Traveling to ISIS ravaged Mosul is easier, cheaper than you would think

Ninavah (Ninava, Nineveh) Hotel in Mosul, Iraq.

When planning a vacation, a good first step is to go to the internet to do some research about the area you intend to visit.  For example, if you are visiting Mosul, Iraq, you might want to know if ISIS likes to conduct public beheadings of Western tourists this time of year.

I’m not sure why anyone would want to visit Mosul with the raging battle against ISIS going on, but let’s say you are planning a trip.  The city offers very little tourist attractions but boasts having wonderful ancient mosques and an “amusement park” that is more akin to a city park on the South Side of Chicago.

Despite little to offer Western visitors for tourism or safety, just assume you are going to visit for suicidal or bucket list reasons.

The first thing you will need is airfare which will start around $1,300 for a 16 to 19 hour travel time from New York City to Erbil, Iraq – which is about a 1.5 hour drive to Mosul.

Erbil International Airport is a modern airport, built in 2010, and located in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.  The previous airport was built in the 1970’s as an Iraqi military base.  The newly constructed airport was Turkish built for $550 million and has the tenth longest runway in the world.

(Video produced by Erbil Airport in 2010)
YouTube video

Once you arrive in Erbil, you will need a rental car to make the hour and a half (80 kilometers) drive to Mosul via Mosul [road] and Route 2.  According to Google, the Hertz Rent-a-Car at the airport has a 5 star rating (with only 4 reviews) so this is probably this best service for you to use.

Depending on the vehicle you choose (small Chevy four door sedan up to a Toyota Land Cruiser GX-R), rates range from $39 to $179 a day before insurance, taxes or any additional options.  While it is obviously much less than renting a car in New York City, it is surprising how low the rates are considering the chances of a vehicle -driven by a foreign tourist- returning from an ISIS controlled territory in Mosul are likely low.

Hertz Erbil Iraq
Hertz Rent-a-Car at the Erbil International Airport

Where can you stay while in Mosul? Well, apparently the war against ISIS and the battle for Mosul, which has been raging since October, has not stopped all of the hotels from keeping their doors open. For those who are used to being thrifty travelers, AirBnB is an option in Iraq (surprisingly) but there are very few options and none in Mosul.  If you decide to book a flight into Erbil with a late arrival, you can grab your rental car -Hertz is open 24 hours at the airport- and check into a one bedroom apartment from AirBnB for $55 a night.

According to the AirBnB apartment rental’s owner, Noor, “contrary to popular belief, this part of the middle east is very peaceful with little/no terror threat or even crime. Westerners should feel very comfortably to be out and about without their security on their mind.”

A third floor, 3 bed, 1 bedroom apartment in a Christian suburb of Erbil that is available on Air BnB.
A third floor, 3 bed (1 bed and 2 couches), 1 bedroom apartment in a Christian suburb of Erbil that is available on Air BnB.

While Iraqi Kurdistan is relatively safer than other parts of Iraq, the US State Department still has an active travel warning for Iraq. The warning states, “U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.  Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq, including Da’esh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.”  The warning even states that Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) facilities are a target of attacks. “Facilities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the U.S. government, and western interests remain possible targets.”

All risks aside, you are still determined to make the trip to Mosul because of your bucket list or suicidal tendencies, so you need to book a room for your stay.  While doing your research on hotels, you may enticed by the the 5-star rated Ninavah Hotel because of its excellent TripAdvisor ratings, but be warned that in 2015 it was reported to be reopened by the Islamic State (it has since been removed from TripAdvisor).

Ninawa Hotel

The large building consists of 11 floors with over 262 rooms, was once one of the most luxurious hotels in Iraq but has suffered many harsh conditions over the past two decades. In 2003, it was robbed, looted and vandalized because of the chaos that followed the entry of US forces to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. After overcoming the war-era, the hotel was taken over by ISIS when it closed all hotels in its captured lands in Iraq and Syria.  It was later opened, hosting weddings, events for ISIS commanders and offering rooms to the public for as little as $70 a night.

The area in which the hotel sits, on the bank of the Tigris river, in northeast Mosul has been reportedly liberated from ISIS by Iraqi forces, but a recent review -made three months ago- on Google, states (not verified):

“Other guest were not friendly. Yelled and screamed at all hours of the day and night. Acted like there was a war going on or something. Service was terrible. Many of the hotel staff openly carried guns and threatened my family. Dessert cart was small.”

The highest rated hotel by Google is the Mosul hotel with 4.4 stars but happens to sit in the heart of ISIS controlled territory – along the Alshohada Bridge which crosses the Tigris river into western Mosul.  It is listed by Google as available for room rental but their information may be off because Reuters reported the Islamic State blew up the hotel to prevent advancing Iraqi forces from using it as a base in January. So, it’s probably safe to say this is a good hotel to avoid, especially because it “appeared to be leaning to one side after the explosions.

An undated photo of the Mosul Hotel in Mosul, Iraq.
An undated photo of the Mosul Hotel in Mosul, Iraq.

Of the hotels that are listed as still open, not destroyed by bombings, or controlled by ISIS, none are available for online booking.

Mosul Iraq hotels

So while you make your trip into Mosul (probably safer to stick to day excursion though) you can take your chances booking a room in person but remember to stay east of the Tigris river.

Mosul Iraq

If you do make it to the Ninavah Hotel, it seems be a great place to watch the Iraq Forces eradicate the remaining ISIS members from Mosul -which is supposed to happen in the next few days.

(This article is not intended to be used as an actual guide for travel to Iraq. Popular Military does not assume responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided in this article as it pertains to traveling to a current warzone)

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