Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan) is a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus and is variously considered part of Europe or Asia. It is nicknamed the Land of Fire. Initially a part of the Persian Empire, the country was ceded to the Russian Empire in the late 19th century.
|Baku Region |
The political, economic, and cultural centre of Azerbaijan with capital Baku. Oil has been extracted here since 1871.
|Ganja Region |
Gateway to Azerbaijan with one of the oldest Caucasian cities, Ganja, and the well-known petroleum spa resort and the centre of medical tourism in Azerbaijan, Naftalan.
|Sheki Region |
A beautiful green Caucasian mountain region bordering Georgia, and containing Azerbaijan's loveliest city, Sheki.
|Northeastern Azerbaijan |
An ethnically diverse region in the Greater Caucasus mountains covered with lush green forests, and beautiful beaches and luxury resorts along the Caspian Sea.
An exclave bordering Turkey to the west.
|Southern Azerbaijan |
|Talysh Region |
Mountainous souhtwest of the country largely occupied between 1994-2020 by the UN-unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Since 2020 most parts of it are under Azerbaijan's control.
There are 71 urban settlements in Azerbaijan with the official status of a city (Azerbaijani: şəhər). However, only 3 of them have population more than 300,000 people — Baku, Sumqayit and Ganja — and Sumgayit is de facto a suburb of Baku today. Here are the most important destinations to explore in the country:
- 1 Baku — The capital and largest city of the Caucasus.
- 2 Ganja — Azerbaijan's second largest city has a long history, some important sites and an interesting and manifold architecture.
- 3 Lankaran — Southern city near the Iranian border.
- 4 Nakhchivan — The administrative capital of Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan exclave.
- 5 Qabala — A new resort town deep in Caucasian Mountains, which has taken its name given from the archaeological site about 20 km southwest.
- 6 Sheki — A beautiful city in the forested Caucasus Mountains with lots to see and do. It has one of the largest densities of cultural resources and monuments that span 2,700 years of Azerbaijani history.
- 7 Shemakha — The capital city of Shirvanshahs before Baku.
- 8 Sumqayit — Due to its industrial plants, the Blacksmith Institute, a US environmental pollution agency, ranked the city as the first in the most polluted cities of the planet, both in 2006 and 2007.
Notable national parks and reserves
- Qobustan National Historical-Artistic Reserve — Best known for its rock petroglyphs (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and mud volcanoes. Mud volcano wise, a better option might be the free site a little further south, see Baku Region.
- Göygöl National Park — About 25 km further afield from Ganja, near Toğanalı. A hiking and leisure destination, whose lake was formed during a strong earthquake in 1139.
- Ismailli State Reserve — A national park, also offering some fancy hotels.
Notable towns and villages
- 9 Khinalug (Xinaliq) — A scenic, remote and ancient mountain village, and the mountain of the same name nearby. Once a centre of Zoroastrianism; today the few inhabitants are an ethnic isolate believed to be descendants of the Caucasus Albanians (unrelated to modern-day Albanians of Albania).
- 10 Nabran (Nebran) — Nabran is rich in many recreational facilities offering a wide range of services: luxury accommodations, sports activities, children's camps and music entertainment venues.
- 11 Quba — Its urban suburb is home to the largest Azerbaijani Jewish community in the mountains and is considered one of the largest Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union.
- 12 Lahich — A cozy and remote highland village, and potential "base camp" for tracks to Quba through the Caucasus Mountains.
- 13 Qax — A gateway into the Caucasian Mountains besides Sheki, and "base camp" for treks towards Sarıbaş and into the Alazan Valley .
- Nij (Nic) — Enormous village of endangering Christian ethnic group, the Udins.
- Göygöl — A must visit German town in the suburbs of Ganja, formerly named Khanlar (Xanlar) and Helenendorf, founded by German farmers from Bavarian Swabia. Today, the town remains an old German neighbourhood in excellent conditions and partly renovated, including a Lutheran church. A local museum shows the finds (e.g. bronze weapons, jewels, pottery, etc.) extracted from a large cemetery excavated in 1990.
- Shamkir — Another by Germans populated town. There are cognac and wine plantations.
- Shahdag Ski Resort — in Northeastern Azerbaijan.
- Ski Complex "Tufan"[dead link] — near Gabala in the Sheki Region.
- 14 Naftalan — A well-known petroleum spa resort, the centre of medical tourism in Azerbaijan.
- Beaches of Absheron Peninsula and Northeastern Azerbaijan. This region is home to the top-rated beaches and luxury resorts of the Caspian coast.
|Currency||Azerbaijani manat (AZN)|
|Population||10.1 million (2021)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|Emergencies||112, 101 (fire department), 102, 103 (emergency medical services)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Ever at the crossroads between east and west, Azerbaijan has seen the comings and goings of several great empires.
Some of the country's best attractions are the Gobustan petroglyphs. These are the markings of people who lived in the area 40,000 - 5,000 years ago. Scythians and Iranian Medes occupied the area in around 900–700 BCE. The Achaemenids made things interesting by introducing Zoroastrianism in around 550 BCE. Later, the area was on the fringes of Alexander the Great's empire and the Roman Empire.
Christianity came in the fourth century but disappeared when the area became part of the second Islamic (Umayyad) Caliphate in the 7th century. Various local kingdoms emerged after the Umayyad Caliphate fell in 750 CE, before the Mongols conquered Azerbaijan in the 11th century.
After the various Mongol empires withdrew, the area fell to the Persians. Persian control was not tight and highly independent khanates controlled the region until the Russian Empire expanded southward in the early 19th century. Oil was first drilled here in the late 19th century.
The fall of the Russian Empire saw the brief emergence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918. However, Lenin realized that the region's oil was vital to the Soviet army and, along with Georgia and Armenia, Azerbaijan was rolled into the USSR by the 1920s. Azerbaijan's oil was vital again to the Soviets in the Second World War, in which 250,000 of the country's 3.4 million people were killed at the front.
As Soviet control weakened in 1991, the mostly ethnic Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region, backed by Armenia, fought for independence from Azerbaijan, and ethnically cleansed its Azeri population. Azerbaijan lost 14% of its territory and gained some 800,000 refugees and internally displaced, and also ethnically cleansed its Armenian population. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh has yet to be fully resolved, and to this day, Armenia and Azerbaijan are in a state of war. Armenian troops continue to ensure a significant part of Karabakh remains beyond Azeri control, and occasional minor skirmishes continue to break the cease-fire agreement. Since independence, Turkey has been Azerbaijan's closest ally, though unlike U.S.-aligned Georgia, relations between Azerbaijan and Russia remain cordial.
The majority of the population (over 92%) is composed of Azeris, who share a culture very similar to Turkey. Ethnic Azeris are also Iran's largest ethnic minority, with Iran having a larger Azeri population than independent Azerbaijan, although over time the influence of Russian and Persian culture produced some differences between the Azeris of Azerbaijan and the Azeris of Iran. In particular, almost two centuries of Russian and Soviet rule have brought a very liberal attitude towards Islam among the Azeris of Azerbaijan, who nevertheless remain mostly Shi'ite Muslims.
Following independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has allowed Western European companies to develop its extensive energy resources and its oil production has skyrocketed especially since the mid-2000s. Despite this and related investments, most of the new-found wealth remains in the hands of a few people. While downtown Baku is thriving with new buildings and a growing middle class, much of the country's countryside remains poor and relatively undeveloped. The government remains strongly authoritarian.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Azerbaijan during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
These are the nationally recognized holidays for people living in Azerbaijan.
- New Year (1–2 January)
- Women's Day (8 March)
- Victory Day (9 May)
- Republic Day (28 May)
- Day of National Salvation of Azerbaijan People (15 June)
- Day of Military Forces of Azerbaijan Republic (26 June)
- State Sovereignty Day (18 October)
- Constitution Day (12 November)
- National Rebirth Day (17 November)
- Solidarity Day of World Azerbaijanis (31 December)
- Novruz Bayram – 5 days
- Gurban Bayram (Day of Sacrifice) - 2 days
- Eid el Fitr (post-Ramadan celebration) 2–3 days
Azerbaijan is known for having nine of the 11 existing ecological zones. Much of the country is temperate year-round. Nation-wide the average temperature for the year is 14-15°C (57-59°F). The Caucasus Mountains protect the country from the Arctic air masses that affect Russia in winter while the Caspian Sea shields it from the hot, dry air of Central Asia in the summer. Temperatures in the winter are cool (0-10°C/32-59°F) at lower altitudes and along the coast and drops moderately as you head inland and drastically as you head into the mountains (-20°C/-4°F) is possible in the Caucasus Mountains). Summers range from warm to hot (20-40°C/68-104°F) and humid throughout most of the country, although breezes off the Caspian provide some relief along the coast. Nakhchivan is quite different, high and arid, summers here can easily surpass 40°C (104°F) while winter nights often drop below -20°C (-4°F)...in fact the country's extreme minimum and maximum (-33°C/-27°F & 46°C/115°F) were both recorded in southern Nakhchivan!
Snow is rare in Baku and along the coast in general while common inland and copious in the mountains, where many villages may be cut off during the winter. The southern forests are the wettest part of the country, with plenty of rain in late autumn and early spring. The western central coast is fairly dry. Lankaran receives the most annual precipitation (1600–1800 mm/63–71 in) while the region around Baku averages 200 mm (8 in). Baku is very breezy, much like Chicago or Wellington, most of the year.
Much of the large, flat Kura-Araks lowlands (Kur-Araz Ovaligi) are below sea level with the Great Caucasus Mountains towering on the northern horizons. The Karabakh uplands (Qarabag Yaylasi) lie to the west, while Baku is situated on the Apsheron peninsula (Abseron Yasaqligi that juts into the Caspian Sea.
The lowest point is the Caspian Sea at -27m (-89 ft) with the highest point being Bazarduzu Dagi at 4,466m (14,652 ft)
Absheron Yasaqligi (including Baku and Sumgayit) and the Caspian Sea are ecological concerns because of pollution from oil spills that date back more than a century ago. Heavy car traffic in the capital contributes to heavy pollution as well.
Azerbaijan's number one export is oil. Azerbaijan's oil production declined through 1997 but has registered an increase every year since. Negotiation of production-sharing arrangements (PSAs) with foreign firms, which have thus far committed $60 billion to oilfield development, should generate the funds needed to spur future industrial development.
Azerbaijan shares all the formidable problems of the former Soviet republics in making the transition from a command to a market economy, but its considerable energy resources brighten its long-term prospects.
The government has begun making progress on economic reform, and old economic ties and structures are slowly being replaced. An obstacle to economic progress, including stepped up foreign investment in the non-energy sector, is the continuing conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Trade with Russia and the other former Soviet republics is declining in importance while trade is building with Turkey and the nations of Europe. Long-term prospects will depend on world oil prices, the location of new pipelines in the region and Azerbaijan's ability to manage its oil wealth.
Electricity is supplied at 220 V 50 Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travelers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Azerbaijan.
Additionally, some older buildings may be still equipped with Soviet-era outlets. The Soviet GOST-7396 standard was very similar to the current European CEE-7/7 "Schuko plug", but the pins were of a 4.0 mm diameter, while the Schuko features 4.8 mm pins. As such, the pins of a Schuko may be too large to fit into a Soviet-era outlet, although the smaller Europlug will still fit. Although the Soviet-era outlets have largely been phased out, travellers who are particularly concerned with having the ability to plug in at all times may consider packing an adapter for the Soviet-era outlets too, just in case.
Also, make sure to bring your own automated voltage adapter because the electricity in Azerbaijan short circuits and "jumps" a lot and many items may get damaged if you don't bring the adapter.
- Main article: wikipedia:Visa policy of Azerbaijan
In 2016 Azerbaijan introduced a new single-entry eVisa for citizens of the following countries:
- All European Union member states, as well as Andorra, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, San Marino, Serbia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Vatican City
- Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, and Vietnam
The eVisa costs US$20, plus $4 for administration fee, is valid for 30 days within the next three months after application, and can be purchased at evisa.gov.az – photocopy of your passport, and address of your stay needs to be provided. Caution: there is a fake official website: evisa.com.az – also providing visas but requiring you to purchase an overpriced tour or expensive hotel.
A visa is not required for stays of 90 days or less for citizens of Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
A 30-day visa on arrival may be obtained only when arriving by air by citizens of Bahrain, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey (60 days) and United Arab Emirates.
Citizens of the United States may also obtain a visa on arrival at Heydar Aliyev International Airport, but only if arriving via a direct flight of Azerbaijan Airlines from New York City.
Citizens of Iran may obtain a 15-day visa on arrival for Nakhchivan only.
For citizens of all other countries visas can be obtained by mail or in person from any Azerbaijani embassy offering consular services. A letter of invitation (LOI) from a contact in Azerbaijan is required.
Foreigners staying in Azerbaijan for longer than 15 days should register with the State Migration Service within 15 working days of arrival. Failure to register within this time frame will incur a fine of 300 manat (2019). The registration is free and can be done online by submitting copy of the passport and filled in application form or in person at specially designed offices of State Migration Service (one of such offices will be opened eventually at the Train Station, however it was closed as of 2015). Hotels may provide this service for their guests, but travellers are strongly advised to ensure the registration has been completed indeed as hotels are more than often skip doing it.
Citizens of Armenia and those of Armenian descent are barred from entering Azerbaijan. In addition, foreigners carrying Armenian goods or goods with Armenian labels will be asked to discard them at the port of entry.
The primary international gateway is Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku (GYD IATA), with additional international airports (whose international routes are basically just Moscow and Istanbul) found in Nakhchivan City (NAJ IATA), Ganja (KVD IATA), and Lankaran (LLK IATA).
National air company AZAL (Azerbaijan Airlines) is the main carrier which flies to Ganja, Nakhchivan, Tbilisi, Aktau, Tehran, Tel-Aviv, Ankara, Istanbul IST, Istanbul Sahiha Gokchen, Antalya (seasonal), Bodrum (seasonal), Dubai, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kyiv, Rostov-on-Don, Ürümqi, Mineralniye Vodi, Milan, London (daily) and Paris, Prague, Rome. Lufthansa also has a couple flights a week to Baku (which continue onwards to Ashgabat). Turkish Airlines is another carrier connecting Baku with and via Istanbul. Also, there are several Russian, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Iranian, and Austrian airlines connecting Baku with several cities of the world.
Qatar Airways flies 2 flights a day, one to Tbilisi and one to Doha connecting to their global network.
- Baku Taxi Services, email@example.com. Airport pick up and drop off. 33 manat for Baku - Airport or Airport - Baku. Up to 3 passengers. Reliable and local rates to other locations. English is spoken.
Direct trains connect Azerbaijan with Georgia (Tbilisi) and Russia (Moscow and Rostov). Timetables are here. Click on the earth for international timetables. The Russian border used to be closed to non-CIS passport holders but it is now open to everyone with respective visas.
There is an overnight train connecting Tbilisi, Georgia and Baku. Heading out of Azerbaijan, this costs 26 manat. This route is being modernized as part of a project, financed in part by Azerbaijan, which includes the construction of a rail segment from Akhalkalaki, Georgia with Kars, Turkey. This long-delayed rail link from Georgia to Turkey opened on 30 Oct 2017, initially for freight only. The start date and timetable for passenger trains has not yet been announced.
There is a domestic train line running from Astara on the Iranian border to Baku and a 300 km connector line is being buiit from Astara to Qazvin, Iran to connect the Azerbaijani and Iranian rail networks.
For those planning to visit the exclave of Nakhchivan, there is a rail service to Mashad in Iran.
There are roads to all cities of Azerbaijan. They are not really wide and most of them have only two lanes. Local travel agents can arrange private cars to the borders. Some Georgian travel agents such as Exotour can arrange pickup in Baku to delivery in Tbilisi. Although more expensive than bus or train, it will be faster and can be combined with sightseeing along the way. Azerbaijani customs used to request payment of a deposit of several thousand US dollars for foreign cars, however, as of 2020, restrictive customs rules on importing older cars and requiring large deposits are a thing of the past.
A minibus also runs from the Georgian border at Krazny Most (Red Bridge) and should cost about 10 or 12 manat (or 25 lari). It can be picked up at either side of the border (don't worry if they ask you to pay on the Georgian side - they turn up to pick you up. Insist on bringing your own bags across, however). Journey time to Baku should take about 8 hours. Driving in Azerbaijan is a genuinely scary experience. Virtually all drivers have scant regard for the rules of the road and the standard of roads themselves is shockingly poor. It is emphatically not for the faint-hearted, so whilst the long train might challenge your stamina they won't your nerves. Check AZAL flights from Tbilisi-Baku well in advance for some reasonable deals.
Return to Tbilisi can be caught at the indescribably chaotic bus station, which doubles up as an eerily quiet shopping-centre (take bus 65 from outside Double Gate in the old town for the 20-min trip, which leaves you with a 400 m long dodgy stretch of road/highway with pestering taxi-drivers on which to walk: cost 0.20 manat) or simply taxi it from the centre for approx. 15 manat (worth it!), which saves on hassle. Both buses and minibuses are available from this station directly to Tbilisi, about 12 manat for both. Bus counter 26 at very back of ground floor. The bus is a few hours slower and not guaranteed to pick you up once you cross the Georgian border, so minibus is preferable.
- See also: Ferries in the Caspian Sea
There is no ferry or cruise service with any other country on the Caspian Sea. Be forewarned that the much talked about "ferries" on the Caspian are simply cargo ships with some extra space to take on passengers. Getting a ride on one of these "ferries" is no easy task. First you must find the notoriously difficult to find ticket office, which basically keeps track of ship which are departing. If you manage to find the ticket office and manage to get a booking, you still have little idea of when the ship will depart. Give them a phone number to reach you and be prepared, they may call you an hour or two prior to departure... two days after the first departure the office gave you and the day before the second departure date they gave you! This is only the first of you troubles. After paying for your place on the boat (about US$50–100), the captain and perhaps other crew members will expect an additional amount to get a bed and a shower. You are expected to bring your own food. The crossing will only take 1 day (Turkmenistan) or 2–3 days (Kazakhstan). Most ships go to Turkmenistan, where ships must wait for an open berth... so you can wait 2–5 days on the boat just waiting for a place to dock! Unless you are on a very small budget or have a bike and especially if you are on a short timeschedule, you should pay twice as much (~US$200–250) for a one way airfare to Kazakhstan, Russia, or Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
By bus or marshrutka
Buses and marshrutkas (aka minibus aka converted delivery van) connect most cities. There is often a hub such as a bus station near the bazaar in these cities.
Marshrutkas are quite crowded on the intra-city routes in Azerbaijan. It is common for 15 people to crowd into a 10-person marshrutka, and do not feel shy in doing this. It is normal, if you are standing, for someone to take your bag and hold onto it until either you or they disembark. Men usually ride in the rear of buses and marshrutkas, while women sit in the front, and it is customary for men to give their seat to a lady entering the bus. Lastly, Azerbaijan is not a queue-forming society, and this especially applies to bus and marshrutkas.
A common rule of thumb for bus rates in Azerbaijan seems to be about 1 manat per hour ride or for every 40-50 km—everything else is touristic overcharge, stand your ground and get the help of other passengers.
With a few exceptions, trains in Azerbaijan are night trains that connect Baku with distant regions of the country. There is also a daily fast train to Ganja, daily slow train to Shirvan and a frequent suburban train to Sumqavit. Timetables here: https://ady.az/az/tables/index/52/44 The international Nakhichivan - Mashad train can used for trip within the Nakhichivan exclave: https://ady.az/az/news/read/312/43
Taxies require some negotiating skills. But using a calculator (smartphone!) to agree on a price works.
Most taxi drivers simply double the price for tourists. So, halving it while negotiating and doing the walk-away trick, should reveal the genuine price. (Doubling a price is seemingly much easier than tripling it.) Otherwise, just use Bolt (a taxi app for your mobile and widely used in cities around Azerbaijan) as indicator or/and negotiator, or just book through it.
General prices are ⅓–½ manat/km. It gets cheaper (per km) the longer the ride.
With Bolt (or others), you can even book a taxi for trips far away from the big cities in which it is offered, as long as you start from where it is offered, e.g. Ganja to Tbilisi for 70 manat, or Baku to Shamakhi for 40 manat, i.e. even crossing border. But make sure the taxi driver actually understand what he is willing to do there. However, the trips out of larger cities can be time efficiently, since you do not have to head to several bus stations, etc. first before you finally get the long distance ride. This way, you take a taxi to the road frequented by the long distance options and simply take you continuing ride there.
Ride-hailing is available in Azerbaijan. The most anticipated provider is Bolt, which works in Baku, Ganja and Sumgayit.
Azerbaijan is a country with a high number of road accidents—traffic rules are often not respected. The poor state of the roads and the lack of lighting make it advisable to avoid driving after dark. The drink-drive limit is zero.
Highway kilometers overview:
- total: 36,700 km
- paved: 31,800 km (includes some all-weather gravel-surfaced roads)
- unpaved: 1,900 km (These roads are made of unstabilized earth and are difficult to negotiate in wet weather.)
Note that Baku and Azerbaijan in general have many automated speed cameras, and it is not uncommon to get a ticket—which will be sent via SMS directly to the car owner. So, don't be surprised when you have to pay a little extra when giving back the car. Locals say, 60 manat for a weekend trip is not uncommon.
By rental car
Due to remote location of many sights and scarcity of attractions in this otherwise huge country, it can be meaningful to rent a car. The most common rental company is the Azeri AZNUR, which competes well on prices with the big international companies. A budget car for 4 days starts from US$100 with a deposit of US$150. Be cautious when using the common price comparison sites for rental cars. They often try to sell you overpriced full coverage insurances or charge other unnecessary fees right before confirming the booking, especially via mobile and when not being attentive in reading the conditions.
As a man hitchhiking is generally possible and easy. However, sometimes to often people expect a little money for taking you along the way, pretty much like in Iran. A woman on its own on the other hand will cause confusion and potentially unexpected behaviour, and should therefore be not undertaken.
Azerbaijan is an excellent place for hiking and trekking, providing many interesting trails. The Caucasus, Göygöl National Park, Quba or Khinalug, just to name some destinations. However, due to the often remote nature of these trails, it is important that you are well prepared and have a proper and reliable map with you. In addition, using GPS adds an extra layer of safety, both in cities as well as the countryside. For reliable (offline) maps and comprehensive trails and map information, consult OpenStreetMap, which is also used by this travel guide, and by many mobile Apps like OsmAnd (complex with many add-ons) and MAPS.ME (easy but limited).
The official language of Azerbaijan is Azeri, spoken by 90-95% of the population. Azeri is a Turkic language closely related to and, to a large extent, mutually intelligible with Turkish. As obvious as it may sound, if you are fluent in Turkish or know enough to "get along", getting around Azerbaijan will be a cakewalk. Bear in mind that it's a lot easier for Azerbaijani speakers to understand Turkish than the other way around.
Unlike Iran, which uses the Perso-Arabic script to write Azerbaijani, the Azerbaijanis here use the Latin script to write their language. Until 1991, Azerbaijan used the Cyrillic script.
Russian is spoken by the vast majority of Azerbaijanis and it is widely considered the lingua franca of the country.
English is not that widely spoken, but it is gradually becoming a more popular foreign language. You're more likely to find an English speaker in Baku or a tourist hotspot.
- There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country; The walled city of Baku with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower as well as the Rock Art Cultural Landscape of Gokustan.
- Neft Daşları – City above the sea, the first operating offshore oil platform in the world, located 55 km from the nearest shore in the Caspian Sea.
- Mud volcanoes which spout up in over 300 locations nationwide, constitute more than half the total throughout the world, each site with its own character
- Caspian Hyrcanian forests found near the Iranian border
- Tears of Kyapaz a string of seven idyllic mountain lakes near Mount Kyapaz and Nagorno-Karabakh
- Hang around in a smoky tea house, have a pivo or tea, and play dominoes.
- Try to attend an Azerbaijani wedding
- Contrary to reports, Azeri wine is more than drinkable, and whilst not as tasty as their Georgian or Armenian counterparts, is still a pleasant treat! Find a local drinking-hole and while away the hours!
- Buy local souvenirs and carpets. Don't be put off by the pestering stall-keepers. Persevere, be prepared to haggle, and you can get some really wonderful bargains!
- Visit Maiden Tower for wonderful views of the city
- Take in the breathtaking views of Flag Square, Baku Crystal Hall and the Caspian Sea from Martyr's Alley
- Wander around the Old Town aimlessly - really try to get lost and soak up the atmosphere in this wonderful old town
- Visit the beautiful Palace of the Shirvanshahs
- Walk along the promenade, just as the locals do
- Baku and Absheron
- Southern Route: Baku – Salyan – Bilasuvar – Jalilabad – Masalli – Lenkaran – Lerik – Astara
- Nakhchivan Route
- Western Route: Baku – Hajiqabul – Kurdemir – Yevlah – Tar-Tar – Naftalan – Ganja – City of Goy-Gol – Dashkesen – Shamkir – Gadabey – Tovuz – Agstafa – Gazakh
Azerbaijan is well-known for carpets.
Exchange rates for New Azerbaijani manat
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency of the country is the New Azerbaijani manat (yeni manat), denoted by the symbol "", or sometimes by m. or man. (ISO currency code: AZN). It is divided into 100 gapiz. Wikivoyage will use manat in its articles to denote the currency.
The "old" manat was replaced by the "New Azerbaijani manat" on 1 January 2007, so do not accept old manat. New banknotes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 manat and metal coins of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20 manat and 50 gapik (0.5 manat) circulate. The banknotes are of a uniform design somewhat reminiscent of euro banknotes since the same designer worked on both sets.
Manat and Georgian lari can be changed in towns near the border, and in Georgia.
Azeri cuisine (azərbaycan mətbəxi) might not seem diverse to Western Europeans, but it is worth trying. Most of the dishes contain a lot of meat (including fat) and vegetables. Bread is a staple, and is quite revered by the people of Azerbaijan.
Piti is a national dish. It is made with mutton and vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, chickpeas), infused with saffron water to add flavour and colour, all covered by a lump of fat, and cooked in a sealed crock. Worth trying Şəki version of this dish (boiled chestnuts are used instead of potato), if you are there.
Cabbage, grape leaves, and eggplant wrapped meat (kelem, yarpaq, badimjan - dolmasi), kabab (kebab), rice with different variety of toppings (plov - It is said that plov is the king of Azerbaijani cuisine), gutabs and meatballs (kufta) are some of the several specialties of Azerbaijan. Yarpaq dolmasi is often considered to be the national dish.
Georgian food, in particular khachapuri (a cheese-filled bread), along with some Russian staples (borsh, crepes/bliny) have become common throughout Azerbaijan. Other cuisines such as Turkish, Italian, Asian, and American fast food, can be found in the biggest cities.
There are several soups that you might want to try: bozbash, buglama, ashgara (lamb with chestnut). Try Çoban qovurma (lamb stew with vegetables).
Some local drinks include ayran (a yoghurt drink based on sour milk) and sherbet (made from rose petals or saffron). There are also different sorts of quite decent wines produced from local grapes and a wide array of mineral waters from natural springs.
In some areas of Azerbaijan the markets offer lemonades (limonat/dushes) made from pears or tarragon.
Note: In general, it is forbidden for females to enter tea houses and drinking establishments. Drinking in general is also taboo for women in rural Azerbaijan. It's not a problem in Baku.
There is a good selection of hotels in Baku, including many Western European chains, but options elsewhere in the country are limited but nevertheless growing. Prices for the hotels start from US$60. Rental apartments might be a good choice as they are cheaper than hotels and sometimes are even more comfortable.
Since many hostel-like places and guest-houses are popping up rapidly and randomly everywhere in the country (like in Sheki and Ganja), they are often poorly signposted, and from the outside a great hostel might look like an ordinary apartment. Hence, make sure beforehand to get a detailed description (including GPS) of where to find the place and which apartment to ring at. Otherwise, you might be lost forever and even locals won't know where this newly popped up place is.
You can get the information you need about Azerbaijan from the hotels where you will stay. They have different guides for Azerbaijan. Also at some new bus stations in Baku there are maps of the capital.
The developing economy of Azerbaijan is in dire need of highly qualified personnel. But nevertheless, the immigration laws here are extremely strict, and it will not work just like that if you are not a highly qualified specialist or businessman invited by a local company or organization. There are practically no ordinary labor migrants and immigrants from other countries in Azerbaijan, with the exception of rare people from southern Russia (for example, from Dagestan), Eastern Turkey and ethnic Azerbaijanis from neighboring Iran. There are qualified experts and businessmen from developed countries in Azerbaijan, but they are not enough for such an economy.
There is unemployment and low wages in Azerbaijan itself, and many citizens of this country go to work in Russia (over 1.5 million people) and Turkey (over 500 thousand people), as well as to other countries. The average salary in the regions of the country is $ 300.
See the warning box at the top of this article for information about the war taking place in and around Nagorno-Karabakh as of Nov 2020.
Robbing and pickpocketing in the capital Baku, especially in poor and sparsely populated areas is possible but rare and is higher across the capital at night. Common sense is useful as in all other countries. Also watch your stuff in public transport.
Criminals posing as police officers have sometimes stopped foreigners and stolen documents and money. If you are stopped on the street by a person in a police uniform, be cooperative but ask to see a badge or ID card.
Azerbaijan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
Corruption is widespread. But as a foreigner you have a fairly strong position in refusing to pay "hörmet" (bribe). Never give any bribe. Often Azeris are so ashamed of their corrupt economy, that they might hide it from you anyway.
Although the country has a myriad of fantastic photo opportunities, it is illegal to take photographs of anything of strategic importance, i.e., military sites and equipment. If you are in doubt, simply ask.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has been in a state of war with Armenia. Clashes and skirmishes along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border are not uncommon. Generally speaking, you have little reason to go to areas near the Armenia-Azerbaijan border as those areas have nothing that interests tourists.
Although homosexuality was decrminalised in 2000, homophobia is widespread in Azerbaijan. The cultural and societal abhorrence against the LGBT community is far-reaching.
There are no laws in place to protect the rights of LGBT people and same-sex marriages are formally banned in the country.
If you are LGBT, it is strongly recommended that you do not exhibit your sexuality in public; openly displaying your orientation may invite harsh words or at worst, violence.
- When outside of the city, try to travel during the day time, unless you take a night train. The roads can be treacherous at night due to unseen potholes and dimly lit cars.
Emergency contact numbers
- Ambulance: 103
- Fire: 101
- Gas Emergency: 104
- Speaking Clock: 106
- Police: 102
You must speak in Azeri, Turkish or Russian to communicate your needs. It would be a good idea to memorize key phrases before coming to Azerbaijan - see the Talk section for phrasebooks.
Make sure your diphtheria, tetanus, and Hepatitis A & B immunizations are up to date. Malaria is a risk in lowland Azerbaijan, particularly around the border with Iran. Anti-malarials are not a must for Baku, but the risk is present in rural areas not far from the city.
Water should not be consumed unless from a sealed bottle. Bottled soft drinks or boiled drinks, such as tea or coffee, also reduce risks.
Toilets at bus stations charge 0.20-0.40 manat.
Azerbaijanis are a very reserved but very polite and well-mannered people.
- When you are invited into an Azerbaijani home, make sure to bring them a gift. Anything is fine from flowers (be sure to get an odd number of flowers, as an even number is associated with funerals), to chocolate (but not wine and other alcoholic beverages), and indeed something representative from your country. In Azerbaijani culture it is the thought behind the gift, rather than the price, that matters.
- When you arrive at the house take off your shoes just outside or immediately inside the door, unless the owner explicitly allows you to keep them on. Even then, it might be more polite to remove your shoes. You may be offered slippers to wear.
- Azerbaijanis respect elderly people, so in a bus, tram, subway and in other forms public transportation, young(er) people will always offer you a place to sit if you are an old(er) person as well as a handicapped person or a pregnant woman or have children with you. It is considered polite to let women first to board and leave the bus, tram, subway and in other forms public transportation or to enter and leave a room.
- It is respectful to bend slightly (not a complete bow) when greeting someone older or in a position of authority. Younger people always initiate greetings with older people or those in a position of authority.
- If you do not know the person well, use their first name followed by an appropriate honorific. For women, use Xanım – pronounced "hanm" ("Mrs."). For men, use Cənab – pronounced "jenab" ("Mr"). If they do speak English use their last name preceded by the appropriate English honorific "Mr." or "Mrs.". The English honorific "Ms." does not exist in the Azerbaijani language.
- Women are traditionally treated with respect and chivalry. Female travellers should not be surprised or alarmed if their male Azeri friends take the initiative to pay the bills at a restaurant, open every door in front of them, or help them carry items or objects. Male travellers should understand that these nuances will be expected by Azeri women, even if you're not in a romantic relationship with one.
Things to avoid
- Do not insult or speak badly of the Aliyev family. This is punishable by imprisonment.
- Do not mention or have a discussion about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Almost every Azerbaijani family has at least one member among the thousands that have been killed in or internally displaced by the conflict. Discussing it can very easily arouse strong emotions so approach the subject with respect and caution.
- Do not mention or have a discussion about Armenia. Feelings of hatred against Armenians are widespread in Azerbaijan.
- Avoid photographing railways, subway stations, and other objects which the authorities may think to be of "strategic" importance. Foreign railway buffs have been reportedly detained by the authorities on suspicion of espionage.
- Be careful about having a discussion about Iran. Many Azerbaijanis regard Iranian Azerbaijan as Azerbaijani territory waiting to be liberated from Iranian rule.
Even though 95% of the population is nominally Shiite Muslim, Azerbaijan is a strictly secular state and by and large an agnostic and non-religious nation. This is true both in large cities as well as in villages and rural areas. Despite seeing themselves as Muslims, Azeri men often drink alcoholic beverages, and this is widely accepted, probably due to the Russian and Soviet legacy. Still, drinking is rare among women and almost never occurs between men and women in rural areas or socially conservative families. Unrest in Iran, Iraq and Syria in the 21st century has made the government very strict about religious clothing and symbols and prompted greater secularization and stricter control of the southern borders. Any religious signs, flags, slogans in public and proselytizing (missionary activity) for any religion are prohibited by law. Any violation will result in fines, imprisonment, and in case of foreigners, deportation from the country. Don't assume that anyone you do not know believes in God or has a passion for Islam or in other faiths. Investigations into people's faith is largely unwelcome, and outside places of worship, displays of your faith should be kept private. Saying grace for example, is likely to be met with bewilderment and silence. Religious attire such as Muslim headscarves, Kippahs or even T-shirts with religious slogans, will – while tolerated – also make many Azerbaijanis feel uncomfortable. However, it is acceptable to wear small necklaces with religious symbols. Those with long beards may arouse the suspicion of the authorities.
Social custom and etiquette breaches
- Don't blow your nose during meals, even discreetly.
- Don't pick your teeth during meals, even discreetly.
- Don't put your feet up while sitting and try not to show the bottom of your feet to someone.
- Don't point with your finger at someone.
- Don't chew gum while having a conversation and during public occasions.
- Better not to touch someone without permission.
- Don't bear hug or back slap someone, especially in formal situations and occasions and with someone you just met and/or you do not know well enough.
- Don't raise your voice or shout in public, especially on public transportation.
- Don't use swear words during conversation or while talking to oneself in public and also among friends.
Other things to watch for
- Don't smile at a stranger in the street: they will not only think you are odd, but may feel insulted. Smiling is traditionally reserved for family and friends; smiling at a stranger without addressing them, will be interpreted as your making fun of them or that there is something wrong with their clothes or hair. However, a sincere polite smile when addressing a person is appropriate and will be appreciated (an automatic "Western smile", grinning, is widely regarded as insincere). Smiling is still very rare in customer service, as sales assistants, public servants and the like are expected to look serious and businesslike. Even show hosts very rarely smile. Hence the very common misconception about Azerbaijanis is, that they are a cold people and never smile – they do, once they get to know you, and become very welcoming and kind.
- Public displays of affection in larger cities and tourist resorts is tolerated but might invite unnecessary stares from the public. In more rural areas it is frowned upon and is to be avoided. Gay and lesbian travellers should avoid any outward signs of affection.
- You will notice how Azerbaijanis tend to keep their voices down in public places. Do not raise your voice in a conversation. A decent silent conversation is the Azerbaijani way of doing business and will be much appreciated. Talking on a mobile phone on public transportation and in restaurants is considered normal, unless the conversation is loud and too "private".
- Littering is considered to be very bad manners and you may be fined. There are many waste containers and trash cans on the sidewalks and near most stores.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Homosexuality is no longer criminalized in Azerbaijan, but the negative stigma still is strong throughout the country. Same-sex relationships are not recognized by the government or accepted by society, and showing your sexual orientation openly is very likely to draw stares and whispers. The few establishments geared towards homosexuals are almost exclusively in Baku and are mostly underground. Azerbaijan is not the happiest place in the world for LGBT travellers; be quite cautious when travelling as a LGBT traveller.
For numbers given in the form (0cc)xxx xx xx, the "0" is the trunk prefix and cc the area code. To call from abroad, dial +994ccxxxxxxx. For calling in the country, dial 0ccxxxxxxx, or from local landlines xxxxxxx.
There are three mobile operators: Azercell, Bakcell, Nar Mobile, Azerfon-Vodafone.
- Azercell is the largest one. To dial an Azercell number you need to dial (050) or (051) and then the number. Only with Azercell can you talk in the metro (subway) in Baku.
- Nar Mobile is pretty cheap but doesn't work in some regions. For dialing Nar Mobile numbers you need to dial (070) and then the number.
- Azerfon-Vodafone is new operator have 3G. For dialing Azerfon-Vodafone numbers you need to dial (077) and then the number.
- Bakcell is ok. It works almost everywhere and is cheaper that Azercell. To dial a Bakcell number you need to dial (055) and then the number.
The numbers have a "0" + 2 digit code (different for each operator) + 7 digits number. For example (050)xxx xx xx, (051)xxx xx xx, or (055)xxx xx xx, or (070)xxx xx xx, or (077)xxx xx xx. Remove the zero when using the +994 prefix.
You can buy cards for use with different operators almost in every store.
The area codes were changed to two figures in 2011. Baku, Sumqayit and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic kept their area codes (12, 18 and 36, respectively), other areas have area codes in the range 20–26.