Why did we enjoy our week-long trip to Azerbaijan SO much?
In the day and age of the mighty internet, it is hard to find surprises while travelling. Every little attraction has been documented or photographed by someone or the other. Perhaps that is why we enjoyed our trip to Azerbaijan so much – it was after a long time that we visited a country where there were surprises at every corner. We went expecting high-rises in Baku and historical treasures in the countryside. But we met amazing people, saw natural wonders, visited the northernmost villages of Europe, and had some of the best meals we’ve had in a while travelling. The best part? A week-long trip to Azerbaijan is affordable and offers a variety of experiences in one short trip!
As a former member of the USSR, Azerbaijan has a fraught history. The capital Baku has undergone a huge resurgence over the past 10 years. Shopping malls, high-rises, luxury hotels, and a picture-perfect promenade – you’ll find it all here. But driving out of Baku is like stepping back into time. You will find historical treasures without another tourist in sight, natural wonders untouched by tourism, and charming little mountain villages that seem to have walked out of a postcard.
Here’s a detailed guide to Azerbaijan and a day-by-day itinerary for a planning your week long trip to Azerbaijan. THIS is Azerbaijan through our eyes!
Visas and arriving in Azerbaijan
Citizens of most countries need to apply for an Evisa prior to visiting Azerbaijan. This is a seamless and straightforward process but it helps to have hotel bookings and a rough itinerary before applying for a visa.
You will fly into Baku international airport. Most international flights land at the brand new terminal, which makes for an amazing first impression. We flew on AZAL, the national carrier, and the flight as well the service was excellent. The airline operates direct flights to Baku from New Delhi and London. The airport is about 30 kilometres from the centre of the capital and it’s best to take a taxi to your hotel.
Getting around in Azerbaijan
If you’re planning to stay in Baku and do a couple of day trips around Baku, we would not suggest renting a car. That’s because traffic in Baku can be nightmarish. Moreover public transport is decent and taxis are readily available. You can also use Uber to get from one place to the other.
For day trips and even 2-3 day trips, we would suggest opting for a tour guide. This is because English is not widely understood, especially in the countryside and exploring independently can be a bit challenging. Tour guides will rent a car with a driver for you and pick you up and drop you back at your hotel. This makes it really seamless to explore places. One day trip from Baku that we would highly recommend is to Shamaki (details below)We lucked out and found an amazing tour guide in Baku. Roman is knowledgable, flexible, and extremely punctual. He also has amazing knowledge of local food joints and historical treasures. We would highly recommend him if you want to plan a short or long trip around Azerbaijan. He doesn’t have a website but you can drop him a WhatsApp message on +994 70 367 51 39 and he is extremely prompt to respond.
If you’re there in Azerbaijan for more than 5 days and enjoy independent and travel, then we would recommend renting a self-drive car after you’re done exploring Baku. We did this on our last 3 days. Read our experience below:
Suggested itineraries for Azerbaijan
Day trip to Shamakhi
half-day trip to Ateshgah and Yanardag
Day trip to Shamakhi
half-day trip to Ateshgah and Yanardag
3 day trip to Quba and Xinaliq
Explore Baku & everything it has to offer
Day trip to historical treasures of Shamakhi
half-day trip to Ateshgah and Yanardag
3 day trip to mountainous villages Northern Azerbaijan – Quba, Xinaliq, Laza
Visit Ganja and Lake Goygol
Budgeting for a trip to Azerbaijan
The amount of money you spend in a country depends heavily on the kind of hotels you stay in, the type of restaurants you visit, and the amount of shopping you do. However Azerbaijan is an extremely affordable country in general.
You can find nice luxury hotels for less than $100 per night. Hostels can be hit or miss, so if you’re on a budget we suggest opting for AirBnB apartments in Baku and elsewhere.
Food is incredible everywhere you go. You can get delicious street food for $2-$5. Sit down meals at nice restaurants cost approximately $15 per head.
Renting a car with a driver costs approximately $100 for 1 day. You can negotiate cost of excursions with tour agents or guides. Rates are competitive and affordable. For a self-drive rental, expect to pay around $30-$40 per day for an economy car.
Food – what to eat in Azerbaijan
I feel like I was to pen poetry for Azeri food. To say it’s good would be the understatement of the year. Make sure you try local drinks such as Ayran (yogurt-based drink), Feijoa juice (pronounced fek-ua, the local fruit is used in drinks all over Azerbaijan), and aerated pear juice. Don’t forget to stop at one of the many supermarkets along the way to sample local fruits and vegetables. Most of the fresh produce in Azerbaijan is organic and tastes incredible.
If you eat meat, you’re in for a treat in Azerbaijan. Try the Lyulya/Lule kebabs (mince-meat skewers), dolmas (steamed grape leaves stuffed with minced meat), and chicken kebabs. Stick to local specialities and avoid ordering fish as it is expensive and not the best.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there are lots of options for you too. Try vegetarian dolmas, qutab (flatbreads stuffed with spinach), fresh curd, vegetarian piti (soup), local cheeses, and pilaf (rice, seasoned with local flavours).
Best time to visit Azerbaijan
The best time to visit the country is between March and June and then from September to November. This is because it gets very hot during peak summer months (July and August) and a lot of the mountainous roads are blocked or snowed under during winter months (December- February). However if you want to visit just Baku and Shamakhi, then December is also a good time to visit as the roads in this area are good and you can witness snow-laden panoramas.
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Hello from Azerbaijan 👋💜💜 We’ve wanted to explore the country for ages and promised we would do it in 2019! The windy capital, Baku, is full of glittering high-rises, and shopping malls. But we spent our first day walking around the old centre of Baku where cobbled alleys and carpet shops set the tone, with the aroma of freshly-baked sweets & flatbreads wafting from hole-in-wall eateries. That might have tempted us into having baklava for breakfast – don’t judge 😂😋 ✨ ✨ #bruisedpassports #love #travel #ExperienceAzerbaijan #azerbaijan
Packing for Azerbaijan
This is tricky. We visited Azerbaijan in October and got everything from bitterly cold and windy days to scorching heat. I would suggest packing at least one light jumper and one jacket, irrespective of when you visit. Pack more if you’re going during winter months. It can get really windy in Baku as well as the countryside so carrying a light windcheater definitely helps.
Azerbaijan is a fairly progressive country, so you will see locals wearing short skirts and sleeveless tops, especially in Baku. However conservative clothing is preferred in the countryside. We would recommend packing at least a few dresses and trousers that cover your knees and arms, especially for trips to the countryside and visits to mosques.
Some tips and warnings for exploring Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is a super safe country to explore. Azeris are friendly and while English isn’t widely understood, they are always willing to help
However do keep a couple of things in mind. Restaurants often tend to overcharge tourists by bringing “specials” to the table or including caviar in a mixed platter of kebabs etc. For this reason, we would recommend ordering only off the menu and taking a screenshot of the menu for reference in case there is a discrepancy in the bill
Similarly, always set a fixed rate with taxi drivers before you get into a local taxi or they might overcharge you for the shortest of distances. You can also avoid this altogether by using Uber or moving around with a tour guide.
Day by day breakdown of a trip to Azerbaijan
I’ve never really seen a city like Baku. One minute you’re surrounded by glittering high-rises and luxury hotels, the next you have tiny eateries and colourful carpet shops in a local market. You could think of it as a mix of Abu Dhabi & Marrakech. We suggest spending at least 3 days in the city.
Accommodation in Baku
We stayed at Intourist Hotel in Baku. The luxury hotel has spacious rooms and a great location, right opposite the Baku Eye. Service and breakfast buffet is mediocre. So you might want to choose another hotel such as Fairmont Baku (located in one of the flame towers) or Four Seasons Baku if you enjoy your luxuries.
If you’re on a budget or travelling with family, then we would recommend booking a centrally located apartment on AirBnB. Choose one in downtown Baku or the old centre so that you are close to the main sights of the city.
There is no dearth of nightclubs, restaurants, and sightseeing opportunities in Baku. But here are some things you should definitely do in Baku
- Walk along the waterfront promenade to acquaint yourself with Baku. From here you can see a glimpse of the iconic Flame Towers, Baku Eye, the Caspian Sea, and many other prominent landmarks of the city
- Spend a morning at Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre and admire the gorgeous architecture
- Go on a walking tour to the carpet museum, and Little Venice. Drop by Nizami Street for a spot of shopping and lunch. You will find high street shops, designer boutiques, cafes, and restaurants in the area.
- You should also spend a few hours walking around the Old City – admire the colourful carpet shops, pick up a souvenir or two, sample Baklava from a hole-in-the-wall eatery, visit the Maiden Tower, and the Shirvanshah Palace
- Pack a shawarma and take the funicular to Highland Park at sunset or once it’s dark. It offers an amazing view of the the city’s skyline and the Flame Towers.
- There are dozens of amazing restaurants in Baku but 2 mid-range restaurants we really recommend for scrumptious Azeri Meals are Shirvanshah Museum Restaurant and Qaynana restaurant. A meal at either of these will cost you around $15 per person and it’s well worth it. Both restaurants are beautifull, so expect walls adorned with carpets and rooms dotted with traditional artefacts. You will definitely want to take your camera along for these meals.
- Visit Hyder Mosque (a bit of an offbeat gem at the moment), especially at night when it’s all lit
- Take a half-day tour to Ateshgah and Yanardag. At Yanardag, trapped gas deposits ensure a . Ateshgah is a temple of great significance to the Zoroastrians.
- You could also take a day trip to the dramatic cliffs and mud-volcanoes of Gobustan. While this isn’t a particularly scenic part of Azerbaijan, it’s a great place to observe natural phenomena such as spitting mud volcanoes and Palaeolithic carvings. We will forgive you for thinking you are on Mars.
If there is one day trip we recommend from Baku, it is to Shamakhi. You don’t need to start too early from Baku and can easily leave after breakfast. Stop at the shrine of Diri Baba, a Sufi dervish, who spent his life in a cave, carved into a rock. The fascinating site dates back to the fifteenth century.
Next, stop at the magnificent Juma Mosque. Make sure you are wearing something that covers your elbows and knees. Women also need to carry a scarf to cover their head. The intricate and gorgeous Mosque is a photographer’s delight and the best part is, there are rarely more than a handful of people around.
You could also head to the neighbouring Yeddi Gumbaj, a cemetery overlooking the city of Shamaki. But this is easily skippable as it isn’t anything special.
At this point, you can start your drive back to Baku. But if you have an extra night, we’d really recommend spending a night in Tufandag or Shamakhi, surrounded by mountains on all sides. Shamakhi Palace Hotel is an opulent luxury hotel, as the name suggests. But it is quite affordable coming at under $90. Rooms are spacious and boast of gorgeous views overlooking mountains. Don’t leave without sampling their incredible breakfast spread – you will find everything from fresh fruits and pastries to Azeri style eggs and potato cakes on the menu.
Drive back to Baku
Spend a night in Baku as your trip to Northern Azerbaijan starts next. We’d suggest just relaxing but if you’re up for it you can always walk down to the waterfront promenade or even the highland park.
Quba and Xinaliq
You can book a 3 day trip to Guba and Xinaliq with any travel agency or tour guide.
However after exploring the surroundings of Baku with a guide on our first 4 days in Azerbaijan, we decided to rent a car for this part of our trip. Roads in Northern Azerbaijan (especially between Guba & Xinaliq) can be quite hit and miss with lots of dirt tracks and mountain bends, so we would suggest doing this only if you are an experienced driver. We suggest comparing prices on economybooking for the best deal. We rented with Avis and the process was seamless. Car rentals start at around $40 per day and fuel is really cheap In Azerbaijan (around $0.5 per litre – perks of being an oil stronghold!).
Quba is a 3 hour drive from Baku. However set aside at least 5 hours for the drive because you definitely need to stop at Candy Cane Mountains on the way. The scenic spot is just an hour away from Baku and comprises of these gorgeous mountains, ideal for a hike and some photographs. The stripey mountains are a unique site but you might have them all to yourself, especially if you go on a weekday. Please beware that there are only 8-10 striped mountains at this spot, so keep a lookout for them while driving
You can stay in an apartment or hotel in Quba. We suggest Shahdag Hotel Guba. You could think of it as a clean 3-4 star hotel, which is the best you’ll get in the city centre. It is affordable, rooms are spacious, and WiFi is good. Breakfast is passable and it even has a terrace restaurant for lunch and dinner. In case you want to venture out for a meal, there are a handful of restaurants in Guba. Of all the restaurants we tried in Guba, a doner shop opposite our hotel and restaurant Sarin (10 minute walk from the hotel) were the best.
Xinaliq is the highest village in Europe and a must stop on your visit to Northern Azerbaijan. It takes an hour and a half to drive to Xinaliq from Quba. But keep lots of time for stopping along the way because the scenery and mountain roads are absolutely spectacular
If you enjoy truly local experiences, then we suggest spending 1 night at a home stay in Xinaliq. They’re extremely humble rooms in locals’ houses, so this is ideal for solo travels and couples. We don’t suggest doing this if you’re travelling with family or have too much luggage. But if you do, you’ll be greeted warmly. Do not expect elaborate meals but there’s no shortage of Azeri tea and flatbreads stuffed with spinach.
If you’re not staying in Xinaliq, just drive back to your accommodation in Quba for the night. The couple of days we spent driving in the Northern part of Azerbaijan made for a special road trip through the Azeri countryside.
Sheki and Ganja
If you have some more time we would highly recommend continuing onto Sheki and exploring the surrounding of Ganca city, especially Lake Goygol National Park. We couldn’t cover this part on this trip owing to paucity of time but can’t wait to return to explore these beautiful parts of Azerbaijan.
I hope this answers all your questions about planning an incredible trip to Azerbaijan. If you have any other questions, leave them down below and we’ll definitely answer them soon 🙂