Azerbaijan

My impressions from visiting Azerbaijan

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To be honest I’ve never really thought visiting Azerbaijan is an option for me, even if I really wanted to go there. The complicated geopolitical situation in the region made me stop dreaming about it altogether.

But eventually, when I found cheap flights to Baku, I couldn’t resist and I’ve decided to give it a try. In the worst case I wouldn’t have got the visa. But, to my big surprise, few days after applying an e-visa to Azerbaijan landed in my mailbox. I was all set to go!

But as it turned out life has another plan for me and I had to cancel my initial trip due to some family issues. Once things got back more or less to normal I figured that my visa is valid for over 2 more months so I can still make a dream of visiting Azerbaijan happen!

Last minute tickets to Baku were a bit expensive so I went via Georgia (visiting this country is always a good idea for me!). I didn’t spend much time in Azerbaijan, I even shortened my trip a bit eventually, but I can say that Azerbaijan was pretty awesome and so much better than I’ve ever expected! I hope this wasn’t my only trip there as that’s one of those places I’d like to return to to get to know it better.

Before I start telling you properly about my trip and places I’ve visited here are some of my impressions, observations and tips from visiting Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan essentials

Planning a trip to Azerbaijan? Here are the services I always use and personally recommend:

  • Accommodation: I always book a place to stay on Booking.com
  • Tours: when I decide to go on a tour I either use Viator
  • Get insured for your trip to Azerbaijan with SafetyWing

Crossing the border to/from Azerbaijan

I must admit I was dreading the border crossing to Azerbaijan, like a lot. I have two trips to Armenia present in my passport and these two countries aren’t really on friendly terms, mildly speaking.

I’ve heard stories of travelers being harassed on the border for visiting Armenia (however no one was turned back) and I had all kind of answers ready in my head. All the reports said that the easiest border crossing was at the airport, the worst by road and the rail one in the middle.

I took the night train from Tbilisi to Baku. The border was around midnight and everything went rather smoothly. First there was a Georgian control who also made sure I have a valid visa to Azerbaijan.

Azeri control first took passports away and after a while they used few compartments like to private offices to check passports and visas there. They called one person after another and I admit I was a bit nervous when it was my turn. But the young border officer didn’t ask me a single question, not even why I’m visiting Azerbaijan, and he seemed to be more interested in my visa to Russia than in my Armenian stamps. 2 minutes later, when he typed all my details in and took a mandatory picture, I officially entered Azerbaijan! That was super easy!


You might also like: How to get from the Baku Airport to the city center


visiting Azerbaijan

On the way back I took the marshrutka from Qax to Tbilisi. This time the officer was more serious looking and not so nice but his main issue was why I don’t have a visa to Georgia (because we don’t need one? I might enter Georgia with my ID only if I want to). He warned me Azerbaijan won’t allow me back if they refuse my entry to Georgia. And he didn’t really believe me that I don’t need a visa, he checked few times on a handwritten piece of paper he had next to the keyboard but eventually gave me an exit stamp out of Azerbaijan.

By the way, the Lagodekhi crossing between Azerbaijan and Georgia is among the most beautiful ones I’ve been to. The surrounding mountains are just stunning.

visiting Azerbaijan

People of Azerbaijan

I know how friendly and hospitable people in Caucasus can be but I dare to say in Azerbaijan locals were a whole new level of being nice. From the moment I stepped into the Azeri train at Tbilisi train station I felt really taken care of! I assume it might have something to do with the fact I was travelling solo and locals felt like they have to look after me.

There were some other tourists in my carriage but provadnica (a lady responsible for the carriage) was paying attention only to me and almost walking me through every step of train journey, from the border control to early morning tea (that I didn’t have to pay for even if I insisted), always addressing me with my name. I shared the compartment with the lovely Azeri family who took care of me through the journey, telling me a lot about Baku and asking about my travels.

On the bus station in Baku a young guy run to find my marshrutka to Sheki and to make sure they will have a seat for me. Then in marshrutka most of the people shared their snack with me so when we stopped I run to get some too and share with them.

visiting Azerbaijan

In Sheki, even if it was well after opening hours of Shaki Khans’ Palace, there were few people hanging out in the gardens and the premises were eventually opened. Me and a fellow German traveler Sophie were the only English speaking people in the group so half of the people, including the guide, were translating the details into English so we could know a bit about the place too.

When I went to visit another museum local women invited me for a tea in the garden and they didn’t accept “no” as an answer.

visiting Azerbaijan

On the bus station in Sheki and Qax again locals were looking after me so I board the right bus and there will be a seat for me (and even when there wasn’t one in marshrutka to Tbilisi a middle-aged man gave me his seat and he spent 4 hours sitting on the plastic stool…).

These are just few of the memorable encounters I had with people in Azerbaijan. I don’t think there was another country in my travels where I felt that welcomed and really looked after. I’m really glad I know some Russian, enough for a basic conversation (although I somehow managed to discuss all sorts of topics) as everyone wanted to talk to me and I didn’t have to limit myself to just smiling and nodding. But I still don’t really know how I managed to conduct in Russian 4-hours long conversation in the train or marshrutka…

visiting Azerbaijan

Scams, especially in Baku, are common

I heard about scams happening way too often, especially in Baku so when it happened to me I wasn’t even that surprised.

I was clearly overcharged when buying water and ice-cream on the seaside promenade (I was told to pay 10 manats instead or 2, maybe 3) but since there were no prices and I was really dying of thirst after climbing the hill for the view (so worth it!) so I paid it, even if I was really annoyed.

visiting Azerbaijan

Another story, however that wasn’t really scam, was when I wanted to buy a bread from women who baked it in the old town of Baku. They explained they bake it for the restaurant but when another worker left I was told to pay 2 manats. Pretty much for a small loaf of bread but I was without a breakfast, there was no shop in the eyesight and the bread looked and smelled so good. When I gave the money they quickly hid it under the table so I’m assuming they risked a bit when selling me the bread. Fortunately it was as good as it looked like!

A friend of mine, Marta, was in Baku two months earlier and told me about scams she encountered. In the restaurant she either was given a bill from another table, clearly much higher. On another occasion the price of the beer was 3 manats in the menu but then, on the bill, it was 7. Another friend and a fellow blogger, Megan, also had to deal with few scams – you can read more about them in her post about Baku.

So these scams are not uncommon and if you visit Baku pay a special attention when you get a bill or get a change. That’s sad as it ruins the whole image of the place but sadly these situation are happening in other places all over the world as well.

visiting Azerbaijan

It’s hard to find a bakery or grocery store in the center of Baku

The main reason why I wanted to buy the bread from these ladies was that there are literally no grocery stores or bakeries in the center of Baku. I’m used to seeing those everywhere in Tbilisi or Yerevan but the capital of Azerbaijan turned out to be different.

There are some snacks stands along the promenade but when you want to get something early in the morning it might be a problem. On that day I was leaving for a long trip to the mountains and I really didn’t want to go hungry but even the cafes and restaurants didn’t open until 9 or 10! Keep that in mind and do your shopping in advance!

visiting Azerbaijan

Is Azerbaijan expensive?

I’ve heard so many stories about Azerbaijan, and especially Baku, being expensive. To be honest I didn’t find it too overpriced – quite the opposite actually. Public transport is super cheap (metro ride for just 0,20 manats = 0,11$/0,10€, marshrutka from Baku to Sheki, 300 kms and almost 5 hours for 7 manats =4,10$/3,50€) and I didn’t have problem with finding cheap but good accommodation (around 15€/night for a private room in both Baku and Sheki).

The only thing that is really expensive are entrances and, to make the thing worse, they charge foreigners much more than locals… Well, at least it’s not as extreme as in Iran

visiting Azerbaijan

Baku is not like other Caucasus capitals

Speaking of Baku I assumed it will be similar in a way to Tbilisi or Yerevan, at least with a vibe.

Well, Baku was nothing like that. The city is very modern, with some interesting recent architecture (I could have spent hours just admiring Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid, such a beauty!). The old town was the closest to the image of “One Thousand and One Night” I had in my mind and wandering around was such a pleasure, like I was transformed to the times of Islamic Golden Age.

Other parts of Baku reminded me of grand architecture of Vienna while the seaside promenade felt a bit like Batumi (minus the kitsch).

visiting Azerbaijan

visiting Azerbaijan

visiting Azerbaijan

Music in metro

When the metro train arrives to the new station a calm song announces it so you can get ready to leave. Well, if you hear it every day I bet you don’t really pay attention anymore but I think it was really charming.

Metro itself is in the Soviet style and I really regret it’s forbidden to take pictures inside the stations as some of them were really beautiful, reminding me of a grand style metro in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Well, I could have tried to sneak in a picture but I somehow think they take this ban really seriously and it wouldn’t end in such a fan conversation with police like I had in Kharkiv, Ukraine (when I was taking pictures of metro stations too).

visiting Azerbaijan

Men are chivalrous

I haven’t seen it on such a big scale anywhere else – men in Azerbaijan were really chivalrous. In Baku metro every time a woman entered the carriage they were jumping off to give her a seat. It wasn’t only for older women but every single one, they gave me seats few times too.

When I was travelling between cities in marshrutkas every single time they carried my backpack to and from the bus and they were pointing me to the best seat. And it all felt really natural there.

By the way, there is an unspoken rule in marshrutkas in Azerbaijan than women sit in front and men towards the back of the car.

visiting Azerbaijan

Roads are in so-so condition but they drive like crazy

In a true Caucasian manner everyone drives like crazy in Azerbaijan. It’s still not as bad as in Georgia, where I say good bye to my life during every second ride but still travelling around made my heart beat faster few times. Unfortunately the roads aren’t often in the best condition so that combined with the crazy driving made all my journeys around quite adventurous.

visiting Azerbaijan

Cinema on wheels

Speaking of travelling around: the 4,5-hours marshrutka journey from Baku to Sheki was a bit of a nightmare for me. And not because of the fast driving or not enough space for my legs (as I had to keep my backpack with me). There was a small tv located above the front seats and as soon as we left Baku the driver turned it on, with some Azeri and Turkish pop songs played really loud.

But the passengers didn’t really like the songs so after a short fight with the driver he changed his screening to some Azeri stand-up comedies. It was so loud I literally couldn’t hear what was in my earphones (and I played my music to the highest volume) so I was a bit annoyed. But at the same time it was all amusing. Most of the passengers were glued to the screen, laughing out loud at the jokes and clearly enjoying the show.

I remember similar screening in the marshrutka ride from Chernivtsi, Ukraine to Chisinau, Moldova but no one really cared about what’s on then while here it was like the highlight of the trip for many.

visiting Azerbaijan

Stalls with local produce along the road

I’ve seen people selling local produce along the road in many places, that happens in Poland too. But only in Azerbaijan I’ve seen it on such a big scale and what caught my attention were not huge watermelons or juicy tomatoes but jars of preserves, towered neatly on the stalls.

I so regret I was flying back home, as always with the carry-on only, otherwise I’d have bought all these goodies to take back with me. The food in Caucasus is the best, so fresh and tasty and I’m sure these preserves were amazing too!

visiting Azerbaijan

Outdoor restaurants

I loved this concept! Really really loved! All over the country I’ve seen restaurants or just picknic spaces where you could eat out outside. There were tables strewn around in the forest or small park so you could enjoy the nature and good food at the same time.

On the way from Quba to Khinalug the tour stopped in the forest with cicades and the sound was so loud and so beautiful! I can’t imagine more perfect place for lunch! The downside is of course insects, trying to interrupt your meal, but that’s still a small price to pay.

visiting Azerbaijan

Visiting Azerbaijan in summer can be challenging

This was the first and the last time I was in the Caucasus in the summertime. It was so incredibly hot there were moments when traveling and sightseeing was really a struggle. Baku is still rather ok here as it’s called “windy city” for a reason and the wind is a blessing in the hot day.

But imagine traveling around in such heat or staying at the place with no air-conditioning. That makes is much more difficult to deal with. That said next time I go there I will make sure it’s in the spring or autumn time!

visiting Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is much more touristy than you think

I’ve never thought of Azerbaijan as a popular tourist destination. I was so surprised when I’ve realized how wrong I was! It is incredibly touristy but not so popular among travelers from Western Europe or the States, at least not yet.

The majority of visitors come from Russia and Arab countries, due to the proximity, same religion and similar culture. So don’t expect Azerbaijan to be off the path because it is really not, it’s just the different sort of tourists that you expect. Fortunately, even with so many tourists around, it wasn’t difficult to find a decent Baku accommodation.

visiting Azerbaijan

Pictures of former president everywhere

When travelling around you might see a pictures of one man, literally everywhere. It’s Heydar Aliyev, a former president of Azerbaijan who ruled the country between 1993 and 2003 (and before was a very prominent person under the Soviet regime).

Even if currently his son is the president it’s Heydar Aliyev that is still exceptionally popular in the country. It’s safe to say his cult prevails all over the country. I don’t want to get too much into politics here as his rule gets various opinions (and I’ve heard such from locals too) and who am I to talk about this anyway. Just be prepared to see Heydar Aliyev literally everywhere.

visiting Azerbaijan

Not so many USSR remnants around

Currently I’ve been to 12 out of 15 former Soviet republics (even I’m surprised by this now, that I’ve counted) and in all of them there’re remnants of the old times visible pretty much everywhere. That includes Russian language widely used too. But not in Azerbaijan.

Not only I didn’t feel like in a post Soviet republic, I also didn’t see that many remnants. Actually the only one I’ve stumbled across was the circus in Baku (and I didn’t even take a picture of it). OK, I didn’t really look for the Soviet architecture but usually it’s right there, I don’t need to run around, trying to find it.

Azerbaijan was different. That was a bit of surprise for me really.

visiting Azerbaijan

Book tours in Azerbaijan, not online

And for the end I left a piece of advice. If you’re planning to go for day tours around (as often that’s the only way to get to some places, like Khinalug) you should better do it on the spot, when you arrive to Azerbaijan. Prices are significantly lower then.

I booked my tour online but since it was a day before and I didn’t have the confirmation for few hours I stopped by the agency anyway. I could have eaten a really decent lunch for the difference in prices.

visiting Azerbaijan

This are all just random impressions from visiting Azerbaijan. The country took me by surprise as I’ve never thought I will enjoy it that much! I’m well aware of all the issues, political and social mostly, but from the tourist point of view it’s a wonderful place. Don’t let the visa myths stop you and consider visiting Azerbaijan too! It’s so worth it, for many reasons: people, landscape, architecture, food! I bet you’d enjoy it too!


PLAN YOUR TRIP TO AZERBAIJAN

With over 15 years of independent travelling I’ve learnt which websites and services are the best when planning a trip. I always use and trust following websites:

Accommodation – I always book my accommodation thgrough Booking.com. They have really good deals (especially with their “Genius” program that you become a member of after few reservations) and in most of the cases, if you plans change, you can cancel the reservation without any extra costs. I also value them for a really good customer service that I had to use few times.

In Baku I stayed at Check-in Hotel & Hostel and I have nothing but good things to say about it. It has the rating of 9.3/10 on Booking and these high notes are very well deserved. I had a spacious private room that was super clean, just like the whole property. The location was a bit away from the center but close to the train and metro station. Common room was a great place to meet fellow travellers. And the best thing was the price, only around 15€/night, in the high season. I can definitely recommend this place! Click here to see more details and current rates!

In Sheki I stayed at Beaming House and it was really good too, with really hospitable owners. It has the rating of 8.9/10 on Booking and is located half way between bus station and the old town. The room was also spacious, it just lacked air-condition but the fan did the trick. Click here to check the current rates and details of Beaming House!

Insurance – I never travel without the insurance as you never know what might happen on the road (I’ve learnt my lesson). I can recommend SafetyWing that offer the insurance dedicated to travelers just like you and me. Check the insurance options for your trip here!


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visiting Azerbaijan


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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Tati
    02/08/2018 at 20:13

    No wonder my friend from Baku is so fond of his city!!!

    • Reply
      kami
      11/08/2018 at 13:20

      I can perfectly understand that!

  • Reply
    Tom S
    03/08/2018 at 10:41

    Thank you for sharing this Kami and it seems you really enjoyed your trip. I will add this destination to my list : ) – Tom, London

    • Reply
      kami
      11/08/2018 at 13:21

      Thank you Tom! Yes, I indeed enjoyed it a lot! Fingers crossed you can make it there one day too! Happy travels!

  • Reply
    Ricardo Ribeiro
    06/04/2019 at 19:16

    Where is that beatiful place with stained glasses? I am arriving in the country tomorrow.

    • Reply
      kami
      06/04/2019 at 20:41

      it’s in Sheki, I definitely recommend visiting the city too!

  • Reply
    Arif Ismayilov
    25/04/2019 at 19:20

    hey, I’m from Sheki, I’m very glad that you liked your travel to my town! It is relly adorable! Come agan!

    • Reply
      kami
      27/04/2019 at 16:57

      It is very charming indeed! I would love to go back one day. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Mohammad Ali Sangi
    22/05/2019 at 22:23

    Really amazing country with cultural values

    • Reply
      kami
      26/06/2019 at 01:24

      indeed!

  • Reply
    Linn
    19/07/2019 at 21:14

    Hi:) Thanks for sharing your impressions of Azerbaijan! I’m going there in October. Can I ask how many days you will recommend for Sheki (including a daytrip to Kis)? And how many for Baku? Which of these two cities would you sacrifice if you were short on time? I’ll visit both, but will stay longer in only one of them. Last but not least; how did you manage to take photos inside the palace in Sheki?;) I have heard it’s forbidden!:(

    • Reply
      kami
      20/07/2019 at 12:46

      I think you can do Sheki+Kis in one full day, or 1,5 if you are lazy. And Baku in 1-2 days. It’s indeed forbidden to take pictures inside the palace in Sheki. The one in here was taken in the winter palace where it was allowed

  • Reply
    CmaLaRey
    29/07/2019 at 12:00

    Hey, I am leaving to Azerbaijan on a one week trip tomorrow. Just last piece of advice to calm my mind :D ::Are Sheki and Xinaliq safe for solo female travelers, especially when I am not booking any hotels in advance, but will turn up at the place and seek (I have a few contacts and names of hotels ). Are the home stays in xinaliq really safe for solo female travelers?.

    • Reply
      kami
      31/07/2019 at 12:28

      I visited Xinaliq only as a day trip from Baku and didn’t stay there overnight but I don’t think it’s unsafe there. As for Sheki – I felt very safe there on my own, although I booked a place to stay in advance. But in general I found Azerbaijan to be a safe country and the locals were very friendly and hospitable. You should be fine!

  • Reply
    brian
    24/02/2020 at 09:12

    Hi Kami. Nice blog! Wonder where you take picture of the colorful glass?
    Gonna have 2 days in Azerbaijan soon before heading to Groegia and Armenia

    • Reply
      kami
      05/05/2020 at 07:42

      Hi Brian, I took it in Sheki in the Winter Palace. You can stop in Sheki before heading to Georgia. This is a really lovely place, worth visiting!

  • Reply
    Shaig
    14/10/2020 at 22:09

    I’m really happy you enjoyed it! I almost heard the same story from tourists who visited Azerbaijan, they say “Azerbaijan is far more touristy than we thought!”.

    • Reply
      kami
      16/10/2020 at 11:19

      It really was! But I still enjoyed visiting Azerbaijan a lot!

  • Reply
    zoher daginawala
    29/12/2022 at 09:49

    hi
    once again i followed your travel article
    and visited Azerbaijan, as per your recommendation i visited sheki ,and stayed there for 3 days ,i had a wonderful moments
    i visited nakchivan autonomous republic an exclave of azherbaijan ,the place was awesome with huge spacious roads and park -this was among the most amazing place i visited ,i would like to request you to visit and cover this place in your article for your readers -and i visted few more places in azherbaijan and as i was travelling in late november the weather was great-and was glad to experience colours of autumn

    • Reply
      kami
      30/12/2022 at 18:33

      Thank you! I was hoping to visit Nakchichevan too but eventually didn’t have enough time. Maybe one day I will be able to go there, it’s such a unique place that it definitely sounds interesting! All the best!

  • Reply
    Discountler
    04/04/2023 at 09:59

    Azerbaijan is a very interesting and not expensive destination. The Turkish architectural influence is clearly felt. Thanks for the detailed article!

    • Reply
      kami
      11/04/2023 at 19:36

      I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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