About Us

Our company is owned and operated by an American with 30 years experience in the region, who works hand in hand with experienced local staff as well as the Directorate of Tourism.

Explore Mesopotamia was the first inwardly focused Tour Company in the Region and is the pioneer of all modern tourism in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. We have hosted the first ever tour group after the last Gulf War (American) and have been in the forefront of hosting most other major nations such as Germany, Australia, Italy, Austria, Britain, and Canada as well as more obscure nations such as Mongolia.

We are famous for our attention to detail. Relax let us handle your journey to one of the most fascinating lands in the world.

We are the most experienced travel professionals in this region.

Dr. Layton has lived and worked in Kurdistan for over 25 years in various capacities including the US State Department Country Director of Health Care Partnerships in Iraq and as the National Director for Kurdistan Development Corporation. He has written extensively on Kurdistan and is the founder the first American English language school in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

He was the originator of the term “The Other Iraq” used by many media outlets and governments today and initiated the successful International PR campaign titled Kurdistan: The Other Iraq shown on major news outlets such as CNN, FOX, CBS and BBC and many others. In 1995 Layton testified as an expert before the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs regarding the genocide against the Kurds by Saddam Hussein. He has traveled to more than 100 countries and is the founder of several International relief and development NGOs. He is also the founder of the first tour company in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He now resides in Connecticut and travels to Kurdistan on a regular basis.

For complete profile see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Layton

Testimony: "Dr. Layton has unparalleled experience with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and its leaders and people accumulated over several decades of close contact. Despite his many other pressing demands on his time, Dr. Layton very generously contributed his insights and deep knowledge of the region, and of the Kurds in particular. I owe him a debt of gratitude; not only for his judgment and practical advice, but also for sparking my admiration for the Kurdistan and its wonderful people. Dr. Layton has been assiduous in untangling partisan biases; as well as sorting fact from fiction during his many years of research. I am merely one the grateful beneficiaries of his work." Robert Muirhead, Author of "Bearing Witness: A Journey Through Kurdistan," 2019

Balin Zrar is the most experienced tour guide in the region with over 10 years working with Explore Mesopotamia and serves as Project Manager for the Other Iraq Tours LLC. He is both a Kurdish and British citizen possessing a unique ability to blend local flavor with International standards. After his studies, he went to London where he opened an Italian restaurant in Soho (1997-2005).
He has traveled extensively in Europe, China and the Middle East. Several years ago Balin returned to his homeland of Kurdistan to take an active role in building what he believes will become one of Kurdistan’s largest economic sectors, tourism.

Testimony: "I wanted to drop a quick note to thank you for the opportunity to visit Kurdistan. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and it was all the more memorable by getting to share our experience with Balin. He is a good cultural ambassador for his country. From the outset of our trip, he was always accommodating. He was able to arrange a visit to a refugee camp and a dinner the evening before with one of the camp physicians. We learned a great deal about Kurdistan and Iraq’s history, politics and culture through Balin. He has an easy manner and sense of humor that made the time together enjoyable and educational. I would wholeheartedly recommend travel to Kurdistan through your company. And, again, a special and sincere thanks to Balin who, by the end of the trip, we felt was more a good friend than a guide. Balin: Come visit us in Texas. You and your family are always welcome to stay with us if you get this direction." David R. Stephens, 2018

Shayan was born in Iran in 1995. In 1998, he moved to Iraqi Kurdistan to live with relatives. He started working with Explore Mesopotamia in 2019. His has studied IT and computers, at Cihan University. He is currently writing a Book about “Shanidar Cave”, the Neanderthal’s, and their brief history in Kurdistan. He is passionate about revealing the secrets of his nation to the people of the world-a gracious host and knowledgeable Guide.

Testimony: "Two of the customers encountered your guide (Shayan) and told me they felt like he was a very calm and cool man. Looking forward to our next tour!" Pier Doyon, Young Pioneers Tours, 2019

Mohammed (Hama) Hamawandi was born in Iraq, Erbil. He is multilingual and and started working with Explore Mesopotamia in 2018. He studied at “The Classical School of the Medes” for 10 years (founded by the owner of Explore Mesopotamia, Dr. Douglas Layton). He then pursued higher education at the “Cambridge International School” studying IT and Oil Engineering for 2 years. Since childhood, his passion is history and exploring, which is fulfilled as a guide introducing foreigners to the amazing historical and cultural sites of his nation.

Testimony: "I returned on Thursday and wanted to tell you how impressed I was with all your arrangements during my tour of Kurdistan. I cannot think of any way you could have given me a better insight into this fascinating region. Please convey my heartfelt thanks to my wonderful guide and driver. I hope that they enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed theirs. I have appointed myself as your unofficial, unpaid promoter and hope that my friends take my advice and contact you. Wishing you every success in future endeavors!" Ruth-Louise Moran, April 2019

More Testimonials

We just returned from the 10-2013 trip with Other Iraq Tours (now Explore Mesopotamia) led by Balin. It was a really wonderful experience.  Balin is a great person and a very knowledgeable guide.  He made the trip interesting with stories about the places we visited, the culture, and the history of Kurdistan.  The itinerary of the trip includes a variety of sites that are well worth seeing – there was a mixture of historical, religious and cultural sites, as well as sites from Saddam’s dictatorship.  The biggest surprise we had was the extensive economic and infrastructure development going on in the country.  Finally, the food and hotels were great.  All in all, an unforgettable trip.

The sheer beauty of Iraqi Kurdi­stan absolutely shocked me. Mountains unexpectedly surrounded us everywhere we went, and there was snow in those mountains! The snowcapped scenery certainly enhanced our photographic opportunities. Our guide, Balin Zrar, an affable, incredibly resourceful young man from Iraq, had a marvelous command of the English language, having lived in England for four years. He made life easy for the group at every turn, even sending us into a little shop along the way to pick out any treats that we might want for the trip. Then he paid the entire bill!

(See January 2020 issue of International Travel News)

This past May (2012) I have spent a great week in Kurdistan, Iraq, traveling with "The Other Iraq Tours" (now Explore Mesopotamia). Though I was told this region of Iraq is quite safe, I found it even better. I have found it prosperous and stable. My two guides, Pedro and Balin, were very knowledgeable and answered all my questions to my full satisfaction. Both went past their duties to make me understand their country.

The Other Iraq Tours (now Explore Mesopotamia) is just that.... Who would think Kurdistan (northern Iraq) has such dramatic and stunning scenery ! Balin, our guide, was proud to share his culture and historical sites. Soo much to experience and enjoy. Kurds are quite hospitable and delightful. Always, I felt safe and did not even consider being in Iraq as dangerous. A road less traveled, although worth the effort.

It's not every day you get to visit a country that's been in the headlines this much. Although I knew I wasn't going to be roaming the streets in a flak jacket…I wasn't quite sure what to expect and was a little nervous. I think traveling here (Kurdistan) did what traveling is well known to do: it broadened my mind. Meeting the people in any country… makes a place more real., I look back and think it was a damn fine thing that I got the chance to.

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