|Currency||Azerbaijani manat (AZN)|
|Population||9.4 million (2013)|
|Electricity||220±0 volt / 50±0 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|Emergencies||112, 101 (fire department), 102, 103 (emergency medical services)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan) is a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus and variously considered part of Europe or Asia. The country lies on the Caspian Sea between Russia and Iran and is bordered to the west by Georgia and Armenia. The autonomous exclave of Nakhchivan lies between Armenia and Iran with a short border with Turkey. It is nicknamed the Land of Fire.
|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 cities in the Caucasus, Ganja, and the well-known petroleum spa resort and the centre of medical tourism in Azerbaijan, Naftalan.
|Sheki Region |
A beautiful green Caucasus mountains 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 |
Ethnic Armenian region controlled by an unrecognized independent government. Only accessible via Armenia.
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 suburb of Baku today. Here are the most important destinations to explore in the country:
- Baku — The capital and largest city of the Caucasus.
- Ganja — Azerbaijan's second largest city has a long history, some important sites and an interesting and manifold architecture.
- Lankaran — Southern city near the Iranian border.
- Nakhchivan — The administrative capital of Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan exclave.
- Qabala — A new resort town deep in Caucasian Montains, which has taken its name given from the archaeological site about 20 km southwest.
- 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.
- Shemakha — The capital city of Shirvanshahs before Baku.
- 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 mightbe 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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Lahich — A cozy and remote highland village, and potential "base camp" for tracks to Quba through the Caucasus Mountains.
- 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 (eg 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" — near Gabala in the Sheki Region.
- 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.
Ever at the cross-roads 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 also the Romans'.
Christianity came in the fourth century but left when the area became part of the second Islamic (Umayyad) Caliphate in the 7th century. Various local kingdoms emerged after the Caliphate fell in 750 CE, before the Mongols took charge 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. The 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 ethnic Armenia Nagorno-Karabakh region, backed by Armenia, fought for independence from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan lost 14% of its territory and gained some 800,000 refugees and internally displaced. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh has yet to be fully resolved and relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are far from cordial. Armenian troops continue to ensure Karabakh remains beyond Azeri control, and occasional minor skirmishes continue to break the cease-fire agreement.
The majority of the population (over 90%) is composed of Azeris, who share a culture very similar to Turkey. Ethnic Azeris are also a significant share of Iran's population, 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 colonialism and Soviet rule have brought a very liberal attitude towards Islam among the Azeris of Azerbaijan, who nevertheless remain mostly Shi'i Muslims.
Following independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has allowed western 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. Government remains strongly autocratic.
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 mild (0-15°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 600 mm (24 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 where 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 220V 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 shocked if you don't bring the adapter.
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, Macedonia, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, San Marino, Serbia, Switzerland, 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, 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.
If you have an Armenian name, you will not be issued a visa, no matter what country you hold citizenship in.
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 10 days should register with the State Migration Service within 10 working days of arrival. Failure to register withing this time frame will incur a fine of 300 manat (2015). 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.
The primary international gateway is Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku, with additional international airports (whose international routes are basically just Moscow & Istanbul) found in Nakhchivan City, Ganja, & Lankaran.
National air company AZAL (Azerbaijan Airlines) is the main carrier which flies to Ganja, Nakhchivan, Tbilisi, Aktau, Tehran, Tel-Aviv, Ankara, Istanbul Atatürk, Istanbul Sahiha Gokchen, Antalya (seasonal), Bodrum (seasonal), Dubai, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kiev, 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, e-mail: 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), Russia (Moscow and Rostov) and Ukraine (Kharkov) via Russia. Timetables are here https://ady.az/az/tables/index/52/44 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. Pay attention to the fact that Azerbaijani customs will request you to pay a deposit of several thousand US dollars for your car.
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 Tbilis-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.
There is no ferry or cruise service with any other country on the Caspian. 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.
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
- total: 36,700 km
- paved: 31,800 km (19,760 mi) (includes some all-weather gravel-surfaced roads)
- unpaved: 1,900 km (1,181 mi) (These roads are made of unstabilized earth and are difficult to negotiate in wet weather.)
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.
Buses, minibuses (marshrutka), and taxis connect most cities. There is often a hub such as a bus station near the bazaar in these cities. The fares for buses and minibuses are posted usually in both old and new manat (qupik).
Taxies on the other hand require negotiating skills, and this usually takes a proficiency in the language that ordinary non-Azeri/Russian/Turkish speakers do not have.
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.
Azeri is the official language. This is a Turkic language, closely related to Turkish itself. However, English is spoken in places frequented by Westerners, especially Baku, where Russian is now declining. Outside of Baku it wise to still either bring an Azeri phrase book and/or brush up on your Azeri/Turkish/Russian before arriving. About 80% of population at least understands Russian, and about half the people under the age of 35 will speak at least a little English. English is well catered for in most shops, restaurants and bars as a result of more than 15 years of expats from the oil industry. It might be difficult to talk to people in English in remote areas or even just outside of Baku. However, often they will know someone that knows English, call or get them and use them as translator.
- See also: Azerbaijani phrasebook
- See also: Turkish phrasebook
- See also: Russian phrasebook
- 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
Exchange rates for New Azerbaijani manat (₼)
As of January 2018:
The "old" manat (AZM), were replaced by "New Azerbaijani manat" on 1 January 2007, so do not accept old manat.
New banknotes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 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 can be changed into Georgian lari, and the other way around, in towns near the border, and in Georgia.
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.
Bread is a staple, and is quite revered by the people of Azerbaijan.
Georgian food, in particular kajpuri (a cheese-filled bread), along with some Russian staples (borsh, creps) have become common throughout Azerbaijan. Other cuisines such as Turkish, Italian, Asian, Western & fast food, along with Asian food can be found in Baku.
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 taragon.
Note: In general, it is forbidden for females to enter tea houses and drinking establishments. Drinking in general is also taboo for women in the regions. Baku, however, is very open on this topic.
There is a good selection of hotels in Baku, including many Western chains, but options elsewhere in the country are limited. 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.
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.
There is a great deal of work to be done in Azerbaijan from teaching and NGO work to work in the oil and tourism sectors.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Things to avoid
- At all costs, do not insult or speak badly of President Ilham Aliyev his direct predecessor his father, the late President Haydar Aliyev, and the Aliyev family in general, who rule Azerbaijan. This carries a prison sentence, or if you are a foreign citizen, the remote possibility of deportation from the country. In late 2009, two young men were sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for depicting President Ilham Aliyev as a donkey giving a news conference in a video that was put on YouTube.
- At all costs, do not mention Armenia and the Armenians and the very bitter Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that has been ongoing with neighboring Armenia which controls the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Azerbaijan lost 14% of its territory and has some 800,000 refugees and internally displaced persons as a result of the conflict. Bitterness and hatred against Armenians run very high.
- 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.
- Even though 95% of the population is Shiite Muslim, Azerbaijan is a strictly secular state is by and large an agnostic and non-religious nation. This is true in large cities, in villages and in rural areas. 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. 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.
- Don't 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
- 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 Azerbaijan. Same-sex relationships are not recognized by the government and showing your orientation openly is very likely to draw stares and whispers. The few establishments geared towards homosexuals are almost (if not exclusively) in Baku and are mostly underground. Azerbaijan is not the happiest place in the world for GLBT travellers; be quite cautious when travelling as a GLBT traveller.
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 3 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 You can buy cards for use with different operators almost in every store.
Akchabedi 113, Agdash 193, Agsu 198, Agstafa 244, Astara 195, Babek 136, Baku 12, Balaken 119, Berde 110, Beylagan 152, Bilesuvar 159, Dashkesen 216, Devechi 115, Gandja 22, Gedebey 232, Goranboy 234, Goichay 167, Hajigabul 140, Horadiz 141, İmishli 154, İsmayilli 178, Jebrayil 118, Jelilabad 114, Julfa 36, Kurdemir 145, Lenkeran 171, Lerik 157, Masalli 151, Mereze 150, Mingechevir 147, Nabran 156, Naftalan 255, Nakhchivan 136, Neftchala 153, Oguz 111, Ordubad 136, Qakh 144, Qazakh 279, Qazi Memmed 140, Qebele 160, Qobustan 150, Quba 169, Qubadli 133, Qusar 138, Saatli 168, Sabirabad 143, Salyan 163, Samukh 265, Sederek 136, Shahbuz 136, Shemaki 176, Sheki 177, Shemkir 241, Sherur 136, Shirvan 197, Siyezen 190, Sumgait 18-64, Terter 246, Tovuz 231, Ujar 170, Khachmaz 172, Khanlar 230, Khizi 199, Khudat 172, Yardimli 175, Yevlakh 166, Zagatela 174, Zerdab 135.