AZERBAIJAN TRAVEL GUIDE
Step away Turkey! Azerbaijan is the original 'East-meets-West' destination! Placed at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, this former Soviet Republic (barely bigger than Ireland!), boasts an astonishing variety of natural wonders from snow-capped mountains and bubbling mud volcanoes to sandy deserts and subtropical forests. Azerbaijan swings comfortably between modern city-scapes and Arabian night-esque exotica whilst providing some of the most extraordinary landscapes in all of Caucasia.
Partly thanks to the imposing Caucasus MOuntains the northern parts are arguably the prettiest part of the country. Around the misty peaks of this 4466 m behemoth bears, wolves and leopards still roam freely and nomadic shepherds to this day move their flocks along the slopes of the mountains in search of fresh pasture - as they have done for thousands of years. Meanwhile, a mere stone throws away, the capital of Baku buzzes in a confusing conflict between its old town heritage and modern architecture. Along the boulevards of downtown Baku, Nouveau riche residents flutter between expensive boutiques, exclusive shops, and luxury hotels. Modern Azerbaijan is a sovereign state and, although Islamic, the mood seems distinctly secular.
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AZERBAIJAN QUICK FACTS
Capital: Baku (Baki)
Currency: Azerbaijani manat (AZN)
Population: 9,047,000 (Aug 2010)
Language: Azerbaijani (Azeri) 93.4% (official), Russian 2.5%, Lezgin 2.2%, other 1.9%
Religion: Muslim 95.4%, Russian Orthodox 2.8%, other 1.8%
Electricity: 220V/50Hz (European plug)
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AZERBAIJAN PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
20 January, National Day of Mourning
8 March, Women’s Day
20 March, Now Rouz (Persian New Year)
9 May, Victory Day
28 May, Republic Day
15 June, National Day of Salvation
26 June, Armed Forces Day
18 October, Independence Day
9 November, State Flag Day
31 December, Solidarity Day of World Azerbaijanis
Also, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
BEST TIME TO VISIT AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijan’s climate is highly varied, with different areas of the country containing examples of nine of the world’s eleven climate zones. This includes semi-arid, temperate, warm-temperate, cold, and tundra zones, meaning that there are marked variations in average annual temperate and precipitation in different regions. In general, more mountainous parts of Azerbaijan receive higher levels of precipitation and lower average temperatures than the central lowlands and Caspian Sea coast, where the climate is drier and hotter.
The best time to visit Azerbaijan is during spring (March-June) when the weather is warm and the foliage is in full bloom. The summer months (July-September) can be depressingly hot and humid, particularly in the capital, Baku, but these are also the best months to go hiking in the mountains.
Although temperatures along the Caspian coastline remain mild throughout winter (November-February), the mercury dip well below freezing further inland - as shown in the chart below. The mountains during the winter months are covered in snow and can be very treacherous to traverse. Though downpours do occur throughout the country, most of the rainfall is confined to the western parts.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN AZERBAIJAN
The snow sports season in Azerbaijan is from mid-December until mid-April.
HIKING & CYCLING IN AZERBAIJAN
The best time for outdoor activities in Azerbaijan is from April to October. July and August can be hot but perfect for hiking the higher altitudes.
BEACH OPTIONS IN AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijan has a hot summer from June to August. These are just some of the best beaches: Bilgah Beach, Amburan Beach Club, Shikhov Beach, Absheron Peninsula Beaches, Nabran, Pirsagi and Lankaran.
KITESURF IN AZERBAIJAN
Looking to kitesurf in Azerbaijan? Check out the Blueplanet resort in the Khizi region’s village of Shuraabad, near Baku.
AZERBAIJAN TRAVEL COSTS
Although it’s rich in oil money, Azerbaijan is still an affordable destination. Baku can be kind of expensive but, once you leave the capital, prices drop considerably and it’s easy to see a lot and spend a little, especially since so much of the country revolves around hiking and the outdoors.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF AZERBAIJAN
For a small country, Azerbaijan packs a powerful punch. Situated on the Caspian Sea, it offers visitors an enticing mix of seaside fun, stunning cities, unspoiled nature, remarkable historical attractions, and some of the most incredible national parks in the world.
Baku - capital and largest, most cosmopolitan city of the Caucasus.
Visit Maiden Tower in Baku 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, Baku aimlessly - really try to get lost and soak up the atmosphere in this wonderful old town.
Ganja - Azerbaijan's second-largest city has a long history and some important sites.
Lankaran - a southern city near the Iranian border.
Mingechivir - a mid-sized city on the large Mingechivir Reservoir.
Naftalan - best known for its special petroleum oil baths (spas).
Nakhichevan City - the administrative capital of Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan exclave.
Sheki - a beautiful city in the forested Caucasus Mountains with plenty to see and do.
Sumqayit - Azerbaijan's third-largest city, on the Absheron Peninsula.
Khachmaz - the largest tourist destination in Azerbaijan with great beaches and beautiful forests.
Shusha - one of the most beautiful cities of Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, which was populated mostly by Azerbaijanians till 1991. However, the city still remains under occupation and lost its beauty after the war.
Khinalug - scenic, remote mountain village once a centre of Zoroastrianism; today the few inhabitants are an ethnic isolate believed to be descendants of the Caucasus Albanians (Not to be confused with modern-day Albanians of Albania in south-eastern Europe who are entirely unrelated to them).
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
Visit Gobustan open-air rock art preserve and modern museum located in Gobustan National Park.
WHAT TO EAT IN AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijani food combines elements from both Turkish and central Asia. While Baku has an excellent selection of international restaurants, from Japanese fusion to Italian, in most rural restaurants the humble kebab most definitely reigns supreme. A special place in the Azerbaijani cuisine belongs to lamb kebabs, of which you will find many varieties. Vegetarians might end up eating a great deal of salad and lentil soup as most of the local dishes contain meat.
Lule kebab - spiced, minced lamb pressed on to skewers before grilling.
Dograma - milky potato, cucumber and onion soup served cold.
Piti - mutton and chickpea soup – a real Sheki speciality.
Qutab - pancakes stuffed with spinach, herbs or meat.
Badimjan dolmasi - lamb and a herb-stuffed trio of aubergine, tomato and green pepper.
Dushpara - soup made with mutton stock containing small pieces of pasta.
Toyuk levengisi - chicken stuffed with nuts and dried fruits.
Shirin plov - meat and rice pilaf with nuts and dried fruit.
Monastirski - chicken or lamb topped with melted cheese and pomegranate sauce.
Coban salatasi - finely chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumber and herbs.
Shabat - a soft iced drink made of sugar, various fruits and herbs.
Darchin chai - tea, flavoured with cinnamon, ginger and, occasionally, rosewater.