Erbil and the surrounding areas were an absolute surprise. I ended up booking my trip very last minute and was shocked that there were no visa requirements for the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Haval, our guide and owner of the Iraqi Kurdistan Guide (https://www.facebook.com/kurdistantourguide/), was incredibly knowledgeable and gave a detailed history of events, locations and understanding of food and culture. I left this trip wanting to learning more!
First off, this place is safe. The people are inviting and curious to speak with tourists. Tea is aplenty. Invitations for tea is inevitable! We were able to experience delicious foods, ancient monasteries and battle grounds from Alexander the Great, waterfalls, the citadel in Erbil, visiting the Yazidi people, and many other amazing places.
Iraqi Kurdistan feels relatively untouched by tourists. It's quite refreshing to be in a place where there aren't any tourist lines, there aren't any barricades around "tourist attractions" and the experiences are authentic.
Everyone we met along the way was friendly and inviting. We ended up being invited in for tea almost everywhere we went. As stated above, the people were friendly and curious about me as a tourist. I felt very safe traveling alone, which as a female isn't always the case. Haval was kind enough to welcome me into his home, where his wife made us a delicious traditional Kurdish meal (that was gluten and dairy free!). Speaking of dietary issues, I have celiac disease and a number of other allergies. I was worried about going into Iraqi Kurdistan since there hasn't been a lot of tourism and I worried about the gluten and cross contamination, but Haval was great in making sure that my food was safe. He even went into the kitchen of one restaurant to ensure that the rice I got was just pure rice. As with all travel for celiacs, bring some emergency food since breakfast is typically bread based, but some rice cakes and cans of tuna or sardines will suffice. There is a lot of meat and veggie that is safe to eat, particularly chicken kebab. I was full for most of the trip! Allergy sufferers and celiacs, message Haval and let him know ahead of time and you will not regret it!