Road Trip Iraq: Kurdistan’s GORGEOUS Hamilton Road!

Picture this. You’ve rented a car and you’re going for a little joyride in northern Iraq. You pass the turn off for Saladin’s Fortress, which, these days, finds itself surrounded by land mines. And then you turn onto one of Iraqi Kurdistan‘s premiere sights…the Hamilton Road. Right about now you’re probably thinking…I drove all this way for a road? But this is no ordinary place to drive…

Mountains in Iraq

The mountains off in the distance provided a hint of what was to come

Almost immediately after turning onto the Hamilton Road, you are presented with a choice…up, or down. Either option will make your jaw drop, for what has been an otherwise so-so drive is about to get extraordinary!

Lower Hamilton Road

Heading down to the Lower Hamilton Road

Choose to take the lower road and next thing you know you’ll find yourself descending right into a canyon! Along the way, as you drive along the river, gasping at the dramatic scenery that you’re suddenly surrounded by, take a quick a glance at the roaring waterfall. Don’t worry, it’s hard to miss all the cars parked just off the road! This is Gali Ali Bag, the so-called tallest waterfall in the Middle East! It also happens to be what Iraq puts on the back of its 5,000 Dinar note!

Lower Hamilton Road

Gali Ali Beg Waterfall

Lower Hamilton Road

Scenery along the Lower Hamilton Road

Lower Hamilton Road

Scenery along the Lower Hamilton Road

Lower Hamilton Road

Looking up at the canyon from the Lower Hamilton Road

Choose the upper road and you’ll soon find yourself soaring up to the rim of the canyon! Here, the scenery is all the more impressive, for the walls of the canyon soar up from the rim you are on. It was here that I had to pick my jaw up off the floor, as I simply could not believe that I was driving through this striking canyon…in Iraq!

Upper Hamilton Road

A nice little picnic area overlooking the canyon from the Upper Hamilton Road

Upper Hamilton Road

Rounding the corner and seeing this literally made my jaw drop!

Upper Hamilton Road

The Upper Hamilton Road runs on a rim of the canyon, but the walls still soar above you!

Upper Hamilton Road

The Upper Hamilton Road

After both roads wind their way through the canyon, you pass through the Kurdish towns of Rawanduz and Soran before continuing on towards the border with Iran. You may be out of the canyon, but the majestic peaks of northern Iraq lay before you, with equally as impressive scenery.

Hamilton Road

The mountainous terrain near Soran

Hamilton Road

Just past the town of Rawanduz

Hamilton Road

Even outside of the canyon, the mountain scenery past Soran made my jaw drop!

This road dates back to 1928, when the British, who took control of Iraq following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, brought in Archibald Hamilton to design a road through the mountainous terrain to the Iranian border. Not only was it a strategic route but the mere fact that this road exists through such dramatic scenery is really an engineering marvel! Hamilton went on to describe his experience building this road in his book, Road Through Kurdistan: The Narrative of an Engineer in Iraq.

Hamilton Road

The Hamilton Road heads for more mountains

As I watched the mountains soar around me, I thought back to those American hikers who were arrested back in 2009 for supposedly crossing into Iran illegally. This is the part of the Iraq they were hiking in and it really wasn’t hard to see why! I would have loved to have spent more time exploring and hiking through some of this spectacular scenery, but I had to get back to Erbil…I was flying out the next day!

Upper Hamilton Road

A view from the Upper Hamilton Road

Still though, I’m so glad I rented a car and took this trip! For it is definitely one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken!

Read More About My Adventure in Iraq

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9 Responses to Road Trip Iraq: Kurdistan’s GORGEOUS Hamilton Road!

  1. Jennifer October 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Looks great. Some of the scenery reminds me of driving around Morrocco. I like reading your blog as you travel to places others dont, very inspiring!

    • Aaron October 23, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

      Haha thanks! Yeah the scenery was pretty spectacular! Despite being mountainous, the northern part of Iraq is still an arid climate. Deserts are pretty stunning, no matter where you are in the world!

  2. Sam October 24, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    Can’t say I would have ever thought of doing a road trip in Iraq, but this road definitely looks worth it!

    • Aaron October 24, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

      Haha I never considered it either, but while I was there I kept hearing about how the Hamilton Road was the best thing to see. I’m glad I went!

  3. The Guy January 17, 2014 at 12:40 am #

    It looks like a fabulous drive and I can see why it appealed so much. Is that the road that the Top Gear team drove on a few years ago?

    Interesting to hear the history too.

  4. Michael November 8, 2015 at 8:30 am #

    I was fortunate to have lived among the Kurds for almost five years and seeing the beauty of the people and places. I was able to read Road Through Kurdistan while there and visit places mentioned by Hamilton. Even off-road trips with a 4-wheel drive vehicle were excellent adventures, although there were still mine fields (all marked and easy to avoid). Hopefully those are long gone. The entire region from the border with Iraq (Zagros mountains) all the way into Turkey is just spectacular. Happy travels.

    • Aaron November 22, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

      It really is spectacular! Whereabouts were you living amongst the Kurds? Such amazingly friendly people!

      • Michael December 1, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

        I had lived in Zaxo (Zakho) but travelled widely. I had worked for a company that had governmental and humanitarian contracts, and was in Iraq from 2003 to 2009 but Kurdistan only the latter 4-plus years. I’m not in a position to travel at the moment but do wish to return to see how the people and place will change in the next 10 years or so. The instability is keeping the Kurds from the development the whole region deserves.

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