Iran seems to be torn between two worlds. Beneath public veils and behind closed doors, many Iranians apparently long for a little relief from the strict Islamic codes that have been enforced for more than two decades. On many rooftops, you can see satellite dishes beaming in forbidden programming from the West in open defiance of conservative legislation designed to exclude the wider world. On airplanes arriving in Tehran from elsewhere in the world, you'll see stylishly dressed Iranian women reluctantly donning shapeless coats or tentlike chadors that obscure their silhouettes.

It's equally clear that many Iranians remain reluctant to embrace Western values. Liberal-minded students continue to clash with police and Islamic conservatives in Tehran. For many travelers, the uncertainty of the political situation and the lingering anti-Western sentiments among some Iranians are enough reason to stay away. But for adventurous travelers who understand the risks, Iran can be an incredibly rewarding destination: It has ancient ruins, grand mosques, pomegranate groves, exquisite gardens and starkly beautiful desert and mountain landscapes.

Ordinary Iranians are almost unfailingly courteous and hospitable, regardless of international politics. What's more, crime is rareā€”the country is particularly safe for women, who are rarely subjected to the unpleasant attention common in some parts of the Middle East. Another benefit for travelers is that, because of the low volume of tourist traffic, visitors get an unjostled view of even the most important sites. On a good day you can have Persepolis practically all to yourself.

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