Welcome to Azerbaijan, a hidden gem nestled between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. This vibrant and diverse country offers a unique blend of rich history, stunning landscapes, and warm hospitality, making it a perfect destination for adventurers looking to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations. From the modern city lights of Baku to the peaceful countryside of Sheki and the breathtaking mountains of Guba, there is something for everyone in Azerbaijan.
Backpacking in Azerbaijan is an exhilarating experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the country’s fascinating culture, sample delicious local cuisines, and embark on thrilling outdoor adventures. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or a thrill-seeker, Azerbaijan has it all.
Before you start packing your backpack, there are a few things you should know. Firstly, Azerbaijan has a visa-on-arrival system for most nationalities, so make sure to check the specific requirements for your country. Secondly, the local currency is the Azerbaijani Manat (AZN), and while credit cards are widely accepted in major cities, it’s always a good idea to carry some cash for smaller establishments and remote areas.
When it comes to safety, Azerbaijan is generally a safe country for travelers. However, it’s always important to take precautions like anywhere else in the world. Be aware of your surroundings, avoid walking alone at night in unfamiliar areas, and take care of your belongings.
Now that we have the essentials covered, let’s dive into a 1-to-3-week itinerary that will take you on an unforgettable adventure through the wonders of Azerbaijan.
What to Know Before Backpacking in Azerbaijan
Before setting off on your backpacking adventure in Azerbaijan, it’s important to have some essential knowledge to fully enjoy your trip. Here are some key things to know:
Most visitors to Azerbaijan can obtain a visa on arrival at the airport or border crossing. However, it’s crucial to check the current regulations and requirements for your specific nationality before traveling. Some countries may require an e-visa or a visa obtained in advance.
The official currency of Azerbaijan is the Azerbaijani Manat (AZN). While credit cards are widely accepted in major cities, it’s advisable to carry some cash for smaller establishments and remote areas. ATMs are readily available, providing a convenient way to withdraw the local currency.
The official language of Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani, but many locals also speak Russian and English, especially in tourist areas and larger cities. It’s helpful to learn a few basic phrases in Azerbaijani to communicate with locals and show your appreciation for their culture.
Azerbaijan experiences a diverse climate due to its geographical location. Summers can be hot and humid, especially in the lowland regions, while winters can be cold, particularly in the mountainous areas. It’s important to pack accordingly, with lightweight and breathable clothing for summer and warm layers for winter.
Azerbaijan has a rich cultural heritage, and it’s important to respect local customs and traditions. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites, and always ask for permission before taking photographs of locals. It’s also customary to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home or a mosque.
Getting around Azerbaijan is relatively easy, with a reliable and extensive network of public transportation. Buses, minibusses (marshrutkas), and trains are the main modes of transport between cities and towns. Taxis are also readily available, but it’s recommended to agree on a price beforehand or use metered taxis.
Health and Safety
Azerbaijan is considered a safe destination for travelers, but it’s always wise to take general safety precautions. Keep your belongings secure, be cautious of pickpockets in crowded areas, and avoid walking alone at night in unfamiliar places.
Now that you have a better understanding of what to expect, it’s time to embark on an incredible adventure through the enchanting landscapes and vibrant culture of Azerbaijan.
Week 1: Exploring Baku
Your first week in Azerbaijan begins with exploring the vibrant capital city of Baku. This bustling metropolis seamlessly blends its rich history with modern architecture and a thriving arts scene.
Start your exploration by strolling along the picturesque waterfront promenade, known as the Baku Boulevard. This scenic stretch offers stunning views of the Caspian Sea and is dotted with cafes, parks, and playgrounds. Take in the fresh sea breeze as you wander along the boulevard and immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere.
Next, head to the UNESCO-listed Old City, also known as Icherisheher. This ancient walled city is a maze of narrow streets, historic buildings, and charming shops. Visit the iconic Maiden Tower, an architectural marvel that offers panoramic views of the city from its top. Explore the magnificent Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a royal complex showcasing the architectural beauty of the medieval era.
For art enthusiasts, a visit to the Museum of Modern Art is a must. This contemporary art museum houses an impressive collection of local and international artworks, including paintings, sculptures, and multimedia exhibits. The museum’s striking design itself is worth admiring.
No visit to Baku is complete without experiencing the iconic Flame Towers. These towering structures dominate the city’s skyline and come alive at night with a mesmerizing light show. Enjoy panoramic views of the city from the observation deck of the Flame Towers Plaza.
Food lovers will be delighted by the culinary scene in Baku. Indulge in traditional Azerbaijani dishes such as plov (pilaf), dolma (stuffed grape leaves), and kebabs at local restaurants. Don’t forget to try Azerbaijani tea, served in traditional armudu (pear-shaped) glasses.
If you’re seeking a dose of relaxation, head to the Baku National Park. This vast green oasis is perfect for leisurely walks, picnics, and enjoying nature. Escape the hustle and bustle of the city while surrounded by lush trees and peaceful surroundings.
As you explore Baku, take the time to interact with locals and learn about their culture. Azerbaijanis are known for their warmth and hospitality, and you’ll likely be greeted with open arms.
With a week dedicated to exploring Baku, you’ll have ample time to soak up the city’s vibrant energy, delve into its history, and create unforgettable memories.
Week 2: The Beauty of Sheki and Gabala
In your second week of backpacking through Azerbaijan, you’ll venture out of the bustling capital city and immerse yourself in the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Sheki and Gabala.
Begin your journey by traveling to Sheki, a charming town located in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. Known for its rich history and intricate craftsmanship, Sheki offers a unique glimpse into Azerbaijan’s past.
One of the highlights of Sheki is the magnificent Sheki Khan’s Palace. This architectural masterpiece showcases the opulence of the Khanate of Sheki and features exquisite stained glass windows, intricate woodcarvings, and vibrant frescoes. Explore the palace’s numerous rooms and learn about the fascinating history of the region.
Continue your exploration of Sheki by visiting the Caravanserai, a historic inn that once served as a stopping point for travelers along the Silk Road. Admire the beautiful architecture and browse through the shops selling local crafts and souvenirs.
For nature enthusiasts, a visit to the nearby Sheki Khanate Forest is a must. This lush forest offers picturesque hiking trails, refreshing waterfalls, and stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
From Sheki, make your way to Gabala, a tranquil region known for its stunning natural beauty. The journey itself is a scenic treat, with breathtaking mountain vistas and charming rural landscapes.
One of the main attractions in Gabala is the Tufandag Mountain Resort. This year-round destination offers a range of outdoor activities, including skiing, snowboarding, and hiking. Take a cable car ride to the top of the mountain for panoramic views of the Gabala region.
Not far from the mountain resort, you’ll find the Gabala Shooting Club, where you can try your hand at various shooting sports, including archery and pistol shooting. It’s a thrilling experience that adds an adventurous twist to your time in Gabala.
For a cultural experience, visit the Gabaland amusement park, where you can enjoy rides, games, and entertainment suitable for all ages. The park also has a water park section, perfect for cooling off on hot summer days.
As you explore Sheki and Gabala, take the opportunity to savor traditional Azerbaijani cuisine, known for its rich flavors and use of local ingredients. Sample delicious dishes like piti (a savory lamb stew), pakhlava (a sweet pastry), and qutab (stuffed flatbread) at local restaurants and street stalls.
Week 2 of your backpacking adventure in Azerbaijan promises a blend of history, nature, and adventure as you explore the captivating towns of Sheki and Gabala.
Week 3: Nature and Adventure in Guba and Quba
As you enter the third week of your backpacking journey in Azerbaijan, get ready to experience the thrill of nature and adventure in the stunning regions of Guba and Quba. These neighboring regions are known for their breathtaking landscapes and exciting outdoor activities.
Start your week by exploring Guba, a picturesque region nestled between the Greater Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea. Guba is blessed with lush forests, sparkling rivers, and charming villages.
One of the must-visit attractions in Guba is the Khinalig village. Situated high in the mountains, Khinalig is known as the highest inhabited village in Azerbaijan. Its remote location and traditional way of life offer a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
For adventure seekers, a hike to the peak of Mount Shahdag is a thrilling experience. The mountain offers a variety of hiking trails suitable for different skill levels, providing breathtaking views of the Guba region. Make sure to bring appropriate gear and follow safety precautions while venturing on this exhilarating expedition.
Next, head to Quba, another nature lover’s paradise. This region is famous for its stunning natural beauty, including dense forests, crystal-clear lakes, and serene waterfalls.
One of the highlights in Quba is the Afurja Waterfall, a hidden gem nestled in a picturesque forest. Take a hike through the trails, enjoying the sounds of nature, and reach the waterfall to witness its sheer beauty. You can even take a refreshing dip in the cool waters beneath the cascading falls.
For a unique experience, visit the famous Guba Genocide Memorial Complex. This memorial commemorates the tragic events of March 1918, when thousands of Azerbaijanis were killed in the Guba region. It serves as a place of remembrance and reflection and offers a glimpse into the history and resilience of the Azerbaijani people.
No visit to Quba is complete without sampling the region’s delicious apples. Quba is renowned for its apple orchards, and you’ll find an abundance of locally grown varieties. Taste the freshness and sweetness of Quba’s apples, and perhaps even visit one of the orchards for a firsthand experience of apple picking.
Throughout your time in Guba and Quba, take advantage of the opportunity to indulge in adrenaline-pumping activities like off-road biking, horseback riding, and paragliding. Experience the rush of adventure against the backdrop of the stunning natural scenery.
As your third week comes to an end, you’ll be left with unforgettable memories of the natural wonders and thrilling adventures experienced in Guba and Quba.
Final Tips for Backpacking in Azerbaijan
As your backpacking journey through Azerbaijan comes to an end, it’s important to reflect on the incredible experiences you’ve had and take away some final tips for future travelers.
Embrace the Hospitality
One of the most remarkable aspects of Azerbaijan is the warm hospitality of its people. Embrace the kindness and friendliness of the locals, and immerse yourself in the culture. Engage in conversations, try traditional foods, and learn about their customs. You’ll create lasting memories and friendships along the way.
When packing for your trip to Azerbaijan, make sure to consider the diverse climate and terrain. Pack lightweight and breathable clothing for the hot summers and warm layers for the colder months. Don’t forget to bring comfortable walking shoes, a hat to shield you from the sun, and a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated.
Explore Beyond the Cities
Azerbaijan offers a wealth of natural beauty outside of its vibrant cities. Take the time to explore the stunning landscapes, from the majestic mountains to the idyllic countryside. Venture into national parks, hike through forests, and discover hidden waterfalls. Connect with nature and experience the tranquility that Azerbaijan has to offer.
Try Azerbaijani Cuisine
Azerbaijani cuisine is a tapestry of flavors and textures. Don’t miss the opportunity to try traditional dishes such as plov, dolma, and kebabs. Sample the delicious local fruits, sip on aromatic teas, and indulge in the tempting array of pastries and desserts. Food is an integral part of Azerbaijani culture, so embrace the culinary adventure.
Respect Local Customs
While Azerbaijani society is relatively liberal and open-minded, it’s essential to respect local customs and traditions. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites, and be mindful of local etiquette. Always ask for permission before taking photographs of locals, and be aware of cultural sensitivities.
As a responsible traveler, be mindful of your impact on the environment and local communities. Dispose of waste properly, support local businesses and artisans, and engage in sustainable practices. Leave the places you visit as you found them to preserve their natural beauty for future generations to enjoy.
As you conclude your backpacking adventure in Azerbaijan, take a moment to appreciate the diverse landscapes, rich history, and warm hospitality that this beautiful country has to offer. Embrace the memories you’ve made and carry the spirit of adventure with you on your future travels.