Part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991, Azerbaijan sits comfortably on the Caspian Sea with large oil and gas reserves.
In the north are the mighty Caucasus Mountains where hiking, skiing or just plain admiring the stupendous scenery are worthwhile activities. Or see the massive transformation taking place in Baku, its capital, where new modern oil funded architecture vies with age-old citadels and turn of the century oil-baron mansions.
Visit 12,000-year-old petroglyphs, or comparatively modern Roman era graffiti. Find out about the fire worshipping religions that once existed at an ancient Zoroastrian temple outside Baku. And discover where all the money comes from these days as you gaze at a field of oil-pumps diligently extracting the black gold from the ground.
The language of Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani (aka Azeri), which belongs to the Turkic language group, so if you know Turkish you are in luck, it should help out. For those who aren’t familiar, it might be an idea to learn some basic phrases, or if you are travelling on through other former Soviet Republics, Russian would be a good idea as it is still widely spoken all over that region. English however isn’t, so don’t bank on using that as your main means of communication.
There are accommodation options in all ranges, including hostels in Baku, and homestays on the countryside.
Highlights from Azerbaijan
- Baku, with the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, the Walled City of Baku, its Maiden’s Tower, and the old oil-baron palatial mansions as well as the modern oil-generated architecture
- Play a Zoroastrian priest at the Ateshgah Fire Temple in Surakhani outside Baku
- Visit the 12,000-year-old petroglyphs in Qubustan (aka Qobustan or Gobystan), and while you are there look at the Eastern-most inscription of the Roman Empire before admiring some belching mud volcanoes
- Play a game of chess with the locals in Seki, after taking in the former Khan’s palace, and end the day with a drink in the Karavansaray Hotel
- Stroll and hike around little Lahic, with its coppersmith, artisans and sublime scenery
- Learn about Azerbaijan’s old Jewish community in Quba
- Hike the mighty Caucasus Mountains around picturesque Xinaliq (aka Khinalug)
- Try your luck at skiing or snowboarding at the Shahdag Ski Resort
Hints and Tips for Azerbaijan
- As with many other former Soviet Republics, visas are a hassle to get. A Letter of Invitation (LOI) is required, which can be obtained from specialized travel agencies. Count on somewhere around 80 euros for the whole process, more for Americans.
- Azerbaijan has a conflict with neighbouring Armenia about the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is under Armenian control at the moment. If there is any evidence in your passport that you have visited this region, you will be barred entry for life to Azerbaijan! So, if you are intent on visiting it, do so after you have been to Azerbaijan, or get the Nagorno-Karabakh visa stamped on a separate piece of paper.
- Don’t talk about Armenia or Armenians or the Nagorno-Karabakh situation, Azeri’s hate Armenians due to the conflict.
- Don’t try to get too close to Nagorno-Karabakh from the Azerbaijani side as you will be stopped and turned around, and there is a good reason for this.
- Though Azerbaijan is nominally Muslim, the government is secular, and the people are liberal.
- Transport is abundant and cheap, ranging from buses to shared jeeps.