with the infamous tourist information brothers Nasser and Mansour, which I seriously advise you do. They are a great source of information and advice.
They can also offer help to overland travelers with bikes and cars. You need to get Iranian plates plus fuel cards.
I wrote up a travelogue about my meeting with a Syrian couple at the border and how they screwed me over by asking me to wait with them for a shared taxi. I waited 2+ hours and then they snuck off in another car. So be warned about teaming up with others to travel further on at the border.
I ended up staying at Mashad Hotel in Tabriz at 57,300 at night for a shared bathroom.
Ankara to Dogubayazit via bus: 19 hours. Cost about 55 lira
Hotel Tahan: 18 Lira
Minibus from Dogubayazit to Border: 8 Lira
Shared Taxi from Bazargan to Tabriz: 60,000 lira. Private taxi: $40USD.
Taxi to Maku: 1,500 lira
Bus to Tabriz: 15,000 lira
No border charges. Money changers on both sides
Remember the the time change
Maku is not worth staying the night in
Hotel Mashad is run down, bigger than it seems and cost me 57, 300 a night.
Make a huge effort to see the two brothers at the Iranian tourist office in Tabriz, a great introduction to Iran at no charge!
2013 please add 15% to the above costs due to fuel hikes. The routes are still very viable.