What do you look for when visiting a country? We think the best of the bunch seamlessly blend history, modern excitement, and a beautiful landscape…and that brings us to our current location. With our guide to Azerbaijan tourism, we’ll explore all three – from the cosmopolitan streets of Baku, to the strange and unique mud volcanoes, all the way to the Caspian Sea.
Want to learn more about Azerbaijan?
When is the best time to visit Azerbaijan?
Baku is good to visit year round, though it can get a bit chilly during winter (nothing a Canadian can’t handle however). The shores of the Caspian Sea are pleasant most of the year while late spring and early summer is arguably the best time to visit the lowlands. Mid summer is the best seasons for exploring the higher mountains.
Where is Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan is located in the Transcaucasia region, which straddles the border of Asia and Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the north; Armenia and Georgia to the west;, Iran to the south; and the Caspian Sea to the east; (as well as Turkey if you count a disputed zone).
Unless you’re from Turkey or Israel, you’ll need a visa to visit Azerbaijan. You’ll have to pay and apply ahead of time, and honestly it can be a bit of a trial. Plus, you’ll need a Letter of Invitation approved by the foreign ministry.
How do I get around Azerbaijan?
Getting around Azerbaijan can be done in a couple ways – mainly train or by car. Most major highways are fine, although many of the roads beyond that are not in great shape. You should, if possible, avoid trains due to criminal activities (especially on long trips).
Language in Azerbaijan
The majority of people in Azerbaijan speak Azerbaijani, though you will hear other minority languages in certain areas. Russian and English are often taught as second languages, though you’ll really only have luck with English in major cities and some high-end tourist centres.
Someone asks you to name one of the coolest emerging cities in Europe (or Asia for that matter)…what do you choose? We’re not saying it’s the only answer but Baku should definitely be in the conversation. As Azerbaijan moves forward in the post-Soviet era, Baku has sped ahead of the pack and become a truly modern and cosmopolitan giant. While the stunning Old City sits in the centre as a reminder of the country’s illustrious past, it’s the rush of energy throughout the bars, clubs, restaurants, cafes, and shops that make Baku a true gem. Combining the modern elegance of some of the Middle East’s megacities with the classical air and history of a European capital (and the fun that goes along with it) may not be easy, but Baku certainly makes it seem so.
While no other Azerbaijani city can quite compete with Baku when it comes to being a must-see destination, that doesn’t make much difference when you see what the landscape has to offer. The smaller city of Shaki is beautiful in its own right (especially for lovers of historical architecture), but the setting itself is something else. On the doorstep of the Greater Caucasus, the gorgeous and rugged mountains stretch off into the distance as far as the eye can see – and you should make it a point to discover them for yourself.
Like Shaki, Zaqatala is located in the northern part of Azerbaijan and (also like Shaki) it rests in the centre of some of the region’s most beautiful landscapes. Rivers, mountains, and hills – the surrounding area offers some stunning views, great hiking, and leisurely strolls sure to appeal to anyone with even a passing infatuation with the outdoors. There’s not a whole lot to the town itself, but then again that’s not why you’re here.
Located in the south of the country (close to Iran) lies the (Caspian) seaside city of Lankaran. Like many of the cities outside of Baku, there isn’t a huge amount to do here but it still serves as a great waypoint to the countryside while also keeping visitors entertained for long enough. The claim to fame within the city itself is its unique cuisine, which takes some of the best Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours to form delectable dishes.
Speaking of the Caspian Sea, (technically the world’s largest lake) it’s one of the globe’s great natural landmarks – and hugely important to Azerbaijani culture and history. There are some good resorts along the shores, where visitors can swim, fish, boat, or just relax. Though the Sea borders many other countries, it’s in Azerbaijan where you’ll find the best waterside locations.
Not so much a place as a unique geographical feature, you can find more mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan than anywhere else in the world. These are pretty much exactly what they sound like, with the geothermal formations continually producing a strange mud-like substance as opposed to the more traditional lava. We might use the term ‘otherworldly’ a fair amount to describe stuff like this, but considering Mars is believed to feature a substantial number of mud volcanoes we feel that it’s warranted here.
Flights to Azerbaijan
A round-trip flight between Toronto Pearson and Baku starts at about $1300 Canadian. There are other airports you can fly into, but they are all more expensive (plus you should definitely be visiting Baku anyways). Be sure to shop around to find the best deal possible!
How much does it cost to visit Azerbaijan? ($$$)
Once you’ve arrived in Azerbaijan, you’ll find that prices are for the most part about on par with Western Europe. Accommodation can range from about $15 to $100 (with more expensive, albeit nicer options in Baku). Food, for the most part, is pretty cheap, and expenses of about $9 a day cover plenty on a mid-range budget. Overall however, Baku is a fairly expensive city but you can save if you tough it out a little with more Spartan accommodation.
*Cost rating on a scale of ‘$ to $$$$’, or ‘cheapest to most expensive’
Is Azerbaijan safe?
While there is no nationwide advisory, a high degree of caution is recommended throughout the country due to crime. In addition, you should avoid travel to Nagorno-Karabakh, as the political situation there is very unstable. You should be wary of petty crime and assaults in Baku, especially at night and in entertainment areas or public transportation. Finally, be warned that road conditions in the country are generally pretty poor – so be careful if you plan on driving.
For more on travel safety, check out the Canadian Travel Advisory for Azerbaijan.
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