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Azerbaijan travel guide
Azerbaijan is commonly referred to as “The Land of Wonders”, and indeed there is so much packed into this obscure Eurasian nation. Nestled in the Caucasus Mountains yet sharing its entire eastern coast with the Caspian Sea, the country boasts of such natural wonders as the mud volcanoes, multiple hot springs and the Yanar Dag, a continually burning natural gas pit.
Manmade wonders also abound – Ateshgah Fire Temple, Maiden Tower, the futuristic Flame Towers and numerous castles, mosques, monasteries and fortresses. Or consider the cultural delights of tasting national Azerbaijani cuisine, relaxing by the expansive Caspian Sea or visiting an isolated mountain village, where endangered languages are still spoken and traditional lifestyles maintained.
No simple description can do adequate justice to Azerbaijan, so we recommend reading through the Azerbaijan Travel Guide so you can prepare to come and experience the Land of Wonders in person!
General information about Azerbaijan:
Capital of Azerbaijan: Baku
Population: 10.1 million (2019)
National Language: Azerbaijani
Religion: Islam – 96.9% (Shi’a 85%, Sunni 15%), Christian – 3%, other - .1%
Electricity: 220V AC, 50 Hz; type C and F round two-pin plugs are standard
Time zone: GMT+4
International dialing code: +994
Azerbaijan currency: Azerbaijani Manat
When should I go to Azerbaijan?
Thanks to Azerbaijan’s location between the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea, this tiny country has almost every climate zone in the world.
Indeed, to see Azerbaijan at its absolute best, plan your visit in spring (April-June) or autumn (September-October). Spring comes to life with wildflowers and green pastures, while fall sees typically mild weather and autumn colors. You’ll also avoid the influx of travelers in July and August, the country’s peak tourist season.
June-September, however, is the ideal season for a trip to the cool Caucasus Mountains or a vacation along the Caspian Sea coast. It’s the driest, sunniest time of year. Baku and the central region are hot and humid, but the occasional windy day can lower the temps and leave you in want of a jacket.
Late October and November tend to see more precipitation and unpredictable weather – November can see lovely autumn temperatures or snowfall, just depending on the year.
Winter is ideal for avid skiers, but expect cold weather and regular rain or snowfall. The exception is the Caspian Sea coast, which has more temperate weather than the rest of Azerbaijan. Unless you’re comfortable with winter conditions, though, plan your visit from end of March-October.
One perk of visiting in December, however, is traveling to Sheki to see the traditional equestrian sports competitions, only held at this time of year.
In summer, consider visiting The Gabala Music Festival, a 10-day classical music jubilee held each year at the end of July or beginning of August in Gabala, Azerbaijan.
Navruz (Persian New Year), an Azerbaijan holiday celebrated on March 21, is the most significant holiday in Azerbaijan, prepared for and anticipated weeks in advance. Tourists who plan their trip around this holiday will not be disappointed, as this festival of color, life and tradition is the perfect way to welcome the coming of spring.
What is the best time to visit Baku?
Baku, Azerbaijan is very humid and frequently sees winds that blow through unexpectedly, earning it the nickname ‘The Windy City’. The ideal time to visit the capital and many of the cultural sites around it is in spring or autumn.
March-April are the windiest months, but you’ll avoid the crowds this time of year and enjoy the warming weather and a city in bloom. May to July is hot and humid, but you won’t have to worry about rainy days. It’s peak tourist season for Baku, when the parks and city center come to life and markets are filled with juicy fruits and fresh vegetables.
September is a great time for tours, as the heat has begun to abate and the summer tourists have all returned home.
The New Year holiday is celebrated in full force in Baku. Fireworks, a huge New Year tree, Santa Claus and citywide activities create an air of festivity and anticipation for the holiday.
Which countries do not need a visa for Azerbaijan?
Citizens of 9 countries can stay in Azerbaijan visa-free for up to 90 days:
Citizens of countries not listed above may obtain a 30-day, single-entry visa online (81 countries), upon arrival to Azerbaijan international airports (13 countries) or from an Azerbaijan embassy, with regulations varying depending on your passport country.
For more detailed information on Azerbaijan tourist visas, registration regulations and to determine which rules apply to your passport country, please refer to our Azerbaijan Visa Requirements page.
What airlines fly into Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan Airlines, Emirates Airlines and Turkish Airlines are the largest providers of flights to and from Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport, but the capital is served by a number of airlines:
Flights from Frankfurt, Paris, London, Kiev, Istanbul, Ankara, Dubai, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tbilisi, Tashkent, Almaty and Ashgabat all fly regularly, in addition to routes out of multiple smaller cities.
Further information regarding specific routes, flights times and ticket purchases may be found on the airline websites or by contacting our travel agents.
Can you travel to Azerbaijan by land?
Azerbaijan is bordered by Iran, Russia, Armenia and Georgia. The Nakchivan Autonomous Republic also borders Turkey. While the border with Armenia is closed, it’s possible to enter Azerbaijan from any of the other countries.
There are three borders with Iran and Georgia, two with Russia and one with Turkey (via Nakhchivan). The borders with Russia and Turkey are open 24 hours, as are most crossings with Iran and Georgia. The exceptions are the Astara crossing with Iran and the Sadikhli/Vakhtangisi crossing with Georgia, open from 9:00-17:00 and during daylight hours, respectively.
To travel to or from Armenia, you’ll need to first pass through Georgia.
There’s also a night train running between Baku and Tbilisi every day that takes approximately 12 hours. Tickets cost 25-35 USD for a sleeper car; departure and arrival times given are only estimations.
Ferries from Aktau, Kazakhstan and Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan also run on an erratically frequent basis. Ferries generally depart every 1-2 days and the trip can take anywhere from 24 hours to a couple of days, depending on the weather, cargo situation and availability of docking space at port. Ferry rides cost approximately $80 on the low end and $160 on the high end, depending on the route, ship and type of ticket you purchase. All the ships can accommodate bikes and vehicles.
Is Azerbaijan safe for tourists?
Azerbaijan is a country of hospitable, patient people and tourists are rarely victims of crime. On the contrary, most are genuinely impressed by the kindness of the local people.
Traffic laws are not as widely observed as in other nations. Exercise caution when crossing the street and don’t hesitate to demand safe driving practices from your taxi driver if he becomes reckless. Avoid night travel outside of the city when possible, as not all stretches of road are well-maintained.
If asked by police officers to pay a fine, do not pay unless there is an official reason to do so. Some tourists have been duped by individuals posing as police officers, and a few officers themselves may unlawfully ask for bribes.
Avoid breaching the topic of the Nagorno-Karabakh disputed territory with Azerbaijanis or of speaking negatively about their leaders or politics. This is less a matter of safety than of showing respect for cultural sensitivities while in country.
Unlike in Armenia and Georgia, it’s advised not to drink the tap water. You can easily purchase bottled water or bring a bottle with a built-in filter with you.
Is Baku safe?
Baku, the capital and largest city, has a vibrancy even at night, and in nice weather whole families often stroll the streets well after dark. The high presence of policemen on the streets is a major deterrent to many would-be criminals.
Pickpocketing is not unheard of, particularly in Baku. You can minimize this threat by taking the usual precautions of keeping your valuables in a safe place, being discreet when handling large amounts of cash in public and not storing all of your money and credit cards in one place while wandering about.
Scams in the form of overpriced souvenirs, meals and taxi rides are not uncommon; double-check prices before making any significant purchases or ordering food, and try to get an idea of taxi fares before agreeing to a price. Better yet, order a taxi through Uber or similar local apps.
There are no restrictions that prevent women from going to bars or being out late at night, but this is not common practice for most Azerbaijani women, and these activities could result in misunderstanding your intentions or bring unwanted attention.
Is Azerbaijan solo travel safe?
Solo travelers to Azerbaijan should rest assured that most Azerbaijanis are welcoming and friendly towards guests in their country. It’s customary for local men to give up their seats for women on public transport, and those who know English are often eager to practice by helping you in any way that they can.
That being said, due to the higher prevalence of scams in the country, the language barriers and the difficulty in traveling outside of Baku, solo travel to Azerbaijan does have its challenges.
Observe common-sense precautions and when possible avoid walking alone at night, particularly in areas with large concentrations of bars or in poorly lit areas.
As with most countries in the region, the most common inconvenience faced by many lone travelers is communication, as most of the population outside of the cities only speak Azeri. Transportation issues can also cause a headache, since the country is still in the process of improving its roads and public transportation.
Thoroughly researching routes and itineraries beforehand can allow for smoother travels. For solo travelers wanting to meet up with other kindred spirits, consider joining a day tour, staying in hostels with a communal vibe and traveling during the high seasons.
Do they speak English in Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijani, also known as Azeri, is the official language in Azerbaijan. It’s spoken as a first language by more than 80% of the population and by more than 30 million people worldwide.
It’s a Turkic language closely related to Turkish, Crimean Tatar and Turkmen, although traces of Russian and Arabic are also embedded in the language. There are two dialects: North Azerbaijani, spoken in Azerbaijan and Central Asia, and South Azerbaijani, spoken by Azeris in Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
In Azerbaijan, the Latin script is the official writing system, but you’ll still see Cyrillic in wide use due to Azerbaijan’s close historical ties with Russia.
Russian is the second language of at least half the population, but outside of the cities Azerbaijani is likely the only language you’ll hear spoken. Other minority languages include Armenian (spoken only in Nagorno-Karabakh), Lezgian, Georgian, Talysh and Avar. A handful of endangered minority languages are also spoken by isolated populations in the Caucasus mountains.
English may well overcome Russian in future years as the primary second language of Azerbaijan. For now, it’s spoken by many people in the tourist industry and by some of the younger population in Baku. Outside of the capital, however, it may be difficult to find English speakers.
What’s the cuisine like in Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijanis are naturally hospitable people, and the scrumptious local cuisine is a central aspect of many of their celebrations and gatherings. Some of Azerbaijan’s most popular and well-loved dishes include:
Plov –Azerbaijan’s variations of this Central Asian dish are distinct and delicious. They add specific spices such as cinnamon and saffron, and a combination of meats, vegetables and fruits. One of the most popular varieties is shah plov, cooked inside a layer of thin crusty bread that is then peeled away to reveal a mountain of plov inside.
Shashlik – Seasoned kebabs of meat or vegetables, they’re often eaten with garnish and thin lavash bread.
Kufta bozbash - A national dish of Azerbaijan, this healthy soup consists of seasoned meatballs, potatoes, chickpeas and saffron.
Dushbara – small boiled dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables and served in a broth.
Dolma – pepper or grape leaves stuffed with spiced minced meat and rice
Shekerbura – A soft pastry stuffed with a sweet nut pastry, it’s a popular snack and dessert.
Vegetarians can also enjoy popular local dishes cooked without meat:
Dovga – Soup-like yoghurt made with chickpeas and rice and eaten either hot or cold.
Dushbara – vegetarian varieties of dushbara include garlic and tomato fillings.
Qutab – thin, fried crepes stuffed with spinach or cheese and eaten with yogurt sauce. Meat varieties are also available.
Shirin plov – a pilaf dish made with dried fruits instead of meat.
Several varieties of cheese, including smoked cheeses and white cheese, are widely available, as are ample salads and produce in every season except winter.
The most popular drinks include endless cups of black tea and a cold, sweetened fruit drink known as sherbet.
Can you drink alcohol in Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan is a secular Islamic nation – much of the local population drinks alcohol, and it can be purchased in most restaurants and shops. It’s inexpensive, sold even during Ramadan and may legally be consumed in public. Wine, beer and vodka are the most popular local choices.
Is Azerbaijan an Islamic country?
The vast majority of Azerbaijan’s population is Shi’a Muslim, with minority Sunni Muslim and Christian populations. The government is officially secular and in reality, many Azerbaijani people also live a secular lifestyle. Alcohol consumption is widely accepted, Islamic dress code is rarely observed, and few people attend mosque outside of religious holidays.
In addition to Islamic architecture, cathedrals and monasteries may also be toured in Azerbaijan.
What should I wear in Azerbaijan?
There is no enforced dress code in Azerbaijan and tourists may wear what they wish. Among the local population, however, men are rarely seen wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts and women usually avoid wearing shorts or skirts above the knee, tight-fitting or revealing clothing and sleeveless tops. Dress is more conservative outside the cities and tourist areas.
Since Azerbaijan’s weather varies greatly between the coastal areas, mountains and Baku, you’ll want to have clothing suitable for a variety of temperatures regardless of the time of year you’ll be visiting. It’s advised to pack a raincoat and a warm sweater or jacket even in summer, and comfortable walking shoes are a must year-round.
Women will want a headscarf for visiting religious sites or while traveling in very conservative areas.
What’s the best currency to take to Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan’s official currency is the manat (not to be confused with Turkmenistan manat, which will not be accepted in Azerbaijan). Manat will be very difficult to obtain outside of Azerbaijan, so it’s recommended that you bring Euros, USD, pounds or rubles to exchange for manat after arriving to Azerbaijan.
You should have no problem finding money exchange offices and 24/7 banks in Baku. There is also one at the international airport. Be sure to confirm the exchange rate and the final amount that you’ll be receiving before handing over your money or agreeing to an exchange.
The country is primarily a cash-based society, although in Baku many hotels, cafes and shops will accept foreign credit cards. Outside of the capital, you’ll need cash to pay for most services and products, so be sure to withdrawal more than enough for your travels in advance.
ATMs accepting most foreign credit cards can easily be found in Azerbaijan’s cities and towns. There are ATMs at the airport but expect the withdrawal fees to be slightly higher. Check the fees of both your home bank and the ATM bank fees for withdrawing manat, Euros or USD.
Does Azerbaijan have good internet access?
Wi-Fi is available at nearly all hotels and hostels and at an increasing number of restaurants. It may also be accessed cheaply at internet cafes in every city and town. Tourists who will only be in country for a few days may opt to only use Wi-Fi, but purchasing a SIM card is also possible.
The three primary mobile operators in Azerbaijan are Bakcell, Azercell and Nar Mobile. All three have widespread and fast coverage. To purchase a SIM card you’ll need your passport, and be prepared to pay in cash. Special packages offered for tourists start around 15USD. (Expect to pay more for SIM cards purchased at the airport).
Check the price of a SIM card and package before making your purchase, and when possible buy your SIM card at an official store. Tourists have reported being scammed by shopkeepers trying to sell SIM cardds at highly inflated prices.
Both Wi-fi and mobile coverage are poor or nonexistent in remote mountain regions.
Is Azerbaijan expensive for tourists?
Azerbaijan is the most expensive of the Caucasus destinations, yet still cheaper than many European countries, with economical options available for thrifty travelers.
Accommodation in Baku ranges from hostels to 5-star hotels, with the most basic options starting around 10 USD per night. Guesthouses, home stays, mid-range hotels and apartment rentals are also an option. If you’re planning to be in Baku from June-August, book well in advance, as good deals disappear quickly. Housing tends to cost more outside of Baku, with more limited options and prices beginning around 15-20 USD.
Meals in Baku range from 10-20 USD, while outside of the capital and tourist areas you can expect to pay 8-10 USD. Most accommodations also include breakfast, and prices can further be cut by buying products from the bazaars or eating street food in place of sit-down meals.
Entrance fees to the most popular attractions range from 3-12 USD. At some locations, two prices will be listed, one for local residents and one for tourists. This is standard practice and you’ll be required to pay the tourist price unless you actually live in Azerbaijan or the ticket officer decides to show you unusual kindness.
Visitors will be pleased to know that transportation within Baku is extremely cheap, but beware that many street taxis will try to charge exorbitant fees for tourists and falling prey to these scams can quickly drain your wallet. Public transport between cities and regions is very affordable but slow. Private taxis and cars can be arranged but will cost significantly more.
What souvenirs can I find in Azerbaijan?
There’s no lack of souvenirs to be found in Azerbaijan! The country has a long history in traditional arts, and this is reflected today in the selection of gifts to be found in the country:
Colorful silk scarves are a modern-day gift from the ancient Silk Road trail.
Carpets from Azerbaijan will make a priceless gift. Hand-woven from quality material, every region of the country produces a unique style of carpet. If price is a concern, smaller variations can also be found.
Crude oil paintings by local artist Sabir Copuroglu are a one-of-a-kind gift from a nation with a booming oil industry.
Bags, tablecloths and clothing with the traditional buta (tongue of fire) stitched into them make a practical yet distinctly Azerbaijani gift.
Local pottery in the form of dishes, vases and pomegranate figurines can be found in all colors, sizes and styles.
There are two main types of jewelry in Azerbaijan, both of which are widely available and make special gifts. Hatamkarlig is a time-consuming technique that blends precious metals together to create beautiful pieces of jewelry, and shekebe creates exquisite, lacelike pieces of gold or silver.
Edible gifts include freshly made jams, spices, nuts, teas and sweets.
Other popular souvenirs include traditional glass teacups known as armudu, local daggers and backgammon sets.
If you’ve found this Azerbaijan Travel Guide helpful, check out our travel guides for other Central Asian and Caucasus nations to learn more about the region!